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November 21, 2004

More Exhibitions, More Photodocumentary, In Galleries and Online


* Sepia International in New York is currently running a retrospective of 45 images from Raghubir Singh, an Indian photodocumentarian who was one of the more distinctive early photographers using color.  Sepia only has five images on its site from the exhibition, but a short article and more images can be found here.  A more extensive write-up on Singh's career can be found here, and another extensive  article from an Indian viewpoint can be read here.  A description of the retrospective at Sepia from the Village Voice's Vince Aletti is also worth reading.  An excerpt:

"Singh isn't likely to enjoy the sort of art-world boom that many of his contemporaries have experienced recently, if only because there's nothing remotely cool about his work. He remains a photographer's photographer, close in spirit to Henri Cartier-Bresson (who was an early influence) and Garry Winogrand, but so uniquely, definitively Indian that it would be hard to imagine him working anywhere else".


Raghubir Singh image

* Sepia is interesting in that it seems to specialize in collections of photo-documentary work from Asian photographers, several of whom I had never encountered before. Most notable (click on "artists" to track down their portfolios): Fumiko Nozawa's gallery of 23 images of the contents of his mother's drawer, which contrast interestingly against Miyako Ishiuchi's more sexualized photographic meditations on her mother's memory; Katsumi Omura is another interesting photographer, with only 7 images online at Sepia's site, but all are interesting in their mood, toning and cryptic subject matter. Finally, Marissa Roth's photographs from the Philippines are highly graphic and iconic, a distinct notch above most standard photo-documentary renditions of the country.

* From the US, check out Debbie Fleming Caffery's outstanding black and white photodocumentary work. Too many highlights to list, but a good start would be Polly, a series of affectionate portraits, candids, and still lifes taken in the house of an African American woman in her seventies, all photographed by Caffery in moody available light:

'You know when you become consumed with a project?', the photographer asks. 'I went there so often and I thought about her so much--I would dream about her. Going to Polly's was like being vacuumed into a feeling of security and warmth. I would rather have gone to her house than any place during those years.'


Debbie Fleming Caffery image, from Polly series

Pretty much everything else in the Fine Art galleries are worth looking at as well -- there's a mystical, Deep South sensibility running through many of the images that sometimes reminds me of Keith Carter (without the selective focus), but Caffery often casts a more direct eye on her portrait subjects.

* Speaking of fine photodocumentary, the Howard Greenberg Gallery is currently running an exhibition on Walker Evans and His Early Circle (click on "exhibits", and then "current"), which includes well known (and lesser known colleagues) such as Helen Levitt, Berenice Abbott, Peter Sekaer, Ben Shahn, and Ralph Steiner. As always, the gallery has one of the better and more generous virtual exhibitions to accompany the real one (68 images presented clearly with a simple, attractive interface), and is must viewing for classic photodocumentary and Evans junkies alike.


Peter Sekaer image

* Finally, I've been remiss in not linking sooner to the latest issue of BlueEyes Magazine, whose ninth issue features three photoessays on politics in honor of the recent divisive elections. You would think we would all have had our fill of this sort of thing, but the reality is that even as the glib news coverage and the superficial angles taken on the candidates and the elections start to fade away, many deeper issues and divisions remain that will stay with the US (and the world) for many years to come, regardless of anyone's political allegiance or indifference to politics.

The many intelligent, funny, and sometimes scary photographs that John Loomis has gathered go beyond the surface issues and illustrate the power of photographs -- even when depicting the most basic conflicts, the most superficial of personalities -- to hint at something deeper, more disturbing, and more truthful than any amount of punditry or high-level speechifying. And sometimes, the photos are just funny *and* scary in depicting the extremes and the craziness, and the best images in this vein manage their own kind of crazed poetry.


Chip Litherland image, from BlueEyes Issue 9

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November 10, 2004

Color, Crime Sets, and Deadpan and Dreamy Fashion


The latest interesting photographers and links:

* Another branch that falls close to the Eggleston tree, with a wonderful color sense but a voice all his own: New-Orleans based photographer William Greiner now has his own website.  I'm not able to comment on how well the web images match up to the originals, but they sure look great online and feature superbly idiosyncratic color (especially by web standards).  Best of all, the website is easy to navigate, with all the featured portfolios worth visiting...too hard to pick a favorite, but I especially loved Cryptography. (thanks to Christian Patterson for pointing William this way)


Niagra Falls, 1992 William Greiner image

* I've said in the past that I have a limited tolerance for the photographic sub-genre that employs dolls and miniatures as its subjects, even though I've seen plenty of individual images I've liked (and have even linked to some work in this space).  As with most staged photography, whether it uses humans or dolls, the concepts and the images become more compelling when the unsettling connections to the real world are subtly but surely made (as opposed to hitting the viewers over the head with the messages and the mood).

In this respect, the 19 miniature sets of crime scenes put together by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s, known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, and photographed recently with a large format camera by Corinne May Botz, fit the bill.  The obsessive quality of these dioramas is effectively given voice by Botz's own obsessive attention to light, color, and camera angles that allow a viewer to actually enter the scenes, and notice small details that hint not only at the source of the crimes, but also the stifling nature of the homes and the lives lived in them. 

These photographs are available in a newly released book and are currently being exhibited at the Bellwether Gallery in New York: the website has a generous selection of images that are worth looking at, though unfortunately there is no text to provide the necessary backstory that can animate the images further.  A review from the New York Times (reproduced at the gallery site) provides more information on a few scenes, and Vince Aletti of the Village Voice recommends the book and exhibition highly.


Corinne May Botz image

* San Francisco based Mike Bragg has a diverse series of projects on his website, with an unusually good balance between fine art and commercial work.  I am most partial to his simplest and most graphic series, forgotten (recognized in the 2004 PDN Annual), space (interior), and space (exterior), which all use the square frame and color very well.  It is rare for a photographer to have categories named "hodgepodge1" and "hodgepodge2" that are worth looking at, but he pulls it off.  I only wish the images were a bit larger.


Mike Bragg diptych, from "hodgepodge 1"

* Katy Grannan's stark, revealing portraits of small town models in their homes and outdoors have been frequently linked, most often from gallery51 and artnet, and have generated discussion and buzz far and wide, even among Lacanians.  I just recently discovered her excellent personal website, which collects all of her fine art portraits as well as her commercial work, and it's a well designed showcase for the versatility of her straight-on, deadpan style, which some feel has worn out its welcome in contemporary photography circles.  While the deadpan, faraway look is indeed being run into the ground by too many imitators, most of Grannan's work still looks great because of the types of people she managed to get in front of the camera and the largely unadorned quality of the environments.

As I've fond of noting here, the uneasy contrast between "fine art" and "commercial" often makes for awkwardly combined portfolios and images that can drag down a photographer's website, but in Grannan's case, the inevitable compromises of the commercial work and the more varied (and well-known) subjects seem to open up her portraits...subjects like the Central Park jogger and Abner Louima are still depicted disquietingly, but with more formality and resistance than some of her more awkward suburban models.  And the fashion portfolio, which features mostly men, is hilarious and well executed...deadpan works great here. (Only the celebrity portraits don't fare as well, but that's hardly a surprise given the tendency of their personas to defeat any sense of rapport or artistry that can be created in a portrait).


Katy Grannan fashion image for Toro magazine

* And speaking of fashion, this falls in the "I normally hate this stuff so much I can't believe how much I like it" category...extreme digital manipulation, and florid backgrounds and color in fashion images tends to turn me off in a hurry...not to mention Flash sites with cutesy loading touches like a progress indicator with percentages going to 10 decimal places, and the infamous scrolling thumbnails that require video game reflexes. But yes, I do like Can Evgin's style and rapturous color...purists may not consider it photography, and I have to admit that part of the appeal is how many of the images look like very dreamy illustrations or scenes from a graphic novel.  As far as fashion goes, it definitely gets your attention, for better or worse. (UPDATE: sorry, my first version of this post actually pointed to another "can evgin" site, with unrelated images. The link should now point to the work I was talking about, which was submitted to Surface Magazine's Avant Guardian competition).


Can Evgin image

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November 05, 2004

Staged Stories, Interiors, High School Portraits, and the Passing of an Architecture Giant

* Ezra Stoller, one of the last century's leading architectural photographers associated with modernism, passed away the other day.  There is a widely linked NY Times obituary online, but the Boston Globe's architecture critic Robert Campbell has written a more extensive obituary.  An excerpt:

"Mr. Stoller did fine color photography, but his genius was for black and white. He was a master of chiaroscuro, the abstract patterning of shadow and light, in a manner that sometimes evokes Hollywood films of the noir era. He almost always worked in very deep focus, with every detail from the foreground to the horizon pin-sharp. And he had a way of making photographs that work in more than one way.

''My photos," he once commented, ''tend to be confusing. I show a great many vistas." By that he meant that one could often find, in a single photo, a number of different framed views. An example is a shot of the Salk Institute in California, by Louis Kahn, where, Mr. Stoller said, ''there are I think nine separate areas you can view through, nine vistas."

Many of Stoller's best photographs depict architecture with a kind of optimism and elegance that might almost be seen as quaint or nostalgic now, were it not so expertly executed.  Some photographs from Stoller can be seen at the Morehouse Gallery site and Stoller's Esto Agency website.  People in New England can also go see an exhibit currently running at the Williams College Museum of Art, which will run through December 19th.


Kennedy Airport, Ezra Stoller image

* Austria based and US educated photographer Chloe Potter takes photographs "based on themes from horror stories, mysteries, and true stories"...much of it evokes the self-referential and pseudo-narrative photography so popular in the 1990s that seems to be on the wane these days. Potter, though, seems more committed to her material than most who dabble with this stuff, and as a series, the saturated color, crisp detail and simple moody compositions make for a mostly gripping series of photographs. 

She also has the benefit of largely avoiding the overwrought pretensions of the leading lights of this genre...and her dedication to detail and craft make the artificiality of some of the more stagey images manageable.  Some of the photographs do seem rather affected, especially in the commercial portfolio, which points to how fragile the conceit of manufactured stories can be.  (seen at thingsmagazine.net)


Chloe Potter image

* Jona Frank has an exhibition of "High School" portraits currently showing at the Foley Gallery in New York, with an endorsement from a pretty fair documenter of the young and troubled in Gus Van Sant.  The documentation of teenagers and their struggles with conformity and role-playing has been going on forever (and will keep going on), so I'm not sure what makes Frank's portraits so appealing, especially given how these types of faces continue to be coopted for commercial purposes...maybe it's the understated formality and color palette Frank uses, so at odds with the heavy use of flash and more glaring color that's the norm in most commercial photography currently. 

The teenagers on display in Frank's exhibition seem to be providing more to the photographer than the quick and dirty pose of attitude, and for me at least, the portraits work well as a result.


Mariya,-Claudi-D321,-Vampir 2004, Jona Frank portrait

* Todd at Gallery Hopper has been doing what his blog says he should be doing: hitting the galleries, and he's been providing a number of good write-ups on the exhibitions he's seen lately.  One of the artists he saw is someone I've been meaning to mention on this site, as I came across her work early in the summer: Wijnanda Deroo, whose oddball interiors from a variety of locales are generating a fair amount of buzz on the gallery circuit (and, if my local photography school is any indication, on the school circuit as well..I've seen quite a few people producing square interior shots making interesting use of negative space). 

She has an exhibition at the Robert Mann Gallery with a reasonable selection of images, and an even more comprehensive selection on her personal website (which also demonstrates her use of the square for still lifes and other types of photographs).


Wijnanda Deroo image

* Interesting exchange between a cinematic photographer and a photographic filmmaker: Jeff Wall and Mike Figgis have an email conversation, with the batting around of many ideas about differences between the filmmaking process and the process of making photographs (with more discussion about the former, since Wall seems to come across as a frustrated filmmaker, which is evident in the types of images he produces).

I always enjoy intellectual discussions of this sort, though Wall's and Figgis' criticisms of far superior filmmakers (and artists) like Jean-Luc Godard and Lars Van Trier seem odd and ironic to me, given the portentous tendencies of their own work and approach to producing art.  Stimulating reading nonetheless. (seen at Green Cine Daily)

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