On Ren Hang’s suicide: “Pain is pain, no matter how pretty”

A lot has been said about the value of Ren Hang‘s artwork following his recent death, at the age of 29. Hang committed suicide. From what I can understand, he jumped from a building in Berlin, last Friday. Author Wendy Syfret took the opportunity to talk about the myth that connects genius and madness (the title of this post is the sentence that finishes her article). Her premise was to “challenge ourselves to interrogate the way we weave mental health narratives into the stories of artists”.

So far, so good. Syfret claims that “[t]he image of the tortured artist is resilient, and all too often, romantic”, and she goes on to argue that pain and suffering should not be promoted as the source of the creative genius, even though there is scientific proof that links mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) to a greater creativity

On the other hand, I find it a little problematic to reduce mental illnesses to a conversation about the pain and suffering they entail (and that we tend to romanticize). I couldn’t agree more with Syfret when she says that “the persistent idea that one must be unhappy to truly be open to absorbing and translating the human condition is both artificial and dangerous”, but a schizophrenic or a bipolar is not necessarily an unhappy person (one documentary by Stephen Fry is very enlightening regarding this, for he asks all the people interviewed whether they’d rather live without that condition). Should we really be stigmatized as happy or unhappy people? If so, I’m clearly an unhappy person and I’ve suffered from depression before. I’m also in the creative field. What does that make me? A ticking time bomb? Oh, the problem with over simplifying…

15b1d4dbca88956d452cf2561fca0599
© Ren Hang
ren-hang9
© Ren Hang
15192736763_085dd64d37_b
© Ren Hang

Yes, there is obviously a lot of suffering involved in mental illnesses, but part of that suffering is definitely generated because of the clash between what is understood as normal and what is then labelled as abnormal. And, in that sense, any of us can easily end up in a situation of being marginalized, depending on the cultural context we’re in. What I want to say is that what the art market romanticizes is difference. Whether the artist is schizophrenic, alcoholic, an orphan or a dwarf, what is exploited is the concept of difference.  

Making art while going through deep and profound struggles is actually impossible. No one actually creates anything when suffocating in a deep black hole. More often than not, the making of the art happens in between stages. When one is in suffering, there’s no energy, but I think everyone can understand that when a person comes out of such a stage there’s a vitality, an energy that is singular and potentially very creative. As I’ve written here, in a recent article, to look for signs of mental distress in an artwork is not really the way to go about an artist individual history (unless we’re talking about cases such as that of Nebreda). Usually an artwork, if it succeeds in having a soul, also has dynamic and vitality. Isn’t the energy behind a good work of art not always an affirmative one? Doesn’t it trigger imagination, feelings, sensations, thoughts, etc.? How could it be something else? Might we be confusing suffering and pain with the anguish that is vital to the making of something truthful? Anguish is transformative; neurotic anguish, on the other hand, is toxic. Anyway, the point is that we shouldn’t replicate these dichotomies without questioning them.  

© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang

By romanticizing the link between suffering and art, Syfret fears one might be ignoring the real drama of depression. Couldn’t agree more. But things are not that simple. Even though the rhetoric around such a subject is potentially very dangerous (as all rhetoric is, right?) by now the linkage between mental illness and creativity is well attested. In my eyes, the discussion worth having is one that would consider artists having, in fact, a different frame of mind. Otherwise, how could he/she be original, create a singular language, find a style?

About the particular case of Red Hang, Syfret resumes:

“We don’t know if Ren Hang’s friends knew about his mental health struggles. Considering his work was a love letter to their lives and bodies, a celebration of their beauty presented as a balm to his own pain, one assumes they loved and supported him completely. But for many other creatives the signs of mental distress are too often ignored, or worse expected, by those around them. Their struggles become obscured by our own assumption over what is and isn’t normal and acceptable; and the collective impact of such reasoning is an under examination of endemic mental health and welfare issues within the arts in general.”

Although I empathize with her arguments, I fail to understand what is her point regarding Hang’s particular case of suffering and creativity. Should we deduce that those who where closer to him neglected his depressions because they might have considered it to be the fuel to his art-making and, in that sense, they might have given primacy to the art, instead of Hang’s health? Isn’t that a huge deduction? Isn’t it judgmental? I can say this with a certain amount of confidence: usually those who are closer are the ones who tend to be more paralyzed when confronted with the immanence of death. They see one wake up, eat, smile, read, talk, so they tend to consider basic functioning as a success. It’s actually even more complicated, for usually they also enter a sort of denial as if anticipating the complications of taking action and feeling the consequent guilt.

Hang’s suicide, tough, couldn’t have been a surprise. He had often written about the will to end his life. If we listen to what he had to say about depression we can imagine he would agree with Syfret, that we should obviously help people, choose humanity over art. Easier said than done, for that’s obviously not the dilemma. We just neglect and neglect and neglect. We choose life, over death and in that process we sort of erase all the mud in our path. We all do: fail to see, fail to act, fail to touch, fail to love…

In Hang’s words: “People suffering from depression may not exhibit any obvious symptoms, but if you find a friend down with depression, you need to spend more time with them and make the effort to call them more frequently, because you never know when it will strike.”

In American Suburb X, author Zoetica Ebb writes “[i]n the fine art environment [Red Hang’s] resistance to pretense could be considered a form of madness”. Yes, it’s true, not playing the game of the commercial circuit is not the norm, but that has little to do with the making of the art, per se.

© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang
© Ren Hang

The point I want to try to make here is that there’s a connecting between this abyss of presence and disappearance (where apparently Hang lived) and the way he photographed nudity. I don’t ignore his political context, but that’s certainly not the aesthetic core of his photographs. In the above video, for instances, Hang tells that in the context of an exhibition if an image is considered “porn” and censored from the show, he just exhibits the frame. That’s clearly a political statement, for it questions what is considered morally acceptable. 

Another author, namely Owen Campbell, writes that “[o]ften, in images with multiple subjects the bodies flow into each other but not like two people having sex, rather they exist as one holistic, non-normative unit.” It’s a beautiful statement, I find, it doesn’t ignore the fact that what is provocative in Hang’s images has little to do with pornography, per se. What is chocking is something as natural as nudity. But nudity is a hard subject and the delicate white bodies that invade Hang’s photographs can attest to that.

It’s risky to say that I understand the weight the clothes have in Hang’s world. Clothes are not only there to protect our bodies, it’s like they separate the world from reaching us, like they prevent relationships, love, sex, life. Their weight is not that of their fibers, instead, although absent from the photographs, they represent the heavy weight of social and cultural repression.

ren-hang-nss-maagzine-6
© Ren Hang

By addressing a sort of mythological narrative, we end up finding the principle of the idealization of madness, which itself admits a concept of normality. In such a context, madness is something that liberates the individual from the pre-established contract with the agents of corruption (civilization itself). Such an idealization tends to equate normality with falsification and the betrayal of the individual. On the other hand, when one romanticizes mental illnesses one thing that can be suggested is that somehow the maniac states guarantee a sort of supra-sensitive lucidity that act like a shield to everything inauthentic.

We live in a society that manages to ostracize and romanticize all at once. In fact, maybe what we, as a society, do, when we create fables, is to try and circumscribe our fear of the monster, being that the monster is whatever is morally considered different. Foucault once said that madness is trapped in a punitive system where the mad is undermine and madness is originally linked to error…

A different kind of moonlight

21moonlight-master768

I’m just another lover of the art of moving pictures, so the Oscars, being about the movie industry, are usually not a place to look for references. Yet, I’m always aware, and I end up finding one or two things worth watching (usually the documentaries). This year, things couldn’t be weirder. Not only is Moonlight an originally brave movie, but I also find the rest of the movies in the competition particularly poor. Because of Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins‘ choices the movie exists in a very singular dynamic, tense yet comfortable, with characters that survive the stigma of their racial and social condition and gain their own presence, their own sensibility, their own space inside the frame. The colors, the light, the way the camera follows this man’s growth, it’s poetical and yes, Hollywood  doesn’t usually go for that. I guess this year they did and for once the industry awarded truth and originality over spectacle.

© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).
© Bas Losekoot, from the project Christoforus (Christofers boarding school).

Coming across Bas Losekoot‘s project Christoforus I couldn’t help remember the way Jenkins chose to tell the story of that boy, Chiron.

© Bas Losekoot, from the project The Urban Millennium Project: New York.
© Bas Losekoot, from the project The Urban Millennium Project: New York.
© Bas Losekoot, from the project The Urban Millennium Project: New York.
© Bas Losekoot, from the project The Urban Millennium Project: New York.

Regarding The Urban Millennium Project, Losekoot explains his approach:   

As a photographer I was initially trained in the studio. It was only later on that I got interested in urban photography, and I started to combine these genres and bring the lights to the streets. I began to imagine the city as a big studio and it citizens as actors. By approaching the street as a stage, it made me wonder if we might perform our lives. I started to read about performativity theory, for example by the sociologist Erving Goffman – about the presentation of self in everyday life. It seems, in daily life, we are performing social roles and we wear the appropriate mask for that. While commuting the city, we drop this mask and replace it for another one, the mask of ‘self-protection’. I am interested in this mask, because I believe it provides us a lot of information of the self and the construction of identity.

I have a background in cinema where I learned some lighting techniques. I consider my work to be documentary photography combined with cinematic light. I position my flashlights on the street, creating a designated zone where the protagonists are walking into my range of focus and exposure. The lights empower the capacity of photography to really freeze movement. The images suggest off-screen events since they are more about what is outside than inside the frame. They make you wander what just happened or is going to happen next. They are frozen moments that feel unreal – or ‘hyper-real’ as I like to consider them.

Next to the light I am drawn to the working of fast shutter speeds; the unique quality of photography to arrest movement. I try to capture offbeat moments that remain unseen at the everyday speed of life. Working with this apparatus I like the images to appear as film stills out of a non-linear urban continuum. I intend to slow people down and make them dwell on the meaning of inhabiting the new reality of fast growing cities.

to continue reading Losekoot’s great interview by Life Framer, click here.

 

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?

How those who love us photograph us

retrato_maria

A portrait of me taken by my 5 years old niece forced me into this theme. As I stared into the photograph I wondered “do I really look like that”? The question is as simple as it is complex. I’m aware that the word “really” in this sentence is just a figure of speech, so to deconstruct the question means to think about the significance of the “look” and the “that”.

  1. Regarding the “look”: when one uses the word “look”, usually a comparison is implied. One usually means that something looks like something else. But what astonishes me here? For once the fact that I look older than I think I do; but most importantly the fact that the shape of my face reminds me of a specific head sculpture, one by Messerschmidt*, which just goes to show… well… nothing but that our imagination plays a key role in the way we go thru life.
  2. Regarding the “that”: I struggle to conclude whether there are universal properties in the “that” or whether I’m unable to interpret the photographic me without letting all my subjectivity take over. What I can say, with a certain degree of objectivity, is that this photograph depicts someone who seems to be experiencing a special moment; her eyes are joyful and tender and she looks extremely wrinkly, maybe tired. Apart from that, the “air” that feels this photograph is a mixture of two things (pretty much straightforward): how the photographer (my niece) sees the portrayed (me) and how the object wants and lets the subject see it/her/me

*Taking a short detour through Messerschmidt’s sculptures: the particular one I have in mind came to be known as “A Strong Man” and, as with many of his other sculptures, its traces and expressiveness mimic those of a clown, and a la folie moment, I must add.

kuspit10-7-10-14
© Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Strong Man, 1771-83, tin-lead cast.

Both my niece and I love clowns. I love dressing like a clown and have a darkish-looking clown tattooed, which my niece also photographed the same day. Is this proof of the power of perception? Is the “aura” of the clown-like tender happiness what establishes the intentionality of this portray, i.e., the relation between the subject and the object? It is possible that the reason I first fell in love with Messerschmidt’s heads was because they resembled the sort of expressions I thought characterized me?

*

Back to the issue at hand – How those who love us photograph us – I went back to my archive and searched for portraits taken by friends and family and came to the conclusion, now apparently easy to attain, that when comparing those portraits with my self-portraits (which I used to do quite a lot), they are the ones that seem to be more authentic, meaning that their ethos, their way of being and becoming is more truthful.

In a recent post, I shared a portrait taken by my boyfriend which surprised me for very similar reasons: for being able to capture a sort of expressiveness of my body and face that I was always unable to shoot. Looking at some of the portraits he has done of me (and I usually turn my back on the lens) again I recognized a high level of authenticity, meaning a truthful intention and an honest relation between the subject and the object: no purpose at all besides the playfulness and proximity of that relation.

In the process of looking at the portraits others had taken of me, I went back to my comfort zone: phototherapy. I realized that, by comparison, those portraits allowed me to think about my relationships with those who stood behind the lens. Won’t go into detail here, but it is clear that my persona has a sort of different photosensitive form depending on who’s looking at me. With some people I’m more present and open and with others I’m almost not there. Is it possible that by letting our loved ones photograph us we could get a clearer perspective on the sort of relations we get ourselves into?

retratos

Barthes and my dearest aunt

My dearest aunt passed away last week. Her name is Maria, but she was always nameless to me. She was always the aunt. She was one of my grandmother’s two sisters. But I never met my grandmother, Francelina, and the aunt sort of occupied that place: the place of mother, for my mother, and the place of grandmother, for me (and I would suppose my brother as well).

All my life she lived on the other side of the Atlantic, in Canada. She, her sister Maria and their husbands emigrated long ago and built their families there. But they visited every year, often more than once. So even the seeds of that emotional proximity were always shortened by the temporal and physical distance.

Her death is uncanny, in many ways, the distance being the trigger of these strangely familiar feelings. My difficulty in experiencing her disappearance got me thinking about her portraits and the very few photographs I took of her, for they have become the only way to conceptualize her death.

She fell ill very suddenly and her death followed quickly. After it happened, her daughter and granddaughters posted portraits of her on facebook and it started to happen: every time I looked at her portrait I failed to realize her disappearance. That failure was more or less dramatic, depending on the photograph in question.

As was expected, a portrait taken by me would prove to be the most complicated photograph to look at (this is the only portrait I found of her, can’t even find the original negatives).

portrait aunt
© Sofia Silva, “the aunt”, n.d.

Photography is always about death, whether because it kills the reality it chooses to immortalize or because it simply kills the subjects’ existence. This takes me immediately back to Barthes and La Chambre Claire. Every portrait can be, as he explains, an authentication of a person’s existence. However, that person’s existence, which the photograph apprehends, is not the sum of the contours of her/his body and face, but the “expression of truthfulness”, her/his aura.

I recognize my aunt’s aura in this portrait only because this photograph (every photograph) is the sum of several projections: how she wanted me to see her; how she thought she would look best, how I thought she felt about me, how I thought she would look best, etc, etc. In the end, the aura of the subject in the photograph is not hers, but mine, for when she surrenders herself to the photograph, she immediately ceases to be the subject in the photograph and transforms herself in the object of my affections.

The realms of the truth and the false seduce me, but I’m aware of how difficult it is to trace and walk the bridge between the two. In fact, I feel obliged to even think of a passage, from one stage to the other, and only because the art of lying and deceiving has fallen in the realm of the mundane and the ordinary.

Anyway, “the “expression of truthfulness” mentioned by Barthes is an expression of what is true for me, albeit that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the qualities of that expression. Qualities that before having an aesthetic dimension have an ethical, a philosophical and a psychological one, for we’re talking about being. A photograph is its forms, its colors, its lines… but what is represented in a photograph is the being of the photographer and the affective relation he/she establishes with the symbolic universes he/she chooses to render photographable.

In the aunt’s photograph I recognize her. Our togetherness is materialized. Because she will live on in that memory I fail to realize she is no longer photographable…

≡ The art of portraiture, by Marina Rosso ≡

I

56_mg4971© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Elephant, 2010-12.

56_56mg3284© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Elephant, 2010-12.

56_mg4136© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Elephant, 2010-12.

56_mg7704© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Elephant, 2010-12.

II

64_marinarosso03© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Mutants, 2014.

64_marinarosso01© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Mutants, 2014.

64_marinarosso08© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Mutants, 2014.

64_marinarosso07© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series Mutants, 2014.

Marina’s Stetement:

In 1965 Lake Chagan, often referenced as “Atomic Lake”, was created during a nuclear test in the modern state of Kazakhstan. Craft, energy, explosive anger are the tools used to deconstruct nature and therefore, its representation in our society.

Born from waste paper through the printing process of my latest book “The Beautiful Gene” composed of clean and duly classified portraits, these images are the direct consequence of the uncontrolled energy that we are handling with. This canny result offers in a silent and fortuitous outcome a new deformed and deconstructed interpretation of our modern thinking.”

III

62_spk5915© Marina Rosso, from the book The Beautiful Gene, 2014.

bgmarinarosso1© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series The Beautiful Gene, 2014.

bgmarinarosso2© Marina Rosso, Untitled, from the series The Beautiful Gene, 2014.

Marina’s Stetement:

In September 2011 the world’s biggest sperm bank, stopped accepting red haired donors for a period: demand for them was too low compared to the supply.

Single women, who currently represent half of the customer base, tend to select donors based on the search for a “dream prince”. Increasingly, new lives are engineered in an attempt to reach a sort of personal ideal, what philosophers call individual or new eugenics. And personal ideals rarely feature red hair. After being scorned, persecuted and marginalized for centuries, could redheads now begin to be eliminated in a conspiracy of online questionnaires, aseptic clinics and frozen sperm?

As a provocation to this system, I decided to act as a conservation geneticist who would classify the genetic variation of a species in the first step to preserve its diversity and components. I started by creating a matrix that would represent the red hair gene through 48 categories, each uniquely combining this feature with five more physical traits (gender, height, build, eye color and hair type). Then I set out on a journey looking for real people who could literally embody these categories.”

≡ The Hyères School of Photography ≡

My love for the Hyères Festival is known. I’ve written about it and have featured a great deal of the authors shortlisted each year. The judging panel has been responsible for issuing a statement about what they want to see in contemporary photography and it has been bold and exciting, for Hyères always awards an experimental attitude towards the medium itself, as well as valuing innovation and creativity. Amidst the past festival judges “we can randomly mention Urs Stahel (Fotomuseum Winterthur), Marloes Krijnen (FOAM, Amsterdam), Dennis Freedman (W, New York), Charlotte Cotton, Glenn O’Brien, Marta Gili (Jeu de Paume, Paris), Jörg Koch (032C, Berlin), James Reid (Wallpaper*, London), Frits Gierstberg (Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam), Kathy Ryan (New York Times, New York), David Campany (London), Joerg Colberg (Conscientious), Charles Fréger (photographer, France), Erik Kessels (KesselsKramer, Amsterdam), Brett Rogers (The Photographer’s Gallery, London), Karen Langley (Dazed, London), Winfried Heininger (Kodoji Press, Switzerland), Damien Poulain (Oodee, London), Jason Evans (photographer, United Kingdom), Mutsuko Ota (IMA, Tokyo), etc.

What follows is my selection of work from the 10 authors shortlisted for Hyères 2015.

I – Oezden Yorulmaz

5© Oezden Yorulmaz, Untitled, from the series Ed Meets Jack, 2013.

6© Oezden Yorulmaz, Untitled, from the series Ed Meets Jack, 2013.

excerpt from Hyères’ press release:

Oezden Yorulmaz is interested in how photographical images play an important aspect of self-definition within the western society he cohabits. He plays in his work with the borders and the limitations of photography’s try to represent reality. He often uses himself as the main protagonist and creates male performs that is acting a narrative or mental state within the space of images or locations.
In Ed Meets Jack he created a fictional story, told through a series of photographs, which resemble a sequence of film stills. By using props or costumes he is trying to create a persona or situation that is aiming to reproduce an authentic atmosphere that only exists within in the space of the image. The photograph acts as a springboard between his performance and the observer and is limited to each one own presumption and experience.

II – Filippo Patrese

patrese_filippo-3© Filippo Patrese, Settembre 1977, from the series Corrections, 2014.

patrese_filippo-1© Filippo Patrese, Febbraio 1983, from the series Corrections, 2014.

III – Thomas Rousset

hyeres_01_news© Thomas Rousset, Untitled.

1074720© Thomas Rousset, Untitled.

1074713© Thomas Rousset, Untitled.

IV – Jeannie Abert

1jeannieabert-champ-de-bataille© Jeannie Abert, RÉVOLUTIONS, 2011. Collages sur papier.

c2_624© Jeannie Abert, COVER. Collages sur papier, incrustations diverses et brou de noix.

4-x_800© Jeannie Abert, COMPILE POUR UN AMNESIQUE, 2015 (en cours).

Jeannie’s statement:

I take photography as my starting point as a database of experimental research which I see as a raw material that I then manipulate. I search in pre-existing iconographic banks and appropriate the images. Thumbing my nose at the screen, a paradigm of the contemporary view, I question the images by bringing them back to a materialstate. There are so many axes and interpenetrations which define a genetically hybrid operation – contact photography, scanned, printed, photocopied images, reproduced so much so as to lose their definition – material – grain – frame photography which can meet up with drawing – painting – textiles. My intention is to stimulate the regard by changing the points of view. I play with the production and diffusion processes of the image. I question the medium of photography by trying to build a “play area” which could open new visual preoccupations.

V – Sjoerd Knibbeler

sjoerd-knibbeler-003© Sjoerd Knibbeler, Current Study # 3, 2013.

sjoerd-knibbeler-018© Sjoerd Knibbeler, Skyline, videostill, 2013.

sjoerd-knibbeler-010© Sjoerd Knibbeler, FW-42, from the series The Paper Planes, 2014.

excerpt from press release @ Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam:

Knibbeler is working independently again, on a quest to capture wind. He tries to make the impossible possible by simulating tornados, folding model airplanes and trying – literally – to capture air. The model airplanes, all of which are based on designs that were never airborne, provide a context insinuating the impossibility of his quest. But parallel to these experiments he created video work showing an aerobatics pilot practicing his flight patterns on ground. In this work the complexity of the matter becomes tangible and the research of the contemporary experience of nature suddenly reappears. In November, LhGWR will present Knibbeler’s first solo show.

VI – Sushant Chhabria

ILMtext-637x800© Sushant Chhabria.

ilm_exhbit-1000x730© Sushant Chhabria, installation view, 2015.

chhabria_sushant-1© Sushant Chhabria, Untitled, 2015.

ilm_13-584x800© Sushant Chhabria, Untitled, 2015.

VII – Wawrzyniec Kolbusz

12-833x1024© Wawrzyniec Kolbusz, Untitled, from the series Sacred Defense.
wawrzyniec_kolbusz_sacred-defense_14-834x1024© Wawrzyniec Kolbusz, Untitled, from the series Sacred Defense.

wawrzyniec_kolbusz_sacred-defense_07-1024x834© Wawrzyniec Kolbusz, Untitled, from the series Sacred Defense.

Installation-View-of-Sacred-Defense-by-Wawrzyniec-Kolbusz-Wroclaw-SEP-2014-f1-1024x683© Wawrzyniec Kolbusz, installation view from the series Sacred Defense.

excerpt from Kolbusz’s statement @ Format Festival:

Sacred Defence, embedded in the Iranian post-war reality of the Iraq-Iran war (1980– 1988), is a story of producing artificial war images and reconstructing historical events to create a group memory. It is questioning whether reconstructed evidence is still evidence. It not only traces the existing modes of construction of fake war narrations. It also creates new war-related simulacra in digitally amended satellite images of nuclear installations. Hence, testing further the notion and limits of artificial evidence.

Sacred Defence is a game, in which images make us believe we see the war. We are looking at illusions, however. We follow how the war simulacra of social and political importance are being created within different spaces. A cinema city, constructed only for the purpose of shooting war movies, is a self-referencing space, created not to be experienced itself, but to become an image of war. Museums mimic the wartime reality in the smallest detail; wax figures of particular martyrs allow a meeting with fallen heroes again; and plastic replicas of antipersonnel mines sold as souvenirs.

From a play between the evident and the non-evident, author leads us to the point where he creates new simulation. He amends satellite images of Iranian nuclear installations with mutually exclusive versions of air strike destruction. Buildings destroyed in some images stand intact in others – parallel versions of the same event are presented on a single satellite map. Author is producing a ‘proof’ of an event that never happened despite being discussed in media.

VIII – Polly Tootal

picture_054print30x24c© Polly Tootal, #20406, 2014.

cf013534r44x59insq© Polly Tootal, #43534, 2014.

bcf013839_1r© Polly Tootal, #43839, 2014.

excerpt from an essay by Matthew Parker about Tootal’s work:

Polly Tootal is a photographer of British landscapes, yet the landscapes she registers are not likely to be found in any popular chronicle of the land, rejecting as they do the obvious beauty or grandeur of things and instead existing in the spaces in-between, the ones that are passed through every day, so nameless as to be embedded deeply into our consciousness and then forgotten. Perhaps this is why then, despite their surface anonymity, they all seem so uncannily familiar to me.

(…)

It’s no surprise to discover the Bechers are an influence, but compared to their typological surveys, her project is loose, deceptively objective, varying from image to image. Not concerned with the repetition of specific elements. Not so narrow in its vision. Instead, with each unique image, there’s a subtle vein of drama, an eye open to the strange and the exotic, the mundane and the obscure. Not limiting herself to specialised projects or adhering to restrictive formal rules, she instead takes an interest in atmosphere, humour, light and tone, looking to craft a delicate mood or declare a truth about a place. The ultimate goal is of a complex story, a vast and wide-ranging index of the British landscape and a store of unrelated yet connected images.

Common elements hold the project together. The images often lie upon thresholds and boundaries, liminal zones, between urban and rural, leisure and industry, lived in and discarded. Polly is interested in “places where abandoned industry mixes with functioning architecture and development, spaces left awaiting completion or areas of recent renewal.” Whether suburban, urban or rural, the subjects have, for the most part, been seen from the road; discovered and observed from the inside of a car. This might be another reason for the strange familiarity the images possess, their sometimes-disturbing déjà vu. I think to myself, how many times have I passed this place? Unknowingly drinking it in and storing it inside. Warehouses, business parks, shopping centers, waste-ground, motor- ways, car parks: the non-places that quietly fill up our lives, the sites of transience. Maybe I’ve seen none of them, but I am certain that I know the Little Chef, this stretch of motorway, that patch of industry, this housing estate.

(…)

And what has been left outside? Well, people, of course. There are no people in these landscapes. There are no moving objects either. There are no bustling, vibrant markets. And there are no stunning vistas that haven’t been touched by the modern world. If there is woodland there is a motorway bridge towering behind it in monumental silence, if there is a valley there happens to be a cement factory, if there is a quarry there is a housing estate it seems to be at war with. But for all these things it’s the absence of people that I find most interesting. Despite these being landscapes I feel as if they should be there. I find myself yearning for them. But I admire the fact that they will not come. Human portraits are not needed. If you know how to look, these rigorously poetic landscapes tell a story enough.

IX – Evangelia Kranioti

695ff4d5c22e8242ba64d8ee85bfd28b© Evangelia KraniotiFrom Lagos to Rio – end of sea passage, 2010, from the series Exotica, Erotica, etc.

502d1520ef9b8689e48a48d7deb1f9ff© Evangelia Kranioti, Buddha of the main engine, 2012, from the series Exotica, Erotica, etc.

7e2f10d380416ee7b341cec930747b2b© Evangelia Kranioti, Desert on board, 2011, from the series Exotica, Erotica, etc.

excerpt from press release @ Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève:

At the heart of Evangelia Kranioti’s research are the notions of desire, wandering, and return to one’s origins. Inspired by the work of the Greek writer Nikos Kavvadias, Kranioti questions the male-female relationship through the fleeting loves of sailors in ports, terrae incognitae where the magic of wandering still operates.
The documentary essay Exotica, Erotica, etc. is the culmination of a long-term project undertaken over four years, during which she followed the crews of the Greek navy worldwide and spent months in the company of the women they frequent.
Through the stories of Sandy, former Chilean prostitute and those of these souls in perpetual homelessness, Kranioti poetically depicts the romantic imaginary of the sea, its tragic heroes and its forgotten loves.

X – David Magnusson

Purity-DM-028-560x700© David MagnussonJamie & David Clampitt, Shreveport, Louisiana, from the series Purita.

Purity-DM-005-560x700© David Magnusson, Will & Nicole Roosma, Tucson, Arizona, from the series Purita.

Purity-DM-027-560x700© David MagnussonJenna & Jeff Clark, Chandler, Arizona, from the series Purita.

excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s article Purity balls, Plan B and bad sex policy: inside America’s virginity obsession:

«The men and girls in the photos hold hands and embrace – the young women are in long white dresses, the men in suits or military regalia. If some of the girls in the pictures weren’t so young – Laila and Maya Sa up there are seven and five years old, respectively – the portraits could be mistaken for wedding or prom pictures. What they actually capture, though, are images of those who participate in purity balls – father-daughter dances featuring girls who pledge to remain virgins until marriage and fathers who promise to protect their daughters’ chastity.

The images from Swedish photographer David Magnusson’s new book, Purity, are beautiful, disturbing and tell a distinctly American story – a story wherein a girl’s virginity is held up as a moral ideal above all else, a story in which the most important characteristic of a young woman is whether or not she is sexually active. This narrative of good girls and bad girls, pure girls and dirty girls, is one that follows young women throughout their lives. Purity balls simply lay that dichotomy bare.

(…)

Magnusson says he hopes his pictures elicit empathy,not judgment: “As I learnt more, I understood that the fathers, like all parents, simply wanted to protect the ones that they love – in the best way they know how.”

I have no doubt that families who participate in purity balls are doing what they think is best for their children – but that doesn’t make them any less wrong. When we teach girls that their virginity makes them special and valuable, we’re sending the simultaneous message that without their virginity they are tainted and damaged.»

⁞ ‘No photoshop, no easy tricks’ ⁞

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_thomas_rosenboom_web_01© Aisha Zeijpveld, Thomas Rosenboom. Portraits of writer Thomas Rosenboom for Volkskrant Magazine.

I find Aisha Zeijpveld’s work undeniably captivating but what first caught my attention was the particular way I found it being promoted at Ignant. Here’s an excerpt: Aisha does all her editing by hand. No photoshop, no easy tricks, just scissors and whatever material she needs to create the surreal effect she wants. She sketches onto the photographs, outlining the figure in an unusual way, whilst modifying shapes into something slightly different.

It’s curious that we now find ourselves promoting manual work as it, for itself, was a sign of quality. It shows just how mush humanity is trapped in a nostalgic mode and is unable to evolve beyond traditional methods and behaviours. Every now and then, after a few decades of fervours developments, we begin to look back and resuscitate the ‘way we were’.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very fond of manual processes and have always enjoyed and prefer its results, but my point is that the process does not define the work, it only defines the author. And of course, if you believe one thing and the other are inseparable, then choosing manual or technological processes, direct or abstract work, become decisive questions when thinking about the quality of a work of art, but are they?

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_tokyo_ohayo© Aisha Zeijpveld, Tokyo Ohayo, 2012.

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_web_013© Aisha Zeijpveld, Valerio Zeno. Portraits of Valerio Zeno for Volkskrant Magazine.

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_what_remains_03© Aisha Zeijpveld, Untitled, from the fashion series What remains, 2012.

phoca_thumb_l_myrthevandemeer_2_web© Aisha Zeijpveld, Myrthe van de Meer. Portraits of writer Myrthe van de Meer for Volkskrant Magazin.

phoca_thumb_l_tessa_rose_jackson_aisha_zeijpveld_03© Aisha Zeijpveld, Tessa Rose Jackson. Portrait series of singer-songwriter Tessa Rose Jackson.

phoca_thumb_l_suzy_glam_rgb_web_03_1000pixels© Aisha Zeijpveld, Suzy Glam eyewear, 2014.

phoca_thumb_l_saint_laideur_02_web© Aisha Zeijpveld, Saint Laideur, 2014. Lookbook dutch fashion designer Shanita de Vries.

⁞ 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 Embroidering photographs is more than a trend ٠

charlotte© Stacey Page, Charlotte.

paula© Stacey Page, Paula, 2011.

todd© Stacey Page, Todd, 2011.

Embroidered photographs have been a trend for some time now and Nihilsentimentalgia has featured examples of such work, like Maurizio Anzeri, Melissa Zexter, Julie Cockburn or David Catá. It so happens that the technique keeps coming up and their makers are enjoying a good deal of promotion and success, which doesn’t say much, since the art market is extremely easy to seduce and exploit, but it’s worth taking a second look.

02Meyer_New_JErseyII_Meyer© Diane Meyer, New Jersey II, from the series Time spent that might otherwise be forgotten.

12Meyer_TheWest© Diane Meyer, The West I, from the series Time spent that might otherwise be forgotten.

There is no denying that on aesthetic, formal and material levels, the result is grand and appealing: the combination of the flat old surface with the new textural one, the combination of the industrial and the handmade, the combination of desaturated images with vibrant thread colours, it all amounts to what seems to be a complex creation with different surfaces and different readings. But is that the case?

I recently cross paths with four more examples of authors working in the field that joins photography and embroidery, namely: Stacey Page, Diane Meyer, Laura McKellar and Hinke Schreuders. They share more than the technical approach to their work: they are all women, they intervene mainly in portraits (Diane Meyer being the exception, for she looks at architecture with a new look), they use striking colour and they mix the old with the new. The trend here is not so much the crossing between the mediums but the revivalist and nostalgic feeling which seems to be taking over all the cultural dimensions, from the visual arts to music and emphasis on fashion.

embroidery© Laura McKellar, Untitled, embroidery.

tumblr_ll2o3ftbQ01qk3loio1_1280 copy© Laura McKellar, Untitled, embroidery.

The fact that they share the same gender has a particular important dimension, for the work with thread is a form of affective labour, which productive value is hard to figure out. The relation between the worker and the work produced is literally bounded by a thread, so it confronts the prevailing idea of the alienated worker that is more of a manager than a producer of things (or ideas for that matter). Although most of these works have little else than their aesthetic surface, their biggest achievement is the evoking of the nostalgic feeling. The hyper-aestheticized surface of the digital photographs and the absurd use of photoshop tools have given a second life to alternative processes, for people lack a sense of materiality and the handprint of the author.

In one interview, author Melissa Zexter says: The photographs were also of anonymous figures and the sewing acted as a map or grid over the figures. 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.

[to be continued]

worksonpaper7© Hinke Schreuders, works on paper #7.

worksonpaper36 © Hinke Schreuders, works on paper #36.

worksonpaper37© Hinke Schreuders, works on paper #37.

٠ Balaclavas hit the beach ٠

51_4d022f9fecf00af1ffeb62af90344dda© Peng & Chen , from the series Face-kini

51_a4870e632ab6d052f18260c5d9cefd8e© Peng & Chen , from the series Face-kini

In China, it’s the height of the tourist season for Qingdao’s famed beaches. But while many of the town’s visitors want to enjoy the sand and water, they’re not so wild about sunbathing. So they often resort to a local tradition: the face-kini, a sort of light cloth version of a ski mask.

[…]

The beachgoers aren’t showing their support for the balaclava-wearing Russian band Pussy Riot. And , they’re not fans of the film Kick-Ass. Instead, the newspaper says, the head-cover reflects “an ancient sentiment in China, like numerous other countries: a terror of tanning.”

In many cultures, a tan doesn’t imply health and leisure, as it often does in Western advertising. Instead, it’s seen as a connection to outdoor work, and the peasantry. Preserving one’s pale skin, the thinking goes, implies that you lead a pampered, successful life.

51_aadccf86b6167e8ce5c09d5f2946a8b0© Peng & Chen , from the series Face-kini

51_b6815ab3cb124a8b380a5a97c8fa8e44© Peng & Chen , from the series Face-kini

٠ From maturity to sincerity: a glimpse at the art of documentary photography ٠

7.Julia_from_I_Have_Something_To_Tell_You© Adrain Chesser, Juliann (left) and Julia (right), from the series I Have Something to Tell You.

excerpt of Adrian’s statement:

When I tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, I had an extreme physical reaction whenever I thought about having to tell my friends and family. Looking at this reaction more closely, I realized that it was the same reaction I had as a kid whenever I had to disclose something uncomfortable to my parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed.

It occurred to me that it might be possible to overcome this paralyzing fear by photographing my friends as I told them about my diagnosis. I invited each friend to come to my studio to have their picture taken, a simple head shot for a new project. They weren’t given any other information. For a backdrop I used the curtains from the living room of the house I grew up in. I put everyone through the same routine, creating a formal process that proved to be transformative. At the beginning of each shoot I would start by saying, “I have something to tell you”.

Each sitter’s reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty. As a collective, the body of work speaks to the universal experience. The phrase “I have something to tell you” is often the preface for life-altering disclosures: pregnancies, deaths, love affairs, illnesses of all kinds, winning the lottery. The phrase becomes a kind of mile-marker in a life, delineating what came before from what comes after.

Cowboys_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Cowboys, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Easter_Sunday_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Easter Sunday, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Fronds_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Fronds, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Graveside_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Graveside, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

On_The_Day_I_Was_Raped_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, On the day I was raped, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Self_Portrait_Crying_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Self Portrait Crying, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Sunday_Dinner_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, Sunday Dinner, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

The_Deluge_No.10_from_Orange_Blossoms_Fire_Ants_And_The_Tyranny_Of_Memory© Adrain Chesser, The Deluge No. 10, from the series Orange Blossoms, Fire Ants, and the Tyranny of Memory.

Adrian’s statement:

In 2000 I decided that I would return to where I grew up, to photographically document what it was like in to live in a small town in South Florida at the turn of the millennium. After shooting for a month, deeply disturbing memories from my childhood began to surface, which triggered a nervous breakdown. When I returned home I went into therapy. It occurred to me that if I could make a photographic representation of these specific events from my childhood, I could own them outside of myself as an object and that these memories would no longer hold a shadowy power over my subconscious.

From 2001 to 2011 I returned to Florida at least once a year to make images with friends and family. I would either recreate specific events or I would stay present in my process for images to arise that could hold the emotional weight of memories that remained half shrouded. In the end what I remembered was my resilience and defiance as a child in the face of an overwhelmingly large and seemingly unsafe world. What that came to mean for me as an adult, was the realization that the spectres of my past had no real substance, as if they were only made up of vapor and light.

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 ‘Am I Nothing But Black?’ ٠

2008_8© Myra Greene, from the series Character Recognition, 2005-08. Ambrotype on Black glass, 3 by 4 inches.

2008_11© Myra Greene, from the series Character Recognition, 2005-08. Ambrotype on Black glass, 3 by 4 inches.

Myra_Greene_06© Myra Greene, from the series Character Recognition, 2005-08. Ambrotype on Black glass, 3 by 4 inches.

profile_norm© Myra Greene, from the series Character Recognition, 2005-08. Ambrotype on Black glass, 3 by 4 inches.

myra greene© Myra Greene, from the series Character Recognition, 2005-08. Ambrotype on Black glass, 3 by 4 inches.

“In Character Recognition, artist Myra Greene explores issues of the Female body, historical trauma and dismemberment and the healing power of memory. By using the antique photo process called wet collodion these pieces evoke a forgone era where slavery and colonialism reigned.

Introduced in the 1850’s, a glass plate was coated with collodion and then sensitized by dipping it into a bath of silver nitrate, while still wet the plate was placed in the camera and an exposure was made. The plate was then immediately developed, while still wet, to form the negative. In this work Myra has replaced the traditional transparent glass with black glass creating a unique positive image.

It is no coincidence that the five senses are represented here. This is meant to be a sensory experience. The most potent triggers of memories can be as subtle as smell, taste, sound, sight and touch. They take us inward on an excavation of shared histories/ memories. These are sites without artifacts only the stories etched in the DNA of our grandmothers. Make no mistake, Character Recognition is not meant to speak for any particular race, gender, or generation. This is a specific tale one that seeks a re/ memory, a re/ turn, a re/ telling, and re/knowing in the work of Myra Greene.

These images, however reminiscent, are not merely rooted in the pre-Civil War portraits of the enslaved and colonized. They are as current as the faces of the women of Darfur and Rwanda, the dismemberment as fresh as the missing limbs in Sierra Leone. They are as dark as the faces of the displaced in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. However there is a reluctant beauty to these self-portraits, to these fragments. The full lips, the teeth, the eyes, the nose and the ears are isolated and seemingly dismembered from the rest of the body. Dark and lush they are a re/clamation, a re/membering and a re/ cognition born of a re-memory.”

essay by Deborah Jack

٠ Adam Lach’s portrait of Stigma ٠

f589ee9592885034b9602fd0c4541e0f© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 10.03.2013 Poland. Roma girl, Karolina. Karolina escaped from her parents home (from different part of Poland) because of big love to Alex, one of the slums inhabitant.

2abe316e80333ec419f8df055ae9aa5a© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 27.03.2012 Poland Florica family in their barack. From left: Aleksander (mental handicapped after car crash), Adam, Florica, Elvecian, Bunia (mental handciapped) and Taissa who is seven months gone.

e7ac41b9412fc6f601119b8b6ffc0e14© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 20.06.2013 Poland Roma Woman, Myndra.

94c5dfff77d78b248bd3ef5eee4e49c8© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 29.06.2012 Poland Roma woman, Malena with a cigarette. Malena dreams to go to Berlin – she is estranged from family.

Adam’s statement: It is easy to fight for the rights of people who shout out loud in protest. It is much more difficult to notice those who do not manifest openly. The Stigma Project tells the story of the 60 -member family of Romanian Roma, living in an encampment on the outskirts of the city of Wroclaw in Poland. But this is not another chapter of a colorful Gypsy legend, to which the Roma community is often wrongly classified. Limiting the photo sessions to the location of the Dog Field – the district of Wroclaw occupied by the Roma slums – I deprived the recipient of the opportunity to observe the Roma people during what is commonly considered to be their everyday life – begging and theft. Surrounded by family, separated from the rest of society, they turn out to be completely different people, unfitting the conventional ideas. There are no typical camps with campfires, songs and spells – instead, there are good people with unusual interior and dramatic life stories, hurt by many whom they met on their way. They struggle not only with severe everyday life, but also with the city authorities and neighbors. They have a reputation of being beggars, thieves and crooks, among the local inhabitants, which causes frequent acts of aggression against them. All the actions of municipal authorities, with a view to solve the Roma problem, are leading to attempts to intimidate and evict them.
This story of the Roma, is primarily a story about family, relationships and emotions of people, who despite all, seem happy and peaceful. It is also an attempt to analyze the condition of the modern family, on the border between tradition and modernity. This group of nomads , dependent on the constant search for a better world , unconsciously surrenders to the influence of mass culture, struggling with the same concerns as any modern man.

4b84b622f037a05b8630652b5e213f28© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 22.10.2012 Poland Kalici’s wife Eva carries Zyna.

6c7cad948f4c8f5902ec7198ed5f5ae9© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 16.04.2013 Poland Roma digging hole for garbage.

2a46583c33b9ac8716b651bcdfb5cca9© Adam Lach, Wroclaw 09.09.2012 Poland Roma boy flexing its muscles.

We can distinguish two changes that have together made the modern preoccupation with identity and recognition inevitable. The first is the collapse of social hierarchies, which used to be the basis for honour. I am using “honour” in the ancient regime sense in which it is intrinsically linked to inequalities. For some to have honour in this sense it is essential that not everyone have it. This is the sense in which Montesquieu uses it in his description of monarchy. Honour is intrinsically a matter of “preferences.” It is also the sense we use when we speak of honouring someone, by giving her some public reward, say the Order of Canada. Plainly this would be without worth if tomorrow we decided to give it to every adult Canadian.

As against this notion of honour, we have the modern notion of dignity, now used in a universalist and egalitarian sense, where we talk of the inherent “dignity of human beings,” or of citizen dignity. The underlying premiss here is that everyone shares in this. This concept of dignity is the only one compatible with a democratic society, and it was inevitable that the old concept of honour be marginalized. But this has also meant that the forms of equal recognition have been essential to democratic culture. For instance, that everyone should be called Mister, Mrs, or Miss, rather than some people being called Lord or Lady, and others simply by their surnames, or, even more demeaning, by their first names, has been thought crucial in some democratic societies, such as the U.S.A. And more recently, for similar reasons, Mrs and Miss have been collapsed into Ms. Democracy has ushered in a politics of equal recognition, which has taken various forms over the years, and which now has returned in the form of demands for the equal status of cultures and of genders.

But the importance of recognition has been modified and intensified by the understanding of identity emerging with the ideal of authenticity. This was also in part an offshoot of the decline of hierarchical society. In those earlier societies, what we would now call a person’s identity was largely fixed by his or her social position. That is, the background that made sense of what the person recognized as important was to a great extent determined by his or her place in society and whatever role or activities attached to this. The corning of a democratic society doesn’t by itself do away with this, because people can still define themselves by their social roles. But what does decisively undermine this socially derived identification is the ideal of authenticity itself. As this emerges, for instance with Herder, it calls on me to discover my own original way of being. By definition, this cannot be socially derived but must be inwardly generated.

excerpt from Charles Taylor, in The Ethics of Authenticity.

٠ Ordinary pictures for a non-ordinary story ٠

HR_65421-293-8_RT© Bruce Weber, Trevon & Maxie, from the commissioned project Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, for Barneys (Spring 2014).

HR_65421-163-7_RT© Bruce Weber, Edie Charles, from the commissioned project Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, for Barneys (Spring 2014).

I was always at odds with my gender. When I was very young, my preference for typically feminine things was obvious and I would always pretend to be a girl when I played with friends or met new people. As I got older, I became increasingly aware that my gender expression was perceived to be atypical. So I tried to align myself with a gender that was socially expected. I attempted to present myself as male. And yet, my whole life I was mistaken for female which made this difficult. Towards the end of high school I had a girlfriend for a while, and then I decided to experiment with dating men. I wanted to explore that part of myself.

HR_65421-2245-7_RT© Bruce Weber, Niki & Sawyer, from the commissioned project Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, for Barneys (Spring 2014).

Sawyer Devuyst: I still have a very hard time with most of my family. They don’t respect me as a male. I tried having a long conversation with my mom before I had top surgery—tried to explain that there was nothing they’d done to make me into what I was—but that they couldn’t change me either. It’s extremely upsetting. I do so want validation from them. It’s very hard to go home because every time I see my parents, no matter what successes I’ve had in my life, they make me feel terrible about myself. My aunts and my brothers are the only members of my family who support me emotionally. My aunt says, “If this makes you happy.” Thank God for her.

Niki M’nray: The most important part of this campaign is the awareness it brings towards trans issues. I’m happy to lend a voice to it and educate folks who are in the dark with regards to this subject.

HR_65421-181-2_RT© Bruce Weber, Gisele Xtravaganza, from the commissioned project Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, for Barneys (Spring 2014).

I think part of discovering my real self was done when I was performing at the House of Xtravaganza and other balls over a period of ten years. I started dressing as a girl when I was 15. I won a lot of trophies for Runway and for Face and for Models.
I started transitioning at seventeen. I started taking hormones then, too. It was difficult at first. I was the only boy in my family (I have six sisters). It was difficult. But my mother accepted me right away—she never judged me or threw me out on the streets. That kind of thing happens. And I wanted to be a trans person, not gay. You can’t do this without really wanting to, because it’s a very difficult life.

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 Maurizio Anzeri and the problem with labelling and expectations ٠

maurizio_anzeri_rebecca© Maurizio Anzeri, Rebecca, 2009

20110701033135_maurizio_anzeri_Rita300© Maurizio Anzeri, Rita, 2011

I came across Maurizio’s work through an unusual root – Bric-à-brac -, a section of the electronic journal Sans Soleil, specialized in issues related to Art Brut and self-taught art. Not only because of that but also (1) because embroidery is a very common medium within the world of art brut, and (2) because it is also fairly common to encounter appropriations of portraits that authors then re-work – in a sort of manifestation of the complexity of any identity notion or even as a symbolic expression of transcendental ego features -, I “was lead” to believe that Maurizio was not an academically trained artist, nor was he in a conventional circuit.

Anyway, my instinctual mode of association came into place and I found myself thinking of spontaneous art. It was only when I looked for more of Maurizio’s work on the internet that I realized it was framed in a completely different world, though that didn’t change the fact that I really enjoy his embroidery work. The problems that arose have little to do with the work itself, instead they pertain to the artist and the machine around him, which he is undoubtedly responsible for. There’s no sign of bad faith in Maurizio’s statement about his work. In fact, he meets my expectations, in part created by the qualities of the work itself, and speaks of something alike affective labor: “I work with sewing, embroidery and drawing to explore the essence of signs in their physical manifestation. I take inspiration from my own personal experience and observation of how, in other cultures, bodies themselves are treated as living graphic symbols. I then use sewing and embroidery in a further attempt to re-signify, and mark the space with a man-made sign, a trace. The intimate human action of embroidery is a ritual of making and reshaping stories and history of these people. I am interested in the relation between intimacy and the outer world.”

There is no denying that his work is sculptural. I don’t understand the need to label it as photographic, since the photographs are either found, archival or collected in flea markets and the medium that defines his artistry is embroidery, not photography. While googling for his work I came across a description in Vitrine Gallery where it says that Maurizio invent[ed] the term: ‘photo-sculpture’ and I can’t help but laugh. I don’t know who’s responsible for this slip or if this is just bad marketing, but it doesn’t help him in anyway to “sell” him as a surrealist or an avant-garde artist from the 70’s, especially because he was born in Italy in 1969 which would lead to biographic discrepancies.

20-maurizio-anzeri-zelda-1941_2009© Maurizio Anzeri, Zelda, 2009

Maurizio Anzeri's La Famiglia (2013)© Maurizio Anzeri, A stitch in time… La Famiglia, 2013

Tri-dimensional photography, collages, photo-montages and so on, are part of the history of contemporary photography. With surrealism, dadaism and constructivism these techniques were already building their one symbolic field but with the advent of digital photography there was a new boom. The nostalgia, nothingness and apathy that led artists to turn to archives (not only but also) as a way to react to digital manipulation and bring back analogue deconstruction of the one-layered idea that photography is an amalgamate of signs that “were really there”, also sprouted the discussion about the photographic support and its potential to be something else.

Questions about what defines one’s identity in the 21st century merged with questions about what defines the photographic medium and with it portraiture gained a new light. There are several examples of collages, montages and embroidered portraits, most of them recognized and awarded in the last few years and I’ve been posting some of them here – an example is Julie Cockburn. This is the ground Maurizio walks on. There is not a single problem with not having invented the wheel. This lack of originality doesn’t define the work in absolute, only in relation to its culture. In an intimate relation, the work is free to become whatever one needs it to be. The problem is with lying and bad faith, which ruins expectations of an authentic creation.

Sean O’Hagan, from the Guardian, states Anzeri creates something new and surprising by applying an old-fashioned craft to old-fashioned artefacts. I keep questioning the need to adjectivize this as new, specially since the works-of-art are good enough on their own without the help of ‘new-technological’ or ‘ground-breaking’ add. There are also other descriptions which, without being false, are just over embellished – there are far too many adjectives and no critic of the art on display. It’s part of the problem with art criticism in general, too complex, so let’s see another example.

maurizio_anzeri_roundmidnight© Maurizio Anzeri, Round Midnight, 2009

I can’t say who worte it, for there is no signature, but in Maurizio’s portfolio in The Saatchi Gallery one can read that Anzeri’s delicately stitched veil recasts the figure with an uncomfortable modesty, overlaying a past generation’s cross-cultural anxieties with an allusion to our own. My problem with this sort of statement is that it is pretentious and naïf at the same time: it is arrogant to the point that it suggests that what the work communicates should be contained (within a subject and its culture); and it is ingenuous in the sense that it presupposes that there is one understanding for the notion of ‘cross-cultural anxieties’, which means the spectator bust be either the colonizer or the colonized.

I’ll finish with another of Maurizio’s statement, since they are the most honest to his work: “I’ve been collecting old photographs for a long time. A few years ago I was doing ink drawings with them and out of curiosity I stitched into one. I work a lot with threads and hand stitching, and the link to photography was a natural progression. I put tracing paper over the photo and draw on the face until it develops. Sometimes the image comes straight away, suggested by a detail on a dress or in the background, but with the majority of them I spend a lot of time drawing. Once the drawing is done, I pierce the photo with a set of needle-like tools I invented and take the paper away; the holes are obsessively paced at the same distance to convey an idea of geometry. When I begin the stitching something else happens, drawing will never do what thread will – the light changes, and at some points you can lose the face, and at others you can still see under it.

text by Sofia Silva

٠ Multiexposed/Multilayered Ukrainian photography ٠

741123© Alexander Lyapin

hj-01© Denis Kravets

DOT_Sint_tym_01_800© Yaroslav Tymchyshyn

lia_dostlieva7_800© Lia Dostlieva

602986© Misha Pedan

10© Roman Pyatkovka

_04© Roman Pyatkovka

vita_buivid_summer_10© Vita Buivid

107_800© Marina Frolova