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Articles on this Page
- 01/23/15--06:14: _PHOTOTALK WITH WOUT...
- 01/25/15--08:05: _PHOTOTALK WITH STEF...
- 01/26/15--01:37: _PHOTOTALK WITH HELE...
- 01/27/15--05:21: _PTP #2: NG SAI KIT ...
- 01/27/15--06:59: _A WAY OF LIFE
- 01/28/15--23:49: _PHOTOTALK WITH MICH...
- 01/29/15--06:47: _JOHN STEZAKER: COLL...
- 01/29/15--08:05: _EDMUND CLARK IN THE...
- 01/30/15--05:03: _PHOTOTALK WITH GERT...
- 01/31/15--07:42: _WIKTORIA WOJCIECHOW...
- 02/02/15--02:41: _PHOTOTALK WITH PAUL...
- 02/02/15--04:02: _HEIDI ROMANO AND PH...
- 02/03/15--05:10: _PHOTOTALKS: REN HAN...
- 02/03/15--05:11: _LIEVEN HERREMAN: ‘D...
- 02/04/15--04:05: _INTRODUCING 15 PORN...
- 02/06/15--05:28: _PHOTOTALK WITH DAVI...
- 02/06/15--05:46: _A REVIEW OF 'LATE S...
- 02/09/15--02:59: _PHOTOTALK WITH ŁUKA...
- 02/11/15--04:58: _REVIEW OF THE BOOK ...
- 02/11/15--07:58: _A REVIEW OF THE BOO...
- 01/23/15--06:14: PHOTOTALK WITH WOUTER VAN DE VOORDE
- 01/25/15--08:05: PHOTOTALK WITH STEFANO MARCHIONINI
- 01/26/15--01:37: PHOTOTALK WITH HELEEN PEETERS
- 01/27/15--05:21: PTP #2: NG SAI KIT tags LAI LON HIN
- 01/27/15--06:59: A WAY OF LIFE
- 01/28/15--23:49: PHOTOTALK WITH MICHAEL BACH
- 01/29/15--06:47: JOHN STEZAKER: COLLAGE!
- 01/29/15--08:05: EDMUND CLARK IN THE MOUNTAINS OF MAJEED
- 01/30/15--05:03: PHOTOTALK WITH GERT VERBELEN
- 01/31/15--07:42: WIKTORIA WOJCIECHOWSKA 'Own Place'Text by Krzysztof...
- 02/02/15--02:41: PHOTOTALK WITH PAUL BOGAERS
- 02/02/15--04:02: HEIDI ROMANO AND PHOTOBOOK MELBOURNE
- 02/03/15--05:10: PHOTOTALKS: REN HANG & LI LANG
- 02/03/15--05:11: LIEVEN HERREMAN: ‘DÉESSES FRAGILES’A book review by Dieter...
- 02/04/15--04:05: INTRODUCING 15 PORN STATIONS BY PIETRO MILLENOTTI
- 02/06/15--05:28: PHOTOTALK WITH DAVID POLLOCK
- 02/06/15--05:46: A REVIEW OF 'LATE SPRING' BY DEBBY HUYSMANS
- 02/09/15--02:59: PHOTOTALK WITH ŁUKASZ BIEDERMAN
- 02/11/15--04:58: REVIEW OF THE BOOK 'SECRETS' BY NATALYA REZNIK
- 02/11/15--07:58: A REVIEW OF THE BOOK 'IN STILL AIR' BY DANA STÖLZGEN
BY TALIA SMITH
1. I have been following your practice for a while now and have admired your approach to photography but as I read you actually originally studied painting. Tell me about your journey to photography.
When I moved from Belgium to Australia I was overwhelmed with the newness of the place I found myself in. Celia and myself were living in a small granny flat in a small town close to Wollongong and being unemployed for most of my first year here, I had lots of time to explore my new habitat. Shortly after moving here I had the idea to start sharing my experiences on a little blog, just so family and friends could stay up to date. On there I used to post pictures of things I discovered. There are so many similarities between my early paintings and what I do with photography these days. There is virtually no difference in the moods and locations (although I’m physically rather far removed from my original stamping grounds.) As long as I can remember I have been driven by a strong urge to explore my surrounds. As a child I often wandered off in the field behind my parents’ house looking for a abandoned shelters, shotgun cartridges, ponds etc. In my head I made like a treasure map of all the cool spots and whenever a friend would come over I would take them to the places I discovered.
© Wouter Van de Voorde, Canberra ACT, 2014
2. A lot of your work revolves around travels around the Australian landscape, what is it about the landscape that captures your attention?
The world is made up from landscapes, to me landscape is everything. People merely scratch the surface of this planet, although some of these scratches become scars that never heal. Landscape often seems more present, especially in a place like Australia. All the traveling I have done in this island is all about getting a feel for this place to get some sense of belonging. I always been more of an explorer than a traveller. I have a firm belief that anything can be photographed given the right light and state of mind, I’m never looking for anything in particular in a landscape. Often you need to get lost a little bit or take a bunch of shitty photos to get in tune with where you are. In the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of having Jamie Hladky as my faithful partner in crime, together we’ve driven literally thousands of kilometres, fuelled by a similar urge to see stuff. It’s great to to share a love for things like palmtrees and country towns that are barely alive. It probably helps that we’re both from ‘the old’ country (Jamie is from the UK).
© Wouter Van de Voorde, Araluen NSW, 2014
3. Your photographs are generally devoid of the figure but the suggestion of the presence of humans is evident in the things that are left behind or the industry and growth that you have captured – is there a particular reason for the lack of a human figure in your photographs?
Every trace left behind by humans is human presence: a mound of dirt, burn out tracks on bitumen, quarries etc. To me these are all very strong reminders of human presence making such pictures of such locations almost portraits in my eyes. Actually there are quite a few humans in my photographs if you look closely (usually they are very small and lost in a larger context). I don’t shy away from photographing people per se I just prefer it when they add something of significance to a landscape. Locations off the beaten track are per definition devoid of wandering humans.
© Wouter Van de Voorde, Lake Burley Griffin ACT, 2014
4. How do you approach each shoot, is it intuitive or do you have a plan of where you would like to go? Do you have shots in mind?
Google earth has been my go to place for planning expeditions, interesting textures, colours of the dirt etc. There are a few obvious things I know are worth-while like sunset and sunrise light, fog, fire, smoke etc. Generally I work very intuitive. The only thing that is a constant is the ever-expanding physical area I cover to create my images. It’s a constantly evolving thing, my photography is very intertwined with my life. Now, as a new father, my life has become much more sedentary and I am forced to look on a much more micro scale at my surrounds which is quite challenging. Some weeds against a fence, a neighbours house against a sky coloured by a sunset. Really looking and seeing things is not something that just happens, you work on it every day, training the old eyes to stay sharp and take nothing for granted that projects on their retinas.
© Wouter Van de Voorde, Old Parliament House ACT, 2013
5. (hume) sunrise is showing as part of the Photobook Melbourne Festival in February at Colour Factory. The images have a quiet beauty about them, you have captured the true stillness of a moment a lot of us don’t get to see. Was this area of Canberra of particular relevance to you? What is the reasoning behind the project?
It started one misty morning as I dropped Celia to her early shift at the hospital and I had some time to kill before going to work myself. I went to this place between a few busy roads where horses and some cattle graze, just because there were some nice mist-banks. There was no particular relevance to this location at all before I went there time after time and constructed some sense of meaning. Very organically it became a small body of work, initially exclusively containing images from the same place. The reasoning behind the project is the absence of reason, it’s being in a landscape and embracing it with open arms, wide open eyes and losing yourself in it 100%. I walked across those paddocks with tears in my eyes, squinting into the emerging sunlight. These don’t even feel like my pictures, it’s like I got given a glimpse into something, like the earth broke open under my feet and emerging gasses clouded my thinking. The landscape as an oracle.
6. Do you have any recommendations of photo books that you are interested in at the moment?
I’m not a collector of photo books but I come across so many amazing publications online, magazines like Selektor or publishers like the belgian Ape (Art Paper Edition) do really exciting things. It’s a bit daunting, to say the least to do your own thing in the midst of all this photo book madness.
© Wouter Van de Voorde, Queanbeyan NSW, 2015
7. What other projects do you have on the horizon or any other plans for the future?
Besides my upcoming show I’m working on two books. One, which should hopefully materialise in the near future is a publication about the Wasteland by Jamie Hladky, William Broadhurst and myself. Another book is a monogram of my work from 2013-2014. I’ve also been picking up the paintbrush and doing some painting like back in the day, it’s quite a cathartic experience struggling with actual colour pigment in oil that gets your hand dirty. But it’s not more honest or real than taking photos it’s just the same but different. In the end the focus is always, getting out, seeing stuff, seeing the same stuff in a different light, and slowly building an archive of stuff that might make sense eventually. But I don’t have many plans besides staying alive for as long as I can while not fucking my time in this place up too much.
BY FRANCESCA ORSI
1. The title ‘I see around me tombstones grey’ is a literary quotation. How has the Victorian literature of Emily Brontë influenced the whole project?
I became interested in the work of Emily Brontë in 2007, after reading Wuthering Heights. During the last year of my studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice I decided to write a thesis on the film adaptations of the novel, while contextually producing a short film whose fulcrum was a turning point in the book (and film): the famous monologue in which Catherine Earnshaw says “I am Heathcliff.” In the short film, set in the home of my paternal grandmother, the actress, my friend Valentina Mignogna, repeatedly reads some verses of poetry ‘I see around me tombstones grey’: « We would not leave our native home. For any world beyond the Tomb». During the same period I started photographing my family and my hometown, Verbania, and although at that time I did not yet have a clear idea of what it meant to “photograph” (I had just started doing it; until then my artistic practice was limited to drawing and painting), the atmosphere of those first photographs was imbued with those verses. It was natural that the first verse of the poem became the title of a series still in its embryonic stage. Today I still consider it to be the main work of my production, around which many other works were later articulated. The poem that gave the title to the series is still very important to me. Its main themes, namely those of the mother and of Earth—which in poetry are two indivisible entities—and those of the passage of time and our common destiny, are still sources of inspiration in my artistic and personal growth.
© Stefano Marchionini, ‘I see around me tombstones grey’
2. Even ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ is accompanied by a written text, ‘Savage Others. A Re-collection’, by Margherita Mauro, a writer and playwright living in London. Are the photographic image and the word two complementary elements in your perspective?
The context in which the text of Margherita Mauro is presented within this photographic series is definitely different from that of the series ‘I see around me tombstones grey’: in that series the words have been a source of inspiration in the creative process that went hand in hand with the discovery of the photographic medium and with a succession of family events over time. In ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, the text is an original creation that came from an open dialogue between an artist and a writer. A text that works as a key to unlock the meaning of a visual imagination. Margherita Mauro worked in complete freedom: the only information I provided was a general explanation of my project and the images that I showed her regularly but without explaining any detail. My hope was that her creation could be freely structured without being affected disproportionately by the stories that can be hidden behind each image. Her text, therefore, acts as a complementary narrative that avoids acting as an explanatory and didactic key. What the reading of ‘Savage Others. A Re-collection’ can do is return to the viewer a series of thoughts that the photographic series suggests, filtering them through the intervention of the written word by another author. The ambiguity and doubt generated by the relationship between the text and images is intentional.
3. ‘I see around me tombstones gray’ and ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ differ in the photographic form and in the content they communicate. The first is a story linked to memory, to your family, to the place where you were born, to your intimate emotions. The second one talks about the violence, more or less tangible, surrounding the existence of the individual. ‘I see around me tombstones gray’ has a narrator; the story of ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ is that of an individual without a face, is that of all of us. How has the filter of digital intervention served you in this? And how much of “you” remains in this work?
The use of digital intervention came from a decision I made in the early stages of my work on this series, when the project seemed to be moving toward its final form. At that moment I decided that the found photographs that would open and close the series had to go through some sort of transformation. I decided not to present them in the form of documentation or proof: my main concern was to avoid a descriptive use by disguising their origin and also by digitally intervening to protect the anonymity of the people portrayed. In ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ two colors are used as if they were two characters in the story. Their origin is manifold: the red comes from the found photograph that opens the series, to which was later added a dark blue tone. Both colors were later found in the idiomatic expression that gave the title to the series, an expression that I had found, saved on the computer months before, and to which I thought back almost immediately when I created the first images. In a very simple way, the Devil is symbolized by the color red and the blue of the deep sea by dark blue. Their presence in the photographs indicates actions and places that are directly related to the unknown, and unnamed, characters of the story. The biographical material that lies behind these photographs is so blurred, opaque, and hidden. This work, although it possesses all the characteristics of narrative fiction—fiction largely generated by the filter characteristic of photography itself—is definitely a very personal work, especially from a formal point of view. It came at a time when I wondered about the possibility of expressing myself through the medium of photography and using it in a way other than the one to which I had become accustomed in recent years. This series put into question many aspects of my way of taking pictures and then became for me a starting point for further artistic growth.
© Stefano Marchionini, ’Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’
4. Is there any photographer or some photographic work that particularly stimulated and enriched your visual knowledge?
The first work that blew me away, at the beginning of my photographic practice, was definitely The Devil’s Playground by Nan Goldin. That book is still a rich source of inspiration, although it refers mainly to the memories of my first steps, to a search that was just beginning to take shape in a context mainly related to intimacy and the opportunity to photograph very personal moments. Several moments of my life have been accompanied by the discovery of the works of great artists which have more or less affected me, and that in any case greatly enriched my visual language. I think of my first years in France, in Provence, and the photographs I made in the same places and with the same light that is so characteristic of Willy Ronis. Or when, in Paris, I fell in love with the work of Sophie Calle and Hervé Guibert. Later I became interested in the landscape, thanks to Robert Adams, Bernard Plossu, Jean-Marc Bustamante, Thibaut Cuisset, but also Georgia O’Keeffe. And then the portrait, once again thanks to painters such as Ingres, Titian, Hockney. These and many other artists are to be counted among the landmarks of my training. The greatest source of inspiration was definitely Marguerite Duras: her books were the first that I read in French. They have become personal fetishes and, thanks to the enormous experimentation and research undertaken during her entire life in books, films, and plays, they have also become a direct source of inspiration. One of her most poetic, La jeune fille et l’enfant, taken from the collection L’été 80 and Yann Andréa Steiner, became the starting point for a project I began when I entered the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux arts in Paris in 2010 and that I presented for the diploma of the third year, two years later. The project, entitled ‘La jeune fille et l’enfant’, was originally a notebook of drawings made by listening to a CD containing the text read by Duras herself. Later, the project was open to painting and photography, which I used to create images that would fill the void left by the end of the story between the child and the young animator of the holiday camp. In the photographs I tried to generate the current image of two characters and of what’s left in the place they had lived, on the beaches of Trouville-sur-Mer. Over the years I’ve discovered other photographers and artists, especially young people, thanks to online and personal exchanges. One of the most interesting things is to be able to follow these young photographers through their growth and the evolution of their artistic expression. These meetings have been and still are fundamental—humanly and artistically.
© Stefano Marchionini, ’La jeune fille et l’enfant’
5. Between the two works, ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ certainly has a more experimental approach, not exclusively tied to photography itself, but to a continuous visual reference with archival images and digital manipulation. A visual search of difficult classification. How has the context of the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where you studied, influenced you?
It would be false to say that the four years I spent at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris hasn’t left any traces. It was certainly a vital experience for me. It is equally true that the influence that this school has had on me was not as direct and obvious compared to the works and projects that I made during those years. I tried to make the most of the opportunities I was offered, respecting, however, the creative independence that I always wanted to keep. I never sought the approval of others, instead I took advantage of the freedom that was offered to all students, which for many is a source of a feeling of abandonment by the school. I never felt that way, and I believe that I managed to make my path as honestly as possible. There were exchanges and meetings with teachers and students, but they never directly influenced my work. All research undertaken developed with a pace that I imposed upon myself; I have never been forced to do something to be accepted. However in the last year, that of the final graduation, many issues were raised during the meetings with the students of my atelier and with my main teacher, the artist Patrick Tosani. These dialogues allowed me to significantly increase my knowledge and gave rise to considerations that helped me to see what were the latest changes to be included in my graduate exhibition and also in understanding what roads to take once I finished my educational path.
6. ‘I see around me tombstones grey’ is a self-published project. What do you think of the increasingly rampant world of photographic self-publishing?
I think the recent phenomenon of self-production of photo books is undoubtedly something positive, which is encouraging many artists that in the past would not have thought possible this kind of editorial project. Of course, the more time passes the harder it is to keep up with and be able to follow the publications that are released with an impressive rhythm and abundance. Because of this phenomenon of greedy consumption and reckless production, the downside, in my opinion, is the devaluation of the very concept of the photo book. We publish books too fast and perhaps not enough mature: the enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword when it is accompanied by impatience and lack of preparation. The fear is that in a few years this excitement will give way to mistrust of self-publication.
Still of the book ’I see around me tombstones grey’ by Stefano Marchionini. See here.
© Stefano Marchionini, ‘I see around me tombstones grey’
7. ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ was shown for your graduate exhibition at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Are you thinking of publishing it as a book?
My hope is to publish it as a book. The desire is to create an object-book with attention to every detail: from the choice of paper, printing and size, editing and texts. They are all important elements that cannot be left in the background, especially since this series has a limited number of photographs. The final book should respect several criteria so that the photographic work is presented in complete form even outside exhibitions. I studied different possibilities of printing, I have built two prototypes, and I’m getting closer to a version that could be the ideal one. Meanwhile, I have contacted publishers and received a few encouraging notes. I want to dedicate myself to this book for a long time before moving on to something else and I really hope that everything is successful.
8. From Paris, how do you see the panorama of Italian photography? How do you place yourself in relation to it?
I started to take pictures at the end of 2007, less than a year after I came to live in France. I have to admit that, until recently, I knew very little of the current Italian photography scene. Internet has helped me to grow my interest in photography through the discovery of the work of other photographers. I was not particularly interested in the young Italian photography scene because I did not feel that I belonged to it. It is more appropriate to say I feel like the cousin across the Alps! Lately, however, I have approached Italian photographers thanks to Fabrizio Albertini, whom I know and admire as a friend and as a photographer.
9. And what about the French photography scene, and specifically Paris?
The French scene is closer to me, for obvious reasons, but I do not feel part of it, as I do not feel part of the Italian one. These territorial limits do not interest me that much. I prefer not to go into these issues. What I can say is that by attending the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris I approached the very open and varied use of photography by young artists who do not consider themselves photographers. As I am not exclusively interested in photography, these meetings have been helpful to understanding how in the field of photography we should avoid labels, and that the definition of the photographer is now much broader than it was in the past.
10. What about your future projects?
I’m working on a photographic installation project which I hope to finalize in the coming months. At the moment I am still in the process of conception and design. There are also a couple of video projects I’d like to achieve: a video installation and a short film form that I have just outlined. In short, I have many ideas and I really want to accomplish all these works.
BY SANNE KABALT
1. Tell us about your approach to photography. How did it all start? What made you become a photographer?
In high school I participated in the school’s photo club. Every Wednesday afternoon we discussed images and practiced printing techniques in the darkroom. During the weekends I would go out and make photographs of my friends and my surroundings. I realized I enjoyed working with visual media and decided to study photography more. By the time I was in year three (age fourteen) I switched schools to attend an academy with a full time program on photography. I haven’t stopped studying photography since.
2. Tell us about your educational path. What was your relationship with photography at that time?
The first four years I studied photography were at a Belgian high school. This course was very technical but formed a good base. At the time analogue photography was still booming, and we had to learn every aspect; printing techniques, photo history, composition studies, and more specialized fields such as optics and photochemistry. After graduation I moved to London to attend a three-year bachelor program at London College of Communication. This course was very different; technique came second, the idea was most important. At first this was very challenging, sometimes it was difficult to explain the meaning and purpose behind your work. Writing and reading about photography helped in this process. In doing so my interest in photography grew, not only as a photographer, but also as an academic. After my diploma I moved to The Netherlands to start a master program in film and photographic studies at the University of Leiden. No practice, just research. Spending time learning about other people’s work was surprisingly inspiring. As a result I don’t see myself only being a photographer because half of my time I participate as a curator or a writer. The diversity keeps me in an inspirational flow and this in turn helps to improve my own practice.
© Heleen Peeters, Hortus Botanicus, Chemigram, 2012
© Heleen Peeters, Hortus Botanicus, Photogram, 2012
3. What were the courses that you were passionate about and which have remained meaningful for you?
When I was studying in London we had a great visiting speakers program. Once a week artists would come by and talk about their work. Of course not every speaker was as interesting but certain talks were very stimulating. For example, I really enjoyed a visit by Tim Walker. He spent the whole afternoon showing photographs of shoots that terribly failed. He said that there was no point in showing his finished work; it would be impressive but not very productive. By presenting his mistakes he wanted to show us that not every idea works, and that this is ok.
© Heleen Peeters experimenting with liquid emulsion in the darkroom, 2013
4. How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?
Photography offers the possibility to work very fast. In the beginning I wanted to make “beautiful” photographs. I was trying all kinds of image-making, eager to find out which path to follow. I did not think in series or considered the use of other media. Today I have slowed down and produce long-term in-depth projects. In doing so I often make use of analogue techniques. I am not a scientist and I don’t know exactly how every process works. When developing or printing analogue photographs it feels a little magical. Thereby the process, the path to make a picture of picture, became an integral part of my work.
© Heleen Peeters, Continuum, Unfixed Photo-Emulsion on Concrete Wall, 2013
5. You use many old analogue techniques such as photograms, chemigrams and coloring photographs by hand. Why do you choose to work with these techniques today? How you choose specific techniques for each project?
Fragments of memories, stories and dreams inspire my projects. I want my photographs to leave room for imagination, where the world of objects transforms into a world of visions. No matter how often I work with analogue techniques, every result feels special; the emergence of form out of formlessness. By highlighting this process, I would like to harness the ephemeral of the moments I portray.
6. In the text for ‘Continuum’ you wrote ”Stopping to pause and look - really look - has become as rare a treat as it was 150 years ago.’’ What do you think about photography in the era of digital technologies and social networking? How you can you make people really look at your works?
The digital era has opened new possibilities but also came with difficulties. The easy-to-use technology has over-saturated the world with images; there are millions of photographs produced everyday and this has an overwhelming effect on the viewer. With the image taking part in every aspect of life, photography today is facing a political challenge. Image-makers therefore need to investigate alternative strategies to stimulate participation from their viewers.
One way I am trying to trigger interest from the audience is by creating flux works such as ‘Continuum' or 'Orpheus & Eurydice’. Both pieces are unique and only visible for a limited time. The longer the work exists, the more it becomes unrecognisable. Quite the opposite from what is happening today: images are available all the time, can be countlessly reproduced and any size is possible. Thereby those who view my work are urged to look carefully, because you never know if you will be able to see it again.
© Heleen Peeters, Orpheus & Eurydice, Unfixed Photogram, 2011
7. Your work is inspired by fictional stories such as the children’s fable ‘Peter Schlemihl’s Miraculous Story’ and the Greek mythology of Orpheus. What interests you in these stories?
What I like about those two stories is their focus on existentiality. The story on Peter Schlemihl was based on the writer’s biography. Albert von Chamisso was a traveller, he had no fixed home as he was forced to continuously move during the French revolution. His lifelong journey was trying to find a place where he belonged. In the Greek mythology of Orpheus the main character was also adrift. He lost all purpose in life because his love was taken to the underworld. Having moved countries five times in the last ten years I had many moments when I wondered which place to call home. Was home the place I grew up, or the place I live now?
8. Tell us about the ‘Atlas of Peter Schlemihl’?
The Atlas of Peter Schlemihl is project build out of several photographic series. It is based on a 1814 Children’s fable by Albert von Chamisso. The book titled ‘Peter Schlemihl Miraculous Story’ tells the tale of a man who sells his shadow to the devil. Though rewarded with a bottomless wallet, Schlemihl quickly discovers that without his shadow he is rejected by society. The woman he loves rejects him, and he himself becomes involved in guilt. After a long period of grief and exclusion, Schlemihl escapes into nature searching for the peace of mind that was bartered away. With the aid of his seven-league boots, he travels the world studying everything concerned with fauna and flora. In the end, he finds communion with his own better self and dies a satisfied man. Together with Japanese artist Masayo Matsuda, I made an “atlas” on our interpretations of this story. By doing so we wanted the viewer to travel from real to imaginary spaces, exploring the boundaries between autobiography and fiction. For example, the series Untitled (Utopia) is a series that belongs to the Atlas of Peter Schlemihl. In the story Peter Schlemihl travelled the world to scientifically study the earth and to find deeper truth about himself. The series “Utopia” visualizes the beginning of Peter Schlemihl’s journey. The paradise-like black and white photographs are hand coloured with paint. This action symbolizes the colours that grew back in front of Peter Schlemihl his eyes after a long phase of darkness and negativity.
© Heleen Peeters, Untitled (Utopia), Hand Coloured Black and White Photograph, 2014
9. You investigate one theme by combining several series. How did you develop this way of working?
In 1816 when Nicéphore Niépce invented the medium of photography, he described it as ‘artificial eyes’ in a letter to his brother Claude. If Niépce explained his invention as making ‘artificial eyes’, how should we describe vision through our own eyes? Maybe everything that is seen through light could be called ‘photography’? The camera is a tool that stands in relationship to the eye. The eye stands in connection with every viewer’s intellectual experience. The result is that every perceived optical phenomenon by means of intellectual association transforms into a personal conceptual image. Essentially this describes ‘vision’ in the broadest sense of the word. I like the kind of photography that takes this stand into consideration. These works question the function of the image and the construction of subjectivity in our contemporary culture. By creating multiple voices, you let go of control. Nothing is linear, lines crisscross, coincide and change direction. The viewer has the freedom to decide the rhythm and the form in which the work develops.
© Heleen Peeters, Alchemist Chemigrams, Chemigram, 2014
10. Is there any contemporary artist or photographer that influenced you?
There have been numerous artists that inspire my work. The following three works have been of value in discovering my own work.
- Photo book: Esther Teichmann: SPBH Book Club Vol V.
- Light installation: Shylight by Studio Drift.
- Picture book: Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.
11. Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?
In the summer I saw the exhibition Love Radio by Eefje Blankevoort and Anoek Steketee at Foam. The work, which has been presented on different platforms (web documentary, mobile app, publication, exhibition), depicts Rwanda twenty years after the genocide. By layering their topic with different voices they make clear that the truth does not exist, there are solely different perspectives on the truth.
12. Projects that you are working on and plans for the future?
I have several plans ready for the future, among which:
- I am making a new website to showcase my work.
- I began a new project last summer in Japan; the first pictures will be released soon!
- I am producing a new series that is part of The Atlas of Peter Schlemihl. For this work I am experimenting with printing an image on a mirror.
- I am creating a video piece that is part of the project Hortus Botanicus. It will be the first time I use moving images, scary but exciting.
BY SHEUNG YIU
To Ng Sai Kit (吳世傑), ‘city’ is a museum of never ending images. He carefully selects the scenes, captures them on negatives and gives the images a new meaning and a new home. In his project ‘a recap of the present’, Ng photographed banners of picturesque landscapes intentionally placed to cover up construction sites and unsightly walls, portraying an awkward relationship between the reconstructed images and the actual situations that subsequently ‘united as a whole’. The artist wrote: “The reconstructed images and the actual situations are quintessentially the same, but yet not quite the same. Therefore, they end up contradicting, rejecting and misfitting each other.”
© Ng Sai Kit from the series ‘Recap of the Present’
1. Growing up, have you ever imagined being a photographic artist?
I did not have fantasy about my future. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, the era of economic takeoff in Hong Kong. My family, much like the majority of Hong Kongers, fought hard for a better living. I have a big family, just feeding and providing education to us kids were hard enough for my parents, we did not have the privilege and leisure to plan for our future. In addition, the education back then was not inspiring at all.
What is your first camera? What is your first memory with photography?
When I was growing up, photography is a distanced and foreign concept to me. I have few family photos of me from my infancy until my school admission. My first camera was borrowed, I still vaguely remember that it was a portable rangefinder, possibly a Yashica. I took pictures to document my extra curricular activities in my secondary school with it. I was fairly proud of my photos for its colours and compositions that I would put them in a photo album. I had a good grasp of basic camera control from the start and got satisfaction from taking pictures and so I started to learn more about photography in my leisure time and became interested in it.
© Ng Sai Kit from the series ‘Twin Peaks’
2. When did you start to see photography as an art form/ a way of expression?
Photography was just a ‘sunday hobby’ to me. On holidays, I would follow photography clubs led by instructors to chase sunset and sunrise and photograph beautiful landscapes. I soon got annoyed by tedious routine and cliched landscape photographs. At the early 80s, I hear that Photo Center offered great courses and enrolled in two of its courses. Besides getting educated about basic camera techniques, I met my mentor, Ng Hon Lam, who opened my eye to photography. He was one of the few modest instructors who allowed open discussions on equal grounds. He inspired us with his experience and showed us that photography is not only an archiving equipment, it can also be a creative and expressive contemporary art. Under his leadership, I began express my perspective and observation through photography.
© Ng Sai Kit from the series ‘Twin Peaks’
3. Is your art school training important to your photography?
I have never had official training in art. I think art schools have their values. They provide contexts and clearer explanations for students to understand a concept, which cultivates a more effective communication between artists and viewers. I think both regular art schools trainings and self-study have their advantages and disadvantages. To me, I am open to art school education given the chance.
4. How is your research process?
My series often start with an ambiguous idea, which I develop into a more complete concept and subsequently photographic images by wandering on the street and taking photos instead of dreaming it up in front of my computer. The interaction of my perspective with the real world, as well as my personal preferences, are the backbone of my artistic endeavour. My perspective and preference act as a unique filter of reality, while they may be altered by the external environment to develop new “pictures”. The more photos I take, the more I can deduce from them a certain concept or a way of seeing. When I review my old images, it occurs to me that the original scenes often did not have a particular point of view before being seen by me and captured on film. Thus, they became my own images. Through my interpretation, the myriad of images I encounter in contemporary society all have the potential of becoming my own. In a nutshell, I re-organize and reconstruct them in my own way, in turn giving them a new meaning. This is how I developed my series ‘A Recap of the Present’.
5. What is your view on advertorial images and the use of photography in general?
It is an ambivalent relationship. The huge volume of visual images stimulate my vision frequently, it is suffocating and numb my senses. But they also are good motifs of my creation.
© Ng Sai Kit from the series ‘Recap of the Present’
6. A lot of your projects, for example ‘Instagram (faces)’, ‘Decorated Landscape’ and now ‘Recap of The Moment,’ communicate the experience of living in cities. How does Hong Kong inspire you artistically? Living in a city with such dense visual elements, does it influence your aesthetic and artistic thinking?
Hong Kong is where I was born and grew up in. Home, is a feeling of kindness and closeness. In fact, I like the ‘design’ of this city, it steer towards functionality and utilitarianism. The design, however, does not necessarily satisfy the citizens’ needs. Because it lacks planning, the whole city landscape is messy, new and old architectures juxtapose each other, streets and space are complicated and capricious, especially those on the Hong Kong Island.
As said, I enjoy the interaction between my vision and the physical space, I am interested in establishing a new spacial order from chaos.
© Ng Sai Kit from the series ‘Recap of the Present’
7. Are there any mentors, photographers or artists that you draw inspiration from?
I believe that ‘a mental imagery unfolds as one travel through natural landscapes and urban sceneries’. My mentor, Ng Hon Lam, inspired and introduced me to modernist photographers such as Edward Weston，Minor White, Walker Evans，Eugene Atget，Manuel A Bravo，Josef Sudek and their successors Diane Arbus，Lewis Baltz，Lee Fredlander, Ralph Eugene Meatyard，Hans Bellmer，Raymond Moore，August Sander，Bernd and Hilla Becher as well as the photographers at the Dusseldorf School of Photography. Recently, I am inspired by George Rouses, Bernard Voita and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Morandi, Balthus and sculptor Giacometti are my favourite artists.
8. Any exhibition/ photo book/ photography project worth watching?
I visited an exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Xue Xue Institue in Taipei. Although it was not as spectacular as the show in Roppongi in Tokyo few years ago, fewer exhibited works, I like the exhibition. The selection of work, the use of space and the lighting are almost perfect.
Another unforgettable exhibition is the Bernard Voita Show at Lausanne Olympic Park in Switzerland in 1987, it gave me a clear direction of my creative career in these 10 years.
As for photo book, I recommend ‘White Garden” by Bernard Voita and George Rouses self-titled photo book.
9. Who would you tag for the next interview?
Lai Lon Hin.
SWEDISH PHOTOGRAPHY FROM CHRISTER STRÖMHOLM UNTIL TODAY
by Anna Tellgren
“… for me, working with photographic images is A WAY OF LIFE. When I think of it, and when I look carefully at my images, ALL of them, each in its particular way, are nothing but SELF-PORTRAITS, a part of my life.”
This quote is from a lecture held by Christer Strömholm in 1983 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It was reproduced a few years later in a book about the photographer published by Kalejdoskop. The exhibition ‘A Way of Life’ presents Christer Strömholm and his friends, and brings together a group of photographers who have taken documentary photography in a more personal and artistic direction. The focus is on that which is private, intimate, intrusive, and on the subjective tendencies in Swedish photography, with the addition of a few foreign examples. The period spans from the 1940s, via the 1980s, to the 21st century. The exhibition is based on the Moderna Museet collection, presenting more than 300 pictures by 29 photographers. It highlights three contemporary photographers, Martin Bogren, Anna Clarén and JH Engström, all of whom have pursued the subjective movement in photography in different ways and on different terms.
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate, Shinohara, 1961
Christer Strömholm (1918 –2002 ) is a seminal figure in Nordic photography. He became interested in photograpy in the 1940s, via graphic art. Through the German artist Wols, he came into contact with Fotoform, a group that promoted and practised a creative and personal style of photography, far removed from the instrumental image of advertising or reportage. The head of Fotoform was the medical doctor and photographer Otto Steinert, who had begun teachIng photography at the State School of Art and Craft in Saarbrücken after the Second World War. Steinert’s ideas went back to the 1930s and the photographic experiments at Bauhaus. In the 1950s, under the collective concept of “subjective photography”, he produced three major exhibitions of modern photography that had a strong impact on many young contemporary photographers. Strömholm was featured in the first exhibition in 1951 but left Saarbrücken the following year.
While living in Paris in the 1950s and ’60s, Christer Strömholm’s style developed towards street photography. He also travelled with his camera to Spain, Japan, India and the USA during this period. He discovered and was inspired by famous French humanist photographers like Edouard Boubat, Brassaï and Henri Cartier- Bresson. But Strömholm’s photographs appear slightly more harsh and brutal in comparison, with none of the romantic or humorous allusions often found in pictures of the French capital just after the war. His motifs and approach had more in common with the revealing and personal photo-documentations of US-based women photographers Lisette Model and Diane Arbus; in Strömholm, this influence was at its strongest in the photographs of his transsexual friends at Place Blanche.
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate, Hotel Central, Paris, 1951/198
Christer Strömholm returned to Paris in the early 1970s, after a few years in Stockholm, and tried to live as an independent photographer. Christer Strömholm’s images and methods have inspired generations of Swedish photographers, but the general public did not discover him until 1986, with the exhibition 9 Seconds of My Life at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Aged 68, he was just what the public wanted, fulfilling a general desire to highlight photography as a personal and artistic means of expression. In the mid-1950s, Christer Strömholm had begun holding photo courses, together with Tor-Ivan Odulf, at Kursverksamheten’s adult education centre in Stockholm. The courses developed into the famous Fotoskolan, which was attended by more than 1, 200 students from 1962 to 1974. The curriculum was largely based on Otto Steinert’s methods, where the key theme was to encourage individualistic, creative photography; and thus, the subjective movement has long existed as a strong undercurrent in Swedish and Nordic photography. Among Fotoskolan’s students were: Bille August ( DK ), Yngve Baum ( SE ), Dawid ( SE ), Ann Christine Eek ( SE ), Agneta Ekman ( SE ), Leif Gabrielsen ( NO ), Neil Goldstein ( SE ), Kenneth Gustavsson ( SE ), C.G. Hagström ( FI ), Walter Hirsch ( SE ), Ben Kaila ( FI ), Eva Klasson ( SE ), Tom Martinsen ( NO ), Robert Meyer ( NO ), Anders Petersen ( SE ), Håkan Pieniowski ( SE ), Marco Plüss ( SE ), Jo Selsing ( DK ), Ulf Simonsson ( SE ), Gunnar Smoliansky ( SE ), Odd Uhrbom ( SE ) and Risto Vuorimies ( FI ).
The exhibition ‘A Way of Life’ includes examples of Yngve Baum’s famous ‘Shipyard Workers’ series from the early 1970s, where he gets really close to the people and environments he portrays. We also show examples from Odd Uhrbom’s Mine project from 1968, a shattering reportage from Sweden. Both photographers rose to prominence in the genre of documentary photography, a field that grew strong, not to say dogmatic, in Sweden in the 1970s. Ann Christine Eek’s long series from the former Yugoslavia also belongs to this tradition, along with Håkan Pienowski’s photographs from Poland. From Ulf Simonsson’s oeuvre we have chosen a few affectionate child portraits from various times and settings, and Neil Goldstein is represented with four images telling about the life of the last crown crofters in the village Naisheden in the North of Sweden. Eva Klasson attended Fotoskolan for a few months, before Strömholm dispatched her to Paris. In the mid-1970s, she was widely acknowledged for a series of intimate close-ups of her own body, which she called ‘Le troisième angle’ ( The Third Angle ), alluding to the three levels or states of mind she wanted to express in her photographs. Another interesting project is ‘Poltava med guds hjälp’ ( Poltava with the Aid of God ) from 1992 by Marco Plüss, in which he interpreted and reconstructed the place and the war in a series of mysterious black-and-white pictures of nature and historic artefacts. It is possible to discern two different approaches among the students: those who leaned towards the documentary photo reportage, and those who ventured in a more poetic, private, dramatic direction – towards art.
© Nina Korhonen, Kati i båten, 1987-1995
The inner circle around Christer Strömholm included a few photographers who began as his students but eventually went on to become teachers at Fotoskolan. One of these is Gunnar Smoliansky, who attended one of Strömholm’s first evening classes in the mid- 1950s. Smoliansky has been a highly consistent photographer, portraying the objects around him on innumerable walks through the city, gradually moving more and more towards an abstract idiom. For a few years around 1990, a number of photo exhibitions were held at Lido in Stockholm. One of these featured early pictures by Christer Strömholm, selected and printed by his friend and colleague Gunnar Smoliansky. These prints were later incorporated in Moderna Museet’s collection. Another photographer who belonged to the first group of students at Fotoskolan, and who later taught there, was Agneta Ekman. Her early and only published artistic project was the photo book ‘Tall-Maja’ ( Pine-Maja, 1967 ), where she used experimental photographs to enact old folk tales about the wood nymph in the Värmland forests. The teachers also included Rune Jonsson, who studied British photography in the 1970s and is represented here with a series of his own photographs from England and Wales. Rune Jonsson had a background in the so-called Photo Club movement in Sweden, and was the editor of ‘Fotografisk Årsbok’ for four years; he also taught at the Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design until his retirement.
Walter Hirsch belonged to this innermost circle, and a series of diary pictures from the early 1980s are shown here, including portraits of several of the photographers in the exhibition. Walter Hirsch, Gunnar Smoliansky and Dawid started the publishing company DOG in 1982, together with the art director and designer Mats Alinder, which published books with their own photographs in conjunction with exhibitions at Fotografiska Museet in Moderna Museet. Later on, DOG donated a photographic collection to the Museum, and we have selected a few of these pictures, including Stina Brockman’s intimate, terse self-portrait and studies of interiors in the homes of old people at Södermalm in Stockholm’s inner city. The photographer Gerry Johansson was also involved in DOG, and the exhibition includes a series of his enigmatic nature studies produced as contact prints. Denise Grünstein became famous for her innovative portraits, and we are showing portraits of Dawid at the age of 30, and of the writer Klas Östergren in West and East Berlin. Worth mentioning in this context is Johns S. Webb’s fine artist portrait of Christer Strömholm in Höganäs, where he lived periodically during the last twenty years of his life. Dawid is represented with a double portrait of Stina Brockman and Gunnar Smoliansky, but also with examples from his ‘135–36’ and ‘Rust’ series, the latter in the characteristic deepred wooden frames. ‘Rust’ was published as a book in 1983 by DOG.
© Anders Petersen, Zigeuner-Uschi with her third husband. From the series Café Lehmitz, 1967-1970
Anders Petersen, however, is perhaps the one photographer who and has most distinctly continued in Strömholm’s spirit. He studied at Fotoskolan from 1966 to 1968, and it was during this time that he started on his series from Café Lehmitz in Hamburg ( 1967–70 ). This is still his best-known work, and it was published a few years later by Schirmel & Mosel, Germany. Throughout his career, Petersen has continued to seek out people and environments that are challenging or interesting in various ways. He has published a dozen or so books, on themes such as the Gröna Lund amusement park, circuses, prisons, mental institutions and the carnival in Venice. His approach involves making contact and being accepted – photography as a way of relating to reality; a way of life. ‘City Diary’is a work in progress which involves travelling to different cities and staying there for a while to experience and explore, before moving on. He enlarges his images to 70x100 cm, and in his most recent exhibitions he has let the pictures cover the walls almost entirely, like wallpaper, to achieve the desired effect. Anders Petersen started the Saftra group in 1967 with Kenneth Gustavsson, and in the years that followed, they made several widely acknowledged photo reportages. Moderna Museet has a collection of some 30 Saftra images that were donated by Mira Galleri. Saftra merged with Mira Bildarkiv, which was founded in 1979 and eventually represented some 40 independent photographers in Scandinavia. Among them were Ann Christine Eek, Nina Korhonen, Maud Nycander, Anders Petersen and Håkan Pieniowski. Mira, with its collective darkroom, became a meeting place, but also managed sales for its affiliated photographers, and produced several exhibitions in its own gallery.
One of the photographers who were inspired by Anders Petersen and worked alongside many male photographers in this tradition, was Catharina Gotby. Her first book, ‘Evigt brinnande tid’ ( Eternally Burning Time, 1992 ), was the result of many years working at mental institutions in Sweden and Nicaragua during the second half of the 1980s. Gotby had a distinctly documentary approach. Over time, however, she has become more interested in social issues and psychoanalysis, and her pictures examine female identity and the underlying causes of violence. Another photographer worth highlighting in this context is Nina Korhonen, whose book Minne, Muisto, Memory ( 1997 ) portrays her childhood summers in Finland in soft black and white images. In her second book, Anna, American mummu ( 2004 ), Korhonen delivers a portrait in words and images of her grandmother, who went to New York and stayed there for 40 years. For this project she used colour and larger formats.
© Kenneth Gustavsson Estate, Berlin, 1983
At the time of Christer Strömholm’s exhibition at Moderna Museet, he had attracted a following of photographers, copyists, designers and journalists from a new generation. Johan Ehrenberg and the magazine ETC carried reportages by older and younger photographers. For a few years, they also published the photo magazine ‘Picture Show’. Its first issue was devoted to Christer Strömholm and was produced in conjunction with the 1986 exhibition. The ensuing issues were about Finnish photography, polaroids, Russian underground, Spanish Harlem; the tenth and final issue included a series of photographs from Paris in 1989 by Lars Tunbjörk. Issue No 7 was also a catalogue for the exhibition of Swedish photography at FotoFest in Houston, Texas in 1988. Six photographers took part: Håkan Elofsson, Kenneth Gustavsson, Tuija Lindström, Anders Petersen, Gunnar Smoliansky and Hatte Stiwenius. Kenneth Gustavsson presented a series of new photographs in a slightly larger format, in which he continued his probings into the darkness, beauty and ambiguity of black-and-white images. Several of these photographs are now in the Moderna Museet collection, and they are featured in this exhibition. Tuija Lindström was represented in Houston by a series of female nudes – a theme she explored and elaborated on for several years, and which developed into the conceptual suite ‘Kvinnorna vid Tjursjön’ ( The Women at Lake Tjursjön, 1991 ). From 1992 and ten years onwards, Tuija Lindström was a professor at the School of Photography, University of Gothenburg. During this time, the curriculum changed in a more theoretical and artistic direction, which had a great impact on the students.
© Tuija Lindström, Maria i en båge. From the series ‘Kvinnor vid Tjursjön’, 1991
Lars Tunbjörk has recounted the powerful effect that Christer Strömholm’s book ‘Poste Restante’ ( 1967 ) had on him, and he later became one of the many young photographers who visited Strömholm to ask for advice, show their photographs, and discuss image production and life’s great questions. Tunbjörk is featured with a few examples from his breakthrough, ‘Country Beside Itself. Pictures from Sweden’ ( 1991 ), but also from his morose series Winter, which was originally shown in a solo exhibition at Moderna Museet in 2007. One of Tunbjörk’s close friends is the Latvian photographer Inta Ruka, who belongs to a generation of Baltic photographers who have documented the post-Soviet era. She has strong ties to Sweden and is one of the prominent Baltic photographers in the Moderna Museet collection of photography.
JH Engström made his breakthrough with the book ‘Härbärge’ ( Shelter, 1997 ), which has a short preface by Robert Frank. For several years, he documented the women in an institution for the homeless, portraying them in uninhibited black-and-white images. Engström has progressed from classical black-and-white documentary photography to colour. His motifs have grown increasingly personal – and revealing – over the years, with nude portraits of friends and girlfriends and pure self-portraits. In this exhibition, we show works chosen from his latest project, ‘Tout va bien’, a tale of his life and the people around him.
© JH Engström, from the series ‘Tout va bien’, 2014
In Swedish photography we often refer to a succession, where Christer Strömholm is followed by Anders Petersen, and JH Engström is a successor of both. All three are represented by Galerie Vu in Paris, where owner Christian Caujolle early discovered and exhibited Strömholm. French photography, and France/Paris as a setting, has impacted on the output of all three. The legacy of Christer Strömholm has largely been that of the independent ( male ) photographer who travels, exposes himself to life, in search of himself, and who has a secret, bohemian existence thanks to his camera. But the women photographers have, as we have seen, always been there as a strong force and tradition in Nordic photography.
© Anna Clarén, from the series ‘Holding’, 2006
Anna Clarén, like JH Engström, belongs to a generation of photographers who made their debut in the late 1990s. Her major breakthrough came with the book ‘Holding’ ( 2006 ), a project that encompasses some 50 pictures, and with a narrative that builds on an existential crisis. In bright colour photographs – dominated by pastel blue and pale skin tones – we meet people and places close to the photographer. Anna Clarén has been one of the principal teachers at Nordens Fotoskola on Biskops-Arnö. The school has an explicit policy on image production, stating that it strives to promote the authenticity of editorial pictures and that it is the photo journalist’s responsibility and subjective choices that give the image authenticity. This has of course grown even more important in our digital era, but the question of responsibility has always been paramount in documentary photography. It also reflects Christer Strömholm’s many statements on responsibility and veracity in connection with his own photography.
Martin Bogren is the third contemporary photographer highlighted in this exhibition. In ‘Lowlands’ from 2011, his atmospheric black-and-white images tell of a small rural village in Skåne, his memories, his friends, and his longing to get away. But he returned, and through the people and surroundings he experienced and photographed his own childhood and upbringing. Thus, his project is exceedingly personal and, ultimately, a self-portrait.
© Martin Bogren, from the series ‘Lowlands’, 2011
In several interviews,Nan Goldin has emphasised that she was influenced and inspired by both Christer Strömholm and Anders Petersen. One of JH Engström’s inspirations, a photographer he has collaborated and exhibited with, is Nan Goldin. She also came to Nordens Fotoskola as a guest teacher in 1992. These are some of the reasons why Nan Goldin is included in this exhibition of Swedish photography. Her entire oeuvre focuses on documenting the people and places she loves and has a special relationship to, deeply private experiences encompassing the lighter and darker aspects of existence. Christer Strömholm said that all his images were, in some way, part of his life – a perspective that is significant for all the photographers presented here. Our selection also includes several self-portraits, friend portraits, and portraits of the photographer Christer Strömholm. Through the photographers in this exhibition, we have the opportunity to see a large range of fantastic photographs that show different ways of life.
Swedish Photography from Christer Strömholm until Today
Stockholm 6 September 2014 - 15 February 2015
BY STEVE BISSON
1. Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots? How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?
1. My approach to photography has evolved over the years in many ways! Yet, in some ways it has come full circle once again. What do I mean by that? Mainly that, when I first began to photograph, without the aid of a formal photographic education, I felt a freedom to explore and not have the sense that someone was looking over my shoulder each time I made a picture. The photographs made in school were made under a great deal of pressure and emotional duress. Unfortunately, I’m bi-polar and that complicated things greatly! Photographing and presenting work under the magnifying glass of the structure of a critique of faculty, peers, and whomever happened to be in attendance that night was unnerving but it did toughen my artistic skin. A running joke among my peers, in relation to my critiques, is that I used to talk to the photographs on the wall rather than the audience.
My main problem with my work at the time was trying to define a subject! I would drive around endlessly looking for something that was undefinable for me at the time. One of my professor’s once stated, that if I had come up with a grand plan in response to my quest for defining a subject, that usually ninety percent of the photographs made would be dull and lifeless. Yet, the photographs made on the way and back from the trip would possess a certain magic which transcended the others. It was difficult hearing this but he was absolutely right. What he meant (I believe) is to be completely open to the moment and to photograph without preconception. I first experienced this way of working when I took a two week trip to Georgia. Since, that was the first time I had travelled in the South everything was a revelation. I was seeing with fresh eyes!
© Michael Bach, Star emblazoned pillow lying in the thicket and wildflowers, Mt. Ida, Troy NY, September 2012.
After graduate school I continued to pursue this methodology of working. I would continue working for another ten years until I suffered a nervous breakdown. After being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder I struggled for the next fifteen years and didn’t photograph. A new anti-depressant allowed me to once again find my passion for the medium of photography. I haven’t stopped since that time. The marvels of modern medicine!
My first photographic memories involve using the family Kodak Instamatic on vacations. I used to love looking at the square color prints. They were like little worlds to me. Perhaps, that’s part of my attraction to working with a ground glass oriented camera.
2. Tell us about your educational path. You hold a B.A. in photography from Bard College and you graduated from the Yale School of Art. Tell us about those experiences. What are your best memories of your studies? What was your relationship with photography at that time?
My photographic education began at the Junior College of Albany. At the time, I had no awareness of fine art or fine arts photography. My original intention was to learn a trade and become a commercial photographer. The program required that you take general drawing, life drawing, perceptual design, sculptural design and art history. I wouldn’t take a photography class until my second year. At first, this was distressing because I didn’t see the validity of it at the time. This changed as I soon discovered the world of art and art practice. A history of photography class was an introduction into the medium. The professor, a working fine art photographer started to show me photographers outside of Beaumont Newhall’s scope.
I had the great fortune of viewing, Renato Danese’s, “American Images”, at the Albany State Museum. I would return six times to visit the exhibit until it came down. The exhibit was like a who’s who of contemporary fine art photography at that time (1981-1982). Robert Adams, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, Stephen Shore, Larry Fink, Jan Groover and on and on. Upon viewing the exhibition, my life path was given to me, changing my life forever.
© Michael Bach, Sleeping bag, overalls and a hair dresser’s dolls head assembled to resemble a human figure on the ground, Mt. Ida, Troy NY, October 2010
In 1983, I was accepted into the Bard College Undergraduate Photography Program. I remember my first meeting with Stephen Shore in his office. It was a blistering hot August day! I had just walked about a 1/4 mile with a heavy box full of framed prints and sort of spilled into his office. I remember him being amused by my unfortunate predicament. He was gracious! As he looked through mostly experimental work, he stated that the program centered around the idea of straight or unmanipulated photography. He stated, would I be able to work under those conditions? Of course, my answer was yes!
While at Bard, I was blessed with good fortune in having the opportunity to work independently with Stephen Shore. During that time, I experimented with three different camera formats 35mm, 2 1/4 twin lens reflex, and the school’s 4x5 outfit. My displeasure with the small negative led me to buy a Rolliecord. I used this camera for some time. When the opportunity to work with a 4x5 view camera presented itself, I seized the opportunity. The 4x5 proved to be my most prolific vehicle of expression. I experimented with environmental portraiture, familial portraiture, documentation of a neighborhood, a construction project, and ultimately the landscape on and near the Bard campus. This later work would turn out to be my senior project.
Upon graduation, I bought my own 4x5 field camera, lens, tripod, and some holders. I processed the film in my parents’ cellar. While I was still at Bard, I had applied to the Yale School of Art Graduate Photography Program. Ultimately, I was accepted as an alternate, yet no one declined. I began working on a new project which centered around the Albany Pine Bush. I reapplied with this body of work! I also applied to the San Francisco Art Institute. I was accepted by San Francisco but I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to live there. I interviewed at Yale once more! The letter arrived stating that I’m accepted as an alternate once again. This time around, someone declined admission.
My time at Yale, could best be described by that of being a state of constant fear and awe. Even though I was among the chosen few, I felt out of place, inferior, and whatever negative connotation you can conjure. I was severely depressed, yet I didn’t seek help because of the stigma behind mental illness prevalent at that time. I allowed that kind of thinking to dictate my actions for a very long time. I didn’t seek help until I had no choice!
© Michael Bach, Article of clothing, Mt.Ida, Troy NY, August 2012.
3. Any professor or teacher that has allowed you to better understand your work?
Any class taught by Ben Lifson still resonates in my mind. He was a critical thinker and would be able to infuse his passion for literature and the arts effortlessly. More importantly, he would be able to do it in a manner where the student truly understood and could engage in the conversation at hand. There now is a giant hole within the realm of the history of photography and criticism that cannot be filled by anyone who comes close to a man with Ben’s passion.
I would have to say that Stephen Shore and Ben Lifson have given me great advice and criticism toward my work. To be fair, all of my professors have had an impact in my artistic growth.
4. What about Internet. How do you use this resource?
The internet didn’t exist when I was a student back in the eighties. Did the computer? Since my re-emergment from my fifteen year period of photographic non-activity, the internet has been like a revelation that I can reach out to other photographer’s from around the world through FlakPhotoNetwork and Facebook. I also subscribe to online magazines such as Urbanautica and others. When there is a call for submission I usually respond if I know the publication. It’s all very new and exciting to me. It’s an incredible opportunity to show work and to also get feedback about the work.
5. About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?
My personal approach to my work, regardless of subject matter, is to let go and to shed away preconceptions. I try to be an open conduit to whatever it is that I’m photographing. I use the term the social landscape to generally describe the work that I do. I’d rather be photographing than analyzing what it is I do. If I knew, the answer, then what would be the point. The photographs are the questions to a quizzical world.
© Michael Bach, Sleeping bag, Mt. Ida, Troy NY, November 2012
6. Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format? At this time, we read, you’re working with an 8x10 view camera and using black and white materials exclusively? How is that?
I’ll work with any camera that is available! That said, my preference is the 8x10 view camera. The transformation that takes place when viewing the world within the frame of the ground glass, still to this day, fascinates me and it is still magical I relate to the slow methodical movement and the stationary position. I love fiddling with the camera movements and observing their actions on the ground glass. I relate to the uncanny feeling one gets toward the proper placement of the camera. There is an incredible energy involved! On some days it all seems effortless and right! Yet, at other times, it can be pure drudgery and the photographs usually reflect that. That’s when it’s time to pack it in for the day. The ability to intensely observe your subject is probably the most important reason I use the view camera.
7. Tell us about your project on the Mt. Ida area of Troy, New York.
The Mt. Ida project involves a landscape located in Troy New York. It also involves the permanent banishment of the homeless from this land. The City of Troy and a local university banned together to create a construction project “City Station” which consisted of three graduate housing complexes, commercial stores at the bottom level, and a parking garage. The homeless were the only thing that was stopping their project from being realized. In 2010, They permanently banished the homeless from Mt. Ida. It was then that I decided to carry out the project “A Pall of Gloom Has Descended Upon Thee.” to be a memorial to the landscape and a testament to the people who called this place home.
© Michael Bach, Newly built parking lot at Dusk, Mt. Ida, Troy NY, September 2012
8. Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?
Embarrassingly, I don’t go to see shows! I do try to keep up with what is being shown and where. I do also apply for grants and enter juried shows. All found on the internet. My favorite photographer is Eugene Atget! I did have the great fortune of seeing his work at MOMA several years ago. What an incredible vision he possessed!
9. Plans for the future?
My plans for the future is to work on a book of the Mt. Ida work. As well as continue to photograph.
10. Three books of photography that you recommend?
'The Work of Atget' published by MOMA
'American Photographs' by Walker Evans
'The American's' by Robert Frank
Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam
24.01.2015 - 24.05.2015
Following the presentations of Christian Boltanski, Alfredo Jaar and David Claerbout, the Nederlands Fotomuseum will again open the new year with work by an internationally renowned artist: John Stezaker this time. Ten years ago Stezaker made his breakthrough in the international art world with intriguing photocollages. He snips into and cuts up old publicity photos of actors from the thirties, forties and fifties – the period of florescence of the Hollywood film. He mounts sections of portraits of different actors or film-set photos along very precise lines to form a new image. In doing so, he manages to create a surreal object that is just as surprising as it is wonderful, one that induces stimulating questions about how we experience and understand a photo as a picture. At the same time, he makes the viewer think about the way in which these photo-portraits communicate notions of personality, glamour and fame.
© John Stezaker, Mask CL VI
Fotocollages. Stezaker is a master in assembling two or three different pictures in order to produce one new – often surrealistic – image. He does this in various ways. In his series entitled He, two totally different men jointly form one face. In Marriages, Stezaker combines ‘halved’ faces of a man and a woman into one picture. Stezaker explicitly calls his work ‘collages’ rather than ‘photo-montages’ because he does not finish the combinations flawlessly, and always leaves his interventions visible. To him, the work is all about the schism between the two parts, which brings content-related tension. Although the compiled portrait produces an estranged image, essential parts of the faces, such as eyebrows, lips and cheekbones appear to converge in a natural way. This precision ensures that the composed portrait becomes a personal image that is just as credible as it is uncomfortable.
Stezaker finds his photos at flea markets, in antiquarian bookshops and now also via internet. Many of the photo-portraits with which he works are so-called ‘virgins’: actors and actresses who have been promoted but eventually never managed to appear in a film. He is touched by the tragedy of pictures that no longer have a function and are doomed to vanish. From his enormous archives of old film pictures he creates new archives in which the pictures are preserved, albeit fragmented.
© John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa (XXXIX)
In addition to publicity photos, Stezaker also uses picture postcards and photos from old books as raw material. He mounts landscapes and picture postcards on top of some portraits and double portraits. The results may be a shock to some – there is always an element of violence inflicted upon the faces of those depicted. But his way of working always brings a new, extraordinary form of beauty.
John Stezaker (1949, Worcester, UK) has been making collages for more than forty years, but it is only recently that he has presented them to the general pubic. This occurred partly as a result of the fact that gallery owner and collector Charles Saatchi began to collect his work in the early 2000s. He then quickly broke through into the international art world. Stezaker was given a large retrospective exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2011, and won the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012. He represented Great Britain at the Sydney Biennial in 2014. In his function as a teacher of ‘Critical and Historical Studies’, Stezaker has been affiliated for some time with the Royal College of Art in London, where he still lives and works. He himself was educated at the Slade School of Art from which he graduated in 1973, having specialized in film.
© John Stezaker, Marriage LX,2010
Present-day art in the Nederlands Fotomuseum.
Since 2011 the Nederlands Fotomuseum has invited an internationally renowned artist to open the new artistic year. This artist is someone who reflects directly or indirectly on our visual culture. Now that the creation of photo collages and photo-montages have become popular under a young generation of photographers and other visual artists, the Fotomuseum now presents Stezaker as a major source of inspiration and one of the masters of the genre. Artists Christian Boltanski, Alfredo Jaar and David Claerbout preceded Stezaker in this function.
With this programme, the museum harmonizes with the large-scale cultural festivals in Rotterdam, such as Art Rotterdam and the het International Film Festival Rotterdam. This year, the OUT THERE festival will also take place, an international manifestation with film, video and photo projections in the outdoor area of the Wilhelminapier and parts of the Katendrecht.
Flowers Gallery, London
27.02.2015 - 04.04.2015
The Mountains of Majeed is a reflection on the end of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan through photography, found imagery and Taliban poetry. Edmund Clark examines the experience of the vast majority of military personnel and contractors who have serviced Enduring Freedom without ever engaging the enemy. He distils their war down to a concise series of photographs of the two views they have of Afghanistan: what they see of the country over the walls or through the wire of their bases, and what they see of pictorial representations within the enclaves that they never leave.
At Bagram Airfield, the largest American base in Afghanistan, and formerly home to 40,000, the view, both outside and inside, is dominated by the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Set against their looming presence, Clark’s photographs from his time spent embedded with the U.S. military, expose the dystopian relationship between the man-made landscape of Bagram and the country beyond its walls.
© Edmund Clark, The Mountains of Majeed, 2014
Evoking the intangible, yet intensely felt presence of the mountains beyond, and the unseen insurgents they hide, Clark’s quiet and contemplative images portray an alternative narrative to the one ordinarily presented by the media.
Clark’s photographs capture the visual mirroring of the distant views within the base. Echoes of the surrounding landscape are found in the craters formed by construction work, peaks of refuse-strewn razor wire and the precisely ordered vistas of military tents.
Inside the buildings of the base, the landscape is simulated by murals and artworks, representing another view of Afghanistan. On the walls of a dining facility, a series of paintings signed by an artist named ‘Majeed’ project a romantic vision of its lush mountain passes and lakes. Reflecting on the significance of the paintings’ location on an American base, Clark says: “How many tens of thousands of pairs of western eyes have registered the pastoral peace of these mountainscapes? Has anyone considered what they say of the country they are playing a part in occupying?”
In this exhibition, Majeed’s paintings have been reproduced as a series of picture postcards. Likening them to mementos for souvenir hunters of an idealized touristic landscape, Clark’s appropriation of the paintings offers a powerful reminder that the mountains remain out of Western reach.
«At its peak Bagram was the busiest military airbase in the world, with 140,000 operations a year. It was also a home for the military personnel and civilian contractors who lived behind large concrete barriers called T-walls and razor wire on six square miles of Afghanistan.
The boots on the ground at Bagram were overwhelmingly American. This was a town of 40,000 inhabitants and about 7,000 local ancillary workers, who came in daily. It had power and water plants, sewage treatment, waste disposal, recycling and landfill, industrial zones, suburbs of storage and newly built barracks, town planners and a director of public works. Management was outsourced to private contractors and staffed by civilians servicing Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name of the war in Afghanistan, which ends next month for the Americans, after 13 years (and when Bagram will finally be empty). Britain handed over its bases to the Afghan government two weeks ago.
© Edmund Clark, The Mountains of Majeed, 2014
My interest in Bagram stemmed from my work about Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, published in 2010, where I made a series of pictures examining the institutional spaces of Guantánamo naval base and its prison camps. Guantánamo and Bagram are linked. The Bagram Theater Internment Facility, a makeshift US prison in a former Soviet aircraft hangar, preceded the prisons at Guantánamo. It was replaced with a purpose-built prison in 2009, and between them, the old and new facilities have held more detaineees than Guantánamo. Many who ended up in the latter passed through the cages in Bagram first, and I know men who were subject to interrogation and abuse in both.
I explored these ex-detainees’ experiences through three notions of ‘home’: the places where they are rebuilding their lives; the complex of prisons where they were held; and the naval base at Guantánamo that is home to the American community. Winning the inaugural Zeit Magazin Photo Prize in Germany in 2012 gave me the opportunity to work in Afghanistan, including looking at Bagram as an oasis of ‘home’ in a foreign desert; seeking an alternative narrative to the ambushes and improvised explosive devices that characterise the news media’s reporting.
Accessing Bagram and Guantánamo as a photo-grapher involves the backing of media organisations, much form-filling and a lot of persistence before getting US military or International Security Assistance Force clearance. Getting there is a comparable process too. Guantánamo requires a flight straight from Florida to the base. The plane even has to avoid Cuban airspace. Similarly, arriving at Bagram in October 2013 involved very little contact with Afghanistan apart from a short transfer from Kabul International Airport to the military airport for the flight to the base.
© Edmund Clark, The Mountains of Majeed, 2014
Research told me that Bagram is situated close to the Hindu Kush mountain range, but it had not prepared me for the mountains’ constant looming presence. Depending on where you are, the time of day, the weather and the dust, they are on occasions indiscernible, at other times sharpened by light and snow, but always there. The mountains are inside, on the walls, too: meeting rooms with murals of the Hindu Kush on all four walls, photos of planes against mountain backdrops, T-walls painted with images of soldiers and Afghans with the range behind them. Inside a dining facility I found simple paintings of mountains and monuments showing a different Afghanistan, by an Afghan artist called Majeed (I have no other information about him). These transcend the confines of the base, taking the viewer to passes and lakes in the Hindu Kush and other ranges.
My nine-day visit coincided with Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice, and a period of enhanced insurgent activity. Most nights were punctuated by amplified chants of ‘incoming, incoming’, and two to a dozen distant impacts. No one was killed inside the base. Outside, a man rammed his motorcycle into an armoured column. Only he exploded.
Wars of resistance are characterised by fluid insurgencies fighting more sophisticated occupying powers, stationary in their fortified enclaves; watching across a technological gulf and an abyss of mutual incom-prehension; waiting for the duration to sap resources and political will.
My work at Bagram juxtaposes the mountains of eight of my photographs with those in four paintings by Majeed and three poems by Afghan insurgents. It is a reflection on the war in Afghanistan and the relationship between the mountains, the insurgents and the forces occupying the bases, the vast majority of whom never leave their enclaves. Their vision of Afghanistan is what they see over their perimeters or represented on the walls inside. ['Inside the strange world of the US airbase at Bagram' by Edmund Clark, The Telegraph]
© Edmund Clark, The Mountains of Majeed, 2014
Edmund Clark uses photography, found imagery and text to explore links between representation and politics. His work traces ideas of shared humanity, otherness and unseen experience through landscape, architecture and the documents, possessions and environments of subjects of political tension. His recent work explores control and incarceration in the War on Terror, in the monographs ‘Control Order House’ (2012) and ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’ (2010).
The publication ‘The Mountains of Majeed’ by Edmund Clark is available from Here Press. Signed copies will be available at the private view and throughout the exhibition.
BY SYLVIE DE WEZE
1. Do you remember your first photograph? Describe that picture?
My older brother usually took the family and holiday pictures. I hated it when it was my turn to tell everybody ‘say cheese’. It was only during my graphic design studies that I truly started using a (digital) camera. As such, my first pictures were a function of an assignment to be accomplished. If I remember well, that was while walking on the Place du Jeu de Balle in the Brussels’ Marolles quarter, known for its folky and social character.
2. What motivated you to choose photography as your medium?
During my studies at KASK I visited the ‘Belgicum’ exhibition at the FotoMuseum in Antwerp where I discovered Stephan Vanfleteren's way of picturing the world around him. It triggered my study of photography as well. As a graphic designer I was used to making things from scratch from behind my computer, but suddenly I felt the need to get away from my screen. I became more interested in capturing experiences in the world around me by closely observing and by letting the moment guide me.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
3. What is the most valuable lesson you learned at Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (KASK) in Ghent, the school where you were educated?
The academy not only gave me a technical background, but also drove me to learn by experience. The study of other photographers introduced me to their view of the world and their way of revealing the impression it left on them.
I learned to see things from a different perspective, to observe and to capture the moment. I became fascinated by moments in common daily life. Somehow the free work assignments at KASK always had to do with man and his environment, be it very broad or rather limited in its scope.
In the beginning I made short projects with only a limited number of well-chosen images. Gradually this evolved into making more documentary work, which was more time consuming and much more intensive. The images themselves were getting less artificial, more simple and straightforward. Showing less became telling more.
4. What is your series ‘Naar de kern’ (To the core) all about?
My master’s project arose from my fascination with the human being and his environment that had been applied in previous work. However, this time I decided to set out an objective framework and to go beyond the scope I took so far, which was always pretty close to home. The idea came to create a visual work on Europe. As of 2014, when an 18th country was added, the Eurozone sounded like a pretty interesting subject. I was not targeting big cities or photogenic areas, but instead wanted to visit just one village in the center of each country, stay there, explore the place and take pictures for exactly one week. By limiting the one-week-visit to one village rather than traversing a country, I sensed I could go deeper and have a more intense involvement with each community.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
I used a rational basis to compute the location of that village by determining the center of the minimal enclosing circle I drew around each country. This limiting rigid structure provided borders around me and formed some sort of geographical cage, in which I could work with the greatest freedom. I usually ended up in semi-abandoned places, where younger people left towards the bigger cities searching for work, leaving empty streets and faded glory.
Eighteen times I was immersed in the living environment of common people. From early in the morning until late in the evening I wandered and looked around. I took pictures, led by my gut feeling. People stared at me and were suspicious. Gossip travels fast in such villages. Once, as I was spending some time in the neighborhood of a school, two police cars all of a sudden surrounded me and I almost got arrested on suspicion of pedophilia. Another time, as I probably came too close to private property, I got attacked and bitten by an angry dog. But usually I gained people’s confidence and they often invited me in for a talk and even to join their meal. I had long philosophical conversations with a shepherd, a farmer, an old peat cutter…
Most of the time, I was just using sign language or a very limited set of English words. I was surprised to discover the limited knowledge of the English language in those European villages. I gathered the images that struck me, that appealed to me, that told me a story and portrayed these different communities in their ordinary daily life. Each time I discovered several new things, people and cultures and got a photographic feel like a kind of anthropological quest for the identity of Europe.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
5. Which motivation or fascination lies at the base of your series ‘Naar de kern’?
Discovering the true heart of Europe by photographically exploring these selected villages and their inhabitants. What fascinated me most were the daily trivial things that I was able to discover in this limited area and time frame. Often the local habitants weren’t even aware of these. I was eager to wander around, looking for things, people, situations that struck me. Photography became almost a kind of performance, as I was repeatedly walking in the same handful of streets. It had to happen on that spot. I had no other choice. This limitation in time and place strangely allowed me to act freely as a photographer.
6. What did you learn from a project like ‘Naar de kern’?
It was quite a journey to visit those 18 countries in one year! It was often hard to find a place to sleep and it took some time to get people’s confidence. I was exhausted each time I came back from a country visit but each time I felt enriched by the new experience, the people I got to know much closer, their loneliness, their philosophy and their view on daily life. I often experienced the harsh effects of the economic crisis and the local effects of joining the Eurozone. I witnessed the doubt and fear for the future of the local people in the small villages, struggling with a disappointing economic growth and experiencing rising unemployment.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
It also taught me that we are all the same. It fascinated me that wherever I was, I had the impression that it was all so familiar despite the different languages, cultures and habits. I experienced Europe as a big circle of small of often semi-abandoned villages with people often showing loneliness, even desperation. I saw the uniqueness as well as the commonality in the human characters and the village communities. It felt like a reflection of my own village every time. In the same way, I hope that my images can act as a mirror in which we can recognize ourselves as small villagers in the greater Europe.
7. Which part does documentary photography play in your body of work?
Even though it is a very important part, I wouldn’t describe the book I’m working on as a true documentary. It is rather a collection of impressions in all those distinct, yet similar places. The fact that I had a fixed plan regarding place and time made at least the initial scope very ‘documentary’. For me however, it certainly is a personal document that depicts my short stay in these villages, my brief encounters with some locals.
8. How do you handle the relationship between your commercial work and autonomous projects?
Today, I’m focused on graphic design to earn my living. I’m just starting to build my career as an artist in parallel to a half-time steady job at a Belgian newspaper. I’m just at the beginning and still need to find my way, but I feel very lucky and honored by the interest that people have shown so far in my work and the feedback obtained. During the Breda Photo 2014 exhibition for instance.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
9. How do your new personal projects come into being? How would you describe your personal research?
The starting point is almost always topographical. As soon as I’m there I feel what I need to illustrate for that spot. I’m always interested in the boundaries between countries, where do things start and where do they end.
10. Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, which influenced you in some way?
Definitely William Eggleston. His images are always in my head. I’m very absorbed by his images that seem to have no coherent theme or story and I don’t feel the artificial hand of the photographer in his work. As a young photographer I admire as well as envy the freedom he enjoys and the simplicity he applies in his work. Eggleston is simply photographing whatever he encounters on his way and what makes him stand still in his own environment. He assembles all these images in a democratic way, assigning the same value to each image and its subject or object.
© Gert Verbelen, ‘Naar de kern’
11. Which photo books are on your bucket list?
The one I’m looking forward to buy is ‘Grays the mountain sends’ by Bryan Schutmaat, published by Silas Finch. It is currently sold out, but luckily a second edition is underway! It’s a set of images of some mining sites and mountain towns, portraying the people who have worked in them and the younger people looking for a way out. They picture both the landscape and the psyche of the people who live there, in a similar fashion as I experienced quite often during my journey in the Eurozone.
12. Can you sketch us the most recent project(s) you’re working on?
For the moment I’m still focused on my series ‘Naar de Kern’ which is planned to be published before summer and to be exhibited at the photo festival of Ghent 2015.
13. Tell us something about your upcoming shows abroad and/or in Belgium?
I was honored to be part of the Breda Photo exhibition in 2014 and I’m very much looking forward to the exhibition at the Sint-Pietersabdij in Ghent (Belgium) - 80 Days of Summer - Stories of Identity - from 12/06/2015 until 30/08/2015.
Text by Krzysztof Sienkiewicz
«Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.»– writes Robert Frost in his famous poem “The Death of the Hired Man”. The notion of ‘home’ is also the key concept in Wiktoria Wojciechowska’s series entitled ‘Own Place’. Wojciechowska, over a hundred years after Frost’s poem was published, challenges the idea of home in modern times, when distance is no longer a barrier. What does ‘home’ mean for the current generation of young, mobile people?
‘Own Place’ consists of photographs of blurred, pensive faces mixed with pictures of houses at night shown from a distance. There is light switched on inside each one of them. Wojciechowska seems to highlight a connection between these houses and young people of which she took pictures. Are these dwellings the titular own places? Or, perhaps, taking into account the dreamlike atmosphere of the whole series, this is how these young people imagine their own place? The very place, where when you have to go there, invited by the ever-present light, they have to take you in. A place called home.
Yet there may be one more explanation: in our times, when changing one’s place of residence has become more frequent than ever before, the concept of ‘home’ got blurred. Nonetheless, we still long for a place we could call our own. We look for it, we dream about it. The question whether we are still able to find such a place remains open.
BY SANNE KABALT
1. On your website I found the following words: ‘To Bogaers, a photo is not an end, only a means. It is not an endpoint either.’ For what reason do you work with photography?
Ah, Sanne, you like to start right away with a tricky question!
Well, I have to admit that although my work nearly always contains photos or relates to photography in any form, I don’t consider myself a photographer in the first place. I’ve always been struggling in order to push the boundaries of the medium, and I suppose the reason for this is that in fact I was raised as an artist. In art school I was educated in a whole range of art disciplines, photography being only one of them. To a very large extent, I think, this is still recognizable in my work.
From the beginning, I have had a love-hate relationship with photography. I’ve always regarded it as a most interesting medium, but very limited compared to my needs. Photography is at its best in showing what the visible word looks like – as a record of appearance. This can be very convenient, which is precisely the reason why today’s world is overflowed with photos. An artist, however, searches for a medium that he can use as a means of expression. Photography in this respect is far more difficult to use than for instance drawing or painting. But of course, this difficulty makes it so very exciting at the same time. It is difficult, but not impossible.
© Paul Bogaers, Upset Down
© Paul Bogaers, Upset Down
My personal approach to solve this problem is to consider a photo as a semi-finished product, not as final, as most ‘real’ photographers do. I’ve always been feeling the need to still do something with it; place it next to another image, turn it around or upside down, draw or paint on it, etc. In my most recent work I even combine photographs with materials like paper maché, wood, fibers and found objects. These works I refer to as ‘extended photography’, but in fact this term would already be applicable for most part of my older work.
2. Your studio walls are filled with small skeletons, masks, your old, new and unfinished works, branches, insects and objects that are hard to define. Why is it that you surround yourself with all this?
I’m a collector, in the first place. I like to surround myself with things that inspire me, being the things that I collect. But it is also an essential part of my working process, which requires a large reservoir of materials and imagery that I can draw from while working. When I create, I tend to play instead of thinking. Therefore, I want my studio to be filled to the brim with possibilities.
And then there are the many, many things that I am still working on. I need to regard and consider these endlessly, for creating is a slow process to me.
But to be frank, I have to admit I love crammed spaces. It’s also a trait of character. People sometimes wonder how I am possibly able to concentrate with all this ‘noise’ around me, but in reverse, I can hardly stand a blank white wall, like the ones I see many people surround themselves with in their homes. For me, a blank space immediately has to be filled.
© Paul Bogaers, Studio
3. Both in your photographic and textual works you often use a collage method. What is the value of combining to you?
To me, combining is one of the best ways to discover. In regard to artistic creation, two separate working procedures can be distinguished: one is searching, inventing, the other is stumbling upon, finding. Think of the famous words of Picasso, who can be thus classified in the second group: I do not seek, I find. Well, it works the same with me, I hardly ever think something out, almost everything I make I discover, I stumble upon. Already in my childhood I was struck by the magic that occurs when parts of different worlds meet by chance.
The collage method to me is the most interesting form of combining, because it is ambiguous by nature. With Photoshop for example, it is not difficult to merge different images to one single one without leaving any mark or clue. But in most cases the result is, in artistic respect, boring. It is far more exiting to actually show the way the combination was made, e.g. having glued a clipped magazine photo next to a found snapshot. This is the principle of the collage. In the collage, the miracle manifests that two different worlds meet in a way that they most evidently don’t fit at all, but then at the same appear to fit astonishingly, marvelously well.
© Paul Bogaers, Holiday Greetings
4. You have been researching the photography of thoughts; the possibility to take a photograph inside another’s mind. Could you tell us something about this fascination of yours?
To be correct: thought photography is about the possibility of photographing the thoughts in your own mind. Several occult mediums have claimed that they were literally able to do so, the most famous of whom was Ted Serios (what’s in a name!), an American who produced hundreds of his ‘mind pictures’ under ‘scientifically controlled circumstances’ in the 60s of the last century. This phenomenon was meticulously studied by parapsychologist Jules Eisenbud, who recorded his findings in his book The World of Ted Serios.
The World of Ted Serios
Serios was unmasked as a fraud not many years later, and the claim itself I don’t take too seriously. Literally, I mean. The idea, however, of being able to make direct photos of your thoughts I find very exciting. I am tempted to consider it as a wonderful metaphor of that what an artist wishes (or, falsely, expects) photography to be capable of: registering not the appearance of things, but the essence. Not how the world looks like, but how it feels.
Think of the dazzling possibilities, being able to capture for instance your loved one, not in his or her appearance, but as a record of your thoughts..!
Ideas like these inspire me in my work.
© Paul Bogaers, further experiments with thought photography
5. Association plays an important role in your work. Could you name another artist that you associate your own work with?
There are several artists who inspired me, in very different ways and also different ones in different periods. I’ll try to name some, although I fear that I might forget others who might be as important.
The first name which comes to my mind is that of film director David Lynch. A movie that very much inspired me and has evidently many resemblances with my work is Eraserhead. In his other films I recognize many similarities as well, and I can recommend them to the same extent, but in general these are done in a much more smooth and fancy way. His debut movie Eraserhead however, has the same murky, smudgy and black-and-white (!) atmosphere that can be found in my own work.
Another American artist, Edward Kienholz, has had an important influence on my appreciation of art even before I went to art academy. His associative way of working, but also his method of assembling found, junk-like materials into a total environment which has a powerful and criticizing expression, has always fitted with my own intentions, ideas and approach towards art.
When I started my photographic ‘career’ some thirty years ago, there were few artists and photographers with whom I felt familiar. In photography the large format camera was heavily in fashion, with its perfect and down-to-earth registrations of nothing but the visible reality. This never attracted me, and what I did at that time was something completely different from all around me. More recently, to my great satisfaction, photographers and artists have emerged who appear to have a similar interest in the invisible, the subconscious, the incongruous, the irrational. Dutch photographers with whom I feel associated with in this respect are Anouk Kruithof, Jaap Scheeren, Elspeth Diederix, Marnix Goossens. Also, the ‘classical’ collage has undergone a remarkable revival in last couple of years; for instance by Chantal Rens and Ruth van Beek.
6. Last but not least, what projects are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
At this moment I am preparing a major solo exhibition in Foam, the photography museum in Amsterdam, which will take place next autumn (October – December 2015). This will give an overview of my most recent work, which I have been developing for the last five years. For this work I have been stretching the boundaries of photography still more. Photos are not just limited to representations, they often extend to dimensional objects themselves, as I combine them with paper-maché, cardboard, fabric, wood and all kinds of found materials. The boundary between material and the representation of material fades, and the whole expands towards assemblage and installation.
The title of this show will probably be The Mud Years, which refers to the atmosphere of the works, the materials that I have been using and also to a more philosophical notion, which expresses my basic vision of life, on humanity. The essence of this is that we all try to look confident, as if we have every aspect of our life in hand, whereas in fact we are only muddling along through our lives, completely governed by our ignorance, hubris and stupidity. This awareness strikes me every single day, and occasionally makes it difficult to carry on. More frequently, however, it fulfills me with a healthy sense of relativity, and sometimes it even evokes a smile on my face.
All the three of these, the gloom, the relativity and the smile, are manifest in my recent work, I think. It is about conjuring the mud.
© Paul Bogaers
© Paul Bogaers
BY STEVE BISSON
1. Heidi, I learned about your passion and talent for photography through our chats and ‘Unless You Will’, your much appreciatedonline magazine. I never expected to see you also involved in the founding of afestival. Where does the idea for Photobook Melbourne come from?
Life long dreams. It’s funny, sometimes it takes a lot of time to understand what one really wants. For the last few years I always wanted to open a photo gallery, but with limited funds… well it just never happened. Then I thought it would be great to expose Australian artists to a wider audience. So one of the main reasons I threw myself into this much work was to reveal local artists to a wider audience. We have two other festivals (Head On Photo Festival and Ballarat Foto Biennale) in Australia, but I wanted to try my own luck. Over the last five years I have built up a big international network and thought it would be great to finally exhibit some international artists here in Melbourne and expose the photo community here to a wider range of photography and workshops. Australia is so far removed from the rest of the world, but I think it is time to look outside of Australia and see how we can promote our artists on an international level.
© Alexandra Serrano. Finalist PhotoBook Award Melbourne
2. Books play a
central role in the festival. You will host photo book publishing panel
discussions and a self-publishing seminar with field experts. Why?
The way I have experienced it, is that book making in Australia is still in its beginnings. Sure some people have made great books in the past, but it’s only now that we are starting to really see the emerging artists putting out their own books. I think this also has been inspired by projects like the Asia-Pacific Photo Book Archive by Daniel Boetker-Smith. Suddenly the photo community had a place to go and view a variety of different books. I think this in turn has inspired people to make their own books and explore all the different books that are out there. We also have a fabulous book shop, Perimeter, here in Melbourne, who supply some of the best books from around the world, and are a great inspiration for book lovers and makers.
I was at Paris Photo in 2013 and was inspired by browsing through all of the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards. It was heaven to be able to touch and explore all these amazing books. So when I came back I started looking for opportunities to bring those books over here… And so the festival evolved. Now we are very fortunate that we will be able to show the last three years of the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards. I hope these books will inspire photographers to think differently about their narratives and books.
I often feel that photographers think they can do everything. Take the photos and make the book. But I often think that books can be so much better if they have been done in a collaboration with a designer. Collaborating with a designer can help with the sequencing and narrative of a book. Obviously, the layout is important, the size, typography and paper play an integral role in the overall experience, as do the surprises, the breathing room, fullstops and tempo of the story. The Dutch understand the importance of design really well and their books are simply outstanding. By using carefully selected combinations of colours and materials, with a restrained typographic approach, it’s possible to build and reinforce a feeling of fidelity to the driving force behind the narrative. And it doesn’t need to be fancy, a simple book can be beautiful, but it helps if it has been perfectly designed and you are unable to take anything more away from it. I hope we can inspire more photographers to start more collaborations with different people. At the moment it’s just a dream, so who knows what will happen!
© Kai M. Caemmerer. Finalist PhotoBook Award Melbourne
A huge problem in Australia is that we are so far removed from anywhere else and shipping costs are often unaffordable. A few years back I looked into printing Unless You Will, but due to the shipping costs I never went ahead. It is easy to become cynical sometimes, but I think where there is a problem there is often also a solution. So I have tried to look at different methods of exposing and promoting Australian photographers to international audiences. I guess with this festival I am also trying to inspire people to make their books to send out to book awards and share their work with a bigger community.
Sure the book costs more than we would like to pay for postage, but if you can’t travel to Europe and introduce yourself to people, than it’s still cheaper to send the book and introduce your work in a book format. In Australia most of the people have to pay for their own exhibitions. So by the time one has printed and framed ones works, you have probably spent the same amount of money as printing a book. Please dont get me wrong - I am not saying we don’t need exhibitions anymore, but maybe one year you can produce a book instead of an exhibition and use it to reach a bigger audience. Not many people here have the opportunity to go and explore the festivals around the world.
Having said all of this, I am not sure what we will be able
to achieve with this festival, but I am hoping that we can initiate a dialogue
with the international community.
3. Tell us something
about the curatorial thoughts and criteria that guide you in this adventure?
I guess I had been dreaming about a festival for a while, so when we finally got our first sponsor on board - Momento Pro - I suddenly had a chance to transform some of my ideas into reality. Basically to dream up the festival took roughly two weeks and that was the biggest fun ever.
© Kyler Zeleny. Finalist PhotoBook Award Melbourne
I didn’t really start with a theme or any constraints in terms of what I wanted to show, but was guided by my own personal preferences of which artists I would like to work with. I know this sounds a bit selfish, but seeing that I was throwing myself at this mammoth task for no pay, I thought I could also have some fun while I was at it.
Its funny, I did not begin with a theme, but now that I can look at the full program from a distance, I can see my interest in the landscape emerged without me planning it. I was going to write something here about the exhibitions and what brings them together, but I want audiences to explore the work and find their own meanings. For a few exhibitions I worked with the artists on the sequencing and story telling, while some galleries suggested their own artists. So in the end it was all a collaboration and it’s interesting to see how people with different aesthetics get suddenly together with the goal to build something challenging.
4. Let’s talk about the importance of starting small festivals, especially where there are few resources, and it is necessary to convince the public and the audience…
It is such a tricky thing to do a festival. I didn’t understand from the beginning how much work it would take. I thought, well it’s a few exhibitions and some book collections coming our way… but in the end I found myself dealing with thousands of emails. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I had the best job in the world for the last 8 months, but sometimes it would be nice to not have to organize everything from A-Z and design it as well…
© Sinziana Velicescu. Finalist PhotoBook Award Melbourne
What I have learnt in the last few months is persistence, persistence and more persistence. It felt like I had thrown twenty balls in the air and didn’t really know which ball would land where. There is unfortunately no dummy book on how to make a festival. It is all about learning from people who have gone before, to ask questions and of course a lot of work. I also had to learn to throw away my fear.
It’s funny because I didnt really know what the end result would be. One thing always lead to another, and I could see it all coming together, but I didnt really know what it was about. I trusted my intuition and hoped that it would all make sense in the end. Thankfully it does.
By the way, we are going to produce a tiny, cute little program that could also be interesting for everyone to download. It’s funny, as in the beginning I dreamed of beautiful promotional materials, but than I looked at the costs and said “ok let’s go smaller and smaller… so it will be cheap to send out to people”! Hopefully we will have more means next time.
Beyond this, it’s so nice to do these things. I guess it’s about exchanging different ideas and learning from one another. And everyone has something different to offer, and this is what photography is for me. Everyone has a voice from which you can learn so much. Two years ago I was ready to leave this country, but now in Melbourne there’s so much starting to happen, and people are sharing more and more. It’s exciting!
© Olivia Mroz. Finalist PhotoBook Award Melbourne
5. Let’s talk about education. I saw studio visits and a workshop with Ron Jude in the program. How important is it to learn how to read what we see? In your vision will there be room for interactions with students and educators?
I was hoping to have more time to get in touch with more schools and Universities, but alas – next year maybe. I like your question: “How important is it to learn how to read what we see?” Very important and I feel we are so bombarded with visuals on a daily basis that it becomes harder and harder, so I think having an outside perspective on how to see, how to recognize, how to interpret is something I really crave and wish there was more of.
BY SHEUNG YIU
© Visitors looking at the work of Li Lang at Blindspot Gallery
‘Don’t expect a long answer from Ren Hang’ the Gallery Manager told me. This came as no surprise to me. I have read his interview with Vice. He unintentionally shut down ‘deep questions’, perhaps because his working process does not fit in traditional photography practices. His portraits, much like his personality, are lively and straightforward, which makes them especially interesting when put next to Li Lang’s portraits of his father.
© Li Lang
© Ren Hang and his camera
Both are established photographers in the contemporary Chinese art scene, Ren Hang, has gained international attention with his eccentric portraits of Chinese young nudes; and Li Lang, most recognized for his documentary on the unique lifestyle of Sichuan aboriginal minorities, Yi (彝族).The two sets of portraits, Ren Hang’s of his mother and Li Lang’s of his father, show two dissimilar, if not polar opposite, photographic approaches.
I sat down with each photographer and talked about their projects.
Ren Hang is a natural story teller. He answered every question with an anecdote. He is intuitive, direct and fun-spirited.His energy channels through his portraits; Li is contemplative and eloquent. He fluently articulated his thought process step by step. Closely examine all 30, 218 days he wrote on each photograph of his father’s aged body and personal belongings, you can feel the depth of his longing and his refusal to forget.
© Li Lang, My Father’s Last Portrait B, 2014
© Li Lang, My Father’s Last Portrait B (detail), 2014
What is your first camera? What is your first memory with photography?
It was so long ago. I was a secondary school student travelling with my parents to meet a friend, I owned a HongMei, china-made medium format folding camera. I took some pictures during our trip as a record. In our times, photography was a luxury, not every family own a camera.
When did you start to see photography as an art form/ a way of expression?
When I graduated from university, I chose photography to keep my mind off mundane work. I felt the need for self expression and an ownership to the medium. I believed it can realize my dream in the future.
© Li Lang Body A, 2014
How is your research process on this series of portrait?
When I took these photo, I had no idea it would turn out the way it is now. I approached the project with a mindset to create powerful photography. However, when my father passed away, the photographs meant nothing and lacked the power they had. Regarding photography, I was in an awkward situation. At my father’s burial, I noticed that the tombstones nearby all had 2 numbers, one was the date of birth, the other was the date of death, connected by a hyphen.That two numbers summarised their lives. I realised it would be the same for my father, he lived a short life and he was just an ordinary person, he may only be remembered by anyone except family, who once in a while visits the cemetery during Chinese festivals of worship. I will be ashamed to let my father’s life diminishes into numbers. I wanted to show every day of his life. I had an idea to write each of his day on the photograph I took, because everyday is important to him.
You have used three years to write every date that your eighty-year-old father have lived on. What were you thinking about when you are dictating the dates? How is the journey like?
Reflecting is a peculiar experience. One cannot understand what I went through if one had not experience it. I know very few about my dad’s history, China had a very turbulent history, especially before 1949 and during the cultural revolution in 1966-1976, my parents do not wish to mention anything around those periods. Before he passed away, he would gave us a glimpse of his history, but we were too busy taking care of his body and did not take much of it in.
I reflected on everyday of my father’s life as I wrote the dates he had lived. As I wrote 3rd December 1927, my father’s birthday, I would make up scenes, maybe he was born at night, maybe at his home. In his twenties, I imagined his journey as a soldier in Myanmar during WWII. These memories and scenes are ambiguous until I scribbled my birthday on the photos, his lives became clearer and clearer to me. 1st Sept 1976 when he took me to my first day at primary school, when I went to high school, when we farewelled at the train station before I went to university. I kept writing all his dates on Earth. When I reached the few days before his death, those memories are unclouded, not a bit dubious, the scenes unraveled in my eyes. I can still remember everything that happened on the night of 27th August 2010. To me, this act of writing is a subjective revisualization.
© Li Lang, My Father’s Bracelet, 2014
Which is more important to you, the process or the results of making photograph? a photographic print or the context of a photograph?
Process is more important. I think many photographers can deliver better still life photos than this set I made. If we solely look at them from a photographic point of view, I would say the photos have not enough depth of field. That is of no importance to me however, what matters is that I express my thoughts through my actions of writing on these photos.
In the majority of discourse about photography, the image is usually the key issue, not the subject being photographed. In this project, I take more emphasis on the subject per se. The photograph is just a paper which I bestowed my spirituality.
Are there any contemporary photographers that inspire you?
This project is barely related to fine arts, it is a collection of images. If there is an artist that inspire this project, it would be English sculptor Antony Gormley, whose work shows me the spectacle of the bigness of singular element. Another artist I draw inspiration from is American architect, Maya Lin. I also like the work of American photographer, Diana Arbus.
© Li Lang, The Last Hair, 2014
What are your plan for the next project?
I fear this question the most because I really have no idea what I will do next, maybe I will three or four years later. Right now, I am still working on this project.
© Ren Hang, Untitled 62, 2014
What is your first camera? What is your first memory with photography?
My dad’s camera. I had it since I was young. I used it to take pictures of my family, just everything.
When did you start to see photography as an art form/ a way of expression?
I do not care how people want to call me, but I think I am a photographer now (?), I do not really like being called ‘an artist’.
I know you studied advertising in university, would you consider attending art school given the chance?
Why? It is a waste of time.
Is nude sexy? Is nude weird?
Nudes are nudes. they are not sexy nor quirky. If they have any meaning, it is because I give them meaning.
Have you ever looked back at your photograph and realized that was actually a metaphor or relevant to a personal experience?
There sure is a connection, but it is one that cannot be put into words, It’s a natural, imperceptible connection.
You write poems. Is there a relationship between your poetry and your photography?
There is no relationship. When I write poem, I do not think about photography, When I shoot, I do not think about my poems. These are just two things that simultaneously happen to me.
Why do you want to photograph your mother?
I have always wanted o photograph my mother because she is getting older. (There is also beauty in maturity but I still think youth are more beautiful.) I did not photograph her when she was the prettiest, so I wanted to do as much as I can and as early as I can. China Vice coincidentally needed me for a project and I told them I had this idea of doing portraits of my mother. They agreed and so I went back and shot it. It was always on my mind but I lacked the motivation. I thought I could wait since my mother is always by my side. I began photographing my mother since then and never stops.
© Ren Hang, Untitled 66, 2014
Have you shown your mother your photography before the shooting session? What did she think about the nude portraits?
I have never discussed my work with her before I invited her for a photo shoot. When I called her though, her first response was «Do I need to be naked?», and so I knew she had a brief idea of what I do. We can talk about my work more openly after we made these portraits. I would let her see my work and she would ask «Why are there so many people who posed nude for you? Aren’t they shy? Are they voluntary?», I would answer ‘yes’ to which she replied ‘okay.’ That is it. She does not think it is weird.
How is directing your mother in front of the camera?
It is the same, I asked my mother to do whatever I wanted her to pose.
My mum helped me to buy that pig head. I asked for it. I just suddenly wanted a pig head, I called my mum and asked her if she could buy one for me, she told my dad to do so and my dad bought it. My dad asked if I needed his help, my mum declined it because she thought my dad would not be of good help.
© Ren Hang, Untitled 59, 2014
Ever thought of doing portrait of your father as a sequel?
I did not think of photography my father. He is a shy guy.
The animals and props you used so often in your photographs, are they pre-conceived or randomly added?
Some of them, like the pig head, are preconceived, others are randomly brought into the photos, the swan in one of the portraits exhibited for example, is rent from a vender on the road. He asked me what the swan it for, I told him it is for a photo shoot, he said okay and told me how much the swan was and when he would deliver the swan, I paid a deposit, he gave me the swan, I sent it back when I am done.
© Ren Hang, Untitled 61, 2014
Are there any contemporary photographers that inspire you? (Even deceased photographers?)
Yes. Shuji Terayama (寺山 修司). He is my favourite. He is a director as well as photographer. I love all of his work.
Please tell us your favourite photo exhibition.
This exhibition (laugh), maybe his (Shuji Terayama). All his exhibitions are good.
'My Mum/ My Father' is an ongoing exhibition at Blindspot Gallery featuring the work of Chinese photographers Li Lang and Ren Hang. The exhibition ends on 25th Feb. For more details, click here.
© Li Lang | Ren Hang | urbanautica Hong Kong
LIEVEN HERREMAN: ‘DÉESSES FRAGILES’
A book review by Dieter Debruyne
is the second book by photographer Lieven Herreman. It is a luxurious edition,
with a cover that has a peach-like feel to it. The title and the photographer’s
name are embossed, and there are five different covers—featuring five different
pictures—from which to choose. The stark contrast in colour between the pink cover
and the black bookblock is reminiscent of the combinations of colour one might
see in lingerie. With its four-color process printing, the black tones are rich
and detailed. Hence, the first prize for best-printed book of 2014 by the
leading magazine of the Belgian graphic scene: ‘Grafisch Nieuws’.
At first glance we see 120 beauties, naked and in black and white. But is this all there is to it? For Lieven Herreman the series is a path leading to a confrontation more than it is a collection of images. We see a standard in terms of position, light, and subject (fragile goddesses). For the photographer it’s not merely about nudity, though; nudity is secondary to the series. The investigation is more important than the result. The image doesn’t serve as evidence of his presence nor as a memory, but investigates the balance between body and mind and creates its own existence. With a further look you know immediately that these images aren’t about sexuality. The naked women stand majestically in the frame. They are grand, monumental, even divine; they are also touching, beautiful, and vulnerable. By erasing the excess—and by that I mean clothing—the women are simply themselves, staring into the eye of the lens, showing us their inner being and inner beauty.
The book opens
with “a window of vulnerability”, sometimes abbreviated to WoV, that is a time
frame within which defence measures are reduced, compromised, or lacking. This
seems like a term from warfare, and the method of photography (800 clicks in
one hour with flash). This stroboscopic attack almost hypnotizes the women, and
in this way they completely forget about their appearance. Stripped from them are
the defence mechanisms that everyone uses in the outer world, and to define
themselves. They are able to be wounded and are open for attack.
In his first book,
‘Lymphoma’, Lieven Herreman shows the duality between love and death, a new
passionate love and a life-threatening cancer. In ‘Déesses Fragiles’ we see
duality again. It’s not specifically about fragility or goddesses, but about both
simultaneously; it’s about decoupling the body from the mind, and the process
of searching, in itself, was more important than the finding.
BY STEVE BISSON
I would quickly skip the more foregone reflections on the series ‘15 Porn Stations’ by Pietro Millenotti. Starting from the etymology of the word pornography, from the greek ‘drawing prostitutes’ for the historical purpose of stimulating erotic fantasy and then flash forward a few thousand years to enable a mass diffusion through different and sophisticated media. This includes distributors of gas pumps that become like beacons in the darkness of loneliness. Of course we would hear from sociologists with their alarm bells on the production of false idols and psychologists that constrain the consequences by dusting off the few theories available. So what? On second thought, it is a topic that concerns us, that touches us intimately somehow. Despite this, I tried to approach the matter from another angle, keeping a certain distance, a little like what the photographer achieved with his photos, showing a need to unravel the problem while escaping oblivion.
To shed light I think we need to distinguish what is sexuality from what is Eros, which is the desire for knowledge and discovery, to go further, or to embrace something without much thinking. The “pornification” of the society, as is well defined by the author in his introductory lines masks, as a matter of fact, a situation far more important which is the disappearance in the adult of Eros and his/her increasing aggressiveness, more and more miraculously constrained by his securely knotted tie. The adult is the child who has dropped a little at a time the pillow or the erotic charge because of various prohibitions (shame, disgust, moral guilt) inflicted by the adults. By doing so he/she became a teenager and has instead increased the baggage of aggressiveness, to later become a perfect adult, who swears in the traffic queue. The cities have been emptied of Eros, and to realize this it is sufficient to take a ride on the subway.
The so-called “Western” individual appears to be ‘cleared through customs’ in his sexual role, and completely removed in terms of Eros. The sharp acceleration in the process of liberalization of pornography is very effective as a system of classification (or coercive system), which can hold the aggressiveness of the society through its narcissistic evolution and the dissolution of the sense of community. The individual, now deprived of Eros and the possibility of desire, is left with the illusory freedom to choose between predetermined alternatives. A vending machine on the street corner is a little like choices found on the the shelves of a supermarket. The fact that sexual relations should be monetized which are a consequence of the commodification of society as a whole is not surprising. In hindsight, it almost seems that the novelty resides in the fact that most human relationships, including sexual ones, are increasingly subjected to the devilry of technology rather than those of the economy.
The urgent question is that sexuality, so much acclaimed in magazines and cheesy broadcasts, is made problematic by the fact that is now the soul and not, as before the body, that is stripped and sold indiscriminately. This break between inside and outside of the individual at least is revealing the internal sterility of society and the nihilism that deprives us of a look into the future and forces us to an eternal present in which you share everything and nothing. And there is no way out unless there is an acknowledgment of critique, which consists of the problematization of the obvious and that in terms of “landscape”, means to undermine and not be satisfied with what you see. Millenotti, as have other masters of Italian photography before him, seems to have done that teaching which comes from the philosophers.
To read it carefully even our language is valuable. Sometimes even in the “bad words” that we use. The fact that there are more and more situations or people that “break our balls” should lead us to think that many of the complications of genital society - I quote here only its low reproductive capacity - are determined by external annoyances to which we do not know how to react. This fury against the area of the second chakra - the area of the body which also “lies less” and that would make us more free human beings, if only we paid more attention - is nothing more than a deception aimed at masking the reasons for a latent aggressiveness that in the long run can only lead to disease.
Eros, however, enables us to realize, to desire and produce abundance. If we deprive ourselves of it the greatest risk is that we give up our will and to cower in fear of our naked self while we cling to the consequent disguise of reality with an iconic representation.
BY STEVE BISSON
1. Dear David, we know each other for some time. Your contribution to the activity of Urbanautica has been precious over these years. I was lucky enough to see you working as a photographer in Zero Branco during the workshop of 2012, and to exhibit some of your works. I gladly contributed to your wonderful publication ‘Fertile Geometry’ and I’m now happy to introduce you to our audience as the curator of urbanautica Canada. Firstly tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?
I recall seeing my first well printed and personal photographs that a friend brought back after her first year in the Film and Photography Program (now called Image Arts) at Ryerson University in Toronto. After this chance experience, I decided that I wanted to pursue this medium even though I had intended to return to university to study fine arts in Montreal and to continue painting. I developed a portfolio and was accepted at Ryerson to study photography - then everything changed. These were my first pictures and I still have prints of some of them even now. My interest in language, signage and fractured space is evident in my early spontaneous photographs. I was immersed in western literature and, like writers, photographers combine fact and fiction to create images. I thought of the camera as a method of a more direct visual communication. Conceptually, photography appealed to me because it appeared to eliminate the author.
© David Pollock from the series ‘Fertile Geometry’
2. How did your research evolve with respect to those early day?
My work evolved with an increased understanding of the photographic process and its history. I continued my interest in the photographic qualities of sharp, detailed pictures of urban environments. Key to this evolution is the influence of Harry Callahan and especially Walker Evans. Today my approach is influenced by the New Topographic photographers, Ernst and Hilda Becher, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore. All of these photographers worked in what Walker Evans referred to as the documentary style, using a large format camera. The detail provided by large format reveals a much larger view, which speaks to us about cultural values, while representing an encounter with time and place. Like these photographers, I am interested in the fabricated landscape, the banal, and every day. I look for these elements in my local landscapes - landscapes formed through the passage of time.
© David Pollock from the series ‘Fertile Geometry’
3. Describe a past project of yours that struck you the most and why?
The portfolio I created called ‘Sign, Symbol and Nature’ remains pivotal for me. Central to this series is the idea that our relationship to the natural world is mediated by romantic ideals of beauty and our representation of nature can be seen as attempts to frame the chaos of the natural world within the markers of familiar cultural symbols. I incorporated some of the history of this landscape where aspects of the resource economy eventually were transformed into symbols of nature and, by extension, contemporary associations with freedom.
One of the things that struck me was the fact that this series started as something else. It originally was to be an exploration of a waterway that had great local and national significance. I was reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and his ideas had a great impact on my perception. The project evolved into something else that was less literal and I think rich in associations. This evolution can be a significant part of the process of external and personal discovery.
© David Pollock from the series ‘Sign, Symbol and Nature’
4. Tell us about the project ‘Enclosure’
'Enclosure' followed 'Fertile Geometry' (made in farming fields nearby) and although some earlier themes continued, ‘Enclosure’ became a different project. Over a couple of years, I photographed within a large community garden that consisted of about 140 plots. I was interested in creating pictures based upon personal encounters with nature. What I found were structures that encourage growth and an idiosyncratic interaction with the natural world where this drama played out within the areas defined by the plots. It is titled Enclosure because this place is often experienced as a kind of sanctuary, removed and protected from the wilderness that surrounds it.
© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’
5. The project ‘Enclosure’ has been selected for the new edition of the exhibition Naturae, which is centred on the experience of space, especially through nature. Tell us about how the photographic medium is involved in the perception of space, or rather in its awareness.
I continue to think of Landscape as a constantly changing environment and photography reinforces this concept because it is time-based. I think of these photographs as single moments in time, but also as part of a continuum of Landscape that we continue to create.
Nature, for the most part, is often seen as a kind of background to our foreground actions. I try and foreground nature by including evidence of human action in the photographs. There are several ways to think about space. In pictorial terms, it is about depth, a kind of “here to there experience” that locates us in the foreground of this photographic illusion. In geographical terms, humans utilize or alter a space to create a place. Landscape photography is valuable to me because it can produce a synthesis of many aspects of social sciences and visual arts.
In psychological terms, I think photography creates a sense of the transitory –a fleeting series of images that prove we existed. If technology is seen as an extension of our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, photography is an extension of our eyes and memory. It has changed our experience of space and time. It is an embodiment of a mechanistic understanding of reality, which can make us believe that we are replacing fiction with facts.
© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’
6. Today we are witnessing, at least in technological societies, a huge production of images. A sort of daily bombardment. How do you think this affects the perception of the world by individuals?
Yes, we are bombarded. Images are consumed and forgotten as quickly as fast food. We can experience this as a simulacra of events replacing memory and experience with representations or images. So we are back in Plato’s Cave posing questions about the nature of representation and our own perception. Photographs particularly invite us to believe that they possess meaning in themselves simply because reflected light was captured from the subjects. The meaning, however, resides with the viewer and exists within a social context. Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ is recommended reading for anyone interested in a critical view of photography. Following is a relevant quote from that 1973 book: «The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.»
7. What we absorb as external image affects reality. The theorists of postmodernism have long warned us of this risk. Yet we are what we see. And thus photographers through their work they are not just documenting or describing a present but a presence (a way of seeing and being in the world). How true is this in your ‘photographing’? What do you feel in reviewing your works after sometime?
Yes, I agree that photographing is a way of seeing, being and thinking about the world, but as I say, I want to reduce the presence of the author. I intend for the viewer to have an experience that is not unlike simply looking. That is also why I generally make large prints. It is true, however, that much of my process involves personal meaning, art references and the symbolic associations of an image. When working on a project I look at prints as they are added over a long period of time and they serve as part of a conversational loop that eventually coalesces as a finished work. I think that photographs are derived from other photographs, either of our own or from others that have affected us.
When I look at my work from another time, I have many personal associations. I often become conscious of aspects of an image that I only partially understood or recognized at that time.
8. Three books of photography that you recommend in relation to the experience of Landscape?
- ‘Manufactured Landscapes’ by Edward Burtynsjy
- ‘American Prospects’ by Joel Sternfeld
- ‘By Rail and by Sea’ by Scott Conarroe
© David Pollock’s book ‘Fertile Geometry’
9. Projects that you are working on and plans for the future?
I have been working on another long term project that is situated in the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary in Victoria near where I live. It is a rendition of nature that formerly contained a Farm, a Dairy and at one time a Hotel.
BY PETER WATERSCHOOT
A relevant project is always a good basis for photo book making. In ‘Late Spring’ Debby Huysmans documents a reclusive region while looking for the stories this region might have to tell, a recurring approach in her body of work. This time she chose the MUSTARINDA ART RESIDENCY in Finland. “Mustarinda is situated on the second highest summit in Kainuu, adjacent to the north-east edge of the Paljakka nature reserve. The surrounding view is of valuable, and in some places, completely untouched old-growth forests. Paljakka and Mustarinda are also some of Finland’s snowiest areas. Mustarinda is the only inhabited house on the summit” written on the Mustarinda website. It does sound tempting and indeed promising.
© Still from the book ‘Late Spring’ by Debby Huysmans
A first glance through the book offers you very comforting forest views. The landscapes inspire knowledge of woodlands and nature exploration despite the fact that not many of us have visited primeval forest. As you plunge deeper into the book you will follow the emotional catharsis the photographer experienced during her journey. Debby apparently works within the tension of a grand écart between on the one hand sober and distant registration and on the other hand involvement with the situation. She does not let herself get carried away. She is a cerebral photographer, cataloguing, creating frames and patterns.
© Still from the book ‘Late Spring’ by Debby Huysmans
All the material is assembled in an inlaid index, an index can be taken out and held on the side as you descend into a slow discovery within the book. The photographer subtly guides you through a forest of white-paper-margined images with textual explanations.
© Still from the book ‘Late Spring’ by Debby Huysmans
After a few readings of the photo book, you start to enjoy the returning of forms, patterns and colors, e.g. The red quadrant (a small plot used in ecology to isolate a standard unit of area for study of the distribution of life form). While being photographed the red ribbon square becomes a rhomb. The rhomb returns in several other pictures, so do fabrics like blue plastic, birch skin and fur. Predominantly present is the very pale and enjoyable color palette. But at times, Huysmans leads us into the darkness of the forest, thick black and deep green pictures, deep beneath the overgrowth at the belly of the forest. Where the witld things are. Where wolves sleep.
An exclusive (limited edition of 10) special edition (250€) is available by APE - Art Paper Editions. The photo book is enclosed in a wooden box/frame [ 20x30cm ], ready to be exhibited on your wall, including a mounted image, a colour card game and a signed copy of the book.
BY KRZYSZTOF SIENKIEWICZ
1. Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?
My interest in photography started when I was at the university. The school gave students unlimited access to a photography studio and to a darkroom. I really used to spend a lot of time there. After long hours in the darkroom I used to be coming back home late at night – or even early in the morning – happy with fruitful work done, with a bunch of fresh, just developed, still wet photographs to be dried later on my bedroom cupboard. When I think of how my photography interest started, my memories definitely go back to this period of time, when I was learning the magical procedure of developing pictures. It was a gorgeous view when you observed – in the magical ambience of red light and late night radio broadcast – how the images appeared on a blank sheet of photographic paper.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘21 Rooms’
2. How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?
My first pictures were completely random shots of anything that seemed interesting to me. I would shoot people in the streets, landscapes, cars, animals, and many more accidental things – actually with no common denominator.
Nowadays I perceive photography rather in series than in single works. I do not have a habit of taking pictures of everything and everywhere, neither do I carry my camera always on me. I also developed a habit of composing an image first in my mind before I reach for the camera in a bag. Before I shoot, I also need to decide which series or what topic the image is going to fit then. This approach enables me to focus on a particular subject so I can avoid collecting lots of totally redundant images. Nowadays I am shooting definitely fewer pictures than I used to years ago.
3. About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?
I am fortunate to live in a very interesting country. For hundreds years Poland has been always entangled with complex geopolitical changes. The history of this region is very multifaceted – and particularly the last 25 years has been a time of unbelievable changes. After the fall of communism in the 90’s, the country started to develop in an unusual way. The grey, communist country transformed into a free, multicolored world, full of ultramodern structures, places, shapes and possibilities. Additionally, all these crazy things have been happening just before my very eyes. I grew up in a reality filled with a weird mixture of styles and designs – medieval ruins mixed with WWII remains, communist buildings or ultramodern structures, wealthy property adjoining directly poor estates, big city structures contrasting with post-rural remains, everything covered with all types of patchy outdoor advertising. This world looks absolutely surreal to me and I like perceiving it this way.
In general, my photography interest lies in a field of changes mentioned above. Especially I prefer to depict places gradually disappearing from our cityscape, spaces that reflect this intricate history. Year by year, the Polish cityscape is changing so I hope that maybe in quite a short period of time my pictures will be a powerful record of the unusual cityscape that we currently live in. On the other hand, I do not perceive my pictures in a straight line as documentary photography. I think that most of them contain a lot of various elements, which let the viewer imagine numerous fictitious stories coming out from the image.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘21 Rooms’
4. Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format?
I usually photograph without hurry and the number of pictures I am used to taking is not a great deal. Thus I can afford to work with analogue negatives – medium or large format. There are two cameras I love using: Hasselblad 500 and Mamiya 7.
5. Tell us about your latest project entitled: “21 rooms”. What is it about? Could you explain the link between these rooms and landscapes that accompany them?
The series ‘21 rooms’ depicts abandoned rooms at forgotten hotels in mountain resorts. The rooms have remained vacant since the last guest left long ago and then have became untouched –like hibernated – for a dozen years, until now. This state of hibernation has truly fascinated me. Moreover, it has inspired me to see a bit wider picture of sightseeing and traveling in general – the process that I observed years ago while living and growing up in a mountain resort. I saw tourists arriving and leaving, visitors with their vacation plans, hopes, expectations but often with their disappointments, too. Actually this state of disappointment became the dominant feature in ‘21 rooms’. The pictures of rooms in combination with cold, solitary landscapes are intended to be imbued with moisture, snow, frost, fog and wind – and at the same time filled with dissatisfaction, disenchantment and disappointed hopes.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘21 Rooms’
6. Your series “The city sleeps” is a close investigation of the suburban landscape at night. We noticed on your photoblog that you started taking nocturnes again after some time. What is so tempting about this nighttime scenery?
Towns at night have their special energy that I really love. It is extremely quiet, streets are completely empty, everybody is sitting at home, watching TV or sleeping. The presence of people in the neighbourhood is only indicated by lights looming in house windows, TV flickering from insides or cars parked in backyards.
First of all, taking pictures at night is a great pleasure for me. Although the process of searching for interesting locations means long hours of driving; the whole action is a nice escape from everyday activities.
Apart from the pleasure factor, it is much easier for me to depict the peculiar beauty of the Polish cityscape when shooting at night. I think that a rough image of the town – the boring, uninteresting image that we observe every day – seems to be much more interesting when portrayed in the night illumination. What emerges from the nocturnal cityscape is an illustration of a magnificent, mysterious, magical and solitary city. In reality, the human eye is not able to notice the unique play of light – only the photograph can illustrate that. So in that sense you can take a fresh look at everyday surroundings.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘The City Sleeps’
7. What kind of a role does your photoblog play in your photographic activity?
The idea for the blog Rewiry Paranormalne was always to illustrate grotesque, surreal elements of seemingly ordinary reality. Hence the name of the blog which translates from Polish as Paranormal Districts. I tend to believe that the spirit of the blog has not changed so far.
Sharing my works on a regular basis seems really important to me. I do not want my pictures to be lying ‘in the drawer’, waiting for further publication in no definite time. The possibility of publicizing the images gives me much motivation to work on new pictures.
8. You are a photographer living and working in Poland. Could you comment on the Polish photography scene?
When I watch American films I appreciate the large number of photographs hanging on walls at their homes. I think that in this sense we are still far from the USA. Actually it is quite unusual to find the photographs hanging in the average Polish home – and the photography in general is not perceived as an art by the Everyman here.
On the other hand I believe that the Polish photography scene is rapidly developing. We have a lot of photography events, festivals and first of all we have many great photographers who promote this art in Poland – and out of the country. I can name tens of Polish photographers who are truly inspiring me – like for example Rafał Milach, Wojciech Wieteska, Jan Brykczyński, Ula Tarasiewicz, Szymon Rogiński, Nicolas Grospierre, Maciek Stępiński, Tomasz Wiech and many more. Moreover, the number of young people who are interested in photography seems really promising.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘The City Sleeps’
9. Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, that influenced you in some way?
Of course, there are many of them. The favourites that come to my mind at the moment are for example Lynne Cohen, Alexander Gronsky, Todd Hido, Rafał Milach, Alec Soth…
10. Three photobooks that you recommend?
- ‘Disco’ by Andrew Miksys
- ‘Play Ground’ by Jerohen Hofman
- ‘Swell’ by Mateusz Sarełło
11. Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?
One of the most memorable shows I saw last year was Wiesław Rakowski’s ‘Zoological Archive’, curated by Michał Sita. The photographs taken between World War One and World War Two depict unique zoological exhibits from Poznań Zoo, including tens of dead, stuffed animals. The collection takes the viewer to a different world, full of strangeness and inexplicability. The animals look like weird figures from a dream although they existed in reality and in fact the pictures were probably taken for documentation purposes – as opposed to the intention of being a piece of art.
© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘The City Sleeps’
12. Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?
I am going to continue the series ‘The City Sleeps’ and I would like to make ‘21 rooms’ a more complete and coherent body of work. It is also possible that in a foreseeable future I will release a photo book with The City Sleeps images.
BY STEVE BISSON
I have been in a dialogue with photographer and art historian Natalya Reznik for some years now. I am grateful for her editorial contributions that have increased my interest in the Russian scene and also for her paper that was included in the catalog of the exhibition ‘Experience of Space - Landscape in Photography’ that I curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad. Pleasant and instructive ,describes the course ‘Photography and Time’, which she has held for the Fotodepartament of St. Petersburg, and in which the students were asked to think about a question well summed up by Natalya «A photographer collects fragments of reality like Noah in his ark, saving them from disappearance in the Flood of Time.» Time is central in her thinking, as much as in her doctoral thesis ‘Aging in photography - forms of representation’ and in many of her photographic investigations. This framework also includes ‘Secrets’, her first monograph, published in only 50 precious copies.
‘Secrets’ tells us about a common childhood game in the USSR. Each girl made a small pit in the ground where she would hide a “treasure” which was covered by a fragment of broken glass and buried into the ground. The project portrays Russian women who were repatriated to Germany in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and what that boundary has meant. These now grown-up girls have staged the game for Natalya, who has also moved to Germany to complete her doctorate.This book is an opportunity to deepen a topic: photography in relation to the production of memory. I wonder how memory looked before the possibility of recording reality as a back up, when the past was much more volatile, and it was not so obviously refreshing memories from a more or less virtual family album. Were we more present in the present moment? Or maybe we had less memories? How many things do we want to save today? And from where does this will of appropriation and consequently of prevarication come from in the human? Is it is a survival instinct?
Plato suggested that knowing is remembering and there would be no “I” without memory, or that sphere of belonging that we recognize as our own. There would be no outside world if memory would not combine our succession of visions, which would otherwise remain shows, unconnected appearances. There is a kind of desire not to exclude our experience from the world. From the family we were born, the earth and roots, the language we use, emotions and all that set of acquisitions that give shape to our biography,we received the imprint that makes us unique and unmistakable. This leads us to reflect on the fact that technology has expropriated our memory. We no longer strive to remember because the memory is outside of us, filed in some system. The ‘game of secrets’ instead contemplates the possibility of materializing memories.
One other issue is that the memory, for the above mentioned reasons, is the source from which to draw our truth, in an intimate dimension or secret, to quote Natalya. «Girls have more close and intimate relationships, play, often, only the two together near home, share their emotional experience, fears and dreams». And it is good that it stays that way, because even memories are consumed, corroded in their iteration. And so we come to another question: what happens when our truth does not coincide with the truth of others? When the common experience becomes a battleground and no matter what there was between us before, anything can happen again.
Within this year falls the centenary of the First World War. A war just prior to what evoked indirectly Natalyas’ search. There is undoubtedly a great proliferation of opportunities for memory. Which is so for the ‘Great War’, as they call it in my country, Italy, where it was fought and where people were massacred for real, and later buried in cemeteries, ossuaries, monuments and memorials. Road signs direct tourists as a form of reminescence. Here the mountains are a ‘gruyere’ of trenches, holes, ruins and relics of all sorts. The windows of the libraries are filled with stories of veterans and scholars. There is a great partnership in looking back with suggestive commemorations that may tempt in a way. I will not enter into the role of propaganda and mass manipulation of thought, created with the best of intentions, but which led to a second world war. Less ‘great’ and that people around here remember less willingly.
With this slight premise, I groped to better understand the time in which I live. A time in which our past is shared almost instantaneously and with the suspicion that it can be removed quickly. Everything becomes accessible but not for long. The memory is no longer the place of thoughts that speak of us, but a stock of transfiguring images. And thus deprived of a recognizable past we become pawns with good humor, who get up in the morning and go to the slaughterhouse to exterminate the “infidels”. And there are magazines, newspapers, websites that spread and support this vision, made of new myths, new tools that promise to better scrutinize eternity. Does it still makes sense then to bury parts of us, where no one can find us? Can we find doubts, fears, or at least an opportunity to think of what at that time we did not understand? I say yes. But let’s also do it within ourselves. Only if we understand who we are, then we can say that we love ourselves, that is different from loving the idea that we made of ourselves.
From this kind of comparison comes a therapy of those ideas, sometimes harmful, that we have of the world, of our next and of ourselves. This capacity refers to the possibility of self-observation. It is no coincidence that Natalya is also depicted in the book through her self-portrait. The game itself constitutes a common memory. So then the work of Natalya teases the issue of ‘what it means to understand a human being’, entering one’s own world. Natalya accomplishes this with caution. The people are portrayed in a gentle way, often from behind or from the side, not ever confronting their eyes. Like their memories that lie behind a thin veil their appearance is suspended. The warmth of their stories is kept in secret.
SECRETS is published in an edition of only 50 copies and is available exclusively from 25books
BY PETER WATERSCHOOT
There’s no such thing as coincidence. During the period I was pondering on what precisely to write about this little jewel (your book ‘in still Air’) I was reading Jean-Philippe Toussaints ’Naked’. JPT, an author with a masterly eye for detail and atmosphere. Every word he writes directs your imagination into seeing the wind play with a curtain, into hearing an Italian disco song unpurposely filling the space of a library filled with philosophy books. The same goes for your pictures. Where JPT takes us from language to image, you take us from image to language. The pictures are waiting ‘in still air’ to be read. I will always like the ‘manner of speaking’ that a photograph can be ‘read’. Consequently it allows itself to be articulated. It achieves being worthwhile being talked about. Thus written about; e.g.'On the delicacy of the photographs of Dana Stölzgen in the book 'in still Air'. A meandering book, stumbling through association, houses, furniture, portrait, unarticulated language, emotional landscape, personal psychology. Achieving in each one of them, the book itself is light, with lots of white breathing space, a tactile cover and perfectly contained editing.
© Dana Stölzgen from the series ‘in still air’
It is an extremely quiet book. A book of withheld qualities. A book with a strong backbone. Precise portraits. Subjects, as well as objects, stay with you, they linger, they join you after closing the book. As an author, you couldn’t be more in control. Your eye sits in the powerhouse of the soul. The ropes are held tight, but it doesn’t keep emotion from running deep. Let me take one example, the cover photo. An iconic photograph. A photograph which makes you think, ‘this is what a photography should look like’. ( That’s bad comment in fact, in this era, well, it’s certainly not postmodern). But you get away with this, elegantly. Renewing without renewing. Your photography is classical, but contains a remarkable uplifting humanity. The images stick to our mind. Well chosen subjects. Simple but correct. A girl in a white dress, with red hair and fair skin. The hair, tucked in.You have more than likely given the model the ‘tucking in instruction’. But sublime. Profound. Effectful. It is punctum all over. The disturbing, or mesmerizing punctum lies at the centerpoint, the heart of the images. Still images in which nothing much is going on untill our eye arrives at their very center, a place where you get shaken with a subtle shiver. A feeling I didn’t realise I had been missing in photograpghy for quite some time. (Maybe due to my aberrant taste in photography). Admit, it takes guts to dive into this quite classical approach on photography. You twist it a tiny bit further, just far enough to be precisely poignant, and not overdo it. Very civil. Very refined. Which, ( in a post post postmodern time) is in fact, a positive action, one way of reviving the medium, on a personal and artistic level, just by bringing it back to it’s core.
© Dana Stölzgen from the series ‘in still air’
© Dana Stölzgen from the series ‘in still air’
I can watch all of the ‘in still air’ images over and over again. Maybe because of the fact that they are ‘in still air’ (a feeling which, in these violent times, can be very comforting and soothing). As in soul food. Maybe you have created ‘a very comforting photography’. ‘in still Air’ is a photobook which has given me warm reading pleasure. I probably was craving for an aroma of romanticism after too much of other much darker stuff. But most importantly! This book is not only ‘light through curtain, breeze of spring’, there’s also something else going on. Namely; Austerity. There is an accurate preciseness in the perception of everyday things, that can’t be matched without being Dana. A great juxtaposition. Bring us more books.»