May 2008 Archives
May 28, 2008
Russian photographer Alexei Vassiliev is quite prolific as he energetically explores new visual ideas in photography. Lens Culture was pleased to show an extensive portfolio of his 21st Century Anonymous Portraits earlier this year (with our Englsih-language essay translated into French and Russian).
Now Galerie Blue Square in Paris is featuring some all-new photographic murals by Vassiliev, as well as a generous showing of other recent work, including some of the large-scale portraits.
The photo above is just a detail of a photo mural that measures 2 meters by 9 meters. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.) Vassiliev starts with a traditional film camera, and then stitches together several exposures with digital scans of the film. The distortions and blurs are exactly as they were recorded by the camera. Other than stitching together several images, there is no digital trickery here, and the images are really amazing to see at full-scale.
The exhibition will be open to the public through July 26. The photographer will be present at a gala opening on the evening of Friday May 30.
Galerie Blue Square
14 rue Debelleyme
If you are in Paris, don't miss it.
May 26, 2008
Photographer Rachel Papo served in the Israeli army when she was 18 years old. Years later, when she was still trying to come to terms with that confusing period of her life, she returned to the army bases of Israel to photograph a new wave of soldiers in training. Her series, Serial No. 3817131, offers a rare and candid look at the innocent young people who are forced to put their normal lives on "hold" while they prepare to fight deadly wars.
Lens Culture is very happy to present 20 compelling images from that series, accompanied by an articulate and thoughtful text written by the photographer.
May 24, 2008
Chris Higgins reveals a bizarre and compelling story via the mental_floss blog about a mysterious website that shows — in dated sequence — 6,697 Polaroid photos. The photos are presented without introduction or explanatory text, so we must construct our own story based on the flow of limited visual information delivered daily over the course of many years.
Higgins did some digging and research and comes up with some answers and suppositions in his interesting blog column. Start there, if you are interested, and then explore some more on your own.
Thanks to Colleen Leonard, a dedicated contributor to Lens Culture, for this pointer.
May 20, 2008
These black-and-white aerial photographs of super-crowded L.A. feel ominous and eerily empty of any human life or soul. From the air, it looks more like a spreading cancer or a virus, rather than a bustling metropolis of 15 million people.
Photographer David Maisel writes, "In this series from Los Angeles, I am using images that underscore the cyborg nature of the city and its environs as a way to explore a kind of contemporary oblivion, a series of sites that are both place and non-place."
May 13, 2008
Robert Rauschenberg died on Monday, May 12, 2008, at the age of 82. His unbridled creativity and intellectual curiosity inspired and influenced generations of artists. He was amazingly prolific, and gave so much to the world at large. This is a very sad loss.
Of the many forms of art that he created and experimented with, I especially appreciate his photo-based collages that combine photos with painting and silkscreens and unusual materials. With the juxtaposition of a few likely and a few unlikely photo images, plus delightful colors and messy handwork, he created vibrant works of visual poetry.
There is a great documentary that shows him working and evolving one of his mammoth collages. (I believe he was using Iris dye transfers at the time.) It was great to see him in action, having fun, and making a masterpiece right in front of our eyes as we watched.
He encouraged artists to create their own materials, or to use things they found lying around. Rauschenberg originally culled photos from mass media, but later began to use only photographs that he himself made, which provided even more encouragement for artists to fully create their own unique visions.
I still remember the very first time I encountered his work in person; it stunned me and inspired me to want to make richly layered art that delighted and demanded an intellectual response as well as an emotional response. Of course, that's a terribly difficult challenge, but he made it look fun and easy.
While searching around the web for stories about him, I found this interesting animation that tries to demonstrate the way Rauschenberg might have built up and layered one of his photo collages. Even though the animation was not made in collaboration with Rauschenberg, I believe that all of the images used come from work that he created. It's cool, and playful. And the soundtrack is by his old buddy John Cage. Seems like it strikes just the right note.
May 6, 2008
Some people use Tarot cards, or the I Ching, or tea leaves to try to predict the future. Psychic photographer Beth Lilly uses her cell phone camera to make her readings — and the results are, well, unpredictable and often uncanny answers to the unasked questions of the people who seek a reading with her.
Learn more about her practice, and see 18 previous "readings" here in Lens Culture.
She definitely has a sense of humor as well as a sixth sense. With a tip of her hat to the original Oracle at Delphi, she calls her service the Oracle @ WiFi.
May 2, 2008
New York photographer Dan Nelken has documented the people, animals and activities of American County Fairs for several years now. His rich body of work is filled with warm color and light. It captures a bit of humor and some delightful quirky things. It also conveys a genuine sense of un-self-conscious personal pride that is essential to the whole County Fair mentality.
I watched the reactions of people who saw his photographs for the first time at a big exhibition in Houston recently. Without exception, people were smiling, pointing with gleeful recognition at this bit here, or that expression there. People get engaged when they see these photos, and they want to share their delight and enthusiasm.
Indeed, they are all endearing photos, made in a straightforward masterly manner (with a hand-held medium format camera, using only available light). The girl holding her prize-winning rabbit looks so comfortable and happy and completely in the moment, with the blue-ribbon tied to the open rabbit's cage behind her.
It's sometimes interesting to imagine how different photographers might photograph the same subject matter in wildly different ways. It would be so easy to stray into the "too-sweet" genre with all of this innocent feel-good stuff. And it would be just as easy to go the other way. I wonder what Diane Arbus would have done here, or Avedon, or Martin Parr? Would these happy and content people look like freaks under the glare of Weegee's flash?
May 1, 2008
first portrait taken: 5th December 2003
died: 4th January 2004, at Helenenstift Hospice, Hamburg
Photos copyright by Walter Schels
Photography allows us to vicariously "experience" people, places, events and phenomena that we may never have the opportunity to experience directly. This series is a remarkable example: portraits made of people who knew they were dying, and who gave their permission to be photographed shortly before — and immediately after — they died.
Photographer Walter Schels and editor Beate Lakotta have documented these profound final moments with the utmost compassion. They have titled this body of work noch mal leben, or Life before Death
The results — literally and figuratively — force us to look death squarely in the face and contemplate mortality. To see this work in an exhibition space, each portrait slightly larger than life-size, is to experience an emotional blow that makes an indelible impression in one's consciousness.
I first saw this work just last week while participating in the City of Hamburg's Phototriennale. After returning home, it was the one body of work that I could not stop thinking about. My friend, photographer Elaine Duigenan, just saw the exhibition in London (where it is appearing at the same time), and wrote to me:
"I have just seen the show 'Life Before Death' here as it is at the Wellcome Collection - I am not surprised that you are headlining with it - phenomenal, truly amazing! What was most strange was the 'quietness' in the space where people view the images - a truly important and emotive experience unlike any other..."
Lens Culture is honored to be able to present six of the portraits here, accompanied with brief and compelling texts that give us some personal insight about each of the subjects.
Don't miss it.
Please add your own comments about this work below.