Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Tbilisi Photo Festival 2012


Stanley Greene, who recently exhibited in Foam with 'Black Passport' is now guest of honour at the Tbilisi Photo Festival 2012.

'With the now third edition of the Tbilisi Photo Festival, the Georgian capital hits hard and pulls no punches as it looks at this past year of triumph and tumult-in Europe and further abroad-with a first exhibition of photo-journalism devoted to the conflict in Syria.'

Read more about the Tbilisi Photo Festival 2012.

Ahmet Polat on Instagram


Located in Bebek, one of Istanbul's high profile areas, I walk into Lucca, a corner brasserie/restaurant. The owner Cem welcomed me and I asked about the exhibition there. He pointed out that on the left side the "amateurs" hung their work and on the other side were the "professional" fashion photographers.

It was a good thing he told me because looking at the images you wouldn't be able to distinguish who was who.

I hadn't made it to the opening a few weeks earlier. But the idea that Vogue Turkey opened an instagram exhibition had my interest and I wanted to see what this was all about. Obviously they were interested in using the huge community of instagrammers to create some kind of buzz and get people to come to their event. As we all know instagram has become huge globally and not only within the Istanbul creative scene.

What interested me was the fact that the exhibition was a mix of amateurs and professionals showing their images. On the surface this would be considered a light and joyful occasion. "Real " photographers mixed with "amateurs", hanging their work side by side. Looking at some of the work I did get flashbacks of known photographers like Elliot Erwitt or bits of Lee Friedlander.

While walking around I had a flashback of 10 years ago when digital cameras just came on the market and people were saying this would be the end of photography. At that time I was an optimist still believing that it wouldn't matter since it would still take years to develop your own style and reasoning behind the work you would make. But 10 years later and I truly have to give in to the thought that instagram really took away my last hope.

It has become a matter of programming, coding and pre-settings. Within a few more years any person can emulate any photographer's style, lighting and even composition.  Add a bit of augmented reality and people will get a step-by-step tutorial on where to stand, how to bend and maybe even how to interact.

Instagram is photography's worst enemy. Now the only thing that separates us "real " photographers from instagrammers is maybe the intention we have while taking and showing images and the story we would like to convey with it. Within 2 years newspapers, fashion magazines and other media will look towards cheap instagrammers to fill their pages with images that look like Alex Webb or Steve McCurry. Apps will be developed to emulate their styles. Anybody can push the button.

But what I can't grasp is that photographers who have worked 10 to 15 years, maybe even more, to groom their craft, create a vision, fought for a position to convey their ideas are now just giving in, accepting that all those efforts were meaningless. That's what really gets to me.

Now maybe I'm taking all of this a bit too far. Maybe I'm just an elitist who still believes that creativity and vision should be unique and not just a superficial application. If there is another way to look at this development please let me know.

Ahmet Polat

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Pari Dukovic interview

Nicki Minaj © Pari Dukovic
I have never met Pari Dukovic but I like his pictures. This blog post was a way for me to meet Pari, who made some really nice fashion pictures this year for New York Magazine. I asked Pari a few questions for FOAM:

Michael Christopher Brown: Where are you from in Turkey and why are you in New York City?

Pari Dukovic: I am originally of Greek descent and was born and raised in Istanbul. Since I was a little kid, I wanted to live in NYC - the typical American dream. I also find NYC very similar to Istanbul in terms of its population and cosmopolitan qualities.

MCB: Has NYC changed you in any way?

PD: NYC definitely brings out the best in you if you are willing to work hard and be committed to what you do. It's a very fast paced environment but it's also a place where you are constantly stimulated with ideas. It really is a great place to live if you like to be on the go all the time and be constantly engaged.

Hailey Clauson at Prabal Gurung © Pari Dukovic

MCB: Is there a certain part of the city or a certain group of people in NYC you like photographing the most?

PD: That is a tough question to answer. I am interested in photographing people in the streets so you never know where that magical moment will take place in the city. As a rule, I carry my point and shoot at all times. Sometimes I go out to shoot personal work, but most of the time I just document moments that are around me throughout my day. I do like shooting in Chinatown and areas of NY where it gets very crowded.

MCB: Who and/or what inspires you and why? I don't necessarily mean photographers or photography, just life in general.

PD: Paintings for sure! I love Degas, Caravaggio, Francis Bacon just to name a few. I look at paintings and try to pick up things like a certain color palette, tonality or sensitivity and translate it to photographs. I also love classical music. Listening to Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, depending on the mood of the project I am working on, helps me a lot when I am editing. I actually only listen to classical music when I edit photographs. I find it very calming.

Jason Wu © Pari Dukovic


MCB: Who is your mentor(s)?

PD: My biggest mentor and supporter is my dad. I guess you could say he is my inspiration to do what I do. He was very supportive of me doing photography. Actually when he was a little kid during the summers he used to work in a darkroom of a photography studio in Istanbul. He used to organize the glass negatives there and help out with general darkroom work.

MCB: What drives you to take pictures? Why are you a photographer?

PD: Photography and my camera gives me a reason to explore situations in an extended depth. I enjoy the search that I go through when I am working on a project especially when it's a long term project. Also a camera could take you to so many places that you might never go. I always get so excited when I get a call from a magazine about an assignment - what will the story be? where am I going? who I am meeting?

MCB: What are your special ingredients? That is, can you explain your 'eye', what goes into your picture making process and what is going through your head when you make pictures?

PD: I think the key thing in my pictures is energy and trying to find something that locks your eyes onto the picture. Sometimes that happens because of amazing composition, a person's unique expression or gaze, or beautiful colors. I am also intrigued by the idea of movement in a photograph.

MCB: Matthew Craig said you process black and white film at your apartment. What is your equipment and technical processes specifically, what cameras/films do you use and why do you make special time for, in retrospect, such a grueling time consuming process?

PD: I use point and shoot cameras most of the time - like Ricoh gr1, Yashica t4 and Contax t2. I only shoot film and really enjoy the process. I think I benefit a lot from using film when I shoot - changing the roll of film and having that kind of a pace helps me to take a few second break and gives me a chance to look at my composition and approach with fresh eyes again.

Using film is certainly a very lengthy process every step of the way. I buy the film, store it in the fridge, process it, do contact scans and log it into my archive with the subject, date and location. This is only part one; once I make selects the image needs to go through the final stage of printing too.  I personally love the softness of film in color negative and the charcoal drawing like qualities of high speed b&w film. I have embraced the grainy quality of film in my work. I think that also brings a beautiful rawness to the work, which marries really well with the way I like to photograph.

Terry Richardson at Alexander Wang © Pari Dukovic

MCB: Do you like fashion? Why / why not? What do you think of the models and their lives?

PD: I like being in places where there is energy and the fashion world is an amazing environment for that. There is beauty; there are stunning designs, people, stages, lights… When I shot the fashion assignment, I wanted to treat it no different than shooting in the streets. I just happened to be in a big room where there are beautiful people and amazing moments to capture.

Models have a very intense schedule during fashion week. I really admire them for how they manage to keep going all day non-stop and have a positive attitude. For example if there is a fashion show at 9 am I would get there around 7 am and they would have been there since almost 5am to get going on hair and make up and before that they might even have had a fitting for a show the next day. If you think about running on 3 hours of sleep a day that is a pretty crazy schedule.

MCB: How do you connect with people when you photograph?

PD: I think the key thing is to be yourself and not try to be somebody that you are not. That kind of genuine approach can get you a positive response and the shoot will be fun.

MCB: If you could do anything would you still be a photographer? Was becoming a photographer a conscious decision and does your life revolve around photography?

PD: I just liked taking candid pictures since I was 9. It was in my last year of high school that I made the decision to study photography. When I was a teenager picking up a camera and going out to take pictures would excite me so much and it made sense to pursue a life filled with something that I am so passionate about.

I would still be a photographer. I can't trade the joy I get when I am happy with a photograph or look at beautiful work.

MCB: Is there going to be a pari in Paris series anytime soon? if not, would you be interested in a commission of this nature? (sorry man, i am not making fun of your name i just think a series like this would be cool, considering your talent)

PD: Well I am a big fan of Paris. I love the city, the architecture, the way a city like that could inspire someone in the visual world. It would be a dream to live in Paris one day for a while to shoot there and get to know it better!

MCB: What can you find and what is always missing in photography, if anything?

PD: I think I am still exploring and will be exploring photography and its capabilities. I just love photography because in a very particular moment if I manage to capture an image it can be so powerful.

MCB: What is a good photograph?

PD: A good photograph is one that moves you, that makes you stop on that page if you are looking at a book or a magazine. When I see great work my body language reacts to it. I get closer to it - I feel engaged.

MCB: Greatest living photographer? Greatest dead photographer?

PD: Greatest living photographer - to name one is so so hard….I will name a few whose work I love: Daido Moriyama, William Klein, Susan Meiselas. This list could be very long! There are so many photographers out there whose work I truly admire and look up to.

Dead - I would want to name one here especially as we recently lost her and I see her as a genius: Lillian Bassman.

Interview by Michael Christopher Brown (Foam Magazine #27/Report)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Simon Norfolk on John Burke

In this extract from his talk at Foam Amsterdam yesterday, World Press 2012 winner Simon Norfolk introduces us to nineteenth century photographer of Afghanistan, John Burke.
Simon's work on CERN is also on show in The New York Times Magazine Photographs.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Photographers' Gallery

Exterior of the Photographers’ Gallery as seen from the corner of Ramillies Street, London © Wendy McMurdo

A message appeared on the studio desktop a couple of weeks ago from the newly re-launched Photographers' Gallery's Curator of Digital Programming, Katrina Sluis.

'Hi - would you like to produce an animated GIF in seven days for the Photographers' Gallery's new digital wall?'  A crash course of research into the history of the GIF - the Graphic Interchange Format - and several days later I have produced my first animated GIF.

Viewing gallery of the Photographers’ Gallery, looking out to Ramillies Street © Wendy McMurdo

'Born in 1987: the animated GIF' is the opening project for the Photographers' Gallery's new digital wall. The 'wall' consists of a digital display made up of eight large screens on which are shown a running programme of animated GIFS created especially for the gallery's re-launch,

The Photographers' Gallery re-launched in central London this week with opening exhibits by Canadian Photographer Edward Burtynsky and an installation by the New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective. The new, expanded Photographers' Gallery is spread over 5 floors, with a new project spaces, three floors of gallery space, a Camera Obscura, a bookstore and cafe. The re-opening of this, London's only space dedicated to the promotion of the medium, has been much anticipated.

As you enter the large glass doors of the re-modelled building, the first thing that you will see is not one of Edward Burtynsky's hyper-real images (his major environmental project 'Oil' is the gallery's opening show) but, the gallery's newly appointed digital wall. This positioning, alongside Sluis' appointment as the gallery's new curator of digital programming, is recognition that it is in the digital and social domain that photography must, ultimately, discover its new purposes and new meaning.

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Jaime Martinez

In keeping with the playful nature of the medium, just over 40 artists were asked to produce a moving image GIF in just over one week for the 'Born in 1987' project. Many of the artists involved had never produced a GIF - or indeed used moving image - before, but my guess is that many will do so again. Although playful in nature (as Daniel Rubenstein says in his commissioned essay for the project) the GIF, with its inherent emphasis on 'rhythm and repetition, has something comical about it'. The blinking low-fi GIF is also a reminder of just how fast the evolution from our static screens of the early 80's to the image-saturated and animated digital environment of today has been.

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Jaime Martinez

It is fascinating to watch these stuttering images, often forced into unexpected arrangements by artists who more often work in the closed loop of a high-res environment. Here, we are all forced to work in an entirely different domain - what is essentially the social and political space of the semantic web.

Ultimately, Sluis hopes, she says 'to shed light on the relationship between the cultural languages of the photographic image and the language of computer programming and code…. to understand how the cultural meanings of images in circulation'

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Wendy McMurdo

This offers up an exciting prospect for a new generation of artists whose native relationship to online culture dictates that this must surely be their new frontier. The digital domain is, by it's very nature, an essentially unknowable space of constantly shifting horizons. And as such, it's pretty damned exciting.

Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)
www.wendymcmurdo.com

The newly re-launched Photographers' Gallery opened to the public on Saturday 18th May.  The GIF project 'Born in 1987:The Animated GIF' runs on the Digital Wall from 19th May -1st July 2012.
For a further info on this project, to submit your own GIF and to read specially commissioned essays on the GIF by Matthew Fuller and Daniel Rubenstein, go to:
Joy of Gif

Monday, 21 May 2012

My Relationship with the Monograph

Montparnasse (photograph & book in origional box), 1995 © Andreas Gursky

For the short length of my career, I would classify myself as an artist that makes images intended to hang on a wall. I make large pieces (currently 42" x 75" tableaus) that are filled with detail. The viewer is supposed to stand in front of the piece and experience it. When I make a piece, I make it in one size and one size only because I feel it is important that it is viewed at that size.

While I love the novelty of seeing my images in print, there is always something that is disappointing to me. The size of the image has been reduced so drastically that all of the detail (much of that detail being important to the image) is lost. I have found very few print venues where I have been happy with the reproduction of my work.Which brings me to an ongoing debate I have been having recently regarding photo books. Specifically, what type of work is suitable to be published in book form? And more specifically, what type of work should be published as a monograph.

What happens far too often when artists have monographs published is that consideration is not given to what will happen when the work moves from a gallery/museum space to a book space, and more importantly if it even should migrate from one space to the other. Too often images are simply placed on pages with the hope that sequencing alone will be enough to carry the work and justify the migration. That type of thinking just doesn't do it for me. Great examples of this include books like Thomas Struth's Museum Photographs, and pretty much any book by Gursky, although this list could go on for pages. Drastically reducing the size of those images and placing them on pages erases the experience that those pieces were intended to have. And worst of all, it gives the viewer no new experience, no greater understanding of the work. I find this to be the great bulk of photo books that are published and probably explains why my book collection is so small.

I use Gursky as an example because of the detail and monumentalness of his images. While I love Gursky's work, seeing his images at 8x10" or 11x14" is a disappointment, however, he did have one shining example of what a book could do for his images. Gursky's book Montparnasse, titled and focusing solely on the print of the same name, does something that no other Gursky book does. The "book" comes in a box and includes an 11x19" print of Montparnasse in a folder with the names of all the residents that lived in the building at the time the image was made, a small book titled "Images" which includes small details of individual windows, and a small book titled "Texte" which included interviews with residents, the architect, and a curatorial essay. All of these elements give the reader an entirely new and active experience of the work, even though it only focuses on a single print. This is a fantastic example of a successful migration of work created to be hung on a wall to the pages of a book.

The other type of book I absolutely love is the retrospective catalog. I like exhibition catalogs as well, but the retrospective catalog is the ultimate for me. What makes it so great is the recontextualization of the work. Not only can I see an artist's entire career of work, but I also get interviews with the artist, essays about the work, and a variety of details about both the artist and the images that add to what I already know. In this sense, the book adds to my understanding of the work and furthers the artist's intentions. My most recent purchase is the catalog for Rineke Dijkstra's retrospective show currently at SF MoMA. I love the fact that the first 60 pages are essays and interviews. I find the interview about her process of creation to be particularly fascinating and educational. I only wish there had been more text included with each body of work. There is a small statement about each body, but I would have loved to hear more about the "making of" and less about the finished pieces.
In the end it is all about what I can learn from the book. If I just want to see images these days I can find most of them in the vastness of the Internet; and if an artist really cares about people seeing their work, they will have a website where I can look through all of the work. But with a book I don't just want to look, I want to look inside. I want to learn something more about the work than I can get from just seeing images. I want that book to further my understanding of the work so that the next time I see it on the wall my experience with it will change. I want to be taught. After all, isn't that what books are for?

Evan Baden (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Carleton Watkins and the 19th Century American West

Yosemite from Mariposa Trail (Yosemite Valley No. 1), ca. 1865 © Carleton Watkins

Carleton Watkins's career was punctuated by great success and terrible tragedy. Having crossed the continent and arrived in San Francisco in 1851, by 1862 the Yosemite photographs we admire today were being exhibited in San Francisco, New York and London, and collected by luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Frederick Law Olmstead.  He ran a successful studio for two decades but went bankrupt following the Panic of 1873 and was forced to sell the rights to his own images. Much of Watkins' life work and material legacy was wiped out in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.  Following his death at an insane asylum ten years later his work fell into near obscurity for a period of some sixty years.
The effect of Watkins' Yosemite photographs, as many have noted, is sublime. Consider the image, Yosemite from Mariposa Trail (Yosemite Valley No. 1), ca. 1865.  In the middle ground, distance, and far distance are massive granite slabs of unparalleled splendor. Only two trees, the bases of which are unseen, occupy the foreground. Where is the photographer positioned, and where, by implication, the viewer? Seemingly, in the air above an abyss. Seemingly, there is no camera at all. And seemingly, as viewers we are witness to a scene so untouched, so pure, that we may just be the first to apprehend it.

The Town of the Hill, New Almaden, ca. 1863 © Carleton Watkins

That is not the case, of course. Native American groups had lived in the valley for an estimated 8,000 years. The Mariposa War of 1850-1851 resulted in the killing and removal to reservations of many Native American groups in the area, including the Ahwahnechee Indians who had lived, hunted and harvested for food in the Valley up until ten years before Watkins' first 1861 visit. In light of this, Watkins' depiction of the Yosemite as pristine, untouched wilderness is not historically accurate; nevertheless it was and in some ways still is the way Americans want to imagine the place. The notion of pure wilderness as linked with, and expressive of, the American character and destiny was very important to the American psyche at that time.  Yosemite Valley captured the popular imagination because its wildness seemed to confirm the youth and vigor of the American project; its beauty and grandeur confirmed America's strength and purity.
In Watkins' images, nature is never really spoiled by human industry, and hardly ever does human industry seem to be impeded by nature. Look, for example, at The Town of the Hill, New Almaden, ca. 1863. The settlement, through Watkins' lens, is surrounded by grandiose, apparently untouched hills that recede gently from visibility in a pleasant haze. The habitation fits nicely within the landscape, seeming to occupy just one out of a multitude of hills, and seeming to impact the surrounding environment not at all. This image contrasts dramatically with the reality that most of today's residents of Southern California experience every day: concrete everywhere, an entirely unnatural and transformed landscape where hill after hill after hill, all of which at one time resembled New Almaden, are now filled with residences, shopping centers, chain stores, freeways and gas stations. The apparently light footprint of human activity portrayed in this and most of Watkins' images was to be short lived.

Lake Ah-Wi-Yah, Yosemite, ca. 1861 © Carleton Watkins

In our own time it has become increasingly difficult to defend totalizing belief systems. We no longer adhere to the idea that the formal qualities of representation can convey any kind of truth, and it is in ideas rather than formalism that we look for beauty. Most Americans no longer believe in Manifest Destiny or the limitlessness of American power and potential. Instead of a continent stretched out before us, opportunity and possibility everywhere, and no end in sight, what many of us fear is the case today about our country, our place in the world as individuals, and the future is precisely the opposite. The frontier is long gone, our resources are dwindling, and our sense of opportunity seems to shrink with every generation. Perhaps it is no accident, then, that the resurgence in popularity of Watkins' work began in the years following the Vietnam War. As a culture, I believe we are drawn to these images today, in part, out of nostalgia. They remind us of what we had, and what we have lost.

And I think that, in spite of everything, the best of them give us hope.

Chris Engman (Foam Magazine #24/Talent)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

W.M. Hunt on Collecting

'Watch the indefatigable W.M. Hunt, a renowned collector and dealer, in action. The first video is a montage of clips from a public lecture about The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious, the first major US exhibition of his collection that ran from 1 October 2011 to 19 February 2012 at George Eastman House, from which Aperture and Thames & Hudson simultaneously published a book.'


Read the full article on 1000 Words Photography.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Stolen Moments

Film Strip, 11 May 2012 © Yasmine Chatila

In her first post for the Foam Blog, Yasmine Chatila shares a diary exract from her surveillance project.

Chelsea, March 20, 6:35 pm
It is my third night of surveillance from this Chelsea location. So far there are some promising characters. The nature of their qualities disturbs me since they are mostly physically unattractive persons, with blatant sexual behavior, that is not aesthetic in any stretch of the imagination. Three masturbators, one woman and two men, all in separate apartments in the space of two nights. This has never happened before. The night falls, and the windows become illuminated like twinkling christmas lights. The contrast between the blue sky and the warm orange glow of the windows evoke privacy, home and the realm of the familiar. As the night falls I am filled with dread at the prospect of seeing yet another person blatantly masturbating in plain sight, no curtains, lights on, and totally naked. I feel the sexual tension here more than anywhere else, it is not a happy one, there is darkness in it. Like animals behind bars  displaying desperate and tragic signs of neurosis, they furiously jerk their members, looking for solace, for relief.The sirens hum at some emergency. A tiny splinter of the fabric of this city is experiencing tragedy at this very moment. The city moves on, undaunted, albeit slightly annoyed at the assault on the ears.

10:30 pm
A thick fog has landed. Everything is blurry. The city is steeped in orange, its the next best thing to curtains.

10 pm
Thank god no masturbators tonight, so far.

11:42 pm
The American flag flutters furiously against the warm gray sky. Lady liberty is giving me her back, but she is as a consolation steeped in milky brown atmosphere, and I think she looks glorious. Thousand of windows shimmer in the distance. So many stories, so many people. Too bad my lens cant reach them. As for characters, an old man that looks just like santa reads a book on his sofa. His humble inquisition into the pages warms my heart. A few windows to the left and two above the silhouette of a young woman with a bob and a generous figure is framed by a quaint country style kitchen. Photos on the fridge, wish I could see them better.

March 21, 7:03 pm
The night falls on the city steeping it in a sea of black ink. With the flicking of a switch the windows reveal themselves one by one, each character gently offers himself to be witnessed. last night I felt real love feelings for my "santa guy". I am weary of this surge of emotion since I am trying to stay as neutral as possible. If I love "Santa", and am disgusted by the masturbator, I wouldn't be able to absorb the strange beauty that connects us all. Only with this in mind and from this point of view can I investigate the lives of these people . I have my perfect shot of him, so I wont be back to his place anytime soon, but knowing he is there, and seeing his light on from the corner of my eye will accompany my journey into all his neighbors lives.

Yasmine Chatila (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Be Like Water. Or Anouk.

Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

As a teacher I'm constantly trying to find words to get those light bulbs on in the students heads. Or keep them burning. Since the student population is diverse and their backgrounds and former education differ greatly, I have to use different metaphors and examples to make them understand on a deeper level what I'm talking about. Of course I just could tell them what to do and how to do it, but where is the fun in that? I've had several teachers who were that 'old school' and, let's face it, some of the art schools nowadays are still teaching according to that principle. 'Just do as I do, only a little different and you're fine…' Ugh!

The trick, of course, is to find a balance between motivating and challenging the student on one hand and offer enough support and guidance on the other. Sometimes I just bluntly say to a student what to do, against my own principles and beliefs of what good teaching should be:

'Just do it like that.'

'Why?'

'Because I say so.'

'??'

'Trust me, if it doesn't work you can kick my ass.'

'Ok.'

Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

But most of the time I try to find the right words and images to inspire the students to find their own solution. Metaphors are very important in this matter, because it will shift the attention and shows the topic in a different perspective. Since everybody is sensitive to different metaphors I sometimes explain the same topic three of four times in a row, using different words and images until I see a majority of the group 'turned on'.
I think it's a heritage of my first teaching experiences, which was in the field of Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts. Metaphors are widely used there, because you talk about things that can be felt within the body, but are very difficult to comprehend with your mind. Bruce Lee had a classic one:

Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

If I have to think about someone within the field of photography who adapts this principle beautifully, it's Anouk Kruithof. Every time she amazes me with her constant flow of projects and ideas. She adapts to her environment, whether it is Berlin or New York and uses the people around her for inspiration and context. Her projects are light and playful, but also profound and serious at the same time. I think that are very important qualities if you want to survive nowadays in the ever changing world of art and photography. So my ultimate advice to my students would be: be like water. Or like Anouk.

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Meanwhile, Back @earth...


...I was convinced that no artist since Rodchenko had produced any politically inspired photomontages. Of course, I have seen my share of collages created by conceptual artists. Melinda Gibson, Toshiko Okanoue, Ina Jang, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky and Ruth van Beek are some good examples. Their works are aesthetically pleasing, occasionally funny, sometimes dreamy or melancholy. And they are most definitely art for art's sake. But then I came across the work of Peter Kennard. It is quite refreshing to look at work that has such an overt political and social message, work that is really produced to make a statement about the world and everything that is wrong with it. Kennard's photomontages share the same revolutionary spirit as Rodchenko's famous images. As he explained during his talk at this year's National Photography Symposium in London, he got inspired by the explosive mix of graphics, typography and photography of 1920s Russia, as well as by Dadaism and the works of Bertold Brecht. Most of you will have seen Kennard's work without realizing it is his. After all, who does not know this incredible image of Tony Blair photographing himself with a cell phone in his hand and a rictus grin on his face, whilst in the background the desert explodes and an ominously billowing black cloud fills the sky?

Disappointed with painting and disillusioned by the Vietnam War, Kennard took to photomontage as a medium. His career kicked off working for newspapers, where he produced images and photomontages as commentaries on current affairs. The characteristics of the printing presses, the speed of the newspaper industry and the need to convey the meaning of the image loud and clear to the readers have informed his practice. Since then he has been involved in various direct action groups, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Even though quite a few of those protest movements have disappeared since, Kennard has been working flat out to make the visual message as accessible as possible via pop up exhibitions, workshops and artist talks.

And now he has produced a nice little book called @earth. It consists of seven chapters. Apart from the blurb on the back, no words at all are used in this publication. It is a completely visual document. Even the chapter headings are indicated with images. The first chapter presents disturbing images of climate change, and the destruction and pollution of natural resources. The second and third chapters deal with the increasing militarization, the use of torture in the name of security, the gradual encroachment of a Big Brother society, and the failure of organizations such as the United Nations to keep the peace. The fourth chapter deals with a very specific conflict, i.e. between Israel and Palestine. Following this are very critical images of modern-day casino capitalism, and the growing divide between the poor and the rich, the West and the rest. These photomontages are amongst the most harrowing produced by Kennard. They are followed by images dealing with the world's dependency on oil and his earliest works produced for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Interestingly enough, even though it has become common place to state that the meaning of an image is fluid and subjective, that pictures are subject to multiple interpretations, and that a picture  equals a thousand words, it seems to me that there can be no mistaking the meaning of Kennard's photomontages. He uses visual tropes and graphic design elements in a very intelligent way, preventing the images from becoming easy cliches. This is no mean feat. @earth is a j'accuse, an indictment of the modern-day world, one I am ashamed to live in. But it is also a call to arms. It is not too late, things can still be changed for the good. @earth is but one small step in that direction.

Kennard's work is included in many major collections, including Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum. His work has been published in numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Scotsman, New Statesman and Time Magazine. @earth is published in 2011 by Tate Publishing. ISBN 978 1 85437 984 9.

Karin Bareman

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

On Being Greek

Tilefono © Petros Efstathiadis

Petros Efstathiadis and I met through our shared experiences with the POC project a few years ago. I never imagined that he would later be the key to securing my future here in the UK. Immigration laws are constantly changing, they are "too soft" in the UK, said the media. After living and working here for over 5 years I didn't expect that the UK Home Office would ask me to leave the country when my visa expired.

Canon © Petros Efstathiadis


I took the route of seeking Greek citizenship, as my father has Greek roots. Petros had done all the ground work for me in Greece, as I don't read, write or speak Greek. Finally we got all the documents. The plan was simple: try to get into Athens with an expired Argentinean passport and apply there for a Greek ID, that meant I could become a European citizen. It wasn't difficult to get into Greece, I was really lucky, it was more difficult to get out of the UK.

Soldier © Petros Efstathiadis


My inside man was waiting for me in Argos, a small town, which he told me would make it easier to do the paperwork than in the bigger cities and gave me somewhere to crash in his home. After we put the form into the local police office we had to wait a few days to find out if I could get back to England to my normal life. My time spent there put real context to Petro's work, which I had always considered as a good representation of Greece's role within the EU, from the perspective of the younger generation.

Bomb 1 © Petros Efstathiadis


His sculptures and sets are created through an array of raw materials he finds in the village where he grew up, Liparo. Once documented, he dissembles them and the photograph is all that remains. His performances seem like a playful representation of the different experiences of the villagers, their dreams, ambitions, hope and failures… they tell us the stories of everyday life in a Balkan country. A bit different of my perception of what it is to be European. As he told me: " My village represents what my country really is. Greece is a Mediterranean country, but not western European, that's for sure. The European suit doesn't fit us."

Bomb 3 © Petros Efstathiadis


With his series 'Bombs' he explores the modern paranoia played out in our society. Where there is an underlying frustration experienced by the youth culture to the expectations and misplaced values of roles in society. There was a time that the riots in Greece were a spectacle for the media. Petrol bombs everywhere, Athens was on fire. But the bombs that Petros creates are like children's toys, they reflect war and fear, yet are completely harmless, a powerful and pacific response to the absurdity that we have got ourselves into in this period of general global confusion. Where free market economists without regulation or rigorous research into the effects of their new policies have gambled globally with disastrous effects.

Bomb 7 © Petros Efstathiadis


This same naivety or absurdity is symbolic in Petros work. After an intense week with Petros, the police approved my passport. I am now officially Greek. In our excitement we organized an impromptu celebration in the local bar with a slide show of our work. Immersed in our mutual expression, we were oblivious to the disengaged audience going about their daily ritual of a casual beer and a chat amongst friends.

Seba Kurtis (Foam Magazine #25/Traces)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Unfolded


Unfolded, Schletens & Abbenes © Ina Jang


Spotted last Thursday night at Dashwood bookstore was Amsterdam-based photography couple, Maurice Scheltens & Liesbeth Abbenes.  Fresh off their first retrospective exhibition at Museum Jan Cunen, they were lending their John Hancock's to their newest book Unfolded - Scheltens and Abbenes.

Unfolded, Schletens & Abbenes © Ina Jang


Unfolded allows you to delve deep into the exhibition just by turning to the next page. While offering views of the museum and the elegantly placed work of Scheltens & Abbenes, you're then thrust into the very textures of the museum walls and prints that adorn it. The experience of Unfolded is similar to navigating a cyber space, like that of the Google Art Project, yet in your very hand. It is curated with a distinctive and decisive point of view that directs the viewers throughout the pages. The museum in the book is quiet and there is no closing time. It provides a precious solitude complimenting Scheltens & Abbenes' minimal and carefully composed work.

Unfolded, Schletens & Abbenes © Ina Jang


Unfolded - Scheltens and Abbenes is on view till August 26th 2012 at Museum Jan Cunen.


Unfolded, Schletens & Abbenes © Ina Jang

Unfolded, Schletens & Abbenes © Ina Jang


Ina Jang (Foam Magazine issue #28/Talent)

Thursday, 3 May 2012

War of Images

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown

This week I gave a presentation at the School of Visual Communication, Ohio University, where I attended graduate school. While having dinner one night at a Pita Pit sandwich shop I saw brochures advertising the Marines. As I was at OU to show imagery from the Libyan war, the brochures peaked my interest.

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown


There were images of young soldiers firing weaponry and training in hand to hand combat, with strong, aggressive expressions on their faces. But I immediately noticed there was something missing, as these were not pictures of war. The images were of training exercises, and represented best case scenarios a Marine might encounter while engaged in combat. The imagery focused on life and achievement as a Marine but they did not show a potential cadet what he would likely see during battle: death and loss.

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown

I thought of the image photographer Julie Jacobson made in Afghanistan in 2009, of a soldier who was mortally wounded by an RPG fired by Taliban. This image created a big stink with the State Department, who tried to get the AP to pull the photo off the wire. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sent a letter to the Associated Press, saying "Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front pages of multiple American newspapers is appalling." It would cause the family "yet more anguish."' It was a smart approach, it worked and it continues to this day, using the family as an excuse to not publish the truth: newspapers such as the Washington Post decided not to publish the picture in print due to its "graphic content." But I am sure if Gates had encouraged the family to let the image run, if he would have told them that people in this country need to know what happens in our wars, that the family might have felt they were doing a service to their country. As AP director of photography Santiago Lyon said: "It is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is."

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown


But what Gates and our top brass know is if we let the press publish this imagery, along with the much more horrific imagery that exists in war, our now confused and numb citizens would be so shocked they might rise up and force our government to end the war, just like they did with Vietnam. I was not alive during that war but it was then our government learned the power of photography. So ever since then photographers have rarely been able to publish, or even photograph, real war. Instead there are forms a photographer must sign to embed with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, forms which prevent photographers from showing the horrors of war and basically anything else that might stir the air of optimism, created by U.S. brass, that hangs over Afghanistan.

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown


Of course, fewer Americans would support the war efforts of our country if we were visually reminded of the real costs. But we are never given that terrible reality of war, not even in The New York Times. There are no real visuals of war which would confirm the existence of that horror. So we forget that the dead and injured, fighters and civilians, have a face. We see their names in the newspaper then finish our coffee without ever seeing what really happened to them. No wonder we do not care in mass as we should.

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown


One of the Pita Pit workers, no older than 20, told me if I was interested I could visit the local Marine representative in the morning. Guess he thought I was younger than I am, but he proceeded to mention all the benefits of serving and was excited that his school would eventually be paid for. When I asked him if he would see the front lines while enlisted he said he would most likely be a  mechanical engineer stationed at a base, but that he might see the front lines at some point.  But I wonder if he would have enrolled if Julie's marine had been on one of the brochures? If he knew what war really was. Then, even if he knew he would never see the front line, I wonder if images such as Julie's would at least make him ask questions and wonder just what he would be fighting for.

Marines recruitment brochure, 2012 © Michael Christopher Brown


Michael Christopher Brown (Foam Magazine #27/Report)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Staving Off Infinite Regress

01_Invisible City,1988,Twelvetress Press

James Agee, begins his essay, A Way of Seeing (which can be found in Helen Levitt's seminal book, A Way of Seeing), "The mind and the spirit are constantly formed by, and as constantly form, the senses, and misuse or neglect the senses only at grave peril to every possibility of wisdom and well being. The busiest and most abundant of the senses is that of sight. The sense of sight has been served and illuminated by the visual arts for as long, almost, as we have been human."

02_Invisible City,1988,Twelvetress Press

What an awkward beautiful jumble of a statement. The essential thrust being the recognition that the nature of experience is transactional at its root. Experience both forms, and, over time, informs what we know of the world and how we might know the world. The more we experience the world, the more we might come to know it, and the more we know about the world, the more we might see and experience. It is through this mind/sense connection that we subject our understandings to constant qualification, evaluation, interpretation and reinterpretation, making new encounters (possibly) all the more richer and all the more meaningful.

03_Invisible City,1988,Twelvetress Press

So it may not seem surprising, at first glance, that when we say we "see" something it implies certain knowledge of the thing. The two are many times conflated, at least in the English language. We'll say, "I see, I understand." Common phrases centered on our sense of sight and its opposite, blindness, are all about knowing and not knowing. But the link is somewhat specious, if not outright false. Ask any visually impaired person, and you will find that they can "see" certain issues sighted people remain pretty much in the dark on. What we have in our language is a propensity for metaphor. And images of light and dark should not be taken literally. Images can well "illuminate" a higher truth or lead one astray, but they should never be taken at face value. Again, intuitively, innately, we know this. An image, in the form of a photograph, is never taken at face value. At face value an image is a phantom, a mirage, a nothingness, a two-dimensional surface of light and dark, of tone and color. We embellish and project meaning from photographs, into photographs and through photographs. We find in them significance. And the images formed on our retinas and categorized in our minds are perhaps even less substantial (as they are more transient and mutable), but no less metaphorical.

04_Invisible City,1988,Twelvetress Press

By the time our minds synthesize the raw sensory input of visual stimulation into consciousness, we have already connected the sense data to associations it's already elicited, already categorized the data of perception into wafting clouds of shifting signifiers that convey mutable and extended orders of significance. This process does not happen mysteriously in an unordered mind full of random events, but in a socially ordered mind full of human associations and human significances interpreted by way of human priorities. All our significances are human significances and all the images we project give meaning to us as human beings filled with human strengths, desires, frailties and fears. We know the world through metaphor as we extrapolate and speculate into the outer reaches of considering what might be possible-and just what might be true.

05_Invisible City,1988,Twelvetress Press

The world we live in is one of infinite regress, but the constant stimulation of our limited senses and the limited (and delimited) purview of our images keeps endless regression in check and gives focus to our attentions. In other words, not only do our images and senses direct our attentions, they also set us off in particular directions and into particular, sometimes closed, lines of interpretation. Our images, for the most part, are static and fully formed. But we are not. And we may come back and revisit images whose meaning and interpretation shift and evolve for us.

We must be vigilant to remember that our images are not the world. Images are metaphors that allude to specific things in the world that we may recognize, and that we may not fully understand. Perhaps this is the closest we can come to reality, but as Agee warns us, "[we] misuse or neglect the senses only at grave peril to every possibility of wisdom and well being."

The above images are unpublished out-takes from my book, Invisible City (1988), Twelvetress Press. A reprint of Invisible City is forthcoming.

On May 14th Claxton Projects will be giving away a signed copy of my latest book, Oculus. The Claxton Projects website is a curated selection of contemporary and vintage photography books from the Claxton Projects library. This archive includes books by some of photography's most distinguished, imaginative and inventive artists and is intended to provide an introduction to new collectors, whilst highlighting the occasional overlooked title to the more seasoned photography book enthusiast. Above all else, Claxton Projects is a celebration of great photography books and the wonderful images within.

Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Viviane Sassen - Parasomnia


La Lettre de la Photographie takes a look at Viviane Sassen, one of the photographers who featured in Foam Magazine #11.

"As long as I can remember, I have felt very close to Africa. This is most probably due to the fact that I lived with my family in Kenya when I was a child. Yet, this very experience of closeness has also engendered contradictory feelings. While feeling to be a part of this world, I have also kept on being aware of the fact that I would never really be a part of it. Very soon, I have come to understand that I would always remain a stranger. In this way I try in my work to figure this ambiguity. You feel close but at the same time distant. And that is something that is most of times absent in traditional Western depictions of Africa, always clearly reflecting the interpretation and gaze of Westerners. I am trying to put that in doubt but at the same time, I am also that Western person so I can't get completely free from that background. But I think doubt is always good."

Read the full article on La Lettre de la Photographie.