Tag Archives: photography

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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Photographing Constructed Worlds: The Barbican

As the Barbican Art Gallery’s newest exhibition opens we speak to co-curator, Alona Pardo about the works on display and the relationship between photography and architecture

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Julius Shulman, Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig), Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust

Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age forms part of the Barbican’s Constructing Worlds season, featuring over 250 works from 18 prominent photographers across the globe and offering audiences the opportunity to contemplate on the progression or demise of our urban landscapes.

How do photography and architecture interconnect?

Architecture and photography have a really long and shared history. The earliest known surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He took it from an upstairs window of his estate in Les Gras, France, across the rooftops, and the primary reason for him doing that is that buildings are static. As cameras have developed exposure times have shortened, but back in the day, the exposure time was very long – several hours in fact – so you needed something that didn’t move. A building then, was of course perfect, because it didn’t move or respond to the natural elements. Although it’s a genre that’s not been widely researched or given a lot of prominence, there’s a complicity between these two mediums. The exhibition itself starts in the 1930s when both photography and architecture changed very dramatically and photography suddenly became a tool for architects to use to disseminate their vision of the world.

So photography became a way for architects to seek wider recognition?

Absolutely. Architects understood and harnessed the power of photography from a very early point. Most people wouldn’t travel to see a building, so the only way to promote their vision was to photograph it and have that image disseminated. Editors preferred to have photographs in their magazines because they were far more evocative and less dull than blue prints or plans. I should clarify though that in the show, photography’s not there to accurately describe a building, it’s tracing the social history of the 20th and 21st century as expressed through architecture. Architecture became incredibly symbolic in those periods.

How is the exhibition organised?

Chronologically. It starts in 1930s with a really fantastic female photographer called Berenice Abbott – a woman of formidable resolve who returned to New York after living in Paris for several years, where she attempted to get the archive of Eugène Atget published. Whilst she was there, she was struck by the rapid pace of change and transformation that was taking place in the city. It’d grown from 19th century city into a modern metropolis within a period of a decade and she was absolutely overwhelmed. But she was also quite critical of what was going on: the race to modernise. So the exhibition charts a chronological pathway, but themes and interests interconnect across different generations of photographers as well as different geographies.

Why did you decide to take a global approach?

We wanted to tell different stories. Architecture is everywhere, and it impacts all of our lives. There are sections within the chronological order that deal with different themes or stories. The first looks at photographers such as Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans, who were working in the Deep South, looking at early typologies of road side architecture and timber churches. Then there’s Julius Shulman, who’s kind of the archetypal architecture photographer, taking glossy, sexy, poppy images of LA. Then alongside that, there’s a section which looks at the vernacular: Ed Ruscha looking at parking lots; Stephen Shore looking at elevating the quotidian against vast expanses of American landscape. Shore’s interested in what interrupts the view. The street furniture, for example – all those things that we take for granted as part of our urban and suburban landscapes.

There’s Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurry, soft edged photographs of iconic buildings such as the World Trade Centre, which has an added poignancy in that it’s no longer here. These buildings are so famous, so impressed on our minds that we don’t even need to see an accurate reproduction of the building to know what we’re looking at. They’ve transcended their function to become part of our cultural language.

The exhibition claims that the photography uncovers ‘hidden truths’ – what’s meant by that?

It’s the idea of unveiling, de-mystifying and reflecting on the world around us rather than shrouding it in beauty. It’s about Architecture becoming a metaphor.

Would you agree that the public’s attitude towards architecture has changed in recent years?

I think so. There’s a move towards places of architectural brutalism – an attempt to understand why they were built and why they were designed as they were. We’re beginning to reflect more on how our cities, public and private spaces are formed. In a city like London, we are forever talking in an indirect way about architecture, whether it’s through the topic of housing or cooperate buildings, so there’s a constant discussion about how the world around us is being defined.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age runs from 25 September – 11 January

This article was originally written for and published by PORT: http://bit.ly/1unzi5j

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Alice Rainis: Ongoing Projects

London/Paris based photographer Alice Rainis has a way of finding beauty in the everyday – it’s an enviable talent and often makes her pieces very poignant. She’s got a number of long term projects which she adds to every now and then, such as the series of Polaroid Portraits, Music Artists Off Stage or Late Nights Early Mornings (well worth flicking through), but the most recent of these and the most interesting is XXI Century which features portraits of the creative or inspiring people who have crossed her path. She adds a new image every two weeks with a one line blurb beneath telling you who’s who and what’s what. 

 Check out her full portfolio on her website: http://www.alicerainis.com/. She’s a cool kid.

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Zack Seckler’s Aerial Abstracts

After spending a good 2 hours this afternoon watching a slideshow of photographs from my mother and her partner’s trip to Africa, you’d imagine I’d had my fill of landscapes, but then I came across Zack Seckler.

Flicking through Seckler’s online portfolio I have to admit is a bit disappointing; some of the photos are impressive, others amusing, but a lot are, I hate to say it, just a bit too “American”. When I say “American”, I’m not taking a swipe at the nation’s identity, what I mean is it’s all a bit too commercial and smiley for my liking. Too staged, too bright, too happy… Seckler’s Aerial Abstracts, on the other hand, are utterly entrancing. The landscapes are simultaneously warped and enhanced from a height to form beautiful, vibrant patterns. Looking at his photographs is like flying over exotic, magical lands – it’s an incredibly humbling and awe inspiring experience. The vastness of the landscapes is intensified by the absence of human life and the scale of the few animals dotted across the frame…

Seckler’s at his best when people are left out of it, but then again maybe landscapes are too.

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To see the full series head over to Seckler’s website: http://www.zackseckler.com/about

 

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Fish and Cocks: Ernest Goh

Photographer, Ernest Goh has a great sense of humour. His series of animal portraits, brilliantly named ‘The Fish Book’ and ‘Cocks’, capture the titled animals in very humanistic and hilarious poses against stark, bare backgrounds, making it all seem rather grand…

I’ve always thought chickens and fish were rather odd looking creatures, there’s something unsettling about the way they look at you, as if they’re plotting something…

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Goh’s work just confirms my suspicions.

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Check out Goh’s website to see some of his more serious stuff, it’s not all about fish and cocks: http://www.ernestgoh.com/

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London Art Fair Discovery 2: Rosa Basurto

Probably the most impressive and interesting thing about Rosa Basurto is that she’s a self-taught photographer. That may not seem like much on paper but when you look at her work it’s really quite awe inspiring. I can’t pretend to know a huge amount about the technicalities of photography (most of my holiday snaps turn out blurry), but I like to think I can recognise the good from the bad, the great from the average and in my books, Basurto’s work definitely falls into the category of ‘the great’. Her photographs re-imagine real landscapes and scenarios in mysterious, intriguing and even at times, amusing ways. It’s playful but also seems sort of poetic and serious at the same time. I can’t help but feel, for example, that her image of a sky full of birds behind giant, looming red poppies has some very poignant significance…

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‘Habitat’ and ‘Mirando al cielo’ are amongst my favourite series of Basurto’s work but all of it is brilliant in it’s own way. Head over to her website to see fully appreciate her talent and versatility: http://www.rosabasurto.com/

Also watch this moving video of Basurto’s photography. It’s very cool indeed:

 

 

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London Art Fair Discovery 1: Karine Laval

I’ve only just returned to the list of names I jotted down at London Art Fair back in January (rediscovery is so exciting) and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing the best of the bunch on here. First up is New York based photographer, Karine Laval. I’ve always been fascinated by images of the human body and water so it’s no surprise that Laval’s series of poolside photographs grabbed my attention. Her images of bodies submerged under water are utterly compelling in their focus on the natural process of distortion and intense colour.

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They make a vibrant contrast to much of Laval’s other work which heavily utilises light to create sunlight saturated images that are bare by comparison. This, however, is no criticism. There’s something very intriguing about the whiteness of her island images, for example, where the sand and sky are barely separated by a thin strip of blue sea and seem to go on forever… A landscape of dreams. At least that’s what it looks like to me – it’s hard to imagine such brightness with wind and rain slapping against your window.

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View Laval’s full portfolio here: http://www.karinelaval.com/. It’s also well worth checking out her videos via  vimeo. There’s a few very hypnotic and brilliant shorts including this one of a professional dancer performing underwater:

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