Awoiska van der Molen – It’s heart-warming to see an artist being successful with an approach that is becoming increasingly rare. As mentioned in Sean O’Hagan’s perceptive review, Awoiska van der Molen’s images are “captured in single exposures of up to half an hour, then painstakingly printed in her darkroom on large format, silver gelatin paper. The methodology is unapologetically old-fashioned, and the results extraordinarily powerful”. [Read more…]
“I even think of black and white as colours, it just happens to be limited to two,” explained Bruce Davidson, comparing himself to a baseball switch-hitter able to swing both ways depending on the score 1
A far cry from his mentor Henri Cartier-Bresson who famously rejected the use of colour. We can now look back on this sterile debate (i.e. B&W versus Colour) with the advantage of having seen the wonderful colour work of Cartier-Bresson’s contemporaries Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog and in particular Saul Leiter. [Read more…]
I immediately think of the “big four”: Barthes, Sontag, Benjamin and Berger, of course. Roland Barthes Camera Lucida was ground-breaking at the time, but I tire of semiotics and structuralism. Sontag? Again hugely important in the genre. I read “On Photography” in 1978, but it didn’t speak to me at the time and still I find it dry and dull. A giant that Walter Benjamin is of photographic criticism, again it’s hard work isn’t it? [Read more…]
Tony Cearns caught up with Elisabeth Maurice to talk about her photography and life.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Clive Scott is professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia. His approach to documenting the origins and development of street photography (“SP”) is scholastic, but nonetheless, with applied effort, absorbing and thought-provoking.
His approach is grounded in the tradition of photographic criticism. “My history is … somewhat capricious and designed to serve the specific tasks I have set myself”‘ he says in his introduction. Hence, it rewards the determined reader.
A very good job is made of capturing the complex relationship between impressionism and photography and putting this into the context of contemporary literary thought.
I particularly liked his discussion of the emergence of photography “out of the studio and into the street”; from the enmity of Charles Baudelaire to the position where photography is seen as the “art of the imaginary par excellence” (Soulages).
For readers who want a simple historical account of the development of street photography, this book will not be for you. If however, you want to understand the history of SP against an emerging tradition of photographic criticism and an interest in the phenomenological roots of photography, then please take some effort to read this book. Effort it will take, but rewarded you will be.
We mourn but celebrate the life of René Burri today. Many will remember him for his iconic Che Guevara and Picasso photographs and his more recent hard-edged political reportage, but I will remember him especially for his series on Brasilia, which combined image making on an epic scale with warm humanism, reminiscent of Salgado. His Brasilia work can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/csyyhwu.
Having lived most of my early life in Rio, I am also very fond of his beach photographs:
My favourite quote from him?
“This camera,” he says, raising his Leica in his hand, “today is like my notebook, I’m still interested!” — Burri – aged 80 years old.
It gets in the blood doesn’t it?
I just love photo books. In the UK we have Martin Parr and Gerry Badger to thank for a revival of the photobook medium. I often dip into their books “The Photobook Volumes 1 and 2” and will be shortly buying the new 3rd volume.
The Kassel Photo Book Award 2014 went to Frédéric Brenner ‘s “An Archeology of Fear and Desire” but not after stiff competition from 29 other contenders. Social documentary (my own predilection) was well represented by:
- Piergiorgio Casotti’s “Sometimes I Cannot Smile”, a study of juvenile suicide in East Greenland
- Mark Cohen’s “Dark Knees”, a photobook by a street photographer with a surrealist perspective. For me, Cohen is one of the greatest street photographers. “Grim Street”, although not my current style of street photography, had a profound influence on me.
- Eamonn Doyle’s “i” , beautiful colour studies of individual people in the street
- Jim Goldberg’s “Rich and Poor”, shocking and gripping portrait of contemporary America
- David Hornillos’ “Mediodía”, an enveloping world of orange brick bathed in vibrant light from the vicinity of Madrid’s Atocha station, and last but certainly not least,
- Vasantha Yoganantha’s “Piémanson”, perhaps my favourite, an exploration of daily life on the last “wild beach’ in France. The beach’s history began in the 1970s when locals set up camp there with no rights or deeds. Nowadays, thousands of campers from all over Europe get together every summer season, looking for a freedom that they can’t find anywhere else
But despite my predilection for social documentary, my overall award would have gone to Michael Schmidt’s “Natur”.
‘Natur’ is the latest published photobook of Berliner photographer Michael Schmidt (1945-2014). Reminscent of John Gossage’s “The Pond”, ‘Natur’ reveals a parallel universe to Berlin’s urban territory overlooked by the presence of the Wall. Images of empty and unwelcome spaces at first work quietly and for a while un-possessively, but wait a while and the images rush back like a train hurtling through a tunnel.
Expensive picture is this – probably would fetch in excess of $75,000 at auction. Why? Because it tells a story. What story? Well, that depends on you. The story needs telling afresh each time.
It’s Middle America and Middle ’50s. Eisenhower politics; ultra conservatives; gas guzzling roadsters; small black and white TVs on new formica tables; drive-in movies; Howard Johnson motels; women as happy home-makers. This is the subtext of this photograph.
Not: the Kinsey reports; Charlie Parker and Miles Davis; Kerouac and the Beatniks; teenagers fighting with switchblades and driving cars off cliffs; UFOs; Elvis. These things were happening too.
A Rodeo – quintessential western America. Perhaps one of the travelling rodeos from the south, next stop Saginaw or White Pigeon? Or maybe down from Calgary? Either way, the picture is not “about” a Rodeo. No Stars and Stripes or tie-down roping or saddle bronc riding here. No siree! It’s about gender and male power.
The picture depicts two women who have the air of “southern belles” and an alpha-male (in the common parlance). The women are sisters, disappointed women but too afraid to say. Their grandfather had emigrated from Marano di Napoli, after the pea crop had failed and there was little to be made from tufo stone work. The one in a hat is married to the man. He likes the Roman Coliseum spectacles. He likes his collection of leather belts and buckles back at home but that’s another story. He likes anything that affirms him as a man: beer, jeeps, cigars, Marlboro County. His name is Frank.
Frank is an office worker – an insurance salesman who recently set up the insurance for the America’s first shopping mall, which opened in nearby Southfield in 1954. In the previous week Frank had travelled to Green Bay to see the Packers beat the Lions 20-17.
And the story slowly unfolds. Frank’s brother, Jesse, is the kicking coach for the Lions, part of Buddy Parker’s coaching team. The season was to play out unexceptionally for the Lions – 8th of 12 in the NFL. Frank’s wife, Mary, worked at the Mariner’s church for several years, before the church made way for the new Civic Centre. She was an unexceptional woman but with a strong view of right and wrong. She didn’t like Jesse….. Jesse had made a pass at her, when Frank had been away at the annual insurance convention in Miami a few years back. Frank was completely unaware of this.
A fiction of course. My fiction. But for me this is the essence of this photograph. It insists on a story. And Frankly (sic), it matters not what story. The photograph’s power is that it crosses the junction between history and future.
Barthes once said that cameras are “clocks for seeing”. Robert Frank saw it all. As Kerouac said in his introduction to “The Americans” – “To Robert Frank, I now give this message: You got eyes.”
He certainly did. Wonderful picture this. It conjures up so much, if you would just loiter a little and allow the mind to wander.
Great street photography has the power to engage the imagination. The best photographs have a framework that elicit multi-layered stories.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The world is being blinded by the tidal wave of photographs pushed through social media. So much noise, so little of lasting value.
And if like me, you aspire to artistic photography ..”not through argument but through feeling”, working to “close the gap between you and everything that is not you” [to quote “Shock of the New” by Robert Hughes], then perhaps going back to some “basics” is just the tonic the gin ordered.
Enter: “The Power of the Centre” (“POC”) by Rudolf Arnheim, a study of composition in the visual arts. Arnheim can’t write, but we can forgive him that given that his project was to explore the cognitive basis of art, and by extension, the world. His classic work, “Art and Visual Perception” was ground-breaking, but hard work. The POC is far easier to read even given its dry academic style.
Effort is rewarded though.
The argument builds. From an introduction into spatial systems and force fields, a comprehensive analysis of many examples of art follows taking each element that creates visual perception: centres, hubs and weight, frames, volumes and nodes, latches and vectors. The book springs to life as it examines the perceptual forces that make some pictures “work”. My favourite examples include Manet’s Le Rendez-Vous de Chats (1870) for its Latch, Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques (1905) for its Hubs, and Munch’s Sick Girl (1896) for the effect of its square Frame.
But useful as I found the book, I also felt slightly becalmed. We are given glimpses of a more fundamental underlying psychological imperative at work, as in the chapter on “The Viewer as Centre” and “Seeing the World Sideways” – “… the difficulty is that we look at our world sideways. Instead of facing it as a detached viewer, we are in it and of it. … our view interprets and misinterprets our position”. But we are left without a wind in our sails. What psychological universals are at work in our visual apprehension of the world? How do these reveal the workings of our minds?
A tad unfair of me? Perhaps! But if nothing else, this book woke me up to some basic insights into what makes a picture grab a viewer. In these times of 40 plus billion photographs being published annually, I need every little help I can get! Composition is the bedrock upon which artistic endeavour depends. Without it, you are just back to taking snaps.