Friday, 29 June 2012

Petra Noordkamp interviwew - part 01

Film Stills, La Madre © Petra Noordkamp
Petra Noordkamp spoke to Foam about her project La Madre in a series of interviews. In this first part, Petra talks about the relationship she had with Emilio Quaroni and the influence it had, not just on this project, but on her work in general.

Petra Noordkamp interviwew - part 01

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dear Ahmet


Foam Lab 2012 © Foam


After reading Ahmet Polat's blog about Instagram and how he believes it is photography's worst enemy, we at Foam Lab (Foam's younger experimental division) felt we should reply. In Polat's piece, he expresses fear and concern about the disruption in photography and its related industries caused by democratization of photographic techniques and means due to technological developments. In the following text we would like to express how we see these issues.

First of all: here at Foam Lab, we love photography. Tried and true art photography by recognized photographers, silly cheap snapshots from vacations, photos posted to social networks only to share a moment or observation, each and every photo on Instagram in which people are trying to emulate their heroes. They're all the artifacts of a medium moving forward, changing, developing, a medium that everyone can use, understand, relate to and appropriate, a medium that wants to be explored in all possible ways, be it for communication, art, documentation or anything else.

Technology has been disrupting and changing many industries in the past years. Music, newspapers and advertising are just a few which have been turned completely upside down by the rise of, among other things, the internet. Were you renting out a music studio with mid-level gear to musicians wanting to record their first EP? Too bad, they can now probably buy their own complete home studio for the same money, and use free and open source software to record and edit as long as they want. Made your money as a distributor, pressing CDs and getting them in stores? Tough luck, musicians using post-scarcity models are building their audience with virtual copies of their music sold directly to listeners. These things didn't kill music. Some lost their job, others found new ways to monetize their skill set. Middlemen were cut out, everyone had to adapt to a (still) changing situation. But in the end it was better for music and musicians alike. It resulted in music being more diverse and accessible than ever. The only ones telling you otherwise are those who still have their roots firmly set in a outdated economic model which has become laughably obsolete. Change is not a clean process without its victims, but it is inevitable. How we deal with it is our own responsibility.

A similar thing is happening in photography. Of course photography and music are two different crafts and skills, but it is in their similarities that we can see how we should be excited rather than fearful. Instagram, Flickr, affordable quality cameras, entry-level SLRs, online guides, photography forums, how-to's on youtube and much more are making photography more intuitive, accessible, cheaper to practice and easier to share. Photos that would've taken tons in equipment and practice can now be made with someone's phone. Amounts of practice that would've taken years in time for developing and printing and thousands in materials can now be reached in a matter of weeks. Every day 250 million photos are being uploaded to Facebook (and we're not even counting Picasa, Flickr or other services here). There is more photography now than ever before. More people do it, more people are excited about it, more people are getting deeper into it. Is this not a fact to rejoice about?

Polat claims that photographers who have worked for 15 years or more to groom their craft, create a vision and fight for a position to convey their idea's are now 'giving in' and accepting their efforts were 'meaningless'. I will gladly go as far as to say that any photographer who works for 15 years or more and then calls his or her accomplishments meaningless due to any kind of technological development should either not be called a photographer (or artist) or perhaps should simply reassess what 'meaning' is. These are exciting times of rapid change. Many must adapt and it's not always pretty. There will be product photographers with 15 years of experience who lose their job to a software package. There will be photographers whose merit depends on their use of vintage cameras and techniques who will hardly be distinguishable from an insightful Instagrammer. Though in some cases their sudden obsolescence or work of loss is regrettable, it is also inevitable. Cries of woe or contempt from the older or more established have never been known to bring change (for better or worse) to a halt.

People with creativity and vision have however always been known to adapt and survive. Harshly put: if you can't take 15 years of experiences and skills and be creative and dynamic about how you apply them, you don't belong in the 21st century. If one's creativity and vision lose their worth to a camera app with a few filters and borders, that creativity and vision itself was in fact no more than a superficial application to begin with. Those with true creativity and vision however, will never have to fear.

These are tumultuous times. Everything is falling apart and changing, but everything is also possible and open. These are exciting times. Can you keep up?

Foam Lab 2012

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Construct Trailer - Melanie Bonajo

Here is the trailer for the third in a series of inspiration movies for amateur photographers. The full movie, 'Construct', which looks at the weird and wonderful world of Melanie Bonajo, will launch on Foam For You on 3 July.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Belief


‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012



One of the more unusual places I've exhibited - and one of my real favourites - is no fixed space at all. Often, even in the space of one day, it can trawl the remote islands and mainland of Scotland. It joins the ranks of perfectly portable exhibitions which - like Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise - predate that portable gallery par excellence - the internet-linked computer.


British duo Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead showed their 2007 work 'Flat Earth' in the Travelling Gallery this spring and now come back to Scotland to New Media Scotland's venue Inspace to premier the last work in this trilogy, 'Belief'.


Working against the narrative arc of traditional mainstream cinema, Thomson and Craighead have been instrumental in the establishment of what they describe as 'desktop documentary.'  Their 'low-fi' movies are often made up exclusively of existing data appropriated from the worldwide web. Like many of their works, 'Belief', both uses and critiques the web, exploring the ways in which ideas and information are exchanged and translated, distorted and remade.


As in earlier works ('Flat Earth' was made up of the disembodied voices of bloggers overlaid on images from public domain satellite technology, 'Several Interruptions' was made up exclusively of Youtube clips) 'Belief' too is constructed in its entirety from material available online.


Last week, I spoke to Jon and Alison about 'Belief':

Wendy McMurdo: Why choose belief as the central focus of this new piece?

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead: It follows on from 'A short film about War' where we try and use an enormous subject as a way of glimpsing the world as mediated and distorted by the worldwide web.  It's not possible for us to go into the subject of war in any depth in just ten minutes, but we try and infer the enormity of the subject, while considering more specifically how the meaning of information is altered by globally distributed decentralized communications networks like the web.

‘The Travelling Gallery crossing at the Corran Ferry, West of Scotland 2012’ image courtesy of the Travelling Gallery, Edinburgh

It's similar for 'Belief' - it's a keyword for us really, that let's us consider how video bloggers represent themselves and their beliefs whether it be religious, spiritual, self-belief, economic belief, a vector for racism, a belief in the afterlife, satanism or even belief as a meme in popular music.  We also have a second screen that projects a compass onto the floor, which points where each movie clip originated in the world as it plays while telling us how far away that location is from the artwork.

We do this for two reasons; firstly as a way of reminding us how the web is a layer of information that relates ever more to our place in the physical world, and secondly as a way of placing the viewer at the centre of the work, thus making a direct spatial connection to each movie element and the viewer/artwork on a 1:1 scale.

‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

WM: Was there one particular event - or series of events - which inspired this piece?

JT/AC: Not exactly.  'Belief' and 'war' are complementary keywords that connect two of the three works in this series that we call our 'Flat Earth Trilogy' ('Flat Earth', 2007; 'A short film about War' 2009/2010; 'Belief', 2012).  We do use a clip in this piece at the end taken from one of the videos made by the Heaven's Gate cult in the mid-nineties, which is something that really struck us at the time as being one of the first cults to really use the web as a platform for communication.

‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

WM: Could you talk a little about the practical logistics of working in an online environment and with a so-called virtual community?

JT/AC: When we made 'Flat Earth' and 'A short film about War', we had quite a bit of contact with bloggers and photo bloggers whose posts we were using and they formed a participant audience for each work.  This is one reason why we post versions online so that they are persistently visible to our participant audience. More recently though, we've noticed that many of our attempts to contact video bloggers (in particular) are ignored.  At one level we can well understand this indifference especially when a clip has already been cloned many times across the web, but we also wonder whether it reflects a younger digitally native demographic who see their blogged material as disposable and in the public domain right from the outset?

Installation shot of Belief, Inspace, Edinburgh, courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

WM: 'Belief' is premiering at EIFF. Many of your works are available to view online - is this a strategy that you follow for all of your works? Will 'Belief' be available online?

JT/AC: We try and post versions of our work online not least because we both lecture part time in London art schools and understand how difficult it can be for students to see artists' work (especially video).  However it is no substitute for encountering the works installed in galleries, because everything we post online is subject to technical constraints whether it be downscaling video or lower resolution imagery etc.  A single screen version of 'Belief' will be hosted by Animate Projects and will have an accompanying text by Morgan Quaintance.  This will appear online in July 2012.

You can see more of Alison and Jon's work and also other web-inspired projects at the wonderful Mini Museum of XXI Century Arts.

Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)

www.wendymcmurdo.com

http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Working With Size


Umbra - installation view, 2012 © Julie Jones


For this post, I decided to put in writing a discussion with the lovely and talented Ms. Julie Jones.


Julie Renée Jones was born in Dayton Ohio. She received her BFA in Photography from the University of Dayton in 2007 and her MFA from Columbia College Chicago in 2012. She is a nationally exhibited artist and currently lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. Her work can be seen at juliereneejones.com


Julie and I work in two very different ways, yet we tend to share a number of views on photographic practice. I have become increasingly concerned with how size, and more specifically the mixture of a number of differently sized photographs within a body of work, affects the overall impact of the body of work, especially in an exhibition space.

Evan Baden: I don't know where I come down on the issue yet. I think there are contexts where varying the size of images within a body of work can be successful, namely within a medium with pages. But as far as exhibition space goes, I'm not sure what a change in size gets me.

I don't mind a small change in scale when looking at a body of work in an exhibition space, but when an artist starts going from small to large, I find it really disorienting. I don't know how to interpret what I am seeing, and more importantly, I can't figure out why I am seeing it in the first place. When scale changes so drastically, I figure it has to mean something, but I spend so much time trying to figure out why certain images where chosen to be exhibited larger or smaller that I don't focus on the content of the actual images. In this sense, the scale change becomes gimmicky and, for me, distracts from and diminishes the content of the work.

Julie Jones: I don't think just anyone can put their photographs randomly up on a wall at different sizes and be successful at it. I think to do it right it has to be extremely planned out. I don't think you can have work at two different sizes and then stuck in a traditional line, traditionally framed.

EB: Of course, if it is going to be done, it needs to be thought through. But that is like everything else when it comes to art; there needs to be a reason for doing it.

JJ: But if the printing (and the size) should be considered when making the work, then it seems logical to me that not all photographs in a body of work necessarily have to be printed at one size. And I don't think that it means that one photograph is more important than another, it just means that one photograph does something else than another when it is smaller or larger. I think it's a choice to heighten experience and atmosphere and I definitely do not think that all work can do this.

EB: I would go further and say that most work cannot do this. And I don't know that I have seen work on the wall where I think this works yet. I do agree that it is important (at least for me) that the work is printed very intentionally and that the presentation is considered and adds to the intention of the work. But I feel the foremost intention of any artists is to get people to look at the work and draw something from it, other than confusion (unless the confusion is the point). And to me, the constant shifting in size draws me away from the imagery.
And of course the images will operate differently at different sizes, but what I am concerned about is what happens between the images when they are a multitude of drastically different sizes?

JJ: I don't think that all series displayed this way are all confusing. They don't confuse me. I think that this point is subjective. I don't doubt that this kind of arrangement is confusing to some people. I personally think that a greater emphasis on the size of the photographs is a benefit to my own work. I think it clues the viewer into how to approach a certain image. An image of someone pulling a hoodie over their head is pretty normal, but what about when you're confronted with that gesture larger than life? Meanwhile, the 16x20 next to it with the identity of the person in the picture being completely obliterated by light references a picture hung in a domestic setting. That's strange. Haha! Okay, you might not go there, but I do and I'm the artist, that's what matters isn't it?

EB: I do think it is interesting to talk about your work when I am thinking about this issue, mostly because you were also experimenting with making a book of this work as well. In the case of your book, I really loved the variation in size and format, experiencing something new with each page turn, and being able to reflect on past images through my own memory. It is interesting to see you try and replicate that experience on a gallery wall, and more specifically, in the corner of a gallery. But I am also of the opinion that you can't replicate the same type of experience that you had in the book.

JJ: I don't mean to replicate it so much as draw from the success of the book and reconfigure it for the wall. I think it does very different things on the wall and I'm interested in that. By placing this cacophony (can I be romantic for a minute and use that word?) of images in a corner, I am inviting the viewer to be surrounded by the work. Surrounded by the photographs, which begin to seem like they're portals to an alternative universe, a parallel reality. I want them to be physically immersed in this strange, but familiar atmosphere and I can't get the physicality of that experience from a book. Which is what I was hoping for.

I think in this method of exhibiting the smaller to larger sizes do function similarly as in a book. There are pauses, some photographs are meant to be more intimate than others, some more experiential and threatening or made to evoke the sublime. In a sense, I think the wall is better suited for these ranges in emotional and experiential quality because you can get very large and juxtapose it with something smaller to create that feeling.

EB: I don't know. I do like your notion of not trying to replicate the experience but instead draw on the successes of the book. However, I think seeing change of scale in a book provides something very different than the prints on a wall. In a book, change of scale, from a full double-page spread to a small image placed on a sea of white, gives the viewer space to breath; to pause and reflect on the imagery they have just witnessed, and to ponder the intimacy of the image in front of them. I think this is partly because when images change scale in a book, the change is not that great, therefore the mood of the viewer is only slightly altered. The effect is subtle. I think it also has a different effect because in a book, for the most part (or at least to a much greater extent than a large exhibition space) the artist has control over the sequence in which the work is viewed. Most of that control is lost when walking into an exhibition space. Because that control is lost, it is harder to make the viewer pause based solely on the size of prints.

I do agree that with a wall space there can be a greater difference in size, but I think that is my problem. But what does pushing those extremes accomplish? I think the subtlety and, more importantly the control of how the viewer experiences the imagery in a book is what makes it successful. When the imagery begins getting extremely different, especially in size, and when the viewer can see all of the images at once (presumably), the effect gets murkier.

JJ: For me this kind of display completely broke the linear narrative read of my photographs as a whole. That was a very good thing for my work. Each photograph is very narrative on its own, but my intention was never that they would carry a coherent narrative from one image to the next. Exhibiting my work in a linear fashion caused a lot of people to be confused about what they were supposed to  "get" out of the photographs because they were trying to read from left to right a story that I was telling that was supposed to spell out the meaning behind the entire series somehow. I'm not telling a conventional, linear, simple story. I'm more interested in allegory and drawing larger themes from the nonsensical. And I had a greater success rate at this by breaking up how people normally read narrative imagery and exhibiting at different sizes. I first learned this from making a book of my work and I wanted to utilize some of the successes from the book format and transfer that to the exhibition wall, part of that included experimenting with varying sizes.

EB: What do you think happens to the individual photographs when installing like this? Do they begin to become more of a single installation piece? Do they loose their photographic individuality? It hurts me to have a photograph loose that individuality, but maybe that's because I still think in the traditional manner of having strong single images.

JJ: I don't think that the individual photographs necessarily loose their impact. I think that it is something that could happen when exhibiting at different sizes, but like you it would hurt me to think that the photograph somehow looses it's individuality because it's paired with other images of varying sizes. I think it's important that the way an artist chooses to exhibit their work when using this format creates a situation that invites the viewer to view the work as one large piece that they can observe from a distance and also one that they want to walk up to and investigate on an individual, intimate level. I don't think there is a formula to achieve this, but I think that it is something that any artist interested in "unconventional" exhibition should be experimenting with and hopefully the form of their photographs would evolve to solve this problem aesthetically.

EB: So then, thinking about what you have said here, do you think that in order to get the disparate sizes to mesh they have to be installed in some special way? Does that mean that the only way this works is to have some sort of unconventional installation? I think I tend to agree with that notion, but again, it really has to relate to the work and I feel that too many times when I see some sort of unconventional installation it adds nothing extra to the work and, more often than not, actually distracts from the imagery.

I think where I can see it working is if the viewer is really overwhelmed by an extreme amount of imagery, if a gallery is covered floor to ceiling in images of varying sizes, from the very large to the very small (although I'm still not sure if the very large could work even in this scenario). I don't really know what that type of installation says about the work, especially since we are just talking about installation methods and not actual imagery, but I feel like something like this could be successful. But to relate this back to earlier in the conversation, the viewer would be taking in the installation as a whole, unable to isolate much of the imagery, and that says something very different.

JJ: I'm going to disagree again and say that I see it this type of installation being more useful than just to overwhelm the viewer, but you already knew that. I think you make a really great point here; we aren't talking about imagery, but it depends so much on imagery. In the end, the imagery should dictate if a series of photographs can be exhibited successfully in this manner. It all goes back to the photographs. Maybe you just haven't seen a series of photographs that you feel work well in this type of situation, but I'm sure that it's out there. And for me, I've found it with several artists and it inspired me to try it out for myself, to break some boundary or normalcy in an otherwise predictable environment.

Evan Baden (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ron Galella - Paparazzo Extraordinaire!

Foam curator Kim Knoppers takes us through the exhibition by Ron Galella, Paparazzo Extraordinaire!, on show in Foam Amsterdam until 22 August 2012.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Future Events


The region of Galveston, Texas is a region on stilts. It is home to the bird of that name: the Stilt uses long legs and a long beak to navigate and feed in its coastal wetlands habitat. The flatness of the land, water, and horizon line here is set off by the verticality of long-legged birds and long-legged houses.

From Galveston we board a ferry. On the upper deck, looking down, I watch a couple and their camera as they watch a flock of Laughing Gulls. The woman gives a signal to the man to let him know the camera is on. The man throws bread into the air and the gulls squawk and swarm. After the bread is gone the man performs a sweeping gesture with his arms that might be intended to show the birds he is out of bread, but might also be a bow, for the birds, or, for the camera. A perfect performance: the birds have been fed, the couple watched the birds as they were being fed, and later, in the car, or perhaps in their living room, the couple will watch a screen on which the man will feed the birds again, and perhaps, again and again. I can't shake the impression that the latter was in fact the point of the entire production. That the fabrication of a memory, through the documentation of an event, was more important than the event itself.

On the Bolivar Peninsula, where the ferry lets us off, the architecture is on stilts. When the hurricanes strike, the wind destroys what it can and then the water comes to carry away the ruins. This region was devastated by floods following the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Galveston Hurricane of 1915, Hurricane Alicia in 1983, Hurricane Allison in 2001, and Hurricane Ivan in 2008.

After Hurricane Ivan, nine out of ten structures were re-built on stilts between eight and sixteen feet off the ground. These structures have finally accepted the inevitability of disaster. They are designed for a future event and every day when there is not a flood is superfluous. On the day of the flood the purpose of the design of these buildings will be fulfilled: they will become houses and churches and businesses on top of an ocean, elevated structures for the safekeeping of people and property. As Joan Didion said about wildfires in Los Angeles, the same applies to floods on the Bolivar Peninsula: she said, "when, not if." I feel as though I am under an ocean now; the water line is somewhere between eye level and the bottom of these homes.

The mascot of Galveston High is the Hurricane.

Chris Engman (Foam Magazine #24/Talent)

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield, whose work featured in Foam Magazine #11/Young, is the director of the documentary, The Queen of Versailles. It looks entertaining, here's the trailer.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wonder Trailer

Foam For You will launch the second in its series of documentary films on professional photographers on 19 June. Entitled 'Wonder', the film follows Jessica Backhaus as she explores the streets of Berlin and explains her inspiration.
Watch the trailer here:

If you missed the first movie with Michael Wolf, take a look at Peeping.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Stolen Moments Stories 02

The single girl, Stolen Moments © Yasmine Chatila


Yasmine Chatila shares another diary extract from her surveillance project.

Upper West Side - Friday 4:30 pm
I have set up the equipment next to the bed by the window. This is a new location with a courtyard view, Hitchcock would be jealous. I have no idea what the fall of night will reveal but I am feeling hopeful. I wonder if the uptown people will be more tame than the Chelsea characters from last month's entry.

6:30 pm
I am starting to see some movement across the way, its too soon to make out whats going on but I'm pretty sure I will have some company tonight.

7:46 pm
There is a girl in her late twenties pacing around her apartment. She is cloaked in black with a somber cotton skirt and top. She stared into her fridge for five minutes, I can see lots of oranges, yoghurt and a carton of half and half.

8:02 pm
Black branches silouhetted against the grayish blue walls, the apartment is steeped in an ominous atmosphere. A little green towel hangs lopsided on her cabinet as she rummages through the garbage. What is she looking for?

9:30 pm
She is sitting on her sofa, her hair pulled back in a greasy ponytail. She has no makeup on, her black cat is sitting on a pillow behind her head. She is eating something, her plate is filled to the brim, inconsistent with the scarcity of there fridge and her scrawny body. Her face is glowing blue, it's the light from her tv set.

A man is sitting on his sofa in the apartment directly below her, he is also watching tv. He is chain smoking and is playing with his nipple, I wonder if it is a horny thing or some kind of Oedipal fixation?  Would they would find comfort in knowing that they are only a few meters apart, separated by a thin floor and doing the same thing?

11:30 pm
She turned the lights on in her bedroom. There is a tray on the unmade bed, it has three orange prescription bottles on it, I can't read the labels.

Saturday 6:00 pm
Night two, she has a guest over, he is nicely dressed with a pressed blue shirt on. While she has her back turned to him fixing his drink he picks his nose vigorously, he rubs his beard when she turns around with his whiskey on the rocks. They are talking, she is animated and her face looks tense, she is gesticulating wildly, I think she is trying to impress him. He doesn't seem impressed or vaguely interested. I wish I could hear them.

7:45 pm
The man has left, she changed into the black outfit from the night before. She keeps going around in circles between her bedroom and her living room, tapping the sofa, the wall, the table as she passes them over and over again. I think she might be mentally ill, I wonder if that is what the pills are for? I feel sick to my stomach, I wish I could hold her in my arms and calm her down.

She just stopped turning, now she is standing barefoot in her living room. Her fingers are tense and look like claws.

8:30 pm
She walks into her bedroom and takes all her clothes off except for her floral plum and cream panties. God she is so thin. She is in plain view and right next to her window as she sits in bed with her computer.  Her tray of pills next to her remains undisturbed, maybe she should take a few.

9:30 pm
Still naked in front of the window, all of her neighbors on this side of the courtyard must have seen her by now. I think she must be lonely, it doesn't feel like a sexual thing.

10:47 pm
Lights out.

Yasmine Chatila (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Mild Inquisition


It's that time of the year again: assessments, exams and tests. Sweaty, fast paced students with red cheeks, sometimes from excitement, sometimes from crying. Entire exhibitions that are built in less than an hour, than quickly replaced by another one. I cannot help feeling like a machine in these days. A big, bad judging machine that shatters dreams and gives hope at the same time. Of course that's a natural feeling after assessing 20+ students in one day, but I remember vividly how it was to stand on display, waiting for the Spanish Inquisition to visit. That's how it was called in those days and very understandably so. For often the group of teachers that visited the exam to give judgment on the past semester had competing egos, arguing over the head of the student who stood a little dazed and confused on the sideline. The teachers were busy judging themselves and each other, instead of the student. Much has changed over the past decade or so (although I hear stories that on some faculties it still exists) and teachers nowadays are very aware of their role and function during these assessments.

It remains a big issue though: how to assess photography (and all art forms for that matter) in higher education? In 'normal' HE institutes there are very strict rules in how to perform tests and exams and the rule of 'transparency, validity and reliability' is key. In other words; if another teacher performs the same exam on the same students, the outcome should be the same and the exam is a good representation of the knowledge and/or skill that was given during the course. In higher art education those things can be applied, but there's always a factor and input that cannot be considered that way. You want the students not to reproduce what they were told, but to alter it, to make it their own. And if that happens, how do you assess that?

Yet there is a big consensus when we speak about the progress of the students when we come together to be that mild inquisition. We rarely totally disagree and this form of inter-subjectivity is key for assessing. Yes, we all have our own opinion on the work of the student and sometimes that differs from teacher to teacher. But if we come together and talk about the student as a whole (knowledge, attitude, skills, the whole shebang), we agree, often within seconds.

It's a strange thing though and remains almost mystical to me after all those years; you enter a classroom where the students present themselves and immediately I think 'yes' or 'no' (there's the machine again…). It happens more and more that I don't think those two words and often it turns out that those are the more interesting students. Somehow they can confuse me and I really have to dig deep to understand what is shown and told. At that moment there is no judgment, and I start learning from the student. Bliss!

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

Friday, 8 June 2012

Cry For Me!

Untitled 1 © Gabriel Valansi


I had never visited an art gallery or a museum exhibition before I left Argentina, my family didn't come from a cultural or artistic background, so it just didn't happen. My first encounter with something "cultural" (apart from music) was thanks to one of my teachers in school. He gave me a book, "Ficciones" by the fascinating Jorge Luis Borges when I was a teenager. Reading it was magical, a new world opened up for me and I wanted to be a writer. I started to consume the Magic Realism of Garcia Marquez, the stories of Cortazar, Roberto Arlt, the novels of Sabato, Byo Casares, etc… I soon realized that I had no talent for writing, it wasn't my thing… but looking back now, it was all those years of reading these authors that had awoken my desire to be an artist. My main influence in my photography comes from those books.

Untitled 2 © Gabriel Valansi

Last month I listened to an audio were Hernan Casciari, a very inspiring Argentinean writer, explained a new cultural atrocity being implemented by the government, 'Restriction on Books'. This meant that if you ordered a book that was not printed in Argentina, it would get held at customs. Therefore regardless of where people lived within this vast country, they would have to go to that airport to make a formal request for the book, pay a tax and pay a storage fee per day for the time that it was held. The Spanish radio asked Hernan: "Why should a scientist  from Tucuman have to travel 1200 Km to get his subscription copy of the magazine, Nature?" For the first time he was speechless.

Untitled 3 © Gabriel Valansi

Immediately people from all around the country started to show their discontent through Twitter and the social media: Liberen Los Libros! (Free the books!) asking the government for the liberation of the books! Liberation of the last weapon of hope of the people, the knowledge! The right to read and learn, and to get inspired… it was so strong that the government have now backed down with the new law. Now people can receive the package to their own homes.The restriction continues for any editorial company, in an attempt to control all the export/import goods, generating short-term business profits to the corrupt government and creating a new generation of ignorance. Now it's difficult to find new English learning books, Engineering books and Medicine books, etc.

Untitled 4 © Gabriel Valansi

Unfortunately there wasn't much time to celebrate this small victory, as two weeks ago came the latest reform:You can no longer purchase dollars as you wish. It seems that you have to ask permission to leave the country and they decide how much money they will give you. How do they control this? By a new governmental system on line where you have to fill in an application with all your details (salary, taxes, pension, expenses…) and the software calculates how many dollars you can buy, that they will allow you to spend abroad. People are out in the streets demonstrating again, like in 2001… watching this on my screen I started to wonder what it would be like living there now, as an artist; would it change the way I produced my work?

Untitled 5 © Gabriel Valansi

So I asked Gabriel Valansi, a great Argentinean artist that I met in Arles a few years ago, how these new regulations affected his everyday life as an artist, he replied:

"I was a guest in La Havana Bienale, there I met an extraordinary Egyptian artist, Khaled Hafez. I asked him what it was like to live in Cairo. He simply answered: "Inspiring"."Argentina is a far away country in many aspects. Even now in these global times, of virtual and instant connections. The restriction of the books and the lack of imported resources, are no worse limitations than what we have suffered in times gone by. I strongly believe that at some point the history of art is the history of limitation. Every pitfall, every apparent impossibility, is an opportunity to grow and develop as an artist, to improvise and to look for new paths…I always knew that I wouldn't have been able to develop my work in any other place but Buenos Aires.

If you asked me today: What is it like living in Argentina? I would have the same answer: Inspiring!"

Seba Kurtis (Foam Magazine #25/Traces)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Confessions of a Shopaholic

 A pack of colour rubber bands ($1.67) © Ina Jang


Recently I had a plenty of time looking for stuff at local drug stores to find certain items for a shoot, and ended up purchasing a few random things thinking only, 'this is photogenic'.

A set of dice ($2.49) © Ina Jang

Then I realized that my place is full of 'stuff', already used or neglected under a thick coat of dust, waiting to be photographed. It seemed clear that a distinct shopping pattern has developed for me; I buy colourful little things, often stationery. Sometimes I use them. Sometimes not.

A set of small size doilies ($1.99) © Ina Jang

It is such an obvious and absurd question to ask oneself - do you buy stuff to make photographs of it?  I started asking the question to my photographer friends and a dozen emails confirmed that we do -  a skull, a rope, a slinky, a blanket, a wig, raw meat and tonnes of flowers. People do buy stuff just to make images of them.

A pack of dyed feathers ($2.29) © Ina Jang

It seems that shopping is often encouraged by the desire to possess photographs of objects. It gives people not only uncomplicated access to make images but also gives certain privilege to own that access at the same time.

 A pack of colour rubber bands ($1.67) © Ina Jang

Then, what is the after-life of these materials? Once they serve as subjects immortalized in a photograph where do they go? I decided to make portraits of stuff purchased recently. A set of dice for $2.49, a pack of colour rubber bands for $1.67, a set of small size doilies for $1.99 and a pack of dyed feathers for $2.29. And here they are to share with you. I finally found something to do with them.

Maybe I can return them now?

Ina Jang (Foam Magazine #28/Talent)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Foam and Cineville present 'Smash His Camera'

Ron Galella is considered the pioneer of the paparazzo photography. To coincide with the opening of his show, Paparazzo Extraordinaire! at Foam, Kriterion cinema will be showing a documentary about his life and career. 'Smash His Camera' will be playing at Kriterion on Sunday, 10 June at 19.30.

Foam members can watch the documentary for free. To make a reservation, call Kriterion: 020 623 17 08.


If you're not a Foam member but get a ticket to the film, bring it with you to the Foam front desk, and you'll get 2 tickets for the price of 1. Valid until August 22.

Find out more at Cineville.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Album Beauty

Erik Kessels is busy preparing for his show, Album Beauty, opening at Foam on 29 June. We've taken a peek at some of the plans for the exhibition space and it looks pretty interesting. Here's a glimpse of what's to come.

Exhibition layout, Album Beauty by Erik Kessels © Foam

Exhibition layout, Album Beauty by Erik Kessels © Foam

Exhibition layout, Album Beauty by Erik Kessels © Foam

Plans designed by Roland Buschmann

Friday, 1 June 2012

A Call from the Wilderness

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Far from it for me to second-guess policy concerning the Eurozone's economic crisis or make statements on Dutch economic policy or policies that affect regional arts funding in provincial areas. I am not Dutch and have no standing in a political world I admittedly know little of. I have, however been the recipient of the largesse afforded to me by the Dutch government and, vicariously, by extension, the Dutch people. And for that I am eternally grateful. For without that support it is highly doubtful that I would be sitting here now and writing to you today, wherever you live, be it in Amsterdam or Brooklyn, Guangdong province or Bursa.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Thirteen years ago, when I was still plowing the Internet with a 28.8k dial-up modem, I got a message from across the sea. It was eleven years after I published my first book, Invisible City, eleven years after the death of my older brother and some years after I had seriously given up trying to show my work in galleries here in the United States. The commercial galleries at the time were not interested in the "difficult" photographic work I was offering. My work didn't fit in with what traditional photographic galleries were exhibiting-and the "regular" art world seemed locked into capitalizing on other, more saleable media. We were in the aftermath of the culture wars here in America but they still dominated the discussion. Either you were for certain kinds of work or against art. Intellectually and conceptually there was little room for much else that was new or that wasn't easily commoditized. I knew of few opportunities or possibilities to find an audience for the work I was making but I continued to work, for the most part, in isolation. However, there was that message from the wilderness. I wasn't sure how to reconcile it-it didn't fit in with my American experience. I had long since stopped trying to reconcile what I was producing as an artist and trying to figure out how it might be received, as it often necessitated a lengthy personally delivered preamble that was just as often misinterpreted: But again, there was that email from across the ocean. The world suddenly and unceremoniously was opening up in ways that were inconceivable to me and technically impracticable only a few years earlier.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Wim Melis and Ton Broekhuis, from Noorderlicht in Groningen, a small foundation in a small corner of a small country had emailed me to see what I had been up to in the years since I made my book Invisible City. Together, with the guidance of the Dutch photographer, Machiel Botman, they were curating an exhibition provisionally named "Wonderland." This exhibition was, as Botman put it:

"…about photography that does not conform and often comes into being against trends; photography that involves little money and is above all a reflection of the photographer's personal world, surroundings and sometimes family and friends. Photography that comes into being in the shelter of life and often remains a well kept secret. Wonderland is about small and usual things, the photos showing an intimate and personal existence that seems, at first sight, to take place in a rather dark world. At second sight, however, the viewer can discover a meaning or emotion hiding behind a picture. It is up to the viewer to be amazed at the value of the seemingly small, unequivocal and everyday."

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Their approach constituted a turning point in several ways. For one, it was a turning point in the way that photographic books were being accepted and publically thought about. And for me, it was a turning point in that I was beginning to develop connections to people outside my provincial New York arts community, and have my work seen outside the United States by an interested and supportive audience.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

I went on to finish and exhibit that eleven-year project initiated by the deathbed realization of my brother, who thought that much of his life's assumptions turned out to be little more than a fool's errand. That project, a visual deconstruction of societal violence on the nascent cusp of a yet to happen 9/11, was given central space in the Wonderland exhibition. The Geometry of Innocence was soon published by Hatje Cantz (Ostfildern, Germany, 2001). I went on to show that work at C/O Berlin and in Cologne and in art fairs across Europe. Which is to say that for not much more than a plane ticket, some wall space in an old church, a bit of paint, some float glass and a promise, Noorderlicht launched an important phase of my career as a working artist, exhibitor and bookmaker. And for that I cannot repay them enough-or the Dutch people, who, through a small amount of their tax money gave hope to a struggling artist from across the sea.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Hope and time are two elements that artists need to survive, but they cannot thrive without patronage or without an audience. Noorderlicht has provided me with hope and time on many occasions and helped me to extend my voice and find an audience. I've shown in three of their festivals and exhibited in their gallery on three other occasions. They've commissioned new work, and have asked me to give artist's talks for which I am most happy to oblige. They have, most recently published my fourth monograph to much international interest and acclaim. But they have given thousands of other photographers a voice as well and brought the world and the best of photographic practice to provincial Groningen. They have been at the forefront of bringing non-western perspectives to an oft-time jaded western audience saturated in it own media generated assumptions. Could they do more? Certainly. And I hope that they might. But their future is at stake.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Laurie Anderson gave a brilliant commencement speech the other day here in New York for the School of Visual Arts. Her words seem appropriate in relation to the discussion at hand. She talked about the "work" and "play" one must engage in to survive in today's culture sector. That one has to constantly reinvent one's self. She talks about "what it means to create reality."  During the intermission of Phillip Glass' opera Satyagraha, she, along with other fellow art activists in the lobby, put to the audience words borrowed from Glass' libretto, "When your government breaks, when do you stand up and when do you stand silent?" She asks important questions about making and producing art in today's society. (And I think it important to remember here that the Glass opera she quotes from was itself a work originally commissioned by a Dutch government entity, the City of Rotterdam). She talked about her disrupted foray into government-backed art when she was the first and only artist in residence for NASA (she was booted out after a US government witch hunt on arts funding killed her program). She further reminds us that art both offers and necessitates freedom-no matter the source of funding. All of which brings to mind the challenges faced by my beloved Noorderlicht.



I hope that you can offer your own words of support to Noorderlicht here or simply offer your Facebook likes here. In a multicultural world of many voices we need to support programs that organize and bring meaning to our complex image-based culture. Go see their programs if you can (learn about them here, here and here). Buy their books (here, here and here). Not just because they will take you on journeys you might never have the opportunity to otherwise go on, or give you insight into things you might otherwise not have been fortunate enough to contemplate. Not because Noorderlicht has been "about photography that does not conform and often comes into being against trends," but for more practical and selfish reasons. That which is allowed to die cannot be easily rebuilt. Sure, you will never miss what you never knew, but what you never come to know or get to explore will yield a life that encompasses fewer possibilities. Laurie Anderson mentions the workaholics who don't make room for that random unexpected call that might take you in a new direction. Let Noorderlicht be that call. It might just change the way you look at the world.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Not to change the emphasis of this entry, but I want to share a gift with you. The Photobook Club, operated by faculty from the University of Coventry in the UK, put together an appreciation and exploration of my first book, Invisible City. It's an eBook formatted for the iPad. Learn more about Ken Schles: Invisible City, A Digital Resource through the video they made and find download links here.

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

The Geometry of Innocence © Ken Schles

Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)