August 2007 Archives
August 31, 2007
The 1994 Pulitzer Prize photo by Paul Watson (see previous entry) was published widely by the Associated Press, and Time magazine ran a version of the photo that was digitally altered (to reduce the shock). That image is credited for shocking the US public into such a state of outrage that the Clinton administration began almost immediate withdrawl from Somalia. However, the photographer believes that the political sting created by that photograph became responsible, however indirectly, with Clinton's refusal to intervene in Rwanda, despite very different political and humanitarian situations. The powerful photograph affected positive change, but also prevented much needed action in another situation — for fear of a similar kind of photograph surfacing from Rwanda. You can hear how heavy the guilt weighs on the photographer as he talks in the interview.
August 30, 2007
Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Watson just published his memoirs as a war journalist: Where War Lives. In a captivating radio interview with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" program, Watson talks about his experiences photographing wars for 20 years, (which resulted in post-traumatic stress syndrome, and need for psychiatric care).
The photo that won him the Pulitzer in 1994 is of a gang of giddy blood-crazed locals dragging the naked dead body of an American soldier through the streets Mogadishu, Somalia. In the interview, he describes that picture in particular, and his detailed memories of making that photograph. He believes to this day that the dead soldier spoke directly to him in a disembodied voice just before he snapped the picture: "If you do this, I will own you forever!" He took the picture anyway, and it has haunted him ever since.
You can listen directly to the interview, or download it as a podcast:
From the following blog entry:
The 1994 Pulitzer Prize photo by Paul Watson was published widely by the Associated Press, and Time magazine ran a version of the photo that was digitally altered (to reduce the shock). That image is credited for shocking the the US public into such a state of outrage that the Clinton administration began almost immediate withdrawl from Somalia. However, the photographer believes that the political sting created by that photograph became responsible, however indirectly, with Clinton's refusal to intervene in Rwanda, despite very different political and humanitarian situations. The powerful photograph affected positive change, but also prevented much needed action in another situation — for fear of a similar kind of photograph surfacing from Rwanda. You can hear how heavy the guilt weighs on the photographer as he talks in the interview.
August 25, 2007
Bill Viola, Ocean Without a Shore, 2007. 3-channel High Definition Video/Sound Installation. Production stills. Copyright: Bill Viola 2007. Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy: Haunch of Venison.
Every person I know who has had the good fortune to attend the Venice Biennale has remarked on the emotional power of the video installation by Bill Viola, called Ocean Without a Shore.
The work was inspired by a poem by the twentieth century Senegalese poet and storyteller Birago Diop:
Hearing things more than beings,
listening to the voice of fire,
the voice of water.
Hearing in wind the weeping bushes,
sighs of our forefathers.
The dead are never gone:
they are in the shadows.
The dead are not in earth:
they're in the rustling tree,
the groaning wood,
water that runs,
water that sleeps;
they're in the hut, in the crowd,
the dead are not dead.
The dead are never gone,
they're in the breast of a woman,
they're in the crying of a child,
in the flaming torch.
The dead are not in the earth:
they're in the dying fire,
the weeping grasses,
they're in the forest, they're in the house,
the dead are not dead.
The Tate did a wonderful video interview with Viola on site at the installation, which you can see and hear here.
Bill Viola made this statement about the work in May 2007:
Ocean Without a Shore is about the presence of the dead in our lives. The three stone altars in the church of San Gallo become portals for the passage of the dead to and from our world. Presented as a series of encounters at the intersection between life and death, the video sequence documents a succession of individuals slowly approaching out of darkness and moving into the light. Each person must then break through an invisible threshold of water and light in order to pass into the physical world. Once incarnate however, all beings realise that their presence is finite and so they must eventually turn away from material existence to return from where they came. The cycle repeats without end.
Text © Bill Viola 2007
And Curator David Anfam said this in his introduction to the work:
From the early 1970s onwards, Bill Viola (b.1951) has created a rich array of videotapes, architectural video set-pieces, works for television and diverse tableaux involving electronic sound and other new media. Indeed, during these years Viola and his long-time collaborator Kira Perov have played a major role in transforming video from a scientific invention into an emotive aesthetic language.
On the one hand, Viola has utilised the most cutting-edge resources to craft his statements. Here he suggests a modern artistic lineage — from the Bauhaus onwards — that has embraced technology. On the other, Viola puts such hardware to the service of a spiritual vision aiming to convey fundamental human states: love, hope, sorrow, anxiety, being, death, regeneration. In this regard, Viola extends the tradition of Abstract Expressionism and of, say, Mark Rothko, who remarked that he was "interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on". Overall, Viola thus manipulates precise objective means to explore metaphysical subjectivity. The outcome is a potent fusion of timelessness and immediacy, of formal accomplishment and numinous content. Underlying Viola's odyssey is a meditation upon outer semblances and inward reality. As the artist notes, "I go out with a video camera, but I'm not just interested in shooting a tree or a car as they are. They are surface appearances of something really deep... That's why I bend and stretch time, because it reveals those other dimensions." Since video is a time-driven medium grounded in a constantly mobile physical process (unlike photography and film which depend upon a static single image or frame), Viola has made temporality one of his central preoccupations. This reflects the existential fact — at least as old as the thought of the pre-Socratic sage Heraclitus and as modern as the philosophy of Martin Heidegger or the dizzying spatio-temporal vistas of the information age — that we ineluctably live in time. Viola continues to ponder this condition from multiple standpoints. They have ranged from The Reflecting Pool (1977-79), in which a man, motion and water enact a play of emergence and dissolution; the dialectic between nature's terrifying tumult and a mind's inner tranquillity in Room for St. John of the Cross (1983); a trialogue of mortality, stasis and birth in the Nantes Triptych (1992); and the 2006 exhibition titled Love/Death: The Tristan Project (2006), that blends images of fire, water, light and darkness with sound into a sensory Gesamtkunstwerk, a "total artwork" of engulfing scale.
Taking its title from the Andalucian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), Ocean Without a Shore develops themes that have long populated Viola's imagination into a new synthesis. The architecture of the work's site — the intimate proportions and simple spaces of the Fifteenth century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo in Venice — is an integral part of its visual fabric. With its figures shifting from tenebrous voids into radiance and back, Ocean Without a Shore also touches the crux of Viola's world: the sentient self and its manifold rites of passage.
Text © Art Ex 2007
August 22, 2007
Roger Ballen's work attracts me and repels me at the same time, but every time I see it, it makes me stop to think. At a show last year in Paris, I remember marveling at how absolutely perfect the prints were — beautiful prints of some filthy places and unclean people in bizarrely staged settings — with impeccable lighting and composition.
So, I was delighted to discover this very candid recent interview with Ballen by Chas Bowie in the latest issue of SeeSaw Magazine. Here is just a brief excerpt:
Chas Bowie: "Your photographs tend to always have an element of spontaneity to them, as still as they might appear."
Roger Ballen: "There has to be. That's such an interesting thing that I've discovered in photography. A lot of artists today use photography, and they create these sort of installations or conceptual photographs. But you remember almost none of those photographs. They just sort of sit there and you have to figure out the guy's theory to get into the work. The reason the images don't get inside you is because the artists don't understand anything about photography. You can't just set things up and photograph them and expect the picture to "zap." It is very important that the mind feels that there is a moment of truth or a moment of authenticity. It's really crucial, because if the artist's hand is seen as too strong, the pictures seem either dead or contrived. The mind doesn't believe it. The mind has to see that photograph as commenting on some aspect of truth, whatever truth means.
"The most common question people ask me, especially in Shadow Chamber, is "Is this place real, did you make it, did you do this, did you do that?" The answer is, there are so many answers to that question. Everything you see in Shadow Chamber is me, because nobody else could take those pictures, even if they went to the same place as me. So it's way of viewing the world photographically, it's a very complex way of seeing it. Then, each one of those pictures involves thousands and thousands of subconscious and conscious steps to get to that point. Because photography is such an easy medium to master technically, especially with today's cameras, people don't realize that it's not just being able to pick up a camera. When I lift that camera up to take a picture, I've gone through thousands of steps to get to that point. That's what you're really seeing; it's a complex view of the world, through my imagination, through my experiences. It's a science and art at the same time."
You can see more of Roger Ballen's work, and read more interviews with him, at his own web site.
And find more of interest at Chas Bowie's web site, Your Daily Awesome.
August 15, 2007
Screen grab from the random-edit version of "Sub-memory check", copyright by Michael Roulier
French photographer Michael Roulier has put together a sleek, sophisticated, minimalist web site to show a very limited selection of his photographs plus a series of his experimental films and multimedia (video, animation, still photography, sound) optimized for the web. One of the marvelous features he demonstrates is a 'random version' of one of his HD anamorphic films. Every time you watch it, the sequence of scenes is shuffled. As the viewer, you can switch scenes, randomly, at will at any time.
Roulier says his film, Sub-memory check, "situates itself between sub-urbanity and sub-terranity, leading us from the gray dust of decomposition towards air and ozone." But you may enjoy it just for its quirky discontinuous beauty and weirdness.
Describing the underlying tech architecture, Roulier says: "A basic shuffle turns out to be a sophisticated random-edit-machine that toggles through a timeline composed by dozens of mini-clips creating a for-ever-new patchworked video composition."
When you have time, put some headphones on, and settle in for a full-screen experience:
August 12, 2007
One of the favorite features of Lens Culture is our rich and growing archive of audio interviews with famous and not-yet-famous photographers from all over the world. It's great to hear the voices of the artists as they talk about their work — and their comments are almost always filled with insight, wit, and wisdom.
Now — in response to lots of requests from our regular readers (and listeners) — our tech guru, Steve McK, has created a master index of all audio interviews, (and all photographers ever featured in Lens Culture!). So now it's easy to "jump" directly to the interview you want to hear, or to the portfolio you want to see.
We've also added Google Search to the site. So, for instance, if you're interested in Polaroid photography, you can quickly find all of the relevant articles.
Check out these new features on our home page: www.lensculture.com.
We hope you like these improvements. Please suggest other ways to improve the site by commenting to this blog, okay?
Thanks, and cheers!
August 11, 2007
In this short audio slideshow by the BBC, three AP photographers - Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner most famous for his work during the Vietnam War, Santiago Lyon, AP's current global director of photography, and Oded Balilty, an Israeli who won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography - talk about the emotional power of the still image, and their thoughts on the future of traditional still photography in the age of broadband.
August 10, 2007
While we're on the geek patrol, seeing what can be "done" with the millions and millions of photos floating around in cyberspace, Sean Smith sent along this link from the TED conference:
Is it just me, or are these things getting kind of spooky? And yet, as it often seems, the spooky stuff can lead to some really fantastic art applications, as well.
August 8, 2007
Capriccio, 2nd for Transfigurations, a collaboration by Richard Bram and Sylvia Willkens © 2007
This painter-photographer duo has created a wonderful series of portraits that play with the history of portraiture, the interaction of painting and photography, and a dizzying sense of flattened picture planes that shudder with hall of mirrors delights. See 16 images from the series, and listen to an articulate audio interview with the photographer Richard Bram, here in Lens Culture.
AND, in a related piece of wizardry, take this trippy tour of 500 years of female portraiture. Thanks to Millie for finding this one:
August 7, 2007
In the folklore of photo history, we've learned that Ansel Adams used to airbrush out telephone poles and wires to make his nature landscapes look "better". Dorothea Lange made similar manipulations to give her photos of migrant farmworkers more emotional impact. And JFK conspiracy theorists believe that the cover photo of Lee Harvey Oswald on LIFE magazine was a not-so-slick composite photo that nevertheless convinced lots of people that Oswald posed for a photo holding the proposed murder weapon. And of course PhotoShop has opend up a Pandora's box that can undermine the credibility or "truth" of most any photo we see today.
Now an ingenious computer program scours the millions of images available on the web to offer dramatic ways to — automatically — cut and paste and blend parts of different images to create new convincing realities that are quite unreal.
James Hays and Alexei Efros of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have just published a scientific paper announcing their breakthrough that "seamlessly" alters photos — automatically — to replace unwanted areas with semantically valid substitutes found on the web that "complete" the new picture in a very convincing manner.
Here is the Abstract from their paper, "Scene Completion Using Millions of Photographs":
What can you do with a million images? In this paper we present a new image completion algorithm powered by a huge database of photographs gathered from the Web. The algorithm patches up holes in images by finding similar image regions in the database that are not only seamless but also semantically valid. Our chief insight is that while the space of images is effectively infinite, the space of semantically differentiable scenes is actually not that large. For many image completion tasks we are able to find similar scenes which contain image fragments that will convincingly complete the image. Our algorithm is entirely data-driven, requiring no annotations or labelling by the user. Unlike existing image completion methods, our algorithm can generate a diverse set of image completions and we allow users to select among them. We demonstrate the superiority of our algorithm over existing image completion approaches.
And this is from their Introduction:
Every once in a while, we all wish we could erase something from our old photographs. A garbage truck right in the middle of a charming Italian piazza, an ex-boyfriend in a family photo, a political ally in a group portrait who has fallen out of favor [King 1997]. Other times, there is simply missing data in some areas of the image. An aged corner of an old photograph, a hole in an image-based 3D reconstruction due to occlusion, a dead bug on the camera lens. Image completion (also called inpainting or hole-filling) is the task of filling in or replacing an image region with new image data such that the modification can not be detected.
There are two fundamentally different strategies for image completion. The first aims to reconstruct, as accurately as possible, the data that should have been there, but somehow got occluded or corrupted. Methods attempting an accurate reconstruction have to use some other source of data in addition to the input image, such as video (using various background stabilization techniques, e.g. [Irani et al. 1995]) or multiple photographs of the same physical scene [Agarwala et al. 2004; Snavely et al. 2006].
The alternative is to try finding a plausible way to fill in the missing pixels, hallucinating data that could have been there. This is a much less easily quantifiable endeavor, relying instead on the studies of human visual perception.....
You can download the whole paper, with lots of sample photo manipulations, as a PDF (11MB), here.
Wonder what happens next...
August 6, 2007
Choi Seang Rak, and his online role-playing avatar, Uroo Ahs, from Robbie Cooper's book, Alter Ego
This new book will open your eyes to whole new worlds, literally. The parallel worlds of virtual gaming are teeming with more than ten million active players from all walks of life around the "real" world. New forms of social rules, economies, and quests for success are evolving and mutating at viral speeds, and they are seeping beyond the boundaries of computers and into "real" life in ways that would be considered science fiction maybe just five years ago.
Alter Ego, Avatars and their creators, is a brilliant photo book that shakes up any preconceptions you may have about online games and the people who play them. It is smart, compassionate, and business savvy — all packaged in an engaging way that won't let you stop reading until you reach the end.
Check out the full review and several more dual-portraits of real online gamers and their virtual world characters.
August 5, 2007
Untitled from The Hitcher, © 2007 by Chris Coekin
On a cold and rainy day in the UK, would you stop to pick up this hitch-hiker?
Photographer Chris Coekin plays the Hitcher in his new book, and delivers photo portraits of himself (over several years of this experiment), as well as formal roadside portraits of the strangers who acted on impulse to give him a lift.
This book is way more bleak and "beat" than Jack Kerouac's amphetamine-driven romantic novel On The Road. See more photos, and read the full book review here.
August 4, 2007
Just some of the best bits from one of my favorite movies. So romantic and silly and casually artful. Classic!
August 2, 2007
Three religious leaders in the Middle East get silly for JR's FACE2FACE Project, 2007.
JR is an undercover activist for peace who pastes illegal billboard-size photographs in provocative places around the world, including Palestine, Israel, and his native France. His work creates a buzz and lots of speculation -- What is this all about? Is it an adverstising campaign? Propaganda? A message of hate, or love? Maybe it's just trying to promote "peace, love and understanding".
His illegal work has been embraced by mainstream media and is now encouraged by French cultural institutions. He and his work were featured at the international photography festival in Arles, France, this summer. Lens Culture has an exclusive 16-minute audio interview with the photographer, plus some installation shots from Arles and at the separation wall between Israel and Palestine.
The article also inlcudes links to other work and videos by JR and his friends.