Friday, 30 November 2012

From The Archive - Weegee

Gangster © Weegee

On Monday this week, not a single incident of crime was recorded in the city of New York. Unbelievable but true. it's probably back to normal by now with the odd shooting or robbery to keep the cops busy.

Weegee would have probably been disappointed with this strange lull in criminal activity. After all, as he famously said, 'murder is my business'. Here we look at some of his work from Foam's 2007-2008 show, Weegee - from the Berinson Collection. You can read more about the photographer and the exhibition in this press release.

Jonathan Crawford

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Onorato and Krebs - Blockbuster

More weird and wonderful-ness from Swiss duo, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. This time in a short film. This movie shows their 16 mm projection and soundmachine, Blockbuster, from 2012. The piece was filmed while installed for "Wozu Zeit"at RaebervonStenglin, Zurich.

Onorato & Krebs appeared at Foam with their show, Light of Other Days, between 8 June - 22 August 2012.

Jonathan Crawford

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

RijksakademieOPEN 2013 - Daniëlle van Ark

'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' | 2012 | 140 x 105.5 cm | ink on paper

Daniëlle van Ark is among 55 international artists letting folk into their studios at RijksakademieOPEN 2013.

Daniëlle's work has featured in Foam Magazine issue #14/Meanwhile and she currently showing work for Foam in Museum van Loon (unitl 21 January 2013).

You can wander around the Rijksakademie studios, Sarphatistraat 470, on 1 and 2 December from 11am - 7pm. For extra information take a look at the Rijksakademie blog.

Jonathan Crawford

Friday, 23 November 2012

From The Archive - No Man's Land

Untitled, from the series 'No Man's Land', 2000-2004 © Larry Towell
Hamas and Israel have been battering each other once again over Gaza. More than 1500 Israeli airstrikes and more than 1000 Hamas rockets launched over the last week or so.

Larry Towell's series 'No Man's Land' investigated the importance of land as territory to both sides is in this long-running conflict. The Magnum photographer worked in the region for over ten years. Towell's work was shown in Foam back in 2006.

A ceasefire came into force on Wednesday and still seems to be holding. How long will this one last, is the perhaps pessimistic, but inevitable, question.

Jonathan Crawford

No Man's Land was on show in Foam from 14 April - 18 June 2006.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Nostalgia, The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II

After perusing the books that are waiting to be added to our photography library at Foam, I found something quite special.

'Nostalgia' - a voluminous collection of colour photographs depicting Czarist Russia mostly between 1909 and 1915.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was a chemist and photographer. Between 1909 and 1915 Prokudin-Gorskii took on a systematic journey to achieve his ultimate goal; to document all of Russia in colour photography. His life's work can be considered one of the earliest examples of travel photography.

Prokudin-Gorskii wasn't the first to use colour photography in his time, his greatest technical achievement in photography however was his ability to take colour photography out of the lab and into the field. He used colour-sensitive glass plates in order to achieve the luminous colours that we can still enjoy today.

It is really fascinating to dive into Russia's history and see it all in colour. An emir wearing a very turquoise robe, women in their traditional dresses, mosques in Samarkand decorated with tiles in rather exquisite patterns and colours. It really opened my eyes to a past long gone.

The book is on display in Foam's library, which can be visited upon appointment. Please contact

To consult the collection's database, please visit:

Tonsja Coronel

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Open Door Day

This Saturday it's open door day again at the HKU, like in so many other schools this time of year. It's always quite a fuss to organize and it seems that the whole academy is in stress-mode the week before. When I get out of bed early this Saturday I'm sure I can think of a lot of more fun things to do than go to the school and tell the same story a zillion times to shy pre-students and their somewhat assertive parents.

It's funny; at the moment I'm there and I see how good the classrooms look and every department is looking better than ever, it's actually very good to be there. I hear first-graders (who are now studying for three months) talk to the fresh youngsters and their parents like PR pros, explaining better what's going on in the classrooms than I ever can! I finally get a chance to catch up with colleagues and students in between the conversations we have with our visitors and really can show and tell how we try to educate people in a profound way.

I have a reccurring problem during my central presentation though. There they are, all those eager boys and girls who dream of becoming a world-famous photographer and look at Anton Corbijn and Erwin Olaf and think, 'That's what I want!' How do you tell them that that's the exception, and that many of them won't get that far? How do I keep myself for a harsh reality check and crush their dreams before they even start to realise them? Why do I feel the urge to warn them? For what?
Of course the profession of the photographer has changed. It's not like ten years ago (or five years ago, for that matter), where I could tell the audience in the auditorium that most of the alumni will end up as entrepreneurs, owning their own businesses as photographers. Sure, a lot of the graduates will establish their business as independent photographers, but this is changing fast lately. Most of them have side-jobs to make sure they have a steady income. Or they choose to continue their study in a masters course, locally or abroad. Or they start their career as an assistant or apprentice and take it from there. I've seen 'my' students in the creative industry as filmmakers, graphic designers, photo agents, art teachers (hey, that's something I can relate to), or more obscure professions like horse breeders or nightclub owners (actually, the last one isn't true, but you catch my drift).

I know, no, I suspect that if you follow a study at (most) Dutch art schools nowadays, you'll be all right. You will find a way to keep on learning and develop your professional life because you learn how to manage yourself in that way. But at the same time it's a very vague promise: 'trust me, you'll be OK…'

To conclude, I like to refer to a famous TED talk of Sir Ken Robinson in 2006, called 'Do Schools Kill Creativity?' In it he says: "If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue … what the world will look like in five years' time. And yet we're meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary."

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

Monday, 19 November 2012

Diane Arbus - The Female View

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing NYC 1966 © The Estate of Diane Arbus

A photographer friend of mine visited the Diane Arbus show at the weekend and offered me an angle on her work that I hadn't appreciated before.

Arbus, she believed, managed to convey a particular strength in her female subjects. Maleness, on the other hand, appears more shrinking and vulnerable. I took another look at the photographs in the show and started to think she might have a point. If you look at the press images from the show, it's all there. The Brooklyn family, the woman with a veil, the man with curlers.

But I think it is a strength born from suffering. I went back over the story for clues why this could be. In A Chronology, the book produced in conjunction with the show, I read that, for many years. Arbus was brought up by a governess. Arbus herself described this woman as looking 'as if she had a very sad secret and she would never tell anyone.'1

And now looking at the pictures again, you could say many of the female characters in them give you that same impression. I'm not saying I have the whole story, but perhaps Arbus recognised something in that governess and looked for the same quality in the other women she photographed.

Jonathan Crawford

Diane Arbus can be seen at Foam until 13 January 2013.

1. pg.4 Diane Arbus, A Chronology, Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus, pub. Aperture NY

Friday, 16 November 2012

From The Archive - Empty Bottles

from the series Empty Bottles, 2007 © WassinkLundgren

This week China selected its next set of Communist leaders for the coming decade. There aren't many clues as to what the new ruling committee will bring. Then again, the Chinese political system is famously inscrutable anyway.

The same mystery surrounds the images the photographer duo WassinkLundgren shot in Beijing and Shanghai back in 2007. Empty Bottles was a project which emerged from their observation of bottles being collected by, well, who? Scavengers? Cleaners? Officials?

The photographs could be seen as the document of an underclass still using every means possible to make a living, despite a booming ecomony. Or are they the mark of a naked ambition on behalf of the people to make even the smallest difference count?

The new Communist leader, Xi Jinping , said in his speech, "Our people love life and yearn for better education, stable jobs, more satisfactory income, greater social security, improved medical and health care and more comfortable living conditions and a more beautiful environment."

So the bottles may not be empty after all. In each one is perhaps that message.

Jonathan Crawford

Empty Bottles was shown in Foam 3h from 9 March until 11 April 2007. The duo return to Foam in January 2013 with One Group Show.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jackie The Lion

MGM recording Leo the Lion (whose real name was Jackie) roaring for its official movie title logo which was first used for MGM's first talking picture 'White Shadows in the South Seas' in 1928. Jackie was used as the MGM logo for all of their films from 1928 to 1956 and was the first lion to appear in a Technicolor film in 1932 (courtesy The John Kobal Foundation)

Here is Jackie the lion. Waiting for the command: Action!

Obedient, and well trained, neither the sound recordist nor the cameraman look in the least nervous to be so close to him. I thought about this image for a long time after I saw it in the Hollywood Unseen exhibition as I found it arresting, touching and complex. It's showing us a real event, the lion actually being filmed, to be later isolated for the MGM studio logo. Jackie is already abstracted; he's against black in a cage, away from his natural environment, a real lion that lives as a representation of all lions.

In our culture we have a fascination with big cats. Tigers and leopards can often represent sexuality, whilst lions stand for more cerebral ideas, justice, strength, courage and clemency. Individual lions are given attributes of wisdom and judgment in fiction and legend. Lions are also used as symbols of kings. This began in England in the twelfth century with Richard I, the Lion Heart. The lion becomes a model of the ideal monarch; courageous, strong, wise, merciful and magnanimous. There to symbolize royal blood and also to recognise it almost as kin. In Shakepeare's Henry IV Part 1, Falstaff says to Prince Hal, 'The lion will not touch the true Prince' (Act 2, Scene 4).
But however well trained, a real lion will remain a wild animal, and will never be tame. Yet we yearn to get close to it because it continues myths of man's natural domination over nature. In the book of Genesis, animals live in peaceful harmony in the garden of Eden. In many other cultures there are myths of lions being a friend and protector of man or specific men. Again in the Bible, the lions left Daniel unharmed after he was locked in their den with them as punishment.

We yearn for this mythical lost age when we were loved by lions, so we create and look for stories of meaningful relationships between individuals and lions. This could be why the story of Elsa, made into the film, Born Free, (James Hill, 1966) was so popular. But this film had further fictions within it. 21 different lions played the part of Elsa. And however well trained, a lion will only do so much at the behest of a film director. James Hill complained about the difficulty of working with lions on the film. "You just want the lion to sit there between Bill and Virginia for a minute and you could be a week on that".

So when we see this lion, Jackie, waiting with all this cultural meaning and significance, standing to attention for the camera, we know how powerful the MGM studio is. The people who are going to show the next feature are showing us their power and might by using this lion. The camera is going to capture and control this symbol of strength, majesty and power for us: for our entertainment. This is man in charge of nature, in control, directing.

In a minute the lion will roar. Loud enough for us to know he is a lion and be a little bit afraid. The film technicians will transform this lion into a symbol. Jackie will be inserted into an image of a wreath, and be crowned by the MGM logo. The shabby crates he stands on, the makeshift backdrop will be edited out. And in the background somewhere, in this small cage is at least one trainer, maybe a few. Perhaps they are armed with weapons in case things go wrong, out of view but in control. Jackie has to do as he's told, he's there to entertain and do his lion act. Growl, and then await further orders.

Suky Best (Foam Magazine issue #10/Stories)

This image can be seen in Hollywood Unseen, recently published by ACC Editions

Monday, 12 November 2012

Photographing The Exhibition

Installation view of Parasomnia, Viviane Sassen © Doug Dubois
A young black male leans backwards, arms propping up his torso, head turned away from the viewer. Set against a background of dusty brown terrain, he also sits in a patch of powdery blue pigment, staining his trousers, skin and an otherwise pristine white vest. In the foreground, just overlapping the edges of this picture, a reclining statue in plaster echoes the pose, as if following the gaze of this 'other' figure, a reverse image, into the unknown distance.

Strictly speaking, two photographs converge in the above description: an image by Viviane Sassen, from her current exhibition Parasomnia at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland, and the installation shot, a singular perspective that integrates both her aforementioned photograph with the surrounding environment of the gallery's sculpture room (in actuality, containing plaster casts of seminal Graeco-Roman statues). This latter picture, taken by the American photographer Doug Dubois, clarifies the formal affinities between Sassen's languid black youths and the dramatic postures of classical statuary, albeit through a deliberate cropping of the composition. The bustling, cluttered site of the exhibition is narrowed into an image that isolates and emphasizes their resemblances.

Installation view of Parasomnia, Viviane Sassen © Doug Dubois
It can be said then that the installation photograph sacrifices something of the 'truth' of the space in order to achieve an idealized representation. The relationship recalls Michel de Certeau's distinction of place and space: "A place is […] an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability. A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities and time variables." Naturally, the installation shot would fall into the former category: devoid of noise and activity, serene, composed, unhurried.

The irony here is that it is this technically 'inaccurate' image that allows for greater insight into an exhibition, and that allows the site to be read as a photograph in its own right. One pays attention to the contrast of black and white 'skin', the correlation between Sassen's dreamlike compositions - the term parasomnia refers to sleep disorders that cause fitful movements and behaviours - and the mythic, allegorical connotations of the sculptures, even their shared status as reproductive mediums. While it's usually said that there's no substitute for experiencing the exhibition in the real, sometimes it's the distanced, second-hand perspective that allows one to see it at its best.

Chris Clarke (critic and curator, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork)

Friday, 9 November 2012

From The Archive - Bound For Glory

Faro and Doris Caudill, Homesteader,s Pie Town NM, 1940 © Russell Lee
 So Obama has won a second term as President of the United States of America. And as he said in his victory speech, 'the best is yet to come'.

Put another way, he might also have said that America is 'Bound For Glory', the title of an exhibition shown in Foam in 2006. Bound For Glory was a selection of archive images taken during America's last economic crisis, The Great Depression.

Commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, it had political motives at its origin. But it also became a document of a generation working towards a better future.

Perhaps Obama is right. The employment figures have been slowly but steadily improving. But as Mitt Romney tried to remind voters before polling day, there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work and 12% of 18-29 year olds are unemployed. It makes these classic colour images a timely reminder of the challenges America faces.

Jonathan Crawford

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Representation And Its Double

We abstract the world in order to know it better. Perhaps this sounds counterintuitive, but to understand something one needs to separate oneself from it. The distance we create from the world when we abstract it-when we codify it and model it and formalize it into ideas and notions-gives us the space and time and means to contemplate it. Turning away from the world allows us to understand the world more fully. And certainly, photography is a tool that helps us to do just that. Written and spoken languages are means of conveying abstracted notions as well. All are tools of abstraction and can be possible vectors for meaning. They separate, abstract and emphasize significance, allowing insight into the subject of their attention. But meaning and significance are never static qualities or quantities as they rely on interpretation. Interpretation, however, is fungible, slippery and subjective-for meanings may, at times, be self-evident, but at other times meanings can become evasive and evanescent.

This is not a pipe: on the Treachery of Images

Years ago my wife would joke with me saying that I was a pervert. And she was right. What I do, as an image-maker, is to pervert reality. This I would never deny: my images decontextualize reality; they pervert it, abstract it. I present my modified decontextualized "realities" as best I can. Interpretation and depth of meaning aside, my "best" will forever be something other than reality. When we abstract we make a pointed reduction of something. It is an attempt to project meaning through representation. But meaning created and conveyed through representation is never an ensured quantity. Interpretation ensures just that. Plus, there is a certain level of "noise" at any of the three junctures of synthesis, transformation and conveyance of ideas: the three places where interpretation holds sway. Meanings also tend to be "sticky." They adhere correctly or incorrectly to the object of their description. Many times (but not always) an image will supplant an observable reality and leave in its place an empty visage where a once observable and meaningful past existed. Baudrillard talks about this extensively in his Orders of Simulacra.

I started thinking directly about these ideas again six weeks ago, when I attended the Bursa Photo Festival in Bursa, Turkey. One of the themes of the festival was education. There were many vibrant talks and seminars on the work on display and about photographic practice and education. It was pointed out to me, although I have to admit it hadn't gone unnoticed, that the work of August Sander was evoked often as a touchstone for a variety of ideas in several of the talks. I found it wonderful and remarkable that his work should have significance to so many people in so many ways across such a stretch of time. And I wondered about how the work had become so much more significant as time moved forward: significance the work only (perhaps) hinted at to a small number of people during August Sander's lifetime. I wondered what the work of August Sander meant to these new initiates to the world of images, since many in the audience were likely seeing and hearing about Sanders work for the first time. I wondered what his work represented to them. I wondered what exactly was being communicated. I wondered how that meaning was being metabolized, not only across cultural barriers three times removed, but also across shifts in time and space. I worried: had the meaning of Sander's work became a kind of shorthand for something else, something other than itself?
We live in a forest of signs, in a sea of signifiers. Postmodernists seem to think this is a new phenomenon.  But the world has always held multiple and layered meanings for us. Certain work attains iconic status. Sometimes references become worn and cliché as meaning is emptied. The meanings associated with objects and representations change, multiply, evolve and decay.
Meaning can be lost and meaning can be gained or meaning can be replaced with a sign, an abstraction that, at some point, will lose its semblance of meaning or resemblance to what it once referred to. We struggle with the beast of meaning so that we can understand the possibilities that exist in the world. We express our understanding via languages that speak us as much as we speak them-sometimes to the point that we simply can't know who is really talking, who is mimicking, who is projecting and what exactly it is that is being said.

They say the work of an artist goes beyond what an artist can explicate or even ever know. Some of us have a pretty good idea of what we are doing. But what we won't ever fully know is the emotional weight our work has on others or where that work will lead others intellectually, now or in the future. As creators, we exist, not in some exalted state of infinite objectivity, but wallow blind in subjective and relative myopia, mitigated only through the abstractions of culture and language and the efforts that we make to draw meaning from our unique perspective in time and space. We can draw meaning if we give ourselves enough distance-the distance that only time, space and reflection can provide.


On another note, I want to mention this item again. There is a free eBook study of my long out of print analog book, Invisible City. Previously available only on iPads through iTunes, the eBook is now available as an enhanced pdf, compatible with other eBook readers and all PCs. Invisible City has proven itself to be of perennial interest and an analog reprint is planned with Steidl.

Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Film &Foam opens 8 November

Kids 1995 dir. Larry Clark, act. Rosario Dawson
&Foam, Foam's shop at Vijzelstraat 78, is introducing a new theme for this winter. Until 6 January 2013, the store will be putting film and its relationship to photography in the frame. As part of this edition, &Foam presents Image Feedback and the organic installation PLOT.

Foam Editions, our in-house gallery, is also offering new prints by visual artist Gábor Ősz and Kriterion film theatre will show a series of classic movies on an original 35mm-projector.
Find out more about Film &Foam or drop in for the opening on Thursday, 8 November from 5.30pm.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Rico & Michael at Paris nofound 2012

Double Extension Beauty Tubes © Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier

Foam has been invited to exhibit at this year's nofound photo fair in Paris. We will present the up-and-coming Swiss artists Rico & Michael who had a show, Double Extension Beauty Tubes, in Foam back in June 2012.

The second edition of nofound, a fair for contemporary photography, will take place from 16 - 19 November at Garage Turenne. Along with the annual international photography fair Paris Photo, nofound is one of the many activities and exhibitions during the 'mois de la photo' in Paris in November.

Jonathan Crawford

Friday, 2 November 2012

From The Archive - Diederik Meijer

The arrival of storm Sandy on the east coast of the US this week made me wonder how this kind of natural disaster has been portrayed by photographers before.

 In Line For Free Cell Phones © Meijer Diederik

Bonnie Vernon © Meijer Diederik

Diederik Meijer's images of the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina were shown in Foam back in late 2006/early 2007 and focused on the residents of one trailer park in New Orleans.

Palmyra Street New Orleans © Diederik Meijer

Read more about his exhibition, 1900 Groom Road.

Jonathan Crawford