Who’s your favourite photographer? they ask

It’s a question students often ask: who’s your favourite photographer? I don’t have one, nor do I have a favourite director, a favourite musician, a favourite writer and so on. It varies. Having said that, what students usually want when posing that question is to understand what kind of photographs I like, so I usually show them the work of a couple of authors I particularly respond to. For the past couple of years, Robert Zhao Renhui‘s work has been on the top of that list.

Sanne de Wilde, born in Antwerp in 1987, is an author’s who’s work I’ve also been following and her latest project is what brings me to this post. The Island of the Colorblind is a project that brings together the author’s style with the content’s uniqueness. As a result, we get an original aesthetic approach to this universe, being that “this universe” is both the dimension of the achromats as well as the dimension of the photographic language. They are both potentiated through de Wilde’s way of making: her choices regarding color, first and foremost, but mainly the way the “idea of color” contaminates the entire project.

Here’s an excerpt of de Wilde’s statement about The Island of the Colorblind:

In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the sole survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.

[…]

I tried to see the island through their eyes. Daylight is too bright to bear, moonlight turns night into day, colors dance around in shades we cannot imagine. Imagine flames lighting up in black and white, trees turning pink, waves of grey. A rainbow revisited. The islanders often refer to green as their favourite color, growing up in a lush environment, living in the jungle. But green is also the color that the most common kind of colorblindness (deutaranomaly, five out of 100 males) can’t distinguish. I learned that the color the islanders say to ‘see’ most is red. I photographed with a camera converted to infrared, programmed to read the light and the colors different. Nowadays a lot of the Pingelapese have migrated to Pohnpei, the nearest , bigger of the Micronesians island.

In a few months, The Island of the Colorblind will be published and we’ll be able to see it, contemplate it and discuss it properly. I’ll be back with more on the subject once it’s out. For now, a teaser:

© Sanne de Wilde, from the project 'The Island of the Colorblind'.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project ‘The Island of the Colorblind’.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project 'The Island of the Colorblind'.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project ‘The Island of the Colorblind’.

Everything she touches turns to…

Annie Leibovitz is responsible for creating such an iconography, that her authority (meaning legitimacy as an author) is unquestionable. Having said that, and although her work is always in trend (or so my students’ tell me), for the past decade or so I’ve been failing to find any originality in her photographic work. Seeing her recent portraits of Michelle Obama is what brought me to this post. My first reaction was, literally, that she turns everything and everyone into the same: an object, with no soul. We’ve seen the compositions, the poses, the air, the latent content, the only thing that keeps being new is the people who enter her shot. I guess, this could be another example of how style can be interpreted as the exact opposite of a high level of originality and, instead, describe a bundle of strategies that serve to legitimate repetition.

But let’s look at the images (or maybe leave now, this might be a waste of your time): Haven’t we seen this from her before? Why is Leivobitz suggesting that Michelle Obama is about to be abducted by some higher power? And, just as we’re at it, why is she cutting this woman’s foot? If the point was to make Michelle look sexy (maybe suggesting something about the woman who’s about to take her place at the White House?), I think we can all agree this is a failure.

Annie Leibovits, Michelle Obama© Annie Leibovitz, Michelle Obama, 2016.

15078872_1361345967232327_5540863511965742689_n© Annie Leibovitz, Michelle Obama, 2016.

There’s a story about Sontag and Leibovitz that I’m reminded here. Their close friendship is well know, as is the fact that Sontag pushed her to go out of her comfort zone. I can’t exactly point out where I read or heard this, but it was Sontag who, in the 90’s, convinced Leibovitz to go out to the Balkans and see the war through her lens. As expected, that changed her approach to life and art and for some time her photographs reflected that change, that density and maturity. But, as years went on and she kept on photographing big fashion productions, she sort of started to disappear, her voice getting ever more conventional and unoriginal. Sometimes a friend is what it takes to open our mind and I keep thinking that this wouldn’t happen if Sontag was alive (but, I know, this is extremely naif on my part).

It wasn’t my initial intention to be too harsh, but what her photographs now lack in originality they seam to make up in absurdity and eccentricity. In fact, I find them undignified, both of her and some of the individuals she photographs. The play, which, one can say, plays a very important role in the dynamics of an artwork, doesn’t mean that the work lacks gravity; instead, it should mean that the work is experimenting within its boundaries, playing with its internal and external dynamics.

I’m not even going to bring the subject of the Disney-themed photos of celebrities, for it is just too bad, but what happened to the subtlety of her earlier portraits? Did someone whispered to her that she had to keep up with LaChapelle?

L’enfer, c’est les autres

L’enfer, cést les autres, Sartre’s famous exclamation in Huis Clos, it’s one of those sentences that in itself encloses a wide reflection about how human beings think about themselves. I am often reminded of the dictum when someone or something really gets one my nerves. I’m aware that when someone messes with my well-being the problem is as much theirs as it is mine, for external dynamics always reflect internal dynamics, something that is implied in Sartre’s famous sentence. Because one wouldn’t want to stay confined to a mirror-less place, meaning, one wouldn’t want to avoid the natural anguish that comes with recognition, ideally, one would just get to the point of not being bothered by others’ stupidity? Or, in its extreme, might that space of impenetrable well-being actually indicate an alienation from the collective agency of the I?

This is not going to turn into a reflection about the ideal measure of contamination one should or should not allow into one’s life. Having four dogs, I’m pretty much bothered every single day by people who jump to the conclusion that we’re all brainless idiots. What really bothers me in such approaches is how predictable they are, how devoid of character. So, what I want to mention is the importance of originality, meaning: the importance of being original albeit the influence others’ have on us. It’s easier said than done, of course, and it’s something that gets clearer with the passing of time and artistic maturity.

I often mention to colleagues how bored I am by most photographers’ work, but it shouldn’t be any different, should it? High art or, one could say, art that makes a difference, that has the mark of authenticity, is the expression of a way of living and doing that most of us are not interested or cannot explore. So, instead of originality, we get copies, reproductions of ideas once legitimated; instead of autonomous works of art, we get works that serve as means to an end, having no ethos; instead of a sensible and insightful use of technique, we get fireworks, displays of technicalities.

Since I’m trying to clean three years of unsorted bookmarks, mostly of artworks I came across and couldn’t pay enough attention, I’ll leave you with a bundle of photographic imagery that may (or may not) illustrate the difference between the value of originality and the poor feel we’re left with when no originality is at play.

2010-046-lighter-orange-ii_900px© Wolfgang Tillmans, Lighter Orange II.

2000-008-i-don-t-want-to-get-over-you_900px© Wolfgang Tillmans, I don’t want to get over you.

117_bernhard-fuchs-autos-100-0506edtd© Bernhard Fuchs, Autos.

117_bernhard-fuchs-autos-100-0508edtd_v2© Bernhard Fuchs, Autos.

001© Lieko Shiga, Lilly, 2002-2005.

005© Lieko Shiga, Lilly, 2002-2005.

10245© Guia Besana, Condition #7, 2013.

1024© Guia Besana, Condition #6, 2013.

cactus-dressing-w900_900© Ting Chen, Cactus Dressing.

sexy-willy-flower-watering-gun-900px_o© Ting Chen, Sexy willy flower watering gun.

444© Petra Rautenstrauch, The Empress, 2006.

999© Petra Rautenstrauch, The dark side of the heart, 2007.

a_fusion_2_1© Michael Schmelling, A fusion, from the project Atlanta.

Untitled (dancer_1), 2013© Michael Schmelling, Your blues dancer, from the project Atlanta.

10245678© Emily Peacock, Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C, 2012.

1024987© Emily Peacock, Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J, 2012.

robert-mapplethorpe3© Robert Mapplethorpe.

robert-mapplethorpe6© Robert Mapplethorpe.

≡ Sculpture & Photography: a love affair (part II) ≡

Roughly one year ago I made a post highlighting the love affair between photography and sculpture in contemporary art. The post featured artists that were part of the 2014 selection of Hyères Festival. In this second part what follows is a selection of work based on an exhibited curated on the theme Under Construction – New Positions in American Photography, organized by Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam and Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation, showcasing the work of ten artists from EUA and Canada. On the Foam website one can read:

“The far-reaching digitisation of society exerts an unparalleled influence on almost every aspect of the medium. This ranges from entirely new photographic techniques (digitisation of the equipment) and the use of the photographic image (distribution via digital networks) to the value and significance of photography itself (in view of the never-ending stream of many millions of photographic images that are being taken, distributed and manipulated every day). This fundamental reassessment is particularly appropriate and important in a society in which so much culturally relevant information is communicated via images and where an unprecedented and extremely complex dynamic has developed amongst images. In this new world, how can photography or a photograph be defined? What is the value and significance of photography? What is the role of the artist?

“These kinds of questions are of utmost relevance for this new generation of image makers who all represent very specific positions within a complex landscape. One of the most distinguishing features is that the image is constructed and built up from decontextualized elements. Furthermore its aesthetic qualities are largely determined by the use of abstract forms and colors. Whether the photograph is created entirely from scratch or whether it is put together using archetypal images, art history references, archive material or pictures derived from the internet, the end result is fragmented and layered. The artists make use of analogue or digital workflows, or a combination of both, often using advanced post-production software. With the introduction of three dimensionality as a self-evident addition, the photographic image is not always limited to a flat surface.

“The participants of Under Construction are in fact engaged with a reinvention of photography within a totally different societal context, taking account of more than 150 years of photographic history. It is no less than a photographic renaissance.”

I

svanderbeek43.jpg.pagespeed.ce.a98N5NV-g_© Sara VanDerBeek, Shift, 2014. Digital c-print.

svanderbeek40.jpg.pagespeed.ce.eXjerq5HES© Sara VanDerBeek, Turned Stairs/Pyramid Steps, 2014. Detail view.

svanderbeek41.jpg.pagespeed.ce.0v6mNUHpfq© Sara VanDerBeek, Ancient Objects, Still Lives. Installation view.

II

katesteciw_interview01© Kate Steciw, Springtime Entropy, 2009.C-Print.

katesteciw_interview04© Kate Steciw, abstract, assistance, bed rest, biology, blade, botanic, clean, clear, close-up, closeup, detail, dew, dew-drop, drop, droplet,
flora, foliage, fresh, green, grow, harmony, hope, leaf, life, light, macro, morning, mourning, nature, organic, pure, purity, purpose,
rain, reflections, scattered, spring, survival, water, warning, weather, wet”,
2012. C-Print.

III

Cut-(from-Picturing-the-Times-of-your-Life)© Sara Cwynar, Cut (from picturing the times of your life), from the project Flat Death.

Toucan-in-Nature-(Post-it-notes)© Sara Cwynar, Toucan in Nature (post it notes), from the project Flat Death.

Contemporary-Floral-Arrangement-1-(Many-Perrenials-can-be-used-in-arrangements-such-as-this-for-winter-decoration)© Sara Cwynar, Contemporary Floral Arrangement 1, from the project Flat Death.

IV

26089-1391119124-05TOPIARY© Cynthia Talmadge and Matthew Leifheit, Fruit Topiary (Bosc Pears).

IMG-0633-INVspread© Cynthia Talmadge and Matthew Leifheit, Untitled (topiary), 2013.

V

Crescnent_Eyed_Portrait© Daniel Gordon, Crescent Eyed Portrait. C-print, from the project Back to the Green Line, M+B, Los Angeles, 2013.

banana© Daniel Gordon, Bananas. C-print, from the project Back to the Green Line, M+B, Los Angeles, 2013.

Artichokes_and_Leeks© Daniel Gordon, Artichokes and Leeks. C-print, from the project Back to Screen Selections and Still Lifes, Wallspace, New York, 2014.

VI

higherpictures_joshuacitarella_renderdifference© Joshua Citarella, Render and Difference, 2013, C-print.

23_HourglassLattice© Joshua Citarella, Hourglass in Lattice Configuration II, III & IV, 2015, C-print.

VII

LIPPS_Camera_700© Matt Lipps, Untitled, from the series Library.

LIPPS_03Heads_700© Matt Lipps, Untitled, from the series Horizon/s.

VIII

8863_1000© Jessica Eaton, Interpolation Dramatization 7, 2012. Archival pigment print.

8038_1000© Jessica Eaton, cfaal 306, 2013. Archival pigment print.

IX

porter_greet_the_dust© Matthew Porter, Greet the Dust, 2012. Archival pigment print.

porter-VonSternbergHouse-2-crop-fake-WEB© Matthew Porter, Von Sternberg House #2, 2012. Archival pigment print.

X

© Owen KyddRed Wall, Three Parts, 2013. Video on 40 inch display screen.

© Owen Kydd, Composition Warner Studio. Video on 40 inch display screen.

© Owen Kydd, Knife, 2011. Video on 40 inch display screen.

║ Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison ║

© Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, The Scribe, 2006 

© Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Channel, 2006 

© Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Mourning Cloak, 2006 

© Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Gray Dawn, 2006
“The ParkeHarrisons create large-scale coherent narratives reminiscent of early 19th century images imbued with futuristic allegories. The fate and state of the earth and the attempt to heal is the prevailing topic. Each work is the result of painstaking research involving hundreds of drawings and sketches as well as hours of reading and writing, with influences as far-ranging as literature, dreams, artists both historical and contemporary, inventors, theatre, and cinema.
Creating a genre unique within photography, the ParkeHarrison’s construct fantasies in the guise of environmental performances featuring an Everyman character ­ a man dressed in a black suit ­ who interacts with a landscape. The surreal and often humorous images are a mixture of a black and white silent film and a dream you can’t forget. The artists combine elaborate sets (some of which take months to construct) and their impeccable sense of wit and irony, to address issues about a dying planet and mankind’s efforts to heal damage done to its landscape from exhausting its resources.”

to view Robert and Shana full body of work click here

Wayne Martin Belger

© Wayne Martin Belger, Bloodworks 2

11”x14” toned gelatin silver print with the subject painted with Prickly Pear Black Tea

© Wayne Martin Belger, Untouchable (HIV Camera)
The tools I create and work with are pinhole cameras. With pinhole photography, the same air that touches my subject can pass through the pinhole and touch the photo emulsion on the film. There’s no barrier between the two. There are no lenses changing and manipulating light. There are no chips converting light to binary code. With pinhole what you get is an unmanipulated true representation of a segment of light and time, a pure reflection of what is at that moment. With some exposure times getting close to 2 hours, it’s an unsegmented movie from a movie camera with only one frame.

The creation of a camera comes from my desire to relate to a subject. When I choose a subject I spend time studying it. Then I start visualizing how I would like a photo of the subject to look. When that’s figured out, I start on the camera stage of the project by collecting parts, artifacts and relics that relate to the subject. When I’ve gathered enough parts and feel for the subject, I start the construction of the camera. I create the cameras from Aluminum, Titanium, Copper, Brass, Bronze, Steel, Silver, Gold, Wood, Acrylic, Glass, Horn, Ivory, Bone, Human Bone, Human Skulls, Human Organs, Formaldehyde, HIV+ Blood and relics all designed to be the sacred bridge of a communion offering between myself and the subject. All to witness and be a tool of the horrors of creation and the beauty of decay presented by the author light and time.
Wayne Martin Belger
http://www.boyofblue.com