Friday, February 29, 2008

The Real Thing's So Much Better

This image by Robert Adams has always had an enormous influence on my thoughts about image-making. It represents one of the most fluid examples of the balance between formal beauty and conceptual strength. Its aesthetic beauty is only further reinforced by the loneliness and isolation that the image exudes. Adams has literally confined his subject within a suburban prison of sterility and impersonality. The woman's silhouette only further emphasizes the image's anonymity, which has already been established in the generic and unsensational suburban landscape.

Today in Nick Nixon's class, he brought in a number of prints from his personal collection. This image was among them. The print couldn't have been more than 6 x 6 inches and was simply matted and framed. Needless to say, it was exquisitely beautiful and perfectly printed. There is something about seeing the real thing, having that physical proximity to a work of art that entirely changes its impact. I literally stood over it for a good 10 to 15 minutes examining every inch of the image, I was transfixed. This photograph was one of the primary inspirations behind my desire to photograph, so seeing it in tangible form was a real treat.

Colorado Springs, Colorado 1968

Image © Robert Adams

An Image A Week: Doug Dubois

Doug Dubois' domestic photographs are the kind of images that mandate close inspection. On the surface they reveal nothing particularly remarkable about his subjects or the environments they inhabit, but when you allow yourself to sit and absorb the images fully, wonderful subtleties begin to emerge. Dubois' true strength originates in his attention to detail, which when seen in a larger domestic context begins to cumulatively inform the relationships between his subjects and their environment.

Dubois' photographs do not exert the feeling of a straight documentary approach; his vision transmits a more interpretive and fictionalized account of domestic life. This is in large part probably because he is photographing his own family, which inherently brings with it a level of subjectivity. In a recent interview with Alec Soth, Dubois described these early family photographs by stating:

"Besides articulating and defining something akin to a domestic genre in photography, it was a very early attempt to reconcile, so to speak, postmodernist tactics and strategies with modernist/realist work."

You can find the entire interview, which has numerous great insights, here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Joel Meyerowitz's Pop

I recently got my hands on the Joel Meyerowitz directed documentary Pop, a road trip film of sorts chronicling the journey of three generations of Meyerowitz men on the road. More specifically, however, the film reads as a visual journal of Joel's father Hy's battle with Alzheimer's disease. The film begins with Joel and his son Sasha picking their respective father and grandfather in Florida with the goal of bringing him to the Bronx to revisit his familial roots. As Joel states: "Our quest was to see if along the way the adventures and experiences we would have could stimulate his now rapidly failing memory." The film is at times poignant, funny and sad. The emotional strength of the film overshadows the filmmaking from a technical standpoint, which in this particular case is not inherently negative because the story is quite compelling.

You can see an excerpt from Pop here, and if you're so inclined, you can read a review of the film by This American Life's Ira Glass here.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's kind of oddly coincidental that two of the most prominent color street photographers of the 1970's (Meyerowitz and Mitch Epstein) both made documentaries about their fathers. Epstein's film Dad recounts his father's failing furniture business in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sarah Hobbs

Sarah Hobbs' photographs address the psychology of human behavior, specifically focusing on the phobic, obsessive and compulsive tendencies that pervade daily life. Each meticulously constructed tableaux focuses on a different psychological ailment, rendering subjects like claustrophobia, insomnia, overcompensation, perfectionism and paranoia. Hobbs' photographs enhance these neuroses by inundating otherwise sparse interiors with the byproducts of these disturbances. Ironically, her compositions possess their own claustrophobic tendencies, limiting the visual space that's explorable within each frame.

For anyone who's interested, you can find a really interesting podcast in which Hobbs discusses the impetus for her work here.

From Top To Bottom:

Untitled (Over Compensation)

Untitled (Fate Compulsion)

Untitled (Insomnia)

Untitled (Obsessiveness)

All Images © Sarah Hobbs

Hong-Sung Do

Korean artist Hong-Sung Do's multi-media photographs incorporate a distinctive sculptural quality. His utilization of various media often render his photographs perplexing and perceptually distorting. Hong-Sung Do's images intelligently challenge, rather than pander to, our preconceived notions of photographic structure. It is comforting to discover work that inherently defies convention, work that deconstructs the visual world only to reassemble it differently.

From Top To Bottom:

Tourist, 2006

Tourist, 2006

Tourist, 2005

All Images © Hong-Sung Do

Tim Davis & Stephen Shore In Conversation

In 2003 Tim Davis sat down with Stephen Shore to discuss Shore's recent photographic endeavors. The following conservation was published in Blindspot (issue 26) under the title A Fluttering Knuckleball: Lunch with Stephen Shore and Tim Davis. I found this interview quite insightful. Hope you enjoy.

Tim Davis: Your best-known pictures, the view camera landscapes from Uncommon Places through the Hudson Valley, Texas, Montana and Scotland projects, possess, above their other qualities, a deep and fathomable resolve. The pictures feel whole, all their nuances present and accounted for, as if the photograph was a great galley ship with all hands straining toward a unified goal: the depiction of photographic space. Most photographs are technically "whole"-made in a single lens-centered instant, they deal overwhelmingly with fragmentation-but your view camera images bestow a thoroughgoing and sensual wholeness on an American landscape devoted to flux and fragment. They stare through the social landscape to a vein of visual pleasure and truth. These new books you're producing, made with a small digital camera and edited on the computer seem less interested in resolution. What has taken its place?

Stephen Shore: All of this new work you refer to is intended to be seen as small books. These are limited edition books, produced with print-on-demand technology and made with Apple's iPhoto application. Each book has between nine and fifteen pages of pictures. I'm approaching each book as a unified group of images and playing with different ways the images can relate to each other. One aspect of these books that interests me is the weight each image is accorded. They don't demand the completeness you've described. They have a light touch, not unlike that seen in SX-70 pictures. Also, they are fun to make.

Tim Davis: You refer to this "light touch" as the license an artist gains at some point in his career to make something frivolous; almost as if the weight to make a pointed argument with each picture lessens as you go. You mentioned Evans' Polaroids and I was thinking of Philip Guston's decision in the late sixties to turn from his passionate abstractions to what is called "crapola"-or even a baseball pitcher learning to throw the fluttering knuckleball. What interests me is that your career as an artist began with similar serial images. Do you feel the new books relate to the older more conceptual projects?

Stephen Shore: Yes. I think the new books relate to the conceptual work you refer to. In fact, I've made several books of some of the conceptual projects from the late sixties. They are small sequences that fit perfectly in this new form. There are also images in the new work that have the same notational quality as the pictures in American Surfaces, a group of my 35mm work from 1972. At that time I was thinking about how to make photographs that look "natural", i.e. unforced, like seeing. I've seen my work go through several formal cycles: after American Surfaces I moved to a view camera and my images became progressively more formally complex until, at one point, I again began a process of making them transparent (but now reflecting the new formal understanding) and there have been more cycles since. One other thing occurs to me. When I teach, I have to put myself in each student's shoes and get a sense of where their work should head. I do this each semester for twenty or more students, each with different interests and inclinations. It's possible that my doing this for years has led me to have a range of photographic ideas that are not bound together externally by a single style. For the past ten years or so I've been putting these different ideas into play. I've been doing color work with a 6x7cm camera that aims at some of the completeness you referred to in your first question. I've been making black & white New York street photographs with an 8x10 camera (masked to 4x10) and now I've been making these books. A few months ago, an art critic asked me about my "signature style." Well, this question startled me. I've never thought in those terms. My work from the seventies, which to this critic exemplified my "signature style," was made by me in response to certain questions and problems I needed to pursue. I never thought in terms of style. The style was a result of my exploration.

Tim Davis: I've been reading about the creation of the hydrogen bomb and how the development of the first electronic digital computer enabled physicists to solve the hundreds of thousands of calculations needed to turn atomic theory into devastating power.
Photography is also a kind of calculator, a way of solving problems of awareness with thoroughness and aplomb. A photograph is a problem-solving machine. Of course each photographic image, no matter how proscribed, contains a huge amount of unintended information the "dark matter" of photography. I'm wondering if some of your new books, such as the one reproduced here, are ways to back away from "signature style" by pointing out elements in your own pictures that might have been beyond your awareness at the time they were made?

Stephen Shore: I agree with what you said about a photograph being a problem-solving machine. A photographer may have questions and problems that he or she brings to a picture-making situation. At the same time, the specific situation can generate new ideas, possibilities, and problems. I'm not sure that "Jigsaw Puzzle" has to do with "dark matter." It's more simply a response to the puzzle photograph in terms of the possibilities and constraints of the book form.

Tim Davis: I still maintain that photographers generate this astounding paper trail of thorough works, making it very rational to go back to images and reassess their place in the world. Is part of that reassessment for you the thrill of generating a photo book out of thin air? Before the gallery binge on photography in the nineties, it was the apotheosis of a photographer's career to publish a book. Now photography books are a healthy handful of dimes a dozen. Is it thrilling somehow to sneak these books into the marketplace?

Stephen Shore: I think that's part of it. But, with an edition of 20, which is what they're printed in, it's hardly putting them in print. However, I think there's something aesthetically very satisfying about these books and some of that may derive from my past experience with other books. There's the way the image sits on the page. There's the intimacy of looking at the book. There's simply the experience of seeing the images in a book as opposed to, say, a portfolio: it recalls past book experiences; it is a cultural object. And, in these small (short) volumes, there's the mind's ability to hold the whole book at once. The book becomes a single, unified work. The ease of making these books allows for experimentation: trying out different approaches, different strategies. One thing I found interesting is that when these books were exhibited at 303 Gallery this past fall, five were sold and they were all different ones. Blind Spot is reproducing a sixth one, again no duplication. The Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany will be showing this winter all 17 books that were in the 303 show and in a catalog will be reproducing five of them. One of these five was one of the books purchased from 303, otherwise again no duplication.

Tim Davis: Photographers are like fundamentalists. With so much uncertainty at the heart of their practice, they tend to overplay the certainty of their decisions. I'm thinking particularly of print size. Most photographers I know are adamant about the size they choose. I suppose they are saying "size does matter," and the market agrees, saying you can charge more for a larger print. All are of course flattered to have their work reproduced in books (and magazines I might add) at whatever size. I think the variability of the photographic image is an essential part of its power: it is surfaceless, filmy and barely materializes as an object. It can change size. It is fleeting and alterable, like a memory. The book is the perfect form for the photograph for all the reasons you cited and also because it destabilizes the ability to grasp at any one image. It invites us to see the image as the artist did, as something plucked from a continuum.

Stephen Shore: Painters are used to seeing their works reduced in scale in reproduction as well as seeing the surface neutralized. Photography in reproduction is, as you suggest, different. Even in ordinary reproduction it verges on facsimile. The surface is similar and the close scrutiny a book allows blurs the scale issue (with some exceptions in extreme cases). I like your phrase "plucked from a continuum." It is, of course, what a photographer does. Photography-straight photography-is an analytic activity.

Tim Davis: Making a book is analytic but it is also additive. Your new books remind me of something the filmmaker Robert Bresson said of film-making: "Don't strain after poetry; it penetrates unaided through the joins." In other words, expression is achieved (in film, anyway) through the sheer conjunction of images and doesn't need to be overstated in the images themselves.

From Top To Bottom:

Stephen Shore, West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974

Tim Davis, Arab = Jew

Stephen Shore, Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, Texas, June 5, 1976

Tim Davis, One People...

Stephen Shore, Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida, November 17, 1977

Tim Davis, Democrat/Republican

All Images © The Artists

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Image A Week: Richard Prince

In light of the recent Richard Prince retrospective Spiritual America at the Guggenheim, I thought I would share one of my favorite of Prince's images. His series of Marlboro Man photographs, culled from original Marlboro advertisments, challenge the cultural iconography surrounding what is defined as "truly American." These images also work on another interesting level. By appropriating imagery that is deliberately fictional to begin with and then furthering altering their composition, Prince confronts the ambiguous nature of photographic authorship in an age of rampant apropriation and reproduction.

Untitled cowboy 1995

Image © Richard Prince

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Photographic Typologies: Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson's work addresses many aspects of both the natural and built environment. Often working in a variety of media, Eliasson creates sculptures, installations and photographs that confront the viewer, or experiencer might be a more apt word, with tactile and sensory stimuli culled from nature. Weather is a driving force in his work, especially as it relates to human experience on an increasingly urban planet. Eliasson believes that:

‘As inhabitants, we have grown accustomed to the weather as mediated by the city. This takes place in numerous ways, on various collective levels ranging from hyper-mediated (or representational) experiences, such as the television weather forecast, to more direct and tangible experiences, like simply getting wet while walking down the street on a rainy day. A level between the two extremes would be sitting inside, looking out of a window onto a sunny or rainy street. The window, as the boundary of one’s tactile engagement with the outside, mediates one’s experience of the exterior weather accordingly.’

From Top To Bottom:

The Reykjavik Series, 2003

The Morning Small Cloud Series, 2006

The Waterfall Series, 1996

All Images © Olafur Eliasson

Colour Before Color

In the most recent issue of Aperture, Martin Parr presents the predominantly unseen body of color photography that European practitioners were making contemporaneously with Americans such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz and Joel Sternfeld. Eggleston is somewhat historically credited as the artist who brought widespread acceptance to the vernacular of color photography with his landmark exhibition William Eggleston's Guide, which was exhibited at MOMA in 1976. Parr discusses why this assertion is somewhat exclusionary and unfair when surveying the history of color photography. Included in the issue is work from Danish photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen, whose aesthetic use of color is strikingly similar to that of Eggleston's, however, which predates Eggleston's work by at least 20 years. With the intention of widening the discourse of international color photography, Parr hopes to "re-assess the short and confused history of recent color photography by showing the work of European innovators who have been overlooked and eclipsed by their U.S. counterparts."

Other photographers included in this survey include Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri, Dutch photojournalist Ed van der Elsken, Spanish photographer Carlos Pérez Siquier and British photographers John Hinde and Peter Mitchell.

From Top To Bottom:

Keld Helmer-Petersen, Untitled 15, 1940's

Carlos Perez Siquier, Muñeca (Doll), 1974

Peter Mitchell, Eric Massheder, Leeds, 1975

John Hinde, from the John Hinde Butlin's Photographs

All Images © The Artists

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Alejandra Laviada

I first saw the work of Alejandra Laviada in a recent issue of Capricious Magazine. I subsequently forgot her name and was pleasantly surprised to see that Jörg over at Conscientious posted about her work. Laviada's photographs explore and often challenge the relationship between photography and sculpture. Her images create juxtapositional relationships between disparate objects, fashioning new ways to view and interpret familiar territory. Her work seems to reference the history of place, reconciling the past, present and future in a single image. Laviada's enactment of new functions for disused social spaces allows the viewer to perceive history as an occurrence not exclusively associated with the past, but as one of constant evolution and change.

All photographs from the series Juarez #56

Images © Alejandra Laviada

Representative Locations: Six American Landscapes

In other Mass Art related exhibition news, there will be a show entitled Representative Locations: Six American Landscapes opening Monday the 19th in the President's Gallery on the 11th floor of the tower building. The exhibit, curated by Matthew Coolidge, brings together selections from the Center for Land Use Interpretation Photo Archive. For anyone who is not familiar with CLUI, they are a non-profit reseach and arts organization dedicated to examining the implications of man's interaction with the landscape. More specifically, they:

"exists to stimulate discussion, thought, and general interest in the contemporary landscape. Neither an environmental group nor an industry affiliated organization, the work of the Center integrates the many approaches to land use - the many perspectives of the landscape - into a single vision that illustrates the common ground in "land use" debates. At the very least, the Center attempts to emphasize the multiplicity of points of view regarding the utilization of terrestrial and geographic resources."

The exhibit will be on view from February 19th- March 19th for any Boston-based landscape enthusiast who is interested in seeing the show.

Representative Locations: Six American Landscapes
President's Gallery @ Mass Art
11th Floor of the Tower Building
621 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA

Image © the CLUI Photo Archive

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

War Stories

Mass Art's Bakalar Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition entitled War Stories. The exhibit brings together the photographs of Nina Berman, the paintings of Jenny Holzer and the American premiere of a 10 channel video installation entitled 9 Scripts from a Nation at War by a collective of artists. The work represented in the show reflects contemporary views on the politics, consequences and ideologies of war. The press release for the show asserts:

Among the most powerful and important statements of this war have been images; from the satellite shots of supposed WMD facilities to the digital snapshots of Abu Ghraib. Stand-alone images, though compelling, are still incomplete. The potential for misinterpretation of this highly charged imagery is a given based on each viewer’s subjectivity.

For anyone interested in viewing the exhibit, the pertinent details are as follows:

War Stories
Sandra & David Bakalar Gallery
621 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA

February 11–March 12

From Top to Bottom:

Jenny Holzer, 001996 (Light Purple Black), 2007

Nina Berman, Sgt. Joseph Mosner

Nina Berman, Pfc. Adam Zaremba

All Images © the Artists

Friday, February 8, 2008

An Image A Week: Thomas Demand

Instead of sharing my own thoughts on Thomas Demand's work, I thought I'd include this excerpt of a conversation between Demand and Vik Muniz. This exchange appeared in issue 8 of Blindspot Magazine under the title of "A Notion Of Space." Although brief, I think this excerpt addresses some really interesting points about needing to find new ways to interpret contemporary imagery.

THOMAS DEMAND: I think photography is less about representing than constructing its objects. That's one of the central points in my recent work: to reconsider the status of the image by producing one particular moment of perfection. It also points to the problem of authorship, an issue which is becoming unavoidable for the new generation of photographers. At the same time as the eye cruises through more and more images, it cannot trust what it sees anymore. Our concept of copyright and reliability of the media will become obsolete too. But the role of art in this respect is not to alarm or to seek shelter. It's to make it transparent, to understand its quality and to be constructive.

VIK MUNIZ: A good way to understand something is to try to build it yourself, not just break it to see what is inside. If there is one thing left to be against, it is the avant-garde itself, this idea that if you break a few rules because someone else made them, you are a damn smart person. I like to dismantle things I build myself to fully experience the cycle of empowerment and deceit of their representations. I've been working with maps recently because they are seemingly abstract forms that can take one's mind to really specific places. A photograph of a map is about as good a document as a drawing of a photograph. It can only chart one's daydreaming. The specific becomes strictly mental and abstract.

Poll, 2001

Image © Thomas Demand

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Remain In Light

I received an e-mail from Shane Lavalette the other day informing me of a new photographic print endeavor that he and Karly Wildenhaus are co-curating together. Entitled Remain In Light, this new project will manifest itself in the form of an "unbound book featuring 16 photographs by 16 photographers."

Submissions for the first issue are currently being accepted. The chosen photographers work will be "printed on separate cards and presented unbound in a specially created slipcase." For more information on specific submission guidelines refer to the website.

A Few Insights By Robert Smithson

I happened to stumble upon the estate website of artist Robert Smithson the other day. His work and writings have had a huge influence on my thoughts regarding the nature of art, but more specifically in respect to human appropriation of the landscape and our tendency to immortalize monuments. I thought I'd share some of the essays of his which I found particularly insightful. The first, Entropy And The New Monuments, is a critical look at the function of Modern architecture, which "instead of causing us to remember the past like the old monuments...seems to cause us to forget the future." The second, Cultural Confinement (originally published in Artforum in 1972), explores the rigidity of the gallery/museum model of exhibition.

Corner Mirror with Coral. 1969

Work © Robert Smithson

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bendar Al-Bashir

I received an e-mail from Dubai based photographer Bendar Al-Bashir the other day. His series Beirut contains some interesting images. The majority of Al-Bashir's work seems to explore the social periphery of perilous urban environments.

All Images © Bendar Al-Bashir

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Will Pappenheimer's Globlots

I had a chance to see the SMFA Traveling Scholars exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts today and was completely blown away by Will Pappenheimer's work. Each of his composite pieces is made up of more than 8,000 hand-dyed pompoms that are adhered to large scale canvases. Pappenheimer's finds specific inpsiration for each work in appropriated YouTube videos, reworking the imagery into rorschach-like representations that can only be discerned from a certain distance. Much like the paintings of Chuck Close, the further from the work the viewer gets the more clarity is represented in scene. Pappenheimer asserts:

Globlots represents global blots: Rorschach inkblot tests conducted with global imagery. In an age virtual community, topography, and commerce, alternative approaches are needed to interpret excess information. Globlots suggests a reading of unconventional visual and textual meaning that encourages reconsideration; much global imagery has the potential for viewer reflection and identification. The possibility of this intimate relationship, in an often-overwhelming distant condition, is highlighted through re-presentation and translation.

For anyone in the Boston area, I would highly recommend viewing Pappenheimer's work in person. The textural quality of the Globlots work is lost when you view it online.

From Top To Bottom:

Tuk-Tuks Topiary, 2006

Versailles Mickey, 2006

Gone To Far, 2007

All Work © Will Pappenheimer