Friday, November 30, 2007

Kertesz Polaroids - the book

I missed this when I was writing yesterdays post, but ilachina(?) pointed out in a comment that a book of Kertesz's polaroids has just been published as well - "Andre Kertesz:The Polaroids" . Going by the exhibition, it could be a nice Xmas buy...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Andre Kertesz Polaroids

A good few of the Modernist masters seem to have turned their hand to the polaroid at one point or other.

Andre Kertesz nearly always seems to have had a genuine affection for what he photographed, which I think is one of the things which separates him from so many other photographers.

The Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago currently has an exhibition of Kertesz's delightful pictures:

André Kertész: Elizabeth and Me

"Taken in Kertész's apartment just north of New York's Washington Square, many of these photographs were shot either from his window or in the windowsill. We see a fertile mind at work, combining personal objects into striking still lifes set against cityscape backgrounds, reflected and transformed in glass surfaces. These photographs are a testament to the genious of the photographer's eye as manifested in the simple Polaroid."

Via wood_s_lot

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Keith Johnson -"Extended"

Julian Thomas over on his blog The Bartender Never Gets Killed mentioned the work of photographer Keith Johnson today.

I'd not come across Johnson's work before, but what I've seen so far seems quite interesting and certainly appeals to my tastes and interest in photography. I like the earlier works
Extended and also Ground/Cover, especially his use of triptychs and multiples - which seem quite hard to do well in photography.

Johnson has quite an impressive education, studying under Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind as well as Nathan Lyons.

His "statement" is also refreshingly down to earth. He also has a fun series of rotating quotes on his front page.
"My photography is about my travels which I do a lot; sometimes to interesting places, sometimes not. I travel with my camera expecting to see things of interest photographically; I am rarely disappointed. I am interested in the way we have shaped the landscape, entertaining juxtapositions, color, and stuff. At its root it is about entertainment. Enjoy"
Julian had trouble linking to any of Keith's images, but as I'm working on a Mac right now, it's simply drag and drop, so I can post some on here

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Searching for Sebald

Some time ago I talked about W.G. (Max) Sebald and especially his book Austerlitz. I also mentioned his way of using photographs interwoven with his text.

Not only has Sebald the writer been an important influence in the world of literature, but his use of photographs and imagery has also generated serious interest in different and new ways of using and understanding the photographic image.

After a long delay I finally got hold of a new book "Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald". It's published by the slightly quirky looking (but quite intriguing) Institute of Cultural Inquiry.

My fear was that the book would be dauntingly academic and was probably the unfinished thesis offcuts from some obscure Sebald symposium , but although I've only flicked through it, it doesn't seem quite as heavy duty as I suspected (though it's certainly a heavyweight tome even in paperback) and there are a few essays about the likes of Autobiogeography and Negative Indexicality... It's actually quite multidisciplinary with not only a series of essays and papers, but interviews and also artists responses to Sebald and his work.

I probably won't read every essay, but some certainly appeal to me on first sight and it should keep me going (and thinking) on and off through the winter (and probably take me back to re-reading some of Sebald's superb books and musings as well).

Among the many many topics are:

"Sebald's Invisible Cities"
"A Truth That Lies Elsewhere"
"But the written word is not a true document," a conversation with W.G. Sebald
"Gathering Evidence of Ghosts: W.G. Sebald's Practices of Witnessing" etc etc

"W.G. Sebald's books are sui generis hybrids of fiction, travelogue, autobiography and historical expos , in which a narrator (both Sebald and not Sebald) comments on the quick blossoming of natural wonders and the long deaths that come of human atrocities. All his narratives are punctuated with images--murky photographs, architectural plans, engravings, paintings, newspaper clippings--inserted into the prose without captions and often without obvious connection to the words that surround them. This important volume includes a rare 1993 interview called "'But the written word is not a true document': A Conversation with W.G. Sebald about Photography and Literature," in which Sebald talks exclusively about his use of photographs. It contains some of Sebald's most illuminating and poetic remarks about the topic yet. In it, he discusses Barthes, the photograph's "appeal," the childhood image of Kafka, family photographs, and even images he never used in his writings. In addition, Searching for Sebald positions Sebald within an art-historical tradition that begins with the Surrealists, continues through Joseph Beuys and blossoms in the recent work of Christian Boltanski and Gerhard Richter, and tracks his continuing inspiration to artists such as Tacita Dean and Helen Mirra. An international roster of artists and scholars unpacks the intricacies of his unique method. "

Monday, November 26, 2007

Everything new feels old again: “New Photography 2007”

(Scott McFarland)

MoMA has their annual “New Photography 2007” show up, but the NY Times has given it an overall fairly gentle but firm two thumbs down (via Gallery Hopper and PDNPulse).

I've not seen many of these kind of shows in person - though I've often looked through the catalogues or books that come out of them - as I say, MoMA seems to have made it an annual thing, and the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne did a show "Regeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow" with a big thick book etc.

Now I'm not quite sure what the cause is, but they rarely seem terribly exciting or inspiring or stunning. I don't know if there are pressures in the way curatorial choices to be made, fashions to follow or whatever, but it's rare that these shows seem to come up with much particularly fresh. I found a similar book a while ago in the library (wish I could remeber the institution) from such a show in the mid 80's and I didn't recognise any of the fresh young things that were it's focus as having gone on to greater and bigger things - in fact I don't think any of them showed up on today's radar. And the photographers from that era who are the leading lights today don't always seem to have featured in such shows. I don't know, but maybe it's a death knell to be featured in one of these things...

Anyway, here's a bit from the Times:

This Year’s Models: Searching for Fresh Approaches in Photography

"Bright letters announce “New Photography 2007” on a wall outside the Museum of Modern Art’s photography galleries. Just inside is a room of vintage-looking black-and-white photographs. Contemporary photographers are showing a strong interest in early photography, so your first thought is that the curator has unearthed someone recycling the ideas and methods of Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz or Clarence White

But no. These are pictures by Muybridge, Stieglitz and White. Keep walking; the annual showcase of emerging photographers is in the next room. After that accidental spark of excitement, though, the show itself is something of a letdown.

“New Photography” is generally limited to three or four artists, which puts pressure on the chosen few to deliver something fresh. None of this year’s photographers accomplish that...

Ms. Berkeley is from the Diane Arbus school: Her work involves a lot of social engineering. She identifies people on the street or subway, and over a period of time coaxes them into posing. (Arbus used urban parks as her hunting grounds.) Ms. Berkeley’s art is often described as showcasing odd beauty or challenging stereotypes of female beauty....

(Tanyth Berkeley)

Earlier this year MoMA mounted a retrospective of Jeff Wall, the master of the digitally enhanced (or fabricated) faux-narrative photograph and one of Vancouver’s most famous artists. Mr. McFarland’s picture of a young family watching a keeper feed porcupines at the Berlin Zoo could be a Wall from around 1989 or a student facsimile. (It’s no surprise, then, to discover that Mr. McFarland once worked as Mr. Wall’s assistant.)

...Ms. Searle is good at creating visual effects: the rhythm of the rising and falling grape-skin mounds; the sandstorm look of the crepe-paper silhouettes in water. But her conceptual basis feels weak, particularly when it is spelled out in hackneyed wall texts...

(Berni Searle)

...A consistently strong point of the “New Photography” series, including this edition, has been the international array of artists. But so far it has been weak in showcasing new developments and contextualizing contemporary photography within the collection, which helps explain the jarring transition from Stieglitz & Company to the current crop. You hate to be the spoiler, the insatiable art viewer constantly demanding that rush of something new. But when a show is called “New Photography 2007,” you feel within your rights."

Hmm, in retrospect, the review is rather more scathing than I thought the first time I read it...

(Of interesting technical note, the work of all three in the show seems to be being shown as Pigmented Inkjet Prints).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Elena Givone

I must say that I hated the whole Facebook thing and resisted it for ages until I got an invite from my old College alumni group and gave in a signed up, figuring I could track down a bunch of old university friends I had lost touch with.

Anyway, I'm still not that keen on it..., but one thing I have found is that it's a good way of meeting (online) some photographers you might not ever encounter otherwise. It's sort of that six degrees of separation thing - through a friend of an old photojournalism buddy, by way of a friend of a friend of David Burnett, I have encountered - among several other good photographers - Elena Givone. Givone is an Italian photographer working in Amsterdam.

She has some really good projects on her site - quite wide ranging in style and concept, but all equally fascinating (sometimes with a wry sense of humour).

Although I really quite like her Pazi Mine/Sarajevo and Portrait of a Consumer Society, I was definitely caught unawares by Fat or Slim (aka the Belly Button Project...) - at once both funny, mildly gross, intriguing and surprisingly profound (I'm only glad mine isn't on there)

"A trip through the belly of every human being… men, women, young, elderly, fat, thin, white, tanned: all different and unique. The belly button, the neuralgic centre from where life starts, from where our mother fed us and brought us to life. They are all in the centre, the skin that surrounds then transforms each one of us. The belly is the site of instincts, where our fear and aggressiveness converge, like a cup of water at a constant boiling point. That contracts, swells, gets grumpy and grows. Our belly is with us every day and sometimes it gives guilty feelings when it looks at us, sometimes it makes us feel sick, it’s with us since birth; do we see it in this way if we stand in front of a mirror?"

And on Portrait of a Consumer Society a series of pictures of the same dumpster with it's ever changing cotnents:

"Crowds of people take by assault supermarkets and shops. Ikea’s politics work perfectly: you buy, use and throw. Every day the garbage containers are full of new things; someone doesn’t need it any more, someone needs it: the day after it’s gone.Deprived of value because it ended in the garbage. Like an illusion in front of a passer by that is pushed to ask himself if he may need what he sees. A metaphor of daily life.15 days, 15 compositions. Like 15 paintings ready to describe something new upon our society based on consumption. Until it fades out like a dream, the last day, before everything will be abandoned and cleaned in order to let the system be renewed."

Of her commissioned work, Ciriè 2006 and Documentation of Territory are also very good.

She says of her work: "I inhabit a location until it becomes an inseparable part of me, something which will never leave me; I study it and research it, but even then most compositions are intuitive. Only by immersion in the full complexity of a location, and then interacting with the local population, do I finally discover what to photograph and how. Not only the location itself is important, but also the contrasts and conflicts which every day brings. Understanding a location properly requires understanding and appreciating all parts of the landscape and the environment, at all levels, not just the physical architecture."

Elena isn't yet thirty - if she keeps this up I think she'll be someone to watch closely.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Keith Arnatt - I'm A Real Photographer

I’ve been meaning to write about Kieth Arnatt for ages, but now Christian Patterson has beaten me to it. I first saw some of Arnatt’s work years ago in England and at the time it left me somewhat bemused, but I think it obviously had some effect, because I kept coming back to it over the years. I’m specially taken by his Notes from Jo - photographic records his late wife’s Post-It note messages, usually left for Arnatt on his return from the pub.

Martin Parr wrote a good little article on Arnatt in the Guardian:
"Keith Arnatt was a well-known conceptual artist in the early 70s - his films, installations and photo records were exhibited at the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One show, at the Tate in 1972, became notorious: he displayed the enrolment cards of all the staff members - they then had to be taken down because security guards objected to their photographs being displayed without permission. It was the kind of fuss Arnatt enjoyed; he liked the unpredictable and acts of provocation.

Then, in 1973, he was introduced to the work of Walker Evans, August Sander and Diane Arbus, and never looked back. His colleague, David Hurn, at Newport College of Art - where Arnatt was teaching sculpture - had opened a department of documentary photography. Arnatt was intrigued and inspired by the images. For the next 30 years he worked as a photographer, first in black and white, then changing to colour in the mid-80s. He was prolific - making some 20 series of photographs - until forced to give up in 2004, dogged by illness. All the while he continued to earn his living by teaching, as he sold his work only rarely.

It is difficult to categorise Arnatt or place him in recent photographic history; he approached projects with the curiosity of one immersed in the art practice of an earlier generation. Yet his images appear very modern.
Notes From My Wife is a case in point. They are jottings and reminders written by his wife, Jo, in the early 90s. Soon after, she was struck down by a brain tumour and Arnatt nursed her until her death in 1996. He decided to collect the most poignant of the notes and photographed 18 of them. Taken out of context and blown up, they become surreal. This was Arnatt's strength as a photographer: he understood how the smallest detail or observation could be transformed by the act of isolation….

Arnatt's driving force has been more conceptual than documentary, and a decade or so later his artistic strategies are flourishing. Even so, his photographic work has remained largely unrecognised. He has not enjoyed the benefits of gallery representation or high-profile exhibitions since his days as a conceptual artist - the only exception being the British Council, which regularly toured and displayed his photographs. What a pleasure it is, then, to see I'm A Real Photographer, Arnatt's new exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery. It provides a timely opportunity to explore and understand what an important artist and photographer Arnatt is, and how his ideas have changed from outsider practice to mainstream thinking."
Arnatt also made striking still-lifes from things collected on the local rubbish dump, among other things. There is a simple straight forwardness to Arnatt’s work, and yet each time you look at one of his pictures it opens your eyes to something. His concepts seem at times so obvious and yet you find yourself going: huh – how come I never thought of that or looked at those things that way before. There’s also a book produced in conjunction with the recent show at the Photographers Gallery – “I’m a Real Photographer – Keith Arnatt Photographs 1974-2002”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A little bit of Whimsy

Every now and then something like this gives me a chuckle. Too much and the cute factor overloads, but I don't think this quite gets there yet.

From a site called Minimiam (one of those Flash hunt for the elusive dote sites...) via the wacky Dark Roasted Blend site:

"who hasn't dreamt of diving into thick chocolate mouse...

or digging a hideout in a piece of cheese or fruit..."

I also like the care that has gone into hand making the little figures, as well as the somewhat sly imagination into the individual pieces.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Evidence of previous churches

BLDBLG (an excellent site for anyone interested in the built environment) has an intriguing post on a new art museum just opened in Cologne.

The Kolumba museum is built on the site of St. Kolumba's church which was virtually destroyed by allied bombing in WWII.

As Geoff Manaugh writes:

"The backstory, briefly, is that the church – called St. Kolumba – was "reduced to rubble during the second world war," but, we read, "[a] wooden Madonna survived the bombing so, after the war, local architect Gottfried Böhm built the small octagonal chapel on the site, dedicated to the 'Madonna of the Ruins'. In the 1970s, excavations revealed evidence of previous churches, not to mention vaults filled with human bones." Evidence of previous churches! Such a beautiful phrase. Finding evidence of other buildings – older buildings – inside the building you're now standing in.

Or perhaps you find evidence of a newer building, inside the building you're standing in – and you realize, stunned, that someone is replacing the building, slowly and in secret over the course of several years, in bits and pieces, here and there, leaving traces, evidence, clues.

In any case, Kolumba, with its swirling foundations on top of foundations on top of crypts, now houses religious art. In 650 years, someone will build another museum atop its wreckage."

He also links to a longer Guardian article "The perforated palace" which picks up on the museum's architect Peter Zumthor:
"There is no floor, only a red wooden walkway that zigzags through the half-light, past stone stumps and concrete columns that reach up to the ceiling like new shoots. Below this walkway, disappearing into the depths and the darkness, are the excavated ruins of crypts, vaults and foundations. And, barely audible above the traffic passing by outside, comes the sound of wings flapping and pigeons cooing. Where are they? None are visible.

This, the cavernous ground-floor room of Cologne's new Kolumba art museum, is a place of mystery and awe. You enter it from the museum's airy foyer, through thick leather curtains, and are instantly transported to another world. It is dimly lit, but fresh air and dappled sunlight spill in from honeycomb-like perforations high above. Embedded in the light brick walls are the blackened windows and arches of a ruined gothic church, onto which this new building has been grafted. To the right, a blue-green glow emanates from the stained-glass windows of a small, octagonal chapel that has been swallowed by this space. We're looking into it from the outside. It sounds like there's a lot going on here, but it doesn't feel like it. Instead, the sensation is of a sacred space: calm, powerful, unforgettable. Time seems to stand still; thousands of years of history are visible all at once. And audible, too - the pigeons turn out to be a sound installation by Bill Fontana, a ghostly memory of the birds that once lived among these ruins....

Zumthor's handling of the lower level is so striking, it's easy to forget about the galleries. From the foyer with the leather curtains, a narrow path of plain white travertine stone leads upstairs, winding through the two levels, widening here and there to form larger spaces, and opening onto separate rooms.

Fittingly, Kolumba's exhibition philosophy is to mix it all up. Rather than go for a dry chronological layout, works are linked thematically or juxtaposed engagingly. One room is lined with Warhol prints of coloured crosses on black backgrounds. Standing in the middle is a lone, carved Christ figure from the 16th century. Some rooms are tall, lit through opaque high windows, others are long, low and windowless. There's even a darkened room lined with black velvet displaying religious silverware. In keeping with the building's anti-Bilbao exterior, there are no distracting labels to tell you what you're looking at. If you want to know what something is, there's a booklet.

The result is serene yet stimulating. In fact, so seamlessly executed is the whole that, at times, it's hard to separate the building and the art. You might just as well admire the wood-panelling in the reading room as the Rhenish Madonnas on the wall. Or marvel at the way the huge windows are positioned so as to create a glow of light around each corner, and also capture views of the cathedral and the surrounding city..."

(I couldn't find a credit for the photos except the Kolumba)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Risaku Suzuki again - "Yuki Sakura"

I mentioned this work briefly in the post the other day but I just saw Risaku Suzuki has a new book due out from Nazraeli looking at two traditional aspects of the Japanese landscape - snow and cherry blossom. The book is called Yuki Sakura.

Pictures are up on the Yoshii Gallery site from the Cherry Blossom side of the project:

"The Sakura Celebration commences in early spring and has inspired artists since the reign of the Emperor Saga in 8th century Japan. The impressive blooming of the trees after winter symbolizes hope and strength, but as the petals fall, one is reminded of the fragility of beauty and life itself. Suzuki's painterly photographs evoke the sensation of passing time within the permanence of the photographic frame. Suzuki captures the trees without a context or narrative, grasping the physical structure as the essence of the symbolism. The viewer is engaged with a place beyond the visible.

By abandoning the ground and concentrating on the relationship between the blossoms and the sky, the works possess a weightless and effervescent air. Tight framing and large format printing eliminate the distraction of neighboring objects, yet maintain a vast landscape for the viewer. Attention is called to the world of motion beyond the frame, intimately connecting the photograph to an individual's wandering gaze. The focus is pulled from various branches to clusters of flowers and clouds, granting the viewer an opportunity to ruminate on a fleeting moment. Memorializing the perspective of a quick glance enables one to glimpse with a duration and depth impossible to realize in person."

I like the way they are done, although they are verging a little too close to "pretty" for me (mind you, I think Lee Friedlander is the only one who has managed to photography cherry blossom without falling into that trap...). And i could only find a couple of really small jpg's of the "snow" aspect, which looked as if they may well provide a good counterbalance to the cherry blossom.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Genius of Photography

I just started watching the six part BBC series The Genius of Photography. I actually jumped in at episode 4 - Paper Movies - which covers everyone from Robert Frank to Gary Winogrand to Tony Ray-Jones, Joel Sternfeld, Ed Ruscha, Robert Adams, John Gossage and Martin Parr etc.

It's actually pretty good so far. No great revelations, but you do see many of the photographers at work. And for the general viewer, I think the whole series gives a pretty good overview of some of the best of photography.

Interestingly, this episode is bookended by footage of John Gossage and Martin Parr together on a road trip to go visit William Eggleston in Memphis, which resulted in the book "America 2006 - Obvious and Ordinary" - which is very well reviewed (as usual) on 5B4.

(three pictures above - Martin Parr & John Gossage)