Monday, 17 December 2012

Tosja's Top Five



1. Story Teller - Tim Walker
Alice gone wild in a stylish Wonderland, there seem to be no boundaries to Tim Walker's imagination and his ability to bring it to life in his photos. High fashion meets  high fantasy.



2. Unconscious Places - Thomas Struth
It is quite amazing how Thomas Struth has managed to turn bustling cityviews into almost surreal and scenery-like places which seem bereft of any human habitation. A rather fascinating collection of photos and certainly an interesting take on urban life and the way it responds to humanity or perhaps not.



3. Nostalgia - Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii
A wonderful telescope into the past. 19th century Russia in full colour and rich detail.



4. The Bitter Years - The Farm Security Administration Photographs through the eyes of Edward Steichen
One can't help but relate this powerful photo collection to the world's present economic problems and  the results of that. These haunting and poetic photos still speak for themselves and provide a lot of insight into what the results of a depression can be.



5. Yamuna Walk - Atul Bhalla
A detailed and reflective sight on the Yamuna River and the way this river relates to present-day India.

Tosja Coronel

Friday, 14 December 2012

From The Archive - El Raval

Untitled © Joan Colom / Courtesy Foto Colectania

Barcelona fans around the world have been enjoying the fact that they own the world's greatest footballer, Lionel Messi. Earlier this week he beat a 40-year record for the number of goals scored in one season. Okay, so he's Argentinian, but that won't stop them celebrating.

Since Messi plays for Barcelona, we thought we'd share with you the beautiful work of Joan Colom, who spent the late fifties and early sixties photographing the El Raval district of the city.

Joan Colom - El Raval was shown in Foam from 16 March to 20 May 2007.

Jonathan Crawford

Thursday, 13 December 2012

No Canada

Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination, Penny Cousineau-Levine

I missed Penny Cousineau-Levine's Faking Death: Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination when it came out in 2003, only a few years after I moved from Canada to Ireland. So the discovery of it in a Belfast bookshop has offered a reminder of a photographic culture that, while well documented within Canadian art discourses, is generally unknown to the wider public. While some photographers covered here - Jeff Wall, Roy Arden, Donigan Cumming, Ken Lum - are familiar, 'international' figures, there remain many artists whose names I hadn't seen or heard since I was a university student back in Newfoundland (and, in some cases, who I was happy to forget).

Of course, there are exceptional photographers here as well: Carol Conde and Karl Beveridge's incorporation of political documentary images into domestic settings, often just visible through a window frame or on a wall calendar; Jin-me Yoon's installations of text and childhood photos that explore her Korean heritage; Mark Leslie's unsentimental, diaristic account of living with AIDs. This is where an overview of Canadian art photography really proves useful, offering an insight into a diverse body of work that all too often doesn't cross south of the 49th parallel. However, Cousineau-Levine has a specific agenda here that goes beyond writing a primer on a select group of artists. She explains her reasons in the introduction, drawing on her experience as a lecturer:

"When shown Canadian photographs alongside those made in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere, whether documentary photographs or portraits or landscapes, the almost universal response of [my] students was that they could see 'nothing' in these images, that there was 'nothing' there."

The attempt to fill this void, to map out an inherently 'Canadian' photographic culture, leads to some smart observations, such as the prevalence of images that feature frames within the picture frame, as if re-presenting or preserving an exterior natural world, in the work of Michel Lambeth or Lynne Cohen. Perhaps less convincing is an attempt to impose a psychoanalytical framework to Canadian photography through the metaphor of the anorexic, a condition that, for Cousineau-Levine, encompasses "the interminable Canadian 'identity crisis'; the country's [...] lack of a firm sense of self; the unrelenting preoccupation with death, entrapment, and flight from the physical manifest in our photographic practice; the Canadian inclination to adopt the 'look' of images from somewhere else [...]" And so on.

The relative merit of these readings notwithstanding, what strikes me is the author's insistence that her students' response is something to be refuted, that the 'nothing' they see in Canadian photography is a failure rather than a virtue. The imposition of a coherent, national character to a range of practices, each stemming from different backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences, feels curiously old-fashioned, and out of step with a globalised, multicultural society. Furthermore, this desire to find a national photography betrays the very insecurity and 'lack of a firm sense of self' that the author criticises in her students. One hardly needs a Canadian equivalent to the Great American Novel or the Young British Artists; it is the ambivalence towards such national qualifiers that, in itself, best points towards the Canadian imagination.

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Everything Has Been Done Before

Murmur Study © Christopher Baker

"Everything has been done before." It is a quote, that if you are attending art school somewhere you will no doubt have heard at one time or another. I'm going to let you in on something: it's not true.

"Everything has been done before" is a way to let you, as a student, know that it is okay if you are working on something that someone else has already explored. But everything has not been done yet. Part of the reason it is not true is that there is a lot out there to make work about. But the other, more important reason, is that both our culture and human behavior are changing drastically and at a speed that is startling. There are all sorts of new behaviors and technologies that can be investigated. For example, there was no art being made with Flickr or Twitter seven years ago because, seven years ago, there was no Flickr or Twitter. Now we have artists like Christopher Baker and his Murmur Study, "that examines the rise of micro-messaging technologies such as Twitter and Facebook's status update," or Erik Kessels' installation at FOAM last year exploring the vast amounts of digital image making and sharing using Flickr. In this installation he printed out every photograph uploaded to Flickr in a 24-hour period. These are new and unique pieces of art. They explore aspects of our human culture that were non-existent only a few years ago.

24 hrs photos installatie Erik Kessels © Gijs van den Berg
As another example, someone like Michael Wolf could never have made his Street View series without the advent of Google's technology. He could have traveled around Paris and made photographs, but that has been done before, many times. He could have tried to explore notions of surveillance; that imagery would have been drastically different. Instead he was presented with a new "thing", saw the way that it could comment on the ever-surveilled nature of our society, and used the "thing" itself to make that comment.

Untitled, from the series, Google Street View © Michael Wolf

These are the arguments I bring up when I hear someone say, "everything has been done before." I cringe when I hear it. Many ideas have been explored, but we, as a culture, are continually moving forward. This constant progress creates new problems and issues that art can attend to. Those that say, "everything has been done before" are resigning themselves to the idea that nothing new can ever be made. I would find it hard to make work, and really what would be the point, if I believed that to be true.

Can I tell you what to do? No. Can I tell you what the next major issue to explore will be? No. But what I can tell you is that if you sit in the edge of what's happening in regards to the progression (and in some cases regression) of our every increasing digital culture and keep your eyes open to the world around you, you will see new avenues opening all the time. I find the most relevant work is made in this space because it talks about how we as humans relate to the world around us, a world that is ever-shifting. So take heart that there is always something new around the corner, waiting to be discovered, and there is always more art to be made.

Evan Baden (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Difference

Since 2007 I have had a side-job teaching at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht (Hogeschool Utrecht). They have a minor in Photojournalism and Pictorial Communication at the Faculty of Communication and Journalism, the only possibility in the Netherlands to study photojournalism on this level. It's a mix of learning how to tell a story in pictures, theory about photography and trying to capture the essence of a newsworthy item. As with all minors, the abilities of the students are very diverse, which is difficult and challenging at the same time. For me it's also a way of keeping in touch with 'normal' higher education. After so many years in art school you tend to think that that's the way higher education works. Believe me, it's not…

This became very clear on the Friday when the weather was freaky and the news channels warned of mayhem on the roads. After cancelling a meeting in the morning I made my way from Deventer to Utrecht for the class at the HU. Not really to my surprise only 7 students out of 21 showed up for class. The Facebook page of the group was filled with excuses about buses not going or other problems. Needless to say I was seriously pissed off.

Of course I did plan lessons and after that had time to spare to talk with the students about their study and how things were turning out. One of the students asked about the difference between the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and the University of Applied Sciences (HU). Oh dear…

I said something that is perhaps pretentious and debatable, but I'm going to repeat my answer here anyway.
I said that the level of self efficacy of the third graders at the HU was the same as the first graders at the HKU. Hence my big frustration with the HU: the teachers and the whole institution are treating all the students there as kids. The University is so large and the bureaucracy so overwhelming that it's hard for students to break free from this and create their own path. So one of the first questions I get when the minor begins in September is, "how many pictures do you want for a good grade?" The first time this question was asked I was stupefied. Now, a few years later, I really can understand where this is coming from. It's the system. Of course not always and not all the time (there are, of course, always mediocre students that try to score points with the minimal amount of effort, also in art schools) but it's a tendency that is recognized by the students and teachers alike. How to create independent, creative (photo)journalists in a system that crushes creativity and independent thinking?!

I can easily plug the video from my last entry, where Ken Robinson explained how we should alter the way we look at education. And not only in primary schools, but on the whole playing field.

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

Friday, 7 December 2012

From The Archive - The Kate Show

Kate and Terry © Terry Richardson

This week much of the press (the British press, at least) has been about a certain 'Kate', her recently announced pregnancy and morning sickness.

So, seeing as it's Kate-week, here's a perhaps even more famous one, Kate Moss. Foam put a show together back in 2006 to celebrate this model, muse and now mother. It also examined how a public personality such as hers can be shaped the media. Something I'm sure the young Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, will be well aware of by now.

The Kate Show ran from 15 September until 14 December 2006.

Jonathan Crawford

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Patriotic Shopping


Is This Place Great or What? © Brian Ulrich
When I was about 10 or 11 I discovered two things that made my teenage life more complicated in school and society. The first was that God and The Bible was a fairytale and the second was that the whole USA deal was bullshit. At that time I was attending a strict Roman Catholic school and living in Argentina, where every governmental decision was dictated to by the American government. I rapidly became disillusioned with the media portrayal of 'living the American dream' whilst behind the scenes they always had their own agenda. America has always intrigued me, this amazing country with vast expanses of beautiful landscapes and full of…shopping malls.

Is This Place Great or What? © Brian Ulrich
Last month I met up with Brian Ulrich in Switzerland, I was really interested to know a bit more about his beautiful book 'Is This Place Great or What?' A great reflection on consumerism in America. As soon as he started to talk about it all my childhood memories came back to me:

Brian Ulrich: I've shown this project and people have said, 'aren't you afraid that the government will come and take you away, because you're talking about this stuff? Patriotism of shopping.' No I'm not afraid…one of the reasons that I'm doing this project is because I hate being afraid. It's not because I hate the place where I live …in fact I love many things about American culture and specifically the American people.

After 9/11 we started to get messages from the media, which had moved away from a grieving process. Most of them were based around fear, built around the idea that 'The Terrrorists' are coming again, don't sleep too deep… along with this came these directives for the citizens of America to go out and fight the terrorists by shopping.

SK: Can you explain patriotic shopping?

BU: The idea was that, especially in NYC, the economy of tourism was hit really hard. Giuliani was the first one to come out and say "come back to NYC, come back to Broadway, spend and it will all be ok, we need to re start our economic engine". And other politicians started to adopt this rhetoric, and of course as it gets reiterated it changes and then all of a sudden the president said, "We need to call on the nation's best shoppers to fight the terrorists". So, you are supposed to use your credit card to go out and buy shit so that it would build the economy and again it became so clear how fragile this economic model is to me.

I was thinking when I started the project that whatever I was going to potentially photograph will be the end of capitalism… like capitalism finally catching up with itself and the economic model being totally unsustainable, just crashing… that the crash wasn't going to be Armageddon but it was going to be: 'WE have to find the solution to the capitalism problem'. But what I didn't realise at that time is that capitalism is more like a virus that adopts whatever it needs in order to survive and grow, so for me that's what these pictures are about.

SK: You include objects and archival material along with your images, can you tell us more about it?

BU: I started to come across objects. Once I wanted to take a picture of a sign and I was really frustrated because I couldn't take an interesting picture of it. I got so angry that I went back one night with a ladder and ripped the thing from the front of the mall and I took it back to my studio and I got a guy to make me a new neon and then I started to show it as a piece. Another thing that I collect are credit cards expired from stores that they don't exist anymore.

Prosperity © Brian Ulrich
I found a huge archive of photographs in the mall and that takes me to another thing, the great prosperity, which was a time in American economic history when the middle class had the biggest growth and the greatest amount of surplus cash. It was right after WW2 up until the 1970s. And then there was a concerted effort to steal money from the middle class to the point where now the middle class has no money. So I started to notice that these press agencies are selling all their old 5x4 negatives on e-bay. And I think the power of them is that they were anonymous pictures, re-contextualised.. What became clear to me was all this great trajectory and that just extended my project backwards. In a sense I was able to photograph the past by collecting these pictures.

Prosperity © Brian Ulrich
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After our conversation I had another look at the book and a quote from the great comedian George Carlin came to my mind;

"…This magnificent landscape that we inherited… well, we actually stole it  from the Mexicans and the Indians, but hey! it was nice when we stole it! it looked pretty good, it was prestine, paradise, have you seen it lately? Have you taken a real good look? Its fucking embarrassing. Only a nation of unenlightened half wits could have taken this beautiful place and turned it into what it is today: a shopping mall, a big fucking shopping mall".

Seba Kurtis (Foam Magazine #25/Traces)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Film &Foam - Marijke Appelman

video still from Closing The Gap, 2012 (video installation with soundscape) © Marijke Appelman
 For the site-specific exhibition, PLOT, artist Marijke Appelman has produced two new works. They are based on the time she spent between Istanbul and Amsterdam during the first week of her residency at &Foam
.
Closing The Gap (video installation with soundscape) and Because It Is About Time (sculpture) reflect on time, space and patterns. They will be shown as part of the Film &Foam programme.

Marijke Appelman (Haarlem, 1979) lives and works in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Her works are based on an appreciation of art and life. Both poetic and straightforward, everyday situations and materials are used in installations, objects, performances and video. The result is a kind of environmental art, but one whose environment is cultural instead of natural.

Appelman's work will be on show from 6 December 2012  until 6 January 2013, with an official opening on 6 December from 17.30 at &Foam, Vijzelstraat 78.

Jonathan Crawford

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Disappearance of Darkness

Art Photo Studio: closed due to retirement, Toronto, Ontario 2005
The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era by the Canadian photographer Robert Burley is a carefully produced and edited collection of photographs that represent the collapse of the analog photographic industry. Over a period of a decade, Burley traveled the world to photograph once powerful companies such as Kodak, Polaroid, Ilford and Agfa spiraling into perpetual decline.

View Of Kodak Head Offices from the Smith Street Bridge, Rochester, New York, 2008, Chromogenic Print, 76cm. x 99cm.

In the first instance, that decline is quite literally signified by the destruction or abandonment of factories that produced photographic paper or film. In parallel to the rise of digital technologies, these products (and the workers that produced them) became victim to a quickly shifting economy that saw no place for 'old' technologies. As people gather to witness the destruction of Kodak buildings in places such as Rochester in upstate New York or Chalon-sur-Saone in France - accredited with being the birthplace of photography - Burley produces photographs that are at once laden with nostalgia as much as they are matter-of-fact statements on an industry in crisis.

Executive Entrance, Building 7, Kodak Canada, Toronto, 2005, Chromogenic Print, 76cm. x 99cm.

The first image neatly foretells the narrative explored in the rest of the book: it shows a 1960s style photo studio with several black and white portraits on display in the shop window. The photographs are produced and framed with great care, making ordinary subjects look like Hollywood film stars. Yet a tiny sign at the main door reads 'Art Photo Studio is closed due to retirement. Owner'. The closed-down photo studio is perhaps less emblematic for the decline of the photographic industry, than it is a symbol to the respect and pride this industry once commanded. The Kodak Head Office in Rochester, for instance, towers over the rest of the landscape like a cathedral of commerce. Below its magnificent structures, however, lies a city visibly scarred by the collapse of a once proud company.
Burley's photographs also reveal the internal struggles that Kodak et al were experiencing in the built-up to the collapse of the photographic industry. Adjacent to the executive entrance of a Kodak building in Toronto is a image display that shows a woman wearing a yellow raincoat as she stands on the edge of a cliff looking out towards the sea. Quite clearly, Kodak was preparing itself for a storm as captured in this photograph from 2005. Directed at the executives entering the building, the sign reads 'The next big idea is right in front of you', almost as if to beg them to save the decline of the company. It was not to be. A thousand dollar investment at the height of Kodak's stock price in 1997 now buys little more than a cup of coffee. If the woman hasn't drowned in the sea, she is barely holding on to the edge of the cliff.

Awaiting the Implosions of Buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester, New York, 2007, Chromogenic Print, 76cm. x 99cm.

It is with considerable irony that all the photographs in the book were produced with precisely the declining technology that it also seeks to represent. Technical notes at the end of the book give a breakdown of the analog processes used. In a sense, the book represents a meta-photography - or a photography about photography. The images suggest that photography has underwent such momentous and wide-reaching shifts that the very definition of a 'photograph' is also shifting. Is it an image that is framed and put on display? Is it an image that is tangible and exchangeable? Or is it an image that is posted, blogged, re-blogged and shared? Allow a child to play with an iPad, allow it to scroll, zoom and flip photographs, then the categorization of a photograph as a still image even becomes debatable. In as much Burley's work represents the end of an era and the collapse of an entire industry, his work also alludes to a future that has yet to be determined.

Darkroom, Building 3, Kodak Canada, Toronto, 2005, Chromogenic Print, 76cm. x 99cm.

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

Monday, 3 December 2012

Inside The Camera's Belly

Untitled, from Mythologies, 2012 © Esther Teichmann
 A giant camera stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Its blue and yellow exterior echoes the city's pastel hues of fairground nostalgia. She expects it to be shut, but finds a sleepy man wrapped in a blanket behind the box office entrance. Handing him a dollar, he springs into action, reciting its history, taking her through black double doors into the camera's belly.

Untitled, 1932  and The Phenomenon of Ecstasy, 1933 © Brassai / Prayer, 1930 © Man Ray

The woman walks into darkness, eyes adjusting to the change in light whilst the man describes the apparatus' mechanisms. The lens in the centre of its conical roof focuses the image that is thrown onto the mirror, that rotates in a slow motorised movement, projecting upon the concave circular dish in the room's middle. By the time his automated explanation is complete and he has left her alone, her eyes have adjusted.

Untitled, 2012 © Christopher Stewart

The eggshell lacquered projection bowl now holds the most exquisite image-tiny crystalline waves break silently over jagged cliffs, water droplets spray in minute detail. It is more perfect, more breath-taking and so much more mesmerising than the harsher landscape outside. She wants to climb up into the dish, its circumference fitting a curled up body almost exactly. She could sleep here, waves crashing over her skin, dancing on her eyelids, covering her with its continual circular motion. She realizes once again that she could happily never leave, would prefer to live inside a camera, inhabiting the secluded intensity of the pro¬jected spectral image.

Untitled, from Mythologies, 2012 © Esther Teichmann

She will come back here one day and he will stand behind her. Together they will inhale the image in silence, breath suspended, waiting for that moment when the late afternoon sun hitting the water, dances across the mute waves, flooding everything inside her in an overexposed glow of too much light.

Esther Teichmann 2012 (Foam Magazine issue #32/Talent)


In David Knowles novella, The Secrets of the Camera Obscura*, the giant camera nestled on top of Point Lobos in San Francisco, is at the centre of a tale of love and obsession**. Returning always to the special powers of the camera obscura and its ability to both focus more clearly whilst simultaneously transforming the world beyond it, we are taken on a journey through history which links vision to desire and murder***.

San Francisco Camera Obscura, 2012/ Life Magazine, March 1st 1954
"The fog rolls in from the ocean and the camera screen goes gray…. Of course, the stories always involved the giant camera.

Her body was discovered by a tourist at Lookout Point nearly one month ago, lifeless on the concrete path, decapitated, only a few hundred yards from the camera. What's even more disturbing is the fact that I saw her on the cliffs the day she died. Only hours, as it turns out, before the crime took place. I watched her through the camera obscura.

…The only clues are the black letters, GIANT CAMERA, painted on the east wall. In those words lies the  key to understanding the machine, for when you pass into the small dark chamber you have entered the insides of a camera, a camera in which you are the film, or more precisely, your memory is.

…The difficult part comes in describing the emotions which gazing down at the screen evokes. I'm not sure one could adequately write down this phenomenon. Really, it falls under the category of you have got to see it for yourself."

Untitled, 2012 © Christopher Stewart

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* David Knowles, The Secrets of the Camera Obscura, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1994, extracts from p.11-13.
** www.giantcamera.com 1096 Point Lobos, San Francisco, CA 94121.
*** Detailed Close-Ups of Far-Off Scenes Life Magazine, March 1st 1954.
"The camera obscura is a centruies old invention, often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Some years ago an encyclopedic description of the device caught the eye of Floyd Jennings, a San Francisco businessman, who built one as a tourist attraction on a cliff overlooking Seal Rocks. Basically , his camera obscura is a 20x20-foot darkened room with a 150-inch focal length lens through which light from the outdoor scene enters to form a lifelike image on a white-topped table. The effect is startling… And since there is no extraneous light, the colours are revealed more visivdly and faithfully then they normally appear outside."