Saturday, October 27, 2007

More on Roy Arden

Sarah Milroy (who consistently produces illuminating reviews of photography) has a good piece in today's Globe & Mail about Roy Arden's current exhibition (recent post here), talking about Arden and Wall and the photography coming out of Vancouver being some of the strongest contemporary art in Canada, as well as some interesting comments about current photographic practice. (again, grab the full article before it disappears behind the Globe's firewall...):

"Is Arden our next greatest photographer?

...Coinciding with the opening of the Roy Arden show, the panel configuration implied a passing of the torch from Wall to Arden, with the younger photographer subtly positioned as the inheritor of the photo-conceptual mantle.

As both the exhibition and the symposium immediately made clear, though, Wall and Arden are like apples and oranges. Both share an interest in the changing social and economic architecture of their hometown. Both, too, have made images of society's dispossessed. But listening to Wall talk with typically succinct clarity and brilliance about the history of tableau, and photography's emergent place in that tradition (thanks in large part to him, I would say), I came to understand that he's on an entirely different track than his younger colleague. He's seeking to change the medium. Arden is working within it.

In his pioneering work of the seventies and eighties, Wall made the photograph an object to be encountered bodily. Appropriating the larger scale of street signage and cinema, he presented the photograph in the format of an illuminated light box, setting the stage with props and actors (stepping neatly around photography's traditional role as reportage), and altering the images digitally until he got what he wanted. (So much for verisimilitude.) Finally, he affixed the resulting pictures to the wall, where you approach them from a standing position, as you would a large canvas. Thus Wall catapulted the photograph deep into the traditional domain of painting, absorbing that antique tradition into photography's newer one, and, some would argue, defeating painting at its own game.

Arden, on the other hand, is a photographer in the traditional sense that Wall transcends; he works with the world that is put before him. An observer of contemporary urban life, he is an astute documentarian of his city, his pictures offering a swooning lament for Vancouver's passage from characterful frontier lumber town to generic global metropolis, a change he has witnessed first-hand over the course of his 50 years.

Walking through the show, you sense his love of place, his sharp editorial eye for the telling detail, as well as his discernment about pictures and picture-making. Arden's photographs are haunted by the work of other photographers, and they are meant to be experienced as such. In several pictures, the shadow of his head and shoulders, lit from behind, falls across his subject, a signature stroke borrowed from American photographer Lee Friedlander. Mannequins in a store window recall Eugène Atget. A bleak suburban Sahara of warehouses and hydro poles brings to mind the work of Stephen Shore and the New Topographics artists. There's a sophistication and learnedness to Arden's way of reframing the world, and if you are in the know, his pictures seem to slip you a wink...."
BTW, what is it about Canadian photographers and the little Burtynsky style "pudding ring" beard thing?

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