Exhibition – Museum Pocket edition

After my terribly long summer break I made a few resolutions: Exercise more and go to exhibitions and art related events more often, at least once a week. And of course study harder! The exercising part has been going really well and because of that I find myself much more focused and motivated while studying and reading long and winding academic texts. It all works well together.

Regarding the exhibitions, I realize that there is just so much to do in New Delhi! Last week I visited the exhibition In the Shadow of the Pyramids, the week before that I went to Bikaner house, a beautiful colonial palace that hosts a wide range of exhibitions on a permanent basis. This day there was an exhibition with personal stories about the partition, photographs from India after independence and a very small, but amazingly clever installation of Dayanita Singh, called Museum Bhavan – pocket museum.

Let me just show a photo of the installation instead of trying to explain what it looked like!

This work shows that when you categorize objects, connect them and show them next to each other, the individual peculiarities come out, even though they’re the same objects. Through this the beauty of the mundane is shown, giving it museum value. From there they are transformed in foldable books, that can be shown at home, bringing a museum exhibition back home. I like how this process of representation and location changes the aesthetic value everyday objects.

In the other room was one photograph that find particularly striking:

 

Somehow, the elements of the room all seem to ‘tie together’ and come together in the painting on the wall, through form, texture and lines. For me it is a real example of composing a photograph in such a way that brings out the best of a space, actually changing it through its black and white appearance, bringing out an atmosphere that might not even be noticed when taking the photograph itself. Absolutely stunning!

 

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Exhibition – In the Shadow of the Pyramids

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In light of studying the place and effect of documentary photography in the exhibition space, Laura El-Tantawy’s In the Shadow of the Pyramids was very insightful and thought provoking. It is a very strong example of how an exhibition space can provide a space and setting that empowers the documentary value of the work and touches its viewers beyond the visual experience, leaving a profound impression and insight in the theme and subject matter of the work. I have been a great admirer of Laura El-Tantawy for a long time and was very excited to hear that her work was being exhibited in New Delhi.

The exhibition consisted of different constellations of images and sound, showing images of El- Tantawy’s childhood in Egypt, political uprises taken in Cairo between 2007 and 2013 and life streaming from Tahir square, connecting memories, hopes and reality in a very personal way. The images are very impressionistic, blurry and grainy and have a much more personal voice than regular photojournalism. In the accompanying booklet Rahaab Allana questions: When such an aesthetic is linked to the question of the photographer’s intent and function, the question arises as to the place and relevance of Laura’s atmospheric, evocative, lyrical images in a media-dominated world that almost invariably upholds and valorizes ‘factual’ representation as the legitimate expression of ‘truth’. Can subjective, poetic media documentation be trusted? (Allana, 2017)

I think they can, but maybe for different reasons than for the purpose of getting factual information. Because the images are so vague, feelings and emotions that entrenched the political uprises come across very strongly. Maybe because I was not distracted by specific details in the images I felt the urgency, desperation and hope. It almost gave the same sense as when you’re dancing in a party. Movements blur, you become more introspected, but on the other hand very aware of the emotions and atmosphere around you. So in that sense I think I can trust that the emotions that are triggered in me touch the emotions that the people on the square were feeling. I read them in the images and feel connected.

On the other hand, when I read the booklet and looked at the images again, but this time with captions and in chronological order, I felt a deeper understanding and became even more aware of the desperate struggle that the country has been going through. It is interesting to notice such a difference in interpretation depending on the amount of information and context in which I look at photographs.

Knowing that the Arab Spring did not last long and has not brought the future the Egyptians hoped for, the images carry a stronger sense of nostalgia and a heavier load than if we had not known the outcome. The sacrifices we see, the hope we read and triumphant joy turned out to be for nothing, a dream shattered, a country disillusioned.

Because Laura El-Tantawy includes images from her childhood, the viewer becomes aware that the photographs are much more than a documentation of a historic event. We see the shattering of the photographer’s dreams and hope, the longing for a time when a place seemed happy and innocent, in which dreams of change came true but were soon after shattered. As is written in the exhibition’s opening line:

The beginning meets the end.
Here I choose to bury my most valued possession.
In a place I once called home. (El-Tantawy, 2017)

Laura El-Tantawy mentioned in her speech that the Arab Spring is forbidden to be talked about or taught in schools. There is a strong censorship on this recent history, actively quieting the voices of protest. However, this exhibition is proof that it actually did happen, together with thousands of other images and documents that are still shared online. Interestingly, the political attache of the Egyptian embassy was at the opening of the exhibition as well. I am not sure how he experienced the work or whether he was touched by it, let alone whether it changed his opinion about it. However, it does show that elevating documentary photography in the art scene and therefor in higher social circles provides an entryway for the influential upperclass to experience it, snobby as it may sound. I believe it is very positive for different outlets of photography, the media, social media and art scene, to live next to each other and therefore reach an as wide audience as possible.

Text on exhibition wall:

El-Tantawy’s most impressionistic views embrace the spectacle of urgency in which the humanbeing becomes an unforgettable prism of crisis, fear, endurance, hope sorrow and other states of emotional extremity.

Such acts of bearing witness also raise the question of the discursive after-life of images – theirre-purposing, re-versioning and dissemination through continually circulated digital media. One positive outcome of such participation in Egypt was the establishment of activist-driven citizen journalism organizations such as Masireen and Thawramedia, which further substatiate the power of digital platforms, a fact confirmed by one newspaper declaring unequivocally: ‘Facebook is the revolution’s headquarters’. Clearly, the coalition of such activist forums into dynamic media alliances after the government had disconnected telephone and internet corroborates social media’s potential as a mode of opposition intervention and critique.

When a people’s revolution implodes, disintegrates or fails through being crushed by a regime or through internal fracture, any digital documentation of the distortions and abuses of power – globally circulating testimonials that cannot be seized, denied, erased or proscribed – becomes a multiple utterance of a particular truth. Technology may be used by oppressive regimes to pulverize protest, but it can also be eventually used against them through the freely distributed image. The critical domain of image reception that El-Tantawy touches upon is the importance of such counter-archives at a time of immense visual democratization and distribution. (Allana, 2017)

El-Tantawy, L. and Allana, R. (2017). In the shadow of the pyramids. [Photographic Installation Booklet] New Delhi: Art Heritage.

TAHRIR SQUARE: JOURNEY: IN THE SHADOW OF THE PYRAMIDS by Laura El-Tantawy. [online] Intheshadowofthepyramids.com. Available at: http://www.intheshadowofthepyramids.com/journey/tahrir-square/018_LET_egypt-book/ [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017].

Gordon Parks

Over the summer I visited an exhibition of the work of Gordon Parks: ‘I am You’ – Selected Works. This exhibition showcased a wide selection of the work of Parks, centered around different themes and times in his life. It was set up in such a way that the viewer was somehow ‘cornered’ in different themes, which really helped at focusing on the style and message of particular moments in Park’s career. Parks calls his camera his ‘weapon of choice’ against racism, injustice and poverty, but doesn’t use it in an aggressive way. On the contrary, his images retrieve their power from their subtlety and composition. The multilayered photographs slowly raise an awareness through adding elements after a very strong first impression.

A good example of this is the image Ondria Tanner and her Grandmother Window Shopping

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Ondria Tanner and her Grandmother Window Shopping. (1956). [Photograph] The Gordon Parks Foundation.
At first I see a young girl looking at a dress that she might want to have. She is looking and pointing her finger at one that she likes. Her grandmother however, is looking down and her expression is very different. Instead of an eagerness to want something, she has reconciled with the impossibility to buy what she would like. Her protective gesture shows as if she wants to shield her grand daughter from wanting to dream beyond her possibilities.

Next I notice that all the dolls in the shop are white, accentuating the separateness of black and white, the superiority of the one and impossibility of the other to reach it. What I love about it though is that, happy and beautiful the dolls may seem, they are fake and Ondria and her grandmother real. Their humanity and worth is what remains.

Subtle as the message of this image may be, it is exemplary of the deep divisions in society that Parks photographs. Because of Parks’ ability to show the humanity of all, without becoming stereotypical, racial or victimizing, his photographs are a very effective weapon indeed. We see his subjects as human beings, we are all the same.

Exhibitions: Naarden Photo Festival

I just got back from a holiday in The Netherlands. I had a great time, which was made even better with a few visits to museums and the Naarden Photo Festival. I met up with fellow student Maurice, which was fun and a great opportunity to talk about our course work, study practices and photography in general.

I’ll write a few more posts about the exhibitions I visited, but wanted to kick off with a some reflections on the work of a few photographers that I saw at the Naarden Photo Festival. This yearly festival attracts thousands of visitors every year and has fantastic photography on display all throughout the quaint old town of Naarden. It was very inspiring to see so many different styles and genres and interesting to see how photographers approach the same subjects in different ways. Below I will point out a few of the highlights of the festival:

Bas Losekoot – Familiar Strangers

In his series of street photographs, Losekoot portrays strangers in such a way that we recognize them. By a using the ambient light in a very sophisticated way (reflections of light from buildings and concrete) and focal lengths the images have a cinematograpic feel, which draws the viewer into the images, holding still at the personality of the complete strangers that we see. The compression that the use of the the long focal lengths bring about connects elements in the frames that are otherwise disconnected and also connect the viewer in scenes that are completely unknown. I am intrigued at the way Losekoot is able to bring out the personality of these people, it requires a certain focus and contemplation amidst the business of the metropolis he is in.

Chris de Bode – I have a Dream

In this fun and colourful series of photographs Chris de Bode shows a wonderful cooperation between his subject and himself as the photographer. He lets children play out their dreams in their own environment. I wonder how he set up the shots, whether the kids brought their own props and how he interacted with them. It is obvious that Chris is able to establish a bond of trust in which the children felt free to dream and play. In interesting composition, using the ambient light in really creative ways, I feel drawn into the dreams of these kids, even though the photos are set in the often dire situations the children live in. An other exposition of Meredith Hutchinson showed a similar subject and approach, but comparing them, I really enjoy de Bode’s work most. It seems that both photographers have given the children the freedom to direct their photographs, but de Bode’s creative skills are much stronger, which is very clear in the result of their work.

Saskia Boelsums – Dutch Landscapes

In a series of beautiful, painterly landscapes, Boelsums shows how the typical skies and clouds that we know from the Dutch Masters have been changing because of climate change. Boelsum’s use of colour, high contrast and reflections remind us of the Masters, but they all have a threatening feel to them, mainly because of the dark skies and deep colours. I was mainly struck by the beauty of the images and recognition of the landscapes of my home country. Maurice and I both made our own iphone version of a landscape in the style of Boelsums. It turned out a bit heavy on the editing side, but it was interesting to experiment with the contrasts and colours in order to give the image a painterly effect.

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Naarden Vesting – Exhibition Site Saskia Boelums

Sheng-Wen-Lo – White Bear

In a series of photographs of white bears in captivity in zoos all over the world, Sheng-Wen-Lo touches on our ideas of how we define ‘nature’, the control of humans over nature and the ethics of keeping animals in captivity. I found it interesting that through the use of repeating subjects the themes of the photographs became stronger. I realized that even though some zoos are more pathetic than the others, all animals are kept in captivity for the enjoyment of us, or nowadays also for the protection of the species. The photographs question what is natural, not only concerning the natural environment the animals are supposed to live in, but also the environment we have built for ourselves to live in. These photographs show how disconnected we are with nature, by forcing nature into captivity, and recreating a natural world for ourselves that is very superficial.

Stacii Samidin – Worldwide Societies

In these series Stacii Samidin has photographed different communities worldwide in order to break stereotypes. However, I find that the elements that he photographs only confirm and enforce the stereotypes that these communities have; black, poor and violent. The photographs are a bit sensational and don’t let me in on the personalities or deeper layers of the communities. I think this is a pity and was really put off by the photographs. However, the photographs did trigger me to think about how you can break stereotypes in the first place. A visit to a Gordon Parks exhibition two weeks later gave an answer to that. More on Gordon Parks in my next blog…

Rene Clement – Seasoned

I absolutely loved this work. Through the use of layering photographs of the same tree taken in different seasons, Clement is able to focus on the special character and timelessness of trees. They remain throughout the seasons and stand through history. Just love this experimental approach and am eager to do something similar.

FotoFestival Naarden 2017. (2017). Home – FotoFestival Naarden 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.fotofestivalnaarden.nl/en/ [Accessed 28 Jul. 2017].

Exhibition Metropolis – Martin Roemers

Last week I went to the exhibition Metropolis, by Martin Roemers and was able to talk to him for a little while. I had already seen his work before on Lensculture and was immediately struck by the subject matter and Roemers’ way of portraying city life in a metropolis. Through the use of slow shutter speed and shooting from an elevated angle, the viewer gets to see movement, but is able to focus on the individual that is present in the street, trying to make a living, sell something, wait or living there.

In cities like this, the crowdedness can be so overwhelming that is difficult to see the individual and notice life that takes place. I really like how Roemers is able to focus on that, to show the street as a theater in which every person plays a role. When looking at the images, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the business, although it is obviously there. The blurry parts trigger my imagination to which the sharper elements give hints. It brings the city alive on a personal level. It forces me to become engaged and not be put off by the overwhelming number of people, noise, smell and threat that otherwise might have been conveyed in the image.

I had a chance to talk to Martin personally after the exhibition. I asked him about his practice and what really stuck was when he told me the importance of focusing on what you really want to photograph. I struggle with being distracted and constantly asking myself whether I should do more family photography, or invest time in getting commercial clients. Roemers is able to live of his individual work completely, which I find very inspiring. I know there are only a few able to do this, but still, it is good to think about which direction I want to go, so that I also can be better aware of the distractions on my way.

Martinroemers.com. (2017). Martin Roemers Photographer. [online] Available at: http://www.martinroemers.com/work.php?serie_dir=01Metropolis:%20ASIA [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

A Japanese Connection

First, I looked at the images of Peterson, Sobol and Moriyama without reading the articles, just to get a first impression of their work and the connections between them. I noticed they all have a highly personal, unconventional style, when it comes to both subject matter and use of camera. The images are high contrast Black and White that don’t hold on to conventional compositional rules or techniques. Images are grainy and blurred and bring about a very confusing, challenging response with the viewer.

What comes across are the raw emotions of the photographers themselves, how they perceive their reality is leading. I don’t feel the photographers ever considered if an image might be too shocking, inappropriate or sensitive. Conventions of the societies they work or live in are secondary or protested against.

All articles mention the use of the photographic language of the photographers and how their own experience of reality is the most important subject. The nihilism and existentialism is leading throughout the work. The importance of self in a failed society, the preference of working from an emotional rather than theoretical framework.

Now that I have looked at the work and background of so many different photographers throughout this part, I realize that the basis from which a photographer works, whether theoretical, emotional or conventional has an incredibly profound impact on the work.

Gbadger_sayonara.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/gbadger_sayonara.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Frenchkiss.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/frenchkiss.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Tokio_sobol.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/tokio_sobol.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017).

Street Photographers

After reading the part on street photography in the reader I have been looking at the work of numerous street photographers and spent hours online, checking out their websites, read interviews and be inspired. A few of them stood out most, mainly because of their distinct style, innovative techniques and subject matter. Looking then at my own work I feel that there is so much that I can explore and practice, especially when it comes to using different photographic techniques and post processing.

I started my search on 10 Most Influential Active Street Photographers and ended up checking the work of the photographers mentioned there. The site defines ‘influential’ in terms of the amount of followers in social media, their distinctive style and innovative approach. First thing I noticed was that there are only men on the list and I wonder why. Are there less female street photographers in general and is that because of safety issues or just that they feel more drawn to other types of photography? Or is it that their work is not well represented in the photography community in the first place? Anyway, food for an other post!

John Free is well known for his philosophical views on street photography and his online courses on Youtube. His photographs have strong contrast, are BW and have surrealist influences. There’s a strong influence of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, sometimes almost exact copies of their photographs, which put me off a bit. The images have no captions and mainly focus on the connections between the visual elements in the frame. Separate subjects form a whole because of the interplay between time and place. Compositionally his work is very strong, but again, I find that he has let himself measure up against other photographers and therefor maybe has lost his own style and personality in the images.

I watched a few films on Bruce Gilden’s website in which we see him at work in the streets and talking about how he photographs, what drives him and the subjects he is looking for. Gilden has a very distinguished style; direct, close and in the face. He uses flash and a short focal range, which produce very unforgiving, detailed images of the people he meets.  ‘The viewer will always feel he’s a participant because I’m working so close‘ and ‘Flash helps me to visualise my feelings of the city, the stress, the anxiety that you find here … I look for characters, things that make an impression on me, not the average person.’

Gilden doesn’t care about ethics while he is working. He searches for the periphery, he feels good with the people he photographs. It takes a lot of guts to photograph the way he does. First of all, for bluntly photographing people with a flash in public and running the risk of them getting really angry with them, second for showing humanity in its most extreme. I don’t think I could photograph like this, because I just feel it’s not respectful, which blocks me. But I do wonder if I should force myself to just do it sometime, not be hindered by ethics, what is right or wrong, but photograph everything that catches my eye? It might turn out to be a freeing experience that might expand my own work as well.

Lee Jeffries on the contrary, ‘gives people’s likeness a greater meaning and imbues them with the iconic soul of humanity‘. Jeffries doesn’t want to exploit or steal photographs, but capture ‘real emotion’. He calls his work spiritual iconography and brings an almost otherworldly atmosphere to his portraits. Part of the proceeds of Jeffries’ photographs go to funds for the homeless. Jeffries’ work reminded me a bit of Avedon’s portraits; we don’t see the surroundings the people have been photographed in, he focuses mainly on their features with a very distinct personal style. I actually think it’s his style that gives the images the iconic sensation and not so much the people themselves. Is this a case of telling a beautiful story around a certain technique, or really wanting to show the people for who they are? If so, when and how do we actually do that in the first place? If he had used the same techniques with people who are not homeless, would the images have looked similar, would the viewer experience the same emotions?

Whatever it may be, I do think his portraits are very beautiful, Jeffries is able to bring out striking features through shallow depth of field and high contrast. His focus on the eyes give a direct emotional connection and sense of awe that I find very touching. I would like to practice using the same techniques in my portraits.

Boogie also photographs the periphery of society, but takes it to the extreme. Looking at his images in a chronological order, I notice that in his earlier work he goes out looking for subjects who are most of the time invisible in society, spends time with them and photographs them. Most photographs of the gang member are quite staged, the people show their coolness, their violent facade and stress the preconceived ideas of danger and anarchy that most viewers already have of them. Boogie photographs drug addicts in their homes, while they are using drugs. There are many close up shots of the addicts injecting themselves. Contrary to the gang photos, it seems almost that they are not aware that they are being photographed, we see kids being neglected, and the photographer wandering from one place to the other, without being directed by the subjects themselves.

Even though I have a lot of respect for the fact that Boogie is able to connect with these people, the dangers he faces and braveness of photographing what he wants, I do find his images a bit stereotypical; they confirm our ideas of gangs, their violence and behavior, the confirm society’s judgement of addicts not caring about anything but themselves, neglecting their kids and living in filth, women in Thailand are prostitutes. It would have been interesting to see more of the human side, so that a viewer can rise above its preconceived ideas, gain understanding and make an emotional connection.

A photographer that I had not looked at before that really surprised me, is Charampalos Kydonakis, aka Dirty Harrry. His surrealistic, weird photography is surprising and very refreshing. Kydonakis shows an unending creativity, using of different techniques in his photography, blurs, long shutter speed, use of flash and post processing. In his interviews, Kydonakis is very matter of factly and doesn’t delve into his motives, philosophies or ideas behind his work. He doesn’t hold on to one particular style, is innovative and very matter of factly. In his bio he states that ‘the more I shoot, the more I realize what I want from photography and at the same time the more I get confused about what I want …’ This sounds very familiar! I find it quite freeing to see people at work with so many different styles and ways of photographing. It shows that there don’t have to be boundaries to the way I photograph and develop my own work. It is an ever ongoing process without a destination, which is just fine to me.

John Free photography (no date) Available at: http://www.johnfreephotography.com (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Lee Jeffries (no date) Available at: http://leejeffries.500px.com/home (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Behrmann, K. (2016) Dirty Harrry ‘photographic thoughts’. Available at: http://artofcreativephotography.com/streetphotographers/dirty-harrry/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Papaspyropoulos, S. and Fullam, D. (2017) The 10 most influential active street photographers. Available at: http://www.streethunters.net/blog/2014/03/26/10-most-influential-active-street-photographers/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Photographer – boogie photo portfolio (2017) Available at: http://www.artcoup.com/blog/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).