Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Work and Artist Statement

Artist Statement:

It is me, a lonely young man who doesn't know where he is going, what he is doing, how he is feeling, where he'll be, or how he'll get there. I am a fly on the wall of my own life. I show the inner feelings of my psyche, whether it be in a literal sense of a more figurative sense. My photography reveals how a lonely Midwestern young man, displaced in the Mid-Atlantic United States, feels and tries to relate to his surroundings and attempts to get used to them by the use of self-portraits and social landscapes.

John Petrenko, essay on My Thoughts of JH Engstrom

How is his work, CDG/JHE about as he says, "...loneliness, mine and the others."?

His work CDG/JHE, which means Charles DeGaulle / JH Engstrom I don't really think communicates the idea of loneliness of himself, but i guess it could mean of others though. He talks about how he shoots from a surveillance viewpoint, of Charles DeGaulle airport, and shoots how chairs are empty and how two people are standing around in the lobbies. But, I don't get how it means loneliness for himself, for others, I can get an understanding, but for himself since he's shooting it, I don't see that. He talks about how the airport has changed so much since, 9-11, that an airport used to represent freedom and dreams and no boundaries. But now, an airport is where fear takes over and a sense of paranoia. I can understand that people will feel lonely as they travel, hell, i'm going to be traveling alone to Chicago on Friday and I am lonely without my girlfriend. From that aspect I get it, but I don't see how he tries to put his loneliness into the photography, it's possible that i would need to view the monologue of this to get a greater understanding, but from the description in the article, i don't follow. I'm not saying I don't like his work or can't relate to it, I actually can pretty well, and that's why I chose this article, because much of his other work is about loneliness and displacement, something that I wish to tackle in my own work.

He says that, "Sexual desires come across as an expression of fundamental human loneliness." How is that true?

Well, in short, I disagree. Sexual desires are just a normal part of human relationships and human bachelorism (I think i just made up a word). I disagree because sexual desires are just feelings that one gets when they are with a person that they love, they desire the love of their "partner" and wish for intimacy, it isn't about being lonely. It could be though, I mean, he doesn't specify the person's emotions at the time. People get sexual desires all the time, it doesn't mean they're lonely, it means that they're horny. They could be horny due to the fact that they are lonely, but hell, a person could just be horny because they thought of something that their "partner" said, or does, or they had a memory flashback to a very sensual moment in their lives that their brain creates this sense of desire. Loneliness has nothing to do with sexual desire, to an extent. Sexual desires are spurred by something, they become triggered by an emotion or thought, not just because a person is lonely. To sum this all up, I'd have to say that his quote is only about one quarter true. Yes a person can have sexual desires because they are lonely, BUT, one can also have sexual desires if in their relationship, their "partner" isn't "putting out" thus creating sexual desires and fantasies in their mind, not because they're lonely.



A profound sense of displacement and uncertainty per-
vades JH Engstr6m's work. On the back cover of his 2004
book Trying to Dance he states, almost programmatically:
"I am always looking for presence. Whenever I try, my
doubts get unmasked ... " Whereas most photographers
use their camera merely as a tool to convey their deeply
held convictions about the ways of the world to their view-
ers, Engstr6m uses the camera and darkroom to pursue
his doubts about whether it is possible to represent any
real understanding of our surroundings. The urgent inten-
sity of his work is predicated upon a radical questioning
of the possibility of a meaningful communication with the
world, an almost Heideggerian sense of "being thrown
into world."
"If there's a word for my work," Engstr6m once
declared, "it's loneliness, mine and the other's." This
attitude is already apparent in his first major work,
Shelter(1997): a series of portraits of homeless women in
a shelter in Stockholm, whom he observed over the course
of three years. Shelter does not conform to any of the
cliches and formulas of socially committed photogra-
phy that one would expect to encounter with this sub-
ject matter. There is no trace of leering sensationalism
nor of saccharine sentimentality. The homeless women
are not portrayed as misfits to be pitied, but they seem
to embody the human condition stripped bare. At first
glance, nothing in these stark black-and-white photo-
graphs indicates that the women are destitute. Rather,
they seem for the most part strong and self-determined,
often shown in close-ups, their faces sometimes in par-
tial view. Only their facial lines or a blank stare indicate
the hardships they have experienced. Some look straight
at the photographer, and respectively at the viewer. Their
expressions range from an almost erotically charged
openness to guarded distrust. Others are photographed
in profile, their faces turned away from the photographer,
lost in thought or hiding from the camera. The images almost
always acknowledge the presence of the photographer, emphasizing
that these are traces of encounters shaped by the photographer's
effort to grasp his subject and the model's willingness or reluc-
tance to reveal herself. Rather than pretending to purvey some
"truth" about homeless women, Engstr6m's images are chronicles
of deeply emotional encounters.
Engstr6m used another technique to underline the subjectivity
of his photographs in Shelter, one that he would refine in later
works: the prints are not made to the standards of traditionally
defined technical perfection. Some look washed-out or overex-
posed; on others we notice smudges and dust, often the edge
of the negative is visible on the print. The imperfections mark
the time that has passed since the pictures were taken and ren-
der the editing and printing process visible. They emphasize that
the viewer is looking at visual interpretations of reality, not the
event itself. Making the picture is just the beginning of the actual
creative act: "I think time is a very important tool in my work
process," he says. "I get to know my photographs. The process
is also very intuitive."
Engstr6m's emphatic approach to this world of outsiders owes
much to the Swedish photographer Anders Petersen, for whom
Engstr6m worked as an assistant before studying at the photog-
raphy and film department at Gbteborg University. Petersen is
best known for his seminal photo-book Caf6 Lehmitz, published in
1978, a series of photographs made over the course of a decade
of the late-night regulars at Cafe Lehmitz, a seedy bar in Ham-
burg. It is a raw and intimate account of this social microcosm of
transvestites, prostitutes, drug addicts, drinkers, and lovers. In
later works, Petersen offered his longtime observations of pris-
ons, nursing homes, and insane asylums that were all marked
by the same loving interest in life on the fringes of society,
beyond the lies and niceties of bourgeois existence. Engstr6m's
work owes much to his teacher's understanding of photography
as a means to explore the challenges of human existence. This
is particularly evident in Shelter, while in later works Petersen's
influence is felt more in terms of the approach to life and photog-
raphy he fostered in Engstr6m. In 2006, Engstr6m paid a tribute
to Petersen by shooting the oddly titled A Film With About Anders
Petersen, which was broadcast on Swedish television.
After the Shelter project, Engstr6m radically shifted his focus. "I
was grappling for three years with the possibility and impossibility
of capturing people's presence. It seemed a natural move for me
to get back to myself and to start taking self-portraits. I needed to
get away; I needed to search for my own identity and moved to New
York, where I began Trying to Dance." This 2004 book was the first
of an autobiographical trilogy that also includes Haunts (2006) and
Wells (forthcoming in 2008).
Trying to Dance, shot in New York and Sweden, presents a
nonlinear juxtaposition of views of Engstr6m's everyday surround-
ings, ranging from self-portraits and nudes to landscapes and
interiors. The book does not offer the viewer an overall narra-
tive that would subsume the meaning of the single image. It is a
visual stream-of-consciousness monologue, an ongoing succes-
sion of moments that retain an importance of their own, frag-
ments of relentlessly passing time. The impression of looking
at memories, rather than documentary images, is heightened by
the variety of the photographs, which span from straight black
and white to heavily color-manipulated. Engstr6m eloquently uses
photographic techniques to evoke his subjective experience of a
given moment. He says: "I can only make photographs of what
I feel, of what results from my encounters with people. In this
regard, my work is completely subjective. At the same time, I am
interested in objectivity, in the fact that since you take photo-
graphs, you always deal with reality. And in this respect, I am not
interested in subjectivity. It's a paradox."
Many of Engstrbm's self-portraits and portraits are nudes.
Nudity here does not serve as means to present an erotically
overcharged vision of life; rather, it represents a degree zero of
identity and difference, a symbol of the ever-elusive presence of
the Other that Engstr6m is trying to grasp. "Vulnerability is a key
word," he says. "I like to question why people are vulnerable and
how people deal with it." This is nowhere more evident than in his
erotic scenes, which depict sometimes beautiful, sometimes des-
perate attempts at human contact. Sexual desire comes across
as an expression of fundamental human loneliness. The feeling
of intimacy that pervades Trying to Dance is intensified by images
of unmade beds, plates of leftover food, and lights reflected on
a windowpane-casual observations that evoke the mundane
physicality of the everyday with a claustrophobic precision. They
are counterbalanced by landscapes, often with a faded, grayish
look reminiscent of watercolors. Their elegiac emptiness echoes
Romantic painting's use of the landscape as a mirror of the soul,
while the rawness and grittiness of the photographs prevents sen-
timentality from creeping in.
The same nonhierarchical approach to life characterizes
Haunts. But whereas Trying to Dance is mostly focused on the
most immediate private sphere of the artist, here images made
in public spaces play a more prominent role. In black-and-white
photographs of strangers on the street or in bars-drunks, a
flower vendor, or a couple lingering in a restaurant-Engstr6m
pays homage to the accidental poetry of chance encounters in
the night. These starkly dramatic sketches of people in the mar-
gins of society add a surreal twist to Engstr6m's method-as
in the eerily absurd photograph of a group wearing masks sit-
ting around a table, or a self-portrait in which Engstr6m wears
a plastic nose. At once violent and humorous, wistful and crass,
Haunts balances extremes in a kaleidoscopic rush of images, a
decentered vision of life.
In his most recent work, the book CDG/JHE (2007), Engstr6m
resorts to a more restrained visual language, almost minimal by his
own standards, in a series of sixty-six images of Paris's Charles de
Gaulle airport (whose flight code is "CDG"). They are shot in color,
yet the prints are tinged in gray, giving them an almost monochrome
feel, as if dust or smoke had fallen on the scene. The printing
endows the photographs of the almost deserted airport with a
haunting atmosphere, at once nostalgic and apocalyptic.
CDG/JHE occupies a special place in Engstr6m's memory, lead-
ing back to an early feeling of displacement:
At the age of ten I moved from the Swedish coun-
tryside to Paris with my parents, and the first thing I
saw was the Charles de Gaulle airport. As a teenager I
traveled a lot between Paris and Sweden and therefore
spent a lot of time at CDG. I was fascinated already
then. The whole environment, the ambiance. It's really
a fascinating airport. Like a fantasy landscape. ...
CDG is connected to a big part of my past, and also
came to signify big changes in my life as a kid. But what
made this project interesting as well is how the world,
and maybe especially airports, changed after 9/11.
They are no longer what they used to be. Before, they
tended to represent freedom, possibilities, openness.
Now, they have come to be a place where fear is very
strongly present.
The deserted airport in Engstr6m's images is a place in limbo, a
nowhere suspended in time. Close-up images of carts and plastic
seats mirror the observations of a bored traveler waiting for his
delayed flight, whereas the silhouettes of two men looking on from
behind a glass wall and views of a parking garage, shot from the
angle of a surveillance camera, convey a sense of claustropho-
bia and paranoia. The modernist architecture of the airport is as
touching as an abandoned spaceship. The exuberant belief in the
future that the airport embodies seems outdated, a leftover from
the Cold War era on which gray dust is settling. The disorientation
of the traveler who is neither here nor there blends with the con-
fusion of an age that has lost the cozy certainties of yesteryear.
The series departs from the celebration of subjectivity that has
defined much of Engstr6m's work so far and provides an almost
abstract definition of the existential homelessness and displace-
ment that is at the heart of Engstr6m's work-the source of its
tenderness and beauty, as well as its power to unsettle and haunt
the viewer.

Jaeggi, Martin. Aperture. "JH Engstrom: Looking for Presence." Aperture no. 190 (Spring 2008) p. 48-55. 2008.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Keith Carter

Keith Carter was born on June, 3rd 1948 in Madison, Wisconsin. He and his family moved to Beaumont, Texas around the age of five, a small delta town near the Louisiana border. His mother started to work as a local portrait photographer. This would be a huge motivating factor in his development. By 1970 he began to go to school at Lamar University, where he would receive a degree in Business Administration, and soon after would begin work as a commercial photographer. He would soon take a trip to New York City and would visit the Museum of Modern Art which would eventually spark an interest for art in his mind. Apparently, the staff at the museum of modern art allowed Keith to view many old photographs in their collection, where he would try and absorb as much artistic information as humanly possibly. In the 1980s, Cater would take over his mother's photography business where he would travel to many other cities photographing families and children outside. This undoubtedly is where he began developing his own personal aesthetic for environmental portraiture and narrative art. He now still lives and works in Beaumont, Texas, where he is a distinguished professor at Lamar University, where he teaches photography. He also holds the schools highest teaching award and is a distinguished lecturer. He has published nine books and his photographs are on display all over the United States.

His work is very dream like and narrative. He uses selective focus to achieve this sort of dream like and fragile aesthetic that goes along with his work. He shoots primarily in the south where there's still a certain amount of mystique about it. I feel that i can take influences from him in the ways that I love the narrative quality and soft focus of his work. I feel that I can be able to learn from his composition and from the subjects that he photographs, that children and family of certain areas tell stories better than a staged photograph. That even when shrouded in a low depth of field, the narrative becomes even stronger and more embedded into the photograph. He has also influenced my work greatly because when I was just beginning in this field, I visited Tennessee where he was having an exhibition at Middle Tennessee State University and I got to look at his awesome prints and range of work, that it inspired me to work a little like him.

Gallery: http://www.edelmangallery.com/carter-bio.htm
Interview: http://www.apug.org/forums/archive/index.php/t-8492.html
Website: www.keithcarterphotographs.com (Although, site was down when trying to look at it)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

another review

1. I really wouldn't say that anyone has critiqued my work this week. I could kin of say that you have, but you only saw the negatives and it's really hard to judge negatives instead of the real thing. But, you did tell me to abstract my portraits and really kind of go out on a limb and and try something new with my self portraits.

2. My creative/motivational moment this week came to me when i was out for a walk on sunday. something about the weather really inspired me. it made me relate wonder and memory together in an odd concept but did make me realize that I can relate things of mundanity together and they have to ability to relate to something completely different. When I was out for a walk the weather reminded me of southern illinois, and me being at giant city state park and going out for a hike with my friends. Now, i had never had a thought of that here in Virginia until the conditions were perfect, and my mind made an odd reference to a very nice place in my memory.

3. What i want to achieve in next week's studio practice is that i want to make even more. I feel that I have answered this question like this a numerous amount of times, but it's still true. I want to create more, present work that's good and bad so that people can judge it and it can really narrow my thinking through critique.

4. I achieved the critique of Jonh Hendershot and Hassan Pitts.

5. My artistic failure? Now, I can't really say that I have one, but I can tell you a bad idea of the week. That would be don't stay up all night working on a project, then pass out in the studio in the afternoon causing me to miss my 3pm appointment with you and coming in around 3:40.

6. The most profound thought this week came yesterday when i was talking to you about my work, and how you were telling me to completely abstract my self-portraits, into something that may not even have a person in it, maybe just an impression of myself. I think that can really blossom into something pretty cool.

7. No visiting artist.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Birgus, Vladimír. "Michal Macku". February, 1996. 9-23-08. http://www.kunstmarkt.de/pagesprz/macku_michal/_i91543_d8525_r91559-/show_praesenz.html?&lang=en&words=%20Macku%2C+Michal

"Cathrine Balet: Identity". 9-23-08. http://www.deichtorhallen.de/bookshop/buecher.Photographie.Themen.Mode.1350-Identity.html

Darwent, Charles. "The Broader Picture: Prints of Darkness". Aug, 12 2001. 9-23-08. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20010812/ai_n14417686

The Editors. "The View of Pierre et Gilles." France Diplomatie. 9-23-08. http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/france_159/label-france_2554/label-france-issues_2555/label-france-no.-68_5797/culture_5805/photography_5825/pierre-gilles_9998.html

"Joakim Von Ditmar" GERARD RANCINAN. 9-23-08. http://www.joakimvonditmar.com/php_page/start.php?func=showItem&item_id=181

"Joel-Peter Witkin". Masters of Photography. 9-23-08. http://www.masters-of-fine-art-photography.com/02/artphotogallery/texte/witkin_text.html

"The New Portrait: A Study in Three Parts". The Portrait as a Masterpiece. 9-23-08. http://www.popphoto.com/americanphotofeatures/3816/faces-in-the-crowd-the-portrait-in-double-vision-page4.html

"Portrait". Dictionary Online. 9-23-08. www.dictionary.reference.com

"Richard Avedon Quotes". Art Quotes. 9-23-08. http://www.artquotes.net/masters/avedon/photography-quotes.htm

"Robert van der Hilst "SHANGHAI: 1990-1993" m97 Gallery. Feb. 23, 2008. 9-23-08. http://photo.box.sk/news.php3?id=10471

"Twenty Years Later". Amon Carter Museum. March 3, 2005. 9-23-08. http://www.cartermuseum.org/node/187

Williams, Val. "Dandies against a Concrete Wall Photographs by Albrecht Tübke". 9-23-08. http://tuebke.info/text.php?g_ti=5

The Add Ons

Albrecht Tubke photographs:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Word...Portrait

Now, don't be hating on me Paul, but for my first word I have chosen the word Portrait. Now, I know that this is one of the most general ideas/topics/words of photography and art, but I feel that it's incredibly applicable to my work and I will try to go as in depth as possible with it.

Portrait: 1. a likeness of a person, esp. of the face, as a painting, drawing, or photograph: a gallery of family portraits.
2. a verbal picture or description, usually of a person: a biography that provides a fascinating portrait of an 18th-century rogue. (www.dictionary.reference.com)

I have a few quotes that are very good to my work, by none other than Richard Avedon:

"A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."

"A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he's being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks. He's implicated in what's happening, and he has a certain real power over the result."


Artist 1, Michal Micku:

Reason for Choosing:
I chose Michal Micku because of his techniques and his subject matter. He shoots completely abstract portraits or things that can be construed as portraits. The technique is one of the major factors that led me to him. He is from the Czech Republic and his photographs are called "gellage". Apparently that means that he lifts the emulsion from a silver gelatin print (I believe) and creates these incredible photographs with them. I chose him because I would like to distort and abstract my photography somewhat like his, to convey this sense of distress and emotion, just with the technique and then have the subject matter take it over the top.

Image #1: "Untitled" Carbon Print No. 32, 2005. 14 x 12''
Image #2: "Untitled" Carbon Print No. 1, 2004. 14 x 12''

Outside Review:
(By Vladimír Birgus, Prague, February 1996)
Czech photography has a very good reputation in the world today, thanks not only to famous authors such as: František Drtikol, Josef Sudek, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rossler, Josef Koudelka or Jan Saudek, but also to many photographers of a younger generation, whose works came out onto the international scene after the revolutionary changes in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of 1989. Among young Czech photographers with an ever-growing international reputation is undoubtedly Michal Macku, whose original photography aroused great attention at a series of both separate and group exhibitions in Europe and overseas, and they were also housed as collections in a few distinguished museums and galleries.
Michal Macku took up photography by the time of his studies at grammar school and then at Technical University in Brno, when he was concerned, above all, with various static motifs. His first mature works created at the Institute of Creative Photography during the years 1986 - 88. At this time he started - after earlier attempts with a symbolically oriented smaller series of photographs with only lightly suggested multisignificance action - to use and personally develop technology of drawing-off the gelatine emulsion from negatives. He named the results of the procedure "gellages". This demanding technique fully satisfied his ever-growing interest in crossing traditional borders between separate arts and his strengthening struggle for a metaphorical reflection of various weighty themes which can rarely be expressed in words. Already his oldest gellages, which were the final work at the Institute of Creative Photography, took up the theme of the perfect symbiosis of content and form. Highly expressive motifs of human body destruction, symbolising themes of violence and cruelty, as well as mental depression were given an extraordinary impressive form which perfectly utilised the possibilities of subjective reality stylisation by a resourceful arrangement of moist gelatine including its breaking up, spatial distortions or elimination of disturbing details. Through this method were created sensually extraordinary cogent pictures, whose motifs contained warning messages and dramatic metaphors of anxiety and brutality. Many motifs emerged later in an existentially mooted short film "Process" (1994), which Michal Macku made in co-operation with a Czech TV studio in Brno. The film is an allegorical portrayal of human life using very impressive (not only unusual) animation possibilities of photography emulsion, but also original music by Irena and Vojtìch Havel.
After a series of gellages with motifs of broken bodies, followed more exalted works and motifs of crying heads, in which Michal Macku first used the multiplication of the same motifs. Multiplication achieved the basic principle of the following set with repeated archetypal figures of men, whose raised hands evoked, not only feelings of defencelessness but also some mysterious signs from a magical exorcism. Scrimmages of identical figures create visions of crowds of lonely people, who are losing their individuality in a crowd, which according to the author's words "does not behave as a group of individualities but as a separate dangerous organism". Macku here resourcefully used an abstract background of a nearly compact grey area, which creates a sort of empty yawning scene out of concrete space and time, which still more clearly expresses the atmosphere of eradication and nothingness. There were also new changes of figure dimensions from the same negative, which were also used by the author in many other works.
Michal Macku - with only a few exceptions - uses himself as a pattern for his figures because he knows intimately his own body and that is why he can express himself more precisely than by taking photographs of someone else´s body. It is understandable that this self-recognition and self-searching has a metaphorical impact on his pictorial themes. Out of which grows the author's interest in extrarational spheres of recognition, some aspects of Buddhism and other philosophical and religious systems, in a dualism of corporeality and spirituality.
It can be very expressively shown on a free cycle of gellages with motifs of figures and their silhouettes, in which the silhouettes represent a sort of ideal, whose qualities real bodies do not reach. In spite of an undoubted resourcefulness and emotive impact of such works, it clearly emerged that there were considerable problems of the coherence of the author's and beholders mind. This problem got even deeper in a further picture series with motifs of communicating parts of the bodies or whole figures. Too much coded content had the result, that significant sections of beholders perceived, above all, the technically precise production and a small part of decorative conception, in which there was a considerably suppressed dramatic character and expressive extremity of preceding photographs, but they escaped deeper meaning of these works. More recently, the author - following an imaginary spiral - came back to the motifs and themes of his oldest gellages, with expressively deformed individual bodies, as well as more figures in which the problems of relations between people are often symbolically emphasised. At the same the author's interest in non-traditional forms of gellage presentation becomes apparent. This is also connected in some installations with music and three-dimensional objects, as well as his interest in other experiments in the area of film animation."


Artist 2, Hendrik Kerstens:

I have chosen him because of his references to Dutch paintings in portraiture. His subject matter has been his daughter as well, and that's about it. Throughout the time she's grown up, it is his daughter that has been the most profound thing to capture his eye. But her deadpan expression, or lack of expression is key to this type of portraiture. The gaze of his daughter is profound and incredibly powerful and seemingly unchanging throughout the years of photographs from her father. This type of work attracts me due to its references in art history, a topic that at one point, I wish to pursue. But, the lifeless expressions are very captivating to me and they will influence my work.

Image #1: "Bag" C-Print, 50 x 60 cm , 2001
Image #2: "Weep" C-Print, 50 x 60 cm , 2005

It was unusual for Hendrik Kerstens to want to document the life of his daughter, Paula. As he notes on his Website (hendrikkerstens.com), he simply wanted "to be there" to capture "the fleeting moments that fade from memory all too quickly." What is unusual is the way this Amsterdam-based fine-art photographer goes about that task: by evoking the paintings of Dutch master painters, especially Johannes Vermeer. "It's a way for me to shake up the concept of time," he says. "I'm taking someone today with modern tastes and portraying her in the style of 17th-century artists." In doing so, Kerstens literally immortalizes his daughter, "as if to stop time and oblivion."

The project came about one day after Paula had returned from horseback riding. "When she took off her hat, I saw that her hair was held together by a hair net, and it reminded me of the portraits of the Dutch masters," Kerstens says. What fascinated him about those paintings, he says, "is the way [they can be] seen as a surface which can be read as a description of everyday life, as opposed to the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, which usually tell a story. Northern European painting relies much more on craftsmanship and the perfect rendition of the subject. The use of light is instrumental in this." Kerstens himself crafts his portraits with a Toyo 8x10 view camera.

So far Kersten's work has been seen mostly in Europe, but it was to be exhibited at the Scope New York art fair from February 23-26. -Jeffrey Elbies


Artist 3, Robert van der Hilst:

I chose him because of of his deadpan photographs of "Chinese Interiors." In these photographs he shows us interiors of Chinese homes, some without people, but most are environmental portraits of their inhabitants. I am really attracted to all of the people's lifeless or contemplative poses in the images. He was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands and studies photography in The Hague. He has traveled many places for his photography, including most of central america, cuba, china, and japan and made many photographs of their people, their culture, and interiors/living spaces. This aspect is something that I really latch onto, I love travel and documenting and trying to understand cultures through photography. His environmental deadpan photographs are incredible, and I feel that I can take some knowledge from his images.

Image #1: "Chinese Interior 3", Digital Inkjet Print on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Paper, 110 x 131cm, 2004
Image #2: "Chinese Interior 1", Digital Inkjet Print on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Paper, 110 x 131cm, 2004

Well, his "Chinese Interiors" project isn't yet complete but he has done other work in China, so i will use a review of that.

Solo photography exhibition
February 16 - March 21, 2008
m97 Gallery
No. 97 Moganshan Road 2F
Shanghai, China 200060
m97 Gallery is pleased to announce "Shanghai: 1990-1993," a solo photography exhibition by Dutch photographer Robert van der Hilst. The exhibition runs from February 16 to March 21, 2008, and m97 Gallery will hold an opening reception for the artist on Saturday February 16th from 5pm to 8pm.
Robert van der Hilst's color Kodachrome photographs from "Shanghai: 1990-1993" captures the early roots of this large metropolis as it readies itself for the great thrust forward towards modernization. Bringing a strong sense of color and composition to his work in the streets of Shanghai, Robert's work, now viewed some 18 years later, brings a sense of historical reflection after the past two decades of breakneck development in China's financial capital. His subjects and sceneries are at once both familiar and foreign to the viewer. The subtleties and textures of the photographs, as well as the overall appearance of the city and its people are captured by the Dutch photographer as he first encounters a city poised on the edge of a newfound greatness. First traveling to Shanghai in 1990 on assignment for Vogue Magazine to feature a reportage of the city, Robert became fascinated by his first encounter with China and later made a total of seven trips to Shanghai in the course of three years.
Robert van der Hilst lives in Shanghai and Paris, and is currently working on a large-scale photography project titled "Chinese Interiors". He has worked as a photographer in Europe, South Africa and North America and his monograph "The Cubans" was published in 2001. Robert van der Hilst's 64-page full color "Shanghai: 1990-1993" book published by m97 Gallery to accompany the exhibition is available for purchase in the gallery or online (15 Euros + shipping).

Artist 4, Cathrine Balet:

I chose Cathrine Balet not because I feel that her portraits are necessarily strong, but rather because her photographs deal with identity, a topic that I wish to discuss trough my photographs. Although, she is showing how teenagers are identified by the clothing they wear and their backpacks which they customize with patches, pins, etc.. I believe that this topics is a big concern for me, because I feel that I need to point it out with my self portraits, because, after all, that is what I am dealing with, self-identity and expression. So, I think that she'll be a good referencing point for me.

Image #1: Untitled. 2004. Digital Inkjet Print, 23 x 29cm
Image #2: Untitled. 2005. Digital Inkjet Print 23 x 29cm

"In January 2004, at a time when the French government was debating the banning of religious and political signs from schools, Catherine Balet started taking pictures of signs, labels, codes and icons that have a social and aesthetic significance in the world of teenagers. Extending the project from Paris to London, Berlin, Barcelona and Milan, it quickly became a record of the dress codes in European schools, referencing the tribal subdivisions. Teenagers in their struggle for identity and self-esteem and troubled by an urgent desire to be different, usually adopt the codes of a group, often inspired by music trends. In each city Balet discovered the same music, fashion, brands, bands and labels. Only details are different from one city to another as they reflect the complexity of the history of one country and the influence of its migrant population. In London and Barcelona, where the uniform is a school institution, Balet captured the way these young pupils customised their outfits.Casting her subjects in the street, she composes large portraits always framed in the same way. Only the background reveals the location. Richly descriptive, these portraits combine a documentary style with a poetic sensibility, capturing this complex mix of fragility and determination in the eyes of the portrayed teenagers."

Artist 5, Richard Avedon:

Well, this is one of the most obvious people to have chosen, he's basically the king of portraiture. His masterful 8 x 10 negatives shot on an all white background, it's just perfect. Now, I'm don't really know if you think that he's not contemporary enough, but most of his memorable work was shot in the 80s, so I feel it fits the timeline well. In my opinion, he's definintly the best at portraits. His influence of fashion and real life portraiture is just astounding, he's perfect at what he did.

Image #1: Red Owens, oil field worker, Velma, OK. 1981. Silver Gelatin Print, 136 x 114.5 cm
Image #2: Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper, Davis, CA. 1981. Silver Gelatin Print, 136 x 114.5 cm

In the American West was the brainchild of the Amon Carter Museum ’s first director, Mitchell A. Wilder. Richard Avedon had become world famous for elevating fashion photography to an art form. But when Wilder saw Avedon’s July 4, 1978, portrait of a ranch foreman from Ennis, Mont., he asked the artist to continue making photographs of that type under the sponsorship of the Amon Carter Museum. He gave the photographer free license to photograph his view of the American West.

Avedon agreed to Wilder’s proposal. From 1979 to 1984, he traveled through 13 states and 189 towns from Texas to Idaho, conducting 752 sittings and exposing 17,000 sheets of film through his 8-by-10-inch Deardorff view camera.

Focusing on the rural West, Avedon visited ranches and rodeos, but he also went to truck stops, oil fields, and slaughterhouses. Rather than playing to the western myths of grandeur and space, he sought out people whose appearance and life circumstances were the antithesis of mythical images of the ruggedly handsome cowboy, beautiful pioneer wife, dashing outdoor adventurer, or industry mogul. The subjects he chose for the portraits were more ordinary people, coping daily with personal cycles of boom and bust.

Instead of glamorizing these figures, he brought their various human frailties to the forefront. All of them were pictured against a seamless white backdrop that removed any reference to place, and many of the portraits were dramatically oversize, shocking in their stark detail. Visitors to the exhibition in 1985 came face-to-face with images that shattered stereotypes of a glorified region.

Artist 6, Gerard Rancinan:

Now, I have picked Gerard Rancinan because, to me, he's a jack of all trades on the photography front. He does commercial work, editorial, fashion, and art. But, the thing that makes his stand out from everybody else is that his work is so universal, that it can speak to everyone. He's shot for Sports Illustrated and is currently selling a photograph of his for around $90,000! ANd, the $90,000 photograph is an art historical reference to "The Raft of the Medusa." From odd fashion shoots that are incredibly creative, to stunning complexities in his fine art work, Gerard is making quiet a name for himself. He's even shot survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear blast from world war II. The way he lights things, and the moods created by his images amaze me, and made me talk about him in my blog.

Image #1: "Rapt of Illusion" 2007. Digital Archival Print. 102.4 x 70.9 in
Image #2: "Yan Pei Ming in Red" 2007. Digital Archival Print. 70.9 x 69.3

Gérard Rancinan was born February 18, 1953, in Talence, southwest France just a few ocean-sprayed meters away from the picturesque port of Bordeaux. "When I was a child I remember seeing boats moored at the end of streets, horizons that seemed to stretch on forever. And without realizing it at the time, I breathed a mixture of perfumes from all four corners of the world - a calling to travel, you could say."

After a short but "pretty unbearable" period of study, Gérard directly entered the world of photojournalism as apprentice lab technician in the photographic department of the Bordeaux-based "Sud-Ouest" newspaper. After three years of working in the darkroom, Gérard became, at the age of 18, the youngest photojournalist in France, and was assigned coverage of the local Bordeaux news. "The best hands-on experience ever. You imagine covering three rugby matches all starting at the same time every Sunday afternoon, 15 miles apart. There's no time for rnessing about!" Wanting to climb the echelons quickly, some considered the "youngster" as just a bit too ambitious, and definitely overzealous for the somewhat tranquil routine of a picture department of a provincial newspaper.
Aged 21, Gérard was sent to the local agency of the newspaper in Pau in the Pyrenees region. "I started my career rather spoilt between two winners of the Albert Londres prize for journalism, Jean-Claude Guillebault and Pierre Veilletet. Our boss Henri Amouroux, made it quite clear that the best policy was head down and go for it. So of course, when I arrived in Pau, a clean, quiet town and about as boring as they come - I realized I had to prepare myself for a different kind of future."

"Whilst covering a range of events Gérard made the most of his spare time for producing his first major assignments in Kuwait and Portugal. Noticed by the newly-formed Sygma agency, he chose to be distributed by the latter in 1973. "Not only did I know about the work done by Sygma's major photographers, but I was faultless on LIFE's and Magnum's photographers, too. You could ask me anything you wanted about the photos of Cartier Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Larry Burrows, Ian Berry or Co Retminster - they held no secrets for me. Not surprising really when you're in the deepest Pyrenees and you've got time to dream away."

After five years "... of razor sharp training in the adventure of photography", he was appointed staff photographer at Sygma in Paris. He not only covered worldwide current events such as earthquakes in Algeria, the incidents in Poland, war in the Lebanon, riots in England, but also sport - the Olympic games, the World Cup, the world athletic championships. Gérard Rancinan also photographed film shoots - Akira Kurosawa's Ran, Beneix' Betty Blue, Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, and covered features on people in show business, the fashion world, and movies. He took a keen interest in everything.
"Variety is the spice of life. 1 want to have a go at everything even although I feel more confident in certain areas. Change keeps you on your toes. It's like light pervading a house."
Gérard Rancinan rapidly became one of the agency's figureheads. His photographs were published in the most prestigious magazines in the world.
He won several major prizes including the first prize of the World Press four times over, once as runner-up and once as third, as well as the European set photographer's prize. At this point he decided to withdraw from competitions, and refused any form of distinction bestowed upon him.
"Pretension is like blinding light. I fear it will be like a constant reminder of the past, like looking in the rearview mirror. I want to be challenged by the present."
Concurrently with his aim for hard and fast current event coverage, Gérard Rancinan started composing reportages tuned to worldwide issues, and increasingly involved himself in the stories he had to tell. "I want to make use of the world about me, of its people, of the existence that unfolds before my eyes. I want to portray the world, dive in head first. I don't want to become an objective photojounalist, I want to involve myself completely and utterly. I want to give a personal view of a moment I capture, and reflect this as a player in the progress of civilization. I'm only interested in the present. I'm happy to relinquish the past and my future as well.
I take photographs to relate what people or events inspire in me. And more than anything I want my pictures to be shown and understood by as many people as possible. I don't know whether the photos describing the events I portray are exact, but they are true to life. Publication in revues has become my sole objective, the sole reward I enjoy."
Gérard left Sygma in 1986 to set up his own agency, but lightning success and the commercial intricacies of business rapidly demoralized him. "It was too proud an undertaking, too sublime, too complex to manage, too costly, too pretentious. I had lost sight of my only goal."
Three years later, he left the agency to become freelance. "As light as a feather, as free as a bird." He now scours the planet at a frenetic pace, leaping from one subject to another, producing the most incredible sagas coherent with events on our planet. Gérard hops from Tokyo to New York, to Munich to Madrid to Hong Kong to Rio.
Top magazines publish his work over dozens of pages. "I've made myself the biggest gallery in the world, the most prestigious museum." Although he is not a portrait specialist, his style and themes mean that he captures the most significant personalities of the world on film. "A true butterfly collector, snaps destined for eternity..." Over the past few years he has published his work, photos, words, and film under the title "Voyage au Pays de l'Homme".
Gérard Rancinan lives to the full on the planet Earth ...

Artist 7, Nadav Kander

I chose Nadav Kander's advertising work over his art work. I really like his work that was shot for Absolute Vodka, it's portraiture and advertising and fashion all rolled into one. He puts this asian men and women in ridiculous costumes (I guess it's fashionable?) and puts them into scenes of nighttime activities/cityscapes. The photographs are incredibly absurd, and that's what's so interesting about them, they don't say anything about alcohol, but they do sell the product really well. The lighting, the location, and the people really put together a extremely stunning photograph. I also like the fact that i'm being influenced by commercial photography, and not just fine art photography. It's relieving in a way, that I can take influences from other aspects of visual art.

Image #1: Untitled, Absolute Ad, 2001, Size 8.5 x 11?
Image #2: Untitled, Absolute Ad, 2001, Size 8.5 x 11?

You feel Edmund Burke and Nadav Kander would have got on, somehow. "The ruling principle of the sublime is, in all cases... terror," wrote Burke, distinguishing between sublimity and mere beauty. Kander, a 40- year-old Israeli-born photographer, toes the same line. His recent book, Beauty's Nothing, took its title from a poem by Rilke: "Beauty's nothing/but the first touch of terror/we're just able to endure/and we endure it/because it serenely destroys us."
It seems an odd note for a man who spends his time working on Absolut vodka campaigns and for Dazed and Confused magazine. But then Kander is odd. Those sweet-faced girls in Beauty's Nothing are Cuban prostitutes; the handsome black man, up to his picturesque nose in water, may be posing for a shot or he may be drowning. Kander's pictures of them ask all kinds of questions about the act of photography: about exploitation, culpability; the coldness of the photographer's eye in finding beauty. And they have things to say about terror. The genius of Kander's pictures has always lain in their capacity to use physical presence as a way of suggesting spiritual absence - among others, in people who take photographs for a living. Those Cuban jiniteras aren't there for love. They're there for money, whether it's paid by a client, a photographer from Islington or a firm of Swedish vodka-makers.

Now, Kander has decided (as it were) to cut out the middle man by cutting out people. A new series of pictures at London's Shine Gallery find their terror in absence. This one, Chinos Junction 2, Los Angeles, is devoid of everything. Its light-source is, in photographic terms, natural; which is to say, not produced in a studio. It even looks like the sun or stars. Yet this new firmament is as entirely artificial, as sickly green, as the theatrical gaslight loved by Degas. The place it illuminates is a non-place, on the way from nowhere to nowhere else; a capitalist dystopia.

But the scariest thing about Chinos Junction is that it's beautiful. More, it's frightening because its beauty is empathetic. The same commercial ruthlessness that makes motorways and motorway- lights makes good photographs. This isn't the picture of a landscape or a pleasing abstract composition. It's a portrait of coldness, and it's a self-portrait. Burke would have called it sublime, and he would have been right.

Artist 8, Pierre et Gilles

What I like about Pierre et Gilles's photographs is the fantasy element to them, they're so vivid and colorful that it just sucks you into the photograph. The use of props, color, and scene craetes this balance and mood that captivated the viewer, the work is very close to commerical, but the process is completely fine art. Many of their photographs are hand colored, to create such articulate colors. They try to create alternative universes in their work. Pierre is the photographer, who's been shooting for over thirty years and Gilles is the retoucher, who paints the photographs. Their work seems to glorify their models turning them into timeless icons.

Image #1: Dans le port du Havre (1998), painted photograph, reproduced many sizes
Image #2: Le Petit Communiste (1990), painted photograph, reproduced many sizes

For thirty years, Pierre has been taking photographs and Gilles retouching them with paint. In contrast with the somewhat smooth quality of contemporary photography, the duo has invented a unique style and technique that extols an exuberant and ornamental material and glorifies the models, transforming them into timeless icons.
In self portraits or portraits of unknown people as well as celebrities from the world of pop, rock, film, fashion or nightlife (Andy Warhol, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Arielle Dombasle, Kylie Minogue, Catherine Deneuve, etc.), they place the figures in a baroque setting inspired by ancient mythology, religion, and pop or gay culture.

Saturated colours and kitsch settings: Pierre et Gilles make their taste for superficiality clear, and although recent photographs may refer to the war in Iraq or race and immigration in France, it is never in a directly militant way. However, behind the apparent "childlike naivety", the over-emphasis in the images (too pretty, too well-behaved, too sophisticated...) leads us into a strange world that is sometimes disturbing.

From 26 June to 30 September 2007, the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris is holding a huge retrospective called "Double Je" (1976-2007), which pays tribute to their thirty years of living and making art together. At the same time, German publishing house Taschen is publishing a new book on their work "overflowing with superlative beauty" according to French art critic Paul Ardenne who has written the text.

Artist 9, Joel-Peter Witkin

Now, I know that he's not known as a portrait photographer, but I do feel that when he does shoot people, he does it in a manner that nobody else can or will attempt to do. His images are beautiful and grotesque at the same time, his work is meticulously thought out, almost like a flemish painting, where everything is there for an exact reason. His work has to do with freaks, dwarves, amputees, disfigured, and trans-gender individuals that volunteer for his photographs, so he does not exploit them. He shoots them is a completely surreal way, and manipulates them via the darkroom, by scratching the negative and altering the printing process. They're usually toned when finished and create a surreal, yet completely real, depiction of set individual. His work is unapoligetic and frightening, but controversially awesome.

Image #1: Satiro, Mexico. 1992. Silver Gelatin Print. 16 x 20
Image #2: Gods of Earth and Heaven. 1988. Silver Gelatin Print. 16 x 20

Joel-Peter Witkin is a photographer whose images of the human condition are undeniably powerful. For more than twenty years he has pursued his interest in spirituality and how it impacts the physical world in which we exist. Finding beauty within the grotesque, Witkin pursues this complex issue through people most often cast aside by society -- human spectacles including hermaphrodites, dwarfs, amputees, androgynes, carcases, people with odd physical capabilities, fetishists and "any living myth . . . anyone bearing the wounds of Christ." His fascination with other people's physicality has inspired works that confront our sense of normalcy and decency, while constantly examining the teachings handed down through Christianity. His constant reference to paintings from art history, including the works of Bosch, Goya, Velasquez, Miro, Botticelli and Picasso are testaments to his need to create a new history for himself. By using imagery and symbols from the past, Witkin celebrates our history while constantly redefining its present day context.

Visiting medical schools, morgues and insane asylums around the world, Witkin seeks out his collaborators, who, in the end, represent the numerous personas of the artist himself. The resulting photographs are haunting and beautiful, grotesque yet bold in their defiance a hideous beauty that is as compelling as it is taboo. Witkin begins each image by sketching his ideas on paper, perfecting every detail by arranging the scene before he gets into the studio to stage his elaborate tableaus. Once photographed, Witkin spends hours in the darkroom, scratching and piercing his negatives, transforming them into images that look made rather than taken. Through printing, Witkin reinterprets his original idea in a final act of adoration. Joel-Peter Witkin lets us look into his created world, which is both frightening and fascinating, as he seeks to dismantle our preconceived notions about sexuality and physical beauty. Through his imagery, we gain a greater understanding about human difference and tolerance.

Joel-Peter Witkin has been called ‘part Hieronymous Bosch, part Chainsaw Massacre.’
His photographic tableaux, carefully arranged and painstakingly printed, offer us the chance to transcend subject matter, and enter what Witkin calls a world of ‘love and redemption’."

Somewhere between depraved and divine, Joel-Peter Witkin has created a space that’s occupied by no other living photographer. His latest book, The Bone House, documents his progression from child photographer to where he stands alone today. Heady words, true, but deserved. Joel-Peter Witkin is a fearless image-maker.

Somewhere between depraved and divine, Joel-Peter Witkin has created a space that’s occupied by no other living photographer. His latest book, The Bone House, documents his progression from child photographer to where he stands alone today. Heady words, true, but deserved. Joel-Peter Witkin is a fearless image-maker.

The book itself is a beautiful piece of work. Green cloth in a gray slipcase, it’s the perfect vehicle to carry his disturbing, yet compelling images. Witkin is nothing if not a study in contrasts.

What distinguishes Joel-Peter Witkin from his contemporaries is a restlessness and desire that leads him to places others fear –the dark side where every glimmer of light is authentic. His milieu is nothing short of the greatest mystery that’s occupied humanity since its very beginnings, the ultimate question of life and death –questions that by their very nature are ultimately unanswerable, except in those personal, brief, and experiential moments when art bridges the gap between the senses and the intellect. No one occupies this ground better than Witkin.

Witkin makes art that can’t be dismissed or ignored. In fact, it achieves the status all art yearns for: no one, on seeing a Witkin image, can remain ambivalent. But this isn’t only a product of what Witkin chooses to photograph. No, it’s in how he takes this material and transcends its limitations. Using cadavers, hermaphrodites, hunchbacks, and others commonly known as freaks in general society, Witkin creates visual paradoxes that challenge our perception. Often criticized for sensationalism and the exploitation of his subjects, he actually lifts and redeems them –makes them central to his spiritual quest. Once photographed, they enter the eternal stream of art.

It’s impossible to conceptualize a Witkin image in a single glance and then dismiss it. Each image, after careful darkroom manipulation with razor blades, pins, and other implements, forces us to question our ability, viscerally, to understand. A Witkin image can, like the best poetry, be read again and again and always remain a mystery –one that feels just outside our grasp. A line from Elizabeth Bishop comes to mind, “and [we] looked and looked our infant sight away.”

Joel-Peter Witkin knows that, contrary to popular wisdom, we are not rational creatures, but subject to our senses. He uses sight, our most privileged sense, to unnerve and instruct us. Witkin’s images do not merely shock, they enlighten, if only by forcing us to embrace what we’d rather leave unexamined.

Much of discomfort arises because Witkin’s subjects (excluding his very earliest and very latest images) usually wear masks, eye-coverings, or false faces. In doing so, he denies us the signal indicator of personality –the countenance—only to replace it with another. What’s seen, what’s felt? Irreconcilable duality existing in a single entity. A constant pull of emotion against the intellect, and vice versa. One more reason to feel, almost, as if what we see can be understood. Take Portrait of Nan, New Mexico, 1984. In it we see a draped woman sitting on a draped chair facing us. Many elements of the image are interesting: the tiny skeleton off to the right, the way her hair has been twisted into semi-braids and attached to the wall behind her, the animal fetus she holds on her lap, but what jars is the T-shaped mask the photographer has imposed over her features. Our sight tells us one thing, our emotions another, and there’s no way they can be reconciled. No matter how often one looks, this phenomenon never changes, never sets us free. In fact, given our need for human reconciliation and integration in all that surrounds us, this delicious discomfort, abstract and concrete simultaneously, can be savored safely –a testament to one of art’s many functions.

Unlike many photographic artist, whose vision is concentrated solely in their photographic or darkroom efforts, Witkin uses titles worthy of literary aspirations, but this valuation of the literary is never for its own sake. Each title transcends mere labeling, a charge that might be laid at the feet of many otherwise fine photographers, and adds a dimension to images that already bear multiple shades of meaning.

If all creation can be said to be godlike, then the creation of these images assumes a spiritual quality most readily sensed in Witkin’s images that use cadavers and body parts. Witkin, in photographing the dead, brings their quickening essence once again to movement and expression, takes what we would ordinarily dismiss as the past, and enlivens it. In this way, what these cadavers achieve is nothing short of a new life, another chance to commune with the living, and even more striking, a chance for the living to commune with the dead.

The Kiss (Le Baiser), New Mexico, 1982, is an image of a single autopsied head that’s been sliced in half down the middle, and posed as two separate beings locked in a kiss. There is no mask. Witkin freely allows the dead what expression their countenance assumes. How strange, and yet how comforting. A kiss, being inherently pleasant and associated with joy, disarms the viewer, even as the intellect denies the possibility that this head can feel anything. That each half of the head is achieving what it had in life, wholeness, if only metaphorically, doesn’t diminish the sense that it is so. This fact renders it no less powerful. Of course, there are many other levels of potential meaning, but the most significant event of the image is in how the dead, in the face of reason, can be said to breathe, to communicate.

Considering how Witkin’s images resist categorization, perhaps the one single truth that can be said of all of them, is this: in every Witkin image there’s something that won’t let a viewer go, something that won’t allow us to dismiss what we see or to completely accept it. We leave a Witkin image with the feeling that significance has been glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, although the eye has been fully engaged in bold frontal sight These images are nothing short of an attempt at saying the unsayable, a task Thomas De Quincey once called “the burden of the incommunicable.” In the company of Goya, Bosch, Blake, and the other great artist of the ineffable, Witkin, in The Bone House, has created an inexhaustible and essential book.


Artist 10, Albrecht Tubke

Now, what I enjoy about his portraits are that the subjects/people are so mundane that it just works. The people are the most normal people i've seen in a photograph, they seem to be middle aged people that are just going for a walk around town, where then they run into Albrecht Tubke and get their portrait taken. It's fascinating, how normal these people are, their imperfections, their fashions, their makeup. their attitude and body language express normalcy, more any other photograph that I've really seen. That's what draws me to these pictures, the mundane subject matter shot in a creative and colorful way.

Image #1: "Untitled" From "Citizens Series" C-Print, 2001. 47 x 37 cm
Image #2: "Untitled" From "Citizens Series" C-Print, 2001. 47 x 37 cm


When Albrecht Tübke began to photograph people he encountered in the cities of Europe and the USA, he became part of a long tradition of documentary portraiture. Like his illustrious forebear August Sander, and more recent practitioners such as Judith Joy Ross and Rineke Dijkstra,, Tübke has a gift for allowing his subjects to perform in their own solitary drama. "Many people", he writes, "try to hide their emotions and feelings as they go about everyday life. This public persona is often calculated to mask what is within, creating a veneer of individuality, a fabrication to hide behind." In "Citizens", Tübke has created, from real life, a cast of characters who play their parts in the urban drama. All of the people he has photographed pose in the same way, directly facing the camera, in front of a background of concrete or stained brick wall. A man in an oversized blazer and a paisley scarf, a woman in a white tracksuit, a middle-aged red head in a cerise mac, and urban cowboy, a dark haired woman with a vintage suitcase, a dishevelled man with a shopping bag. These are people with their own secrets, joys; anxieties, dreads and anticipations, but we can only wonder as to what they are. Tübke's photographs are cool and beautiful enough to be fashion images, a studied reflection of street style, but in the end, this is belied by the democracy of their vision.

Looking through these photographs, it is difficult to detect an underlying agenda. This is not a search for "types" or a Sanderesque study of society. There are no judgements made in these photographs, no division made in the ways in which the old and the young are studied. Perhaps most obviously, there are no extremes -however different they are from each other, Tübke's subjects are all in control of their urban environment; they stand confidently, hands on hips, confronting the camera, playing their part in these subtly and carefully choreographed scenarios. But, democratic as Tübke's vision may seem at first sight, closer examination of the photographs reveals that, in his search for "ordinariness" the quotidian of the urban experience, he has selected (from the thousands of people he has surveyed) men and women who have an undeniable sense of presence. There is, without a doubt, something strange and mysterious about all the "Citizens" who Tübke has photographed. It is as if they have cast themselves in some unknown drama of the urban, assembled their outfits that morning as if they knew that they would, that day, be stars. A young man in an artfully baggy suit, dark shirt and narrow patterned tie, rucksack slung carelessly across his shoulder, becomes the epitome of how young city dwellers see themselves, dandies in the concrete, 21st century flaneurs. But Tübke is adept at both suggesting and then refuting such simple suggestions-another young man, rumpled and gawky, tie askew and hands held awkwardly by his side, hairstyle outdated, anxious even at the thought of being photographed, proves that our dearly cherished myths about the city exist to be challenged, and, ultimately, refuted. But Tübke views both young men with equivalence-neither has more value than the other in this eerie grey landscape; they are all "Citizens".

But however democratic Tübke's vision may be, however skilfully and thoughtfully he has avoided and refuted the cliches of fashion and "real life" photography, he is nevertheless attracted to certain motifs, distinguishing marks of these strange tribes who occupy the cities of the western world. Tübke is attracted to the small gestures of taste and style, which indicate that the individual, far from being lost in the mass, makes continuous signals of personality and character. A woman in a patterned blue suit wears a flower in her hair and chooses her umbrella to match her ensemble, another dresses all in vibrant pink, with a blinding cerise streak across her hair, coats are carefully matched to bags, shoes tone in with ties, the casual is juxtaposed with the formal. Even those who we would not classify as glamorous are sending signals about how they would wish to be perceived- an old man in a big red shirt, a blonde woman in a scarlet jacket and glossy trousers. When people look into Tübke's camera lens, there is a kind of defiance- "look at me, here I am" which has little to do with fashionability. And undoubtedly, Tübke is attracted to the dandy, whether male or female, the urban cowboy with his black and white pattered short and stetson, the dude in his slick suit and patent leather shoes, the city woman cool in grey business suit and high heeled shoes.

As one of a new generation of young photographers, operating across the borders of Europe, Tübke is asking questions about identity, society and the role which photography plays as a documenter of our times: "In this work I am investigating the boundary between self portrayal and real identity. The choice of subjects is limited to those people where I imagine that I may be able to reach beyond the superficiality of external appearance, the constructed image, to something of what lies beneath." The choice of subjects is carefully controlled, and there is a deliberate avoidance of naming or description. Perhaps it is symptomatic of this new generation that the photographers who belong to it see photography as an act of subjective recording rather than as a dramatisation of real life. Like the photographers of the 19th century, who saw photography as a magic tool for capturing likenesses, Northern European photographers such as Tübke, Rinkeke Dijkstra (Netherlands), Pekka Turunen (Finland) and Alexander Honory (Germany) have all adopted a cool yet interested gaze, fascinated by the differences within sameness. Tübke has written: "I want to show people from a variety of different backgrounds, as I am interested in the range of ways in which people present their public face. Though constant exposure to the multitude of public personae with which we are presented, we have become anaesthetised to the range of individuals that surround us. In this project, I am attempting to distil out something of the essence of that individual."

Dalliendorf, Albrecht Tübke's first published project (2000) is a series of portraits and documentary photography made when Tübke visited his home village after a period of absence. Although the methodology of his portraiture was much the same as in "Citizens" these were people he knew intimately, people he had grown up with. Yet in confronting these familiar figures, Tübke laid the foundations for "Citizens", for there is no more familiarity in the gazes which the inhabitants of Dalliendorf direct towards this "visitor" than there is in the expression of the city dwellers he has sought out in the great metropolis of Europe. Perhaps it is that photographers are always alien beings, inquisitive, scanning the surface looking for the visual signs of identity. Like visitors from another planet.

Citizens, with its careful notation of style, dress, attitude and bearing will, almost undoubtedly, take its place as a seminal recording project of our time. The people in Tübke's photographs have moved on now, may well have changed their way of being, altered the visual messages they send out the world. Pink hair may have changed back to brown, the scarlet jacket may have been discarded for something more muted, the vintage suitcase may have been rejected as an affectation. The people in Tübke's photographs, seeing themselves on the pages of a book or on the walls of an exhibition may wonder "was that really me?" And thus the conundrum of photography continues, as its irrefutable documentation of the here and now becomes a history of times past, an ongoing drama of the photographed and the photographer, a bewitching combination of loss, desire and memory.

Val Williams is a writer and curator, currently Research Fellow at the London College of Printing and the London College of Fashion. She lives and works in London, England.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

John Coplans

John Coplans was born in 1920 in London and was educated in South Africa and England then he emigrated to the USA and began teaching at the University of California Berkeley. He worked as the senior curator of the Pasadena Art Museum and he was the director of the Akron Art Museum as well. He was the founding editor of Artforum Magazine. He was an art critic and he published many books on artists including Andy Warhol, Cezanne and Roy Lichtenstien. He has received numerous fellowships and grants for his work and contributions to art criticism as well. He died in 2003. His work is of himself, and how he was agining. He started to shoot himself in his sixties to show the aging process of life. He uses humor and seriousness in his photography. He saw himself as an actor and a canvas to show his aging body to the world. He reveals lots of information about himself and references old artworks with his poses of his old sagging body. He examines his body extremely close to show all about life, age, and time. His work has been showed all over the globe, with numerous solo exhibitions. He is one of the closest masters of the self portrait one could be.

Gallery: www.howardyezerskigallery.com
Interview: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0425/ai_15383223
Website: I haven't found one

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The week in review!!! ka-kow!

Yes, my work was critiques by none other than Candice Breitz. Here comments on work work was that first of all, that she would have preferred to see my prints, rather than my digital portfolio, because that when one looks at prints the work seems so much different. The dimensions are there, the print quality, and the texture and details of the work. I would have brought my big box of prints that day, if it weren't raining though. See also said that I needed to have a stronger support for my work (what else is new) and that the composition and formal aspects of the photograph were very nice. So, pretty much every critique has told me that I can make a very well composed and strong photograph, but I need more theory and a better defense behind my work to make it a complete success.

Motivational Moment:
Well, I'd have to say it happened to me around Monday. My girlfriend and I were in a bit of a disagreement and I have been feeling almost out of place in the RVA, and I felt that I really needed to know why I am who I am and why I want to do this work and really focus on me as a study. To turn the camera on myself and explore my self identity, character, and emotions that come along with moving away from my family, friends, girlfriend, and everything that I know and hold dear in Illinois. I really have an urge to focus on these topics because I have never thought of myself as a subject and explored my knowledge of myself and why I do what I do and why I am who I am. It needs to have some light put upon it.

What do I want to Achieve:
Well, I just finished the first part of my self identity project. By first part I mean, I shot a few rolls and scanned some intriguing Images. I soon will start to scrape emulsion from the film and make many illustrations with a razor on my film to express my emotions in a more abstract, yet clearer way. I know that doesn't make much sense, but destroying my negs is how I feel on the inside sometimes, that I need to, in a sense, hurt myself to gain a better understanding on me and my emotions. I want to keep shooting me as well, in color and see how they turn out compared to B+W. I also need to read some more on lighting techniques to perfect these shots in a studio setting.

Artistic Failure:
I wouldn't so much as to call it a failure, but I am postponing what I had originally intended to do, that being my mythology photos set in contemporary times. I just felt that addressing religion at this time added too much baggage I wasn't ready to explore and ready to pursue. Religion is too hard of a subject to explore in my case, because I need to work on myself first, before I can attack religious mythologies.

Profound thought:
I guess it would have been while at the Candice Breitz lecture. When we all saw "Queen" I thought it was a laugh riot, it was so funny, yet it was showing how there is personality in mass produced and pop music, which I really agreed with. She raised many good points about the topic and I just felt It was a very strong lecture and really enjoyed it.

Visiting Artist:
Well, I have kind of answered it. "Queen" was hilarious and I haven't have "Like a Prayer" out of my head for a few days. I thought the composition and display were tremendous and her talent and ideas were so new and fresh. Mothers was an alright piece, it felt like it went on too long, but she edited it really well so it all worked out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

John Petrenko Grad Research Assignment: Discussion Questions on Essay

Is the imagery in our contemporary time, too machine, whereas we cannot communicate the feelings, the sentiments and the meanings that they did in the pastoral times, to create mythology?

I feel that it may be incredibly hard to start depicting mythological metaphors in our day and age. Back in the olden times imagination was more rampent in a way, although I am not saying we as a culture don't have an imagination, we probably have more of an imagination than they did, we just have too much science to disprove most mythology. In those older days, people didn't know anywhere near as much as we do as a collective, I'm not saying they weren't smart, I'm just saying that in our day and age we know so much more and there are so many more skeptics and scientists. Our photography also disproves our imagination and idea of mythology as well. We document so much of our lives these days through photographs that it's hard for us to believe in something that isn't right there in front of us, our culture is so incredibly visual that if we don't see it in person or if it isn't documented correctly, that it's hard to believe.

Is it true that symbols change, but people stay the same?

This question seems to have many answers. Is it true that symbols change throughout time? Of course, but they also stay the same too. Do people change throughout time? Well, again, that's another question that is a yes and a no. We all change at some point, we mature and learn and become wiser with our age. But so did people back then. With the symbols part of the question, it's true that things mean different things throughout changes in culture, but such images such as the Virgin Mary, the Crucifix, and mostly religious iconography haven't changed. But, symbols throughout our times have changed tremendously, with so many new things being invented symbols and icons are changing so rapidly, so it's really hard to make a long lasting symbol these days. Men and women have changed just because of our culture and its advances with civil rights, technology, TV, internet, etc. People's identity's are and personalities are kind of the same, we have the same assholes, really smart people, rebels, and religious people that have been with us forever. So, I am sorry I haven't really answered the question, but the question is ever changing.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Robert and Shana Parkeharrison

Robert Parkeharrison was born in Fort Leonard Wood, MO in 1968 and Shana Parkeharrison was born in Tulsa, OK in 1964.  Robert went to the Art Institute of Kansas City for undergrand and eventually went to the University of New Mexico for a masters, while Shana got here BFA from Williams Wood College.  I haven't found much more information about their biography at all, just information about their past shows and their education information.  In their work, which is collaborations, they use traditional darkroom techniques and create and image to make a comment on mans effect on the environment and how we use land for materialistic purposes.  

In their work, "The Architect's Brother", released in 2000, Robert is the everyday man, who is portrayed in the work.  He is the person that is effecting the environment because of his nature.  There is very little revealed about this man, at times you can see his face, but usually he's in more of a metaphor for everyone.  In their photography the issues that they address are everything from beauty, to grieve, to confusion, to joy and more.  Their created environments make us think about our interacting with the world around us and how we are the biggest influence on the world.  

The Currently reside in Massachusetts, where Robert teaches at Holy Cross.

Website:  www.parkeharrison.com

Gallery:  www.edelmangallery.com

Interview:  unable to find, but if I do I'll post it

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Finally, This means something.

Finally, some people critiqued my work here, and it wasn't pretty.  A lot of my work stood up to their critiques visually, but when it came to theory it got attacked and hit pretty hard, hypothetically.   About my abstract ambience work, i guess i may not have used the right words, for what I thought i was doing at the time, color theory, spontaneity, and gesturalism.  Well, it seems like most people gravitated to my word of spontaneity, saying that this isn't spontaneous that it's very well thought out and that i should make it completely spontaneous by letting the reigns go and really go for it.  Well, i dunno about that, but I will definitely put it into consideration.  As for my Violent work, that's really what got hit hard.  But, I in a sense let it, because I did not defend it properly at all.  Which was my mistake, but t got attacked.  Everyone agreed that I can take a very good photograph, that wasn't up for debate, my theory on the other hand was, and I just didn't have my defending "cap" on that day and got critiqued hard.  But, it's all good, because I'll figure all that out eventually.

The most motivational moment of the week came was at our research yesterday, I realized that my mythologies were taking me to a very literal place, and I don't know if that's really where I wanted to go.  I liked how you said to give my research equal weight and make something, I'm going to try and do that, instead of relying heavily on that Angels and Demons book.

I want to achieve work in next week studio practice.  That's it.

In studio I achieved my presentation of my work and it got critiqued, hard.  Which is cool, and I needed that wake up call.  I also got to see Alma's and Cindy's work too.  I was wondering when I would be able to see where they're coming from.

My artistic failure, was thinking too Literal about my ethereal work, i need to abstract it and make it completely something different and then put ties to it.  It needs to be really far out there, almost surreal.

That basically was my profound thought as well, to take a step back and completely abstract what I want to do, take it in a very bizarre direction.  That's what i need to do, or something along those lines.

No visiting artist.