Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A Collector's First Purchase - Anne van der Zwaag

Unseen has been asking first-time photography collectors about their first purchase. Here, Anne van der Zwaag shows us what got her started.

The inaugural edition of the Amsterdam photography fair, Unseen, focuses on emerging talent and first-time buyers. From 19 to 23 September 2012 in Amsterdam's Westergasfabriek.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Interrogating 'The Shuttered Society’

Pfingsttreffen der FDJ. Showveranstaltung im Stadion der Weltjugend, Ost-Berlin, Juni 1989 © Jens Rötzsch

The exhibition 'Geschlossene Gesellschaft', literally translated as the closed or the shuttered society, is a survey of art photography in the German Democratic Republic 1949-1989 currently on display in the Berlinische Gallerie in Berlin. It is a timely exhibition which brings together the works of artists and photographers working in East Germany under the heavy weight of state censorship, political repression and growing social dissent until the eventual collapse of the GDR in 1989. The official art form endorsed by the state was called 'socialist realism': an integral element employed by the regime to promote the benefits of socialism and maintain order amongst the masses. Yet rather than succumbing to the brutal ideology of Stalinism in the GDR, the photographers in this exhibition appear to question this ideology by representing a society constantly investigating and questioning its identity and place in the world.

Many photographs on display initially appear to represent a harmonious relationship with the regime. For instance, Jens Rötzsch's photograph shows a group of young women waiting to perform for the spring meeting of the Free German Youth - the official communist youth movement of the GDR. While the woman in the foreground obligingly smiles, the expressions of her compatriots further back in the image are far less laden with celebration. This was June 1989 and the regime was already crumbling from within. Erasmus Schröter's photograph 'Woman in Red' is a candid reference to the dominance of communist ideology in the GDR. On closer investigation, the woman's expressionless face signifies a sense of numbness provoked by a lack of freedom and a lack of opportunities in the dying years of the GDR.

Halle / Saale II, 1988 © Matthias Hoch

 Peter Oehlmann's photograph of so-called Plattenbauten, mass housing-estates, on the outskirts of East Berlin is an eerie document of the socially and culturally impoverished living conditions millions of East German citizens were subjected to. In Oehlmann's photograph, this urban landscape is represented like a labyrinth out of which there is no escape. Matthias Hoch's photograph of the interior of a workers canteen appears to ridicule the working conditions in the GDR: with the exception of two hours in the morning, the canteen is open from midnight to midnight every day of the week. The repetitive cycle of work, eat and sleep is punctuated by a cluster of rather pathetic looking plants on the top of the food display. The image is a depressing remnant of an amazingly inefficient and labour-intensive socialist system.

Despite being locked into a repressive regime, the title of the exhibition 'Shuttered Society' is nevertheless slightly misleading. Precisely because East Germany was so closed off from the rest of the world, particularly from the capitalist West, young East Germans looked to the West with a growing sense of curiousity. It is impossible therefore to view Sven Marquard's 1986 photograph of a male nude without reference to the American photographer Nan Goldin. In fact, Goldin has visited and lived in West Berlin since the early 1980s. Goldin once said: "The only place I feel myself and comfortable and feel real love for my friends is Berlin." Goldin's iconic slideshow "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" was first shown in Berlin's Kino Arsenal Cinema in 1984 and had a tremendous impact on the artistic community at the time. Marquard's image is likely evidence that the wave of Goldin's impact would splash over the concrete structures of the Berlin Wall from West to East Germany.

Im Kino / Teil II, Berlin 1983 © Matthias Leupold

 Artists working in the GDR were under the constant threat of professional marginalization, surveillance, political pressure and state punishment if they fell out of favour with the regime. It is therefore understandable that most photographs on display are subtil and cryptic in their apparent criticism. An exception is Matthias Leupold's photograph of a young man standing up in a 3D cinema, shouting at the screen with anger, while others continue watch the film. This stunt was set up by the photographer and a friend, both of whom were immediately kicked out of the theatre after causing a ruckus. The photograph poignantly references the growing dissent in a political system which was finally brought to its knees, not by military force or foreign intervention, but by its own people.

Marco Bohr is a photographer, writer and founder of visualcultureblog.com.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

They Watch The Moon

The Lighthouse, Brighton, UK © Wendy McMurdo
Trevor Paglen, photography and activism for the networked age at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2012.

This year's biennial takes as its theme the politics of space. Taken together, the BPB's curated exhibitions, interventions and events present a convincing argument that photography's future will depend upon its participation in a collective, politically aware environment, where the potentiality of the world wide web is fully explored in both still and moving image-based practice. In the same week that saw the announcement that the UK is to double the number of armed RAF drones flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan, the Brighton Photo Biennial opens with not one but two artists exploring the implications of drone technology: Omer Fast, with the first UK screening of 'Five Thousand Feet is Best' and American artist Trevor Paglen, with his exhibition 'Geographies of Seeing' at the Lighthouse in Brighton.

They Watch the Moon, 2010, C-print © Trevor Paglen, Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

Paglen uses advanced optical technology to document the secret activities of military and intelligence agencies, often photographing these military sites from as far as 40 miles away. The resulting images are - because of the distance covered by the lens - often warped and distorted by atmospheric conditions. Heat, in the form of convection waves, rise from the desert floor and give the images a hazy quality, which Paglen prefers. Clarity is not what Paglen is after. He prefers to use the blurriness of the resulting images as analogous with the murkiness of covert operations.

The resulting images are troubling and beautiful. Formally, they evoke the aesthetics of JW Turner and Ansel Adams but also the blurred colour-banding of Gerhard Richter.  They offer, however, a highly politicized reading of the American landscape which does, nonetheless, juxtapose successfully with the aesthetics of a more romantic, painterly, tradition.

'Large Hangers and Fuel Storage; Tonopah Test Range, NV; Distance approx 18 miles; 10:44am', 2005, C-print © Trevor Paglen, Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

Paglen began the research for this body of work whilst embarked on a PhD in Geography at Berkeley, California. Researching Geological Survey aerial material of far-flung prisons in the library, he first noticed sizeable redacted chunks in certain landscapes - the footprints of hidden military bases. This research (and the resulting geography dissertation) led him to create the images in his first solo gallery show. A version of this dissertation "Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Hidden World" was published in 2009.

‘Pan (Unknown; USA-207)’ 2010, installation shot, the Lighthouse, Brighton, UK. All images © Trevor Paglen, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

 To take his pictures, Paglen finds viewpoints on public land often as much as ten to forty miles distant from his subject. Using lens commonly used for astrophotography, he connects his camera to these telescopes using a tubular magnifying lens.  In 'Pan (Unknown; USA-207)' 2010, Paglen uses this technology to track satellite movement in the night sky. In 'Pan' Paglen reveals an array of spacecraft in geostationary orbit. One of these objects is PAN, believed to be operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, but never claimed by them - or any other agency - as such. It floats anonymous in the night sky, suspected in acting as a communications relay for armed CIA Predator and Reaper drones operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Untitled from 'Geographies of Seeing',  2012 Brighton Photo Biennial © Wendy McMurdo

Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)

Trevor Paglen's exhibition 'Geographies of Seeing' is currently showing as part of the UK's 2012 Brighton Photo festival, curated and produced by Photoworks.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Photography: is it art?

'For 180-years, people have been asking the question: is photography art? At an early meeting of the Photographic Society of London, established in 1853, one of the members complained that the new technique was "too literal to compete with works of art" because it was unable to "elevate the imagination". This conception of photography as a mechanical recording medium never fully died away. Even by the 1960s and 70s, art photography - the idea that photographs could capture more than just surface appearances - was, in the words of the photographer Jeff Wall, a "photo ghetto" of niche galleries, aficionados and publications.'

Read the full Guardian article by Michael Prodger.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Collector's First Purchase - Henri van der Tol

Unseen has been asking first-time photography collectors about their first purchase. Here, Henri van der Tol shows us what got him started.

The inaugural edition of the Amsterdam photography fair, Unseen, focuses on emerging talent and first-time buyers. From 19 to 23 September 2012 in Amsterdam's Westergasfabriek.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Greetings from a Pilgrimage

Spiral Jetty © Chris Engman

 It is not quite as hard to find as I thought it would be, but other than that, Robert Smithson's seminal 1970 artwork, Spiral Jetty, more or less conformed to my expectations. Which is to say that it did not disappoint.

The direct route from Los Angeles to Rozel Point, the site of the Jetty, is a 13-hour drive.  But I almost never take the direct route, and this trip is no exception.  My first stop is Vegas where I am distracted by a billboard outside a casino that reads: "Breakfast, $3.99!"  After parking, paying for parking, enduring the 110 degree parking garage long enough to find the elevator, and sitting down at a booth, I am informed that, "Sorry, the special is only for the hours between midnight and 3 AM."  Fifteen dollars, one pretty bad breakfast, and two hours later I am back on the road, heading north.
Driving through Nevada is close to a singular experience, with so little to focus on or to punctuate the time.  One can drive for hours and hours and see maybe one, maybe two cars.  And the towns, the ones that are inhabited, are so few and far between, and fly past the landscape so quickly that one might wonder, "Did that really happen?"  A day is compressed into a singular, powerful impression: a vast place, a small self.  Three days later, following visits to the Center for Land Use Interpretation and Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, I finally arrive at the dirt road that turns off toward Spiral Jetty.
The road opens into a valley that, as Smithson recalls, "spread into an uncanny immensity… hills took on the appearance of melting solids, and glowed under amber light… the lake resembled an impassive faint violet sheet held captive in a stony matrix, upon which the sun poured down its crushing light."  Possibly because I am familiar with this passage the place seems exactly so, and I know I am headed in the right direction.  Pulling up to the hill that overlooks the Jetty, I am somewhat surprised to see that I am not alone.  Two families are already there; each with coolers and chairs set out and kids in swimming suits.  They do not appear to be tourists, like myself, but locals at their regular swimming spot on a sunny evening.

The Jetty itself is mostly submerged, but its shape is more or less discernable by two trails of exposed rocks that comprise it's edges.  I am lucky to see anything at all.  The Jetty has been only intermittently visible for the last ten years, and was entirely submerged for the three decades following its initial construction.  It is like witnessing a comet that appears once or twice in a lifetime.  When the present drought has passed, the Jetty will almost certainly be covered in water again, perhaps for a very long time.

Spiral Jetty © Chris Engman

 I take off my shoes and make my way with difficulty over the sharp rocks, wading in some places to up past my knees.  A helicopter appears and cements the impression that I am following a script.  Belatedly I realize that I have been hearing the steady drone of the helicopter for some time and as it becomes louder, the auditory sensation combines with the rest of my senses to reenact, in real time and space, the film that has until now stood in for any real experience of the site.  In this reenactment I am playing the role of Robert Smithson himself, a lone figure on the Jetty, being observed by a Nancy Holt from the vantage point of a helicopter.  Is this a hired helicopter, here expressly to view the Jetty?  If so then this is a script that must be enacted often, whenever the Jetty is visible, with different participants in the roles of Smithson and Holt.  I like this idea.  It is this sense of the reenactment of a script that seems to breath life into this old pile of earth and rocks.  It ties the place to the text, and the film, and to my experience of the piece prior to my experience of the place.
And yet, because I am not Smithson, it is a privilege I can claim to rewrite the script.  He came to this site from the East, in a plane, to make an artwork; I came from the West, in a truck, to make a pilgrimage.  What was a script I had only seen as film and read as text has become, for me, a memory of an experience and a lived event.  It was well worth the trip.

Chris Engman (Foam Magazine #24/Talent)

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Intern

Although it's still six months ahead, we urge the third graders to think about where they want to run their internship this spring. The reason we start this early, is that it becomes harder and harder to find good quality internship places. The times that you could call a photographer and work fulltime for three or four months is definitely over. Students have to work really hard to find a good and meaningful spot. Often they work at several places, dividing the week between several photographers who can use assistance for one or two days a week, but not the whole week.

The benefit is that the students take note of different ways to run a business, but the downside is that the students find it hard to have a good working relationship with the photographer and the chores are more superficial. Also a lot of students try to find a place abroad. They want to break free from the academic routine and combine that with working in a different environment. The danger herein lies that the student try to work with their 'heroes', which is not always the best place to learn. The tendency to pick photographers as a place for an internship based on their work is an interesting one. In what way the work reflects the day-to-day routine of the photographer and is that the best place to learn about the trade? Maybe another photographer, who is not on the shortlist of the student and is not that 'hip' or 'important', has good assignments frequently and can teach the student a lot about building up a sustainable and inspiring business.

Every now and then a student returns from this period with the phrase: 'I learned more in three months than in three years at the academy.' That always makes me smile and frown at the same time. Although happy that the student had a good and meaningful experience, it also says a lot about the way the student worked the past three years… And of course it can also mean that we have to take a look in how to incorporate more 'real-life' experiences in the curriculum.

The big question, though, is: should we still fill up the period of the internship with sending out the students to work within the businesses of other photographers? There is an interesting development going on, in which the students themselves want to conduct a more research-based project, in which they try to get a grip on the complex creative industry. With a clear goal they investigate a certain aspect of the professional scope, interviewing and visiting photographers, graphic designers or other professionals they think are important to them. They build up knowledge in their own way, trying to find out what place they can occupy in this world and figuring out a way to relate to the fast changing professional community. Maybe this is a more adequate answer to prepare the students for the future ahead.

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

Friday, 12 October 2012

Joss McKinley interview - part 02

Python, South Africa 2012 © Joss McKinley
I was interested to hear that Joss McKinley hasn't really drawn much inspiration from other photography. In fact, he told me that he finds a lot of it lacking in heart or 'quite sterile'. The work he does admit to being drawn to is that of Wolfgang Tillmans, JH Engstrom and Julia Margaret Cameron, on the face of it quite different types of photographer.

What they share, I believe, is romanticism (albeit in different forms) and it's this aspect that comes through in McKinley's images. Tillmans's apparently shotgun approach to subject matter, scale and presentation (what Andrew Graham Dixon called 'shards of consciousness') looks a million miles away from McKinley's work, but both artists acknowledge 'the flow of a life', time that passes and which cannot be recovered.  I think what really binds these artists though, is the apparent desire, not to capture something of their present, but rather reach back in time to construct or resurrect something that was. Cameron famously drew on Renaissance painting for her photography and built on literary and biblical themes in order 'to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art'. She may have produced some of the most powerful portrait photographs of her age, but they achieved their status because they appear to have existed outside of as well as within her own time.

You get the same impression from Engstrom's images. His series CDG, with its layer of grey smog over each picture, almost gives you the feeling he has succeeded in taking photographs of his own subconscious; memories of Charles de Gaulle airport, rather than the airport itself. They become intimate views of the artist just as much as they are views of structures or landscape.
McKinley admits this is probably what is happening in 'Gathering Wool'. When I asked him about the people that appear in some of the pictures, he was clear that they were part of the story, rather than the main subject. More significant for him was the fact that the series, at its root, contains 'projections of myself'.

It has got me wondering whether 'Gathering Wool' is less about our minds taking time out and more about, to clumsily borrow a title from a Bob Dylan album, taking time out of mind.

Jonathan Crawford

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Joss McKinley interview - part 01

Salute, Ireland 2010 © Joss McKinley

If you are looking at the work of Joss McKinley, you wouldn't think he's the kind of photographer to be based in London. There is nothing in the 'Gathering Wool' series, or the other work I have seen so far, that gives any hint of an urban lifestyle.

He was in his Old Street studio when I phoned, and for anyone that knows Old Street, it's not the kind of place you go for a bit of peace and quiet. I put it to him that the approach he takes to his work  is a kind of reaction to his environment and, since he spent his childhood years in a small town in the Somerset countryside, perhaps a yearning for that slower way of life.

'That sounds about right,' he agreed, but not convincingly. I get the impression McKinley actually enjoys living in the capital. After all, he chose to move there at 18 because, as he says, 'it always excited me'.  But he does add that 'you have to know how to utilize it', which suggests that he has found a way to avoid its more hard-edged influences. They certainly don't find their way into his pictures. He tells me he gets out of town regularly, and usually to Ireland from where his partner comes and where the pace is very different. London, then, is perhaps a place that helps him pursue his photographic style by bringing it into greater relief.

McKinley completed an MA in Photography at the London College of Communication, where he says he learnt for the first time the discipline of creating a photographic project. Before that, he was just taking pictures. That said, it is often not a linear process for him. The 'Gathering Wool' series, for example, is a collection of images taken over a number of years. He tells me that some were taken before the  series was conceived.  So the project had started in his head before he was aware of it. It was only when reviewing some of his images later that he made a subconscious connection between them.

As McKinley explains, 'many of the images were taken while on holiday or just walking around. It's about observing things and then seeing what comes back from the dark room, laying them out and seeing what works with what.' Gathering Wool is also very much an open-ended project for McKinley, or a work-in-progress, as he calls it. He has more as yet unseen images that may form part of the series in the future and indeed, he admits, some existing images may no longer fit. McKinley is curious just to see how it develops. And for my part, so am I.

Jonathan Crawford

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Musings on the work of Joss McKinley

Sunset, Ireland 2012 © Joss McKinley
There are moments when you forget what time it is. When your skin breathes sun and the smell of freshly cut grass hangs in the air. Occasionally a plane draws a silent white thread across the sky. Quietness surrounds you. Only the birds make ​​themselves heard every now and then.

The photographs of Joss McKinley alternate between landscapes, still lifes, abstract images and portraits, mostly of friends, family and loved ones. Through the use of soft colours and unspectacular subjects the photographs breathe tranquility. A boy sleeps under a languid sun, a beautiful woman looks serenely towards the horizon, a white wall, betrayed by a socket, reflects a golden afternoon glow. To give the photographs an interesting tension McKinley uses imperfections such as double exposure, blurred edges and stripes on the lens.

In 2009 Dutch philosopher Joke Hermsen wrote Stil de Tijd, (Stop the Time) a plea for a slow future. Her collection of essays deals with the elusiveness and complexity of the phenomenon of time. It states that,

'…since the introduction of international Greenwich Time at the end of the nineteenth century we have lived  more and more to the clock and so that other, more personal or inner experience of time has been expelled to the background'.(p.11)

"[…]wij sinds de invoering van de internationale Greenwichtijd aan het einde van de negentiende eeuw steeds meer naar de kloktijd zijn gaan leven en daardoor die andere, meer persoonlijke of innerlijke ervaring van tijd naar de achtergrond hebben verdreven". (p.11)

McKinley's work deals with human desire for nature, quiet, daydreaming and time. For me 'Gathering Wool' is the expression of Hermsen's inner experience of time in which there is no place for the clock. The meaning of McKinley's work lies mainly in the feeling of a loss of time evoked by his subject matter, the sequencing of the images and the space in between.

McKinley's photographs illustrate one of the fundamental characteristics of photography. Photography stops time and captures it in solidified moments. However,  because time cannot but continue on, a hint of melancholy remains.

Kim Knoppers

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dinh Q. Lê's 'Erasure'

Dinh Q. Lê, Erasure, 2011, multimedia installation (installation view). Commissioned by Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. Photo: Aaron de Souza

Dinh Q. Lê's 'Erasure' is an interactive sculptural exhibition which critically interrogates the notion of the migrant via a video piece and a huge collection of abandoned photographs the artist bought from second hand shops in Ho Chi Minh City. Originally commissioned by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney, and since exhibited in Hong Kong, the project was conceived in response to the tragic deaths of asylum seekers, whose boat crashed on the shores off Christmas Island, an Australian territory, on the 15th of December 2010.

Lê's response to this disaster, which is harrowingly captured in an anonymous Youtube clip, is a short video of an old European style ship burning on an empty beach. The point here is clear: Lê suggests that the notion of so-called 'boat people' is a culturally specific construct that changes throughout history. Italian immigrants to America, French immigrants to Canada or British immigrants to Australia - these people originally arrived by boat. In contrast to the stoicism and even heroism attributed to European migrants, the 'boat people' in today's globalized word - Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Sudanese, Somalis and so forth - are viewed with anxiety and suspicion.

Dinh Q. Lê, Erasure, 2011, detail (video still). Commissioned by Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation.

The main element in Lê's 'Erasure' are thousands and thousands of abandoned photographs scattered on the floor of the gallery. The immediate association of walking into the gallery space on wooden planks is that these photographs create an 'ocean of memories'. The visitor is actively encouraged to reach into this ocean, touch and look at these forgotten photographs. As the images originate from Vietnam, many of which are portraits dating perhaps from the 1950s to the 1970s, Dinh Q. Lê's own background is incorporated into the exhibition: born in 1968, Lê's family emigrated to the US in 1979 as a result of what is termed the 'American War' in his country of birth.

A crucial aspect of the exhibition is that visitors are invited to pass photographs of their choice to a gallery assistant who scans the work for an internet archive set up by Lê. Here, the exhibition, and the visitor's response to the exhibition, metaphorically seeks to bring back memories signified by the old photographs. Yet this project is not about nostalgia or memory in a romantic sense, but rather, in conversation with the burning boat video, the project highlights the tragic cost of migration: the abandoned photographs signify the prize of leaving behind family members, and with that, also leaving behind memories. As the thousands of photographs on the gallery floor indicate, the emotional and psychological cost of migration is immeasurable.

Marco Bohr is a photographer, writer and founder of visualcultureblog.com.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Gathering Wool

Cliona and the Sea, South Africa 2012 © Joss McKinley

Indulge my idle fancies if you will. Take the time to listen to silence, while I while away some hours for you. Sleep, even, while you listen, but don't dream, not yet. Yes, sleep. Sleep; let it wash over you. You, doubly exposed, vulnerable, cocooned in noiseless air. An empty breeze. A brass shelled hourglass. Disparate. But now that we know it's coming, I am happy to wait. Knowing. A pair, or more, of us, wrapped in wool, waiting and knowing. Let us dream.

Plant with the Sun, Ireland 2010 © Joss McKinley

I recall we once talked of net curtain ghosts; different light reflects from the window of these days. A light less harsh. A light where old cameras stand resolute, though distant; collecting dust; and a sun I hardly recognise shines for the pair of us. Always brighter than I remember, despite its polluted diffusion, always brighter. The things here are pleasant, but of course, they are forced to be, having seen so much and survived pristine. Their neat, un-chipped edges reminding us of the times we try desperately not to forget. Items forged of mindfulness. Little pieces of captured time. Wood. Porcelain. Lace. Paper.

Boy, Somerset 2004 © Joss McKinley

There, the boy prince from long ago awaits. Put to work again, opposite the praying child. The darkness between them, this darkness, is not empty. The word empty is too full. Yet, each knows the other to be there. Always to be there. He is always there. He warms every shadowed memory, and holds your hand at dusk when we're scared. Perhaps he isn't praying after all, perhaps he never was, but merely kneeling, there, on the woolen carpet, to ask you, to ask your child: Are you alright?
And the words come: Join me here. I have been striving for nothing for a while now. Tirelessly pursuing timelessness. Searching and waiting simultaneously. Reaching. Frozen. By the sun. Frozen by the increasingly pleasant sun. I'll hold here. Right here. I'll hold here and be weathered with you. No longer wrapped in wool, but bearing our skin to the sky; protected by our preoccupation with nothing. Just you and I, here, together, the three of us, together. Perhaps.

Sunset, Ireland 2012 © Joss McKinley

Standing at the beginning of the endless, listening to other tongues; where sheer papers edge reflection. There, and beyond, I see my journey, ongoing. Past solid metamorphics, licked so gently into shape. Still, I will not speak of time. The word time, too finite. Too many visible ends. Ends. Ends like meeting death, momentous and still. A caged bird sings its last. Singing to death. Sighing. Becoming a sigh. These are the ends we see. This is time. And, finally, when our own time comes, perhaps we will know then, that the end is always gentle, and the endless always ends.

Disquiet consumes the moment. Three prongs have pierced our Luddite's sunset. That perfect antiquated sunset; projected on paper and viewed through glass. And yet, in spite of the intrusion, these moments are moments we can touch. We are touched by these moments. Were we together then? In that particular moment? Ensconced in the space between solitude and isolation? Perhaps. The warmth here reminds me of you. The warmth tells me: yes. We were together. Yet I don't see you here. Only what is left of our sunset, or sunrise was it, burnt into the wall, exhaling through those tri-part punctures, breathing out its own shadow, painting us into a corner. Waiting for us to pass.
Alone in the room where a king once sat. He faces us still, staring out from dry, warm, shadows. Absorbed in his own imagery, he waits still, for our adoration. But we are not here for worship, nor to relive his glory, but simply to be, here, together, to inhabit this space, his space. A space so often seen through artificial eyes, but not today, not by us, here, today. A dry, warm, breeze, a kindly breeze, moves sheer curtains, and only dust dances in the stillness. Dust made glow by an amicable sun, as they waltz serenely through shadowed bars over wool-covered floor. Dance on dust dance on.

Salute, Ireland 2010 © Joss McKinley

I saw the echo of my eyelashes to begin with. Filling the lens with their closeness. Beyond them I saw you. Cornered, but not uncomfortable. Hung out to dry, but not abandoned. Waiting. For the slow returning sun. Imperfect, but beautiful. Motion-free. Caught in the boundless energy of inertia. Waiting. Watching. Wanting. But what?  Thoughts interrupted. Images reflected. A mirror in need of silvering. Incomplete, and alone, and yet…This blurred image of mind, of mine, is always most clear. Not wanting, but needing nothing. Not waiting, but willing nothing. Not watching; as you close your eyes to sleep. To sleep and dream alone.

The cold surface before me transposes my sense, of I, to the lulling waves below. Tenderly they kiss the glass, delicately threatening to break the barrier between I, the entity I, and the eternal outside. Threatening to shatter the pane and let us merge. Allowing a break into freedom, where only our limits hold us together. I watch as you slowly submerge yourself, braced against the chill indifference which floats below the surface. The trees all around bare themselves to us and demonstrate an age we can but contemplate. We are only here. You release the rails and float away, drawing me nearer, with every stroke, as you put distance between us. These are the times we are truly one. The times I know we are one. When we cannot feel the cold. I am the sheet that unravels as I enfold you. You are the pillow that supports my head as I sleep; that supports my dreams. The pillow from which I draw the stuffing. Slowly. Steadily. Woolgathering.

Gathering Wool.

Matthew Crowley

The Scale of Reality

Marine Layer, from the book, Oculus © Ken Schles

I can't help but think the way I see the world is the way the world is. But I know that the world as it appears to me (and fills my senses) is subjective and always in relation to the way I observe it.
I enter into a relationship with the world through my senses. The scale of what I experience is directly related to my physical size and how I interact with my environment. It is the way I've come to know my world, the way I've come to understand it. My initial sense of time is based on the speed electrical impulses travels through my neural network. My primary sense of scale is based on my body size in relation to the things I encounter and interact with. And within the span of my life my world-view shifts according to developmental and environmental needs and constraints.

I find flies hard to swat because of the time it takes my eyes to see where a fly is, process that information and react, it gives our little friend more than enough time to fly rings around me. We probably appear to smaller (faster) creatures as lumbering leviathans. Just try chasing a squirrel or catch a pigeon.

Elephants grumble in languages too low for us to hear, whales sing across distances too far for us to converse, birds call in trills whose subtlety and speed are too fast for us to pick apart. We hear their calls as a lilting and beautiful song, but science proves insight into our ignorance.
For all creatures the scale and order of their reality mimics their physical and sensory abilities. This makes perfect sense. Their consciousness is dictated by their senses in relation to their brain's computational power and how they can perform in their environment. Some butterflies and shrimp can see colors we can only haltingly conceive of. But of what beauty and significance do these colors represent to these creatures? Bats use echolocation, and are more comfortable in the dark. Some recent studies point out that bats might actually be lunar phobic and avoid moonlit nights. Snakes (and some bats) can "see" prey by way of heat, the same way we find spicy food "hot."

And while we measure motion by the length of our gait and time music to the rhythm of our breath and beating hearts, what would the world look like if we could see time slowed by orders of magnitude so we could see light actually bounce off objects. Or speed up things until we could see interstellar gasses move and coalesce into stars or see galaxies collide. And yet, in ways we do.

Physical being is the primary corridor through which we experience our world. But our tools extend our means of knowing and interacting with the world. Rocks, sticks, bone and sinew extended our fists and teeth and fingers. Clothes extended what our natural body fat and hair provided and what our feet could endure. Straw allowed us to snorkel or make rafts and travel distances over water. Our tools allow for other realities to be lived and made real for us. We can see proteins fold, see stars and galaxies bend light, image molecular bonds, stop time…

We may make tools to extend our physical abilities. But more importantly those tools have enabled us to see and understand the world in more profound and nuanced ways outside the scale and limit our physical bodies present. Our tools have transformed who we are and what we are capable of. Our tools have extended the boundaries of our reality. But it is this that we should remember: for more important than anything that our tools may concretely or discretely do, our tools also transform our ideas.

We are bound by physical constraints. Our tools extend those boundaries. But when we share ideas, we touch on something infinite. This, as wonderful as it sounds, does not negate what I said in my first paragraph. And I am well advised to read it again.

We live in a physical world and we live in an image world. They are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually dependent. We use one to describe the other. We use one to qualify the other. And it is through that exchange that we derive meaning.

For those keeping track this entry is a day or two late. I apologize. I just came back from participating in a very interesting festival in Bursa, Turkey, and gave a talk at the Istanbul Photo Museum where my exhibit with Ken Light and Edward Keating was extended to October 15th. I also want to share this recent review published in Le Journal de la Photography.

Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)

Friday, 5 October 2012

An Interview with Victor Cobo

Michael Christopher Brown interviews fellow photographer Victor Cobo.
from the series 'Flâneur' © Victor Cobo

What are the special ingredients in your picture making process?

For me, photography is escapism. It always has been and always will. Now I create a sort of universe for myself, searching out characters as if I was a director making a film. I find landscapes and objects and characters which seem surreal. For me it is about the experience, putting myself in situations where the experience is going to yield something that is interesting. Maybe a tension between me and the subject matter, or a strange sort of flirtation, it depends on the situation. These pictures are done in my backyard, I don’t really travel to make photographs. To some extent it is dramatized, but it is basically my life.

Do you think people understand your work?

I don’t know, I think there are misconceptions about it. Some people have a problem with the nudity and don’t understand what is going on, or that they think I am exploiting people. But people will always have issues with work that is tough to fit into a particular genre. If it’s not fashion, documentary or fine art, then what is it? I used to be a photojournalist, working at a newspaper and later for magazines, and I think this history makes the work I am doing now more interesting as there is a hint of journalism in the work.

Why do some people believe you are copying other photographers?

I don’t know. Perhaps it is because I am photographing similar things that others (Daido Moriyama, Antoine D’Agata, Anders Petersen, JH Engström) photographed. But many people are doing similar things with a similar style, playing on the amateur snapshot, the vernacular photograph but done with a keen and perceptive eye. We play with these two worlds in similar ways, so it’s easy to say I am copying or doing the same thing. Though of course, the work certainly fits into a genre: There’s a book coming out called MONO, I’m in there with Moriyama and Peterson, etc, and much of the work in that book is of similar subject matter and all in black and white. It takes time to get to the point where people say ‘ok that is Victor and nobody else.’ Maybe I am not there yet or maybe I am and don’t realize it, but either way I’ll get there.

from the series 'The Spectre of Theatre' © Victor Cobo

What is your project ‘The Spectre of Theater’ about?

The series consists of self-portraits, where I’m in disguise or wearing make-up to create these alter egos. For years I have photographed characters, finding them on the streets, but now I often become those characters, playing with the idea of being them, or something like them, by using theater like settings. Some of the images are influenced by black and white film noir, thrillers and early David Lynch. But this is a loose self-portraits series, because there are several images that are not me but i wish they were. Then there are other photos that look like others but are me.

from the series 'Remember When You Loved Me' © Victor Cobo
from the series 'Remember When You Loved Me' © Victor Cobo

How about the project ‘Remember When You Loved Me’?

This one of my more psychological projects, and is based on coming from a dysfunctional family, which means it is based on love and how that love is unattainable and how there are certain people we wish we had love from. It extends from childhood and my parents, like I haven’t seen my father in ten years, he is an incredibly lonely person and basically sits in a room by himself with severe depression. I don’t do that, but instead have the drive to illustrate loneliness and isolation in my photos.

from the series 'Down In The Hole' © Victor Cobo

What about ‘Down in the Hole’?

I began this series around 2003 in the tenderloin district and the underbelly, the fringes of San Francisco. I came from a middle class background and was just drawn to this side of life which i didn’t experience growing up. So the work is based on that adventure and the efforts to enter a world that were foreign to me. There are more self-portraits in this work, as in general I consider all these projects like a diary, in terms of the way they are put together. The isolation, the loneliness, the desire to live a life not considered normal middle class American, I enjoyed throwing myself into these situations and in a sense I became what I photographed.

So there are pictures in these projects that are from your life, that might not have been taken in the same place or during the same time but just seem to work together?

In general these projects are based on a sort of lyrical song, where the pictures work together abstractly, they are certainly not an objective story line. It is interesting when you turn the camera around and photograph yourself, it throws a whole other context onto the work while making things deeper and more interesting. Also, because the subjects I’m working with are part of who I am, I am photographing myself when photographing others.

Are you then saying that anybody you, Victor Cobo, photograph becomes a photograph of yourself?

To some extent, yeah. Some photographers say they photograph what they know, and for example I’m not an illegal immigrant from Mexico or a heroin addict from the Tenderloin, but I am Spanish and have experimented with drugs in the past. So there’s this aspect of photographing a mirror of yourself, as other wise why would I be doing it? It is about a sort of sizing up of oneself, an identification towards some sort of stability.

Michael Christopher Brown (Foam Magazine #27/Report)