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May 31, 2004

Holiday Weekend Summary of Other Discoveries, And A Film Geek's Latest Faves

It's a holiday weekend here, so I haven't had time to do more than make an occasional check on the computer to see what's going on elsewhere. There have been some outstanding links provided by other sites worth a regular visit, and I'll just summarize a few that I managed to check out and enjoy:

* Poverty's Palette -- featuring Depression-era photographs shot in newly introduced Kodachrome color (for the time), which brings a startling immediacy to these images of rural families. As the introduction states: "...these photos give us more than just blues and yellows and reds -- they offer 'a new and complementary way of comprehending our national identity'.'' Seems appropriate for a holiday like Memorial Day. (thanks to Gordon Coale for the reference)

* AK47.tv is yet another quality online photography magazine, but instead of a focus on photojournalism or fashion or graphic design, it highlights a diverse array of contemporary photography...in fact, very much along the lines of what blogs like Conscientious and Consumptive and this blog and others like to point to in our entries. It benefits from detailed statements from the photographers and an excellent presentation of the photography itself -- few distracting bells and whistles and Flash, just loads of outstanding images. (I came across this link thanks to Phototalk). Very highly recommended.

* One of the outstanding discoveries featured in AK47 and by Conscientious more recently is Stephanie Schneider, who stages various mini-dramas evocatively and with bracing mystery thanks to the use of expired Polaroid film...I'm not sure I've ever seen expired film used as well as it is here, though the medium is but one part of the success of Schneider's work. (Some of her images evoke the wonderful, low budget movie classic "Detour", though the mood is more mystical and open-ended in Schneider's work, and I don't see an equivalent to the femme fatale Ann Savage).


Stephanie Schneider images

* Ann Masolino shoots modest but extremely personal black and white self-portraits and other images revolving around family and self in a way that evokes Francesca Woodman...this style can veer quickly toward self-indulgence , but Masolino is mostly thoughtful, sometimes whimsical, and she knows how to set compositions and moods well. (thanks to consumptive for the link)

* Finally, my last post referenced an article detailing photographic exhibitions of note for the summer...with the start of summer also comes the inevitable run of big-budget summer movies that mostly serve as excuses to get some air-conditioning. Once upon a time, I watched a lot more films than I do currently...even with the advent of many quality DVDs, life these days doesn't allow me to live the life of the film geek as much as I did years ago. But I allowed myself a recent run to the theaters and was pleased with what was playing: in the last month, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Saddest Music in the World, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, Kill Bill Vol. 2, and Dogville were all playing at once, and all warmed the heart of this film snob, and I could watch each of them at least twice.

All these films have lighting and cinematography and ideas that will inspire many photographers out there as well, even a movie as seemingly uncinematic as Dogville. And though I'm not given to fawning over Hollywood leading lights (or actors in general), Nicole Kidman has worked for directors as estimable as Stanley Kubrick, Gus Van Sant, and Jane Campion, but I think Lars Von Trier really got an amazing performance out of her for her latest. Of course, not everyone will agree (to say Dogville is polarizing -- good review, bad review -- is like saying it gets hot in July), but that's what makes Dogville so much fun, even at nearly three hours. (For film geeks, here's a fun interview of Von Trier by another film geek's filmmaker, P.T. Anderson).


Film Still from Dogville

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May 27, 2004

Summer Exhibition Highlights in NYC, Including Frank Paulin, Trent Parke, and Werner Bischof

Looks like it's going to be a great summer of photographic exhibitions, and if you're anywhere near New York City, the Village Voice has an article on the worthwhile ones to watch.

* I had a few of the exhibitions mentioned in the article on my radar just from random web-surfing and recent press releases, and among the more conservative/"classic" photography choices, it looks like the Bruce Silverstein Gallery has a fair number of goodies. They just wrapped up what looks like an excellent series on the work of Magnum photographer Werner Bischof -- the online organization of content is a bit haphazard, but nice large images are provided for viewing. For more information, Bischof has a nice website dedicated to him as well.


Zebra Woman, 1942, Werner Bischof image

* The Nudes of Karl Strauss at the Silverstein features pioneering nudes done by a colleague of Alfred Steiglitz's who would eventually go on to be Cecil B Demille's still-cameraman. Strauss' nudes have an interesting sense of dynamism given the equipment and conventions of the time (and the fact that these are largely classical figure studies), and the accompanying press release indicates that Strauss was influenced by the dance aesthetics of the period. Very interesting, and the compositions and light are frequently lovely.

* I was very pleasantly surprised by the work of Frank Paulin, a disciple of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Harry Callahan, who also went on to work with Alexey Brodovitch. Paulin's background in fashion illustration and design are put to work nicely in thoughtful and inventive black and white street photography that seemed to peak in the 1950s and 60s (mostly in New York City), but went on through to the 1990s (the image below, one of my favorites, is actually from 1981). Paulin's 1957 show at the Limelight Gallery in NYC has been recreated and online at the Silverstein and on Paulin's website.

As with Bischof, the Silverstein gallery has the best looking online images, but Paulin has a comprehensive web site of his own, with smaller and more compressed files.


Frank Paulin image, 1981

* I mentioned the distinctive underwater work of Narelle Autio in yesterday's post, but didn't mention her collaboration with Trent Parke (her companion and another Magnum photographer), who's the subject of a NYC exhibition himself this summer. Autio and Parke published a book, The Seventh Wave, and images from the book can be seen here, and at the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery site, where the exhibition is being hosted (note: the latter photos only display on Internet Explorer on my PC, and not in Netscape or Opera).


Trent Parke image

* Additional note: Spencer Murphy was one of several interesting emerging photographers I encountered in an issue of Pictured Magazine as part of a post on emerging photographers I wrote a while back...Spencer was kind enough to drop by the other day and inform me that Pictured is unfortunately no longer publishing. It was nice to look back on Spencer's page and continue to enjoy his images (particularly some of the nightscapes and the second gallery of portraits), and yes, make those images larger! There are some good ones that would look great with a little more size...

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Big Color and C-Prints from Australia and New Zealand

It appears there's a market for big color C-prints at thousands of dollars a pop in Australia, just as there is in the US and Europe (I can hear the groans coming from a good segment of people already)...at least on the basis of one Australian gallery's impressive stable of photographers.

The Stills Gallery in Sydney is one of the Australia's leading contemporary art spaces, and it's fascinating to peruse the work of their leading lights. There's a mix of conceptual contemporary work, still life, and photojournalism, with color favored by the majority of artists. Here are some of my favorites, with the usual caveat that evaluating this work on the web is not exactly the same as seeing it at 24x30 and 40x50 sizes on gallery walls:

* Anne Noble is one of New Zealand's leading contemporary photographers, and has photographed everything from Antarctic landscapes to nuns to recent, supersaturated color photographs of her daughter Ruby. The latter strike me as bold, compellingly eccentric and a bit unsettling, even though her artist's statement makes modest claims:

"The ‘mouth’ pictures began as an attempt to undertake a more honest cataloguing of [my daughter] Ruby’s body, acknowledging a relationship between a mother and a child. They present an off-the-wall record of growing up through close scrutiny of a site where life happens—the mouth. The mouth that speaks, tastes, smiles, reacts, learns, loves, etc. They celebrate and magnify moments of growing up that are not normally celebrated, and they’re deliberately not erotic, not romantic, not ideal, not perfect."


"Ruby's Room #9, Anne Noble image

Work from Anne Noble's earlier "Antarctica...Terra Incognito" exhibition can be found here (interesting to compare them to Phil Toledano's arctic images mentioned in yesterday's post). More work and an accounting of her other exhibitions can also be found here .

* Narelle Autio is a photojournalist and fine art photographer that has been racking up awards lately (Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2002, PDN 30 in 2003) for her strong, colorful underwater images that manage the feat of being dreamlike yet have enough in detail and specific elements to tell a story. Many underwater images I come across seem to me to put too much gloss on the underwater experience and the beautiful bodies swimming around...I like Autio's more eccentric compositions and people, with the omitted details (heads, sides of bodies) lending just as much flavor as the ones that are included (tattoos, rain, etc).

Autio's previous series, Not of this Earth, is very lovely as well, and some may even prefer the images from this series to her current images...she manages extreme overhead compositions as well as she manages unusual underwater ones.


Narelle Autio image from Coastal Dwellers


Narelle Autio image from Not of this Earth

The "Coastal Dwellers" images make wonderful fine arts images in their own right, but they also happen to be part of a photo-essay done for the Sydney Morning Herald...the text and images for this essay can be found here. There's also a more detailed artist statement on the series. (I can also appreciate, in a more modest way, her award winning photo essay on young ballerinas, based on my own recent dance photography work).

* Glen Sloggett's tattered, square compositioned images of various anonymous locations in Australian suburbs evoke a low-rent William Eggleston...it's not particularly original subject matter, but when it works, it works well.


Glen Sloggett image

* Finally, Anne Ferran makes some of the more luminous photograms I've seen, even though this is material that's been covered heavily by other artists as well...it's been an interesting evolution from Ferran's much rawer "Carnal Knowledge" images from 20 years ago (go to the second page of Ferran's images to see these at the bottom).


Anne Ferran image

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May 26, 2004

Fashion and Fiction Revisited, Online Magazine Updates, And Journeys From Spain

Online magazine updates of note, new and old:

* I've really enjoyed Revol the last couple of times I've seen it, and the latest issue is no exception. Hard to describe its appeal beyond the literal elements: photography, illustration, a bit of animation and text, mixed media, and random weirdness, all in an easy flip style page turning navigational interface.

* New issue of Idanda (which I raved about a while back) has an extended feature and a generous selection of photos from the "Fashioning Fiction in Photography" show I wrote about a month ago...very useful for those who can't make it to New York to see the show before it wraps up in June. The image excerpts are small but high quality, with lots of goodies, though I flinched when I saw old Nan Goldin images as well as the ubiquitous Cindy Sherman included -- I happen to like both photographers a lot, but I'm wondering what they have to do with this type of show.

As it turns out, so do the authors of the excellent article on the show. As one would expect, Philip Lorca di Corcia doesn't mince words and expresses his ambivalence with some of the dynamics behind the show and fashion photography generally.

‘I question whether the museum, as a highbrow cultural entity, felt obliged to include some of their usual suspects, like Cindy Sherman and others who are probably pretty peripheral to fashion photography, in an attempt to back up their position in case anyone criticized them for being frivolous,’ says di Corcia. ‘But people in the fashion world won’t think that half of the photographers on show here are players at all, while the art world will say that the fashion photographers featured aren’t the most interesting photographers out there.’

A really excellent read and feature -- go check it out.


Philip Lorca di Corcia image from W magazine, 2000


Larry Sultan image, from Visiting Tennessee, 2002

* In the same issue of Idanda, a new Phil Toledano series, featuring his same clean and clever way with a composition. (the series can also be found on his personal website) "When I shoot, I subtract things. What if I went to an environment that was missing everything. Instead of subtracting, I would have to add. So I went to the Arctic Circle."


Phil Toledano image, from Arctic Circle series

* Txema Yeste is a Barcelona based editorial, fashion and photodocumentary photographer with an odd but interesting hybrid of very slick and very rough work in several genres. As one would expect, the editorial and fashion for clients like Diesel is very polished, while the photojournalism essays seem to be shot with wide angle lenses right up against subjects and environments in bright, unflattering light -- the opposite of a romanticized, National Geographic approach.

Viewers who enter Yeste's site are greeted with an introduction to La Viuda, a pleasant editorial essay that is nicely shot, but *avoid* this essay unless you're willing to bear with painful loading times (plus music) for the flash slide show. The images on the rest of the site are more easily accessible...I liked "Around and About", the odyssey of a truck driver transporting cargo thousands of miles around Europe, and "Blue Tarpaulin", featuring the migration of North Africans home during the summer from their jobs in Spain (on the menu, click on "There Somewhere" to be directed to the photojournalism essays).


Txema Yeste image, from "Around and Around"

A little more about Yeste can be found in this (badly) translated interview.

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May 25, 2004

B&W Fine Art Photographers With Unusually Fine Websites

There is no lack of superb photographers out there, and a large number of fine and flashy (and Flash-y) websites out there...but when it comes to black and white photography, though the situation is getting better, the intersection of photography and well designed personal websites is not always that elegant. This means the photographers must rely on the galleries representing them (if represented), and this is not usually that great a situation either, as most galleries' image presentation skills are perfunctory to poor.

Two fine examples of photographers who have taken care to present their black and white work well, both the personal work and commercial work, are Sally Gall and George Krause. I hope they're part of a trend and not an anomaly.

* Sally Gall's black and white work captures the distinct light, shadow and textures of subterranean regions. Her work is represented by several galleries and she is currently part of an exhibition (along with Michael Kenna) at the Joseph Bellows Gallery. From her biography:

"...with nothing but a flashlight to guide her way and illuminate lens settings, [Gall] photographed caves, lava tubes, quarries and aqueducts throughout the world. Gall has said she felt like the, discoverer of an undocumented realm of light that had somehow been overlooked by (herself), other photographers and painters as wellî. Throughout her expeditions she encountered brutal weather conditions, corrosive acidic air and an acute case of malaria. The result of these struggles is the beautiful body of work entitled Subterranea. Her ethereal photographs capture the juxtaposition of light and dark, ambiguity and certainty, isolation and intimacy."

Gall's work can be found in many places online, but the best place to see it is on her own website, which features the classic categories of "commercial" and "fine art". Both are presented very well, and considering the limitations of presenting black and white on the web, Gall has conveyed the luminosity of her work far more effectively than most of her galleries. Water and soft white light are heavily featured in her work, and I enjoyed the "Subterranea" and "Between Worlds" galleries a great deal.


"Oasis" Sally Gall image, from Subterranea series

* Over 40 years ago, at the age of 26, George Krause had images purchased by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for their collection, and just a few years later, 30 of his images were part of an exhibition curated by John Szarkowski at MOMA, along with luminaries such as Minor White and Gary Winogrand. Thankfully, Krause didn't let his early success get to his head, and he continued to develop and has produced an unusually rich and varied portfolio of work since.

Most of this work is very well represented on his high quality website. The first work of his that I came across a while back were his unusual and distinctive Sfumato portraits...initially samey and monotonous, they grow in fascination with the diversity of faces and the odd, high key lighting which obscures as much as it reveals. Here are more details from a description of his current exhibition, which include more details about Krause and his portraits. An excerpt:

"Conventional black and white photography typically assumes that the principal features will be, literally highlighted, with the secondary features in degrees of shadow...the Sfumato portraits, by contrast, have the light source coming in at the back of the head with the light source, at a 45 degree angle, producing the strange effect whereby it is the principal features that are in shadow and the secondary features highlighted. Such is the intensity of this light in most of these portraits the outer limits of the heads have disappeared, so that the unframed features float disturbingly in a suggestive and destabilized space."


"Jacinda" George Krause image, from Sfumato series

Past images and exhibitions are well summarized and presented with luster on Krause's web site...I liked a lot of "The Street" gallery, as well as "Qui Riposa". What's especially admirable about Krause is his continuous experimentation and refusal to be pigeonholed. Krause was featured and interviewed in a recent issue of Shots Magazine and had this to say in response to a question about common threads in his work:

"There is a tendency to pigeonhole artists. Many are often disappointed if an artist changes direction, or switches to another subject. With the introduction of every series, I was surprised to find a negative reaction toward the new body of work. The most negative reaction was when I began work on the I Nudi series. Even many friends and critics thought I had lost my mind. In time most found in this series, as in all the others, a common denominator, a thread that runs through all my work. There is a dark and somber side to much of my work that I try to counter with a sense of humor. I am more interested in working with the emotional and psychological interpretation of the elements of the image and less with formal."


"Eternal Eye" George Krause image

While Krause is right on regarding the psychological elements of his work and the resulting emotional impact, he undersells its formal qualities, which are quite rich and should appeal to many audiences. Definitely worth a look. (A short article on Krause from an exhibition a few years ago can be found here).

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May 24, 2004

Worthwhile Online Photoforums, Haiti, and More Contemporary Women

Odds and ends to start the week:

* I used to spend a lot of time on photography forums a few years ago for photo sharing, but started running out of time and patience with many of them, for reasons I discussed early on when I started this blog. I've since come across three communities that I enjoy visiting periodically for offering an alternative to stock photography-styled, camera club forums with mechanical rating schemes: ALTphotos.com, PhotoSeen, and the unfortunately named Digital Sucks, which is highly partial to plastic camera and pinhole photographs (substituting one type of affectation for another, basically). These sites have their own way of seeing the world, which doesn't make them superior to other photo-sharing sites, but their content and the talented photographers that form the respective communities seem refreshing to me, especially in comparison to the run of the mill coming from photo.net and other similar forums.

* One amusing feature of Digital Sucks is their Photo of the Day, which is definitely one of the most unique POTD "competitions" online. It reminds me of this wise advice dispensed on a forum a few years ago from a very talented photographer regarding the dangers of aiming to win such contests. I thank my friend and talented photographer Ed for reminding me of the value of Furrukh's words.

* Blue Eyes Magazine is an online web photography zine featuring very high quality color photojournalism. The latest issue (April/May 2004) has a wonderful feature on Haiti turning 200 with three photoessays from different photojournalists. Though I don't go out of my way to seek out photojournalistic links, this one really grabbed me for the quality of the work presented online.


Melissa Lytle image, from A Sea of Tears photoessay

* Katie Murray is the latest in a line of women from Yale to achieve early visibility as a contemporary photographer on the gallery circuit, with an exhibit that's just started at the Jan Bekman gallery. She has many environmental portraits and scenarios shot in muted (almost washed out) color with people typically forming a very small part of the frame, and the landscapes frequently have a wild or disheveled quality about them. I'm guessing that these are being displayed as fairly large C-prints...the web images lack for detail, unfortunately, that might make them resonate. I prefer the outdoor shots to the interior ones, personally.


Katie Murray image

* At the same gallery, Mara Bodis-Wellner has a fascination with overlooked interiors, and has her own quirky understated ways of exploring them. Her images, oddly, are reproduced much larger online than Murray's, and feature very nice use of color and off-kilter compositions.


"Toothbrush" Maria Bodis-Wellner image

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May 20, 2004

Postmodern Japanese Photography: Two Fresh Takes From Women

Like many culture addicts, I've devoured my share of Japanese cultural products (somewhere, I read that Japan was one of the top three exporters of culture globally), mainly films, graphic novels, and videogames. Having studied Japanese history and spent time in Japan a while back, I've also been fascinated with their culture and social mores generally, and have thought about a number of the cultural stereotypes: the so-called collectivist thinking and behavior of the Japanese, the effects of lifetime employment, the passion for cutesy kitsch, the obsession with technology in terms of consumer electronics.

There has been quite a bit written recently that reconsiders these stereotypes, such as this book, but what I hadn't seen a lot of until recently was art or photography that reflected the cultural changes in Japan, specifically the role of women. Apparently, the history of Japanese photography hasn't been well documented generally until the last decade, particularly for people outside of Japan, but the last year has seen a major retrospective of Japanese photography...the exhibition catalog for that retrospective is nicely reviewed here, and provides a good historical overview overall.

One could loosely and simplistically map developments in Japanese photography to similar ones in American and European photography -- the use of photography early on for straight documentary purposes, the evolution of a pictorial tradition, the advent of modernism, and then more radical, individualistic approaches that incorporated the viewpoint of the photographer and addressed social issues more explicitly. I'm sure Japanese photography deserves better than this, and I hope (and expect) for more to be written about the subject. In the meantime, I muddle along with my simplistic frames of reference and mostly admire individual photographers such as Araki, Moriyama, Hosoe, and many more.


Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape

More recently, there have been contemporary art stars like Hiroshi Sugimoto that subtly adapt Japanese culture and minimalist techniques to work that hangs comfortably in Western and Japanese galleries globally. The evolution of a postmodern photography that carries the voice of women, and speaks more topically yet artfully to the changes in modern Japanese society, hasn't been as easy to find. So it was a revelation to discover Miwa Yanagi's work, specifically Elevator Girls (which can also be seen in pieces in this preview of her latest book), and My Grandmothers. (some larger images from the latter can be seen here).


Miwa Yanagi image, from Elevator Girls

Yanagi's photographs are closer in look to the work of photographers like Philip Lorca di Corcia and Jeff Wall than they are to many previous Japanese photographers, and interestingly they seem to be more popular in Europe and other countries such as Australia than they have been in the U.S., based on my limited research. On first glance, I can see why they might have had a modest but not huge impact here, as the look of some of the photographs mirrors many of the C-prints being churned out and displayed at U.S. contemporary art galleries. But a closer look at them and consideration of the context in which they were produced is fascinating.

This excellent interview with Yanagi brings out some key points to understanding the appeal of her work...Yanagi talks about the characteristics of certain cliques in Japanese society, and how a strain of conservatism in thinking still underlies the outward rebelliousness and infatuation with consumer culture...and how women are still inhibited from expressing their ambitions. Thus the rationale emerged for the series "My Grandmothers", which depicts women as they would imagine themselves 50 years later:

Wakasa: I would like you to talk about your recent work, the My Grandmothers series. In this series, you deal with women who are free and have a unique personality unlike the elevator girls series.

Yanagi: Yes, but some models are from that series.

Wakasa: What is the process of shifting from restricted women to free women?

Yanagi: I used a lot of models for the elevator girls series. They were like dolls or mannequins because of my control. I switched to photography from performance art because I wanted to control their performance 100 percent. As a result, they became mannequins. In the process of making the series, I had opportunities to talk with models who were in their twenties. It was interesting. They want something for their future. But, they have hard time expressing what they want as if their desires were subdued or locked inside. It's hard to tell when locked. Japanese women today conceive themselves as someone who are lovable. They think they have to be lovable and liked by everyone around them. Especially young women think that they don't deserve to live if they are not like that. As a result, they don't talk openly about their wishes or strange desires even though they had some ideas about who they wanted to be when they were children. In order for them to recall their childhood dreams, they need to be liberated from their youthfulness.

Wakasa: Young women cannot express who they want to be at present because they are young?

Yanagi: Right. But, they can often express what they want to accomplish 50 years later from now. I think that occurs after they feel liberated from the age issue.

Wakasa: Does it mean that they don't care any more about what others think of them when they become senior?

Yanagi: Yes. So, the more restricted she is today, the more free and gorgeous she may become fifty years later in her imagination.


Miwa Yanagi image, from My Grandmother series

The contrasts with American society and the ironies are impossible to miss. In the U.S., consumer culture seems to promulgate an endless adolescence, and the pervasive (suffocating?) influence of baby boomers has resulted in a continuous denial of the realities of "growing old" in popular culture. On the other hand, Yanagi's subjects are so stifled by the expectations for women in their culture that they can only imagine liberation and accomplishment as grandmothers (however illusory).

Superficially, Yanagi's images invite some misunderstanding (at least in a web view) because they seem to take off from typical advertising images of rebellion and success, such as the photograph above. But looking more closely at the series reveals the quirks and the winking postmodern characteristics...for example, the photograph above was shot, not in California, but in a Tokyo studio with a fan blowing the model's dyed red hair...the photograph was then merged with a stock image of the Golden Gate image in the background, implying a rickety quality to the dream.

The interview with Yanagi cited above is also must reading for understanding the dynamic by which Japanese contemporary artists in general have started to be appreciated in their own country and abroad (Yanagi apparently had no understanding of the contemporary art market or that there might be a market for her work prior to her first show in Germany eight years ago). You can also read more about Yanagi and other interesting Japanese artists featured with her in a group exhibition, "Chameleon Dreams" that came to the U.S. two years ago...here's another good summary.

Finally, a more modest discovery is Mayumi Kimura, whose exhibition, "Interchangeable Disturbances", in her words "...center[s] on the desires and fantasies of a wedding cake figurine who dreams about becoming a truly unique and powerful icon someday. Her magical transforming energy comes from her dissatisfaction with her identity as a determined object.".


"Queen Masque", Mayumi Kimura image

Though I've admired the work of artists like David Levinthal and Laurie Simmons, I have to admit that I have a limited taste for "figurine photography" in contemporary art, but I find Kimura's four galleries of photographs of her wedding cake icon irresistible. And though she doesn't speak about Japanese identity or the issues of women explicitly, it's easy to see in her wit and her photographic scenarios some connections to the themes that an artist like Yanagi has addressed more explicitly. Fun stuff, and thoughtful too. I love the last line of her statement: "Her never-ending exploration into her identity adds more and more personas to her surface, yet, ironically, her new personas persistently keep her on the wedding cake."

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May 19, 2004

Commercial vs Fine Art Continued: Three Slick Websites and an Alternative Process

As luck and serendipity would have it, after rambling about commercial and fine art photography yesterday, the latest issue of PDN just came in, and it's their fat Photo Annual for 2004 -- 200 glossy pages of short features on trends and publishers and photographers to watch in the worlds of commercial and fine art photography. Headlining their notable photographer web sites are three of the slickest Flash sites you will see, from Brian Pearson (who's backpacked around the world for five years and has lots of moody environmental photography on display), Heimo (an Iceland based photographer who takes nice landscapes and quite thoughtful commercial portraits), and Michelle Zassenhaus.

Pearson and Zassenhaus's sites both feature photos that fade in smoothly (or not so smoothly, depending on your internet connection) like a lens coming into focus...pretty cool the first few times you see it, but I can see this as a trend that would get annoying quickly, especially with less distinctive photography. (It reminds me of a craze that developed in the '80s, where numerous music artists would place introductions to their songs starting with radio static and then mimicing a radio station coming into tune, leading into the song...this was another "trend" that got cheesy and dated in a hurry). For what it's worth, I think this these "focusing" transitions work more effectively with Pearson's dreamy and contemplative photography than they do with Zassenhaus' stripped down urban landscapes.


Brian Pearson image, from We Buy Gold portfolio


Heimo portrait

These are ultimately sites with more commercial aspirations in mind, though there's good stuff to be seen (for me, the "We Buy Gold" portfolio in Pearson's site, and Heimo's portraits). I have yet to wade through a lot of the PDN annual, but one photographer with a small mention that caught my eye is Jody Ake, who doesn't appear to have a slick website, but does have some nice images using the wet-plate collodion process -- apparently one of the very few photographers to use collodion for commercial work. The images featured in PDN are part of a fashion story with Harlem as a subject, and are lovely...unfortunately, the only images I've been able to track down online are mostly still lifes and some portraits, though they're still cool and moody-looking.


Jody Ake, "Marianna" collodion image

In doing some basic research on Ake, I did come across this interesting article on the Photo Co-op in New York City, which talks about the positive dynamics of establishing a photo district in lower Manhattan. I liked reading this excerpt about how financially viable building darkrooms still seems to be even in 2004:

"As more photographers go digital, Mozes's decision to provide office space has proven prescient. "I could convert additional darkrooms to digital if that seems the way to go," he says. But just as painting didn't disappear when photography emerged, he doubts that film photography is ever going to go away. 'Right now, if I had twice as many darkrooms I would fill them.' "

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Images and Words: More Explorations of Commercial vs Personal Photography

It's nice and convenient to lock oneself in a cocoon and think pure artistic thoughts when pursuing photography, but for all my meanderings on this blog about art and photography, I've tried to actively confront the contradictions of photography as a commercial venture as well as an artistic one...and the reality that there's more uncomfortable overlap than one might realize.

Lately it's been hard to think much about art...when you're shooting corporate events, there ain't much art, and even with my personal work with dancers, there's the consideration of how to market even the basic candid images to parents accustomed to more straightforward (I'm being diplomatic here) portraits of their ballerinas. Then there's my studio lighting class, which is providing excellent practical knowledge of tricky lighting situations, but it's hard to get excited about lighting spoons and glass and digital clocks.

Sean Kernan is a Connecticut based commercial and fine arts photographer with a superb web site that explores these questions of commercial work vs personal artistry -- through images and thoughtful essays and interviews -- and he does so in a much more lyrical and gracefully exploratory manner than I could ever attempt. Roughly half the galleries on his site showcase his commercial work, and the other half showcases personal galleries on images of books, trees, artfully fragmented portraits, and prison images.


Sean Kernan image, from Prison series

Kernan definitely has a smart way with light, and not only is he good at using it, he's terrific in talking about how he uses it. He has one of the best collections of essays and interviews on any personal website that I've read. As I struggle to come to grips with what my final project will be for my studio lighting class, here's an excerpt from a long interview with PDN regarding the difficulty of shooting still lifes that hit home with me:

PDN: What is the most difficult challenge you face in lighting still lifes?

Kernan: The hardest thing is when there is just no content. I guess I'm a fantasist, I also write, I write fiction, and I love to pull stories out of myself. It makes photography easier for me when there is some hint of a little story that I can start with. In the end you want someone to look at your photograph and have a story available to them--a story they can follow.

Lighting is part of the narrative. It's this: there is the story and then there is the language that you choose to tell it in; you can blurt it out or you can tell it in a crafted way where things are revealed if you want them to be revealed. Lighting is, I think, the vernacular, it's the syntax and the poetry of the story you're telling--it's how we tell the story."

Some of the commercial galleries -- especially the more recent images -- are definitely worth looking through as well. The Secret Books gallery is the most well known -- I've seen excerpts in magazines, along with the text from Borges -- but the portraits and prison images are interesting as well.


Sean Kernan image, from the Secret Books series

As I said, the interviews and essays are as much fun to wade through, if not more so, especially when you get a philosophical guy like John Paul Caponigro doing the interviewing of an equally literate Kernan. Here is an interesting exchange regarding the merits of photography as an art form relative to other disciplines:

Kernan: "...I confess I'm one of those who thinks photography is a bit too easy, a secondary art form that is sometimes practiced by primary artists, like your father. Perhaps long and hard are good for one's work because they demand that one pay greater attention, and so one sees more possibilities.

I keep thinking about what we talked about, the matter of art work being difficult. We talked about the time work takes, and I think we agree that time is not the only factor. If it were, we'd see macramè in museums. With some of the "instantaneous" art forms-photography, Zen calligraphy, some poetry - the time is invested in the practice, and the execution looks simple and quick.

This leads to the thought about the time that it takes to really apprehend a work. Photography is like a skyrocket, the novel is like a candle. Photography and poetry hit with a strong, nearly instantaneous impression, and they do their work in memory for a long time after we walk away from the work. But a longer form--particularly the novel - feeds it's line into your being for a week, a month, like a long thin wire that cuts a new channel through you and strings you together in some new way. Its Aha! versus Hmmmm ... and I wouldn't want to choose between them."

Caponigro: Isn't that the crux of the matter we've been discussing? The process or the mode fosters a specific kind of perception. It is tempting to attach the words "the process" to the materials and the physical aspects of work, and they are important and interesting, still I feel it's even more interesting and rewarding to look at "the process" as engaging in a discipline or specific mode of perception and becoming aware of the resulting psychological effects that activity nurtures. In this respect the various artistic disciplines are not as different as they would seem."

There's so much more that I could excerpt (and perhaps I'll sneak in more in future posts), but even if you don't care for Kernan's mix of commerce and art photography, he is eloquent and measured and, for someone exploring such lofty ideas, pleasingly down to earth and not full of himself. I enjoy visiting his site for inspiration when wrangling with the art-commerce dichotomy myself.

Kernan makes his love of books clear throughout his site...writing them and photographing them. I wonder what he would make of Victor Schrager's large format, selective focus explorations of books (which I first encountered in the issue of Blind Spot I wrote about last month)...simple and evocative explorations of color and form that alternately embrace and blur away the texture and weight of books in the frame.


Victor Schrager image

Final note: Thanks to April Gertler of nymphoto for dropping by the site and commenting...it's always great to hear from the photographers directly! I'll try to check out that show if I can make to NYC soon, though it sounds like it may be wrapping up soon...

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May 17, 2004

Finding Satisfaction While Overloaded, Plus Another Take on Collages

I'm still in the middle of a crazy busy period doing a lot of photography (14 rolls of film and a couple of gigs of digital images) and trying to make various clients happy in the short term. Despite numerous technical snafus that always seem cruelly timed (including scanners, printers, enlargers etc all malfunctioning within days of each other near a big deadline), I somehow got a dozen black and white prints up on Saturday at the ballet studio, followed by four more color ones on Sunday from early weekend dress rehearsals and shows, and thankfully they were very well received. A lot more printing and developing to be done, but thank goodness it seems under control in the short term.

The currency of praise in photography is sadly worth little, given how easily it is dispensed by loved ones and colleagues, and it can be even dangerous for photographers, as it correlates too infrequently with financial rewards or personal growth and spiritual rewards for that matter (as shooting strictly to please others rarely produces personal work). But in reading Kevin's latest post, I'm reminded that sometimes the simplest praise is the most rewarding; in his case, it came from a small gesture from his father, in my case it came from the dancers themselves as I posted the prints right after they finished their pre-show rehearsal...as they saw themselves in candid poses during past classes, in performance, or simply sharing a laugh during a break, they couldn't stop looking at the prints, and one woman just yelled (to no one in particular) "These [pictures] make me so happy, I just want to cry".

It sounds hokey, I'm sure, but I don't sell a single print, I'll still feel fulfilled for having engaged in this project.


Emily and I had a good email exchange regarding the merits (or lack thereof) of Guillem Ramos-Poquí's work in my recent post on photomontage. I've expressed my reservations about a lot of digital photomontage, which too often looks cheesy or merely clever, which made it a pleasure to view Em's own collages from years ago before she even had a camera. Her modest and engaging work was assembled using a scanner and photographs from various sources, and has the depth and personality that so many collages lack, in my opinion. Once again, proof that personality and sound artistic motivation trump equipment and lofty jargon anytime...

More posts and links to come as I extricate myself gradually from my workload...

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