Massimo Vitali

Massimo Vitali has had a long whirlwind romance with photography. Starting off in the Sixties as a photojournalist the Italian artist came to be recognised as a “Concerned Photographer”  i.e. someone who uses their pictures to educate and change the world, not just record it.  Driven by humanitarian impulse if you like, rather than vain inspiration. Admirable stuff. Yet, at the beginning of the Eighties Vitali and his camera hit a rocky patch. He grew increasingly suspicious that the still snapshot lacked the capacity to reproduce the subtleties of reality he felt and saw. And so, he switched to film. The affair was short lived and before long he returned to his camera. “Photography as a means for artistic research” or better described as jet setting to far flung places to spy on semi naked bodies in the name of art… Though perhaps all photographers are secret voyeurs.

Here is just a little taster of what he does…

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http://www.massimovitali.com

Alternative Realities: Olya Tsoraeva

I’m fascinated by animators. The best thing I could form out of play dough as a child was “rock cakes” or if i was feeling especially creative, a very ill-proportioned stick man. I suffered and still do suffer from the fatal combination of impatience and stumpy, clumsy fingers. “No,” my friend kindly told me, “you could never be a hand model. Unless it was for modelling bricks on a construction site.”

I’ve never seen Olya Tsoraeva’s hands but i imagine them to be long and elegant, quick and nimble. Surely they must be to create such mini masterpieces out of plasticine? And I know she’s got patience. For her stop motion film, in which she remoulded Thom Yorke’s face in an alternative video for Radiohead’s “Creep”, she spent a year in darkness: four months fiddling around with his features and nine handcrafting the animation. That’s perseverance verging on obsession.

“Don’t you lose inspiration after the first six months?” I asked an artist once.

“Yeh sure you do,” she replied “but you just keep doing what you’re doing.”

“Like a job?”

“No, not like a job. Like everyday life.”

That stuck with me. It’s a relief to know that you don’t have to be wildly creative every single day to make something wonderful. Inspiration can be a little exhausting. As I took it, don’t give up if you’re struggling to see why you started.

Here’s ‘Skinless’ written and directed by Olya Tsoraeva. It’s my favourite of her small but impressive portfolio.

Keep an eye on what she’s up to here.

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Photographing the Photographic Image: Anne Collier

Anne Collier is an unusual type of photographer in the sense that she takes photographs of existing photographs. Largely, of famous women role models, Marilyn Monroe, of course, amongst a few lesser known feminine starlets of the past. Yet it’s not as straight forward or as unimaginative as it sounds. Collier holds her images quite literally at arms length, working with not just the image itself but with the background on which it appears: a frame, magazine, book, poster, a blank wall or textured surface. It has a distancing effect and totally readjusts our perspectives of well known work (reminiscent of Fiona Banner’s curated exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery here in London). A lot of her work, unsurprisingly, focuses on the “gaze”, forcing the viewer to reassess the way we view not just images but advertisements and people themselves. This naturally plays into the interesting and ever going debates surrounding female objectification and sexualisation. Taken out of their commercial context, what do these images mean and how should we view them?

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Enfant Terrible: Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken isn’t a name you come across often in the mainstream world of photography. Partly because he steered clear of commercial work and partly because of his reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ (loosely translated as the troublesome child). Like a lot of great artists, he refused to play by the rules, photograph nice people and pretty landscapes, instead he aimed to photograph all aspects of reality – the best and the worst of human nature.

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“I report on young, rebellious scum with pleasure … I rejoice in everything. Love. Courage. Beauty. Also blood, sweat and tears.”

Born in Amsterdam, der Elsken started off his career with the intention of becoming a sculptor before moving to Paris and discovering ‘la bohemes’ of Saint-Germain-de-Prés who would become the focus of his photography. Though much of his work purports to be documentary, it remains closely intertwined with the theatrical and surreal reflecting on the drug hazed bohemian society in which he lived. That said, the pictures are clearly rooted in the everyday rather than the transcendent, recording ‘characters’ in their intimate daily routines of drinking coffee, dozing and daydreaming. These are people who really existed despite polite society’s attempts to believe otherwise…

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der Elken also made a pretty hypnagogic film, Death in the Port Jackson Hotel, which features the star of the artist’s most famous photography series, Love on the Left Bank, Vali Myers, and is worth a watch if you can handle drawn out interviews with doe eyed hippies and bizarre sequences of toads mating.

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Fiona Banner: Stamp Out Photographie

Millie Walton speaks to British artist Fiona Banner about her Stamp Out Photographie exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, which shines a new light on lesser-known classics

How did you go about selecting the artwork you wanted to include?

I’ve actually had the title of the exhibition in mind for ages; it’s something I stole from the Archive of Modern Conflict, a photo-based archive in West London that I’ve been working with. The first time I went there, I saw this poster with the words ‘Stamp Out Photographie’ and I took a photo of it and put it up on my studio wall. I enjoy that polemic, it relates to my own work as an artist. I play around with film and the photographic image through language and the verbal, always moving around the image, but not using it directly. Although I work with text, I haven’t rejected the image – I’m exploring my ongoing dysfunctional relationship with the photographic and filmic image.

So, in choosing pieces to include in this display, I was exploring that relationship and thinking about different ways of seeing reality, and how we confuse reality with the filmic and photographic. I hadn’t seen any of the work in flesh until very recently, I selected all the works for this show from small, photographic Stamp Out Photographie printouts. That was how the engagement started, and the final staging of the works references that. It’s a show about the printed image – or the image as reference versus the actual image and the slippage between the two – in our understanding, and in our perception.

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Bridget Riley, Stretch, 1964 © Bridget Riley 2014 Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Image courtesy V-A-C collection

How did you go about that?

For this exhibition, I’ve transformed the gallery into a theatrical space. I suppose every gallery space is a kind of theatre for art, but here that is exaggerated through the lighting. Instead of the works being evenly lit, the lighting constantly changes from cyan, magenta and yellow to black, so your perception of the works is constantly manipulated. The light in the room refers to the colour system associated with printing: CMYK. Also within that the works go from visible to hardly visible at all. It sets up a perceptual game.

On paper the works sound very disparate, coming from different times, movements and locations. How did you find a way of logically connecting them?

There’s a dialogue between the works themselves and the characters featured. For example, there’s this huge portrait of Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, which is in conversation with Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jackie Kennedy within the display. The characters kind of create this alternative dialogue, which isn’t at all curatorial in the formal sense. Like I said, it’s a performance space so perceptions are constantly changing and that’s concentrated by the ever-shifting lighting and by this great soundtrack by Russian artist, Olga Chernysheva. It’s very theatrical and filmic.

So the works are all connected?

Yes, in a way. In this environment they all speak of the theme, which is universal and eternal. The oldest image is the Monet, the daddy of impressionism, which seemed to be the very beginnings of fracturing images and binding them in new a new language – the language of perception. Then there’s the Gerhard Richter piece, which is much more recent, but again there’s this ongoing interplay or conversation about the image, about gender and about photography. All the displayed art asks similar questions. How do works or images exist in our perception and memory? How do our minds alter reality? How do our eyes alter reality? Those questions, and the relationship to photography, is so strong that it almost overpowers the actual work.

We’re very familiar with many of the images on display because they’ve been reproduced in the media, or they’ve entered into popular culture. The Richter piece, Kerze, was used as an album cover for Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. How does that affect the way we view those particular artworks? There’s a struggle for an authentic moment, an original moment with viewing artworks, but really we do not know what that is.

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Fiona Banner. Photograph by Mischa Haller

What are some of your favourite pieces from the display?

Well, I’ve never really understood Christopher Williams’ work. I’ve always been drawn to it for that reason, so it’s good to spend time with it in person and not through a computer screen. The big portrait of Picasso is just so interesting because it’s such a large image of a famously small man. It’s also surrounded by the myth of the artist and the history of the photographic portrait.

It’s hard to choose my favourite because, as the space is constantly changing, the images are never in a clear light. Nowadays, photographs are like words or air – there’s no materiality or stability and I think that is reflected in how I’ve dealt with the environment. It’s like the whole exhibition is a moving picture.

Stamp Out Photographie runs at Whitechapel Gallery until March 2015

This article was originally written for and published in Port Magazine: http://bit.ly/1Co4Fk5

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One to watch: Olivia Bee

Brooklyn based photographer, Olivia Bee is, depressingly, only 20 years old. She’s achieved more in her few years than most of us will in a lifetime. She’s shot for The New York Times, Vice and countless designers whilst her personal series are achingly gritty, exposing a lifestyle that would make the coolest kid envious. ‘Lovers’ is well worth flicking through if you’re in a romantic, dreamy mood, but ‘Everyday’ is slightly more relatable for me at the moment – at least it’s images of all the kind of things I like to think I’m doing like sneaking out of windows, spray painting and participating in half-naked group hugs in the sea. That’s the life.

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Keep track of Olivia’s photographic antics here: http://www.oliviabee.com/

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Behind the lens: Nadav Kander

It may be embarrassing to admit this, but I hadn’t even heard of Nadav Kander until last week when I was at the Constructing Worlds exhibition at the Barbican and I found myself standing mesmerised in front of his photographs taken along the Yangtze River.

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In keeping with the exhibition’s theme, the photographs focus on architecture or rather on the impact of industrialisation on the natural landscapes. One of the most intriguing aspects of the images is the prevailing mist, making the scenes look almost magical or otherworldly. I commented on this to Alona Pardo, one of the show’s co-curators, during an interview for PORT magazine and she told me that the mist is, in fact, pollution. So not quite so magical then. It’s an idea which really interests me though: the illusion of beauty. It stresses the importance, in this case, of understanding a landscape’s history and development as tourists and emphasises our ignorance, but it also demonstrates the peculiar type of beauty to be found in contamination, the industrial and the ugly, which isn’t really an illusion at all. In China, the beauty is born out of transience. The landscapes are changing daily due to the rapid pace of development, meaning that Kander’s photographs can never be taken again, those places no longer exist. So that’s where the ghostly feeling of another world comes from.

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nadav-kander-chongqing-VII really recommend heading to the Barbican to see some of the images in person, you can also view Kander’s whole portfolio including some great portraits on his website: http://www.nadavkander.com/

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Visual experimentations with sound

The music video to ‘We Need Nothing to Collide’ by London based producer and DJ Russ Chimes is completely mesmerising. Brightly coloured strips of light stream across a background of mundane landscapes in a way that is both hypnotic and strangely unsettling. In one scene the light snakes out of a dark open doorway, like an ominous yet seductive threshold to an alternative world. It’s fitting with the track, which possesses the infectious beat of house music and the increasingly unnerving build of repetitive sounds and lyrics. It sets you in a trance. Speaking of which, I think I’m going to watch it again.

Watch it for yourselves here:

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