Wednesday, October 31, 2007

People keep falling in the crack

The weekend Globe and Mail does this thing where they present some well known personage with a photograph and then ask them to respond to it and give it a caption. This week it was former Mexican President Vicente Fox who was presented with this photo

His initial response was: "Well, this photo gives the message that people connect even over borders. Love and companionship overcome any problem, even if it's a difficult border or difficult relations like we have between Mexico and the United States. My caption would be Love Crosses Borders." (which, as an aside, is itself an interesting example of how little actual meaning a photograph accrues within itself)

The picture is actually of the latest installation at the Tate Modern and is a piece by artists Doris Salcedoi called "Shibboleth" referring to the biblical test and speaks to the relationship between culture and race and monumentalism and architecture.

The fissure has been directly incised in the long concrete ramp by which you enter the dramatic turbine hall of the Tate and - apparently people are now falling into it. According to the Guardian:

"...The work - a long, sometimes foot-wide fissure that runs the entire length of the hall - was unveiled at a private view on Monday night, when someone fell into what is becoming known as "Doris's crack"...

"We saw the first poor victim, a young woman who went into it with both feet up to just below her knees. She had to be dragged out by her friends," said one onlooker.

"Unbelievably, as we watched to see whether she was OK, an older woman deliberately stepped on it (she later told us, amazingly, that she thought the crack was painted on the floor) lurched forward and landed on the ground. She had a sore wrist to show for it."

The Tate said: "I can confirm someone lost her footing on Monday evening. We've a lot of experience in handling complex installations. People are being told verbally about it and handed leaflets, there is plenty of signage and many invigilators. We have no plans to put up a barrier."

Which I think is a good thing - art shouldn't really be safe - not necessarily even physically safe. I think it's a wonderful piece.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Byung-Hun Min

I came across this work by Korean photographer
Byung-Hun Min at Photoeye

"Nature in Korea is rather small, delicate and sensitive to me. I come closer to it much more easily. And I try to see it with a serene state of view.My goal is showing a new way of view with a traditional technique of black-and-white photography, especially with its characteristics, but not in the old-fashioned way because it can be easily looked at as a worn-out thing."
and (from MoCP)

"Byung-hun Min takes inspiration from the Korean landscape and culture; his photographs embody a blend of beauty, intricacy, and metaphor. Min’s photographs of grasses were taken on repeated visits to the same site where weeds have grownup against vinyl greenhouses and dried to their surfaces. In these austere works, Min captures patterns that masterfully rephrase a delicacy and sensitivity to nature inherited from traditional Korean art."

interesting stuff.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Simon Norfolk interactive

I was just catching up in the NY Times online and came across an interesting little interactive thing on Simon Norfolk and his work for the NY Times Magazine.

Worth a look. People on the whole seem to either love or hate his work...

From an article (also with audio) at Lensculture:

Simon Norfolk is a very talented driven young photographer who is pursuing one of life’s big questions with intensity and focused intention. He is studying war, and its effects on many things: the physical shape of our cities and natural environments, social memory, the psychology of societies, and more.

He is examining genocide; imperialism; the interconnectedness of war, land and military space; and how wars are being fought at the same time with supercomputers, satellites, outdated weapons and equipment, people on the ground, intercepted communications, and manipulated and manipulating media.

Norfolk is doing this with photography that is beautiful — stunning in its clarity and detail, without the typical shock or trauma that one might expect about the subject of war. All of his work is informed by inquisitive intelligence, research, supporting facts and figures. And over time, deliberately and carefully, he is trying to connect many of the dots.

He attacks his subjects with a forensic approach, and thinks of his photographs of landscapes as “chronotopes”, layers of meaning, abandoned redundant military hardware, bombed-out ruins, mass graves, forgotten memory — all dating back to before the Roman empire and continuing through to the future, non-stop...

Volker Seding passes

I got an email from Stephen Bulger last week that photographer Volker Seding had passed away following a bout of cancer.

Volker Seding was born in Berlin in 1943. He studied under Master Photographer Klaus Berger in Hannover, Germany, coupled with his attendance at art school, where he studied drawing, painting, and later cinematography, from 1962-1965. He immigrated to Canada in 1966 where he worked as a cinematographer doing documentary films, industrial commercials, and feature films. In 1976, he returned to his first love, photography, and worked solely as an artist ever since. His work has been exhibited widely across North America and can be found in numerous important institutions and private collections.

His work included The Facades Project, Animal Kingdom, The Zoo Project, The Mainstreet Project and the Metalworks Project among others. I remeber a few years ago seeign work from both Facades and Mainstreet which gave me pause to think and reflect on my own urban work.

I'd also seen work from his Zoo series years ago in Doubletake magazine and had actually dug it out earlier this year as I was figuring out ways to photograph "through barriers"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More on Roy Arden

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

"Is Arden our next greatest photographer?

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

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

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

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

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

How to load large format film holders

One of my rare technical posts.

Whenever anyone starts with their first large format camera, the question inevitably comes up - how the heck to I load a load large format film holder?

It's very confusing to explain in words. But now, Nicolai Morrisson on Photon Detector has made a very useful little video that explains it all simply and clearly.

For the rest of you, this is what LF photographers are actually doing when they are on location and cursing away in a blacked out hotel bathroom...

View How to load large format film holders

Friday, October 26, 2007

Oscar's artist's statement

I was pointed to this today:

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.

From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.


From the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Brass Monkey Weather

I just got back from a few days on a commission in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It was a bit of a shock to go from +20c in Edmonton to -7c with a windchill factor of -17c and 6" of (blowing) snow. I think I must have got soft in the couple of years or so since I left...

Still, not quite as cold as the -42c and ice fog of the picture above.

(click on the picture for a slightly bigger view - though it looks far better @ 24" or so)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brian Rose - The Lost Border

I spent a good part of my "misspent" youth along what was then known technically as the Inner German Border - that is, the Iron Curtain. Jim Johnson linked to a fascinating book and project by Brian Rose called "The Lost Border - The Landscape of the Iron Curtain".

Rose began documenting the border between East and west Germany in 1985, as it snaked relentlessly across the country - watchtowers, mine strips, barbed wire - across fields, bridges, rivers and towns.

Then, suddenly, in 1989 the whole thing collapsed. The Berlin Wall came down and within a year Germany was reunited. So Rose continued his project, documenting the remains (or not) of the Curtain. Sort of before and after.

There are numerous books about the Berlin Wall and its fall (which Rose also covers), but not so many about this much longer part of the Iron Curtain and how it divided the country in two.

I remember vividly watching "Grenzers" - East German Border Guards, with their massive binoculars, watching me - something Rose experienced (and I did have one colleague who managed to cause an international incident by accidentally crossing the East German border - eventually being handed over to the Russian GRU...). But unlike Rose, although I have been back to Germany since, I haven't been back to the border region outside of Berlin and seen where the traces of this internal, almost impenetrable, border can still often be seen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Robert Adams: Questions for an Overcast Day

Yep - I'm still enamoured of trees... From the Matthew Marks Gallery (via gmt+9 (-15) ), Robert Adams work "Questions for an Overcast Day"

"Questions for an Overcast Day is a series of 33 photographs of young alder trees growing along the Oregon coastline, near the artist’s home. The series begins by focusing on the branches of the trees, and, progressing from one image to the next, narrows its focus, culminating with several images of a single leaf.

The leaves on the trees appear perforated, the precise cause of which is unknown. The artist likens the particular pattern of erosion on each leaf to hieroglyphics, reading in them a unique “calligraphy of disaster.” About them, Adams writes:

What would account for the condition of the leaves –drought, insects, rocky ground, disease, herbicide, wind?

Are the leaves beautiful?

As with the artist’s earlier photographs—of suburban detritus, tract housing under construction, and devastated, clear-cut forests—the viewer is invited to find beauty as it coexists with the imperfection, even destruction, of the present day."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Vancouver School (or not)

(Roy Arden)

I as just talking with a friend who went to an interesting lecture in Vancouver - "In Conversation: Realisms, Genre and Photo Art with Roy Arden, Ian Wallace, Mark Lewis, Jeff Wall, Dieter Roelstraete and moderator Nancy Tousley" In conjunction, among other things, with a show of Roy Arden's work at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

(Arni Haraldsson)

There's a good piece about all this in the weekend's Globe & Mail (grab it before you have to pay for it) talking about the influence of the "Vancouver School" and is it really defined enough to be considered a "school" (btw, I'd add Arni Haraldsson to the list of members:

"For a group of artists who work primarily with images, as opposed to text, a lot of fuss is being made over a few words.

The term in question is "the Vancouver School." The label has been used to describe a group of artists from Vancouver whose work is based in photo-conceptual practices (and who often photograph the city itself).

Using the term can spark murmurs of derision - particularly from some of the artists categorized as belonging to the so-called School.

(Rodney Graham)

"We want to kill that expression," says Roy Arden, one of the artists associated with the group. "We'd just like to be seen as individuals."

The Vancouver School, if it exists, is generally understood to include Arden, as well as artists Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Stan Douglas, Ken Lum and Rodney Graham...

...In New York, Galassi says there's no doubt the group's collaboration was instrumental in the artists' development, but he agrees applying the term "Vancouver School" may be oversimplifying things. "It's reducing something that's enormously complicated - you know the whole artistic history and individuals and all the rest of that - to a yes or no question. You can't do that. Life isn't like that. Art isn't like that."

There is no question Wall, Wallace, Arden et al. were central in establishing Vancouver as an important centre for contemporary art - and in establishing photography as an important medium for contemporary art. Whether they are grouped together as a capital-s School is probably beside the point - but a fascinating point nonetheless."

(Jeff Wall)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lynne Cohen - Camouflage

I've mentioned Lynne Cohen before, but I just got a note that Hasted Hunt Gallery in NY is having an exhibition of her earlier black and white work.

Most of this hasn't been shown much in the US, indeed outside Canada. While Cohen's later large scale colour (and some B&W) more often than not deals with similarly large scale or institutional interiors, this earlier work is on a more intimate, smaller scale. Both the subjects and the prints - which were originally 8x10 contact prints (though I'm not sure what size the exhibition prints are now).

Some of these pictures were the first work of Cohen's that I saw, years ago, in a book put together with Bill Ewing called Occupied Territory through which her work left a lasting impression on me.

From the exhibition blurb:

Cohen is dealing with the concept of camouflage ironically, as in hidden or deceptive, from camoufler to disguise. These are clear-eyed images of interior spaces, empty of people and seemingly affectless. These are familiar spaces, mostly rooms, but also offices, lobbies, and hallways. But there is always something very strange or disorienting.

Much contemporary photo-based work deals with "constructed" realities but Cohen’s settings are straightforward. They are what they are, even when they seem abstracted. This approach is closer to Ed Ruscha than Thomas Demand.

In her searching out of locations she likens herself to a performance artist, as she says, "because of what I have to do to get access. What I am looking for is something political or conceptual, something incongruous or pathetic, a certain sense of strangeness, incoherence, sadness or an asphyxiating order".

Cohen brings a subversive edge to the work, "There is usually something absurd or funny to counterbalance the critique. That is very important to me and I hope the humor enriches the work without masking the critical".

Cohen brings a subversive edge to the work, "There is usually something absurd or funny to counterbalance the critique. That is very important to me and I hope the humor enriches the work without masking the critical".

(Cohen's big monograph No Man's Land is still available. There's also a catalogue Camouflage, in French, which includes work from this show. Cohen's website also has lots of her work on it.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Hobby for Gentlemen (and Ladies)

There's a good review in the NY Times of a current show “Impressed by Light: British Photographs From Paper Negatives, 1840-1860”

I must say that as a child, historic photographs fascinated me. Our local library was actually in a huge old that also had a gallery in it sometimes featured old photographs from the archives - heavy industry, wool barons, tenement houses, the Crimean War, Egypt & Palestine etc and after selecting my latest Biggles or Bobby Brewster book I would wander these exhibits captivated.

Then, as I "grew up", for the longest time such historic photographs - whether vernacular or Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron - bored me to tears. But in recent years I seem to have come full circle and thoroughly enjoy all sorts of historic photography and photographers from the earliest days of the medium.

So a show such is definitely a draw for me now.

"Forget the starving 19th-century artist living in a garret. The exhibition “Impressed by Light: British Photographs From Paper Negatives, 1840-1860” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduces a very different artistic type: the Victorian gentleman, the eminent academic, the curious scientist, the successful businessman. Someone like Robert Henry Cheney, described on a wall label as “an accomplished artist, watercolorist and landscape gardener of his own estate (with a staff of 14).”

Photographs are the main attraction, but sociology intrudes. How many shows include art produced by someone “with extensive commercial interests in coal mines and banking”; or by a man “known as ‘the wealthiest commoner’ in Britain”; or “one of the finest lawyers in Edinburgh”; or “an army officer with the East India Company”?

Even though early photography’s images are fascinating and beautiful to behold, calling their makers artists is a bit of a stretch. Many were hobbyists trying out a new invention, one involving chemicals, hardware and skill that only the well-to-do could afford. Often the photographs were made for private albums, not public exhibition...

Daguerreotypes were detailed and precise; calotypes were softer and prone to massing light and shadows. Daguerreotypes quickly became the professional medium — they worked well for portrait-making — but even after 1851, when glass negatives, which produced a sharper image more quickly, became available, many British photographers preferred the paper negatives.

You immediately see the artistic potential of calotypes and how they served as precursors to movements like Pictorialism. The show’s first image, a salted-paper print by Talbot from 1841-42, is simply a photographic trace — a solid white image against a black background — of a sprig of wild fennel. But it calls to mind later cameraless photography experiments by Man Ray and others, just as the pair of Talbot prints next to it, negative and positive images of a haystack, taken in 1844, create a diptych that resembles a postmodernist installation: Bernd and Hilla Becher meet Monet..."