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    © Helio León, ‘Into the Purple Room’

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe your personal research in general? 

    Helio León (HL): I photograph what I experience, what is close to me, which is a way of questioning reality and myself. I look for people, spaces and situations that trigger something personal to me, close to my fantasies and my nightmares, to the subconscious. I believe in the power of photography to reflect something deeper and unexplainable that comes from there and can’t be seen at first sight.

    Then there’s the process of editing and working with the pictures, when rhythm and fiction appear, the possibility to make fantasy take form and express what I feel about the world, my inner violence, what I love. What I want to say can’t be said with words.

    © Helio León, ‘Into the Purple Room’

    How did your research evolve in time? Starting from your first shots to your work now?

    HL: I got dragged into photography as a way to document my life, this was when I was a teenager. I wanted to experience as much as possible and had the need to document it. Photography seemed the perfect medium for this. The idea of capturing things as I was seeing them became an obsession, not quite healthy, I didn’t understood yet the way to find a balance between capturing and living at the same time. 

    Now is quite different, more conscious: I dig, I look for my reality, I get involve with what I photograph. There’s a moment when I start and a moment when I finish. It can last for days, hours, seconds. My drive and reasons are only slightly different, the main ones where always present, but I think with time I’m getting closer to them.

    There’s a clear moment when things changed radically for me, when the innocence was finally lost. It was after things got messed up with sexuality, identity, drugs and death. That opened the doors in my mind and made me get closer to what I had always wanted to photograph, to what I need to say. Now I’m more and more obsessed with the idea of the kid, that what we were, what we experienced in childhood can always be seen in the pictures, in any work we are doing, in our behavior. This is the most important thing for me now, what I’m researching at the moment in relation with my troubled feelings regarding home and family.

    © Helio León, ‘Into the Purple Room’

    Tell us about your latest project ‘Into the Purple Room’.

    HL: It is centered mainly in Istanbul -but not only- and the emotions this city triggers in me, the spaces and people that mean something to me there, the haunted neighborhoods, the wounds of the city and my own. I’ve been long periods of time in Istanbul in two very different moments of my life. Both times I felt haunted by it, a strong melancholia and excitement, a big need to experience, to get in. There’s something there that feels so magical and familiar to me, that makes physical what is in my guts, as if I had been there before. I think there’s some relation with this and the historical violence in the city, as well as its bright, very rich, cultural past. Both things are still very alive. There is also my lust as and my conflicts with home and intimacy as subjects, my own violence, a feeling of horror.

    One of the main characters in the series is Eflatun and her room. She was like a mirror to me in many ways, too many connections. The other one is Sevda Yilmaz, a transvestite who is also a writer and activist. She used to talk to me about the secret past of the city. It was as if she was part of my family.

    © Helio León, Into the Purple Room

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

    HL: It’s nice to be able to access so much work and information through the net as well as having the possibility to connect with other artists so easily, I just can’t deny that. Sometimes I find amazing things and very inspiring works that I probably wouldn’t have find otherwise, as I really like to research online, the same way I get lost in a physical library. But it can be frustrating also in some ways. The experience of looking at a photograph in a computer screen has no comparison with looking at the images printed. 

    © Helio León, Into the Purple Room

    We can feed endlessly our lust of images thanks to internet -and thankfully not everything is there-, as well as we can create and look to a lot more images a lot faster thanks to technology now and I think this will probably make evolve our understanding and capability to look at images and create them. I can feel this already, I’ve accumulated thousands and thousands of images, my own images, in my archive. A few weeks ago I was visiting a photographer a few generations older than me in Istanbul, Elio Montanari, he still only shoots in analog (that according to him should be called chemical photography). He showed me his archive, with all the physical files full of negatives, like a library, and we calculated there were about 100.000 photographs there taken in the course of a few decades. He confessed to me that he would had like to start younger and to have accumulated the double of pictures at list. I was thinking about it. I have probably taken that amount of pictures already, all of them are in hard-drives that can be stored in the space of less than a small drawer. It’s getting more and more natural for me to go through thousands of images when I’m in the process of editing while in the past I really felt overwhelmed by it.
    Even though I love “chemical” photography, digital is my medium now, and I embrace it, is part of me and it has made my work evolve. 

    © Helio León, Into the Purple Room

    Internet seems like a monster that devours everything. So there’s the positive side and the other side that is not that nice and is a direct consequence. Many jobs have almost disappear because of it, many magazines have died… which is sad, but there’ll always be ways to make it happen I’m sure.

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way? 

    HL: Momo Okabe’s work has made me understand mine better. I feel very connected too with the work by Hideka Tonomura. There are many others, like Masahima Fukase or Michael Ackerman, and of course, Nan Goldin.
    The poems and fiction by Roberto Bolaño have been a great influence to me. Also the work by Caravaggio and his approach, as well as Egon Schiele.
    I admire the work by Janet Cardiff, ‘The Walk Book’ is amazing. And many many films, they were my first photographic influence. I’m quite obsessed with cinema.

    © Momo Obake, Bible

    Three books of photography that you recommend?
    HL: - ‘Ray’s a laugh’, by Richard Billingham
    - ‘Bible’ by Momo Okabe
    - ‘Heaven’ by Paul Kooiker
    All very strong, inspiring, and heartbreaking books.

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    HL: ‘Foreign Bodies’ curated by Pawel Szypulski last Krakow Photomonth made a big impression to me. Very academic, while at the same time expressing a lot of rage against the history of colonialist patriarchal society through photography. Very well articulated, subtle, strong, engaging and emotional. I loved it.

    Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

    HL: I’m working on a project about my girlfriend, investigating her past and mine and our emotions regarding home and family. Photographing our daily life and also her family archive. I’ve been working on this for two years already and now is finally starting to take shape. There are other ideas and sketches boiling at the moment in my head. 

    This year I also started the photographic/drone performance project ‘Sea of Okhotsk’, with three drone musicians. It’s like a ritual and it involves the projection and distortion of photographs, chanting, screaming, spoken word and drone music. It’s very cathartic. The 19th of November we’ll perform in Dublin Live Art Festival in an old church in DIT Grangegorman. I can’t wait to perform and project my pictures there.

    This is a video of our last performance during Cork Photo: 

    © Helio León, Sea of Okhotsk - In Exile

    I also want to investigate more exhibition possibilities. At some point I would like to do a big show, with photographs, projections, videos and sound, in different rooms with very low light, like an installation labyrinth. It’s something that it’s been there in my mind since a while now.

    How do you see the future of photography in general evolve? And where do you place yourself in this future?

    HL: Photography is just a baby, there are many things to come, hopefully more wilderness in the approach, more capability to communicate, to move people, to get more personal and dig in reality. Just think in artists like Giotto, his work was amazing, but there was still so much to explore and to say with painting those days. The same with photography. There are many Renaissances still to come, if the world doesn’t end before.

    © Helio León | urbanautica

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    © Marc Lathuillière, Studio Tang Daw

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

    Marc Lathuillière   (ML): There is not much to say about the first pictures I took as a teenager with a camera offered by my grandfather. It turned a bit more serious when I became a travel writer, being frequently sent on assignment with press photographers in France and abroad. That’s how I learned the basics, trying to imitate them with my non professional camera. I thought I was not very good, so I gave up for a while. But in a sense I went on practicing photography without a camera. After all, coupled with our eyes, the brain is the best camera obcsura. Traveling with photographers, I was witnessing how they framed the world, and took part in that construction as I was often assisting them.  

    The first important shot I remember is witnessing a “wrong” picture being taken. I was with a photographer in Quebec, doing a story at a forest lodge in the winter. To preserve the food, the staff was using ice chainsawed from a nearby frozen lake. The photographer asked one of the guys, dressed like a trapper, to perform the same action with a huge antique hand saw he had seen adorning the reception cabin. I told my friend: “You know very well French Canadians hate to be perceived as backward lumbermen. This is exactly what this picture will tell our readers”. The image of course was published, its caption saying it was the normal way to cut ice in this part of the world.

    Witnessing how press and commercial photography was building cultural identities and reinforcing national if not racial stereotypes, I developed a problematic relationship with this practice.


    © Marc Lathuillière, Anakot (The Fortune Teller)

    How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

    ML: The real start was my stay in Seoul in 2003-2004, where I was working as a journalist for the South Korean radio. Overwhelmed by the culture shock, my creative answer was not verbal. It should have been, since I was still a writer. But no, the real reply to those jingoist clichés aired by my employer was to use the power of images. During a one week vacation, I crossed South Korea on a small 125 cc bike, and developed a photographic game meant to unravel those cultural stereotypes. When I came back to Seoul, I had my first series, called ‘Transkoreana’, which was subsequently published by a Korean house, Noonbit, and shown in the country, in Hong Kong and later in France.

    Cultural shifts play a major role in the way I conceive my projects. The next one, ‘Musée national’ (National Museum) stems from the reversed culture shock I experienced when I came back to France in 2004. I had lived in Asian fast movies societies, and found myself back in a country where people cling to their heritage, resisting world changes in order to preserve what they perceive as a “French identity”. I realized we were progressively turning our country into one huge open air museum. To the delight of foreign tourists, of course. Coupled with the invasive use of digital photography, tourism is a truly modern phenomenon that deeply affects societies, and the way they perceive themselves and mutate accordingly. For National Museum, I ask the French I meet around the country to wear an identical mask, and take their portrait in a context relating them to a heritage. Defacing and freezing the subjects, the mask casts these daily surroundings in an estranging light, revealing the stereotypes upon which we build our lives.


    © Marc Lathuillière, On the Carlton Beach - Christian Toussaint, Producer, Cannes Film Festival (Alpes-Maritimes). Courtesy Galerie Binôme 

    Mirroring this long term project, I developed another one called ‘Fluorescent People’ between 2007 and 2010 in Northern Thailand. Working in immersion in a remote village of the Lisu hill tribe, I confronted its inhabitants with strange installations of colorful mass consumption products. I used pink balls, jelly pots or PVC pipes – materials of a fast changing lifestyle – to design a kind of outer space in which they posed in their brightly colored clothing. A critical rereading of ethnical photography, these clichés intent to deconstruct how the genre assigns minorities to a timeless past, a mental frame akin to a reservation.

    Can you tell us more about your biggest project, ‘Musée National’, and your collaboration with Michel Houellebecq.

    ML: It’s a project I have been working on for the last 11 years. I have taken the masked portrait of more than 500 people in around thirty departments across the country: farmers, politicians, winemakers, fashion designers, village butchers, museum curators and even a few celebrities like Nouvelle vague moviemaker Agnès Varda. I thought it might come to an end when it was published last year: the book, conceived with Editions de La Martinière, contains 160 photographs, and it’s a pretty good synthesis. But in fact its publication was for me a liberation. It took four years to give it birth – an overdue pregnancy, really – and I restrained myself from adding too many portraits to the series. I now feel free to go on taking pictures of regions or cities – like Arles – or functions – like the literary jury, with Frédéric Beigbeder, president of the “Prix de Flore”, wearing the mask – I have not addressed in my typology before. 


    © Marc Lathuillière, Book ‘Musée National’, Editions de La Martinière

    The recognition the series has achieved lately owes much to Michel Houellebecq’s support. We met three years ago, when I got in touch with him for a group show in which, as a curator, I wanted to include three of his photographs; though he is a writer, he has a very intriguing and exciting use of photography. The show never took place (the gallery who commissioned it closed down and I’m still looking for another venue), but preparing it gave us ample occasion to confront our views on France, deindustrialization and tourism. Though many sociologists have already analyzed this process we call “museification”, Michel, in his 2010 novel ‘The Map and the territory’ and myself with ‘National Museum’ are to my knowledge the two only artists or writers who gave this concept so much thought. There are also similarities between some of the works developed by Jed Martin, the fictional artist whose life is told in the novel, and my own. These common grounds led Michel to write a text on National Museum, called ‘A remedy to the exhaustion of being’ (it has just been translated into English). It subsequently became the foreword of my book. Under the supervision of Valérie Fougeirol, one of the three curators of last year’s Month of Photography in Paris, we also join forces in the double exhibition called ‘Le produit France’ (The French Product). While I curated his first large solo show of photographs, ‘Before Landing’, at the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, he supported mine, ‘Musée national’, at Galerie Binôme with his writing. With the support of Gares & Connexions SNCF, the branch in charge of stations at the French national railways, some of our photographs were also displayed in Paris stations, Gare de Lyon and Gare d’Austerlitz respectively.


    © Marc Lathuillière, The Quality Meat - Alain Daire, Butcher, Cunlhat (Puy-de-Dôme). Courtesy Galerie Binôme

    About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?

    ML: One of the main drives is my curiosity for cultural systems: foreign ones and those I originate from. Trying to understand them, I usually come across stereotypes that bend and distort our perception. So you could say I’m a stereotype hunter. I experiment different visual approaches to unravel and deconstruct them, trying out new strategies for each project.

    Generally speaking, my main method consists in modifying our usual perception of a photograph through the addition of extra layers of reading. They can be intrusions inside the image itself – a simple mask in ‘National Museum’, or entire installations in ‘The Fluorescent People’ – but also reflection effects in the way I show them. In my most recent body of work, called ‘Dispersions’, some photographs of suburban sceneries – a contemporary cliché - are mounted on mirrors, others projected on a mirror ball. These effects are attempts to dissolve visual boundaries, but also, symbolically, to suggest a critical approach of the influence of political powers on the making of territory photographs.


    © Marc Lathuillière, The Sky Fire Tree

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

    ML: Digital capture and post-treatment make photography one of the most fascinating field of experimentation in contemporary art. It is also shaking up the certainties of old style documentary photography. We knew it before, but now it can’t honestly be denied: what we capture with a camera is not the reality. Just a reality. A framed and static one.

    Social networks are also an exciting new field for the artists: they are new extensions to the body in which images play the main role, mixing memories and fictional projections. I actually intend to launch a project using one of the most recent mobile phone networking applications, looking for partners to develop it. New practices in social networking should anyhow be studied and apprehended with a certain degree of distrust. They triggered a rocketing inflation in the use of photographs. And as photography is shaping the world in a distorted way, fostering its commodification, this evolution does also concern me.

    Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras, techniques and format?

    ML: I usually shoot with a digital reflex camera. The brand is Japanese. 24 x 36 is my preferred format, but I would love to see one of those camera makers develop a professional reflex allowing the use of the 16:9 format: it’s cinematic and close to the human eye.

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

    ML: I am certainly influenced by some of my artist friends, if not by their work at least by their dedication. But as far as the non living ones are concerned, my first visual influence is Quattrocento: when I was studying in London, I would drop by every week at the National Gallery to look at the amazing way Mantegna, Bellini or Botticelli painted skies and perspectives. It is the light of a lost paradise. As I did my first photographer steps in Asia, I was also probably influenced by the colors and playful protocols of contemporary Asian photography, by Kacey Wong (the ‘Drift City’ series) or Manit Sriwanichpoom, to name only the artists I met.


    © Kacey Wong, Drift City (Munich, Germany), 2006

    Social portraiture is also high in the list of my references, and I have a great respect for August Sander, Arnold Newman, Jeff Wall and Martin Parr. But for their radical and critical approach of photography, Alfredo Jaar and Joan Fontcuberta’s works are for me the truly quintessential ones.

    I should also mention that a lot of my sources of inspiration are negative ones: contemporary photography produces its own stereotypes, often showing me the highways I must avoid.

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    ML: All the books published by Joan Fontcuberta. The others are more books on photography. 

    ‘La photographie contemporaine’ by Michel Poivert: a very bright and broad approach on today’s photography, but I’m not sure it’s been translated into English. If not, it should definitely be. More of an essay, and mostly focused on some big names of the contemporary scene, ‘Why photography matters as art as never before’ by Michael Fried, develops a theory on the importance of “absorption” in portraiture that is as exciting as it is doubtful, making it really thought-provoking. Writings by Roland Barthes, Rosalind Krauss and French philosopher Clément Rosset have also nurtured me a lot.

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    ML: ‘After Eden’, the most extensive exhibition of the Walther Collection ever, is presently shown at the Maison Rouge in Paris: a must see for those who will be here for Paris Photo. More than 800 photographs are displayed – only one part of this major private collection. The dialogue between the German-American collector, Artur Walther, highly serial and conceptual, and African curator Simon Njami, more focused on cultural studies, makes it very rich in meanings and highly inspirational.


    © La Maison Rouge, Après Eden / La Collection Walther

    Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

    ML: I am presently planning a Tour de France of the Musée national exhibition. Almost like a political campaign – the next presidential election in France is only 18 months away – it will tour different museums, festivals and art venues in the coming two or three years. One of the main shows, in 2017, will be at the Creux de l’enfer, an impressive art center set in a former industrial site in Thiers, followed by a participation in a retrospective on French territory photography at the BNF (Bibliothèque National de France), which has recently acquired Musée national prints. There might also be a stage of this tour on the English soil, at the Guernsey Photography Festival, and possibly in Victor Hugo’s exile house there. It seems there is a rising interest for Musée national abroad, not only in Europe, and exhibitions in Asia are also in the pipes.


    © Marc Lathuillière, Somehow Anyhow: The Towers, Duraclear on mirror, 2013

    I am also developing my last body of works, the ‘Dispersions’, a reflection on image and territories, including photographies mounted on mirrors as well as cultures of commensal bacteria. It is based on an essay I am presently writing, called ‘Territorism’.

    How do you see the future of photography in general evolve?

    ML: I feel the deconstruction process that has impacted photojournalism will also affect documentary photography. A lot of young artist are already playing with the limits of photography, in a multimedia way, blurring the limits with video, installation and even painting. Some approaches are highly technological: using screens or monitors, they indicate a dematerialization of the medium as a long-term tendency. Others show a come back to old printing techniques, like cyanotype or daguerreotype. I just hope this renewed interest will not give birth to a new formalism, like the one that developed in the French painting with the “Supports-Surfaces” movement in the 70’s. If photography is reaching its “Film/Surface” age, as I think it does, artist should not forget that playing with its forms is much more stimulating and involving when the subject addressed is the world outside the dark room: our complex and suffering contemporary world.

    © Marc Lathuillière | © Galerie Binôme | urbanautica France

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    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots? And how did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

    Peter Holliday (PH): Like a lot of kids I initially wanted to be an archaeologist or a historian. I grew up in a rural community close to the earthwork remains of a Roman fort built around 2000 years ago by Agricola’s army during their campaign of Scotland. A past landscape of conquest, I was intrigued about this remote outpost built on the territorial fringes of an ancient empire. I had not yet picked up a camera but what interested me were the marks this ancient culture had made on the land still clearly visible despite the passing of two millennia. In consideration of my own creative practice today, I feel my photography is inspired by the same sense of anthropological curiosity about the landscape; an investigation of nature and our place in it. 

    I think I was about 10 when I was given my first camera by my parents, a disposable Kodak. When I was about 15 I was given a roll of 35mm b/w film and a Minolta SLR to shoot by my father and with his help we developed it together in the kitchen.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Tell us about your educational path at Glasgow School of Art. What are your best memories of your studies? What was your relationship with photography at that time? 

    PH: I studied a 4-year degree in Communication Design at art school. After the first couple of years I ended up specialising in photography under a lecturer called Andy Stark. Within the environment of art school we were continually encouraged to question the meaning and role of the photograph to help develop our themes and ideas. I certainly found that process beneficial in my own practice. Art school was also chance to see what other people were creating on a daily basis, as well as a great opportunity to use facilities that I otherwise wouldn’t have gained access to.

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

    PH: I think as photography becomes increasingly digitised we’re going to see a resurgence in traditional analogue techniques where the photograph is redeemed as an object and the process is emphasised as a craft once again. Meanwhile we will continue to see artists challenge the traditional interpretation of the photograph. Take Michael Wolf for example, whose series ‘Street View’ is compiled from scenes found on Google’s Street View.

    I’ve heard people say photography is in crisis, but it always has been. It is a medium that is revisionist by nature. Ever since their inception the camera and the photograph have not only been used to record the coming of modernity but have both remained powerful symbols of technological advancement. I think today’s age of the smartphone and the ‘Instagram-amatuer’ only encourages the artist to question both the role of the photographer and the definition of the photograph within a medium that is less than 200 years old, and this discussion can only be positive for this rapidly evolving art form.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Your dissertation ‘From Proletariat to Precariat: Representations of Labour in the Age of Globalisation’ explores how still photography and the moving image have been used to critically represent the condition of labour within the context of neoliberal globalisation. What are your conclusions?

    By comparing the work of artists such as Sebastião Salgado, Alan Sekula, and Steve McQueen, I wanted to look at how still photography and the moving image have been used to expose conditions of labour in an era that has witnessed the significant decline of the classical Marxist conception of the proletariat and the subsequent emergence of the precariat across many post-industrial western democracies.


    © Steve McQueen ‘Western Deep’ at Schaulager, Base

    The images of Salgado, Sekula, and McQueen question the framework that the global forces of order use to justify their ideology of neoliberalism. But they also highlight a challenge. Marxism has been in crisis ever since its first serious political application in 1917. Here is a 19th century philosophy that promised the emancipation of the masses from the slavish labour conditions of capitalist society yet would later galvanise some of the most restrictive regimes the world has known. Meanwhile the proletariat, the class entitled with the task of abolishing capitalism, is almost non-existent in the West today.


    © Sebastião Salgado, Serra Pelada, State of Pará, Brazil, 1986

    Of course, any prevailing ideology that puts profit over people must be scrutinised too. We live in a post-Marxist age, as illustrated by Alan Sekula whose work ‘Fish Story’ reveals the ‘invisible’ maritime economy as a metaphor for the condition of the precariat and contemporary labour under neoliberalism. However, Salgado’s ‘Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age’ and McQueen’s short film ‘Western Deep’ remind us of the alienating drudgery of labour under globalisation and the continuing existence of the proletariat within many developing economies.


    © Alan Sekula

    If we are to address the problems evidenced by these artists, we must find a new politics based on socialist ideas that is able to transcend the bureaucratic orthodoxies of its Marxist predecessor. Within many western democracies, I believe there is a growing consensus towards this type of progressive change.

    About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?

    PH: Much of my current research explores the austere coastal and mountainous landscapes of ‘the North’ and of the people who endure such environments. I’m drawn to the history of northwest Europe and the polar regions, and by the mythologies inspired by these remote topographies for centuries. 

    I want to highlight the human relationship with the landscapes that mankind finds itself in. My aim in my work is to reflect on themes of time, memory, and home within the context of the cultural, historical, political, and emotional significance of the topographies that underpin humanity’s existence. I want to reveal nature as something material that exists in relation to human subjectivity, expressing landscape as both an entity influenced by human action as well as something that was always-already there, characterised by ongoing objective forces that do not cease to exist beyond human consciousness.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format?

    PH: I enjoy the process of negative film. I’ve so far worked mostly with medium format. There’s definitely a lot more consideration involved with film and I think that’s really important especially when it comes to approaching landscape.

    Tell us about your project 'Where the Land Rises’.

    PH: ‘Where the Land Rises’ is a series documenting the people and landscape of Heimaey, the largest island of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago in southern Iceland. The project is a retrospective on the eruption of Eldfell which began on 23rd January 1973 and lasted until June of the same year. The event led to the immediate evacuation of the island, destroying many homes and violently altering the geography of Heimaey. As the lava flow moved towards the harbour threatening to destroy the island’s economic lifeline, interventions were made to divert the drifting lava, and a dam of solidified basalt was successfully created by spraying the flow with billions of litres of seawater. The harbour had been saved but the island’s landscape had been changed forever.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Within the temporal scale of our existence, significant geological change often happens too slowly for humans to experience. Although commonplace in Iceland, volcanic eruptions are unique and notable events. After my initial investigations of the eruption of Eldfell, I thought about how it must feel to witness the geography of your homeland change so dramatically within several months and what this sudden trauma to the symbolic order of existence reveals about humanity’s relationship with the landscapes we dwell in. Now 42 years on, my project aims to not only reflect on what was lost during the eruption but also to document what has been regained since by the island’s inhabitants.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, that influenced you in some way?

    PH: There are a few. I recently watched Andrey Zvyagintsev’s latest film ‘Leviathan’ (2014), a tragic drama about government corruption that explores mankind’s ties to the land against the desolate backdrop of a Russian coastal town on the northern extremes of civilisation. That film certainly resonated with me a lot; I feel like I’m aiming to express similar sentiments about landscape in my own work. The cinematography by Mikhail Krichman is stunning too.

    My favourite photographers are those that focus on the human-landscape relationship such as Bryan Schutmaat, Sébastien Tixier, Dana Lixenberg, Nadav Kander, Danila Tkachenko, and Edward Burtynsky. I also enjoy the films of Werner Herzog, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Terrence Malick.

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    PH: My favourite photobook has to be ‘American Prospects’ by Joel Sternfeld. I also really admire ‘The Place of No Roads’ by Ville Lenkerri, and ‘The Last Days of Shishmaref’ by Dana Lixenberg.

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    PH: I recently saw Joakim Eskildsen’s exhibition A world I can believe in at the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen, Denmark. The show was an extensive retrospective of Eskildsen’s work presented in a positively unconventional way - instead of being framed, much of the work was mounted or pinned to the wall. Also on display were the artist’s contact sheets, several book dummies, and multiple sketchbooks, allowing the viewer to engage in Eskilden’s process as a photographer.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    Tell us more about projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

    PH: I’m currently preparing to show some images from my project ‘Where the Land Rises’ at an upcoming solo exhibition at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography that opens in early December and runs until late January 2016. With regard to my future practise I aim to continue exploring landscapes of the North and I’m keen to develop a project about the Shetland Isles. I’ve always been fascinated by Scandinavia and northwest Europe and I’d like to understand more about how my home country of Scotland fits into this broad region both culturally and historically at a time when questions of Scottish identity are continually being asked.


    © Peter Holliday from the series ‘Where the Land Rises’

    You have recently joined the Urbanautica team to help us deepen the UK photo scene? What are your impressions? Any British photographer that you are particularly fond of?

    PH: There are countless talented photographers within the UK scene and I’m looking forward to discovering more of them as a contributor to Urbanautica. I really admire the work of Jon Tonks’ and his series Empire which documents the few remaining British Overseas Territories around the world today. I also recommend the work of my friend, Alan Knox, and his project ‘Universal Sympathy’ which is a fascinating series of photograms made using his grandfather’s ashes exploring the cosmic connection between life and death.

    © Peter Holliday

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  • 12/01/15--06:23: BORIS ELDAGSEN. THE POEMS


    © Boris Eldagsen, #98, ‘The Poems’

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe your personal research in general?

    Boris Eldagsen (BE): In my work I’m interested in transforming what is in front of my lens, trying to show the unconscious reality beyond time and space

    I have given myself the task of creating a timeless image that has an impact on an emotional as well as an unconscious level, something which cannot be translated into words. So I ask myself the question if it’s possible for me to show an internal psychological structure by using the material that’s in front of my camera.

    To achieve this I hijack what others refer to as ‘reality’. Technically speaking half of my images are considered street photography, but it’s not about showing what was happening at that particular time and place. If I can make all of this disappear to create a timeless image or psychological archetype I have achieved my goal.


    © Boris Eldagsen, #102, ‘The Poems’


    © Boris Eldagsen, #95, ‘The Poems’

    This method enables me to work wherever I am without the need of a studio or specific location. I only need the night time, my camera and my laptop, and sometimes an adventurous volunteer model.

    How did your research evolve in time? Starting from your first shots to you work now?

    BE: Over the past 20 years I’ve tried out all possible ways of working, starting conceptually or just intuitively working from my gut. I started working very intuitively when I was 18 years old and now I’m back where I started, with the difference of possessing a deep and wide knowledge of what I do. It’s as if my conscious and unconsciousness are dancing together.

    Tell us about your latest project ‘how to disappear completely | THE POEMS’

    BE: With ‘THE POEMS’, I want to create images that have an impact on an emotional and unconscious level that cannot be translated into words. I call my images POEMS to show that they aren’t stories but a creative use of the medium of photography that requires you to engage in the conversation with your own feelings and memories. A poem uses words in creative ways to evoke feelings and memories and it’s much more open than a story, you need to interpret it with your heart, mind and soul.

    ‘THE POEMS’ is a meta-series that currently contains over 100 images all of which can be combined in endless possible ways, in accordance with the subject of an exhibition. My site-specific installations feature photographs in 5 different sizes on large-scale wallpapers. The images are clustered and hung together like groups of connected emotions and memories. The variations in size force the viewer to shift his perception, from being a giant looking at a tiny picture to being a midget walking through an enormous wallpaper.


    Boris Eldagsen, Galerie, Voies Off, Arles, France, 2014

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

    BE: A lot of contemporary photography tends to stick to the surface or run around a documentary/rational concept. But if you are not able to see what’s inside, just stop photographing the world outside. I want to feel the emotions, the guts, the artist’s own demons. If a piece of work is too rational I can appreciate the concept but I remain untouched, it still bores me to see typological work by followers of followers of the Becher School for instance.
    That said, I also feel that times are changing. Over the past three years I have visited many photography festivals and there is a fine group of photo artists between 27-40 years old, producing amazing work.  I can definitely see some trends: a return to black and white, symbolic work, journeys inside, new mixes of abstract and figurative and so on.

    I do not care that much about photography, to me photography is just a medium that can be used for any purpose. If photography festivals would be festivals of words or poetry, we would see advertisements, newspapers, lyrics, trashy magazines and world class literature, how-to-manuals and cooking recipes. But because language is the oldest medium of  humans, we do not have events like these, they are all split up in their various sub-forms.
    With photography it is still a mixed bag, this is why it’s necessary to be conscious about your own reasons and purpose to use photography, it is only then when people using photography are truly able to communicate. Such is the case with social media. You need to know how and where to communicate your ideas, who you want to talk to and what you would like to get out of it.


    © Boris Eldagsen, #21, ‘The Poems’

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

    BE: I’m mostly influenced by historic painters (the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Rembrandt van Rijn, William Blake, C.D.Friedrich, Arnold Böcklin, Max Ernst) and film (Peter Greenaway), not so much by photographers to be honest. There really is no existing influence from the world of photography but a feeling of relatedness to some aspects in the work of Lieko Shiega, Roger Ballen, Sarker Protick, Nadja Bournonville, Alexander Gehring, Katrin Koenning, Alis Resnik, Magdalena Wywrot, Marlous van der Sloot and a young Bangladeshi photographer named Shadman Shahid.  

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    BE: - ‘Rasen Kaigan’, 2013, by Lieko Shiega
    - ‘Grand Circle Diego’, 2014, by Cyril Costilhes
    - ‘Shadow Chamber’, 2006, by Roger Ballen

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    BE: At this year’s Noorderlicht festival, the curators Wim Melis and Hester Keijser built two opposing shows: one with a rational conceptual approach named ‘Data Rush’ and its counterpart ‘Pulse’, representing the intuitive, dark and emotional side.  Being one of the 15 ‘Pulse’ artists it felt like this was the beginning of something new, a symbol of some kind. This is what the curators said: «What we encounter in the work is someone looking back at us, with the kind of gaze that meets you in the mirror, and you’re not quite sure if you are looking at yourself or a stranger…the feeling of throwing yourself into the pool, of sudden cold rushing past your skin, the water entering your mouth, ears, nose, your senses.» It’s also worth checking out the whole list of artists here


    © Boris Eldagsen, #91, ‘The Poems’

    Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

    BE: Carine Dolek (from Circulations Festival and Le Petit Espace, Paris) won the Young Curator’s Award, curating my work at this year’s PhotoLux Festival in Lucca, Italy. As the festival’s theme is “Sacred & Profane”, we are currently preparing a big solo exhibition mixing photography, wallpapers, video and objects. The opening is scheduled for November 21st.

    Besides the fact that ‘THE POEMS’ is constantly evolving (I have been working on this for 6 years and since I became more focussed on installation the work takes off), I feel like I have freshly fallen in love, there is so much more to explore and expand towards the idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk.  I can’t imagine quitting this work and starting something new just yet.


    © Boris Eldagsen, #55, ‘The Poems’

    How do you see the future of photography in general evolve? And where do you place yourself in this future?

    BE: The technology of cameras is constantly evolving and like always there are artists working on this matter, making this technical development their subject.
    I belong to the group of artists that can work with any type of technology, we look onwards and we are interested in timeless questions and archetypes. Technology just helps us to create our images and I predict that this small group of artists will grow. The last Noorderlicht festival based its whole festival on this distinction. On one side ‘Data Rush’, the conceptual ‘Tech-Geeks’ and on the other side ‘Pulse’, powered by desire, emotions and the quest for the unconscious.

    Boris Eldagsen | urbanautica Germany

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    The Untimely Apparatus, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    Contemplating on the rapid transition of photography in the last two decades, a surge of young contemporary photographers have been creating work centered around analogue photographic process and alternative photography. Jeff Lam is one of them and he can tell you why this wave of retrospection is not just some nostalgia-driven obsession.
    The Hong Kong photographer originally trained in architecture challenges mainstream norms and provoke viewers to investigate the relationship between photographic process and images. In his series, ‘The Untimely Apparatus of Two Amateur Photographers’, he and his classmates, Chong Ng, turned seemingly unrelated objects into cameras, creating images that cannot be otherwise produced by your everyday click-and-shoot camera. In this way, Jeff and Chong wanted to subvert the popular assumption that camera is a delicate and expensive equipment. The project also reveals that the conventional equipment that we have grown so familiar with image making, a tool, according to Lam, can put up an illusion of free photographic choice and limit the possibility of “what light can create when it hits a photosensitive surface”. The series won the Portfolio prize of GuatePhoto 2015 Open Call from over 1,700 entries. So when the now Shanghai-based photographer came back to Hong Kong in late October, I caught him for an interview. (The conversation is edited for clarity)

    What is your history with photography? What is your first camera? How did you become a photographer?

    JEFF LAM (JL): When I was around eight, I found a pentax camera with a zoom lens. I liked to use it as a telescope to look around. Eventually, I developed an interest in photographic equipments. Then at around a similar time, my family got a Kodak instamatic camera for buying electrical appliances. It was one with no manual control, no flash, just a press-and-shoot camera. I played with it a lot. One time I thought of adding a camera flash to it, so I just tied a flashlight on the camera. That is my first experience modifying a camera.

    After graduating from The University of Hong Kong with an architecture degree, I worked in an architectural firm for an year but I felt that what I did was not improving our living environment. I worked on some project in China, spending countless night hours working on a colossal architecture in the middle of nowhere, obviously built to boost up the city’s GDP. More often, architecture has nothing to do with design but politics. I was dissatisfied with what I was doing, so I decided to take three years off to pursue another career, working as a freelance photographer and designer. That year, I applied to a photography school.


    Adaptation of a Slide Projector into a Camera, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng


    Tele-Pinhole Camera, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng


    Adaptation of a Time Measuring Device into a Photographic Apparatus, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    How is your research process for your award winning project at the Guate Photo Open Call - The Untimely Apparatus Of Two Amateur Photographers?

    JL: One day, My partner Ng received his work from his printer in a 1.5-metre giant mailing tube. We got this random idea of making a pinhole camera out of it, the biggest telephoto pinhole camera ever. We were curious about the photograph this ultra-tele pinhole camera would produce. We put a photo paper at one end, did some basic light proofing and took it to the backyard to try it out. We kept refining the apparatus and experimenting with different pinhole sizes.

    At the time, bird watching was pretty popular among hipsters in the UK, so we had this idea of going bird watching with this camera as an satirical and playful comment on the new trend of equipment fetish. We found out the the exposure time was too long for photo paper so we switched it to negative and built a 4 by 5 film chamber. We bought a hunting rifle scope as a viewfinder - a suggestion from Ng who had been in military service. The finished product was a ridiculously mammoth camera. It became the first piece of our project.

    We brought it with us to a wetland park in suburban London, as well as two binoculars. We set up everything, posed and took self portraits of ourselves using the self-made camera. It attracted much attention from visitors.
    The initial idea is to make a camera out of objects that somehow related to its function. After the telescope, we have brainstormed a list of cameras we wanted to construct and worked on some feasible ones. The entire project is about camera itself, its structure and properties.


    Bird Hunting with Tele-Pinhole Camera, Excursion #5, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    We started working on our second camera, using revolving projector, after seeing one in Saatchi gallery. Being machine maniacs, we thought of inverting its mechanism and revert the light path so that the machine absorbs light into its body instead of projecting light. The second camera is about how photographic technology compresses 3-dimensional reality into 2D imageries. Inspired by the circular slide holders, we created a light sensitive sculpture, exposed with a camera with multiple lenses to make a 3D negative. The sculpture is then photographed again with the projector-camera 360 degree and convert the 3D negative into many comprehensible 2D positive slides.
    For the third camera, we wanted to work with a bigger and more abstract concept. We worked with pinpoint of a reality for the tele-pinhole camera, three-dimensionality for the projector, for the third one, we decided to experiment with time. Originally, we thought of placing photo paper on a analog clock to do a long-exposure light painting of some sort, but we later had an idea of using a flip clock. It makes much more sense. Each flip could be a new exposure and each flat plastic indicates the exposure time. The flip clock we used, as we found out later on, was produced by Copal, a Japanese large format lens manufacturer and has been making flip clock for decades. For mechanical nerds like us, the discovery further supported the idea that time and photography have an intricate and subtle relationship.

    The execution was exceptionally technical. Some clock has 1 flat plastic for each minute (00 - 59) while some have one for digit in one and in ten respectively. We used the later one with fewer flat plastics as we need more space in the back of the clock to expose photo paper. We expose the paper for 9 hours. The result is a photograph with four different exposures of the same scene. The exposure time of each part is the same, yet depending on lighting environment, the resulting image is different. There have been many trails and errors.


    Details of prints from Kawara’s Clock, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    In your statement statement you said that new photographic technologies while democratising the art of photography, can also be a restriction to new narratives. What do you mean by that?

    JL: No doubt, this project is a critical approach to contemporary photography. The digitalisation makes photography truly democratic. Everyone have a camera in their pockets these days. Anyone can afford what used to be an aristocratic luxury in the past. Photography is much less expensive yet this also means we have fewer possibilities when it comes to taking a picture. If we understand photography as simply “traces of light on a light-sensitive medium”, then making an image by clicking a shutter would be abandoning many other alternative techniques such as len-less photography and photogram.

    Media scholar Vilem Flusser inspired this project. A camera is just a black box. He said If we stop questioning the development of this image-producing black box, soon photography and camera mechanisms would be predominantly controlled by marketing decisions. The image you get will be limited to what these cameras can produce.

    And that has an broad effect to not just photographers but the society as a whole. We understand the world through images. If the cameras on the market all tend to create for example, close-up photos, we may slowly develop preference towards a certain kind of familiar images. People may think they are shooting freely and making conscious choices, but the moment you pick up a mainstream camera on the market, the choices you can make is already limited by the machine.

    Chinese and Japanese traditionally spend a lot of time talking about composition. There are countless discussions on the photographic image, focusing on literally the surface of the photograph, the visual elements, the thing you see. Photographers spend a lot of effort recreating a certain visual style and relatively little on the photographic process and its significance. Thus, this project is an antithesis of the indifference to the relationship between imagery and photographic process.

    Results from Bird Hunting Excursion #2, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng


    Glass Sphere Coated with Liquid Emulsion, Attempt #18, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    I am curious about the title of the project? Why do you emphasise on ‘two amateur photographers’? Is it a conscious choice to separate yourself from the mainstream professional photography in order to establish an outsider critical perspective?

    JL: Yes. I instinctively wanted to challenge the prevailing notion that professionalism means the creation of smooth and glamorous images. I think commercial image is too perfect and too easy to digest. You can say I put the word ‘amateur’ in the title as my stubborn refusal to that ideal.

    The way we produce this project is also very amateurish. It all started from playing with a mailing tube. We finished much of our experiments at home. We did not have a professional darkroom, but a laundry room where we developed photos, built our camera and conducted every testing in. We learnt everything from scratch. We went on Youtube for tutorials if we got stuck. We asked around for answers. The things that we had been doing fits into the idea of amateur.

    We did all that out of curiosity. The project is a prove that one need not to be a “professional”. Yes, you need to understand the basic mechanism of a camera and how it contributes to the construction of images, but photography does not have to be high-tech. Camera is not a refined nor delicate equipment as marketers wanted us to believe. It is something that anyone could temper, build and modify.

    How does your education in architecture affect your approach to photography?

    My training emphasises on a critical thinking process. Every design element has to be supported and justified. Every step of the research process has to be interlinked. and thus coherently bringing out your ideas. No decision is arbitrary. We don’t do things just because we like it a certain way. At the time, I really hated the methodology, but it turns out to be very useful to think about photography.


    Video still of the operation, 2015 © Lam Pok Yin Jeff and Chong Ng

    What is your working relationship with Chong Ng? Why do you choose to work as a duo? How does it all happen?

    JL: We are classmates. We became friends in the first year of school and then moved on to live together with other photography students in the next year. We have always shared many common interests, especially in machinery. We would share links about things like installations and machines that smoke cigarettes. We had similar vision aesthetically. In the third year, I decided to team up with him for the school’s group projects.

    The collaboration was really smooth. Because we have similar expectations for the outcome, so we save a lot of time arguing or communicating despite that we have different approaches. When we brainstorm, we did research online together. We conceived some possible experimental cameras. We shared our sketches. We will then keep some of these rough ideas our head, waiting for it to evolve and mature.

    I cannot finish this project by myself. There are too many technical matters to deal with on the operational side of the project. Countless trails and errors. For instance, to take a photos with the flip clock, we have to disassemble the clock, make sure the flat plastics are in the correct sequence, cut and paste the photo paper to the exact size and reassemble it again. All these done in our makeshift darkroom for 3-4 hours in pitch black. There were too much frustration for one to bear. Each of us is responsible for a particular role, He spent more time with execution while I am responsible for presenting and articulating our concepts.

    Who inspires your photography?

    JL: Steven Pippin comes to my mind. He is a prolific artist in the 80s who works mainly on performance-based art related to photography. He once turned a photo booth into a giant pinhole camera and posed for his self portrait outside of it. For ‘Homage to Muybridge’, he made photos using a row of washing machines by simply putting a photo paper in the right moment and pouring developer inside. The resulting image is a series of consecutive photographs of him walking overlapped with dark blobs and scratches caused by the movement of the machines. He is someone I truly respect and has huge influence in my work.

    Other contemporary photographers that inspire my work are duos like Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin and Tay Onorato & Nico Krebs.

    © Jeff Lam | urbanautica Hong Kong

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  • 12/10/15--23:53: JAN KEMPENAERS. MODERN RUINS

    © Jan Kempenaers, Antwerpen, 1996

    Born in 1968, Antwerp-based photographer Jan Kempenaers is best known for producing photographic series which focus on urban and natural landscapes. His Spomenik (2006 - 2009) series — images of deserted war monuments that dotter across the landscape of former Yugoslavia — inspired a PhD in the visual arts that Kempenaers completed in 2012. He is currently working on a new project centered abstract photography.

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started?

    Jan Kempenaers (JK): After I completed secondary education, I chose to study film and photography at The Royal Academy in Ghent. In those days (mid-eighties), film and photography were together one department but film courses didn’t start until the third year. That’s why I never really explored film; instead I wanted to further deepen my knowledge of photography. At the time there was a special interest in decisive moment photography, as pioneered by Henri Cartier-Bresson. I found this to be very frustrating because I always felt I missed that moment. My search for a different kind of photography resulted in capturing landscapes.

    © Jan Kempenaers, Sarajevo, 1999-2000

    Your work often depicts hybrid landscapes, exploring the intersection between nature and city. Where does this fascination come from?

    JK: I always tried to photograph the scenery from high vantage points, wherein the different elements and functions within the landscape become intertwined. I developed an interest in the manner in which to approach this intersection and began to take pictures of landscapes, mainly in Wallonia and harbor areas because there you can easily see how the industrial merges with agriculture and people living in their homes. In my later work, I tried to further explore those functions.

    In what way did your research on the picturesque contribute to your work as an artist and how did your work evolve over time?

    JK: This was one of the questions I answered during my doctoral defense. I completed the theoretical part of my PhD in the final year and I worked on it for the entire year. Hence, I don’t believe there was much influence, apart maybe from things I’d already read before. While I did discover some formal aspects of the picturesque in my own photos, I never explicitly started a project with criteria of the picturesque in mind. It was more the other way around.

    © Jan Kempenaers, Paris, 1997

    I used to seize panoramic landscapes from high viewpoints though I’m not interested in this anymore. In recent years, I’ve been focusing on freestanding elements that are not attached to landscapes, such as monuments or architectural buildings. While capturing broad panoramic views, I became aware of a double viewing distance. On the one hand, the distance creates a sense of overall composition wherein details merely function to balance the scenery. Yet, at the same time, those details appear closer in the pictures than in reality because everything in it is magnified. I thought those magnified details were quite interesting and I began to photograph them as separate elements. Furthermore, through the context of my research for my PhD, I was stimulated to take pictures of modern ruins and approach them as a subject an sich, as a sort of sculpture, a literal sculpture in the case of monuments. Here I didn’t search for higher positions anymore, but instead decided on an eye level viewpoint. Thus the idea partly emerged from looking at my own work but it also connected to my research on the picturesque because ruins are important within the picturesque tradition.

    © Jan Kempenaers, U.Z. #1, 2010

    When you start a project, do you already have an idea of where you’re going, or do you let yourself be guided by experimentation, by the process itself?

    JK: In the past, when I still photographed landscapes, I liked to travel and look around a lot. Taking in what comes your way. Then I thought about why it would be interesting to get an overview of the landscape. With a project like Spomenik (2006 - 2009) it is of course different because I had to determine in advance where the monuments were located and gather information about the monuments before I photographed them. So in that way I knew precisely where I was going.

    © Jan Kempenaers, Spomenik #4 (Tjentište), 2007

    Dirk De Meyer described your work as « exploration of the continuing relevance of the picturesque in the contemporary visualization of our environment» are your thoughts on photography in the era of digital and social networking?

    JK: My PhD in the arts was about linking other works to certain criteria of the picturesque. First I selected a number of crucial photographers throughout history who were concerned with nature and landscape. On the basis of books by pioneer William Gilpin, I then tried to determine which of those criteria were typically conveyed in images like paintings. Afterwards I applied this approach to my own work and further described it.

    In my personal opinion, photography is an autonomous practice. Nowadays a lot of photos are taken and spread through the internet but that is not what I want to do. I always try to limit the amount of photographs because I rather capture a few iconic images than just making lots of photos. To me this notion is important.

    © Jan Kempenaers, Rock #1, 2010

    Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format?

    JK: That’s a very technical question. Actually, I use all kind of equipment, including 4 x 5 inch and digital cameras. I don’t think it’s important to be technical proficient. It depends on the image you make with it. Which type of camera doesn’t really matter.

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

    JK: No, I can’t think of any contemporary photographer but the New Topographics were initially important, mainly during the start of my studies.

    What are the projects that you are working on now and do you have any plans for the future?

    JK: At this moment I’m working on abstract photography that is embedded in an entire research project. I am still exploring different paths to come to an abstraction of a photograph. Originally, I examined screen prints and there were a few art integration projects wherein the abstraction of an image reoccurs via frames. Now I’m occupied with combinations of images, also resulting in an abstraction of it. Additionally, a new book with Roma Publications has been planned.

    © Site specific project, in collaboration with Kasper Andreasen, Wervik, 2013

    Can you name three books of photography that you would recommend?

    JK: 1) The new edition of ‘New Topographics’ (2010) published by Steidl
    2) ‘Concorde’ (2008) by Wolfgang Tillmans,
    3) ‘Roads’ (2001) by Werner Mantz, published by Stichting Werner Mantz

    © Jan Kempenaers | urbanautica Belgium

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  • 12/14/15--05:53: PETROS KOUBLIS. IN DREAMS

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Alsus. Through the cold perfect night whisperless to mark

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

    Petros Koublis (PK): Everything started from a coincidence. It’s 15 years now since photography found its way into my life but today it feels like it was with me the whole time. I always had a tender relationship with painting and as I was growing up I used to imagine that this was going to be the path I would eventually follow. I could feel inside me the impulse of a sensitivity that permitted frail aspects and discreet sides of the world around me to become visible. Throughout my childhood I was constantly feeling that I had to protect this sensitivity, to refine and keep it safe and alive inside me, no matter how hard it could be at times. This became the medium through which I was addressing the world and it became the language that was giving shape to my thoughts. With photography I found a more direct and intimate way to approach a world that was generating all these emotions inside me. When I found myself with a camera in my hands it felt natural and familiar. Looking back at that period I think it was photography that found me and not the other way around.

    How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

    PK: My research is mostly an organic process, it’s something intuitive. In order to put together a body of work I have to embrace it with an honest and sincere heart. Some patterns remained constant and in many ways I do practice photography the same way I was doing it when I first started. My images are the result of long, extensive walks and this is the way I still prefer to make images. In that sense I could probably say that my research is mostly the outcome of a peripatetic process. I let ideas flow freely inside me as I experience the world around me. Then I attempt to put them in order, but not before I have fist exposed them long enough to my feelings. Further research could gratefully offer a foundation for my thoughts, it can enrich my project with more aspects and facilitate a conversation between my work and the ones of those before me. But in the end everything is coming down to the heart. I could never find the passion or the precious devotion to follow something that was conceived in my mind and not inside my heart.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Prudentia. All in an agreeable land

    Few months ago you told me you were working on a new body of work that focuses on the way we perceive this world through our senses. You mentioned the importance of books and ideas written by ancient Greek philosophers. What did you learn?

    PK: Reason and logic unfolded gradually through the centuries. Going through the philosophical schools of the late Hellenistic and early Roman period, is something really exciting. Logic first tried to methodically express everything through unified theories that were including rational conclusions about the physical world and philosophical assumptions about the intelligible one as well. These unified theories were attempting an ambitious balance between a mere scientific way of thinking and the metaphysical ideas that dominated the world during the ancient times, resulting both in what became the foundation of modern science but also in a complicated corpus of mystical allegories and obscured interpretations over the human experience. We can still hear the echo of this transitional period. Psychology, for instance, could offer a wonderful example. It is the only science that within its very title contains a metaphysical conception that can’t be scientifically proven: the existence of the soul that is. Psyche is the Greek word for the soul, equivalent of the Latin word Anima. Psychology actually means the study of the Soul and, regardless of how rationalists could justify the context of that meaning, I still find this to be impressive, especially because of the deterministic prevalence that rules sciences today. It does make sense, I guess, that some of the greatest contributors to the study of myths were psychologists, like Freud or Jung. Freud in fact described myths as the distorted vestiges of the wish-fantasies of whole nations, the age-long dreams of young humanity. This is a dimension of the human spirit that my soul can easily relate with.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Illatebra. And whatever’s hidden further than dreams

    Let’s talk about ‘In Dreams’. What I see in this work, as in other previous works you did, is a mythological perspective leading to a primordial narratives. How do you developed this series? How did you construct the narrative?

    PK: The project started coming together quite naturally, almost intuitively, as a response to the recurring tragedies of our days, the continuous drama that so many people are suffering, here in Greece and all over the world. Although I feel this work to be a reaction to the pains of humanity, nothing in this project refers to the narrative of violence and desperation. I have chosen to go the opposite direction, not to cause a reaction against the stories we see on the daily news reports, but to discreetly address with a whisper our childhood innocence, when our dreams were giving shape to this world, when our mind was prone to tender imagination rather than strict logic. With ‘In Dreams’ I tried to put together, image by image, an alternate world, one that our mind would find to be strange, distant, unfamiliar, like a sequence of fragments delivering from a forgotten myth. Plato was claiming that myths can convey meanings that are hidden from our mind and can only be reached through our intuition. When we put our mind in doubt then other senses become more alert, revealing concepts that are free of words and definitions. This is, I want to believe, the heart of this series.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Aliento. All of a sudden all suddenly all

    There are limits to our perception, therefore we are not able to fully perceive what is essentially mind-independent, free of form, shape and definition. We are bound to keep addressing a mental version of reality, limited within the confines of our understanding. Through Mythology the human spirit could philosophically approach those remote areas of a system much bigger than what we are able to perceive. As if through Myths, our spirit is able to overcome the boundaries of the mind and expose our intuition to a much greater reality. In this context, I regard ‘In Dreams’ to be a confident act of Romanticism, a hope that maybe the dreams we had as children can question the reality we live as adults and they can open a passage towards a better future.

    The landscape. Tell us about your relationship with nature and the places that photographers.

    PK: My work focuses on nature because I prefer to be there, I find that urban areas lack the harmony my soul can relate with. I feel a warm calmness inside me when I revisit places I had already seen before, so all of these years I kept coming back to certain areas. The familiarity I was developing with these places helped me search deeper, be more abstract, overcome the first impression they impose and explore more my own deepest emotional reaction to them. Through the years I put together my own geography of feelings, composed by the places I was visiting in search of some emotional state. The mountains, the sea, the forests, the marshlands, they all wake certain feelings inside me. I kept going there exploring more of their emotional influence on my soul. Everything left a mark inside me. My instinct constantly drives me towards the ideas of pantheism so I approach everything as a fragment of a unity that contains as all. Then Nature becomes a form of philosophy on its own, both a cosmological and a teleological one.

    The sea. The cliffs are a recurring subject. They work slowly on our perception. And then it becomes possible to grasp a metamorphosis. The rocks become something else…

    PK: I have been always finding the human experience to be a captivating story, thrilling and enchanting in a touching and profound way. A long journey through the centuries and the millennia, addressing a universe that gets to be interpreted and experienced in a whole new way every time we manage to push the boundaries of our understanding a bit further. The metamorphosis of the world is a recurring phenomenon, as both the concept of things and the context of their universal structure is constantly changing in our eyes. We will never be able to look at the sky the same way our ancestors did, for neither the sun nor the stars have the same meaning to us as they did to them. These are the foregone realities of our spirit, lost in a distant past, beyond any knowledge that we could ever hope to regain. 

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Ululo. For whatever’s awake out in the waves

    There are some reappearing subjects in my work, like the cliffs or the rocks, but they’re more like the leitmotif of my soul’s narrative, things I identify myself easily with, regardless of my ability to explain it. On the other hand, the occurring metamorphosis constitutes the emotional narrative I wish to unfold. It’s not about the transformation of the subject matter into something else, but the transformation of our own approach towards it. The metamorphosis occurs only in our perception. I’m not after any optical illusions, the transformation I am looking for occurs gradually, discreetly, slowly, it reveals itself the second time we look, not the first one. This is why, I believe, I always return to Mythology to satisfy the thirst of my soul. Myths continue to echo a signal sent from the very first pulse of humanity, like a dream hanging between the oblivion of a distant past and the revelation of a secret future, in a world that breathes life into a new reality every time we look at it.

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? Mostly a technological era still as you said «A world without observers is a world without definitions»…

    PK: A world without observers is a world without definitions and therefore things are defined not by the way they appear but by the way they are. Infinite and incomprehensible to our senses. We have been always defining things based on their appearance, the way we could perceive them through our senses. For Aristotle, for example, the earth was standing still in the middle of the cosmos, with the sun and the rest of the planets turning around it. It does appear to our senses to be like that indeed but now we know it just isn’t. Yet, even though our mind has surpassed our senses and today we are able to handle concepts that are fundamentally unreachable by them, like infinity, relativity, or the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, we still define things based on the coherent appearance of an appropriate mathematical model. Appearance is not a property of the subject matter, but a property applied to it by its observer. The world, the way we know it, exists only in our own mind.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’. Adveho. If once carried the wind

    If we approach this suggestion from a different angle, we could claim that since the ones who observe are the ones who define things, an increase in the number of observers would also increase the number of the possible alternate appearances that some subject could have, at least until they all settle for a while in a dominant definition and a single appearance.

    Photography never had so much attention paid to it till this day either. Among all arts, photography has to be the one that aligned itself the most with our digital era. From an activity of devoted artists, serious amateurs and benevolent memory worshippers, making photographs became one of the most common activities in the western world and sharing these images with the global community became the most natural thing we could do with them. There are many approaches to this phenomenon, and I have frequently heard photographers, scholars and academics expressing different opinions about the meaning and the importance it has. I have also witnessed them changing their mind about it, subscribing themselves to a different approach every now and then. In the same time, I have the feeling that many of the classic books on photography’s aesthetics and semiotics have became somehow obsolete, fragments of a near past. That thing alone convinces me that photography has certainly entered a redefinition period, which started with digital imaging and continued with the effects of social networking. The actual nature of Photography right now is only an hypothesis.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Abrazo. If a body’s an effortless nest

    I have often argued and wrote these years that photography is a philosophical exercise. In this sense, it serves more to those who do it rather than to those who view it. So I fully agree with what you wrote your work: «a little effort to challenge the authority of the mind. […] Not a passive denial of reason but a conscious rejection.». Can you comment on this statement…

    PK: Every art addresses the whole of our senses. A melody can be as soft as a caress, or an image as hard as a rock. All arts somehow coexist in one another, since they all deliver from the vast space of our senses rather than the narrow path of our instincts. An image, however, can provide us with a more accurate description of how a moment feels like. Not the moment that takes place within a specific space and time, but the one that lies inside us in the most personal dimension there is. In every culture and language around the world, when we express the deepest of our needs or desires, we always place that wish within a single moment. When we’re sad we ask for a moment of joy, when we’re tired we wish for a moment of rest, in our pain we beg for a moment of relief. We never ask for a specific amount of time, only for that single moment. In other words, we always crave to release ourselves from the confines of time and space. It can only happen within the time period of a moment, for this is where lies the deepest expression of our existence. And if our mind is bound to time, our soul remains always free, within the intuitive eternity of this very moment.
    I’m interested in the way we perceive this world through our intuition, when we find the courage to challenge the authority of the mind over our reality. It is because a sincere evaluation of our reality inevitably reveals the inequalities of our world and the imperfections our society. Logic and reason are not sufficient enough on their own to reveal the most tender and unique aspects of the human experience, the ones that gave shape to some of the most precious achievements of our spirit, like love, solidarity, compassion and equality. Logic can easily explain why Sophocles’ play Antigone is a masterpiece, but in order to understand, feel and identify ourselves with the heroine’s acts, one has to abandon the mind and rely on intuition, to go as far as to defy reason in favor of a sincere and profound humanism. This isn’t a passive denial but a conscious rejection or reason.

    © Petros Koublis, ‘In Dreams’, Usque Quaque. Sea is an innocent always

    What are your planning to do with this project and with the next future?

    PK: I keep my heart free to dream and open to receive and I let things come their own way towards me. I think it’s more honest and simple like that. Future exists only as a possibility. All of our existence hides itself inside a single moment.

    © Petros Koublis | urbanautica Greece

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    © Thom and  Beth Atkinson from the series ‘Missing Buildings’

    Now 75 years after the first German ordnance fell on London, the first photobook from London-based photographers Thom and Beth Atkinson, ‘Missing Buildings’, documents the silent spaces left behind by the indiscriminate violence of the Blitz during the Second World War. Taken amongst the heart of the British capital over a period of 6 years, their photographs are reminiscent of scenes of an abandoned war-torn city, devoid of its human populace. Where buildings once stood between the architecture of the old and new, a violent past remains obscured. But the project is also a testament to the regeneration and urban redevelopment that would follow in the post-war years. These empty mythological sites lend themselves to our imagination and remind us that perhaps the legacy of war and its aftermath are more profound than the event itself.

    ‘Missing Buildings’ explores the physical legacy of the London Blitz during the Second World War. What were your initial inspirations for this series? What did you discover?

    Thom Atkinson (TA): The starting point for ‘Missing Buildings’ was really just an instinctive feeling. We’d both been living in London for a while and, in different ways, we both felt very aware of this particular history of the Blitz. Perhaps our motivation was to try to understand the feeling we had about London and the connection we felt to what had happened there. I think this is just the result of being British and being the generation that we are - the Blitz is a kind of mythology to us and we felt drawn to it. Like a lot of people, our grandparents
    were involved in, and affected by the bombing of London. To some extent, it’s an event which has formed us and our perception of who we are.


    © Thom and  Beth Atkinson from the series ‘Missing Buildings’

    ‘Missing Buildings’ was photographed over 6 years as a collaboration between you and your sister, Beth Atkinson. Tell us about this process. How did your approach towards this series change within this time?

    TA: The project was made by walking. We’d walk through London every Sunday, talking and looking. That process of walking and thinking things through together over such a long time was what made the project. I think we gave it enough time and effort to evolve by itself. It gave us a chance to develop an genuine instinct for finding and photographing the sites, and it allowed us to think about it slowly and come to an understanding about what we were doing. It got deeper and more elusive as we went on, which, for me, means that a
    piece of work is going in the right direction.

    From the Georgian terraces to the Brutalist housing blocks your project documents both the pre-war and post-war architectural landscape of the British capital. What is it about London’s buildings and urban planning that interests you?

    TA: When you scratch the surface, the landscape of a city reveals so much. Within the particular slice of history we were looking at, we found loss and disaster, but also endurance and recovery. The architecture and planning of London betrays the human dreams, ideals and disasters which created it.


    © Thom and  Beth Atkinson from the series ‘Missing Buildings’

    The juxtaposition between contrasting architecture is an important visual aspect of this project. Can you tell us more about this image of Fellows Court in Shoreditch?

    TA: We found this site near to a couple of others on Hackney Road, near to Old Street. When you really have to wrestle with a picture to make it work, it sometimes becomes a picture of that struggle between your ego and the reality you’re photographing. This picture just worked, without a fight. Perhaps it represents something about the huge change the war caused, both in terms of architecture and planning, but also in terms of ideas and visions for Britain. The bombing was an act of destruction, but ultimately also of creation.


    © Thom and  Beth Atkinson, Fellows Court, Shoreditch, from the series ‘Missing Buildings’

    Is there a particular theme you wish to emphasise within ‘Missing Buildings’?

    TA: For us, the main interest is in mythology. The Blitz is a profound moment in the story and mythology of Britain and Britishness. We hope that, looking beyond the surface level, our pictures point at that.

    What do you mean by “the mythology of Britain and Britishness”?

    TA: By that I mean the national story - the narrative which Britain derives its identity from. The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, described myth as being like a group dream. Just as the individual’s dreams interpret and process events, so a society dreams collectively, giving meaning to and coming to terms with its past. 

    You seem to have adopted the deadpan aesthetic within this body of work. Why did you choose to photograph this way?

    TA: I’m not sure it was necessarily a rational decision, rather we just found ourselves doing it and felt right about it. Looking back, it has a certain kind stoicism and reserve which fits. I think there’s also something desolate about it. People are absent in the pictures - the buildings and the gaps become subjects or portraits. To me, it feels like the morning after an air raid - surveying the damage.


    © Thom and  Beth Atkinson from the series ‘Missing Buildings’

    You founded your own publishing house, Hwæt Books, in 2014. ‘Missing
    Buildings’ is your first imprint. What inspired you to set up Hwæt Books?

    TA: Hwæt Books was founded as a way to self publish ‘Missing Buildings’ and, potentially, other future books I want to make. I’m interested in Britain and in mythology. That interest has been around long enough now that I don’t think it’s going away. Hwæt is the first word in the Anglo Saxon epic poem Beowulf - it means something like “Listen” or “Hark” or “So”. It’s an introduction to a story. It fits with the ideas I find myself interested in. Actually, I’ve enjoyed publishing so much that I’m thinking about trying to publish other photographers’ books. I like the idea of a small but well curated bookshelf full of photobooks about Britain and England. Perhaps just one book every year or two. If I can find a way to do it right, I’d like to do it, but we’ll see.


    © Images of the book ‘Missing Buildings’ published by Hwæt Books, in 2014

    Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format?

    TA: We shot ‘Missing Buildings’ on a 5x4 view camera. It’s become a cliché to say it, but I think we both appreciate the slowness and deliberateness which this brings to making pictures. 

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, that influenced you in some way?

    TA: My own influences have been very important to me - heroes really. I assisted a photographer called John Spinks for several years. It was a relationship which changed everything for me. He’s building up to publish some wonderful work in the next few years, which has been in the making for half a lifetime. I’m in awe of it. 

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    TA: ‘Small Wars’ by An My Le, ‘Working From Memory’ by William Christenberry, and ‘The River Winter’ by Jem Southam.

    Tell us more about projects that you are working on now and plans for the future.

    TA: Aside from possible ideas for growing Hwæt Books, we’re both working on projects individually. I’ve been working on another thing about Britain, war mythology and the English landscape. It’s bigger and more complex, so it’s a long term thing. I’m in no rush - it has to be right. I hope to make a book of it, if I can get to the bottom of it. 

    ‘Missing Buildings’ by Thom and Beth Atkinson is out now on Hwæt Books. It was published on 8th October 2015, marking the 75th anniversary year of the London Blitz.

    © Thom Atkinson |  Beth Atkinson | urbanautica UK

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    © Mark Dorf, Emergent #20

    All of us naturally filter, break down, and reassemble information as we strive to make sense of the world around us.  A biologist observing a landscape may derive from it a graphical figure that summarizes some targeted ecological property; an artist observing the same landscape may produce an image that explores qualities of form and color.  Although these perspectives seem very different, they share an intersection that sheds light on how humans interpret nature and also on our role as part of nature. Mark Dorf’s ‘Emergence’ series explores this intersection, challenging our assumptions about information, communication, and perception of nature.


    Images of the book ‘Emergence’ by Mark Dorf

    Much of Dorf’s inspiration for ‘Emergence’ came from a residency at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) during the summer of 2015, as part of RMBL’s Art-Science Exchange.  The RMBL is a remote biological research station situated high in the mountains of western Colorado, USA.  From June through August it is home to over 100 scientists from around the world who study the surrounding ecosystems.  At the RMBL Dorf collaborated with scientists in forests, streams, and meadows, assisting with the setup of projects and the collection of data.  He was inspired to contemplate how we scientists perceive nature and how our methods influence our understanding of it.

    The Scientific Process

    One of the things that Dorf investigates in ‘Emergence’ is the scientific process itself. Generally speaking, a scientist begins with an interest in a broad topic, let us say ‘ecosystem function’.  But he or she quickly narrows the focus to a specific aspect of the landscape, perhaps a series of small plots of ground in which to study interactions between plants and insect pollinators.  Within Emergent #22, #23, and #24, Dorf explores the transitional flow of this process through colors that fade into and out of the surrounding forest landscapes, mirroring the musings of the scientist. The colors tend to be harsh and artificial; arguably this captures harsh and artificial aspects of the transition between overall properties of an ecosystem and its dissection at fine scales—a dissection that is nonetheless necessary for scientific understanding.


    © Mark Dorf, Emergent #22

    In Emergent #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, and #20, Dorf asks us to reflect upon a common pitfall of the scientific process. Ideally a scientist retains and frequently revisits a larger picture of nature even as he or she focuses on a specific part, allowing ever-changing nature to constantly refresh his or her perception and assumptions. But this ideal is not always met.  Here Dorf sets images of the landscape within a backdrop of colors, blurring parts of the images to draw our attention to other parts. These pieces bring to mind the danger of viewing nature through a preconceived conceptual “lens” while failing to question whether the conceptual framework is appropriate or useful.  Under this ‘hyperfocal’ scenario the scientist is likely to lose the self-reinforcing and self-correcting transitional flow of the scientific process, to the detriment of final understanding.


    © Mark Dorf, Emergent #16

    Transformation of Information

    The scientific process can be credited with our current systematic and practical understanding of natural processes in the world that surrounds us.  We biologists take for granted that we are masters of this powerful process, but how often do we consider our transformation of information as we explore nature?  Not only do we distill measurements of natural phenomena into graphical figures, but we also transform the measured numbers into other related numbers as part of our statistical analysis of results.  In such ways the actual biological information—the organisms, experiments, and measurements—is changed into something new.  


    © Mark Dorf, Mesh Translation #2

    Dorf collects information via photographs of the landscape and then applies his own transformation based on light contained within each photograph. In Mesh Translation #2, #3, and #4 each photographic pixel is evaluated for its underlying brightness value, and the brightest values become tall ‘peaks’ in a three-dimensional image whereas the darkest become deep ‘valleys’.  The triplet of landscapes that are represented in these pieces remain mysterious to us, but the pieces retain distinctions of bright sky and dark shadow that also distinguish the originals.  In fact, the distinctions are accentuated by the transformation, illustrating how transformation at its best can make comparisons that might interest us easier to see.  With Emergent #10 and #11 Dorf applies a different algorithm, arranging all colored pixels in order of their underlying gray scale values.  The resulting pattern is presented along with the original and proves to be an unrecognizable version of it, in spite of the simple transforming algorithm.  In contrast to ‘Mesh Translation’, then, initial patterns appear to be lost, and a warning emerges about transformation at its worst instead of best. This provides a cautionary note to scientists:  the transformation of information that we do almost automatically has potential both to reveal and to obscure and confuse.


    © Mark Dorf, Emergent #11

    Reassembly of a Fractured Landscape

    At the RMBL Dorf was struck by how the scientists tended to fracture large questions into smaller pieces and then sought an understanding of the whole by some reassembly of the pieces. To explore this process he amassed images of landscape features and then reassembled these into new landscapes. The resulting Reassemblage #1, #2, and #3 again provide insight into the scientific study of nature. For example, Reassemblage #3 depicts a mountain that seems natural and idyllic. In fact, it is idyllic: its triangular shape and snow-covered ridges emulate the mountain that a child might draw.  But on close examination the mountain is wrong in many ways: the geology is impossible, the patterns of snow cover are nonsensical, and the plants grow in unnatural ways—who accepts that trees grow sideways?  The models that we scientists assemble share these features.  Their simplicity helps us to identify important features of the natural system they represent, but they are likely to be subtly incorrect or incomplete in numerous ways.  The key is to recognize the value while resisting the impulse to replace nature with our model of it in our further thoughts.


    © Mark Dorf, Reassemblage #3

    Science & Art

    The two of us were intrigued by the response of RMBL scientists to Mark Dorf’s work.  We sensed occasional skepticism and lack of connection, but most of the scientists agreed that ‘Emergence’ forced them to reflect in constructive ways on what they were doing.  To us this vindicates the idea of scientists making space, in both a physical and mental sense, to interact with artists.  And although we emphasize here what the scientists can learn, we are certain that the exchange is bidirectional.

    * Paul CaraDonna is a botanist, ecologist, and a creative problem solver.  He conducts his research at the University of Arizona (Tucson), the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (Colorado). He is fascinated by nature, especially by the myriad of ways in which species interact with one another. He views art and science as two complimentary approaches to understand the world that surrounds us.

    * Nick Waser counts a number of scientists in his family tree and also a number of artists. The common spirituality inherent in science and art seems clear to him, and he has long been fascinated by ways in which the two endeavors inform one another and share the same creative source.  He holds a PhD degree in ecology and genetics and is Professor of Biology Emeritus at the University of California Riverside and Adjunct Professor at the University of Arizona.  He splits his time between Colorado and Arizona, where he studies the pollination of flowers by bumble bees and hummingbirds—and paints watercolors of western landscapes—both plein-air.

    Emergence by Mark Dorf
    In the In-Between Editions, Volume I
    Publication: October 2015
    Edition Size: 150
    Dimensions: 9.5″x 8″
    Number of Pages: 48 pages
    Number of Images: 18 images
    Info HERE

    © In the In-Between | Mark Dorf | urbanautica US

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  • 01/07/16--07:18: THE ART OF TRAVEL

    Misty Sunday hometown. A couch and a blanket. Baby in bed. 3 hours of traveling without traveling. Two recent Belgian photobooks as a guide, both exploring eastern directions.  The titles: ‘Horsehead Nebula’ by Matthieu Litt and ‘Nobody likes to be hindered by worldly Troubles’ by Franky Verdickt. Two photobooks ideal for Sunday-sofa surfers, made by weathered travelers.

    Nobody likes to be hindered by worldly Troubles

    Frankie Verdickt has traveled several times to South Korea in order to portray this somewhat enigmatic peninsular half-a-country. The photographer seems to have fully immersed while absorbing seascapes, tourists, shopping malls, animals in the street, park life, young couples, under the bridge, pinewood, buildings. This multitude of impressions is even enhanced by the accompanying, mesmerizing soundtrack. A wonderful idea,  not often used, but it certainly brings a whole new dimension to the photobook if one goes through the effort of listening to even some of the online soundscapes which mingle so naturally with the placid, extremely well composed pictures. The soundtrack ties the book together, it fits like peas in a pod. Many of the sound fragments are translated afterwards, which results in a small booklet and mid-pages with text; these conversations are funny/philosophical reflections; echoing the 4 religions which determine South Korea; Nature (shamanism), Buddhism, Christianity, and Capitalism. I really enjoyed listening to these sounds and voices and loved reading the excerpts; an ideal mental-travel-experience. Throughout the book, the reader keeps discovering photo gems, all of the photos bathe in an extremely well used big (probably soft box) flashlight (hard and soft at the same time). Clearly Verdickt is no lazybones, he doesn’t mind a bit of carrying equipment. The result is all over in a very dramatic effect and a tremendously poignant outline in the composition. The pictures intrinsically appreciate the reality of everyday life, utterly enhanced by the poetry of a photographer’s emotional connection with even the smallest of details; the epitome of the metaphysical experience of traveling. Bookwise one remark; browsing back and forth, as well as slow pacing through the book, I wonder if  the bookdesign didn’t get the better of some really good pictures, which creates a bit of frustration, but then again, that same feeling keeps you going to and fro. An intriguing photobook anyways, and moreover, again, a new extension to a continuously growing intriguing oeuvre.


    © Franky Verdickt

    Horsehead Nebula 

    Matthieu Litt presents us an untouched region. With vast plains and many horses. It is quickly understood that this must be former USSR, probably Kirgizia, Tajikistan, and/or Kazakhstan, although Matthieu Litt  doesn’t want to disclose the exact locations himself. Which is great. It adds mystery and universality to the images. It becomes a non-defined area of ‘reverie’ powered with huge chunks of fresh air. The pictures are shy and silently following each other in a very humble style. You experience silence all over. The images are tending towards bleached monochromes at times, a very subtle color-palette constructed by the author. The internet’s tourist photos of these same landscapes look a whole lot different! The subtly designed photobook treats you on all around bleakness and vast, meditative landscapes, altered with fresh pastel interiors and touching still-lifes. The strength of this photobook is certainly its modest but elegant  appearance, as well in size as in rhythm.


    ‘Horsehead Nebula’ has become a very surprising small sized achiever, and is just like ‘Nobody likes to be hindered by worldly Troubles’ an honest result of intensive traveling and observation with authentic interest/preoccupation for a somewhat less tourist-trodden region on the face of this damaged earth.


    © Matthieu Litt

    An ideal book-combo for any given sofa surfer, realized by real time, old school explorers - with a very differing, but both eloquent, photographic language.
    Additional reading for aforementioned romantic couch potatoes: 'The art of Travel’ by Alain De Botton.

    © Frannky VerdicktMatthieu Litt | urbanautica Belgium

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    © Erwin Blumenfeld, cover of Vogue Magazine, 1945 ‘Do your part for the Red Cross’

    I recently met with Klaus Fructhnis, our contributor editor for France. Klaus is Chair of Photography at Paris College of Art.  He is an educator and attentive observer of trends and developments in photography. So it’s always a good chance to talk with him. This time we focused on an issue that we do not tackle often on Urbanautica: fashion. Yet we are concerned. Why? New developments in technology are making us somewhat more careful in the way we appear rather than look. Compared to the past where our images were bound to more intimate family album or our secret drawers, today, everything is turned outside. Furthermore let’s not forget that many photographers eke out a living with commercial work often related to the fashion industry. So I’ve asked Klaus to talked a bit about the Master in Fashion Film and Photography at PCA.

    Klaus Fructhnis (KF): Paris, like Milan and London, is doubtlessly a fashion capital that plays a key role in the world of fashion, as suggested by the many fashion photography agencies, magazines, fashion designers brand, fashion weeks, etc., It’s a vibrant international market for fashion photographers. Furthermore, the international dimension of both the city and Paris College of Art provide a unique platform for students who would aspire to experience an internship or work abroad.


    © Erwin Blumenfeld (1897–1969) was a photographer and artist born in Germany. He was best known for his fashion photography published in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s and 1950s. In addition to fashion photography, he produced an extensive body of celebrity portraiture, fine-art photography (including black and white nudes), drawings, and Dada collages. [Source: Wikipedia]

    Tell us about the Master of Arts (MA) in Fashion Film and Photography at PCA

    KF: The Master of Arts (MA) in Fashion Film and Photography is a one-year program in Photography with a specific focus on fashion, aimed at emerging photographers interested in specializing in fashion. Professional practice of fashion photographers today increasingly includes film, so moving image will be taught alongside still. The proposed MA meets the demands of an expanding market for fashion advertising through storytelling in photography and film, using social media and capitalizing on the ability to reach large audiences at reduced cost through online marketing. Many young fashion brands rely entirely on films distributed online, and festivals devoted to fashion films, like the one pioneered in Paris by Diane Pernet, and this phenomenon is doubtlessly growing.

    © Richard Avedon, ‘Martha Graham with the Martha Graham Dance Company, New York, 1961.  [Source: Richard Avedon Foundation].

    Students with an undergraduate background in photography and demonstrated technical skills (black & white and color photography, light, common software programs for editing) will be considered for admission. The program combines technical knowledge and principles of photography/film research and theory. Studio classes and workshops conducted by professionals emphasize the mastery of contemporary techniques and professional practices, while theory-based and methodology courses help students develop their personal creative visions. Thanks to internships during the fashion weeks held in Paris several times a year, students will be well prepared to enter the job market and will have started to create a professional network.

    Students specialize in photography/film, choosing to produce a final portfolio of either still or moving images, while at the same time continuing to broaden their knowledge and skills through supportive art & design courses and electives. Since graduates are expected to join the job market upon graduation, the focus of the program is on studio and research, rather than on scholarship and preparation for teaching.

    How is this program cutting edge in contrast to other MA/MFA programs?

    KF: The cutting edge curriculum emphasizes practiced-based learning and focuses on personal and professional development. The program combines technical knowledge and principles of photography & film research and theory. Studio classes and workshops conducted by active and prestigious professionals emphasize the mastery of contemporary techniques and professional practices, while theory-based and methodology courses help students develop their personal creative visions. Thanks to internships during the fashion weeks held in Paris several times a year, students will be well prepared to enter the job market and will have started to create a professional worldwide network.

    What is the range of disciplines from which the students will be pooled?

    KF: We seek to have a highly diverse student group. Candidates from backgrounds including art, editorial, photography and film are all encouraged to apply.

    © Richard Avedon, Magazine ‘Egoïste’ No.10‚ Andy Warhol, Paris, 1987

    How do you know if the program is right for you?

    KF: This one-year program is for students and emerging professionals who want to specialize in fashion and moving image. The proposed MA meets the demand of an expanding market for fashion advertising through storytelling in photography and film, using social media and capitalizing on the ability to reach large audiences for a reduced cost through online marketing. If you’re interested in new communication channels in the fashion industry and learning and working in the capital of fashion that is Paris, this is a program for you.

    What are the prerequisites?

    KF: The program is open to any applicant who has successfully completed an undergraduate degree (BFA, BA, BSc, BID, BArch, etc.) with a studio component, or acquired basic technical skills (photography, video, editorial, editing software, printing, lighting, etc.) through other educational or professional experiences. Your previously acquired technical skills and creative potential will be evaluated through your portfolio.


    © Annie Leibovitz, John Lenon & Yoko Ono, New York, 1980. On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone, and she promised him he would make the cover.[9] She had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, as Rolling Stone wanted, but Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover. Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from the couple’s Double Fantasy 1980 album cover, a picture Leibovitz loved, and she had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko on the floor. Leibovitz recalls, “What is interesting is she said she’d take her top off and I said, ‘Leave everything on'‍—‌not really preconceiving the picture at all. Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn’t help but feel that he was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both very excited. John said, 'You’ve captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it’ll be on the cover.’ I looked him in the eye and we shook on it.”[10] Leibovitz was the last person to professionally photograph Lennon‍—‌he was shot and killed five hours later. [Source: Wikipedia]

    What is the advantage of enrolling in this program in its first year?

    KF: The boldest ideas are generally implemented first. Fashion film & photography evolve and its codes constantly change over time, and waiting for the program to mature means you are missing the opportunity to get involved now. Faculty will work all the harder to mold the program to the needs of individual students in the first year. The faculty in the program are well-established fashion photographers and professionals in Paris, and have substantial teaching experience (Michael Daks, Ana Bloom, Tatiana Grigorenko, Susan Bright, Lily Templeton, among others.)

    Are there other graduate students at PCA?

    KF: PCA launched the MA/MFA in Transdisciplinary New Media in fall 2015, and is launching a total of 4 new MA programs in 2016 (in addition to this MA in Fashion Film and Photography: MA in Accessories Design: Jewelry and Leather Goods; MA in Fashion Design: New Materials & Technologies; and MA in Interior Design). PCA also collaborates with Toulouse Business School in offering English language MSc degrees in marketing and communication specializing in the fashion and luxury industries; and with the French engineering school École de Ponts in offering English language Master’s degrees in Computational Design These programs draw student from around the world to the PCA campus.


    © The 1969 Pirelli calendar photographed by Harri Peccinotti. Harry Peccinotti (also known as Harri Peccinotti) (born 1935) is an English photographer, best known for his erotic work, most famously two Pirelli Calendars published in 1968 and 1969. He remains an influential figure in art and fashion photography. His work as art director of the UK fashion magazine Nova is widely considered as being influential for its graphic design as well as photography.He published a retrospective of his life’s work called book HP (2009). [Source: Wikipedia]

    What are concrete projects students can expect to complete?

    KF: This program focuses on technical skills and cognitive needs that arise from the continuous development of the fashion industry. Students will be able to:

    • Create fashion films and advertising campaigns, look books, catalogues and window displays;
    • Conceive and produce fashion shoots and films (model direction, lighting techniques, editing, concept and storytelling);
    • Coordinate the creation of photo editorials, both printed and online;
    • Manage a team, discussing and integrating the work of other professionals such as fashion stylists, make-up artists and art directors for the creation of work charged with aesthetic content;
    • Create blogs and online magazines in order to use social media and capitalizing on the ability to reach large audiences for a reduced cost through online marketing.
    • Respond to professional commissions.

    How do faculty facilitate the collaborative work?

    KF: Our PCA faculty, all active professionals, is best suited to impart the skills and knowledge required to prepare students to enter a rapidly changing professional world. They facilitate much the way a project manager would-by having a weekly meeting to make sure everyone is working towards a commonly defined goal. Then they break down to smaller teams/individuals to define milestones and address any difficulties.


    © Colors Magazine. ‘Extraordinary Fashion’, Issue #38. An unusual cover. A fashion photo taken by Patrick Demarchelier for a double issue about fashion. It was also Oliviero Toscani’s last issue. But it wasn’t a contradiction of the magazine’s core values (no news, no fashion, no famous people) rather an anthropological and visual trip through different ways people dress around the world. [Source: Colors Magazine]

    What are the faculty’s credentials?

    KF: Their expertise lies in Fashion and Film Photography, Still Life Photography, Intellectual Property, Professional Business Practices, Film Production, Fashion Editorial, Advanced Printing Techniques, Concept and Storytelling, Art Direction and Marketing.

    What are the expected outcomes in terms of employability?

    KF: Students graduating from the Master in Fashion Film and Photography would be prepared to enter the international job market with specific knowledge and skills in photography and film, but also with a greater understanding of the fashion market and its associated professions. The combination of studio work, research, and professional practice preparation will enable graduates to apply for positions as independent or salaried photographers and videographers, art directors, creative directors, editors, or communications and advertising bureaus.


    © Jesse Frohman, ‘Kurt Kobain and Nirvana’. While earning a degree in economics at the University of Michigan, Jesse Frohman picked up a camera and never put it down. When he returned home to New York, he had no formal training or experience, but he did have a portfolio of platinum prints, which caught the interest of legendary photographer Irving Penn, who hired Jesse to manage his studio.It was an incomparable apprenticeship. To the techniques and aesthetics he leaned from Penn, Jesse added his own sensibilities of strength, dignity and quiet energy, all of which are evident in his pictures.Jesse has photographed countless celebrities and still lifes. In addition to his work for magazines, advertising, and recording companies, he has been commissioned to create two award-winning photographic books. His work is also in many private collections.Jesse lives and works in New York. [Source: Jesse Frohman]

    What types of projects and companies will alumni be prepared for?

    KF: PCA has closely established links with industry and other partners through past industry sponsorship agreements with companies such as L’Oreal, Hermes, Shiseido, Galeries Lafayette, Les Compagnons du Devoir, Promod and more. Our career services office assists students with securing internships. New links are sought and explored, to provide fashion film and photography students with a pertinent professional network. If freelancing/entrepreneurship is not your cup of tea, alumni will be able to work in a whole slew of fields like creative direction (e.g., Vogue, Marie Claire, Dazed, The Independent, Cosmopolitan), fashion editorial (e.g., Elle, A Magazine Curated By, Harper’s Bazaar, Large, Style Magazine), and communications and advertising bureaus (e.g., Publicis Worldwide, Aquent).


    © David LaChapelle, ‘Pietà with Courtney Love’. David LaChapelle is known internationally for his exceptional talent in combining a unique hyper-realistic aesthetic with profound social messages.LaChapelle’s photography career began in the 1980’s when he began showing his artwork in New York City galleries. His work caught the eye of Andy Warhol, who offered him his first job as a photographer at Interview Magazine. His photographs of celebrities in Interview garnered positive attention, and before long he was shooting for a variety of top editorial publications and creating some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of his generation. In 2006, LaChapelle decided to minimize his participation in commercial photography, and return to his roots by focusing on fine art photography. Since then, he has been the subject of exhibitions in both commercial galleries and leading public institutions around the world. [Source: David LaChapelle]

    What will students have in terms of a portfolio by the end of the program(s)? Is a portfolio even the right way to look at the end result?

    KF: Upon graduation, students are expected to have achieved demonstrable skills in fashion film and photography image capturing and editing, an understanding of applied research methodologies, and increased teamwork and management skills. They will have practiced talking about their skills and competencies with professional employers and clients. The final portfolio is an original and coherent set of images that focus on still or moving images, or contain a combination of the two. At least one project in each medium (photography and video) is required. Students will also have a list of projects, generally visible online, likely talked about in blogs and journals.


    © Michas Vanni, Student work at Paris College of Art (PCA)


    © Geraldine Biasotto, Student work at Paris College of Art (PCA)

    Founded in 1981, Paris College of Art (PCA) is a private university in Paris, France. The university is a US degree granting institution of higher learning and is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). PCA’s mission is to provide the highest standard of art and design education, taught within an American pedagogical paradigm, while being influenced and informed by our French and European environment. Our international faculty is comprised of 100 leaders in the art, design, and business industries in Europe and courses are taught in English. PCA offers an interdisciplinary education for students coming from 50 different countries, and awards Bachelor’s degrees in: Accessories Design; Art History, Theory & Criticism; Communication Design; Design Management; Fashion Design; Film / Video; Fine Arts; Illustration; Industrial Design; Interior Design; and Photography. The university also offers Master’s degrees in Transdisciplinary New Media as well as study abroad, certificate, and summer programs. Additional information is available here

    PCA | urbanautica France

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    To the post-perestroika generation, Russian youngsters born between 1986 to 1996, Hong Kong is a city of dream. That may be an overstatement even for the most optimistic Hong Kongers, but for young Russians who have lived through a rather turbulent history throughout their childhood, Hong Kong offers a taste of luxurious lifestyle that would not be otherwise possible in their home country.

    Perestroika, meaning ‘restructuring’ in Russian, is a political and economic reform in Soviet Union in 1980s, which some argue, leads to the dissolution of USSR. The new generation born during this period were torn between two opposing sets of values. On one hand, they are told about the fleeting glory of the bygone world superpower and its communist value by their elders; on the other, the access to american TV drama and movies such as 91210 has introduced (or rather misinformed) to the impressionable youngsters a glamorous and rebellious lifestyle of the western world. The conflict of the two extremes has created a huge desire for teens to flee their country, go abroad to pursue a ‘better’ life. The demand for white models in Hong Kong, has given these kids exactly the playgrounds they crave.


    While many asian models is getting international attention in the increasingly diverse modelling industry, pale-skinned and slender figure is still considered the embodiment of beauty, and the norm for high fashion campaigns in many asian cities like Hong Kong. Lacking local talents, many modelling agencies has no choice but to hire models from overseas. Among them, Russians and young east europeans are the most sought after, probably because of both their geographical proximity to Asia and their relatively low salary. And because local modelling agencies has few to choose from, the admission process is much easier for these models. The competition that they face is also considerably less fierce than in fashion hubs like New York, London or Milan. These has made Hong Kong an ideal location for young Russians who wish to flee their country, or just simply want to take a break from their ordinary life to try their luck in the coastal city of China. “About 70% of models who come to HK from abroad are not professional models. There are people who are just going through this stage in their lives when they know they are pretty enough to model in Asia, and they hope that this might become their ticket out of their country.” Photographer Polina Shubkina told me.


    During her years pursuing MFA in SCAD Hong Kong, Polina met her schoolmates from Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts, Kesha, who was modelling in Hong Kong. Coming from the same region and speaking the same language, the two quickly got acquainted. The male model brought her to a party at the Play Club, which organises free drinks to models and opened her to the underside of the modelling world, rarely known to laymen like us. For a year since then, she has picked up her camera and started documenting the life around her and the models, photographing anything from a night-out at a glamorous party to depressing moments at home. They are amateur models who have a successful career. They are not as ambitious as their counterparts from the west. And they are probably as confused about their jobs as does any outsiders of the industry. Through prolonged  shooting, Polina was able to understand more about their choices to leave their home and work abroad as a model.


    In her artist statement, she said:

    «My primary focus was the outside of the club environment; I was curious what do they do when they are not at work or the party. It was rather challenging to photograph girls, a lot harder than guys. I guess every photographer who works with a documentary about any community of people is trying to take off the masks from his or her subjects. I have to tell you that with some of my subjects, the mask was a second nature that replaced everything else.

    I stopped working on this project after eleven months because of the fact that most of the guys I was following around left Hong Kong. Not to mention how unhealthy it was to go out, at least, four times per week. It is still a big mystery to me how they can eat McDonalds, drink all possible liquors, have a minimal amount of sleep and remain skinny and more importantly, stay alive.


    During my time with them, I heard all kinds of stories about how they came into the profession. The majority of models who come to HK from abroad are not professional models. There are people who are just going through this stage in their lives when they know they are pretty enough to model in Asia, and they hope that this might become their ticket out of their country. However, most of them have to leave after the end of six months contract.

    While I was working on these series, I had an intense feeling of alienation. I could see how they only have each other, the intricate interlacement of their lives. I figured that even though, they all were physically in Hong Kong with a desire to flee Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Lithuania, they, perhaps unintentionally, built their own little “USSR” under the roof of this club.

    It is a lot easier to think about this “HK Russian Speaking Models Phenomena” now. I remember being very unnecessarily judgemental back then. Now, a few years later, after reflecting on this work for a while, I relate to my subjects more than ever. We were born during “Perestroika” and were growing up in great uncertainty. We grew up watching cheap movies from the West and hear stories from parents and grandparents about the life in the country that no longer exists. It seems that the party-animal lifestyle that most newly-arrived models automatically pursue is an act of teenage rebellion.»

    © Polina Shubkina | urbanautica Hong Kong

    (The statement is slightly edited for clarity.)

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    © Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Deauville’

    In the  beginning of November I had this conversation with Filip Dujardin, one of Belgians most talented artists influenced by architecture and photography. We mainly talked about his art and influences and I’m ver happy to say I will exhibit together with Filip and others during February in the Brussels parliament. 

    Filip Dujardin: For me everything started when I studied art history at the university of Ghent. I already had an interest in architecture and so I wrote a thesis on Jan-Albert de Bondt and his technique of the Amsterdam School.

    After my studies I applied for a job at a museum, to no avail, and eventually ended up studying photography in evening studies at the Academy in Ghent. In the beginning it was mostly a search for my own style. There I enjoyed a rather broad exposure but primarily I took interest in Carl de Keyzer and also the Becherschule with its business-like style; analytical, which is characteristic to them but also something that is present in my own work.

    I have wandered many paths, including work as a photo reporter and as a darkroom assistant, but eventually I ended up in architectural photography. After my graduation I collaborated with colleague photographer Frederik Vercruysse, who shared my interest in architecture.


    © Frederik Vercruysse from the series ‘Tempo Polveroso’

    After almost ten years of architectural photography I gradually got the feeling that I wanted to manipulate my images to a greater extent and as a result I started to research the mechanics of imagery, how imagery works and how it communicates. I learned this solely by being engaged with and aware of the status of my work in the discourse of architecture, how the work was used and communicated, what the rules of architecture are and the various ways to capture architecture. The ‘clear line’ of Hergé comes to mind in which depth of focus is set to infinity.

    I always make the connection between my fictitious work and my architecture, seeing as there actually isn’t much difference and you are constantly dealing with the manipulation of reality. A frame is actually very binding. You set a passe-partout around your subject, so to speak, but you can be in a thousand places to capture an image. The fact that you chase that specific place determines a lot. You can tell a story in a sequence but also in a single image. 

    You can exclude or include things to create a second or third layer to your image. I found this mechanism to be very interesting and wanted to reinforce this in some way. I prefer to call this style sculptural, as it did not stem directly from architecture but rather from a non-functional object.


    © Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Deauville’

    The coast we see here was very iconic in French history. If you look at the paintings from the 19th century, you will notice that this subject frequently recurs. I arrived at this subject because ‘Deauville’ invited me to do something with the subject of romantic coastlines and so I got to work with the typical Normandy truss-style which you can recognise by the graphic use of wood and the regular recurrence of black and white planks. I cite this image now, as it is on its own, a controversy. Most likely the beach is not a building site or at least it shouldn’t be. What we see here is the desire to be near to water. Something we see repeatedly along the Belgian coast for example. They are also not designer buildings, though they might look somewhat futuristic at times, there is always something archaic about them, which I find interesting. At a glance they look to be technologically advanced buildings but up close you can see that they are clearly low-tech.


    © Filip Dujardin, Esplanade Brussel, from the series ‘Fictions’

    This image was taken at the Esplanade square in Brussels. A number of windows were broken. I then used this as a foundation to further enhance the aesthetics of the broken façade by additional manipulation of the image. The manner in which the building degrades and the whole aesthetic of it has a somewhat Messianic quality.

    But not all of my images are a critique. Most just offer commentary on certain aspects of architecture. Sometimes they are a mild comment and sometimes they are quite resolute about the way architecture is composed like a sculpture or object in space by emphasising certain archetypes. I then take another picture of this, so it actually becomes a reproduction from which an image is created that can stand on its own. In this way the structures all but disappear and all that remains is the image. So what then is the status of that image?


    © Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Fictions’

    My initial goal of a work is always to build something that will continue to exist. In that sense you can describe me as photographer or a visual artist. Given that being a visual artist is actually quite comprehensive, this sometimes stirs up some confusion, however the approach I take is really quite unique. Though most people know me as a photographer, it’s interesting that these days people more often see me building. I take a preparation or a plan as a starting point and then it’s basically an execution. There may be a lot of work involved for just one picture.


    © Filip Dujardin, ‘Passing Cloud’

    For a while I owned a gallery in San Francisco but it no longer exists, in the sense that it is no longer a space as such. However in that time a number of interesting contacts were made, including the San Francisco and New York MoMa, who both bought an image, as well as the Metropolitan. That last image was taken up in the permanent collection after being used in an exposition concerning digital photographic manipulation. The interesting thing about that last sale was that it was purchased not solely by the photography department but by the architectural department as well, which I thought was great, seeing as the image was being appreciated not only for the architecture but also for its photographic qualities. In principle it is believed that because it involves the depiction of a building, it must fall under the category of architecture. In my eyes however, it’s more than that. It’s a photographic image that represents architecture or sculptural work.


    © Filip Dujardin. The installation is part of the art project FLUX celebrating the river Leie which runs through the city of Kortrijk in 2015. In my opinion the city doesn’t have a lot of contact with the river: the city centre is located a bit further and even turns its back to the water. What I did with this intervention was to make a gesture towards the city by building a structure that places several architectural architypes into a certain sequence. By doing so there evolves a suggestion of a silhouette of a street or an unfolded house. In fact it is an action to pull the city towards the water.»

    In the end I think I want to make the point that though my work may not necessarily be accessible, I long to go beyond the purely photographical constraints. If you have a powerful concept, photography can sometimes become a burden and the finishing a problem. An image must be perfect down to the smallest details. You must be patient to minimise mistakes so as not to fall through, and sometimes that means a lot of hard work.

    If you create an image, what is it that you show, in what context and how does this relate to your doctrine? For me it’s important to question the medium. What does photography come down to? I show pictures but I see them more as constructed images, composed images or a collage so to speak, which, according to definition, is not photography. It is not my intention to dissect this academically because it is a very intuitive process based on trial and error. It is the layers of perspective I find interesting. That at first glance confusion ensues but that upon closer inspection this is nullified and something else takes its place, some sort of experience.

    This article was made with the collaboration of Sebastiaan Franco, Sophia Marmelstein and Heleen De Boever

    © Filip Dujardin | urbanautica Belgium

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    © Branko Lenart from the series ‘Minoranze’, 1985

    The large complex of buildings making up the rice-husking factory – constructed in 1898 in San Sabba on the outskirts of Trieste – was first used by the German forces of occupation as a temporary prison camp for the detention of Italian servicemen captured after 8th September 1943. It was designated Stalag 339. In late October it was converted into a Polizeihaftlager (Police internment camp) to be used for the transit of deportees bound for Germany and Poland, for the storage of confiscated property and for the internment and execution of hostages, partisans, political prisoners and Jews.
    In the underground entry passage the first room on the left was known as the ”death cell”. In it were kept internees transported from prisons or captured in round-ups and earmarked for execution and cremation within a few hours. According to eye-witness accounts new arrivals in the cell often found themselves in the company of bodies awaiting cremation.


    On the left side of the ground floor of the three-storey building housing the dressmaking and shoe-making shops where prisoners worked and quarters for the SS officers and other ranks, were 17 mini-cells used for the detention of up to six inmates each. These were set aside mainly for partisans, political prisoners and Jews scheduled for execution in the space of a few days, or sometimes weeks. The first two cells were used for torture or the collection of property confiscated from the prisoners. The articles found there included thousands of identity papers taken from prisoners, deportees and individuals sent for forced labour. (All the papers, collected by the Yugoslav troops who were the first to enter the Risiera after the Germans fled, were tranferred to Ljubljana, where they are at present kept in the Archive of the Slovenian Republic). The doors and walls of these ante-chambers of death were covered with graffiti. The occupation of the site by Allied troops, its subsequent conversion into a camp for Italian and non-Italian refugees, damp, dust and – above all – human neglect led to the disappearance of most of the graffiti. The diaries of the scholar and collector, Diego de Henriquez (which are now conserved in the Civic Museum of War and Peace that bears his name) provide evidence of this and contain an accurate transcription. Several pages of this diary are reproduced in the historical exhibition.


    Graffiti on the cell of the Risiera.

    The next building, four storeys high, was made up of large rooms used for the detention of Jews, other civilian prisoners and prisoners-of-war destined for the most part to be deported to Germany – men and women of all ages, children and babies of just a few months. From here they were transported to Dachau, Auschwitz and Mauthausen. Only a few were able to avoid the tragic fate that awaited them. The Bishop of Trieste, Monsignor Santin, attempted to intercede with the German authorities on behalf of certain individuals imprisoned in the Risiera – particularly Jews who were married to Catholics. In some cases he was successful (Giani Stuparich and his family were released), in others (Pia Rimini) he was not. In the inner courtyard, opposite the cells, on the site now marked by a metal plate, was the building housing the oven in which bodies were cremated – its outline is still visible on the main building. The oven, built below ground level, was reached by means of a stair. An underground passage, now also marked by the metal plate, joined the oven to the chimney stack. The base of the chimney is now the metal base of a symbolic Pietà composed of three metal sheets representing the smoke spiralling out of the stack. 

    After using the existing rice-drying facility from January to March 1944 the Germans converted it into a crematorium capable of incinerating a larger number of bodies. The plan was drawn up by the ”expert” Erwin Lambert, who had already designed a number of ovens for concentration camps in Poland. It was tested out on 4th April 1944 with the cremation of the bodies of seventy hostages, shot the day before at the Opicina shooting range. On the night of 29th April 1945 the building housing the crematorium and the chimney stack connected to it were dynamited by the fleeing Germans to remove the evidence of their crimes, as was their practice. Human bones and ashes were found among the rubble in three paper sacks of the sort used for cement. The club was also found amid the rubble and a replica of this object, made and donated by Giuseppe Novelli in 2000, is now on display in the Museum (the original was stolen in 1981).


    A group of SS soldiers in Poland, among them several staff members from the Sobibor extermination camp. Erwin Lambert (on the left).

    There are several theories about the methods of execution used, and all of them are probably right: gassing in specially-equipped vehicles, a blow with a club at the base of the skull, shooting. A single blow from a club was not always fatal, so some of the people swallowed by the oven must have been alive. The revving of engines, the baying of deliberately-excited dogs and the playing of music served to smother the screams and the noises of the executions. The central building, six storeys high, was used as a barracks: on the upper floors were quarters for German, Austrian, Ukrainian and Italian SS troops (the Italians were employed as guards), while the lower floor, now the Museum, housed the kitchens and mess. The building which is now a chapel for all religions was used as a garage for the SS vehicles stationed there. It also contained the black vans, with exhausts connected to the inside, probably used for gassing some of the inmates. The small building outside the complex on the left was the guardhouse and Commandant’s quarters. On the right, in what is now a green area, was a three-storey building with offices, NCOs’ quarters and accommodation for the Ukrainian women. How many people were done to death in the Risiera? Estimates based on eye-witness accounts range from three to five thousand. But a much greater number of prisoners or people taken in roundups passed through there for transportation to other concentration camps or forced labour camps. Triestini, Friulani, Istrians, Slovenes, Croats, servicemen, Jews – some of the finest cadres of the Resistance and the anti-Fascist movement burned in the Risiera.

    The Litorale Adriatico

    After 8th September 1943, when the Italian king disavowed his country’s alliance with Germany and an armistice was proclaimed, the Region of Venezia Giulia was no longer part of the Italian State. With the constitution of the operational zone called ”Adriatisches Küstenland” (Adriatic Coastal Area – Litorale Adriatico) it came under the direct administration of the Reich. The institution of the ”Litorale Adriatico”, comprising the provinces of Udine, Trieste, Gorizia, Pola (now Pula), Fiume (Rijeka) and Lubiana (Ljubljana), thus marked the de facto annexation to Germany of a broad area straddling the Upper Adriatic and the Sava basin. Hitler entrusted the government of the ”Litorale” to Gauleiter of Carinthia Friedrich Rainer, an Austrian Nazi with an intense dislike for Italy. His ethnic assessment of Friuli and Venezia Giulia was that these two Regions were largely alien to the Italian race, which constituted an additional justification for their separation from the rest of Italy. On 1st October 1943 High Commissioner Rainer took office with full political and administrative powers. He quickly established the nerve centres of his almost unlimited sovereignty by subjecting prefects and local authorities to the supervision of German ”advisers” and laying down rules for the employment of militias composed of local collaborators – Italian, Slovene and Croat – which, for various purposes and under various names, were placed in the service of the occupying power.

    The units of the Fascist Militia thus came under the aegis of the SS. They did not, as was the case in the newly-constituted Republic of Salò, become the National Republican Guard, but took the name Territorial Defence Militia. The various branches of the police, all of which were used in searches and round-ups, also came under the SS. One of these was the Special Inspectorate of the Venezia Giulia State Police, headed by Inspector General Giuseppe Gueli, whose headquarters were in a house known as ”Villa Triste” (Sad Villa) on via Bellosguardo. This body was founded in April 1942 with the specific task of repressing partisan operations and controlling workers in large factories. The Inspectorate – whose operational section became notorious as the “Collotti Band” (after its head, Commissioner Gaetano Collotti) – continued service after 8th September, giving invaluable collaboration to the Germans in operations against anti-Fascists and in rounding up Jews.


    Mussolini speech in Piazza dell'Unità at Trieste, 1938

    In the late 1930s there were about 5,000 Jews in Trieste. In 1938, when the Fascists introduced race legislation and one of the notorious ”Centres for the Study of the Jewish Question” was opened in Trieste (there were four in Italy), many Jews decided to leave the country. Nonetheless, the Nazis managed to deport more than 700 Trieste Jews to extermination camps. No more than twenty returned. The Risiera was also used for the detention, pending deportation, of many more Jews captured in Veneto, Friuli, Fiume and Dalmatia.
    Policing, political and racist repression and anti-partisan operations were under the general control of the SS, commanded by Trieste-born Odilo Lotario Globocnik. An associate of Heinrich Himmler, Globocnik had been involved in organising ”Aktion Reinhard”, the massacre of two and a half million Jews in Poland. With him he brought to Trieste a large number of experienced killers who had distinguished records from various extermination operations in Germany, the Soviet Union and the German death camps in occupied Poland at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. They included the 92 specialists of Einsatzkommando Reinhard, many of whom were Ukrainian SS troops, male and female. Einsatzgruppen or Einsatzkommandos were special units created for the purpose of ”dealing with elements hostile to the Reich behind the front-line troops” and carrying out particularly ”demanding” tasks in the implementation of the policies of occupation, repression and extermination practised by the Third Reich in the territories it had conquered. These units were under the authority of the Central State Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – RSHA) which in turn was controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, headed by Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler.

    A few days after 8th September 1943 Christian Wirth arrived in Trieste. With him were some of the men who had taken part in ”Aktion Tiergarten 4” – the liquidation, started in 1939, of Germans suffering from ”incurable diseases” and, subsequently, of concentration camp inmates designated as ”incurable” on bogus certificates made out by camp doctors. Einsatzkommando Reinhard was divided into three geographical areas, the headquarters for each of which was officially denoted with a variation of the letter R – R1 for Trieste, R2 for Udine and R3 for Fiume. This letter was embossed on papers found in the Risiera and was stamped on the cells there. Christian Wirth was in charge of the first Einsatzkommando in Trieste. After his death in a partisan ambush at Erpelle on 26th May 1944 he was replaced by August Dietrich Allers. Allers’ righthand man and Commandant of the Risiera was Joseph Oberhauser. The presence in the Litorale Adriatico of a staff so highly specialised in the direction and organisation of extermination policies in Europe is explained by the vital importance of the area for the Third Reich.


    The Litorale was the last territory in Europe to be conquered by Nazi imperialism. Friuli, Trieste and Istria were to be an economic and political platform for German expansion in southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. At the same time they constituted an essential strategic fulcrum between the Balkans, convulsed by the partisan war and threatened by the advance of the Red Army, the Italian front and southern Germany. The course of the war in Europe and the heroic fight put up by the peoples living side by side in the area finally forced the machine of Nazi repression to abandon its last territorial conquest.

    The Trial

    In Trieste in April 1976, thirty years after the events outlined above, the trial was completed of those responsible for the crimes committed at the Risiera di San Sabba under the German occupation. Among the accused were two Nazis – Joseph Oberhauser, a brewer from Munich, and August Dietrich Allers, a lawyer from Hamburg. The former was Commandant of the Risiera, the latter his immediate superior during the period of “Aktion Tiergarten 4”, the ”euthanasia” operation carried out on mentally and physically handicapped people in Germany and Austria. By the time this operation was suspended following the courageous protests raised by German churchmen, approximately 100,000 ”unproductive mouths” had been liquidated in the name of ”racial hygiene” (these figures were cited at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials). The Tiergarten 4 staff was subsequently transferred to Poland, where it organised the extermination camps at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec as part of the ”final solution” to the Jewish question.


    Tiergartenstraße 4 Berlin. T4 was the codename for the villa at Tiergartenstr. 4 where the murder programmes were planned and organized from 1940 onwards.

    Official Polish estimates – and they are the most conservative – put the number of Jews killed in these camps at about two and half million and the number of gypsies at 52,000 (of which about a third were children). When their work in Poland was completed these men were sent to Italy and stationed in Trieste. Among them was Franz Stangl, the ”Hangman of Treblinka”, held responsible by a German court for the death of 900,000 people, and Erwin Lambert, the specialist in crematorium design.

    None of the defendants was present at the trial held to establish responsibility for the crimes perpetrated at the Risiera di San Sabba. Several had been executed by partisans, others had died of natural causes. August Dietrich Allers died in March 1975; Joseph Oberhauser continued to sell beer in Munich. The Italian authorities did not request his extradition since the Italo-German extradition treaty does not cover crimes committed before 1948. The trial ended with Joseph Oberhauser being sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes. He died on 22nd November 1979 at the age of 65.


    The Nazi war criminal Josef Oberhauser on trial. Photographed in Munich (Muenchen) in January 1965. 

    A pointless trial? Aside from the original framework of the proceedings, based on a preposterous distinction between ”innocent victims” and ”non-innocent victims”, aside from a formalism designed to dissociate the crimes from their historical and political roots and aside from a sentence which was never served, there remains the breach that was finally made in the cloak of silence that had covered the concentration camp of San Sabba for over thirty years.

    Simon Wiesenthal, a Jew who has devoted his life to exposing Nazi crimes and hunting down their perpetrators, said of the trial, ”There is not only a need for justice, it is also a question of education. Everybody should know that crimes like these do not disappear from memory, they are not statute-barred. Anybody thinking of starting up a new Nazi or Fascist movement should know that in the end justice will always win. Even though the wheels of justice turn slowly”.

    © “Risiera di San Sabba” is a former rice-husking facility that was built in 1898. After September 8, 1943, the Nazi occupation forces used the premises as prison camp, headquarters where deported prisoners were sorted out to be sent to Germany and Poland, raided goods depot, prison and extermination camp for hostages, partisans, political and Jewish prisoners. On April 4, 1944 a crematory plant was installed and made operative. In 1965, a decree issued by the President of the Republic raised the “Risiera di San Sabba” to the status of National Monument. As of 1975, following restructuring interventions according to architect Romano Boico’s plan, the premises house the “Civico Museo della Risiera di San Sabba”. Info HERE

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    © Tine Guns, A vertigo Kiss, 2014

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe your personal research in general?

    Tine Guns (TG): My personal research in general has a lot to do with creating art that has variable interpretations. I see my images as fragments with which I create stories or make associations.  They are organic like a growing plant, or interchangeable like jigsaw pieces. I usually work towards exhibitions, this allows me to follow my current mood and let chance interfere. The combination of the images is as important to me as their relation to the exhibition space.

    It’s kind of funny, but before I created art through photography, people used to ask me what my work was about and not what my approach was towards the medium I used. Even if it mainly consisted of video and film, which also ‘steals’ fragments of reality through a lens. What I’m trying to say is that I have a feeling that photography still needs to prove itself as an art form. But it simply is, isn’t it? Photography is a form of art, like any other medium. And I like to use different mediums to tell my story.


    © Tine Guns, ‘We all want to forget something, so we tell stories. It’s easier that way’, 2014. Print on a roll of Japanese Kozo Paper

    When I was in Art school this was the most normal thing to do. We had projects where painters worked together with graphic designers, photographers, video artists, and sculptors. We’re the generation of “in-between” artists. We create art in between mediums, in between techniques. Maybe that also corresponds with my approach to life and to art: being in the middle of things. For me life is too complex to capture in one single way. Or perhaps I’m just too easily distracted and like to view things from different perspectives. Although, I have to admit, I’m jealous of people who can commit themselves to one specific thing and true craftsmanship.

    How did your research evolve in time? Starting from your first shots to your current work?

    TG: Initially I started photographing because at a certain point photo cameras were the best to shoot videos. This had an influence on a lot of things. Many filmmakers started taking pictures and photographers started making videos. This was a very interesting period, actually. It reminds me of cinema’s early days, during which the interference of these two mediums led to beautiful things.

    Secondly, curator/photographer Peter Waterschoot asked me to join a photography group exhibition he organised. I really had some nice talks with him. Moreover, it triggered me to search for a means by which I could create a fluid type of art with still images.

    Tell us about your latest project ‘Amoureux Solitaire’

    TG: I always loved artist books, so when I was searching for ways to edit photography, I started working with photo books. ‘Amoureux Solitaire’ inspired me to investigate the link between photography and cinema in a photography book. Now I’m currently doing research into diverse sequencing methods for future works.


    © Tine Guns, ‘Amoureux Solitaire’

    At the moment, I’m working on my next exhibition in Netwerk Aalst about the use of masks and carnival strategies in protest culture. It deals with rituals and history. More specifically, it’s about repeating images, and hiding parts of them as well as changing their interpretation. The show will open in January. It will consist of a video installation and photographic work. Hopefully by the time of the finissage, I can show the avant-première of my film ‘To Each His Own Mask’.


    © Tine Guns, still from the video work ‘To Each His Own Mask’. 

    Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

    TG: I always loved the films of David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, Derek Jarman, Harmony Korine, and Jean-Luc Godard. I also find paintings very inspiring. Carravagio, Goya, and the Flemish Primitives are among my favourites. I like to look at them with an open mind. Intentionally, I want to forget the art history classes that discussed their symbolism. Rather, I make up new stories, as if they were pieces of a puzzle.

    The first time I had an experience that came close to the ‘Stendhal syndrome’, was when I entered the Goya room at the Prado museum. I was really overwhelmed by the incredible intense and insane power of this room. I really needed a break after seeing Goya’s black paintings. Too much going on inside my head. Bosch had too wait a little. I bought a biography of Goya in an attempt to understand, or grasp, the moment which led the artist to making these crazy mural paintings.


    © Francisco Goya, ‘Witches’ Flight’, 1797-98. 43.5cm x 30.5cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid

    My friend, Matthieu Ronsse, is the most interesting contemporary painter in my opinion. Another young photographer worth mentioning is my other friend and Tiff colleague, Thomas Vandenberghe. They both are very true to themselves and I like this kind of honesty. For me this is more inspiring than a plausible story or a strategy that works.

    Also, at the Book Case Study in Den Haag, I had a chat with Nadine Stijns. I like the way she uses the exhibition space. Actually, I’ve seen a lot of refreshing work in this gallery.

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    TG: I chose these 3 books because I think they’re edited interestingly.
    1. ‘Voyeur’ by Hans Peter Feldmann.
    2. Number 2 actually contains two books, but since they’re from the same publisher Akina Books, they are both my number 2: ‘Linger’ by Daisuke Yokota and ‘Italia O Italia’ by Frederico Clavarino.


    ‘Linger’ by Daisuke Yokota, published by Akina Books. LINGER is part of the TEIKAI trilogy. About the trilogy: the kanji writing of TEIKAI has many meanings. One of the them is “to linger”, to stay a bit longer. Another meaning is: to wander at midnight. When taken out of context there’s no way to tell which is the intended meaning, starting from this ambiguity of language and word Daisuke Yokota’s started working on the TEIKAI trilogy, currently a work in progress. There’s no way to know where this midnight wandering will lead. [Source Akina Books]

    3. ‘Painting Photography Film’ by László Moholy-Nagy.


    Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy wrote Painting Photography Film in 1925 as a polemic to supplant painting, an individualistic art form, with the creative use of new visual media—such as photography and film—that corresponded to the globally networked and mechanically powered modern world. Moholy’s book was reprinted in English in 1969, at a time when his terrific optimism had given way to widespread suspicion regarding public uses of media technology. Nevertheless, his address of painting through photography and film was revived in the Conceptual era to a remarkable degree, as the works in this section of the exhibition demonstrate with references that stretch from René Magritte and Piet Mondrian to Lorenzo Lotto and Paolo Uccello. Such works—even those made on canvas—did not extend or replace painting so much as they created analogies for painting in a new, post-medium domain. In Giulio Paolini’s Young Man Watching Lorenzo Lotto, a photographic reproduction of Lotto’s portrait of a youth is to the original as Paolini is to the Renaissance master: a distanced and reflective observer. Other works that follow demonstrate similar relationships with the media of cinema—"This is not a film,“ Marcel Broodthaers declared of his multimedia installation The Crow and the Fox, paraphrasing Magritte—and photography. [Source Art Institute of Chicago]

    Can I add some bonus books?

    ‘4x4′ by Richard Prince. This book is the first artist book I bought and inspired me a lot.


    © ‘4x4′ by Richard Prince; first published in 1997 in Japan by Kornisha Press & Co., Ltd.

    And finally, these 4 books because I recently ordered them in one package. When I opened the parcel, I loved the way their covers matched. And beside that, they’re just 4 amazing books. ‘Prophet’ by Geert Goiris, ‘The Bungalow’ by Anouk Kruithof, ‘Will They Sing Like Raindrops Or Leave Me Thirsty’ by Max Pinckers, ‘Palimpsest’ by Sébastien Capouet.

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    TG: One of the best shows I saw recently, was ‘Of Spirits and Empty Space’ by Joachim Koester. I think he is an amazing artist. And also Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition in Centre Pompidou.

    How do you see the future of photography evolve in general? And where do you place yourself in this future?

    TG: Let’s answer this question with another book.


    © Book  ‘School Spirit’ by Pierre Huyghe & Douglas Coupland. Published by Les Press du Réel 

    © Tine Guns | urbanautica Belgium

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  • 02/01/16--05:08: ODED BALILTY. MANY DECISIONS


    © Oded Balilty from the series ‘Hide & Seek’

    Tell me how did you get into photography? What are your memories of your first shots?

    Oded Balilty (OD): I started photographing in high school when I studied art and the history of art, as well as the basics of photography. I remember the first shot that I ever took was of the corridor in my school. I was very surprised that everyone in the class took the same photo but each one was different. I then realized that you could have many different looks from the same place. That’s what keeps me photographing today. Sometimes I like to surprise others, but mainly I like to surprise myself.

    How has your experience as a photojournalist evolved? What are the moments in your career that you feel are most important?

    OB: As a photojournalist, every day I meet different scenes, different people, different stories and different photographers. I’m always in a process of learning and photojournalism is a world that is always developing. Both technically and aesthetically, as well as the mode of storytelling and the way you find those stories. It’s constantly changing. I always feel like I am gambling. In photojournalism, there are many times that I find myself with other photographers at events. I don’t like being where everyone else is because I like to show a different angle. The moments that I feel are very important to me are the ones that, at the end of the day, I felt that I had made the right decision. For me, photography is made up of many decisions, especially in photojournalism when you are not allowed to touch, stage, or manipulate in any way. You need to follow the photojournalism ethics and all that is left for you to do is make decisions.


    © Oded Balilty, an Israeli army video explains how to use a gas mask at a distribution center in Tel Aviv’

    The list of awards you have achieved in recent years is truly remarkable. The Pulitzer Prize is certainly an important recognition. Tell us about that photograph?

    OB: The evacuation of the Amona outpost was in January 2006 after the disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria in the summer of 2005. The settlers felt that they didn’t resist enough during the previous disengagements so thousands came to the evacuation of Amona to try to block the police and army from evacuating the outpost, which was only 9 houses next to the settlement of Amona. It was very violent, which it hadn’t been during the previous summer. 


    © Oded Balilty for The Associated Press

    We were 3 AP photographers there and we worked as a team. We separated into 3 different posts in the outpost so that we wouldn’t have similar photos and so, as a team, we could cover the story with a wider range. And there was one moment when the center of the event was happening and all the photographers ran to that spot and myself as well. I saw another AP photographer there so I decided that it was not smart to have two photographers for the same agency at the same spot because we might miss a moment in another area. So I left that spot even though it was the most interesting scene at that moment and went to the other side of the outpost. There, I saw a lot of riot police marching in lines into the outpost from the other side. And I saw, from the other side, one very anxious girl. Suddenly she started to run toward the police and she ran straight into their shields. And that was when I took the photo.


    © Oded Balilty for The Associated Press

    In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the truth of photojournalism. Manipulated and faked images have been the focus of criticism and debate. What do you think about it?

    OB: When I started photojournalism, the first thing that I learned is not to manipulate, stage, or change the natural scene. For me, these things are like the bible and the biggest challenge in photojournalism is just to take yourself somewhere and tell the story with your eyes. As I always say, my favorite movies and books are those based on true stories because I don’t think that there is anything more creative than reality. Our job is to tell the story, not create it.

    The constant technological development and the explosion of images through the Internet are two issues that affect the panorama of photography. What is your personal impression on the future prospects of this medium, especially for those willing to devote their time to tell stories about what is happening in the world.

    OB: I find it interesting that more people are taking pictures today. It doesn’t matter with which format. Once there are more people who are taking pictures, there are also more photography consumers. Cameras and technology are just a tool that each one of us can use to show our perspective of society and the environment around us. I believe that there will always be a difference between professional and amateur photography. I don’t think the amount of people taking pictures will change photography.


    © Oded Balilty from the series ‘Israel, Soviet Style’

    In some of your works you make specific use of the portrait. As in ‘The Forgotten Jewish Veterans’, or ‘The Stone Throwers’. Both of these series are effective in focusing the attention of the viewer on a precise question. What led you to favor this more staged looking and setting, very different from classic photographic reportage?

    OB: When I shoot portraits, it’s more about the person. But through the person, I am telling their stories. I don’t see it as staged photography or that I changed the reality. I wanted to tell the general story through the individuals. These two stories have been told in many different ways so I tried to show something different because the stories are very important. My job is to keep the eyes of the viewers with stories that have been told so many times in many different ways so I did it in a different way.


    © Oded Balilty from the series ‘The Forgotten Jewish Veterans’

    Needless to say, when it comes to Israel to prevail in public opinion is often the rough and approximate imagery transmitted by the international media. As an Israeli and a photographer what it meant for you, in your daily work.

    OB: From the outside, people only see this place as a conflict zone but there is normal life here as well. And I wish that the top stories in our newspapers were that the fire department helped a cat get of a tree like in some other countries. But that is not our reality. Many times I try to show the daily lives and stories here that are not related to the conflict to put some balance.

    How do you combine your work as a photojournalist with your personal research? What kind of dialogue exists between these forms of experience?

    OB: Many times I feel like I am two different photographers. My personal photography is like therapy. And the big difference for me is when I shoot personal stories, I am telling my story through many different objects. In photojournalism, I am telling other people’s stories. I don’t think I could choose only one kind of photography. I think they influence each other and one cannot exist without the other.


    © Oded Balilty from the series ‘Marginal Notes’

    Tell us about the project ‘Sabra Traces’

    OB: In this project, I connected, literally, to my roots and the roots of my photography. I was looking back to why I started photographing, which is because I love to travel around, to show the beauty of the simplicity in the things that are right in front of us and which we often forget. It has also connected me to my roots as an Israeli. I’ve been working for AP, which is an international news outlet, for almost 15 years and I am always looking at what is outside. Every time that there was a war, conflict or any major disaster, my instinct was to run over there and I tended to forget about myself here. Through this project I began to look right outside my backyard and not investigate but rather work around one very specific object. That has connected me to myself and myself as a photographer. 

    It also talks about how Israelis have forgotten about the real sabra and their roots and behavior. As a child, I always saw Israelis as unique for this reason. In the last 10 years, or maybe since growing up and understanding life here as I mature, I see that there is more of an Americanization and we have forgotten the sabra. It’s a very personal project but I think it can speak to every Israeli that was born here and is a real sabra. It is also for the next generations, those who don’t really know the sabra. They know the plants and the fruits but they don’t know the real, deep meaning of it. They know that sabras mean someone that was born in Israel. But the sabras I know were the generation before me, the people who actually built this country. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.


    © Oded Balilty from the series ‘Sabra Traces’

    What are you working on lately, what is your perspective as a photographer?

    OB: I am now starting a new project that will combine my photojournalism and personal work. It will be exhibited in mid-2017.

    What books have you read recently that you liked and why? 

    OB: Right now I am reading ‘A Woman In The Dunes’ by Kōbō Abe.


    © Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara; Cinematographer: Hiroshi Segawa)

    An interesting exhibition you recently viewed?

    OB: The gallery that has impressed me the most in recent years is Pier 24 Gallery in San Francisco. I highly recommend it.

    © Oded Balilty | urbanautica Israel

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    © Drew Sawyer, portrait of David Campany

    David Campany (born 8 October 1967) is a British writer, curator, artist and teacher, working mainly with photography. Campany has written and edited books; contributed essays and reviews to other books, journals, magazines and websites; curated photography exhibitions; given public lectures, talks and conference papers; had exhibitions of his own work; been a jury member for photography awards; and teaches photographic theory and practice at the University of Westminster, London. Campany’s books have won the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Book Award, Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, Silver Award from Deutscher Fotobuchpreis and the J Dudley Johnston Award from the Royal Photographic Society. Campany is co-founder and co-editor of PA magazine which has been published since 2008.

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started?

    David Campany (DC): The start? Around the age of ten I got interested in other people’s family albums and in cinema. Family albums were fascinating because of how ingrained photography is into our understanding of ourselves, I guess.  Cinema was my gateway to ideas, to other aesthetic realms. Put those two together and you have the familiar made strange and the strange made familiar. That’s a rich mix.

    I expected photography to be a quick passion that burned out, but I’m still interested. I think this is because photography is not really, or not only, a specialism.  Yes, it’s a ‘medium’ of a kind but to be interested in photography is to be interested in all of its possible uses and subject matter. At least, that’s how it is for me. Photography is a passport to so many things: art, design, politics, history, fashion, architecture, anthropology, sociology, medicine, conflict and so forth.

    How did you first get into curating exhibitions?

    DC: It was only a few years ago. In 2010 I got three offers to curate, or co-curate, exhibitions. The British artist Hannah Collins invited me to organize a big show of her work that toured Spain. The Jerwood Space in London gave me carte blanche. I made an exhibition about the different ways photography can express or respond to locations. That show was titled ‘This Must be the Place’, with work by nine contemporary artists. And Diane Dufour asked me to work with her on the inaugural show at Le Bal in Paris. Together we made ‘Anonymes: L'amérique sans nom: photographie et cinema’. In each of these three show there was still photography, single images, sequences of images, books, magazines and projected films. I like to use the space of exhibition to bring together work made for different platforms – wall, page, screen.


    © Janeth Rodriguez-Garcia. Installation View ‘Anonymes’, Le Bal, Paris, 2010

    Being a curator, you must meet lots of interesting photographers and become involved in lots of exciting projects! What has been the highlight of your career as a curator so far?

    DC: Recently Le Bal asked me for my ‘dream show’. Well, you shouldn’t really do your dream show (that would be like discussing your dreams in public).  But for a long while I had been thinking about one photograph, ‘Élevage de poussière’, made in 1920 by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. I came to feel it was a sort of secret key to the last century. A very risky idea, I know, but I thought it might make for an original show, and one that comes close to my own thinking about images, which tends to be a mix of the analytical and the intuitive. Le Bal likes risky ideas so they let me go ahead. Titled ‘Dust’, the show takes in many things: military aerial photography, forensics, postcards and press photos of dust storms in American, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, conceptual art, abstract paintings, and many more things. In the weeks before it opened I was quite worried about how the show would be perceived. I didn’t want it to feel like an indulgence, or a vanity project. But in general the public and the press have been extremely positive. The catalogue has nearly sold out and I get emails almost every day – everyone from school children and Phd students to artists and art historians – telling me they got something from it. Some speak about the show in very emotional terms (the melancholic poetry of it), others offer me their own very sophisticated readings. So that’s been a real highlight for me.


    © Élevage de poussière, Man Ray et Marcel Duchamp, 1920, Courtesy Galerie Françoise Paviot


    © Book view ‘A handful of Dust’ by David Campany, published by MACK books 2015

    When you curate an exhibition, how do you select the images to include?

    DC: It’s a very slow process. Often there are key images. For example with ‘Anonymes’ they were Jeff Wall’s 2002 image ‘Men Waiting’ and Walker Evans’s 1946 Fortune magazine piece ‘Labor Anonymous’.  I wanted to have those two works in the same exhibition space, in close proximity. A huge tableau photograph made for the gallery and an old magazine spread, both dealing with exactly the same subject matter (the daily work of anonymous citizens). Other images followed from that. Works are chosen with the exhibition space in mind. An exhibition is not a catalogue. An exhibition needs to work as an embodied experience. I think that very often curators of photography exhibitions forget this, and shows end up feeling like catalogues on the wall.  I think also that many contemporary shows of photography are too big. I like to work with just two or three rooms. Photographs demand a lot from us: they have a profound effect on our nervous systems, even if we’re only looking at them for a few seconds. Despite that fact that we might live our lives surrounded by photographs, we cannot look at many and keep our concentration.


    © Walker Evans, ‘Labor Anonymous’, Fortune magazine, November 1946.

    Have all these years of being involved in photography, on so many levels, changed your way of seeing the world?

    DC: I like the appearance of the world and I always have.  Light falling on things, or on places. Gestures. Chance configurations.  Perspectives. Points of view. I’m happiest sitting on a street looking, looking, looking. I’m sure photography has had some effect on how I look at things that but I would like to think it was the other way around, that enjoying the appearances of the world somehow predisposed me towards photography.

    When do you think it’s important to tell the story of a photograph: the context in which it was made, the photographer’s relationship to the subject and his or her perspective? Is it always important?

    DC: That has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Context is interesting because photography exists in so many contexts and its meaning can be shaped so much by its context. Recently I curated a show of Walker Evans’ magazine work, which is touring at the moment. Evans understood context so carefully. None of his images for magazines mean much if you take them off the pages for which they were intended – his editing, his layouts, the texts he wrote to go with them. 

    Intentions? In general I’d say I’m never that interested in knowing photographers’ intentions. I rarely trust photographers’ accounts of their own work and I am never interested in relating to a photograph through guessing intentions. And I’m enough of a ‘post-structuralist’ to be interested in the idea that meaning lies more in the destination of the image (you and me) than in its origin (the photographer).


    © Book ‘Walker Evans: the magazine work’, published by STEIDL, 2014

    Is there any contemporary artist, photographer or writer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

    I am sure there are plenty but I can’t name names. If influences really are influences, we often don’t know what effect they are having on us, and those effects might be quite delayed. I am suspicious when people talk confidently about their recent influences. I suspect those are mere infatuations.

    Three books of photography that you recommend?

    DC: Recently I reread Max Kozloff’s ‘Photography and Fascination’. It was published in 1979. Kozloff’s writing is intelligent and elegant. That’s a rare combination. Someone should re-issue that book. Victor Burgin’s ‘The Remembered Film’ is more rewarding each time I read it. I found Sally Mann’s recent memoir ‘Hold Still’ very compelling, even though I am not such a fan of her photographs.

    Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

    DC: Late last year Pace/MacGill in New York paired Lee Friedlander’s photographs of tangled trees with drawings by Pierre Bonnard: a small, humble but very rewarding exhibition.


    © Installation view Lee Friedlander & Pierre Bonnard at Pace/MacGill, New York, 2015

    What are your plans for future projects?

    DC: A book about the exhibiting of photography. A philosophical history of photography told through one hundred photographs. And I’m touring a show inspired by my book ‘Road Trips: Voyages photographiques à travers l’Amérique’.

    How do you see photography evolving in the next decade, particularly in the light of new digital developments and the Internet?

    DC: I have learned never to speculate.

    © David Campany

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  • 02/05/16--09:30: UNDERCOVER #17: IDRIS KHAN
  • Photo: Idris Khan “Bechers’ gasholder”

    Editors “An End Has a Start”, 2007 Kitchenware Records


    After the successful debut of ‘The Black Room’, the Liverpool band’s sequel came with the expected ‘An End Has a Start’. Personally not one of my favorite bands, with too predictable sounds often modeled on the radio rock sound of bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, U2, Interpol and the other numerous heirs of the English new wave, influenced mainly by Joy Division and by Echo And The Bunnymen. An album without special flashes or brilliant insights, however well-played, well-produced and capable of alternating catchy rock songs with slow and melancholic ballads.

    The cover image, a gasholder recomposed by digitally superimposing other layers of the same image in sequence, is by the hand of Idris Khan, a British artist of Pakistani origin. Khan obtained an MA at the Royal College of Art in London in 2004; Despite his young age - Khan was born in Birmingham in 1978 - the author has exposed among others at Taidehalli and the Kunsthalle in Helsinki, at the Musée de l'Elysée in Switzerland, the Victoria Miro and the Saatchi gallery in London, the K20 in Dusseldorf, the Gothenburg Konsthall in Sweden and at the MoMA in San Francisco.

    Idris Khan makes his works by overlaying images representing the same object in a path where the original object’s aura and his artistic intervention compare semantically and echo each other constantly. In this citationist game, expertly balanced between past and present, the author’s cultural awareness becomes apparent as it slowly reveals the influence of the new German objectivity: Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander and Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Bernd and Hilla Becher.

    Starting from the inventories of anonymous architectures and the conceptual serialism of the types well-known to the Germans spouses, Khan, through digital reworking, changes opacity and transparency of the various layers of the image. He uses photography as a citational medium, in which the citations are part of a larger, intellectual and cognitive process.  As a result,the final overall image appears more and more mysterious. Khan’s images work on an axis from the rigor of a teutonic visual grammar to the recomposition of floating and moving images.


    © Editors: ‘An End Has A Start’ (Music Video)

    © Idris Khan: New Photographs. By Fraenkel Gallery

    © Idris Khan: In the Studio. By Blouin Artinfo

    Idris Khan (Artist Talk): Conversations with Contemporary Artists. By Guggenheim Museum

    Idris Khan from Institut für Kunstdokumentation


    Text by Gianpaolo Arena, Heleen de Boever

    © Editors | All copyright remains with the photographer and property.

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    The First Photo of the Sun by Leon Foucault and Louis Fizeau, 1845.
    To be confirmed. ©  From ‘Until Proven Otherwise’ series by Francesca Seravalle

    ‘Until Proven Otherwise/ On the Evidence of the First Photos’ is an exhibition of a research that has allowed you to interact with archives, curators and institutions. How did the idea occur to you to do a project on “First Photos”?

    Francesca Seravalle (FS): Everything started with a simple question that occurred to me while I was looking up pictures for different researches on Google image: “What was the first photo uploaded on the internet?”. Hence I started my research of First Photos (from 1820 up until today) focusing on 4 trails: photographic inventions, scientific and technological discoveries, historic happenings and first sights of nature. I was excited by the unveiling of a lot of unknown photography that has been ignored by books on the history of photography. Their esthetic amazed me: I imagined what kind of effect they must have had on the people who saw them for the first time. Since then I have found a lot of First Photos. I noticed that research on the internet has its limits and that it is not entirely reliable. I therefore sought to compare the sources and their authors by expanding my research to books in order to prove their authenticity. Nonetheless, I’ve also been able to identify mistakes in traditional manuals of the history of photography. These are a result of historians basing their research on that of others and thus not being able to personally verify the sources. For example, there is still an inaccurate attribution of the invention of the word photography: it isn’t the Englishman Herschel but Hercules Florence, a Frenchman who was settled in Brazil.


    The first time the word “Photography” has been written, by Hercules Florence 1832, one of the photographic pioneers and the inventor of the word Photography, Until Proven Otherwise. The first image is also the first photocopy ever did. Hercules Florence, originally drawing and typographer, was looking to create a photographic technic useful to copy many documents, as well the labels for his friend pharmacist Mr. Mello. The main interest of Florence was the zoophonie: the record of the birdsongs in the jungle. More info and photos © Instituto Moreira Salles. 

    ‘Until Proven Otherwise’, are images that immediately have a true process of “authenticity”. Could you talk about the stages and the dynamics of acquiring proof?

    FS: I started by means of constructing a list of the technological photographic processes. Moreover, I tried to contact all the inventors available who could give me proof of authenticity to ask information on the picture in question (the first Photoshop, the first PNG, the first screenshot, etc…). This is how I learned that a lot of information found for example on Wikipedia and in the papers is wrong, such as the first photo to emerge on the Web.

    On the other hand I have contacted curators, museums and institutes spread across the continents (the Senior Curator of the V&A, the National Media Museum, the Institute Lumière, the Societé Française de la Photographie, the Talbot Museum, the Getty Institute, the George Eastman Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Archive of Modern Conflict, the Franklin Institute, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, etc…) to acquire proof and to ask for help in regard to certain researches. Whenever possible I have done research in their private archives to accumulate unpublished material and to discover new First Photos.

    I’ve started to gather and verify the stories behind every First Photo which revealed to me that even the most famous ones have reliable and proven stories which haven’t been told in the books on the history of photography. Like the mosaic of Ravenna being the source of inspiration for the pixel. Or “Boulevard du Temple” of Daguerre, one of the historically most famous photographs of the first photographed person: It was part of a triptych donated to the prince of Munich from Bavaria which was relocated during the Second World War as a security measure to a “location protected from potential bombardments”. This, however, did not prove to be a suitable atmosphere. The triptych turned black and the restorer who attempted to intervene only caused more damage. Luckily, Getty preserves an analogue daguerreotype copy, since Newhall had asked one for the publication of his book on the history of photography. This case proves to be only one of many (There is also that one of the view of the rooftops by Niépce for example) where the copy becomes important and a unicum replaces the original. 


    Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3rd arrondissement, Daguerreotype. Believed to be the earliest photograph showing a living person. It is a view of a busy street, but because the exposure time was at least ten minutes the moving traffic left no trace. Only the two men near the bottom left corner, one apparently having his boots polished by the other, stayed in one place long enough to be visible. Note that, as with most daguerreotypes, the image is a mirror image. 

    This is a project of great importance, also from a historic point of view. According to you, how come many of these images have not been mentioned in books on the history of photography up until now? 

    FS: When I showed my research to a lot of curators and museum directors, it came to my attention that only a few knew the images, in the same respect that the history of photography (same as the history of art) is the history of the authors, not the technicians or inventors. We all live in a digital world and see pixels daily on our cell phones, on our camera and on our computer. No one knows, however, that Pixel stands for “Picture element”. Nor do they know its inventor, Russel Kirsch, or why he chose to give that particular structure to the pixel and why it was invented in 1957. Even though I’ve had an education in the history of art, the history of technology provokes an immense intellectual and esthetic fascination in me. Probably because I chose Ando Gilardi as professor, whose assistant I was for a short period.

    I noticed how the history of the process of technology engages with a wider audience than photography enthusiasts and professionals: anyone is interested in seeing the first photograph made with a cell phone, the first photograph of Earth, the first photograph published in a paper, the first one with pixels, the first Polaroid or the first photograph made of Italy.

    My aim is to liberate photographs such as those of Niépce and Daguerre of an existence as pictures in books on history of photography that are smothered under the weight of the text. No one lingers on these images while they still have a lot to say.


    © Francesca Seravalle. Commissioned by the cultural association Planar - Until Proven Otherwise become an exhibition in the street of Bari, an Urban Intervention.

    That’s why I’ve decided to take them to the streets and show them to non-experts. Next to the fact that the correlation between the high use of images in our society in regard to the ignorance of the history of photography is astonishing to me. Most people use a self-taught language without knowing its history. While anyone knows the name of Michelangelo and Raffaello or Picasso, few would be capable to give a name of a photographer, whichever one.

    Could you explain how the first photos are always representatives of their time? What link is there between the photographer and its subject? Could one, in addition, find an esthetic connection between all those photographs, other than the fact that they are “First Photos”?

    FS: During the preparation of the exhibition’s layout for the FORMAT International Photography Festival (UK), where I won the first price, the Paul Hill Award, and while I was designing the rendering of the walls, the showcases and the study tables, I realized how there could be esthetic connections between all those first photographs. I’ve developed esthetic theories in semantic groups and worked on texts that could clarify the comprehension while being minimally graphical and strongly conceptual.

    I was reading an article in an American magazine Aperture where they had compared two first photos (Niépce and the one on the Web), which stated that the first photos did not have a subject nor an esthetic interest. I have consulted the archive of images that I’ve gathered up until now and started to theorize on the esthetic connections between them. This is how I discovered that there are in fact connections between the photographed subject and the inventor. A test shot of a photographic device focuses generally on something that the inventor has an intimate relationship with. It demonstrates a documentation of everyday life: the subjects consist of wives, children and the interior or views from their house or studio, if it even wasn’t themselves or their hand. They have an authentic relationship with their time. Like our family photo albums, they lack a “glamour” filter. However, in case of an invention regarding a new development in technique of color, the subjects often are landscapes or leaves, seeing that these provide a more visible display of color.


    ‘The First known surviving Photo produced in camera’ also called “View of the Window at Le Gras”, by Niépce 1826. This is generally considered the First Photo ever made in most of the book about History of Photography. There are many studies about that photo and specially about its re-discovery by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim in 1952, that I can’t sum up here. The image we normally know (the 4°) is far from the original on bitumen of Judea (the 1°, color digital print reproduction made in June 2002). Helmut Gernsheim draw the latent image on a paper to make it visible and than, on a reproduction made in gelatin silver print, in collaboration with the Kodak Laboratory, he spent two days painting in watercolor small dots as pointillism style to enforce the image. The last image is a “computer image depicting the original scene “because of an arrangement the Niepce’s house/museum has with a well-known photo agency, photography is not allowed inside the house.” Sometimes a copy become more known than the original. © The Ransom Center / Gernsheim Collection

    I noticed that some photographs that documented historical moments for the first time are either very raw, such as the first photographs of a concentration camp that surfaced clandestinely showing the horror of whom had taken them, or very difficult to read; the first photograph of the earth taken by a satellite: unrecognizable! At any rate, the first photos have first and foremost the revelational ability of being unique and of recording a first experience in history.

    You have decided to introduce your project at an exhibition by the end of September in Bari, near Planar, in the open air around the city. Could you talk to us about the transition from the research to the exposition? How did the idea of the exhibition evolve?

    FS: When in Bari the Planar association invited me to do the exhibition, I thought about doing it on the territory. I proposed shutters that could interact with the urban pattern of Bari. There is an assembly of architectural photographers, such as Antonio Ottomanelli who is the founder of Planar, and also of landscape photographers connected to Planar. Linking this knowledge to Bari being a city with a marvelous urban structure and architecture, I envisioned the exhibition as an adjustment to the streets of Bari by means of a proper Urban Intervention and by creating itineraries of an open-air museum. This does not entail the mere enlargement of a photo glued at the side of the street but I tried to create a trompe-l'oeil of continuity between photography and architecture, images and city landscapes. 


    © Francesca Seravalle, Urban Intervention, Bari, 2015

    With this operation the project has obtained a particular value because never before has my intent of bringing images of public domain to the general public been materialized.

    The desired interaction with the city and its inhabitants has undeniably been an interesting element. Was the choice for Bari characterized by motives based on the city planning, the architecture or the landscape?

    FS: Initially I “lived on Google maps” for a while, searching for streets and buildings that inspired me and which could be suited for this kind of operation. The people of Planar (Antonio Ottomanelli, Anna Vasta, Francesco Stelitano e LetiziaTrulli) proposed a neighborhood where their “quartiere Libertà” is located. The area is very interesting because it’s an abandoned Old town where all the stores are now closed considering that the concentration of activities moved to the big commercial centers outside town life. I was interested in creating an operation in an area that has directly been affected by gentrification, bringing “the history of photography” to the streets and exhibiting it in a lively and well-known neighborhood. I was also a little tired of the usual photography circles (the Milanese, those from London and from Paris, in the end they remain “circles”) and personal projects. I was intrigued by the search for a different audience. Also because as a curator I always think of how the “people” perceive the work, if it’s enjoyable etc… I tried to operate in a way that didn’t use a lot of ideas but clear and big ones. Simplicity, the effectiveness and the dialogue with the outside environment - eliminating every redundant aspect - were the foundations of my work. With the triptychs and diptychs that animate the itinerary through the streets, I sought to reflect the effect that many images had had on me.

    Have you had any peculiar reactions to the billposting of certain images around the city? Could you reveal some to us?

    FS: I have curated exhibitions at Foam, at The Photographers Gallery, at MART and at other museums where the photos are protected from the judgment and reactions from people. I have noticed, however, that the streets are an interesting and fertile scene where the public truly reacts without any inhibitions.


    The first photo of a kiss in sequence. Eadweard Muybridge, 1872-85. ©  From ‘Until Proven Otherwise’ series by Francesca Seravalle

    During the operation of the posting, the immediate connection with people was very compelling: little old men who explained to me how to better apply the glue, a little girl who gave me flowers, a man who offered me his ladder, storekeepers who asked me to include their shutters, people who thanked me. It was truly a beautiful human experience. Also, something I have never seen in my life: a photograph (one of Jesus Christ) has received in ex voto two paintings of Madonna. I had never expected that much interaction with people on the streets. Furthermore, the poster of Muybridge depicting the first kiss photographed in sequence has been torn up twice: the first time at the hour of the inauguration, for which we had done a pasting performance during the tour, and the second time the day after that, probably because it portrays two naked women kissing. Nevertheless, that act of tearing up has been an important social reaction for me and it has shown me a demonstration of how strong that image and the context still is. 


    © Francesca Seravalle, Urban Intervention, Bari, 2015

    The most interesting aspect is that with this urban operation a photograph “comes back to life” after 150 years. It is given meaning again because in the streets it acquires a different value. The context of the streets is a context in motion where all the contemporary debates merge. When a work enters a museum, it loses its “scuff marks” of contemporaneity. It arrives in an atemporal seal. Besides, in Italy, the street is still unmistakably a meeting place and a place of exchange, reflecting the contrasts of today’s society. The photo wouldn’t have had the same effect in a museum. The street is a sensitive, living and fertile environment.

    ‘Until Proven Otherwise / On the Evidence of the First Photos’ is an ongoing project. How will it evolve?

    FS: At the moment, the project is undergoing a digression into a new project called ‘Everything has its first time’ where the obsession with the First engages other media and inventions. For example, now, I’m focusing on the first times in cinema. From that experience emerged the video ‘Secret Communication’ that has been selected by Photo50 “Feminine Masculine”, the exhibition curated by Federica Chiocchetti for the London Art Fair. With ‘Secret Communication’ I pay homage to Hedy Lemarr, an actress (who has performed the first female orgasm in the history of cinema) and the inventor of the “Secret Communication System” (the prototype of wifi that was created to interfere with the launch of Nazi torpedoes). I also pay homage to the non verbal communication between men and women, to the aggravation created by the film ‘Ecstasy’ where the video is a clip from, to the auditory interference of the first attempts to record sound (1850-1857) which have only been recently deciphered. For the first time I didn’t stop at operating graphically but I was also involved in the synchronizing of Matchy’s cinematic work with the audio of Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (the first guitar chord, the first recorded voice etc..). Those recordings prior to those of Edison have only recently been discovered by the First Sound Organization. The problem is that those first seven years of recording attempts only resulted in interferences. The messages were unintelligible. Thus, the recordings were not officially recognized. I wanted to insert them into the video of Matchy, because the recognition of their interference would confirm their existence (Disturbo Ergo Sum), even if their message isn’t apprehensible. This is my homage to the beauty of failure and the imperfection of first attempts, to the uniqueness and their necessity in the process of research.

    The project can be viewed on its website. Could you imagine your performance in book form?

    FS: There is still a lot of work in terms of creating a book. There are over 150 images and the majority are public domain by law or are World Heritage, such as the images of scientific discoveries. The real problem, however, is to find the time to write and to provide documentary evidence for the 150 images while continuing the investigations with the inventors. More than one publishing house would be interested in the book but I still have to continue the research. I would certainly like to free the photographs from the weight of history and text. Seeing that I have always been agonized by the didactic relationship of the images with the texts provided in books on the history of photography, I would give them an esthetic independence. In the meantime I continue to post articles on the blog.


    The First Photo Book from “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” by Anna Atkins, 1843. Confirmed. © Francesca Seravalle, Urban Intervention, Bari, 2015

    In the world of art today, the roles and boundaries between the artist and the curator, before well established, are becoming more obscure. How do you see yourself in regard to your project?

    FS: I always consider myself a curator and researcher first. It isn’t my intention to define myself as an artist. Also because, in reference to an artistic research, one is more indulgent and can be more personal than with a historical research.

    However, I don’t believe that conflicts exist between the researcher, the curator and the artist, especially not with my work method as a curator or, more precisely, as artist development. In my work process I’m interested in discovering new talent and in working together towards a realization of projects by means of a process of maieutics and self-awareness of one’s stylistic identity. In this process I participate by stimulating the artist to do research and experiments or by establishing artistic parallels and reflections. I curate the project for about two to three years, from the beginning to the end of the production and promotion of the book and the exhibitions. Naturally, I do this only for projects I’m “committed to intellectually and artistically”, such as was the case with Dalston Anatomy by Lorenzo Vitturi (SpBH) and Alex & Me by James Pfaff (now on print by Montanari).

    Lorenzo Vitturi on Dalston Anatomy, an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery

    With ‘Until Proven Otherwise’ I managed to merge the different professional personas that I have developed during the last ten years into one unique figure: archivist, researcher, curator, writer and producer. This work in progress is an experiment that, for the first time, has allowed me to produce and realize a project that has been mine from start to finish. Whereas before I have always collaborated with other artists.

    I worked with a shortage of the original and made its limits work to my advantage. I can assure that seeing large posters of portraits originated by the daguerreotype, instead of small and precious originals, helps the public to relate to it with more ease. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that, by eliminating the corporeality of the original, you can guide the interest towards the composition and the graphics of the image. Ultimately, after the research, I used the photographs as graphic elements to support my esthetic theories.

    Text translated by Robin Geldhof

    © Francesca Seravalle | urbanautica Italy

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    © Eva Vermandel, Alice and Vicky, Stroud Green, 2015

    Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots? / How did your interest in photography come about? 

    Eva Vermandel (EV): You could say I was born with a camera, because my father had a great interest in photography and since I was often his subject, photography was part of my life from the very start. Later on when I was old enough to hold a camera, my father would occasionally let me use his camera to take one single frame. Back in those days everything was on film and it was expensive, you couldn’t just shoot away as you do now with a digital camera.

    When I was a bit older, in my early teens, he’d let me borrow his camera to shoot a whole roll of film. One of the first shoots that I remember doing was a black and white one and there are quite a few shots in there that completely fit with the work I’m doing now. Obviously they are not as sophisticated but they have the same atmosphere about them. 

    Despite this early introduction to photography, I didn’t study it. I went to art college doing graphic design instead. This was because I’d already done a four-year evening course in graphic design at the part time art college of my hometown Sint-Niklaas. How I fell into doing that evening course is quite a significant story: as a teenager my parents and teachers all pushed me into doing a sciences/mathematics degree course at secondary school, because I was ‘clever’, disregarding the fact that my main passion and the subject I excelled at was art. Doing this course made me feel desperately unhappy. I needed art and there was nil art in the schedule. To compensate for this lack in art subjects at day school, my parents recommended me to do the evening course in graphic design and that’s how I ended up doing that for four years, very enthusiastically. Regardless of that, I still switched from the science/mathematics degree course to human sciences/art within a week of starting secondary school, because I was going slightly mad doing it. It was an intense period that first week at school, it made me realise how essential art is for me. Without it I can barely function.


    © Eva Vermandel, Howe’s House, Tucson, 2012

    Once I left secondary school, it made sense to continue with graphic design in higher education, I didn’t give it that much thought. While doing that course, I soon realised that photography was really my vocation. I spent the final year of my graphic design course mostly in the photography department where one of the tutors generously taught me how to do C-type prints (colour dark room prints).

    After you graduated at the Royal Academy of Arts in Ghent (KASK), you set out and moved to London. In the years that followed, you received international recognition for portraying celebrities such as Elton John, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Ian McKellen, Matt Damon, Ewan McGregor, … and the list goes on. Is this an exciting experience as a photographer?

    EV: Well, I really hate the word celebrity. A ‘celebrity’ to me is someone who is solely famous for the sake of being famous. I’m a portrait photographer and a lot of the people I shoot may be famous but they are famous for a good reason: they’re talented actors, writers, musicians, artists, and they’re definitely not in it for the fame. I’m not interested in people who are desperate to be famous.
    It’s exciting to meet people whose work I admire, like Joanna Newsom, Polly Harvey, Ian McKellen, David Byrne or Sylvie Guillem, but it’s also nice to meet people I’ve never heard of and have a peek into their lives, it’s all very enriching. I love the psychology behind portrait photography: the way I can dive into someone’s head when I’m photographing them. I also like the fact that I shoot at all kinds of locations. I usually have no control over where I’ll be photographing someone and enjoy improvising on the spot. Sometimes it is in people’s homes, other times in a hotel room during a press junket (which are days of back-to-back interviews and photo sessions to promote a film or new album). The latter can be rather challenging: people tend to be jet lagged and exhausted and I enjoy trying to find ways to shake them out of their zombie-state.

    © Eva Vermandel, Sylvie Guillem, Sydney, August 2015

    At what point in life did you feel the need to focus on a more personal kind of photography? How did you approach this?

    EV: By 2003 I had a good enough grip on portrait photography to feel comfortable whenever I went into a shoot and needed new challenges, because I don’t want to get too comfortable, it kills creativity. I also struggled with being thrown about a lot, having little control over my life as a freelancer: you can go from being very busy to having nothing to do. Getting a phone call in the morning saying you’re off to New York that evening is as destabilizing, as it is exciting, but it means you’ve got little control over your life. Alongside that, I felt that within portrait photography the focus was always on the person you were photographing, while there were certain things I needed to express about myself and the intense change the world was going through with the onset of globalisation and digitalisation. The latter caused a lot of fragmentation in life and changed our ways of thinking.

    So I started shooting my own projects, focusing on counteracting this sense of fragmentation by finding a sense of rooting, the diametric opposite of the disposability that comes hand in hand with the hyper-capitalist consumer culture we live in. I travelled across the world to visit the friends I’d made over the years, spending time with them and documenting this with my camera. This body of work is called ‘The Inner Room’ and was shot with a Fuji 6x9. On the back of that, I got the commission from the Douglas Hyde Gallery to shoot ‘Alabama Chrome’ (2006), which also dealt with the hyper capitalist society and the impact of the Celtic Tiger when it was at its peak. That same year I started working on ‘Splinter’, one of the key series of photographs I’ve produced. That’s when I started my search for the linear way of processing thoughts and ideas, in opposition to the modular way information is being processed now. I continued working on ‘Splinter’ for another six years until 2012 and in 2013 I published the book on this series with Hatje Cantz.

    In ‘Splinter’, portraiture quietly intertwines with unanimated still life and landscape. How would you describe the relationship between objects as part of an environment and the people living in it?

    EV: There’s no portraiture in ‘Splinter’. Everything you ‘see’ in Splinter is secondary to the thoughts behind the work. Whether it is people, objects or landscapes, they are all just vessels to transfer the ideas behind the work that I’m bringing across. It’s about the emotional impact of the photograph, not what’s actually on display. 


    © Installation view ‘Splinter’ at Cecilia Hillstrom Gallery, 2013

    In capturing those serene moments in between everyday preoccupations, your images often evoke a kind of deep stillness and serenity that is mostly associated with painting. In what way do you feel a resemblance to this medium? 

    EV: I’m much more influenced by painting than photography. I’m not a big fan of photography to be honest, I find it often too focused on the surface – surface as in: ‘what is perceived by the eye’. I’m not interested in a body of work that you can explain in one simple sentence, for instance, ‘teenage girls in their bedrooms’ or ‘rundown seaside towns’. It can be a strong body of work, I don’t want to be disparaging about it, but it’s not what I want to see in an exhibition. If I go to a gallery I want to be challenged and I want to see work that is multi-layered, so I can take my time peeling off the different layers and along the way immerse myself into the work and through it gain insights into my life and the world around me.

    I think all art should be a reflection of its time and the era we live in is turbulent to say the least. The extreme shift in thinking that came with the onset of digitalisation is at the core of what I explore in my work. Doing this through photography can be challenging: it’s quite an inflexible medium. A medium like painting gives you more freedom to express the emotional core of what you perceive with your eyes. Cutting through this ‘what is there to see’ and focusing on ‘what is there to feel and think’ lies at the heart of my work.  I often feel like a painter disguised as a photographer.


    © Eva Vermandel, Pj Harvey, 2007

    Are there contemporary artists or photographers that have influenced you in some way?

    EV: Yes, there are loads. There is Michaël Borremans, whose influence is visible quite clearly in my work, but I also love Neo Rauch, Miroslaw Balka, Lindsay Seers, Alice Neel and Peter Doig, though I’m not overly keen on the work the latter has produced since he moved to Trinidad. When talking about contemporary photographers, I find the work of Wolfgang Tillmans incredibly strong and inspiring. Whenever I go to one of his shows I come out and see the world afresh again. 

    In terms of the classics, I’m influenced by the work of Bronzino, which you can see in my portraits. I love the Flemish Primitives and the German and Italian early renaissance (Cranach, Paolo Uccello), and 19th century European painters like Ingres, the Danish painter Christen Købke and Courbet. I love Munch as well, Picasso in his blue and rose period, Matisse, Balthus … there are so many. I also like Corneille de Lyon, a Dutch Renaissance painter who did these beautiful small portraits. Stunning work, it’s just endless. In photography, I love Julia Margaret Cameron, Imogen Cunningham and Francesca Woodman, not so coincidentally all women. I think photography as a medium works very well for women because as a woman you’re a lot less intimidating when you walk around with a camera than as a man. I think it is a huge advantage being a female photographer.


    © Eva Vermandel, Flowers, Living Room, Stroud Green, 2010

    What are some of the techniques you use to improve the aesthetic quality of a photograph? How big a role does altering images with Photoshop software play in the process of creation and how does this relate to the aesthetics of your work? 

    EV: In terms of the overall colour palette it is all very subtle, I don’t do major things: the key lies in the way I use film and how I expose it. I don’t like digital cameras so I don’t use them as a primary source to shoot the work with. That said, I’m not at all averse to digital as a medium for printing; I scan negatives and output them as inkjet prints, treating them as ink-on-paper, more akin to etching than photographic printing. I keep firm control over the whole printing process as I’ve always done all my own printing, either in the dark room or as scans from negative. And if you work with scans from negative, you get an even greater control on dodging and burning and colour correcting than in the dark room. I also have no problem whatsoever with cloning bits out of a photograph that shouldn’t be there. I’m absolutely no purist in that way – I’m not a documentary photographer.


    © Eva Vermandel, Brothers, Heath, 2006

    For ‘Splinter’, and for most of my other work within my art practice, I use inkjet as a medium for printing. With its similarity to classic printmaking it suits my work more than C-types. The printing for ‘Splinter’ was rather complicated because the work is dark and the inkjet technique was still in its early stages when I started producing the prints. Translating an image from screen to paper is not straightforward: you go from a lightbox with endless colour options to a limited colour palette as ink on opaque paper - building the right colour profiles was key to this. Also, I often print on Photo Rag paper and any kind of scratch on it ruins the print. But once safe behind glass they look wonderful and provide the perfect colour palette and texture for my work (for the ‘Splinter’ series anyway, I use other papers for other bodies of work).

    What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? How do you see the future of photography evolve?

    EV: On the one hand, I really like it that people have the possibility now to display their work freely, that you don’t need a gallery anymore. Everyone can build their own website and promote their work online. The internet is a great research tool (if used critically). On the other hand I very much distrust social media and digital corporations like Google. These companies offer ‘free’ services so they can gather our personal information and with this information turn us into ‘consumer groups’, commodities, as interchangeable and disposable as the products they try to flog us. 

    People tend to say that with the overload of images it is hard to see the wood through the trees but I disagree with that. We’ve been overloaded with images for years, even before the onset of digitalisation, and I think it is actually much easier now to spot good work, because as soon as you see something good it just jumps out through the fog of crap.


    © Eva Vermandel, Boy with Pink Aerosol, Stroud Green, 2006

    I don’t know how the future of photography will evolve long term. The thing I hope is that Kodak keeps producing film and Portra 800 in particular, because that is the one I use. If they don’t, I might even pack up completely, because film is absolutely vital for me. 

    But for now, I think we’re pretty safe and film will continue to be produced, because there has been a massive resurge in film recently. People are starting to realise more and more that digital is just shit, especially in most daylight situations. Even if you are using a Phase One or a Hasselblad digital camera, the top end cameras, the result is still nowhere near the quality you get with film. In some situations, like studio photography, it can work fine because you’ve got good control over the lights, but as soon as you are using daylight, problems like chromatic aberration arise, and you also get horrid artificial reds, greens and blues that are impossible to tone down in post-production. In ten, twenty years time we will be looking back on digital photography produced now and we’ll wonder how on earth we accepted that level of quality. So until there are better quality digital cameras, I’m firmly sticking to film.

    What are the projects that you are working on now and do you have any plans for the future? 

    EV: I just finished a major project for the Sydney festival, which went up in January this year. They got in touch with me last year (2015) to ask if I could do 40 portraits of people who collaborated with the festival over its 40-year history. They gave me a wishlist of 120 potential subjects to choose from. Half of them were people based in Australia and that part of the project was going to be organised by the festival team. The other half was based in other parts of the world and I did all the production (making initial contact, organising a place and time for the shoot if they said yes and booking my travel) as well as the photography. I had four months for the whole project, including post-production (handprinting in the colour dark room, overviewing the reprographics and checking proofs), from June till October. Everything went swimmingly and we got access to high profile artists like Robert Wilson, Sylvie Guillem, David Byrne and Joanna Newsom. 


    © Eva Vermandel, Joanna Newsom, billboard installation at Sydney Festival, 2015

    When the Sydney Festival director first approached me about this project, I was very interested in doing it, but also quite vocal about my reservations of showing portraits of famous people in an exhibition context, due to my dislike of the ‘Madame Tussauds’- style famous people voyeurism. To counteract that they came up with the idea of showing the portraits on billboard posters, which I loved right away. It fits completely in my way of thinking: alongside the democracy of showing work this way, keeping it firmly down to earth, it also created a striking contrast between my portraits, stripped back from all artifice, and the ads for high end perfumes etc. that normally grace these sites.


    © Eva Vermandel, James Thierree, billboard installation at Sydney Festival, 2015

    I’ve also been shooting new work continuously. I’ve got two major bodies of work that are virtually ready to go up but I’m waiting for the right situation to show the work in. One of these projects is shot on a 35mm point and shoot camera and is much more classically ‘photographic’ than anything I’ve done before. It doesn’t have the painterly quality that defines my other work. In that project I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing technically, like using a flash in situations where you shouldn’t. It’s not on my website yet, because it’s a project that I want to show installed in an exhibition. The other new body of work I’ve produced is on display on my website and is more in line with ‘Splinter’. It’s called ‘Water’ which is short for ‘We stood with the light with water on our faces’, a line taken from the novel ‘The White Peacock’ by D.H. Lawrence, who has been a strong influence on my work. I can’t stop reading and rereading his work. What he expresses through literature is exactly what I want to express through my art.


    Eva Vermandel