[Talking Culture: Marco Bischof (Switzerland)]

I joined another Zoom artist’s talk series, this time from the Auckland Festival of Photography. The speaker was Marco Bischof, son of Magnum photographer, Werner Bischof joining the Zoom session from Switzerland at 3:00 am. Marco was talking about the Unseen exhibition which is on display in Auckland, photographs by his father which have not often been exhibited.

Bischof spent most of the time relating his father’s photographic journey/life story, from documenting Europe post WWII via a bike trip. He was approached to join Magnum and went on to do work in India, photographing the famine there. Those photos were later published in Life magazine. He was quite fascinated with the east, had a deep love of Japanese culture, and was best known for his post-war humanist photography. He was not a war photographer and was more interested in documenting how the effects of war on the civilian population and he did this in Korea. His photography took him on to Hong Kong, Indochina (Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia). In 1953 he went to the US to find new photographic expressions and was introduced to colour. This changed the way he made photographs, introducing movement and out of focus work into his repertoire. He embarked on a road trip across the States and made Bold New Roads which was a document of the new highways in the US. Later he bought a jeep and drove from New York to Mexico, continuing to Panama (where he photographed the canal), on to Chile and then to Peru. In Peru he met up with a geologist from Switzerland who invited him to take photographs of a gold mine high up in the Andes. Sadly Bischof never reached the mine as the car that he and the geologist were traveling in went over a steep abyss, killing all occupants.

His mother took over Bischof’s archive, which was very well organized and ran the Magnum office for a while in Switzerland. She was quite influential in the photography world as well, and had friends like Cornell Capa. Capa went on to found the ICP and Rosalina Bischof founded the Foundation of Photography in Switzerland in the 1970’s.

Bischof took over managing his father’s archive in 1986 when his mother passed away and he is also President of Magnum Paris.

Unfortunately Bischof did not show any of his father’s work during the talk, which would have made the experience a little richer I feel. I’m not sure why he didn’t show the work, but I’ll go and take a deeper look at his work once I’ve got my assessment submission out of the way. I asked during the Q&A if there were any photographers who influenced Bischof’s work, but his son was of the opinion that he was mainly influenced by painters, although that was dependent on the period. He was also influenced a little by the New Objectivity, various documentarians, admired the work of Cartier-Bresson, Ernst Haas, Robert Capa and Eliot Erwitt.

 

Bibliography

Auckland Festival of Photography (2020) [Talking Culture: Marco Bischof (Switzerland)]. At: https://www.photographyfestival.org.nz/programme/detail.cfm?exhibition_id=2499&exhibition_date=1-jun-2020 (Accessed  26/05/2020).

In Conversation: Simon Roberts and Harriet Logan

I love Simon Roberts’ work and was really looking forward to 1854 Access’s livestream. Roberts is very well known for his monographs Motherland, We English, Pierdom and Merrie Albion. I was not familiar with Harriet Logan’s work at all. Logan is a former award-wining photojournalist who has worked on assignments all over the world, e.g. Somalia, Cechnya, Iraq, Angola, Afghanistan and America.

Simon Roberts and Harriet Logan

I found quite a few take-aways/advice from Roberts’ brief overview of his photographic journey.

In their discussion Roberts revealed it was after he had completed his work on Snowbirds which he had made using two cameras (one with a fixed lens, the other a zoom) that he realised that the better work had been made when he was working with the fixed lens camera as that work showed that he was more in the moment and it was about being there and witnessing.

The next body of work he worked on after this was on Russia and it was during this BOW that he was working on the concept of being an author. The work is a mix of landscape and portraiture. One needs time to develop a sense of looking and to develop your style, to think and to allow the work to breathe. I’m going to bookmark this BOW and carry it forward to L3 to do a comparison with Tomas van Houtryve’s Lines & Lineage.

We English was his next body of work and it was during this BOW that he tried to develop his own way of working – 4 x5 camera atop a camper van. He likens this work to ethnographic studies. He finds that the value of this work lies in the detail, looking for repetitions like people wearing socks with sandals, or wearing hats within a frame for example. It is important to stay true to where one’s interests lie. Consider where your passions lie, what story you are telling and how you are communicating this.

Roberts mentioned a couple of photographers whose work was reflecting the current lockdown situation:

Roberts then questioned Logan about the Incite Project of which Logan is a curator. The aim of this project is to take photojournalistic documentary photos and present them in a different context, i.e. the gallery. An important aspect of the project is that they also support photographers as they produce work (see Matt Black). Iconic photographs of various newsworthy events around the world are being collected for this project. The photos collected include work by living photographers.

Both artists spoke about the importance of printing one’s work, putting it up on a wall and editing. There is a certain intelligence involved in this process and the thought process is more important than the technical aspect – its not just about the image.

Q&A:

  1. What makes a photo stick or become iconic?
    A: Its basically how you remember something – how it naturally fits in your memory process. Part of a collective conscience. It could also be the isolation of one frame from a moving image that encapsulates the idea of iconicity. But this takes time to develop – to see what remains standing in one’s memory post the event(s).
  2. What drives you to cover difficult subjects?
    A (Roberts): He is not a journalist/war photographer and doesn’t cover difficult subjects. His process is slow, sometimes taking 10 years to produce a body of work. The gestation period is usually long.
    A (Logan): She has worked in difficult places, but has always taken the view that she is there to do a job and if an atrocity is taking place she has to make sure that it is recorded so that it won’t happen again.
  3. Some more generic questions around the current Covid crisis – coping/how seeing the future …
    A: Challenging times lie ahead. Some names suggested for further research: John Moore, Mark Peterson and Tortoise Media (for documentary work)

 

Bibliography

1854 Presents: Simon Roberts and Harriet Logan (Live) (2020) Directed by 1854 Access. At: https://access.bjpsubs.com/1854-presents-archive/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Black, M. (s.d.) Matt Black. At: https://www.mattblack.com/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Harriet Logan (s.d.) At: https://ianparry.org/winner/1992-harriet-logan-winner/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Incite Project (Ongoing) @inciteproject • Instagram photos and videos. At: https://www.instagram.com/inciteproject/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Kuit, L. (2020) VII Interactive Book Club Meeting with Tomas van Houtryve. At: https://lyndakuitphotographydocumentary.wordpress.com/2020/05/03/vii-interactive-book-club-meeting-with-tomas-van-houtryve/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Murphy, S. (2020) Our Bullet Lives Blossom As They Race Towards The Wall. At: https://spencermurphy.co.uk/project/strangedays/#0 (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Roberts, S. (2004) Motherland. At: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/motherland/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Roberts, S. (2008) We English. [Simon Roberts] At: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/we-english/ (Accessed  14/05/2020).

Jim Kasson

I attended another Zoom artist’s talk today. This time from the Centre of Photographic Art. Kasson has an electrical engineering background and specialises in the depiction of time, or chronography. I was particularly interested in his work as I had experimented with time stacking during the Landscape module. He began his presentation by giving the viewers a brief overview of how his work progressed to the stage where he started making these chronography images. Chronography is imagery that depicts time. His first series just involved regular panning, but gradually evolved to using panning motions from a moving car (no he wasn’t driving!)  and using a slow shutter speed (This Green Growing Land). This series of images was printed on a water colour paper with muted tones, having no pure white or pure blacks in the images. All the faces in the images are blurred as he wanted the emphasis to be on the farming activities and not on the specific person.

Inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Kasson began shooting various night life spots and activities on New York streets, using the same methods that he applied in This Green Growing Land. The photographs are very engaging, having a flaneuristic feel to them. Hopper’s influence is clearly felt. The body of work bears the same name as Hopper’s painting: Nighthawks.

Staccato evolved further in that Kasson, still photographing from a moving vehicle, would take numerous photographs of a certain focal point as he passed by and then later in post processing stack them, change the opacity of each layer and align the main subject in all the layers. I know from just doing my one experiment what a time consuming process this can be. Kasson uses anything between 7 – 30 exposures to create the one image. I really liked this set of images. They come across very painterly, but not too abstract and the various distortions that take place in the image from the time stacking serve to convey the vibrancy of a city that never sleeps. I think I might try this technique out again to add some variety to my landscape work.

Kasson also did a body of work where he photographed neon lights in Las Vegas, again using his panning techniques. The neon lights have their own inbuilt motion happening so the effects of this work was far more abstract. But probably the most intriguing body of work was TimescapesUsing a special kind of camera that has a built in scanner, he records time in a linear format (from the top of the image to the bottom) and space is recorded horizontally (left to right). If you look on the Timescapes link a few lines up, you can see the first image he made at the bottom left of that page (the orange one). The photograph is actually of a rather big succulent plant that was photographed over 8 hours. The shadows and highlights are the record of the sun throughout the day. The image to the right of that on the last line recorded time horizontally and this can only be seen on the horizon line and the foreground. The middle section (waves) was the only portion of the image that moved so that was recorded, dare I say, in a normal way.  This type of camera is usually used to record in the round, but Kasson had programmed it to remain stationary while scanning. He also writes rather involved programmes to help with the post processing. Some of the technical explanations were quite fascinating but definitely beyond my pay grade – too much math involved!

Bibliography

Centre for Photographic Art (2020) Online Artist Talk: Jim Kasson: Chronography, explained and amplified. At: https://photography.org/event/online-artist-talk-jim-kasson-chronography-explained-and-amplified/ (Accessed  11/05/2020).

Kasson, J. (s.d.) Jim Kasson. At: https://www.kasson.com/ (Accessed  11/05/2020a).

Kasson, J. (s.d.) Nighthawks. At: https://www.kasson.com/gallery/nighthawks/ (Accessed  11/05/2020b).

Kasson, J. (s.d.) Staccato. At: https://www.kasson.com/gallery/staccato/ (Accessed  11/05/2020c).

Kasson, J. (s.d.) This Green Growing Land. At: https://www.kasson.com/gallery/this-green-growing-land/ (Accessed  11/05/2020d).

Kasson, J. (s.d.) Timescapes. At: https://www.kasson.com/gallery/timescapes/ (Accessed  11/05/2020e).

Kuit, L. (2018) Time Stacking Experiment | Lynda Kuit Photography – Landscape. At: https://lyndakuitphotographylandscape.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/time-stacking-experiment/ (Accessed  11/05/2020).

Workshop – Photographic inspiration and passion

I attended another Head On Photo Festival this evening (this one at a more respectable time). The workshop was presented by Australian photographer, Mark Galer and addressed ways of keeping your passion for photography alive. Galer discussed the importance of creating narratives within  a body of work and urged viewers to forego the “hero shot” or “trophy shot” in favour of a more consolidated, meaningful body of work.

He mentioned the mirror and windows aspect of photography, creating photobooks and even accessing online publishing companies. He also mentioned his format for sequencing body of works:

  1. Establishing shot
  2. Activity shot
  3. Portraits
  4. Details

I seem to remember in Bill Jay and David Hurn’s book On being a photographer there are a few more categories. Galer showed the audience a collection of 177 photographs to demonstrate his various points he was making. Something that I found quite interesting is that he very often uses a telephoto lens for landscapes to flatten the elements. He finds these photographs infinitely more interesting than the regular distant shot with sky. He has done a lot of this type of photography in the forests in Australia to emphasis their impenetrability and did something similar when visiting bamboo forests in Japan. He later found that this transferred over to his urban landscapes. So try loosing the foreground, sky and perspective.

Another aspect I found interesting was that he used a 10 stop ND filter with a 2 second exposure, but photographed while in motion. I found that the photographs that contained more graphical elements were more pleasing than the landscapes though. But this is something I could put into my toolbox to try out too.

Because Galer is also the Sony Imaging Ambassador for Australia he also showed some of the work he had made for Sony and of course aspects of the Sony camera that he uses. Because of this much of the Q&A revolved around techy stuff, which wasn’t really of interest to me. Galer does have many free (or pay by donation) resources and books on his website that may be worth delving into. Much of the content seems to be Sony related but after a quick look there does seem to be a bit on LightRoom, colour management and some techniques which might be worth looking at. His website is https://www.markgaler.com/.

I found this workshop to be more a “show and tell” format than a real learning platform, although there were a couple of tips that I picked up and a lot of reinforcement of what I’m already doing. I am definitely preferring the artist talks that are coming out of the Head On Photo Festival series, as I seem to enjoy learning more about the photographer and his concepts.

Bibliography

Galer, M. (2020) Workshop – Photographic inspiration and passion | Head On Photo Festival. At: https://www.headon.com.au/civicrm/event/info?id=145&reset=1 (Accessed  08/05/2020).

MACK LIVE: Maja Daniels

Its quite serendipitous the way talks on landscape/documentary and history seem to be popping up in my various feeds or inbox lately.  The latest one is a Mack Live talk by Maja Daniels on her latest book Elf Dalia. Elf Dalia is a place in northern Sweden and has a local language which is the closest to old Norse, which is what the Vikings used to speak. Icelandic is a similar language, but unlike Iceland which is isolated, Elf Dalia has never been isolated. According to Daniels it remains a mystery how this ancient language Elfdalian has managed to remain preserved. It is this fascination with the language that promted her to make this body of work.

Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels

Daniels work is a dialogue with the archives of Tenn Lars Perrson who took photographs of the same region over 100 years ago. The work, thus draws on the fictional elements of documentary photography. By using the 100-year old archive , reappropriating it, Daniels is making new histories. (Is this what I have done in my A3? I believe so – by overlaying figures of the First Nations onto colonial buildings this also creates a fictional documentary). Daniels’ main ambition is to show the plurality of that, that nothing is one hundred percent given.

The moon plays a pivotal role in the sequencing in the book. It reoccurs and enhances the idea of cyclical living within the specific narration. It harkens back to nature, the unknown and science. It is a trope for the 24 hour cycle, how the moon influences everything on earth. All the colour images in the book are Daniels work.

She played with light leaks and time to affect her images as she felt it is important way of thinking of the photographic process to allow the viewer to think about what he/she is seeing, how it has been manipulated.

In pulling the work together it was important for her to go against the traditional idea of “now/then”. Learning about the local history was a key way of working as it involved notions of witchcraft and resistance. She felt that resistance played a pivotal role in the local history, not only in the preservation of the language, but also to authorities and she has tried to bring that sense of non-compliance into the work. (In the case of my work in A3, the language is almost extinct and I feel that by imprinting the words on the images, I am, in a way, attempting to preserve that language).

She is “engaging with something that is spoken in a medium that is mute. There is a resistance even if there is a compliance. To speak the language – the language is never heard” (MACK LIVE: Maja Daniels, 2020). This element of rejection is important in the book. The language becomes a world view and as one pages through the book, the book slowly gives itself away.

I only looked at the Mack Book preview of this book (which only has a few images) before listening to her talk so didn’t relate too well to the concepts that Daniels was mentioning. However, I subsequently checked out her website where the images and installations views are shown and I now have a better idea of where she is coming from. I rather like the idea of having a dialogue with another artist and their archive and this is something that I will definitely earmark for L3 consideration. Daniels’ work has a  slight similarity to Jack Latham’s work Sugar Paper Theories in the blending of archival and own imagery, but her work has more a sense of the uncanny to it while Latham’s carries a forensic sense.

Daniels’ work can be seen here.

Bibliography

Daniels, M. (s.d.) Maja Daniels. At: https://majadaniels.com/ (Accessed  06/05/2020).

MACK LIVE: Maja Daniels (2020) Directed by Mack Books. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dPqiXCILoU&feature=emb_logo (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Workshop – Armchair Street Photography

I bit the bullet and signed up for this workshop which is part of Australia’s Head On Photo Festival. Head On has done an amazing job putting their exhibitions online, coupling them with artist’s talks and offering various panel discussions and workshops as well – all free. With the time difference between Sydney and Vancouver I found myself sitting in front of my PC at 1:00 am this morning to attend this workshop. Needless to say I was not feeling my brightest, but I really wanted to attend this workshop to see if there would be any helpful tips that could apply to my work going forward for L3 and especially during this Covid crisis with all the accompanying lock-down restrictions.

The workshop was presented by Natan Dvir, an Israeli born photographer who came from a background of computers and who then graduated towards photography. Dvir holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University and a MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts (New York). The aim of the workshop was to demonstrate how to use online resources such as Google Street View and Google Earth to create powerful images.

Dvir introduced his audience to well known photographers who use Google Street View and Google Earth – most of which were known to me, having cropped up in various modules. He used various images as well as videos of work of these artists.

Doug Rickard – probably the most well known in this category. Rickard photographs images from his computer screen using a camera mounted on a tripod “freeing the image from its technological origins and re-presenting them on a new documentary plane” (Rickard, s.d.). The low resolution creates a rather painterly effect and this is accentuated by the blurring of faces of any people who have been photographed by the Google camera, and this creates a rather surreal effect. Rickard cleans off the Google markers and further processes the image during post-processing. In the same way that Robert Franks, Stephen Shore and Walker Evans walked the street, Rickard “drives virtually” down the American suburbia roads.

Dvir brought up the philosophical question of does this constitute street photography? All the standard pros and cons were mentioned, but something that gave me pause to think was Dvir’s comment that do we really understand reappropriation? Rickard was creating his own personal imprint on the image, choosing what angle to shoot, what to include in the shot, zooming in to exclude or enhance details and then curating the images afterwards – this is the same process one would apply if one hit the streets physically. But the nugget for me was that this Google Street View is in a virtual world. The only difference between the virtual and physical is that the virtual world is frozen. That world is determined by the confines of the screen and just as in the physical world, the photographer is looking for something specific to photograph.

The next photographer under the microscope was Michael Wolf. Wolf captured a series of Google Street view scenes of people falling in his series A series of unfortunate events.  Again the emphasis is on the framing and choices one makes in creating these images (see video below). He received an honourable mention with the World Press Photo awards and he realised that he was pushing the limits of what photojournalism can be. He received very many negative comments about this work, but ascribes this to people not being familiar with the history of appropriation in art.  Wolf leaves the artefacts and markers on his images and this in turn emphasizes the surveillance nature of the photographs. He presents his images very large – more than 1 metre wide. He described this street photography as “a virtual way of interpreting our reality” (Michael Wolf (2011 Photo Contest), 2017). It is important to note in the video below that Wolf mentions that Google will not sue anyone who is using Street View for artistic purposes.

Another artist that Dvir mentioned is Canadian artist, Jon Rafman. He has an ongoing project called 9 Eyes, which derives its name from the 9 lens camera that Google uses.  His body of work can be seen here: https://9-eyes.com/. Many of the images in this body of work, though are made off road, so to speak and this is because Google Street view began utilising cameras mounted on people for the purposes of accessing the inside of buildings, but also for non road access. The surveillance net widens.

I just happened on another of Jon Rafman’s body of work which is a video (You, the World and I), made by blending the use of Google Street View as well as Google Earth. In this video the author is trying to find an image of a woman – his girl friend perhaps – and he scours the world virtually looking for her going to all the places they lived or visited. The video at first draws you in, but after a while you become aware of the amount of surveillance that is probably happening in this world right now and it becomes quite chilling. But it is quite amazing what can be done with this technology when its pulled together.

Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land was also mentioned. The images contain photographs of women out in the edgelands in Spain and Italy. These locations are where women solicit for sex, the locations apparently advertised on the internet. Henner scoured sex sites to find these addresses or GPS coordinates and then photographed them via Google Street View. Google’s images are taken every 5 metres, stitched together and geotagged and of course are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The work does not have a narrative, as Henner is more interested in the seriality of the images. Its a body of work that speaks to social and economic conditions. The sex worker is represented as a modern history of capitalism. She is an entrepreneur, who is her own product as well as being a consumer. But she is also being exploited by the viewer’s gaze. According to Dvir, the name of the project is refers firstly to the men going to these locations to find something as well as the physical space where Henner is photographing (this virtual world again). Following the surveillance route, Dvir looked at Henner’s Feedlots images whereby Henner makes use of Google Earth to photograph various cattle feedlots in the US to illustrate the artificiality of today’s meat industry.

Clement Valla’s Postcards from Google Earth was quite fascinating. Apparently appear to be certain glitches in the algorithms when 3D architecture is overlaid with topographical information (I won’t even pretend to explain or understand this – too far above my pay grade), but anyway this cause screenshots of structures like bridges or roads to take on a “Salvador Dali-type surreal” appearance. However, according to Valla’s research “these images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition—an anomaly within the system, a nonstandard, an outlier, even, but not an error. These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works, focusing our attention on the software. They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion” (Valla, s.d.).

Dvir finished off the workshop by providing some tips on creating these types of images and certain things to consider:

  • seriality of places over time
  • screengrabs vs photographing via camera
  • with or without interface markers
  • consider angles
  • consider working within a theme

His final presentation was a selection of assignments that he had set his own students. They had to create three series of images by photographing their own hometown, then photographing a place they wanted to visit, and finally photographing a place that they would never want to go to.  He demonstrated that within each set the students had unconsciously photographed in dissimilar fashions. Some of the images were more intimate, some resembled travel photos, others revealed anomalies.

Unfortunately the webinar connection was a little flaky and connection was lost during the middle of the presentation, but quickly restored, but lost again just as the Q&A session was starting. At this stage it was well past 2:00 am so I didn’t bother to try and connect for that.

 

Blibliography

Dvir, N. (2020) Workshop – Armchair street photography | Head On Photo Festival. At: https://www.headon.com.au/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=140 (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Michael Wolf (2011 Photo Contest) (2017) Directed by World Press Foundation. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbRQ7vpFts4 (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Photographer Spotlight: Doug Rickard (2015) Directed by LA Review of Books. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJuqDThTGCo (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Rafman, J. (s.d.) 9 Eyes.com. At: https://9-eyes.com/?og=1 (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Rickard, D. (s.d.) A NEW AMERICAN PICTURE –. At: https://dougrickard.com/a-new-american-picture/ (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Valla, C. (s.d.) Postcards from Google Earth. At: http://www.postcards-from-google-earth.com/ (Accessed  06/05/2020).

You, the World and I (2010) Directed by Rafman, J. At: http://youtheworldandi.com/ (Accessed  06/05/2020).

Dorothea Lange | Live Q&A with Sarah Meister and Sally Mann

The focus of this session is on Dorothea Lange’s exhibition Words & Pictures which is the most major retrospective of Lange’s work since 1966. Sarah Meister, from MOMA was joined by photographer, Sally Mann to discuss aspects of this work. The central premise of this exhibition is the relationship between words and pictures.  The exhibition catalogue brings those things together. Sally Mann was one of the twelve chosen photographers to contribute to the writing of the catalogue. Each artist was invited to select a picture of their choice from the checklist and write and contribute new words to so that the exhibition didn’t feel backward looking.

The talk has now been uploaded to Youtube and can be seen here:

The photo that Sally Mann chose to write about was Dorothea Lange’s The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California, 1955-57.  Meister asked Mann why she chose this particular photo and if she would read her contribution that accompanied the photograph. Mann stated the picture had hit her very hard. Below is her contribution.

“The silence of despair is filled with sound. Hear it in this quiet picture. Feel it, a resonant, a palpable pulse as the heart spasms in the chamber. A sound so great as to make the very image waiver and thud. The heart wood of the walls and EKG.

It is the clamorous sound of which George Elliot speaks when she writes that if we were to open to the suffering in the world, we would hear the hectic heartbeat of the squirrel and would die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

This picture is roaring, we are dying. We die of the piercing shaft of wall panel joinery that plunges straight into the bowed head. The unsparing seat of the wooden chairs with their jail cell vertical elements. The poignancy of the pressed hand.

We are dying of the grief we share with all too many defendants – the helplessness and desolation on the other side of silence. But it is the heartbeat that kills. Each beat blurs the extremity. With the chambers’ pump, the fingers pulse. The fine flutter on film. Only with photography would you capture that. You see it in Ponder Heart, a picture of my husband, Larry. As I made this image, his heart beat quietly, slowly, for he was stuporous from the warm sun pouring in and from the two fingers of bourbon we shared on this late afternoon’s photo session. But the defendant’s heart – there is no warming sun, no warming spirits, no comfort of companionship. The defendant’s heart beats with an inexpressible fear and ours beats with it”.

(Sally Mann in Dorothea Lange | Live Q&A with Sarah Meister and Sally Mann | VIRTUAL VIEWS, 2020)

Mann’s words are so profound and beautiful. She explained to Meister that images are durable when she reads and reading influences the images she makes. She finds it harder to write in response to images and has to rely on memories to guide her. She finds that her work was influenced by Lange’s sense of place – the not the American soil per se but her own soil around her farm. When asked about setting up or posing shots, Mann was of the opinion that as soon as you set up your camera you change the things you observe because you impose yourself on the scene when you set up the shot.

Mann’s advice to photographers: work rather than think. One can’t think your way into a body of work, you need to start the work. Another nugget: be organized and ordinary in your life so your work can be outrageous and original. If you do a body of work and you think its getting somewhere, start the next body of work straight away to keep momentum going. She does not keep a journal and finds them distracting.

When asked about her preference for B&W, she related that it stemmed from being realistic. It was what she could afford. She does find colour easier to use though and feels that there are more options for visual stimuli and this make the photo look better. This is harder to do in B&W.

Some discussion around Lange’s feeling on captions (she felt captions to be the connective tissue between the photos) and the sequestration of Lange’s Japanese internment photos by the government – all politically driven. Some correspondence between Stryker and Evans and Stryker and Lange was read which highlighted the unequal treatment of female photographers during the FSA.

The final question was how do you know when something is coming into a body of work? Mann felt that there were to approaches and it depends on how you start. You could either start from a concept (shooting with a specific purpose and goal) or you could see if your photographs fit a concept (shoot randomly and see what works later). Either way there will be many bad pictures before one gets to the good ones.

Although this presentation was a bit of a comparison between Lange’s and Mann’s work, I found that I learned more about Mann. Hearing an artist or photographer speaking about their work definitely opens up other avenues of thought and appreciation.

 

Bibliography

Dorothea Lange | Live Q&A with Sarah Meister and Sally Mann | VIRTUAL VIEWS (2020) Directed by MOMA. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQGQwaoyZo8 (Accessed  30/04/2020).

Mann, S. (2009) Sally Mann: Proud Flesh, Ponder Heart, 2009. [silver gelatin print] 15 x 13 1/2 inch. At: https://www.jacksonfineart.com/exhibitions/80/works/artworks-30941/ (Accessed  05/05/2020).

MOMA (1955) Dorothea Lange. The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California. 1955-57. [Gelatin silver print, printed 1965] 12 3/8 × 10 1/8″ (31.4 × 25.8 cm). At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/56468 (Accessed  05/05/2020).

VII Interactive Book Club Meeting with Tomas van Houtryve

What an inspiring talk to start the week off with! Vii photogapher, Tomas van Houtryve gave a very informative talk about the amnesia of the influence of Mexico with regards to American history. His work “addresses the missing photographic record of the period when Mexico ruled what we now know as the American West” (viiphoto, 2020). Van Houtryve was partly educated in California and became quite fascinated with this gap in historical information.

He went through the book, sharing his objectives and what he hoped to impart to his viewers, and also gave some readings from the book. His presentation began with a slide of the map of United States and Mexico dated from 1839, the year the daguerreotype first made its appearance. From that year onwards it was possible to have a mental picture of anything based on photography. The historical context is important because at that stage in history Mexico was twice as large and America was a third smaller than it is now. That changed drastically in 1848 when America went to war with Mexico and took over half of its land. However, photographers did not arrive in that region until after 1848 so the photographic record that exists was all taken after the US conquest. There are no photographic archives of what it looked like under Mexican rule or previous Indigenous rule.

Screengrab from Tomas van Houtryve’s presentation on Lines + Lineage

This body of work, Lines and Lineage. in the form of a book, is van Houtryve’s response to that missing piece of history in order to understand the region better in light of this collective memory gap. The “Lines” in the title of the book refers to the old 19th century border line as seen above.

To create that missing archive, van Houtryve created portraits of “direct descendants of early inhabitants of the west—mestizo, Afro-Latin, indigenous, Crypto-Jewish” (viiphoto, 2020) and pairs them in diptychs with photographs of landscapes along the original border and architecture from the Mexican period. The book also includes historic maps and essays. In order to create an “authentic-looking” archive, he bought a glass plate camera, took a course in wet plate photography and spent six months practicing how to use it.

He explained his research in great detail using the 1540 conquistadors’ encounters with Europeans on the west in Arizona. He located descendants of the founder of Los Angeles, discovered that Mexico had abolished slavery in 1824 (America only did this 100 years later), found links to seraphadic Jews among the Mexicans, as well as to the Crypto-Jews. I must confess I’ve never heard this term before. “Crypto-Judaism is the secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith” (Crypto-Judaism, 2020). Van Houtryve also conducted interviews with each of his subject and found that each person had some oral history to impart that wasn’t accessible in found literature or texts. Not surprising he related that there is a kind of forced amnesia of the Mexican war. Unlike other battles, there is no monument and the US/Mexican war has largely been left out of historical timelines.

Some of his work and explanation of his process can be seen in the video below.

It was so interesting to hear van Houtryve’s perspective on this history. Most of what is taught in the US school about the history of the West revolves around the Gold Rush with nothing being recorded pre-1849. He also compared the historical narratives. From an Anglo perspective it was a triumphant narrative – the West was regarded as savage or untamed until the Europeans arrived there. However both the Aztecs and Mayans had very sophisticated forms of culture, e.g. pyramids, but because they didn’t have a written language it was easy to brush aside their civilization. Mexico was enlightened – women had land grants, there was equality, slavery had been abolished. The Anglos reimposed slavery when they took over Mexican soil and women were stripped of their land rights and were rather backwards in terms of general human rights. He also touched on the American-Indian fascination and the two mind sets: either seen as a threat, resulting in wars and/or bounties or the Indian was romanticized – the Noble Savage; as well as the surveyors who went out West.

When asked how he found his subjects, he mentioned that the original descendants have organizations and he also found them through genealogical societies and other research means. He wanted to try and reflect the diversity which would have been present in 1839 at the end of the Mexican rule and tried to capture a cross section of the demographics.

He went on to show his equipment and showed a time-lapse video of him making one photograph. From start to finish it takes him an average of 25 minutes to make one photograph as he has to set up a darkroom on site. He uses an enlarger so the imperfections of the wet plate process are further enhanced. Van Houtryve confessed that he was new to portrait photography as his background is reportage and he is also more used to high tech equipment like drones, so he struggled with this slow process of making a portrait. He found that he had to rethink his process, spend time with the subject, but because of the long exposure could not capture gestures. Instead he asked his subjects to think of something about the past and hold that though in their memory while the exposure was being made.

His intention with this body of work is to make people aware of this historical gap. People need to question what is missing or distorted and they need to feel a sense of pride and ownership in their history.

The session closed with a few questions on the book design. The book is bilingual – English and Spanish, with neither language being given preferential treatment. Although the photographs look as if they are sepia, it is the paper that was used that is warm toned. He has presented the book with a choice of four different covers, which the purchaser gets to choose at the online checkout. The internal content is set up in the form of diptychs (portrait/landscape), but there are a few pages without diptychs because van Houtryve feels it necessary to allow breathing room in the book and to create flow. The book starts and finishes with a panorama in the form of a triptych.

Screengrab of opening triptych from Tomas van Houtryve’s presentation on Lines + Lineage

I found his research absolutely fascinating and have ordered the book. The detail and texture that are captured in the portraits are stunning. One can see the amount of detail that has gone into such a project and it was important for him to fact check all his data, so all the historical details are accurate. It is just the ‘archive’ that is fictional – but is it really fictional – or is it just a story being told so much later? This is definitely something that I will keep coming back to during L3.

 

Bibliography

van Houtryve, T. (s.d.) Tomas van Houtryve Photography. At: https://tomasvh.com/ (Accessed  03/05/2020).

Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2019 Finalist – Tomas van Houtryve ‘Lines and Lineage’ at baudoin lebon gallery (2019) Directed by van Houtryve, T. At: https://vimeo.com/340697649 (Accessed  03/05/2020).

Lines and Lineage artist talk by Tomas Van Houtryve (Photography Expanded 2018) (2018) At: https://vimeo.com/297355198 (Accessed  03/05/2020).

viiphoto (2020) VII Interactive Book Club. ‘Lines and Lineage’ by Tomas van Houtryve. At: http://viiphoto.com/event/vii-interactive-book-club-lines-and-lineage-by-tomas-van-houtryve/ (Accessed  03/05/2020).

Artist talk – Brett Leigh Dicks

Part of the benefits of belonging to the OCA Rest of the World hangout group is we share information with each other. During Covid we have been especially active in this respect. Last week Michele in New Zealand shared the Australian’s Head On Photo Festival schedule of events with us. Artists talks, workshops – what a field day! Just had to spend some time working out which workshops and talks would be doable for my time zone. Turns out there is plenty.

Brett Leigh Dicks Artist Talk, Head On Photo Festival 3 May 2020

So the first on my list was Australian/American photographer, Brett Leigh Dicks. He divides his time between the US and Australia and his main focus is an investigation of “the landscape and the fragile ties it shares with human history” (Head On Photo Festival, 2020). Some of the projects Dicks has worked on are Aboriginal Missions in the Australian West, decommissioned American prisons, American gas stations and liquor stores and just recently and the subject of this talk, Nuclear Waste: Atomic Energy in the American West. Other subjects that interest him is the interface between society and the landscape, how we impose ourselves upon the landscape, which he says is a very broad topic. To hone it down a little more, the urbanisation of the desert, rural decay, and governmental use of the land.

His latest project, Nuclear Waste, would probably fall into this last category. The body of work investigates what happens when these nuclear testing sites are closed down. Many accidents happened and mainstream media largely ignored this aspect of the nations’ history. Dicks related extremely interesting stories around the various sites he had photographed, explaining the difficulties he encountered in getting access to the sites. On the whole, he found it easier to photograph in the US, but getting permission and access were very time consuming. He had to research land ownership in order to avoid potential lawsuits, but he did find that you could get permission in the US if you had a legitimate reason and succumbed to the necessary security checks. Knowledge of the various locations was also freely available. This was in sharp contrast with the defunct nuclear sites in Australia. He has only been back in Australia for six months to work on this side of the project, but is finding it quite restrictive.

He found that apart from the archeological studies of the various sites that he had photographed, he noticed that there was a secondary impact in the way nuclear energy has infused itself into local culture. The town, Arco in Idaho is near the National Test Laboratories and all the business in that town bear the name “Atomic” in their nomenclature. He also discovered that there is an Atomic Photographers Guild which he was invited to join as these photographers seem to work together and share information.

After the talk, I spent some time looking at Dicks’ other work and I found certain aspects of his work remind me of Walker Evans and Stephen Shore. Many of his projects are in black and white. His various series of disappearing towns in both the US and Australia are surreally current in this worldwide lockdown scenario. Indeed when I looked at the first set of images, I immediately thought that this was a Covid set of images. Scenarios of empty streets, save for the odd photograph featuring a car, the absence of any people creating an uncanny effect on the viewer, raising quite a few questions for me. Was this a Covid scenario, or a movie set, or a ghost town? The fact that the photos were taken in bright sunlight just compounds the surrealism. His Quiet Convictions about the decommissioned American prisons also has a disquietening  effect. He has used a square format for these images and this tends to accentuate the confined spaces he is depicting. Long, almost never ending passages stretch out from the nucleus of his frame creating a sense of walls closing in on the viewer.  Vertical slivers of views from inside cells looking out on other cells brings home the concept of the Panopticon all too clearly. After looking at a few images, one feels the need to escape these never-ending confines. A very chilling body of work in a sort of poetic way.

PS: 4 May, 2020: Since posting this blog, Brett has sent me an great email thanking me for attending the talk and the write up. He also kindly attached the four images above to use on my blog post.  Thank you Brett! I appreciate this tremendously.

PPS: 5 May, 2020: Brett kindly sent me three more images from the Quiet Convictions series for my blog. Once again, many thanks Brett!

 

Bibliography

Atomic Photographers Guild Photographers (s.d.) At: https://atomicphotographers.com/photographers/ (Accessed  02/05/2020).

Dicks, B. L. (2020a) Nuclear Landscapes | Head On Photo Festival. At: https://www.headon.com.au/exhibitions/nuclear-landscapes (Accessed  02/05/2020).

Dicks, B. L. (2020b) Nuclear Waste: Atomic Energy in the American West. At: https://www.brettleighdicks.net (Accessed  02/05/2020).

Head On Photo Festival (2020) Artist talk – Brett Leigh Dicks | Head On Photo Festival. At: https://www.headon.com.au/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=112 (Accessed  02/05/2020).

Virtual Exhibitions Artist Talk with Adad Hannah, Rydel Cerezo and Maegan Hill-Carroll

This is the second last Capture Photography Festival artist talk via Zoom as the festival wraps up at the end of this month. I do think that some of the exhibitors have done an amazing job of getting their work out there during the pandemic, which I think has been quite beneficial. I have certain attended some talks which I probably would not have signed up for had I been able to go to the exhibition in person. Perhaps this is something that they should keep in place going forward.

There were three artists presenting and talking through their work followed by a Q&A session after each presentation. First off was Adad Hannah. Hannah is a Vancouver based artist, born in New York, and  raised in Israel, England, and Vancouver. He holds a  BFA from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, and MFA and PhD from Concordia University, Montreal. I have been following his work ever since I started studying with OCA and always find it intriguing and well crafted. His Social Distancing Portraits was created on the fly literally for the Festival, beginning on 14th March. It takes the form of the tableaux vivant. His modus operandi is to have his subjects stand/sit very still for 30 seconds, trying not to move, while he videos them. The effect is quite surreal. Hannah actually started doing this about twenty years ago, sometimes photographing in museums and he says it is interesting to watch the transformation of the subjects posing next to a sculpture or painting and seeing the people turn into sculptures, while the sculptures or paintings seem to come to life. His work is posted daily on Instagram at the moment but he plans to exhibit is in some form when the pandemic is over and will curate it in some fashion. His project can be seen here. He shoots with a long lens and then interviews the people, keeping his distance, of course.

Rydel Cerezo, Kai in the backyard from the series Back of My Hand, 2020, digital scan of negative. Courtesy of the Artist.

The next artist to present was Rydel Cerezo. Cerezo was born in the Philippines and now lives and works in Vancouver. He has a BFA from Emily Carr University of Arts and Design and was a runner up for the 2020 Lind Prize. His work for the Festival consists only of photos of his family taken during self-isolation during this pandemic. His family is multi-generational, having three generations under one roof. It is a very intimate work, tender and caring and conveys the love he has for his family. Most of his work is staged, either from some ideas that he has or from moments that he witnessed and is recreating. Intimate moments of self-care where granny is setting her hair, or his sister is giving his younger brother a hair cut or his aunt and uncle are attending an online mass are captured in a very sensitive manner. Some of his images are black and white, others are in colour, but they all work well together. They are all light and fresh and convey a sense of hope.

The final artist to present was Maegan Hill-Carroll who is both an artist and a writer based in Vancouver. The project that she presented to best describe self-isolation/social distancing was Touching Oranges. Hill-Carroll states that her work represents the tactile contact that she is missing during this pandemic, but considers it quite profound when touching is regarded as dangerous. Her work explores those in between places. She was quite influenced by the painting Lucretia. Her other influences are Craigie Horsfield and John Baldessari. I found her work playful and very geometric, obviously guided by the bright colours of the oranges and the contrasting backgrounds she places them against. But there is an element of fetishness in the work – how many ways can you balance an orange on a bare foot? To my mind she didn’t articulate her work very well. Maybe this is something I should try to pass the time during lock-down.

I find that I really enjoy these “show and tell” session by the artists as it really does give one an in-depth insight into the way they work and what they were thinking when they made the image.

Bibliography

Capture Photography Festival (2020) Adad Hannah: Social Distancing Portraits. At: https://capturephotofest.com/exhibitions/social-distancing-portraits/ (Accessed  28/04/2020).

Capture Photography Festival (2020a) Maegan Hill-Carroll: Touching Oranges. At: https://capturephotofest.com/exhibitions/touching-oranges/ (Accessed  28/04/2020).

Capture Photography Festival (2020b) Rydel Cerezo | Back of My Hand. At: https://capturephotofest.com/exhibitions/back-of-my-hand/ (Accessed  28/04/2020).

Capture Photography Festival (2020c) Virtual Exhibitions Artist Talk with Adad Hannah, Rydel Cerezo and Maegan Hill-Carroll. At: https://capturephotofest.com/events/virtual-exhibitions-artist-talk-with-adad-hannah-rydel-cerezo-and-maegan-hill-carroll/ (Accessed  28/04/2020).

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1537) Lucretia | Cranach Digital Archive. At: http://lucascranach.org/DE_SKD-Lost_1916-1 (Accessed  28/04/2020).