I was talking with an old college friend the other day about the importance, and difficulty, of continually making pictures in these uncertain times. My issue was mainly the cost of shooting with film, processing, printing, travel. These were costs I may not be able to recoup for some time so I often found it hard to justify my camera outings. My friend on the other hand had gone the digital route some eight years ago had recently purchased a high speck digital camera for the same price as a small house. He was finding it hard to find the time to go out and shoot and had discovered that the processing and getting that image how he wanted took far too long. He also had to pay off his camera so needed some kind of return.
We both came to the conclusion that in the eighteen years since we were at college together our work had matured to the point that it was not just a case of going out and snapping away, but it was more about going out and producing something that could either be sold as a fine print, or it had to be something you were getting paid to do. In other words the days of shooting for pleasure were over...
All Over the Map
The Americn road trip photo essay has been a mainstay in photography that goes back to Walker Evans in the 1930s, with Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, and more recently, Alec Soth updating the genre. Soul searching through closely observed, but not lived scenes of banality and hardship, combined with an "I drive ergo I exist" ethos, is probably the most American form of existentialism, with the ubiquitous crummy-motel-room-with-tv view outpacing the crossroads-with-gas-station in image hits per project.
A visit to North South East West, an exhibition of road trip images by Richard Benson, at Pace MacGill Gallery, left me wanting to know exactly how he makes “multiple impression inkjet prints,” but little more. These formal compositions, often with an element such as a tree or a telephone pole in the middle of the scene, and more often shot under shimmering blue skies, made the few images with threatening gray skies seem more interesting than they are. But the color and the print quality is extraordinary, making this show a must for anyone who makes, appreciates, prints, or collects photographs.
Left: Detroit, MI, 2009. Right: Dallas, TX, 2008. Copyright and courtesy Doug Rickard.
Back at my computer, I immediately started looking at Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture, from 2010, which in book form is currently unavailable. The work, which was recently on view at Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco, has developed something of a cult following for several reasons. Rickard has subverted the road trip photo essay genre in particular, and photography in general, by collecting and re-photographing Google Street View images from down-at-the-heels locales across the country.
Because there are people in many of the views, the work brings up some serious questions about the benign intention of the program as claimed by Google. The picture quality, not so good to start out with, is further degraded by being re-photographed, using a large-format camera, off a large-scale monitor. There should be nothing notable about these pictures as photographs, but they are mesmerizing and troubling. Selections from A New American Picture by Doug Rickard can be seen in the upcoming New Photography 2011 show, opening September 28h at MoMA.
Akram Zaatari + Mitch Epstein + Luc Delahaye + Guy Tillim
Tate Modern, Bankside, Southbank, SE1 9TG
Themes range from conflicts in Iraq, elections in Congo and power production in the US.
Don't forget to check out the new Diane Arbus exhibition too...
I am almost at the end of my photography shooting break and shall soon be dusting off the old battered 5/4 to venture out again in search of photographic treasures. Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights longer, darker and often more clear, I look forward to producing some new Night Visions, something I have not done for some time.
I happened to be in the gallery today delivering some prints when a couple walked in browsing the current group show of which I have a couple of pieces showing. It was clear that they liked my work and I offered to show them some of latest Doyles fresh from the darkroom. Its been a while since I talked passionately about my own work, my inspirations and reasoning for shooting this that and the other, but its something I always tune into if someone is shows a genuine interest.
Of course it will be nice if that lovely couple come back and purchase something, but the passion for my work has been ignited and that is simply priceless..
London, between real and dream
Landscapes and city views were alongside portraiture and still life the first genres to be established in photography. The exhibition Land/City/Real/Imagined explores the two genres from the 1930’s onwards, from black and white photography through to digitally manipulated imagery.
The exhibition is divided into two sections, Land and City.
Highlights in the Land section include.British photographer, Marcus Doyle, spent several years of the last decade travelling across the USA taking photographs. Doyle never intentionally visited Las Vegas but rather found himself stopping off en route to Death Valley. His image of the Las Vegas skyline, taken through curtains in the Mirage Hotel, is not only startlingly beautiful. It’s also a hyper-real photograph of a city that is in itself hyper-real.
This whole incident had got me thinking about the future of books, but it was not a romantic vision of laying around on leather sofas in an attic room drinking espresso's and flicking through a twenty year old copy of By Coastal. It was more a vision of a white sterile room with an i Pad type device drinking Grass Juice and wearing some silvery track suit.
In a virtual photographic world I fear the future of the paper book will in time become obsolete. Books are already becoming collectors items and many are jumping on that band wagon snapping up signed first editions and putting then somewhere safe.
Books are expensive, they are made from trees, the inks are toxic, but no one cares about that because they are also beautiful objects and the ultimate goal for most photographers like me.
So in this every decreasing digital world full of pixels and paperless technology the only time you will open a book is when the power runs out and you light a candle and reach for that dusty first edition. Unless that is, you have sold it....
In case you were wondering, My prints are now flat..
As for how it got on the web, well I have no idea..
David Bate in his brilliantly concise book Photography- The Key Concepts allows the idea of ‘Postmodernism’ little more than 15 lines of text. Seemingly fed up with the cyclical debate around the troubled movement, Bate sums it up as the application of codes and conventions of commercial photography to current art photography. This combined with an influx of female artists opposing male domination within the arts at the end of the 1970’s seems to be enough for Bate to draw a line under this unending debate. However Bate is just one person, and there are vastly differing views on this dense and convoluted subject1. (more)
In Signs of a Struggle - Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism, a foretaste of the V&A’s new super-exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990, the V&A simplify their premise for an exhibition of photographic postmodernism to imagery that makes reference to itself. It was Gustave Flaubert who said “The artist must be in his work as God is in creation, invisible and all-powerful; one must sense him everywhere but never see him.”2 Flaubert was the great literary precursor to modernism, a major influence on such important modernist writers as Franz Kafka, and this quote, the antonym of the V&A’s new exhibition, makes for a simplified and engaging juxtaposition to the proposed foundation of photographic postmodernism.
The narrow, dimly lit Gallery 38A provides the setting for this exhibition, with 28 photographers represented, each typically showing one image. This exhibition covers a multiplicity of genres, concepts and vastly differing aesthetic approaches. Out of the 28 photographers, just under half are women, but with Clare Strand’s Signs of a Struggle occupying an entire open-ended room at the rear of the gallery.
Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince are represented by one image each from their most renowned works, Untitled Film Stills and Untitled Cowboys, respectively. Prince and Sherman, the two artists who most plainly and widely represent the shift to postmodernism, supply these iconic images only for them to struggle to stand alone; isolated from their series, and drowned in imagery on all sides, they fail to appear as revolutionary, as avant-garde as they are widely accepted to be.
Works by Jeff Wall and Keith Arnett vie for attention between other works of limited interest. Jeff Wall’s elaborately constructed tableau images, customarily displayed to advertising proportions and backlit -bus shelter like- by a light-box, are here displayed small, within a frame and blunted by the weak lighting of the gallery. The very things that make Wall’s work so necessary when looking at the postmodern in photography have here been overlooked.
Past the plethora of postmodern imagery Clare Strand’s Signs of a Struggle is given ample display in a dedicated space at the back of the gallery. Nine black and white seemingly archival crime scene photographs are displayed on tattered backing card, yellowing and ripped at the edges from years of storage. Tip-ex numbers and arrows mark the spots where remnants of crimes - fingerprints, trails of blood and perhaps more - are found and recorded. Are these images scenes from a police archive, or just elaborately constructed sets? This question plays on our minds whilst viewing the pictures. Fascinated by the gritty flash-lit scene frozen before us, one wonders where, when and what, and in a very postmodern fashion, ‘if’.
Like Strand’s Signs of a Struggle, one leaves this exhibition with more questions than answers; the chasm that is postmodernism plays on one’s mind, still unanswered, confusing, a toxic waste ground for easy theoretical categorization. If this exhibition is a survey of postmodernism, the implication here is that it has finished and been abandoned to the lions of history. However if we were to take this as truth, what then has filled the abyss left by this theoretical melting pot?
~Christopher Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Signs of a Struggle - Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism is at the V&A London, until 27th November 2011. Admission is free.