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.