Friday, April 27, 2007
I know some who won't admit to spending a night or two with the latest Tom Clancy novel. I'm waiting for the new Michael Ondaatje book to arrive at the library - heavy duty stuff - but I read once the Ondaatje likes to relax with a good detective novel. Which is probably my choice too.
Most recently my favorite has been the Inspector Wallanader series from Henning Mankell. A middle aged small town Swedish detective who worries about his daughter and his cholesterol (hmm...). He also comes up with some surprisingly thoughtful lines about life in general. Then there's the Commissario Brunetti series - though he seems to spend more time wandering around Venice than actually solving crimes (and I usually end up just wanting to spend Spring sipping espresso's in some small Venetian bar). I also like the Inspector Rebus series, although Rebus is is bit to close to self-destruction from cigarettes, booze, neeps and tatties for comfort.
Finally of course, there is the fictional detective who's also a photographer. Thumps Dreadfulwater a native American photographer/retired cop. There are only two books in the series so far and they are actually pretty good and quite funny in places as well. The protagonist uses a Leica M6 and a wooden 4x5 Field Camera. Written by Hartley Goodweather - which is the pseudonym for award winning author Tom King - whose more serious novels are also first class (Btw, Tom also enjoys using Dagor lenses and doing the Pyro dev thing - he really is a photographer as well as a novelist).
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The opening is Friday May 4th, from 6:30-10:30pm at The Lucky Ju Ju Pinball Art Gallery, 713 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda. He sent me an invite (and the Lucky Ju Ju looks cool...) but it's just to far :-)
"...Photography, being rooted in reality, has the capacity to find redemption simply by showing us the world in which we live, in all of its rich and astonishing detail. That's not to say that photography replicates reality. Even discounting the possibilities of digital manipulation, we know the medium is far more complex, more subjective, more nuanced. But for the photographers included here, at least, it all begins in the real world. Whether they have focused on the most banal details of scenes we overlook every day, or on magnificent landscapes we may never see with our own eyes, their photographs draw our attention to a place and hold it there. If, in contemplating these photographs, the notion of stewardship crosses our minds, if we consider our responsibility to those places we cherish, that's probably not an accident....
What these photographers have done, in fact, is to embrace and then transcend their own intimate connection to a place. Barbara Bosworth has done it in her photographs of a New England meadow and of the trees that inhabit it. In the tallest part of one tree, a snarl of bare branches against a pale blue sky, the limbs become disentangled, and a lone bird sits, poised for flight. That tree might be a pure embodiment of Adams's observation. It's a thing of beauty, pointing beyond itself, literally, toward the bird's flight out of the frame, but also figuratively, toward the way a place becomes a repository of memory, even a redemptive metaphor. But a place is always more than just a metaphor; it exists, and if nothing else, these photographs demand that we look closely and carefully. And, perhaps, that we ask ourselves how lightly we're walking on the earth, and what kind of footprints we're leaving behind. But in the end, Bosworth's photograph, like all of the photographs here, ultimately circles back again from metaphor to the place itself, to a tree in a meadow, in all its singularity..."
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
"It means making an artistic decision to be out of step.... See that through to its logical conclusion and provincialism becomes an artistic strategy: not a misfortune of birth or temperament, but a wilful rejection, not simply of metropolitan fashion and facility, but of the very idea of a gravitational centre. You haunt the margins because the margins are where independence and originality are to be found...
But there is a price to be paid for this particular ambivalence. Where you do not attach an unambiguously, not to say transparently high value to yourself and to your work, others will have difficulty locating it. It is a sad fact about readers and lookers that they need to be told what a thing is worth and will often take art at the artist's own valuation. Lowry did not hold his work in disesteem, but in its presentation, in its apparent subject matter, in the titles he gave it, in the contrary and sometimes dismissive narratives in which he obscured both his ambitions and his achievements, he not only refused all suggestions of the highest seriousness, not to say grandeur, but made it difficult for others to see or describe that grandeur for themselves.
Only think of the artistic strategy of the conceptualists - a Damien Hirst title, say: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - and compare it with Landscape in Wigan or Industrial Scene, Ashton Under Lyne. It's true that Hirst punctures his own inflated self-importance with irony, but in an age of irony that only adds to the self-importance. Just because conceptualism plays with portentousness, that doesn't mean it is not portentous. And because it says it is about ideas, it ipso facto IS about ideas.
Thus is seriousness in contemporary art, simply frivolity in another guise. Lowry was the polar opposite of this, making modest claims for what he did, presenting himself and his ambitions in a way that belied the real accomplishment of the art itself..."
I wrote all this a couple of days ago, and today read this on Mark Hobson's Landscapist about his loathing of the quest for the idealised form:
"...But, I have come to understand consciously what I have always understood intuitively - that what really gnawed at my craw was/is the fact that most of the pictures which pissed me off had nothing to do with 'real' life. Most of the pictures, in fact, stood/stand in direct contrast to 'real' life.
In wallowing in the fields of "idealized forms', they refute and devalue the realities of everyday life.
You know the life I mean. The one which you live each and every day. The one with the dust balls under the bed with the sagging mattress. The one with toil and trouble. But, it is also the one with joy and happiness which comes from 'some things money can't buy' - things that can be experienced only by looking life square in the eye and, for lack of a better term, embracing and dealing with it.
Now, when it comes to picture making and picture viewing, many seem to think that pictures which depict 'real' life are somehow 'ugly' and 'depressing'. They fail to make even the slightest effort to find the beauty in truth. Better to escape into the realm and easily grasped false hope of 'idealized forms' than to 'work' at finding true hope in all which surrounds one's self."
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
There seem to be some really interesting (not to say wild) things coming out of China in terms of photography and art.
One a practical level, if you sell any kind of nice looking Dagor lens on ebay, chances are it will get snapped up from China with a high bid - Large Format cameras a selling very well to China (and they are producing many very nice cameras there as well - Shen Hao, Fotoman etc).
But there is a steady stream of photography which doesn't show any signs of slowing down. They've taken the Becher/Struthsky school approach and run with it. They've taken the contemporary portrait trend and given it their own twists. And there is stuff that's just plain crazy (cool crazy that is). I haven't picked any for this post, but there is a lot of conceptual mixed media and "performance" photography (it tends to makes Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall look rather dull and staid)
I'm still finding it hard to get a handle on a lot of this, but I came across this site the other day. As well, individual photographers work seems to be showing up more and more on the blogs.
There is also the work of Peng & Chen who had their own edition of Colors all to themselves (Am I the only one that think that sounds like a pair of Vegas magicians...?). And Wengpei Jun's website here. PingMag also had a post on a new book on Chinese Photography
(Btw, does anyone else not quite get Colors? I want to like it - I've looked at it regularly since it first came out as the Benetton things years ago, but there's just something about it that doesn't persuade to fork over the dollars for a copy. Maybe time to take a closer look again?)
Monday, April 23, 2007
"Photography has always had the potential to democratise images, but it has seldom worked out that way in practice. Digital imaging has made image-making devices ubiquitous. Many more people now possess the means to make images more of the time. At the same time, images are primarily used, in the public image environment, to influence public opinion and encourage the consumption of products and services...
I used to think that more people making images would necessarily lead to more conscious image reception, but I'm less sure of that now. It seems that it's possible to make images as unconsciously as one consumes them, bypassing the critical sense entirely...
Images online are both more ephemeral (in form) and more substantial (in number). They flicker across our eyes and jitter through our minds at incredible speeds. We spend more time collecting and sorting images, but less time looking at any one of them. One can never step into the same data-stream twice. The images from Abu Ghraib suddenly appear and are everywhere, and then just as suddenly they vanish, leaving barely a trace. Photographic images used to be about the trace. Digital images are about the flow...
In political terms the distribution of images is more important than their collection, and the distribution of public images is still primarily controlled by corporations. Moreover, as decisions about the distribution of images become more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer corporations, manipulation increases and criticality wanes..."
(oh - and there's an interesting comment about bloggers which has more than a little truth to it...)
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Don McCullin has to be the best living conflict/war photographer. His work from wars and conflicts from Cyprus, through the Congo, Biafra, Indo-Pakistan, Northern Ireland and - most of all - his iconic work from Vietnam is superb. In addition, his work from the massacres in Beirut in the Palestinian camps brought home what happened there like nothing else did (his maniacal lute player in the ruins of Beirut must, I'm sure, haunt many dreams).
"I want to pass another image past you, if I can re-create it for you adequately, and that is, one from Beirut . And there's the body of a young Palestinian girl lying in the street, and behind, there's a semi-circle of six Falange, that is right wing, nationalist Lebanese, serenading, doing a chorus over her dead body because she's dead. Now, you see! It makes me angry to describe it; what did you feel?"
Well, first of all, I'd been expelled from the area. I was watching Falange executing groups of men in 10s and 20s, butchering them in front of me; stabbing them, kicking them in the face... and you know, building up,...you know, often people when they murder people like that in a genocide fashion, they have to build up hatred, and by doing so, they have to work themselves up and they have to become bestial; and they kick people, and punch people, and degrade people, because they have to bring on the courage and the excuse, and reason to murder. And I was watching this in doorways, and I could see men being shot down in cold blood in front of me; brains going all over the wall; I almost broke down. I saw some men standing there, and the next thing I know, they were dropping, and one of them was just saying, Allah, with the last breath from his lungs. And I went around into a stairwell, and I thought I was going to break down. I thought, God you know; this is not real! What's going on? And I'd been with the Falange because we weren't allowed to operate on the other side in what they called the green line in those days; that's in West Beirut, so I was in East Beirut . But what shocked me before I end my story, was the fact that I was with people who call themselves Christians; that's what really got me. And so they said, 'you leave this area and you take no pictures'. And I was with a very nice journalist from The Sunday Times, who's now a professor at a university in the north of England , and we were walking quite shakily away from this butchery, and I heard music. And I said to Martin, 'do you hear music?' And he said, 'yes', he said, 'but let's just get out of here; let's get going'. And I said, I can music; it's getting louder. And I passed a cross-roads, an intersection, and sure enough, I looked up and I saw this dead young Palestinian girl who could have been no more than 16 to 20 years of age, lying in this horrible, cold, damp road, because it had rained heavily the night before. And lo and behold! There was a group of young Christians; one with a Thompson machine gun and another with a Kalashnikov. One of them had a lute. And I said to Martin, 'I've got to get this picture.' And he said, 'no, no, no; let's go; we don't want to make any problems'. And then, one of them, the man with the lute said, 'hey mister! Come and take a photo'. And I said to Martin, 'I'm going to do this'. And I went off, and I took two shots, didn't even use my exposure meter, I guessed it; and then we fled. And it's, in many respects, I think it's more akin to a religious painting."
(caught by a fellow photojournalist McCullin puts down his cameras and rescues an old lady while under fire in Cyprus)
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In some ways, portraiture has to be one of the hardest forms of photography to do well. Although like most fields of photography it has a small number who stand out from the crowd and probably always will, August Sander, Richard Avedon (though I hesitate slightly there) and Julia Margaret Cameron. Of the many contemporary portraitists, I wonder that perhaps only Rineke Dijkstra and Sally Mann can come close to being mentioned in the same breath.
Cameron was born in India in 1815 but didn't begin photographing until she was nearly 50. That she accomplished what she did in only about 12 years at the end of her life makes her achievement - in these the early years of photography's existence - even more astonishing.
While modern viewers may sometimes have some trouble with her (at the time very popular) Victorian allegories, her portraits of ordinary men and women, along with those of the like of Herschel and Tennyson, Browning and Darwin often come across as very modern. Their directness and simplicity is attention stopping. Her eye for a sort of casual and yet often intensebeauty is unerring. The subjects (even as allegory) are never less than fully human.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Now I'm sure some would see this as a failure: the photograph should stand on it's own; a picture is worth at least a thousand words, and if it can't explain itself then it's missed the point... and so on
But I'm not so sure. In many way's photographs have a very limited vocabulary - not really even a full language, but a half or partial-language at best. News photographs rely heavily on captions and accompanying words to give them context and expand their meaning. I don't really see why photographs meant as art should somehow always have to do without words?
"My photographs are now evidential traces of earlier events impossible to access. I travel to and document the physical remnants of history. On that terrain, the earth of our past, I reference calamity or site as a record of memory, not as an act of witness...
Improbable Boundries the natural, imposed, geologic, or treaty lines that divide forces, actions, places one from the other (such as the equator, the prime meridian, continental divides or unlikely contiguous land areas such as France and Canada or France and India....
NOW topographic pictures lifting cataclysmic events into the present through the physical index of contemporary ground at numerous ground zeros, holocaust camps, the paths of The Berlin Wall and the Israeli—West Bank Security Wall...."
I'll let you search for the captions...
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
German Geo has a site which showcases new graduates of the various photography/art schools across the country.
Apparently its a slightly frustrating site even in German - in English it's even worse... (sometimes you have to click on the map twice to get the correct list up)
That said, you can click on a State and get a selection of graduates work to view. It's worth hunting around through the listings.
An awful lot of embryonic Struthsky work, but interesting nevertheless
Monday, April 16, 2007
Extracts: "the other that stimulated me to write it is an experience with a friend of mine, a neighbor, who was a potter, very talented and smart woman, very cultured. In one point in our discussion, she said to me: ”I just don’t get photography, I just don’t know where to begin to look, I don’t know how to begin to look at a photograph. I don’t get what you’re doing.” I thought, here’s this person, who in other media, is very sophisticated, but there’s something different about photography that she’s not relating to. When she goes beyond the subject matter, she said “I don’t know what the photographer is thinking about”. That was the other audience, like this person, who is so cultured, yet photography is somehow foreign....
.... One is that there is something arbitrary about the decision making that a photographer engages in. What I mean by that is this: I can get out of the car and stand by the edge of the highway and take a picture that looks like a totally natural landscape, untouched by the hand of man. I could move back six inches and include the guardrail in the picture and the meaning of the picture changes dramatically. There is a marginal point where I can stand here and it’s one picture or I can stand there and it’s a different picture. And this decision, of what is the meaning of what’s in the rectangle is entirely my decision. It sounds wrong, because I didn’t create the landscape, but that decision so drastically alters the meaning that the weight of the decision becomes very interesting". more
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I just picked up the latest edition of Blindspot and it's definitely a good one - better imo than the last couple of editions.
Friday, April 13, 2007
"A box of sky? An box of emptiness? A box of space? When I first held this book of photography that is like a thin box, I hesitated for a moment. When I looked at the other side, the words kunohako ["A box of Ku"] were noted, and as I pronounced the Japanese readings over and over, I thought that no matter what reading I choose, each leaves a "hidden meaning," and the rich resonance fascinated me. Then for some reason, When I gazed at the characters spelled out in Japanese. I thought of an empty space of "Nothingness" residing in the box, yet when I looked at the alphabet spelling, I imagined countless items of some form called "Ku" filling the box to the brim. This title, which seems very simple at a glance, had already started making slow ripples in the "lake of premonition'' within me before I even opened the book.
It popped into my head to look up the word "Image" in the dictionary. "Picture. Shape or form that floats into one's heart. Figure." The works of Masao Yamamoto in fact do not necessarily reflect the phenomenon of " A Shape or form that appears and can be seen," but rather produce a personal "image" that makes one want to say, "The truth is he returned to the world of the spirit to sneak this photo!"Almost all the photographs are in black and white, but to be honest, of all the photos I have Seen until now, these black and white photos gave me the strongest sense of "color" that I have ever had. And conversely, looking at the very few color photographs that appear, I wanted to say, "How clear and transparent.." with a sigh. This reminds me of a time when I saw a dream with vibrant colors and someone brusquely dismissed it with, "There are no colors in dreams." These images that go freely back and forth between the wold of color and non-color may indeed themselves be ''dreams."..."
POSTSCRIPT - well, here's a nice piece of synchronicity. One of my favourite photo blogs was the space in between but for over six months it was inactive. It has great posts in the archives on all sorts of things photographic (including a great resource on William Eggleston among others). I had pretty much figures it had reached the end of its natural life but gave it another quick check today - the first in ages. And there was a new post about the personal aesthetic of which a big chunk is about Yamamoto. Stacy Oborn says this about him, which I find delightful:
"i don't know this for certain, but i think that yamamoto allows the gallery to decide how his work is to be shown, with perhaps a few sentences about his working philosophy and thinking. when i spoke to an assistant at j.f.a., she told me that the photographs arrived at the gallery minus any of the usual fuss and precocious preciousness surrounding the transport of contemporary art. they were stuffed unceremoniously into a box, all sitting on top and intersecting with one another. i imagined a cigar box stuffed to the brim with someone's old and aging personal history, closed with a thick rubber band on the outside."
Hopefully Stacy will add a few more more posts to the space in between ...
Julian provided the following addition link (if you click on one of the framed works, it pulls up bigger views of all the images) - cool