Thursday, November 28, 2013

Paris Photo findings #3: Miguel Rothschild

Still from The Messiah Fights Back, 2007
One thing I noticed at the last Paris Photo was the increased quantity of "mixed technique photography" compared to past editions. By "mixed" I mean photography being altered by non-digital manipulations, like paint and all sorts of materials applied on the surface of the prints. Not that this wasn't previously shown, but I had the feeling that the amount of work experimenting with photographs is growing in numbers. Video was also quite present this year, a confirmation that photography is more and more an idea, rather than a specific kind of object.

Miguel Rothschild is one of those authors who until the recent past would have been called "an artist who uses photography", rather than a photographic artist. The old distinction has always been used to sort of establish a scale of increasing degrees of freedom in the use of the photographic medium: how much somebody would deviate from a straight photography (meant in the broadest possible sense) and venture into other artistic territories.

Günstiger als Gursky (Cheaper than Gursky), 2008

Günstiger als Gursky (Cheaper than Gursky), 2008 (detail)
This kind of distinction is losing more and more sense in the context of a fair of photographic art, and we can finally start focusing exclusively in appreciating the quality of the work rather than speculate on what can be defined in one way or another. Plus Rothschild's work gives an interesting contribution in understanding how the photographic image behave, bringing us back to the physical essence of photography by making all sorts of material interventions on the image: creating a constellation with hundreds of needles over a C-print, cutting tens of holes in photographs and leaving the resulting confettis lying at the bottom of the images, inside the frame; applying fishing lines, straws or small metal balls.

The fault is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings (W. Shakespeare), 2012

The fault is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings (W. Shakespeare), 2012 (detail)
Digital often takes something away from the prints themselves, struggling to gain the same kind of depth that an excellent analog print can deliver: Rothschild's playful hybridisations help us remember the fact that a photograph is first and foremost a real and tangible object.

Jesus Saves, 2010
All images © Miguel Rothschild


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paris Photo findings #2: Tod Papageorge, 'New York Nights' (UPDATED)

Tod Papageorge, New Year's Eve at Studio 54, 1978
(Now with more info about the work. Scroll down for the update)

"My first question, one that many photography people are curious about: what took you so long to publish a book?"

"The easy answer is that nobody asked me".

Too bad I did not take some shots myself, because the photographs by Tod Papageorge I have seen at Paris Photo are nowhere to be found on the Internet. On the outside wall of the booth of a gallery I cannot even remember (Pace/McGill? Not many of the exhibitors had Papageorge in their roster, and I had no luck on the fair's website looking for more info) there were perhaps twenty or more gorgeous black and white prints from the author of the 2009 Deutsche Boerse shortlisted Passing Through Eden, a series of pensive scenes of daily life inside Central Park from the late '70s.

During the same years Papageorge was photographing new yorkers chilling out in the green, he was also spending his nights in the exact opposite environment, the crazy parties of rich and spoiled VIP's attending the Studio 54. Those photographs became part of a wider body of work called New York Nights, and the selection at Paris Photo was focused on the famous disco club, with the beautifully flash-lit images arranged in a cloud of prints, showing all sorts of upper class debauchery with the most elegant kind of snapshots you can imagine.

Papageorge himself explained in an interview how he tried to merge the 35mm vibe with a higher level of plasticity of the image, inspired by the work of quintessential night-time wanderer Brassaï:

"I thought that the prints of his I’d seen at the 1968 MoMA retrospective described a kind of ideal photographic state between the more schematic drawing of the small 35 mm camera and the mechanical, exhaustive descriptiveness of large-format view cameras. It also seemed to me particularly apt for photographing people".

Tod Papageorge, New York Nights, Studio 54, 1977-78
In an another interview with Alec Soth Papageorge elaborates more on the subject: 

"T. S. Eliot coined the phrase “the disassociation of sensibility” to describe what he understood to be the separation, or even abyss, between feeling and intellect in John Doone’s poetry. What I felt I saw in Brassai’s photographs was a remarkable integration of those two things; in other words, a superb intellect unselfconsciously married to a profoundly sensuous apprehension of the world that expressed itself, in his photographs, as a perfect union of form and (dense literary) content. THAT’s what captivated me about his work, not sex per se, or sex perverse, but his great-hearted/great-minded reading of the physical world. I might add that, after seeing an exhibition of mine in Paris, his wife wrote to me to say that Brassai saw in me a “fils espiritual,” his spiritual son–a remark that I treasure."

There could not be a better way to explain that union of almost paparazzi-approach and richness of details and depth that Papageorge shows in those Studio 54 photographs, where the decadence of all those beautiful and intoxicated bodies looks almost like a dance, filled with grace and at the same time extremely unsettling and ultimately sad. Larry Fink did something similar with his party photographs, also shot with a combination of black and white and flash, but personally I don't think he ever reached the same level of intensity attained by Papageorge with his nights at the Studio 54.

So no chance to see them on the Internet, we were saying. Well there is one way: the Harvard Art Museums has a good selection of those photographs available for purchase or study, although the website only offers small thumbnails for preview. I haven't tried the procedure yet, but it is definitely worth going through filling some forms to try and have them sent to you to be able appreciate them, even if just on a computer screen.

Tod Papageorge, Metropolitan Museum of Art Opening, 1977

UPDATE - The gallery which showed Papageorge's Studio 54 installation at Paris Photo contacted me to provide some information about the work: Köln-based Galerie Thomas Zander presented an installation of 39 never-before-shown photographs made by Papageorge between 1978 and 1980 at Studio 54, which you can see in the photograph below as it was shown in Paris:

Tod Papageorge, Studio 54, New York, 1978-80
(installation by Galerie Thomas Zander at Paris Photo 2013)
© Tod Papageorge, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
From Papageorge's accompanying notes:

"Perhaps only photographers would be interested in this, but I think it’s relevant to note that all of this work was made with medium-format 6 X 9 cm cameras (which produce a 2 ¼” x 3 1/4“ negative), most of them with an early version of a machine that the manufacturer, Fujica, later developed into a popular model. This beta model, however, was relatively heavy in comparison to the later version and, even worse, had an extremely inaccurate viewfinder. That, along with the heavy flash that I attached to it to make these pictures, resulted in a process in which the odds seemed stacked against actually making good pictures... I wasn’t interested in using my smaller 35mm Leicas for this work, having been inspired ten years earlier by a retrospective exhibition of Brassai’s 1930s photographs—made with an early (Voitlander) version of a 6 X 9 cm camera—that I’d seen at the Museum of Modern Art. I hoped to capture in my own photographs something of the actuality of flesh and sweat and desire that I recognized in Brassai’s, and felt that this odd Japanese camera, for all of its problems, would be the best way that I could do it."

"Flesh and sweat and desire"

The more I learn about Papageorge, the more I like his work and his persona.

After all, he is the one who a few years ago said: “If your pictures are not good enough, you aren’t reading enough.” (via)


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An interview with Joachim Schmid

Joachim Schmid, Archiv #73
"I’m pretty much finished with the publishing world, because I don’t have any respect for those people. It’s really sad how the publishing world changed during the past 20-30 years. Most publishers are not publishers anymore, they are money-collecting agents. They make books which are financed by museums or galleries or sometimes even by the artists themselves. Their curatorial or editorial authority is extremely questionable. It’s a completely corrupt world." 

It's always refreshing to speak with found photography godfather Joachim Schmid: clear ideas, outspoken, genuine.

I had a pleasure to have a long conversation with him last September during this year's SI Fest, you can read it all on Klat magazine (scroll down for the English version).



Monday, November 25, 2013

Paris Photo findings #1: Humberto Rivas

Londres, 1978
"I decided to quit painting, and it was a decision I took in one day. I burnt all my paintings."

Argentinian-born Humberto Rivas devoted himself entirely to photography in the mid-'70's, at the same time he left his native country fallen in a state terrorism regime to relocate in Spain, living in Barcelona until his death in 2009.

Coimbra, 1994
Rivas is mostly known for his intense black and white portraiture: he used to define portrait photography as a "battle" between the photographer and the model, the struggle to try to go beyond the mask people try to present and reach something beyond their intentions. But Rivas also created a remarkable body of work made of landscapes and interiors, where an excellent use of both light and darkness create eerie sceneries which anticipate the work of atmospheric artists like Gilbert Fastenaekens and Awoiska Van der Molen.

Barcelona, 1982
Rivas died in Barcelona on November 7, 2009, two days after receiving a Gold Medal for the Arts. You can read a long interview with the artist here (Spanish language).

Santiago de Compostela, 1999


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Six years after, and nothing has changed

Thomas Ruff, Portrait (S. Weirauch), 1988
Two articles six-years apart talk about the same thing: people in contemporary photography don't smile, they just present a blank stare to the camera, often standing up doing nothing, in a slightly uncomfortable and somehow passive pose. Nothing changed in between? Is sadness still the best way to make portraiture a valuable candidate to decorate the collector's walls?

Here's looking at you. Engaging yet ambiguous, deadpan photography provides a refuge from emotion in a time of worry, The Boston Globe, November 4, 2007.

Don’t Say Cheese: Why Do the People in Contemporary Art Photographs Look So Blank? Feature Shoot, November 14, 2013.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guillaume Simoneau, 'Love and War'

Pubblicato su Linkiesta l'11/9/2013

Con il termine confessional art si intendono quelle forme dell'arte contemporanea che mettono al centro una dimensione eminentemente biografica. Categoria molto trasversale che attraversa la scultura, l'arte concettuale e tocca anche la fotografia, la sua origine viene attribuita a Louise Bourgeois, la scultrice francese famosa per le sue opere che trasfigurano luoghi e momenti della sua vita privata. Sue eredi più o meno ufficiali sono Tracey Emin e Sarah Lucas, che hanno fatto una bandiera della messa a nudo dei recessi dell'identità femminile e della critica alla cultura patriarcale. In ambito fotografico poi in prima linea ci sono i cahiers di archeologia sentimentale di Sophie Calle e l'opera di Nan Goldin, la sua cronistoria senza filtri della propria esistenza quotidiana, un reportage intimo portato avanti per decenni.

Per quanto la confessione artistica venga considerata un territorio prevalentemente femminile, esistono anche casi di elaborazione estetica di un vissuto personale fatti da uomini, e il libro Love & War del fotografo Guillaume Simoneau è uno degli esempi più recenti. Pubblicato dall'editore inglese Dewi Lewis, il libro si presenta come una raccolta di frammenti fotografici di una storia d'amore, quella tra il fotografo e Caroline Annandale, una ragazza conosciuta da Simoneau durante un workshop di fotografia nel 2000. Le immagini ci portano avanti e indietro nel tempo tra il 2000 e il 2009, senza darci modo di comporre un quadro completo. Quello che sappiamo è che qualche tempo dopo l'11 settembre 2001 Caroline va in Iraq con l'esercito americano, la loro relazione si interrompe e in qualche modo ricomincia, anche se scopriamo che Caroline nel frattempo si è sposata con un altro uomo. Lo stesso Simoneau si limita a descrivere il lavoro come “una documentazione istintiva e sporadica della complessità della vita sentimentale di una giovane sergente dell'esercito americano, prima e dopo essere stata in Iraq".

Guillaume Simoneau, Wearing army uniform for me, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008


Thursday, September 12, 2013

SI Fest #22 - Giorgio Di Noto

The Arab Revolt by Giorgio di Noto is a series of images made from screenshots of videos documenting the revolts from 2011 in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, taken with instant film. This year at SI Fest he will present those images together with a new installation, Tunisi 8.06.2013

While in The Arab Revolt those distant places were photographed using digital traces like stills from video, but recording them on the analog surface of the instant film, with this new chapter of the work Di Noto went to Tunis, and created a composition of images from the smart phones of people who took part to those revolts, projecting their LCD screens on a roll of direct positive photograhic paper. This way they created a mosaic of digital images on a sheet of paper: something like reproducing the latest imaging technology with the first photographic process ever invented, in a few words.

The Arab Revolt di Giorgio di Noto è una serie di immagini fatte a partire da screenshots di video che documentano le rivolte del 2011 in Tunisia, Egitto e Libia, realizzate con pellicola istantanea. Quest'anno al SI Fest presenterà queste immagini insieme a una nuova installazione, Tunisi 8.06.2013.

 Mentre in The Arab Revolt quei luoghi erano fotografati da lontano, usando tracce digitali registrate su un supporto analogico, questa volta Di Noto è andato a Tunisi e ha creato una composizione di immagini prese dagli smart phone di persone che hanno preso parte alle rivolte, proiettando le foto sugli schermi dei loro telefonini su un rotolo di carta fotografica positiva. In questo modo insieme hanno creato un mosaico di immagini digitali impressionate sulla superficie fotografica, combinando la più recente tecnologia di produzione delle immagini con il primo procedimento fotografico mai messo a punto, in poche parole.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

SI Fest #22 - Max Pam, 'Supertourist'

Australian photographer Max Pam often deals with ideas such as space, distance and journey, creating photographic journals where he mixes different kinds of pictures and writing.  SI Fest will show his latest work Supertourist (also a book), a journey "covering the four corners of the planet" where Pam blends sacred and profane, beauty and misery, a travel chronicle where every image could easily be the document of a real place or a real person as well as the hallucination of Pam's larger-than-life touring around the world.

I lavori del fotografo australiano Max Pam parlano di spazi, viaggi e distanze, diari per immagini dove utilizza diversi stili fotografici, spesso insieme alla parola scritta. SI Fest presenterà in anteprima italiana la mostra del suo ultimo lavoro Supertourist (anche un libro), un viaggio "ai quattro angoli del mondo" dove Pam mescola il sacro e il profano, la bellezza e lo squallore, dove ogni immagine potrebbe esssere il documento di un luogo reale e di una persona reale, oppure rivelarsi un'allucinazione nata dal turismo iperbolico di Pam.

All images © Max Pam 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The One Percent

The Noorderlicht Photofestival just opened its 2013 edition in Groningen, with six photographic shows among which shines the group exhibition To Have and Have Not. Curated by Wim Melis, the show addresses the issue of money and power, with a selection of 21 artists focusing on the many faces of the infamous 1 percent of the population possessing most of the aforementioned.

Installation view of To Have and Have Not - Image credit Jan Stradtmann
Last spring I proposed something with a similar concept for the Landscape Stories Wealth, and expanding the research with a series of posts on this blog, with spin-offs inspired by the same theme. Since there are some names showing both in my picks and in the Noorderlicht shows and at the same time several different artists in each of the two respectively, you can have an extended look at the story by comparing the two groups from here and there.

Il Noorderlicht Photofestival ha appena inaugurato la sua edizione 2013 a Groningen, con sei mostre tra cui spicca la collettiva To Have and Have Not: curata da Wim Melis, l'esposizione affronta il tema del denaro e del potere con una selezione di 21 artisti, ognuno dei quali indaga un aspetto di quel famigerato 1% della popolazione che li possiede in larga maggioranza.

La scorsa primavera ho lavorato a qualcosa di simile con il numero di Landscape Stories Wealth, e poi continuando con una serie di post su questo sito dedicati a spin-off ispirati allo stesso tema. Poiché ci sono alcuni artisti che compaiono sia nella mia selezione che in quella del festival, accanto a molti diversi tra i due line-up rispettivi, guardare i due gruppi tra qui e lì crea una sorta di selezione allargata sul tema.

Mari Bastashevski, State Business, 2012


Monday, September 2, 2013

SI Fest #22 - Joachim Schmid

"Photography itself is most frequently nothing but the reproduction of the image that a group produces of its own integration." (Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, 1965)

"What I would suggest to a lot of young people who want to become photographers in a post-modern world is that they can become photographers of images. They are the ones who frame what is important on Flickr. They can say that these 50 images need to be looked at today so that we are not swamped by thousands or millions of images to look at. That is a new kind of job definition: a picture editor or curator in a Web 2.0 world who would filter the imagery as a service to the public. [...] Photography has been considered not to be an intellectual field by many people. The writers are supposed to be more intelligent, which I think is a mistake. They both have to be intelligent." (Fred Ritchin, 2008)

What Joachim Schmid has been doing with photographs for the last 25 years or so could be easily described as something in between the above quotes: the endless creation and recreation of a universal archive of found photography, some sort of atlas of how we make images for our own private pleasure, duties, accidents.

SI Fest this year will show two different bodies of work by Schmid: Archiv (1986-1999) and Bilder von der Straße (1982–2012). The first one is long sequence of panels on which Schmid has collected different images gathered on the basis of analogies of subjects, composition and technique, what he defined as an “ironic taxonomy of popular photography”. The second one, which means "Pictures from the Street, is the fruit of Schmid's 20-year-long collection of photos found on the street around the world. As he found his 1000th, the work was finally complete. Archiv will be shown with a wide selection out of the 726 panels composing the work, and Bilder von der Straße will be presented as a video installation.

"La fotografia stessa, sovente, non è altro che la riproduzione dell'immagine che il gruppo offre della sua integrazione." (Pierre Bourdieu, La fotografia. Usi e funzioni sociali di un'arte media, 1965)

"Quello che suggerirei a molti giovani che vogliono diventare fotografi nel mondo postmoderno è che potrebbero diventare dei fotografi di immagini. In fondo sono loro a decidere quello merita attenzione su Flickr, potrebbereo essere quindi loro a dirci 'queste sono le 50 immagini da vedere oggi', così non verremmo indondati da migliaia o milioni di immagini. Avremmo un nuovo tipo di figura professionale: un photoeditor o un curatore per il mondo del web 2.0 che filtri e selezioni le immagini come un servizio per il pubblico. [...] Da molti la fotografia non viene considerata una pratica intellettuale, solo di chi scrive si pensa che debba essere intelligente, ed è un errore". (Fred Ritchin, 2008)

No.629, Berlin, November 1999
Negli ultimi 25 anni Joachim Schmid ha portato avanti una ricerca sulla fotografia vernacolare che si situa a metà strada tra le riflessioni citate qui sopra: l'infinita costruzione di un archivio universale di istantanee trovate, come un atlante dei tanti modi in cui privatamente facciamo fotografie per il nostro piacere, necessità, dovere, oppure casualità.

No.1000, Gallipoli, March 2012
Il SI Fest quest'anno presenterà due diversi progetti di Schmid: Archiv (1986-1999) e Bilder von der Straße (1982–2012). Il primo è una lunga sequenza di pannelli in cui Schmid ha raccolto fotografie affini per soggetti, composizione e tecnica, generando quella che lui ha definito "una tassonomia ironica della fotografia popolare". Il secondo, il cui titolo significa "Fotografie dalla strada", è il frutto di vent'anni di fotografie raccolte per strada da Schmid on giro per il mondo, e concludendo il lavoro alla millesima foto trovata. Di Archiv sarà esposta una selezione delle 726 tavole che compongono il lavoro, mentre Bilder von der Straße verrà presentato come una video installazione.