Saturday, September 26, 2009

Man-bags and stuff Pt.II

Well, I may have found it... my holy grail of bags (for now, anyway). The Landscape Satchel by Tanner Goods. I don't have one in my hand as they are made to order. And the price is a little... over the top end, for me anyway (especially as I saw a women with a really nice leather messenger bag after a gallery opening the other day and it cost her all of - $70.00).

Anyway, I like the look of this one - in all three colours actually. Black would definitely be my first choice though, followed by brown. I also like the idea of the removable zippered insert - pouches for this and that or just a big empty bag.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How did I miss this...? Buffet

(Andrew Phelps - Not Niigata)

I'm not sure how I missed this up until now, but photographer Andrew Phelps has a great blog up call Buffet.

As he describes it:
The Buffet is open........

Buffet is a collection of special editions, book + print sets, artist's books, print/book trades and various interesting ways in which photographers are packaging and selling their work. Some are sold through galleries and publishers, some by the artists. The only ones I am selling directly are my own. I'm not a dealer (more of a junkie) so I am not getting a cut of these sales, I am just a photographer interested in work which is in my price range.

(Nicholas Gottland - Wild Prayer)

Anyway, there's some great stuff in here (as well as a lot of stuff I wish I'd know about which is now long sold out...). So many good photographers are now selling their work directly either as POD books, limited run prints, through small off-the-grid publishers etc which is a movement I'm pleased to see continues to grow. But it's also hard to keep track of what's out there. I found it especially rewarding to scroll back through all the old posts on the blog. There is some quite wonderful work in there.

(Sonja Thomsen Surface)

So I'm going to be keeping an eye on Buffet and seeing what comes along.

BTW - I also like his idea of trading prints for books - you might possibly see that here...?

Monday, September 21, 2009

James Nachtwey et al

(James Nachtwey)

Scrolling through the channels last night to try and find The Policewomen of Broward County (yes, I know...), I ran across a repeat of War Photographer, the excellent documentary about James Nachtwey. Although I've seen it before, I was immediately hooked and watched the whole 90 minutes or so again.

(James Nachtwey)

After the doc finished I pulled out my battered copy of Deeds of War from the shelf and took another look through it. And this morning I grabbed the doorstep sized Inferno from the local library. I had somehow forgotten how stunning Nachtwey's work is, along with how committed a character he is. Which got me thinking about a couple of things.

(Gilles Peress)

For me, during the late Twentieth and into the earlier Twenty-first Century there has always been a triumvirate of conflict/war photographers whose work spoke more loudly, more convincingly and was nearly always head and shoulders above anything else around. Don McCullin, Gilles Peress and James Nachtwey. Now, these guys are all getting on a little bit. I figure the last two are already into their early sixties and the Don is about 73 (not to suggest they are past it or not still photographing or anything). But who can forget McCullin's searing pictures from Vietnam or the Congo or Beirut arriving in time for Sunday breakfast with the colour supplements? Or Peress' unbearable yet absolutely essential images from Bosnia in Farewell to Bosnia and Rwanda in The Silence. And Nachtwey's b&w essays from Rwanda, the Sudan, Chechnya still, against all the digital and ad-dollar odds, being published in Time.

(Don McCullin)

But who are their heirs? Who is doing work of a similar calibre, work as powerful and searing as this and getting it published? I'm sure they are out there(or at least I hope they are).

Which leads me to: where the work of this sort and calibre from Iraq and Afghanistan (and any other current spot on the globe where human beings are suffering and dying)? There was a time when I would seek out such stories in the news magazines, the Sunday supplements as well as other often not quite so obvious places and publications - but they were never to hard to find and often looked you right in the eye from the newsstand. Perhaps I haven't been quite so diligent this last few years, but where is the work? I seem to have encountered so little in published form, and while the internet has been a boon to photography in so many ways, it seems in some ways to have belittled this kind of work, robbed it of its power and rendered it impotent.

(Don McCullin)

I have, it must be said, gone to the websites of some of the big (and not so big) newspapers and other publications when I have found a pointer that led me there. In one way it has been great that the NY Times or whatever can now publish the whole of an essay online when they perhaps only printed 2 or 3 pictures in the actual (physical) paper. And yet, somehow, scrolling through a slide show, along with added information or commentary just seems to lack impact or staying power - despite how good the images may be. And though many - indeed most - are very very good, where are the excellent ones? The pictures that sear themselves onto our retinas and haunt our dreams?

(Gilles Peress)

Postscript: Having written this, I just came across the story this last week of the photographs of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard in Afghanistan (and here and here)and words of censure coming from the supposedly open and outward looking administration in the White House. I think one essential thing McCuillin, Peress and Nachtwey all have in common is that their work was and is about pricking our complacency, about not letting us hide in our suburban middle-class ghetto's. Perhaps, in the end, they failed? Not because their work wasn't powerful enough or that they didn't try hard enough, but rather that our self-absorbed complacency was just too immense to overcome?

(James Nachtwey)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Problem of Photography Pt.1 (The Gaze)

There is a lovely book of photographs by Stephen Shore called the Gardens at Giverny. It is very nicely done and has always been a favourite of mine. But I wonder at the conflicting emotions when the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggested photographing Monet's newly restored house and gardens at Giverny. Holy crap - what an incredible opportunity - to photograph Monet's Gardens. Holy crap - how on earth do you photograph Monet's Gardens.

The end result is a book that I feel reflects that. It is a beautiful collection of photographs giving us Shore's vision of the renascence of these iconic gardens, showing us their hidden and unnoticed details and late summer parched browns as well as their verdant lushness. A well executed collection of pictures by a major photographer. (I know of one landscape architect who keeps a copy on her desk. I also found, while looking for online pictures from it an interview with Stephen Shore where he notes that the contemporary photographer he is most interested in is Walid Raad which I find most encouraging in the light of what I say below).

And yet... and yet, place one or even all of these photographs beside one of Monet's paintings of his garden and they would be, I believe, immediately eclipsed (though I haven't actually stood, book in hand, before Water-Lilies or The Water-Lily Pond at the National Gallery). Certainly in many ways it's an unfair comparison, and I'm sure it was a comparison that Shore was both aware would be made and was probably constantly aware of in himself while he worked. But there is almost no other way it can be. Which brings me to what I see as the heart of the problem of photography - what I recently referred to as sustaining our gaze.

(Water-Lilies, Claud Monet)

It is one of the fundamental problems of photography that photographs rarely seem able to hold our attention for an extended period of time, never mind sustain our concentrated gaze. I find it hard to think of almost any photograph that is capable of holding a viewers gaze for even thirty minutes, never mind an hour or two or a whole afternoon. And yet I can think of numerous other works of art that can do just that.

When encountered, even a painting by a less than well known 18th Century artist - such as Gordale Scar (A View of Gordale, in the Manor of East Malham in Craven, Yorkshire, the Property of Lord Ribblesdale) by John Ward can hold our direct attention for quite some time. And yet go to an exhibition of work by say Robert Adams or Eggleston or Lee Friedlander and how long would we spend, with our gaze fixed on an individual picture? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes, thirty? I think that would be approaching unusual even for the photographically literate, to say nothing of the serious but non specialist general viewer. Possible, but rare.

(Gordale Scar (A View of Gordale, in the Manor of East Malham in Craven, Yorkshire, the Property of Lord Ribblesdale) by John Ward)

And what of travelling to see a photograph? A single photograph mind you, not a whole exhibit of a photographer's work. I can think of a good number of works of art - mainly, though not only, paintings - that I would make the time and effort to travel some way to see - to another country even (and on occasion have done so). But to do the same for a single photograph? There are less than a handful of photographs that would have the same draw (a particular Atget - tiny as it would be; possibly a Walker Evans. Maybe even something like an early Fox Talbot). For a major exhibit of a particular photographer's work, certainly I would make the effort. But for individual photographs it is hard to think of many at all.

(Parc de Scaux, Atget)

Now none of these or the following thoughts are terribly new or original, but what has prompted me to start putting them together is a growing dissatisfaction with so much of the work I see that crosses my desk almost every day in one way or another. Yes, there is all sorts of work that excels at what it is trying to do. Work that adds another little twist or tweak to a certain direction or area of photography and does so well, whether it be large format urbanscapes, deadpan portraits, large format prints, directed and arranged tableaux etc. etc. And yet almost none of it even begins to push up against what I feel are the current, long standing limitations on photography (but not inherent limitations, because I don't believe they are).

(from Sticks and Stones - Lee Friedlander)

This is what has been called "the problem of photography", and the limitation of the gaze, the holding of our attention, is the clearest symptom of the problem. As I see it there are three main causes to the problem, three main limitations, three boundaries, that photography has yet to make serious - or at least successful - attempts to break out of (and which is where I feel that so much contemporary work is lacking. I encounter little which is even pushing up against these boundaries, never mind making an effort to break through them or smash them out of the way completely).

I want to take some time in future posts to explore these boundaries and the ways they limit or restrict photography, but for now the three boundaries as I see them are:

1. The lack of time in a photograph (which is tied in some way to the minimal influence of the artists hand in a photograph). Among others, John Berger, David Hockney and Richard Benson have tried to address this problem. A photograph contains so little time because everything is compressed into a fraction of a second (and even a "long" exposure practised by the likes of Atget out of necessity or others by choice makes very little difference to this - perhaps just a little, but not enough). As Hockney put it, the imbalance between the two experiences, the first and the second lookings, is too extreme.

2. The frame. The window that seems to continually apply its internally focused tension, never allowing the photographic image beyond those borders - be they square, rectangular or circular, 8x10 inches or 8x10 feet. The photographic frame has frequently been regarded as a window (and often positively so). Yet as a window, all we can ever do is look through it. Never step through it like a door (or even break through it) to what is beyond.

3. Perspectivism. Photography has for so long been limited (from long before the invention of film) by the concept of Renaissance Perspective, a theoretical straight-jacket that photography has usually been too insecure to try and throw off, never mind break from completely. It took painting 400 years. How long is it going to take photography?

(Let's Be Honest, the Weather Helped - Walid Raad - The Atlas Group Archive)

(btw, do respond with your thoughts, criticisms or comments. Posts are moderated, but only because I kept getting too many spam and junk posts)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Two for the Photo-Book Library - Benson and Eggleston

If you are an addicted photo-book collector, here are a couple of good sized tomes worth getting for the reference section:

First, The Printed Picture by Richard Benson. This is actually a quite beautiful book, most likely because Richard Benson cares to the Nth degree about the presentation and printing of pictures - especially photographs - in books. Benson, who teaches at Yale (and was Dean of the School of Art for a number of years), has also printed some of the most beautifully done photo-books out there such as the gorgeous four volume The Work of Atget as well as the incomparable Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company - probably the finest example of the combination of the photographer's and the printer's art . Among others, he has had a long standing partnership with Lee Friedlander, printing a number of Frieldander's books

The internet aside, I think it's true that we see the majority of the photographs we look at in the form of printed books or in magazines and this book is literally an overview of the printed picture going through the history of how pictures, mainly though not only photographic, have been reproduced, printed and presented. From woodblocks through to inkjets and digital technology with everything important in between. But the book is not overly wordy or academic and the pictures chosen as examples of the different techniques are frequently left to do a lot of the talking for themselves. Benson is both a photographer as well as a master of the printing press and it shows. The book is informative, intriguing and visually beautiful. And Benson is also able to describe these processes in a very straightforward yet complete manner. Definitely one for the bookcase and to thumb through again in the darkness of winter. (There was also a sort of precursor exhibition treading the ground of this book called The Physical Print: A Brief Survey of the Photographic Process, which was well reviewed on 5b4)

The second book is William Eggleston, Democratic Camera : photographs, and video, 1961-2008. This is the catalogue of the large Eggleston retrospective at the Whitney that ended earlier this year (I recently came across a very good review of the show here). It's a fairly heavy duty book and gives a pretty good overview of Eggleston's work along with a quiver full of essay's by Elizabeth Sussman, Thomas Weski, Stanley Booth et al. There's nothing earth shattering about the book or the essays, but if you haven't been able to gather together some of Eggleston's books such as Democratic Forest or Ancient & Modern or Los Alamos or Eggleston's Guide (grab the reprint while you still can...) - some of which are getting pricey these days - then it's a good way to view a fair chunk of his work.

One thing I did feel going through the book is how much better the majority of the photographs work in the context of their original book form rather than in a big retrospective book like this. I didn't get to see the exhibit, but have a feeling it wouldn't matter so much looking at a cross section of Eggleston's prints on the gallery wall - because many of them also stand on their own as well. But somehow, taken out of the overall context of say Eggleston's Guide or Democratic Forest and put together in one large compendium many of the pictures seemed at least a little diminished which makes me think of how important the grouping and sequencing of a set of photographs can be, where the whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts.

Either way, a good book for the shelf, although as I got this one out of the public library, I might be tempted by his new book on Paris instead (though I wasn't too keen on the Dunkerque book... it almost felt like he was a little lost in Basillico territory). Oh and if you come across a cheap copy of Election Eve, let me know!