Max Pinckers’ quest for style

Somehow Max Pinckerswork has never excited me much. I though it was too neat, too contrived, too pretty, too arranged, too controlled… After coming across a feature of Magnum Photos Now about Finding Your Documentary Photography Style and reading the words he chose to describe his approach to documentary photography, I went back to some of his projects. I see now what I had missed before: mainly, that the way he resorts to staging is a strategy to expose the contamination between what is ordinarily understood as facts and fiction.

In that article, author Laura Havlin writes that Pincksers’ thinking began to develop around questions of authenticity and goes on to quote his words: I’ve always been questioning, as a maker or as a photographer, the relationship with the subject matter and the images produced, and how far can they actually convey a form of truth.

Pinckers’ project Lotus, created in collaboration with visual artist Quinten De Bruyn, comes up as the example of how he questions the creation of a style in the context of documentary photography. Lotus is a project about Thailand’s transgender community, but it is also a vehicle to explore the very medium of photojournalism itself, so Havlin says.

What we were really interested in, says Pinckers, was the kind of thought behind why certain aesthetics are applied in documentary photography or photojournalism. What are the motivations behind making certain aesthetic choices when you’re actually there to report on a certain subject matter? Why do documentary images need to be pretty or beautiful or nice to look at? Even if the subject matter might be completely in conflict with this aesthetic? We chose Thailand’s Ladyboys because they have also gone through some kind of transformation; they have plastic surgery and turn from looking like a man to looking like a woman. You walk through the streets and sometimes you’re not quite sure if you are looking at a man or a woman. This is interesting because that’s exactly what we wanted to convey with our images as well: the viewer questions the authenticity of what they are looking at.

When Pickers goes on to describe how he and Bruyn worked on Lotus, at some point he says that the photographs depict spontaneous moments in the middle of very worked out sceneries, once again mistaking spontaneity for authenticity. His exact words are: All of a sudden, they started chatting to each other or would get up to go to the bathroom and then we would take the picture right at the moment when something spontaneous happened. We wanted to to achieve this very stylized, theatrical photographic aesthetic but at the same time capture something that we might not be able to direct or stage.

Although I obviously question his theoretical approach on authenticity, I wouldn’t dare doubt his choices, his approach, his quest for his originality, his own language, for he has managed to achieve a style. On the other hand, I miss a soul. It’s as if the photographs were imprisoned in their conditioned of being a photograph, not being able to take the plunge into an autonomous aesthetic dimension. I see the effort to trigger less controlled moments amidst the staging, as if the spontaneity of those untamed gestures could bring about some authenticity. But authenticity in what sense? Truth about the people and the environment they are photographing? You think?

What follows is a selection of photographs from the project Lotus.

Photogrphas appear as they are in Pinckers’ site, without subtitles.

38_miss-marina
38_painting
38_chan-legs
38_vee-makeup
38_aums-roof
38_friend-elevator
38_jin-with-her-future-husband
38_nong-tits
38_jojo
38_songkran
38_beach-portrait
38_lulu-garden
38_plant
38_lb027
38_nana-st

Yes, photography as a therapeutic tool

Some people have a hard time accepting that photography can also be a therapeutic tool, given the right context. To a certain point, it’s understandable: photography is so many different things, that at some point we all struggle with its identity.

I never doubted photography could do great things: not only could it testify and expose, but it could also promote change and bring about real transformation. In many cases, photography works like a gigantic mirror where everything is reflected in a surprising manner, as if we had an easier time accepting what a self-portrait tells us than we do when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Somehow photography, although real, has a different size and it is less threatening that a reflection in the mirror, so it invites us in and it let’s us engage with our image in our own terms.

For a taste of what photo-therapy can look like, here’s Mafalda Rakos‘ project I want to disappear – Approaching Eating Disorders.

Rakos met most of her protagonists— she does not call them “subjects”— through a self-help group for those in the midst of or in recovery from eating disorders. Some were friends before the book project even started. Everyone included had a say on how much or how little she wanted to participate; if someone wanted to stay anonymous, the photographer abided by her wishes. “I tried to be as sensitive and respectful as I could,” Rakos explains, “A ‘No’ could not be turned into a ‘Yes,’ no matter how much I would have liked them to dig deeper.” For the most part, the women were eager to share this part of their lives with the photographer. The mainstream media, Rakos says, represents eating disorders in ways that aren’t always fair or accurate, and the women in I want to disappear were thankful for the chance to be honest about what they endured. It’s not just about “being thin,” the photographer stresses. Eating disorders, like addictions, are the result of complicated events, traumas, and chance occurrences. “It comes from what happens in your mind,” Rakos suggests, “not really in your body.” When asked about the most powerful memory she’s carried over the course of making the work, the photographer mentions a picture that never made it into the book. There was one woman who made drawings and sculptures, and in her artwork, there was always a mysterious shadowy figure in the back. She told Rakos that the figure represented her “her own self-disgust.” The two of them eventually staged a photograph in which the woman confronted the figure, played by a man dressed in black clothes. The project was painful and emotionally taxing at times, and Rakos admits she might have allowed herself to give up if not for a grant given to her by Documentary Project Fund. But it wasn’t just that sense of responsibility that motivated her to continue. “There was also something else,” the artist says. Rakos felt in her core that this was a story that needed to be told, and in the end, she believes speaking out might well have helped the women in the book to repair some of what’s been lost. On the part of both the photographer and her protagonists, the book became “an attempt to point out that something is not okay at all.”. Taken from Feature Shoot.

All the photographs that follow are © Mafalda Rakos.

Note: because on her site Mafalda Rakos chose to present the photographs without subtitles, here they remain the same.

For more on this project (soon to become a book) check the FB page.

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J., Vienna, 2015.
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⁞ Identities defined by stereotipied ideas of nationality ⁞

Street Level Photoworks‘ upcoming exhibition is called Common Ground: New Documentary Photography from Scotland & Wales and is promoted as a show that brings together “diverse themes and ideas associated with distinctive national and cultural visual inspiration, this collective exhibition welds them together into a cohesive narrative, at times overlapping and continuously referencing and complementing each other“.

Following is my selection of images from some of the photographers showcased in this exhibition as well as other authors both documenting Scotland as it approaches the independence referendum and reflecting on the idea of british identity.

00189328© Kieran Dodds, from the series Land of Scots.

Scotland - Gretna - Seeing Ourselves© Colin McPherson, Welcome to Scotland, 2013, from the project A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s border with England.

Scotland - Gretna - Seeing Ourselves© Colin McPherson, Farmland, Hustle Bank, 2013, from the project A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s border with England.

IMG_81012-666x1000© James O Jenkins, from the series Thatcher (portraits taken at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. 17th April 2013, London.

IMG_81251-670x1000© James O Jenkins, from the series Thatcher (portraits taken at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. 17th April 2013, London.

Untitled-1 copy© Stephen McLaren, from the ongoing project Scotia Nova.

Untitled-2 copy© Stephen McLaren, from the ongoing project Scotia Nova.

1© Craig Easton, from The Scottish Referendum Project.

2© Craig Easton, from The Scottish Referendum Project.

The English Defence League© Ed Thompson, from the series England Till I Die.

The English Defence League© Ed Thompson, from the series England Till I Die.

٠ Sculpture & Photography: a love affair ٠

What follows is a selection of photographs from this year shortlisted photographers for one of the most coherent photo-festivals in Europe: Hyères. As is made very clear by the following selection, this prize is also an elegy to the long lasting love affair between photography ans sculpture, with a particular emphasis on the fusion between subject and object (or should I say ‘the crisis of identity’), that has been growing for the past couple of years and ends up being materialized in the form of a mask.

pap05© Marie Rime, both images Untitled, from the series Symétrie de pouvoir, 2013.

arm05© Marie Rime, Untitled, from the series Armures, 2013.

masque03© Marie Rime, both images Untitled, from the series Masques, 2011.

0003© Lorenzo Vitturi, Untitled, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013.

cocco© Lorenzo Vitturi, Untitled, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013.

oriannelopes-1© Orianne Lopes, Untitled, from the series Les Mélanies, 2013.

Untitled2_retouche_web© Orianne Lopes, Untitled, from the series Pellis Armatura, 2012.

gods-high-4_0© Anna Grzelewska, Editorial work.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg© Birthe Piontek, Untitled, from the series Mimesis, 2013.

2© Birthe Piontek, Untitled, from the series Mimesis, 2013.

tumblr_mw7kvf4dDz1qc41cro1_500© Osma Harvilahti, Untitled.

london_ 076© Osma Harvilahti, Untitled.

61_web6© Virginie Rebetez, Untitled, from the series Under Cover, 2013.

61_web10© Virginie Rebetez, Untitled, from the series Under Cover, 2013.

٠ The near distant future through the eyes of Spike Jonze ٠

hermovie poster

Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her” is a must see! First and foremost because it is an original script, both in the sense that it is new and also in the sense that it is unique, thought-provoking. Because the work is Spike’s own vision of the sort of relationships human will develop with machines in the near future, there is nothing like it. It is an alternate reality but we can all see the proximity between the real, the fiction and the imaginary here.

Its originality is a breath of fresh air; its cinematography (by Hoyte Van Hoytema, also responsible for “The Fighter”) is astonishing; the poster is the best I have seen for a long time, both because it is a crazy good portrait, but also because it really speaks about the core of the movie; the cast is ok with Joaquim Phoenix making such a good performance that one wonders whether any other actor could have played that role, being so fragile, so happy and volatile at the same time.

In conclusion, this movie is about intimacy and the liberty to bound with another person far beyond gender definitions and what normality and morality establish as the correct/incorrect ways to behave/act/be…

٠ Melissa Zexter’s click and stitch: a marriage made in heaven ٠

0x550© Melissa Zexter, Brooklyn Bus Map, from Maps and Memories. Gelatin Silver Print + thread.

0x556© Melissa Zexter, Color Eye Chart, from Maps and Memories. Gelatin Silver Print + thread.

0x559© Melissa Zexter, Cardinal, from Embroidered Portraits. Gelatin Silver Print + thread.

0x5566© Melissa Zexter, Leopard, from Embroidered Portraits. Gelatin Silver Print + thread.

0x5599© Melissa Zexter, Schoolgirls, from Embroidered Portraits. Gelatin Silver Print + thread.

0x55333© Melissa Zexter, Bizzard Lovers, from Other Landscapes. C-print + thread.

0x5598© Melissa Zexter, Willows, from Other Landscapes. C-print + thread.

[…] For me, sewing was another way to build up a surface and to build upon the content of my photographs. I loved the meditative process of sewing – it was in such contrast to the technologically more immediate art of photography. I was also interested in how thread blended in and reacted to the photographs. The combination of sewing and photography brought together two very different processes that I love. The use of embroidery is a reaction to the photographs and is a process that aids in the transformation of identity of the person or place being photographed. […]

I take and print all of my photographs. Some of the photographs are digital prints and others are gelatin silver prints that I make in a darkroom. I take the pictures first and then decide how I am going to change them with the addition of sewing. The thread acts as a connection between the person and myself or place that I have photographed. I always think of the photograph as something from the past and the thread as a reaction to the past and present. The thread makes the photograph more personal to me and allows me to meditate on the image. Combining the two mediums (photography and sewing) allows me to reinvent the photograph; to visually react to a person or a place.

excerpts from an interview published at TextileArtist.org

٠ The political function of landscape-family photographs in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict ٠

The Brownies in Palestina© Gil Pasternak, Esther Pasternak, 1970s. Esther Pasternak collection of family photographs, 1946–99. Description: The defiant lion is a tombstone monument erected in 1932 to commemorate a group of eight Jewish pioneer settlers who, as the Israeli version of the story goes, fell to Arab village militias in the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 while defending their homes and community. The lower part of the monument lists their names. Immediately above them, another engraved Hebrew inscription reads “tov lamut be’ad artzenu” (It is good to die for our country).

[…] The role landscape and family photographs play in occidental societies, and the meanings one might associate with the information they mediate, has been greatly informed by state politics and capitalist ideologies. Preserving (and imagining) cultural, historical, and human landscape was a role officially assigned to the medium of photography when its invention was reported to the people of France by François Arago, in the Chamber of Deputies in 1839 (Sekula 1981). This resulted in photography’s widespread participation in European colonialism; in representing and shaping Otherness in compliance with European imagination, fantasy, and desire. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Kodak company further cemented this role, enticing individuals to travel with cameras and participate in the depiction of landscapes. Kodak thus invoked the nuclear family to partake in the production of geographical knowledge within the domestic sphere (Olivier 2007).
To fully grasp the operation of the photographic apparatus in family life, its involvement in politics, in landscaping, and in negotiations of power relations, one has to remember that historically, it was the invention of the one-dollar Brownie camera that enabled the practice of family photography and the production of family photographs in the way that one is familiar with today. First manufactured and sold in 1900, the Brownie, one of the first easy-to-operate cameras for amateurs, brought about the notion of the democratization of photography, and of snapshot photography in particular. It allowed virtually anyone to take photographs regardless of whether or not they possessed any photographic expertise. As Marc Olivier notes, “Beforet the snapshot, photography was largely a gentlemen’s hobby, a pastime that required technical skill and costly equipment” (2007: 1).

The Brownies in Palestina2 © Gil Pasternak, Dorit Pasternak, 1971. Dorit and Ephraim Pasternak’s collection of honeymoon photographs. Description: memorial for Moshe Levinger and Arye Steinlauff, […] two Israeli road workers who were shot dead by a group of Palestinian militants while paving the road to the Dead Sea in 1951. The memorial indicates the Hebrew date of the workers’ death alongside their names. Above these, a short inscription reads: “galed chalutzim mefalsei ha’derech le’yam ha’melach she’lo zachu le’siyum” (A monument for the pioneers who had started paving the way to the Dead Sea but were not fortunate to complete it).

[…] The experience of the physical environment and that of psychic life may be perceived as interlinked, as well as being two reciprocal conditions of the family photograph. However, I would like to suggest one encounters the family photograph as a post-memory; not purely as something of the past, but also as an informative image and object existing in, and constantly reshaping the present understanding of, the physical conditions it both portrays and materializes, whether these are credible or fabricated.

The Brownies in Palestina3The Brownies in Palestina4© Gil Pasternak, Seffi and Gil Pasternak, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89 (above and below).

[…] From the late 1980s, a new understanding of landscape emerged in the field of cultural geography, treating and discussing landscape as text. The collaborative work of Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (1988) is an exemplar of this approach. According to their research, landscape must be understood as a system of authored signs working to narrate the terrain in which they are found. The narratives that landscapes present are predetermined by their principal makers or authors, whether these are individuals or groups. Prior to the late 1980s, the predominant approach toward landscape had been derived by the theories of Carl Sauer and the Berkeley school of geographers. Landscape was thought of as a blank sheet to be overprinted with traces of human activity, a by-product of cultural practices where culture was thought to have agency. The new understanding of the term, however, suggests landscape is a product of intentional activities carried out to determine geographical features and meaning (Cosgrove and Jackson 1987; Kong 1997). Accordingly, landscape needs to be considered as a linguistic experience, writing and communicating meanings in a particular language. A capacity to engage with and read the signs used along the geographical terrain renders landscapes legible, allowing the equipped viewer to absorb the information imparted by the landscape’s designer while depriving the less privileged viewer access to its intended meaning. Those who cannot read the signs used are bound to bestow different meanings upon the very same landscape, to read it in a way that may compete with, or even override its projected significance (Jackson 1989).

The Brownies in Palestina5© Gil Pasternak, Seffi and Gil Pasternak, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89.

[…] According to Benvenisti (2002), at the end of the nineteenth century Zionist pioneers brought with them from the diaspora the desire to reclaim the landscape of their longed-for, lost homeland. Upon their arrival in the region, they faced a different reality. Although popular Zionist historiography often presented the Promised Land as a deserted, unoccupied territory, the land was occupied by non-Jewish people; its landscapes did not live up to the biblical primordial images that appeared in the pioneers’ dreams. Having searched the visible landscape for residues that might echo their collective imagination, they worked to alter its physical features and conceal threatening scenes. The second generation of these immigrants, Benvenisti explains (2002), turned to archaeological excavations that gradually exposed the past sites of the ancient homeland, creating the country’s landscape anew. By the time a third generation was born, they could not possibly experience the landscape intimately. Its alteration had rendered it a collective landscape of a nation, and the location of this nation’s identity. Yet, as Ghazi Falah (1996) reveals in an article on the cultural landscape of Palestine, some sites of past villages still contain rubble, abandoned olive groves, cactus bushes, and other indications of their previous inhabitants. Some of these stand untouched, others are hidden among thick plantations of forests “planted apparently after the houses were leveled in the early years of the Israeli state” (Falah 1996: 271). Such locations turn this landscape into a site for Israeli amnesia, where some aspects of a non-heroic Jewish-Israeli history are hidden or camouflaged.

The Brownies in Palestina6© Gil Pasternak, Untitled, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89. Description: This expansive view is captured from a tourist observation point located at the top of the Mount of Olives. The sitters appear comfortable, at ease within the environment and with the photographic gaze pointed at them. The background, however, is loaded with political meanings, as dominion over the Old City of Jerusalem and its sacred places has been a matter of public, regional, and
international dispute since the state of Israel captured the city from Jordan in the war of 1967.

[…] I would like to suggest an understanding of the photographic relationship between sitters and landscapes in comparison with sitters against artificial backgrounds in studio photography. […] If subjects against painted landscapes had to imagine their relationship to the background, when positioned against actual landscapes, family photographs narrate the group as directly involved in, and related to, the landscape surrounding them. This further complicates the reality of the photographic, for if both the subject and the background appear authentic, they are capable of shaping each other’s identity not only historically but also ontologically. Yet, while it could be argued that the two-dimensional painted background draws much of the viewer’s attention precisely due to its visible fabricated qualities, it also serves as an indication of intentionality. It is those already theatrical properties of the background that trigger the spectator’s interest in its symbolic value, and thereby in the possible affinity of the painted background with the sitter. Following the logic of Walter Benjamin’s historicization of photography (Benjamin 1985), it could be suggested that whereas the painted background gains prominence by alienating the sitter from a nonrepresentational space, in family photographs actual landscapes become casual through their photographic replication, allowing the sitter—a person familiar to the viewer—to stand out as the ephemeral element within the photographic image, thus imbuing the background with other significance. This recorded ephemeral encounter of the familiar figure with the inanimate surrounding has the capacity to concurrently familiarize and de-familiarize the viewer with the depicted environment, instilling in the viewer altering visions of conflicting political and social realities.

excerpts from ““The Brownies in Palestina”: Politicizing Geographies in Family Photographs” by Gil Pasternak, published in Photography & Culture Volume 6—Issue 1 March 2013, pp.41–64

٠ The photo-finders as the inauthentic photographers ٠

tumblr_mk83ksZRat1riatdoo1_500Le Fabuleux album d’Amélie Poulain

[…] The photo-finders will refer to themselves as artists or curators, editors or collectors—often, as an unclassifiable mixture. Depending on their self-described status, the archives of found, anonymous photographs they produce will be labeled works of art, exhibitions, projects, or studies—or something in between.
Departing from an understanding of the amateur photographer as an “innocent naïf,” and of his snapshot as “authentic,” the brothers and sisters of Amélie’s mysterious collector “revise the distinction between author and audience,” as the cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote, in a different context, seventy-five years ago. Turning “consumers … into producers—that is, readers or spectators into collaborators,” their archives become political statements that embody the workings of democratic societies, and that downplay the professional in favor of the supposedly “disinterested” amateur. The twentieth century has greeted photojournalism and art photography with postcolonial critique and a postmodern “crisis of representation”; digitization and the camera-equipped cell phone define the beginning of the twenty-first. The stage is thus set for a new kind of witness to enter the scene: the amateur photographer. Closer inspection reveals, however, that he is not really all that new—nor, for that matter, all that “authentic.”

5069be36d9127e30f0000519._w.400_h.489_s.fit_from Found Photos, by Dick Jewell, 1977.

1334_dick-jewell-found-photos-c-courtesy-rachmaninoffsfrom Photobooth, by Babette Hines, 2002.

[…] Let’s call Amelie’s collector of orphaned passport pictures an artist, and his artistic method the finding, and recycling, of images that already exist. Then his is a method that says something about the artist’s (in)ability to produce original images—and in fact, his method isn’t all that original either. For the trick has been done before: Marcel Duchamp’s readymade sculptures, or Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes spring to mind. And while it is true that the practice of working with found photography as found photography did not really come into its own until four decades ago, and did not go viral until the 1990s,12 amateur photographs have featured in artistic practice pretty much since the 1878 invention of dry gelatin plates, and the 1888 introduction of the user-friendly and relatively cheap “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” Kodak cameras that propelled the growth of amateur photography.

is25mccpat12from Album, by Patrick McCoy, 1996.

spreadinalmosteverypicture11_2from In Almost Every Picture, by Erik Kessels, since 2001.

[…] So, the stage was set, and subsequent artists working with found photography would strip the amateur snapshot ever more, laying it ever more bare. Surrealism lifted the snapshot out of the photomontage, but still presented it in a theory-heavy, artistic context. By contrast, the found photography archives that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century focused more and more on the amateur photograph as such, celebrating precisely its nonartistry and its banality.

snapshots_01from Snapshots—The Eye of the Century, by Christian Skrein, 2004.

053-photo-trouveefrom Anonymous: Enigmatic
Images from Unknown Photographers
, by R. F. Johnson, 2004.

PetArtsCntr-Girl@xylophoneAug5-Sept182011c.1920from Photo Trouvée, by Michel Frizot, 2006.

[…] The radical questioning of photography’s agenda, authenticity, and veracity remained, for many years, confined to the academic circles of cultural and literary criticism. But the arrival on the scene of digital photography and, on its heels, of Photoshop, which—theoretically at least—put an end to the indexical quality that film-based photography still enjoyed, appears to have made the issue real for the public at large, as well.
Representation, in short, was still in crisis: and artists and journalists alike continued to seek for ways to respond.
[…]
“Authenticity” is not a feature of the material itself, not something inherent in the photograph, whether it is an amateur snapshot or a skillfully composed documentary shot. Everyone, amateur and professional alike, comes to the taking and making of pictures informed by social or political intentions, cultural norms and values, and visual examples. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder; authenticity resides in the exact same place.

excerpts from “The Authentic Amateur and the Democracy of Collecting Photographs” by Lynn Berger, published in Photography & Culture Volume 2—Issue 1 March 2009, pp.31–50

٠ Yaakov Israel’s quest for the man on the white donkey ٠

yaakovisraelqmwd11yaakovisraelqmwd22yaakovisraelqmwd44yaakovisraelqmwd45yaakovisraelqmwd71yaakovisraelqmwd76yaakovisraelqmwd34yaakovisraelqmwd67© Yaakov Israel, all photographs from the series The quest for the man on the white donkey, 2011

“As referred by the Jewish tradition the Messiah (the Prophet) will arrive riding on a white donkey.
Few years ago, as I was taking photographs near the Dead Sea a Palestinian man rode past me on his white donkey.
It is after having developed this plate that I’ve realize that I had encountered my “Messiah”; this meeting brought me to initiate the body of work that carries the name: “The quest for the man on the white donkey”.

(…)

As my “Messenger” revealed himself, the search for a deeper understanding of my Country and what defines me as an Israeli became an urge to look for the in-between places, the non-usual; suddenly a detail requested my attention as I stood for hours waiting for a meaning to reveal itself: or pushed me away, puzzled. But in the end I had to hold to it. I cannot let go until that detail is made mine, until the allusive and enigmatic find their place in my understanding of what I deem as authentic, real.
The “Quest” is an attempt to relay a personal take to the Israeli reality with a broader sense of belonging to the global human collectivity.
Because here the evidences of the past are so strongly intertwined with the marks of the present and the questions about our future: sometimes it is possible to see all this revealed in front of one’s eye, and all at the same time.
Part of my identity as Israeli is to question everything, not to leave anything for granted: to show the tensions that constantly exist, to convey the truth behind the construction of the reality.
Religious, social aspects filter into everyday life and their meanings are exposed as the journey moves on. Jewish missionaries, lost souls and individuals living in the fringes of the society: all blends in to form this landscape of humanity.”

Yaakov’s statement

┐ Alma Haser’s Cosmic Surgery └

Alma_Haser9Alma_Haser7AlmaHaser_LillyandAnastasiaAlmaHaser_TillyandJohnny© Alma Haser, all from the series Cosmic Surgery

“Alma has always made things with her hands and now tries to find ways to combine her fine art background with photography. She has used origami in the past as props in her photographs, but in this series ‘Cosmic Surgery’ the origami has become an integral part of the final image.

The series has three distinct stages. Firstly Alma photographs her sitter, then prints multiple images of the subjects face and folds them into a complicated origami modular construction, which then gets placed back onto the original face of the portrait. Finally the whole thing is re-photographed.

Origami is very meditative, you can get lost in the world of folding for hours. It is also extremely delicate and fragile, so by giving each geometric paper shape somewhere to sit within the final image, the origami has been given a backbone.

There is something quite alien about the manipulated faces, as if they belong to some futuristic next generation. In these portraits the children become uncanny, while their parents are seen in a more familiar moment.

With the simple act of folding an image Alma can transform each face and make a sort of flattened sculpture. By de-facing her models she has made their portraits into her own creations.”

Alma’s website here

┐ Eiffel Chong └

016015013© Eiffel Chong, Untitled, from the series Royal Malaysia Police

“I came across an abandoned police station and found identity photographs of the police personnel being scattered around. Most of them still look good, except for a layer of dust on top of the photographs. However, there were some that have been destroyed by the harsh weather in Malaysia. I found them to be interesting. Some look uncanny. It made me wonder why would these photographs being abandoned seeing that they are photographs used for identification.


Looking at these photographs, it reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s fiction ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’. The photographs had aged. It serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon its soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement, or through a sign of aging.


Royal Malaysia Police is a series of work about re-photographing the identity photographs of the police personnel.” Eiffel’s statement

More of Eiffel’s work here

┐ Harmut Lerch & Claus Holtz – 36976 portraits└


“The theme of dehumanization was the subject matter of many works in a variety of media. None was clearer or more appropriate to the exhibition than Portrait, a video tape by Harmut Lerch and Claus Holtz which consists of 100,000 photographic portraits viewed consecutively at a gradually increasing rate, up to 20,000 faces per second. As the photographs (which share a common eye level) are shown more and more rapidly, they gradually blur together into one homogenized image, a sexless, expressionless face neither beautiful nor ugly. This is a straightforward work about conformity and lack of uniqueness, yet its simplicity (in conception, not execution) does not detract from the strength of its message leading the viewer to fantasize about futuristic uniform societies produced by cloning. The vision is pure 1984.” source: Feldman Gallery

┐ Democracy Deficit └

© Sofia Silva, Democracy Deficit (wip detail), from the series The Protester, 2012

from left top right it reads “Bread”, “Peace”, “Housing”, “Health”, “Education”

┐ Freedom Fighters └

© Sofia Silva, Freedom Fighters (wip detail), from the series The Protester, 2012

the rest of the videos from the conference via The Public School (along with other great lectures, interviews, etc)

┐ Sara Rahbar └

© Sara Rahbar, Untitled, from the series Love arrived & How red, photography, 2008

© Sara Rahbar, Trapped in Dark Night with Nowhere to Run, I Have Died a Million Times Every Night in this Bed (left) + Kurdistan Flag #5 (right), from the series Flags, mixed media + textiles, 2005-2010

© Sara Rahbar, Solitary (left) + Anonymously yours (right), from the series Confessions of a Sinner, mixed media, 2011/12

Rahbar seems to meditate on the flag like a monk would stare at an icon. “It represents my father and so many, many promises and hopes of tomorrow … It represents endless possibilities, escapes, and mirages … it’s a very loaded image for me,” Rahbar explained. “Years and years of memories, experiences and attachments, and what is the work but a direct reflection of my life? What I’m focusing on, and what is boiling, twisting and turning inside of me.”

(…)

“And I remember how I worked on one of my first flags. I was traveling from Tehran to Kurdistan with Hossein a very dear friend of mine. He was going to work as a soundman for a film and I was going to photograph Kurdistan and try to figure out my next project and what to do with the rest of my life.”

“We lived in Kurdistan together for months, I would write, take photographs and gather random found objects and textiles that were used for donkeys and horses and sew them onto my flag. I would sit somewhere, sew for a bit, roll up the flag, put it in my backpack, and continue to take photographs, everything was on the go and very natural and in the moment. I worked to work out the turbulence that existed within me; I was healing myself and at the same time communicating an immense pain as I always am with my work. The work is a byproduct of me; emotionally and mentally, it keeps me together. I take care of it and it takes care of me.” excerpt of article by Hrag Vartanian, in Hyperallergic. continue reading here.

More of Sara’s work here

┐ Hannah Villiger (1951-1997) └

© Hannah Villiger, Untitled, 1980 – C-print from Polaroid

© Hannah Villiger, Sculptural, 1993

© Hannah Villiger, Untitled, 1980/81 – 12 C-prints of polaroids

“When trying to describe physical feelings of any kind, we find ourselves shortchanged by language. I arrived at this conclusion after several, always hopelessly crude attempts to describe
fundamental moments in Hannah Villiger’s oeuvre. The public-at-large is quite capable of registering feelings of repulsion or extreme empathy when blood flows in the movies, when some-one is cut or surgery is performed, or when faced with eroticism, vertigo on a lookout tower or sports—all points on a scale that are clearly designated and defined. But in between lie immense micro-regions, dead lands, where words fail. This is the territory that Hannah Villiger explores. With a well-honed consciousness she masterfully negotiates the overall system of obstruction (of hindrance and enfeeblement). When communication is constantly kept in check, metaphor comes to the rescue. Perhaps this is why Hannah Villiger’s work seems so womanly and so strong.
It is conceivable that the vertigo caused by verticals (at the edge of the abyss) has a gentle partner in horizontals. A kind of window feeling. When it is very intense, you feel it in your nostrils, your ears, your chest or (in connection with speed) your bottom. The fixed point is not the abyss but the horizon. When I was a child and we went for a drive on Sundays, I would sit in the backseat and imagine—especially in fast curves—that I was riding a bicycle because I was never given one. Hannah Villiger can do it without a bicycle. That’s what I have to think of when I see her photographs of gushing water, swift birds or colliding boccie balls. And there is also the mute, squat airship, suspended in the sky, or the burning palm leaf thrown into the air. Here pleasurable and extremely subtle use is made of the potential of empathy, which in turn makes us aware of our own potential and position as part of a greater whole.
Hannah Villiger’s much enlarged color Polaroids no longer record the vehemence of directly transmitted physical sensations; they have quieted down. “He had teeth like luxury hotels on the beach in Florida and when he closed his mouth, there was a big scar.” (Laurie Anderson) These color photographs, usually one meter square, gradually turn into boxes the longer you look at them. Boxes into which you poke your head very, very slowly without noticing, because the pull is so gentle. And damp fog, pointed palm leaves, skin or gazes brush against us, passing by. But there are also pictures whose energy is directed outwards, pictures that radiate, so that we already notice from afar that we are being kept at bay. These are the cold pictures, like the eye with a razor-sharp gaze. Once you have stood in front of them, you know that the format of these photographs is incontestable.
Sometimes the subject matter of a picture ignites feelings; other times it is a vessel or a catchment for them. In memory such distinctions are often utterly irrelevant. For this reason, Hannah Villiger’s wooden or plexiglas objects crop up again in her photo works. Is Hannah Villiger the fog creeping around the mountain, or is the fog enveloping her? Movement back and forth, sudden clashes and leaps, simultaneous flowing and flying flit through Hannah Villiger’s work until a compact whole emerges—like her name HANNAH…” HANNAH and the Horizon, by Bice Curiger

more of Hannah‘s work here

┐ Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982) └

© Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Life Mixing, 1975

© Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Untitled, 1980 – a clear glass jar with lid containing 5 pieces of paper with type-written text and black string.

© Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, from It’s Almost That, 1977

© Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Exilee, 1980

“From the mid-1970s until her death at age 31 in 1982, Korean-born artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha created a rich body of conceptual art that explored displacement and loss. Her works included artists’ books, mail art, performance, audio, video, film, and installation. Although grounded in French psychoanalytic film theory, her art is also informed by far-ranging cultural and symbolic references, from shamanism to Confucianism and Catholicism. Her collage-like book Dictée, which was published posthumously in 1982, is recognized as an influential investigation of identity in the context of history, ethnicity and gender.


In her highly theoretical yet poetic video works, Cha uses performance, speech and text to explore interactions of language, meaning and memory. Much of Cha’s work balances a rigorous analytical approach with an almost spiritual evocation of transformation and suffering. Themes of displacement and rupture are articulated in forms derived from French psychoanalytic cinema and linguistic theory of the 1970s; Cha studied in France with Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour and Thierry Kuntzel, among others. Drawing on sources and strategies as diverse as concrete poetry, Korean cultural traditions and conceptual art, Cha speaks with a distinctive voice.


Cha’s exploration of exile and dislocation in her art is informed by her own history. Uprooted during the Korean War, her family immigrated to America in 1962, moving first to Hawaii and then to San Francisco. After years in the Bay Area and time in Europe, Cha moved to New York City in 1980. As an editor and writer at Tanam Press, she produced two well-known works, Dictée (1982) and Apparatus, an important anthology of essays on the cinematic apparatus.” source: Electronic Arts Intermix

More of Theresa‘s work here

┐ Robert Seydel – Book of Ruth └

© Robert Seydel, all Untitled, from Book of Ruth, collages, c. 2000-09

Robert Seydel’s “Book of Ruth is an alchemical assemblage that composes the life of his alter ego, Ruth Greisman—spinster, Sunday painter, and friend to Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. Through collages, drawings, and journal entries from Ruth’s imagined life, Seydel invokes her interior world in novelistic rhythms. These seductive, unearthed artifacts, conceived as a gathering of materials from the Smithsonian and a suburban family garage, construct a mosaic portrait of a reclusive, unknown artist for whom the distance between the ordinary and the extraordinary is infra-thin. The fragments and detritus from which Seydel fashions Ruth’s art and narrates her inner life shine like the pages of an illuminated manuscript, revealing as much about the imagination of an artist as well as about the tenuous creation of self. from Siglio press

“Speaking through another’s voice is hardly an original tactic, though I suppose to some degree it is in the visual arts. “I is another,” Rimbaud said, lodging uncanniness at the heart of what we are. From Browning to Pound to Pessoa, speaking in voices was a way to carry history and multiplicity into the poem. Armand Schwerner asked, as a poet, “Why leave fictive experiments to the prose writers?” I guess I’ve asked that myself, but as an artist. To attempt to make the hand obey another’s psychology, at least so far as you imagine it, doesn’t seem that different to me than fashioning the voice of a literary character.

And art has always seemed to me a kind of exit out of the self, a way to get beyond the self. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood why “self-expression” is an attractive motivation for making art, which is how students so often speak about what they’re doing. Who cares really? But to fashion a self, that seems to me another thing. Walt Whitman isn’t only that boy “starting out from Paumonak,” but “Walt Whitman, a kosmos”—that is, an invention. The artist’s job, according to both Robert Henri and Jasper Johns, is to invent himself.” excerpt of an interview conducted by Savina Velkova. continue reading here