This week I saw the Q&A with the director of the documentary 'Close Encounters', a film about the American photographer Gregory Crewdson. In this informative piece, we are shown the cinematic scale of his photographic shoots, where we see the anxiety, the loneliness and paranoia of people. Inside each carefully, obsessively composed scene, we glimpse some of the secrets we, as a people, hold deep within ourselves; of its heaviness, pulling its character down under the weight of its own matter.
And, like the painter Edward Hopper (clearly one of his biggest influences), we see the disconnection, the gulf that exists between people, of the essential aloneness of what it is to be human; where we are born, live and die alone within the central nature of our being, viewing the world outwards, from our own perception and sense of self.
Most of Gregory Crewdson's work is shot at twilight, where the light takes on another quality; something mysterious, mesmerising, an otherworldly feel. If it is not shot at magic hour, then it is taken at night, where dreams and nightmares crash together, enveloping each scene in a world that resembles David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet' - a dark, ugly underbelly seething from under the surface of the gardens, surrounded by their white picket fences of superficial normality. And, like Edward Hopper, we are shown moments where something dramatic, out of the ordinary, terrifying even, has taken place, or is about to burst into being. With his pictures we are left with the realms of our imagination to fill in the blanks, where his imagery burns itself into the inside of our minds like a laser, etching itself vividly on the backs of ones eyes - the detail so sharp, so rich and textured, unsettling.
His images are like nothing else I have seen in photography, something so much closer to a Hitchcock movie; a peeling back of the surface, a revelation to the suffering of psychology within this fragmented world, where we seem to stand together, and yet so apart. We know one another, but are strangers at the same time. This is a place where secrets take form in an exterior world, manifesting from secrets and fears, and where each frame is fixed onto large format film - and there, within his work, we catch a glimpse into the frailty of modern existence, of what it is to think and to despair, to be afraid and cut off from the essential unity of life and matter.
"Emotion or feeling is really the only thing about pictures I find interesting. Beyond that it is just a trick."Christopher Anderson
Beautifully intimate, close, tender, revealing, Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson reveals interactions; moments of people with other people, framed within with their chosen landscape, which becomes a kind of extension of them, as they seem to burst within the frame, making so much noise and yet, at the same time, they can be so quiet, gentle, meditative.
My dear friend, and mentor, Nick Ballon, has recently had the news he'll be represented by Bonakdar Cleary, along with six other fantastic photographers. You can see a selection of Nick's work on their website, here.
Here is a wonderful example of an interactive, photography and video project by the Canadian artist and filmmaker Kevin Lee Burton, titled 'God’s Lake Narrows'.
Here is what the New York Times wrote about it:
"The impetus for 'God’s Lake Narrows' — a personal, multilayered story produced by Canada’s publicly financed National Film Board — was the notion that few people aside from Mr. Lee Burton can envision a “classic northern town.”
It’s very much a question of access. “If you’re in New York,” Mr. Lee Burton, 32, says in the interactive, “you’d be 3,156 kilometers away from God’s Lake. All things considered I’m going to bet you’ve never visited.”
With virtually no economy, the reserve depends heavily upon the government for financial support. Because of the shortage of housing, he and his family shifted from one home to the next, living with relatives. School stopped at the ninth grade. At 15, Mr. Lee Burton — who was born to a Cree mother and a white father — had no choice but to move south to attend public school.
“God’s Lake Narrows,” which was created and produced by Mr. Lee Burton and a sizable team, tries to break down the stereotypes often associated with native reserves."
One of the photography shows I regret missing last year was that of Paul Graham and his 'mid-career retrospective' at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery, of which the following piece of writing, written by the gallery itself, is worth quoting for an insight into his work.
"Through renowned photographic series such as the A1, Troubled Land, New Europe or American Night British artist Paul Graham presents vivid portrayals of people and places. This comprehensive survey of over 25 years of work demonstrates his innovative approach to documentary, reinventing traditional genres of photography to create a unique visual language.
In the early 1980s Graham transposed the American genre of the road trip, exemplified by artists such as William Eggleston, to the less glamorous terrain of Britain’s A1 revealing its unexpectedly cinematic potential. He has gone on to use journeys – across Europe, Japan and America – to immerse himself in the landscapes and unconscious rituals of societies. The everyday scenarios he reflects are also embedded with a complex iconography. The hand that an immaculately made up Japanese girl waves across her mouth evokes a society anxiously over-invested in surfaces; under a hot grey Pittsburgh sky, an African American gardener mows the grass verge of a car-park, traversing back and forth, going nowhere.
Arrestingly beautiful, Graham’s photographs transform the banality of a social security office or a suburban lawn into compelling scenes. Yet for all the immediacy of his saturated colours and large formats, these pictures are also about what cannot be seen. ‘I realised that concealment… has run through… my work, from the landscape of Northern Ireland, and the unemployed tucked away in backstreet offices, to the burdens of history swept under the carpet in Europe or Japan. Concealment of our turmoil from others, from ourselves even’. This definitive show includes over 100 photographs as well as Graham’s book works and is accompanied by a comprehensive monograph."
Paul Graham has also written a couple of interesting pieces on his website, one of which I would like to share with you, below, which puts forth an interesting perspective on how a lot of photography is not championed by the art world due to a complexity that is not always easy to sum up in a single sentence..
'The Unreasonable Apple'
Presentation at first MoMA Photography Forum, February 2010
This month I read a review in a leading US Art Magazine of a Jeff Wall survey book, praising how he had distinguished himself from previous art photography by:
“Carefully constructing his pictures as provocative often open ended vignettes, instead of just snapping his surroundings”
Anyone who cares about photography‘s unique and astonishing qualities as a medium should be insulted by such remarks, especially here in 2010, in this country, in this city, which has embraced photography like no other.
Now this is maybe just an unthinking review, but what it does illustrate is how there remains a sizeable part of the art world that simply does not get photography. They get artists who use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts, who 'deploy' the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work. But photography for and of itself - photographs taken from the world as it is - are misunderstood as a collection of random observations and lucky moments, or muddled up with photojournalism, or tarred with a semi-derogatory ‘documentary’ tag.
This is tremendously sad, for if we look back, the simple truth is that the majority of the great photographic works of art in the 20th century operate in precisely this territory: from Walker Evans to Robert Frank, Diane Arbus to Garry Winogrand, from Stephen Shore travelling across America in Uncommon Places; Robert Adams navigating the freshly minted suburbs of Denver in The New West, or William Eggleston spiralling towards Jimmy Carter’s hometown in Election Eve, nobody would seriously propose that these sincere photographic artists were merely “snapping their surroundings”.
So what is the issue? The broader art world has no problems with the work of Jeff Wall, or Cindy Sherman or Thomas Demand partly because the creative process in the work is clear and plain to see, and it can be easily articulated what the artist did: Thomas Demand constructs his elaborate sculptural creations over many weeks before photographing them; Cindy Sherman develops, acts and performs in her self-portraits. In each case the handiwork of the artist is readily apparent: something was synthesised, staged, constructed or performed. The dealer can explain this to the client, the curator to the public, the art writer to their readers, etc. The problem is that whilst you can discuss what Jeff Wall did in an elaborately staged street tableaux, how do you explain what Garry Winogrand did on a real New York street when he ‘just’ took the picture? Or for that matter what Stephen Shore created with his deadpan image of a crossroads in El Paso? Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity knows they did something there, and something utterly remarkable at that, but... what? How do we articulate this uniquely photographic creative act, and express what it amounts to in terms such that the art world, highly attuned to synthetic creation -the making of something by the artist- can appreciate serious photography that engages with the world as it is?
Now, please do not get me wrong, I admire the work of Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall and Thomas Demand - I have zero problems with it, and it is emphatically not an either/or situation. Nor should you misunderstand me in the other direction: I am not arguing for some return to photographic fundamentalism of Magnum style Leica reportage 35mm black & white work or whatever - far from it, for we are clearly in a 'Post Documentary' photographic world now. Both of these disclaimers not withstanding, I have to say that the position of ‘straight’ photography in the art world reminds me of the parable of an isolated community who grew up eating potatoes all their life, and when presented with an apple, though it unreasonable and useless, because it didn’t taste like a potato.
Am I ‘Tilting at Windmills’ here? Perhaps so, but as with the great Don – Cervantes that is – it is to make a point, earnestly, yet with good humour. The point is certainly not the art world versus the photography world, because it is not apples or potatoes, anymore than it is sculpture or painting. The point is that we need the smart, erudite and eloquent people in the art world, the clever curators and writers, those who do get it, to take the time to speak seriously about the nature of such photography, and articulate something of its dazzlingly unique qualities, to help the greater art world, and the public itself understand the nature of the creative act when you dance with life itself - when you form the meaningless world into photographs, then form those photographs into a meaningful world.
Thankfully, as the glass clears, it has become apparent just what an incredible achievement Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand or Diane Arbus or Robert Adams accomplished back in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, and for that we must be grateful. For the great exhibitions at the Met, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and of course MoMA itself; for the books, the catalogues, the enlightened essays: I thank you. But... what of those who work today with equal commitment and sincerity, using straight photography in the cacophonous present? I will not name names here, but for these serious photographers the fog of time still obfuscates their efforts, and the blindness j’accuse some of the art world of suffering from, narrows their options. It means their work will almost never be considered for major exhibitions like Documenta, or placed alongside other artists in a Biennale, or found for sale in high level contemporary galleries and art fairs. This does not just deprive the public of the work, and the work of its place, it denies these artists the self-confidence that enables them to grow, to feel appreciation and affirmation, not to mention some modest financial reward allowing them to continue to work. It is also, most importantly, seeing the world of visual art in narrow terms. It is seeing the apple as unreasonable.
So, what is it we are discussing here - how do we describe the nature of this photographic creativity? My modest skills are insufficient for such things, but let me make an opening offer: perhaps we can agree that through force of vision these artists strive to pierce the opaque threshold of the now, to express something of the thus and so of life at the point they recognised it. They struggle through photography to define these moments and bring them forward in time to us, to the here and now, so that with the clarity of hindsight, we may glimpse something of what it was they perceived. Perhaps here we have stumbled upon a partial, but nonetheless astonishing description of the creative act at the heart of serious photography: nothing less than the measuring and folding of the cloth of time itself.
There are some truly remarkable photographers out in the world right now; each one possessing a unique style unto themselves. From going through the photographers I've listed here I've been kept inspired and in awe of this art form, and of how it can be utilised to express oneself in what seems a near infinite amount of ways. And so I wanted to share with you some of these discoveries, to point you in the direction of these marvels, following on my my previous post 41 INCREDIBLY INSPIRING PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITES (with a single post to the ever humorous Martin Parr, taking it up to 42).
At the FLOWERS EAST GALLERY, in Shoreditch, is a collection of work from the photographer Michael Wolf. Primarily the images shown are from China and Japan, with these colossal prints of buildings, consisting of a seemingly uncountable amount of floors, all stacked up on one another. One instantly feels claustrophobic, which is a theme that seems to run throughout his work. There are a number of images from his series 'Tokyo Compression', where we stand safely on the other side of subway doors, free to move about on the outside, whilst looking inside where bodies have been rammed together, and again packed tight like the apartments in his large-scale pictures. And yet, in these images, there are some beautifully quiet moments, as if some of them have been suspended in time, frozen; dream-like, ethereal, and held in place behind the condensation of the glass.
With Michael Wolf you are given the ultimate ticket of voyeurism, the chance to stand unseen, and to gaze at miniature, contained worlds, small pockets of living spaces encased behind glass.
An interesting video interview with the British photographer Simon Roberts, as he talks about the "anthropological study" of his pictures, and in particular the layers of history, time and the different classes that can be seen woven throughout many of his photographs, specifically from his book 'We English'. Within this series he documented how different types of people spend their leisure time, where he would elevate himself physically higher than what he was photographing in order to get a wide, clear view of the people within their chosen environments.
A little late, though well worth bringing up, is the photography slideshow from this years FOTO8 summer show. It is a powerfully stirring selection of photographs, from humour and wit, to fantastical, almost unbelievable events. We are confronted with photojournalism and the raw realism of so many stark, revealing moments in the people we're viewing. It is a wonderful insight into so many diverse types of photography right now, of its many, proliferating directions.
The show also includes a really good friend of mine, Nick Ballon, who I have been lucky to assist on numerous shoots. I have learned a great deal over the years from Nick, and continue to pester him even today, with many photography questions he always answers with the utmost patience.
"The period from 1961 - 1965 was the defining era of the American civil rights movement. As a participant and observer of this struggle for racial equality, Bruce Davidson chronicled the demonstrations, the protests, the aftermath of the bombings, and the social and political tumult that arose out of the conflict. "Time of Change" is a testament to the everyday lives of the people who fought against accepted social norms of segregation, poverty, and discrimination."
"Photography isn’t looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
Although best known for his war photography, there is a lot more to Don McCullin than his stirring B&W photographs of the Vietnam War. He shot strong, eye-opening pictures of the homeless in the East End of London, as well as the poor in the North of England, in the early sixties, giving us these stark, industrial landscapes where we can still see the scars of World War II; a battered, beaten country, a shadow of its former, colonial self. And now, at the Tate Britain, there is a collection of his British landscapes, capturing the changing seasons of England, as he explains in this short clip on TateShots..
This collection is on at the Tate Britain until 4 March 2012, admission is free.
A photographer I missed out on my list of inspiring photography websites was that of Martin Parr. From looking through some of my most recent photography series (from the Brighton Gay Pride, to the English American Car Convention, as well as the Street Party, USA and Beside the Seaside, UK) I seem to have gravitated, consciously or unconsciously, to observational photography of his kind. Throughout the summer I have taken myself to crowded spaces within America and England, to document what I see, whilst being constantly drawn to amusing moments or the little ironies I see within the world around me. In these environments, where people go to relax, I have attempted to juxtapose small details within the frame which I find playful.
Another reason I have been drawn to this type of photography is because of the spontaneous element to it - of just being able to pick up a camera and then going along to a free, public event. It is there that I need to orchestrate nothing, where I let the narrative of life, as it were, unfold before my eyes. It is within this stage that all I need to do is to be aware of what's around me and then, when a moment presents itself, I compose the shot and take the picture. It gives me an immense sense of freedom taking these types of photographs, and they can be taken whenever the whim takes hold of one.
As for the subject matter I choose... I think this may have been born out of the brilliant American photographer Phil Toledano when he wrote, in the introduction to his series 'The United States of Entertainment': "I’ve always felt that the very soul of a country is reflected in the way in which it entertains itself."
And so there I go, venturing into places where people relax, to enjoy themselves or to partake in a hobby, a lifestyle, or a way of life. It has been these places I have been drawn to, where people cut loose and have fun, to experience the outer world around them when the sun is out to shine, where people are at ease within their life, if only for a day, or even just for a few moments.
Now that I have become completely sidetracked from my original intention, I want to finish this where I begun, with Martin Parr. But I shall save my perspectives on his work, on the way in which his work effects me (I find him wonderfully humorous) and, instead, let him speak for himself in this short interview on TATE SHOTS.
It is by no means a comprehensive list, and so I welcome the mention of any others I have missed out, but I have relentlessly searched for striking photographers. Photographers with a unique style, who put together interesting series that strike sparks inside my mind. I yearn to be moved, dazzled, wowed, and so over time I have bookmarked these in the hope to share them with others, to give people some of the delight I have found with the following list of photographers at the forefront of this art form today (with just a couple of older photographers slipped inside the list).
Vivian Maier, she seemed the ultimate outsider (one of the watermarks of a great artist), moving on the outskirts, aware of all the kinks and queerness of society, rapt with awareness. There is a subtle feel of Cartier-Bresson in her pictures, though they are quintessentially American, as seen through the eyes of one who has lived in Europe in their formative years. I get the feel of her as a kind of zoologist; studying, observing, documenting people in their unnatural environments. She stood on the outside, looking in, with few friends and few people who knew this intensely private person. And yet she had an eye for those brief moments of beauty, of the extraordinary and of humor, which can burst out before one, like a firework, in the most brilliant of ways.
Between these pictures are some of the most interesting self-portraits I have seen - her reflection in a mirror, or her self caught in a shop window, leaving a fleeting imprint on the reality around her, the outline of her being photographed as her real self seems hidden, behind a mask, alone.
Photography seemed her life, her everything, as she left over one hundred thousand negatives behind, most of which are still being processed and scanned. I cannot recommend the photography of Vivian Maier enough, as she left us the chance to gaze into an enthralling world of yesteryear.