Notes from an Exhibition.
I didn’t count the student entries, but of all the photographers to have individual exhibition space on the walls less than a third are women. No female artist was awarded a retrospective.
Two sets of photographs; one depicting England and the other France but distinctly separated into different spaces, with different coloured walls – orange for England and pale green for France. Firstly to say that the monochrome images are all beautiful and some are very large, up to 36’’ on a side (my guess, maybe lager). The English set are all post industrial views that seem to objectify the land (or city) scapes that were once scenes of human toil. Monumental in scale and ambition (and equally successful in both), they seem to pay homage to man’s conversion of land into enterprise, sublimating both the place and it’s social heritage. In his statement his talks about the “…layers of historical, industrial and social change. In England I document the evident social consequences of an economy that is now divorced from geography. By comparison my French work largely focuses on less populated areas….”
What struck me was the melancholic feel of Davies’ English set that seems to work as an idyll for a time now passed. A romantic vision of an unromantic vista, that seems to almost ache for the connection between Davies and his subject that still exists, at least in the lens of the camera, attached, as it is almost umbilically to a post Blakean landscape.
And whereas Davies’ attachment to the English land and it’s social history seems plain to see, his view of the French landscape is more of the land as a monumental scape. Whereas ‘Stalybridge’ depicts man’s effort with the photographer’s grandest eloquence; the view from Davies’ lens in the French landscape is one that is much softer, more rural and more in awe, but with a sense of a detachment.
The Politics of Images
Not billed as a retrospective, but nevertheless a wide collection of his work. I saw this exhibit after the Robin Hammond, and so in the context of this review it is out of place; but the message would be pertinent in the wider scope of Documentary photography. And by Documentary photography I mean the use of photography to expose situations around the world, to a wider audience – to bring the hope of humanitarian justice, no matter how forlorn that hope may be, no matter how partial the reporting, no matter how likely or not the work was done to develop the profile of the photographer. Jaar’s documents do something different, but they may also do all the former.
Firstly there are many and varied installations that discuss the injustices, mainly in Africa, so the comparison with Hammond’s work is justified. Jaar prints some 2128 front covers of Life magazine in a work entitled “Life in Africa” – which by the way not one mentions Africa and next to this he prints nine covers which do mention Africa – all nine with negative connotations. Juxtapositions are something that he seems fond of. Opposite to the ‘”Life” covers are a selection of “Newsweek” covers, showing all sorts of interesting subjects, but printed underneath are some facts about (yet) another atrocity in Africa – we connote that the atrocities are committed about the same time as the “Newsweek” magazine is published – but there is no mention of the “African problem”. We then see some newsprint that looks at Chilean scenes during the Allende era, coupled with Kissinger images and the call for for him to tried as a war criminal, and I am disturbed by the connection to the end of the Allende regime, Pinochet, Kissinger and Thatcher – I feel some culpability.
There were a number of other installations that almost solely relied on text, and the two that did have images had only one in each. In the piece entitled ‘eyes’ there were thousands of slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes. These eyes that had met Jaar’s own after the child’s parents had been killed had haunted Jaar and this installation had them sculpted almost as a cadaver in L’Eglise du Pecheurs.
And another video presentation had a documentary – all in French – of the life of Kevin Carter. It is a shocking film.
These images, or rather lack of them at a photography festival is starting to suggest a lot, I think Jaar is suggesting that their use (photographs) is becoming worth less and less, that even with thousands of images in the ‘eyes’ piece, that the thousands of ‘Life” pictures, the likes of Hammond and others bringing ever more graphic imagery to our screens just aren’t doing anything anymore. In the end the commodification of the frail, the destitute, the hungry, the substance abuser just get glanced at. No more Bob Geldofs shouting at us to ‘give us your money’. The pictures aren’t enough anymore? Are we just wearied, inured, blase about them? Are the photographers needing to find more and more shock tactics to raise awareness? Lots to think about.
It is though the use of text that continues to figure on my mind, and I’m wondering how I will develop this further, how this will inform how I go forward. Jaar had an effect.
Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt
There appeared a disturbance in Eeckhoudt’s work, a lot of animals, dogs and primates in particular, shot with a view, on the one hand to quirky individualism, but on the other hand there appeared to be a ‘push’ to make this viewer anthropomorphize, to suggest an emotional, if not, a verbal engagement with the non-human that was at the root of the disturbance. Eeckhoudt’s statement suggests phantasies or dreams and I suppose these sur animal/sous human entities could all lurk in the recesses of our imagination. Interesting though, but not pretty….
A lot has been said about Stezaker recently but this was the first time in front of actual work – which in itself is an interesting proposition given the acquisitiveness of his work. I did enjoy how he invited my engagement, with some images that were around an inch square – to view you have to get close! And ‘letter-box’ images that posed questions, mirroring (or at least presenting the image upside down) that kept the questions coming and then his other recent work from 2006 – 2012 with jarred portraits and collaged film stills.
I found it interesting to allow the conjuring of narrative; Stezaker seemed very generous compared with other artists in providing so many keys to engage with. My own work with superimposed images provided much fewer opportunities, suggesting that the viewer might have an awareness that didn’t exist. These images were fun as well as having wider connotations, especially the images that focused their attention on the eyes.
On my list as a photographer to look out for at the exhibition, this particular set is titled Zimbabwe and details the degradations of society under Mugabe’s “relentless tyranny”. There is a lot of African documentary work around at the moment, not enough as to make it passé, but enough to make it unsurprising. Hammond’s work focusses, as documentary workers often do, on the supposedly innocent, the one’s that fall by the wayside in the wake of whomever is in the driving seat. There are the usual candidates captured for completeness, the Aids sufferers, the orphaned children, the sick, the elderly and undeserving who deserve better. I’m not sure if I was looking for it, or whether it was there, but Hammond’s series is set into two sections. The first has the place, where he situates the people he will focus on in the second part of the set. The first section tells awful stories, people killed, dispossed, ruined, infected and dying. The second has the portraits of people whose stories almost certainly need telling.
But I am wondering whether I need to see a picture when the caption is thus:
“As many as three million Zimbabweans have left the country fleeing political persecution and economic collapse. ‘I want to be a lawyer. I need to help people who are sick, and people who don’t have anywhere to stay, and then they steal or they do something, so I have to defend them so that they cannot be arrested.’ Evelyn, 14, left Zimbabwe illegally when she was 12 and now lives in a woman’s shelter. Musina, South Africa (on the border with Zimbabwe)”
“29 year old Michael took his family to South Africa after finding it impossible to support them when Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed. Life was hard in South africa. He and his brother, who had joined him, were attacked. Michael was stabbed in the chest but survived, his brother was stabbed in the neck and died. Unable to support his family in South Africa, Michael had a break down. He tried to kill himself by slitting his own throat. He survived and is now cared for by a local non-governmental organisation. Cape town, South Africa”
So, whilst Hammond’s image will haunt I won’t present them. They harrow, they plead, but they also ask questions of the the photographer and his complicit viewer which I’m not sure I have an answer to.
A series of quite beautiful large/very large prints of abstracted landscape. Abstracted both by the monochrome toning but also by the scale and distance from lens to subject. Gonin disturbs the visual norms by dislocating the anchors to the size and gamut of what is in the fame; which certainly threw this viewer off balance in some of the photographs. My mind went to the recent discussions on Salgado and his Genesis project, as I wondered if this might be a response (unintended I’m sure) to it. Huge landscapes sculpted by the Hand of Man, structuring the vista in an image of his liking. At first glance some of these images could be mistaken for abstract images from a modernist school, and their beauty seemed somehow to conjure the deity that Salgado’s seemed sadly lacking in (at least for me).
Arno Rafeal Minkkinen
Whilst not formally classified as a retrospective this is one of the larger shows at the festival. Covering some forty years of his output from the early seventies and this work focuses on the artist (with a few friends) in the landscape, and specifically his naked body (or parts thereof).
Minkkinen fractures the normal sense of self, placing himself into the landscape in a way that reminded me of Francesca Woodman’s submergement into the land, but without her sense of Gothic overtones. Minkkinen challenges scale and rules of composition, elements become bigger in the frame, body parts start to lose context with eachother. Enigma becomes a part of the questioning of the viewer; how, why and what. And whereas Woodman’s images had that sense of Gothic energy, Minkkinen uses stillness to allow the viewer, or perhaps persuade the viewer, to contemplate these curious constructions within the frame. Using mirroring, reflection, floating and balance – both visual and physical. And perhaps man’s place in, or on, the land. Minkkinen is keen to point out that there is no post processing going on, that what you see is what you get. But I wonder about the need to mention that, because it invites me to question how he has made the composition not about what that composition might be saying; distracting the narrative into another conversation about how clever he is for finding a way to do that – which is surely not the point. Again, though, beauty within the frame with masterful printing which invites an engagement.
I had almost dismissed this work as (yet) another (albeit excellent) set of social documentary images of the poor and needy. I suspect I was feeling somewhat shell shocked by monochrome images of people on the outer edges of society, not from what I had seen at the festival, rather from my own researches! I was becoming perhaps a trifle cynical about how these images have been used, for what seems like generations, to create a sense of pity, outrage and other similar emotions. Again this work travelled over some space in the exhibition and in separate sections dedicated to different works he has produced. It was, I think, the last work he had on show that caught my breath as much as my eye. It maybe that I was ready for a shock, but the notion of presentation that Courtinant decided on, seems at first to me, at any rate, to be unique; I haven’t seen it before, and I know it is unlikely to have the same effect again if I do see it elsewhere.
Which has these accompanying words:
I met Cathy in the street thirteen years ago.
We were both begging.
Since then we’ve always been together.
She is physically disabled.
She’s losing her mind a little bit
I like her the way she is.
For two years now, the Petits Freres have organised a room for us at the Star Hotel.
It’s everything we wanted. There’s just the two of us. We’re independent.
Above all, we’re not outside.
The street is exhausting. We left our hide there.
The room is small. It’s a little dirty, but it’s okay.
We live on the bed. We use it for sleeping and for eating.
We’ve got a tiny telly. We practically never go out anymore. Cathy can no longer move.
I go begging once a week. That allows us to get through eight days.
including the smokes and beer.
Our one aim is to get married.
To leave a little trace that we lived together.
I hope that we’ll hold up physically.
‘Cause we’re at the end of the rope.
Xavier and Cathy
The presentation of the image with the text ‘laid-out’ as if the words to a song, and perhaps by Leonard Cohen. I wasn’t alone in this attraction to the text. I noticed that the images played second-fiddle to the text, people spent more time on the text than on the photographs they were there to contextualize – or maybe it was the other way around.
I found this particularly interesting and compelling as I am becoming more and more enmeshed in text as a co-inhabitor. Lots to think about there…..
I found Paniak’s work really engaging. Evocative constructed images, soft, soulful, memories, fairy stories; where rules of scale diminish versus the scale of the invocated memory. This exhibit demonstrates that work doesn’t need to be anything other than joyful images that allow the viewer to draw narratives, in perhaps an even more directed way than Stezaker’s does, where the intent is to allow the viewer play with the fictive elements in the frame.
This work is a set of close-up, head and shoulders portraits of circus performers just as they have finished their act, an ‘in between time’. The work was (perhaps almost) completed during a three month residency sponsored by BMW. The work itself seems to show the pace at which she needed to complete for Arles, but there is also a short video which looks at the residency, some of her choices and decisions – and it appears a company car to drive around in. This insight was an interesting addition as it depicted some of the stresses, but also some creative decisions that were made. The video’s polished production values were similar to the ones espoused for the brand sponsoring….
I was reminded of Keith Greenough’s work, in that her purpose was to try and capture the portrait between the mask of performance and the mask of the day, an in-between phase. “The immobile, often wild and dazed gaze shows he instant of passing from lucidity to abandonment, the transformation of a conscious objet (sic) into a lost one, because it is stupefied….”
Another major retrospective – site number one, in La Place de La Republique, an auspicious responsibility, and one which worked for me Larrain was largely unknown to me, I have some images in a South American photo book, but his work and life are relatively untrod territory for me.
The narrative as curated suggested a loner, who presented himself to the world through his images as an ‘other’. It is suggested in the accompanying text that he moved through the photographic universe like a meteor, a description I find hard to understand given the nature of the man who shunned publicity and it wasn’t until he was close to death that he agreed to a retrospective (this one) – presumably knowing that wouldn’t live to see it. The work appears almost as a travelogue through South America, Europe and the Middle East, which is a period that didn’t last that long as he didn’t do much work from the late ’70’s. But these twenty or so years of output condensed into this retrospective were enough for him to be elected into Magnum by HCB when they first met – something he resigned from some time later, and it can be clearly seen that there are many images that have that decisive moment, but also a lot of very contemplative moments as well. I found the contexts very narrow, interestingly so, maybe this had as much to do with the curation, but the many short series’ had a lot to say with a short depth of narrative focus; at one moment exploring the street urchins in Santiago, and in another, wandering sailors in Valparaiso. These short episodic series contained a lot of narrative, constructed images that relied a lot on classical compositional techniques of geometry and similarly sized, these prints were a joy to behold. The transportational properties were very strong for this viewer and wholly believable in all the short stories that unfolded on the walls.
In the forward to “El rectangulo en la mano” (The Rectangle of the Hand) a very slim photobook that Larrain published in 1963 a foreword, variously attributed to the poet Thiago de Mello reads ” Thanks to Segio Larrain, the light of South America has been understood by hundreds of thousands of people who only understand when they are spoken to in the mother tongue or in the universal language of light, that is, in the language of photography.” Larrain was also called “the perfect tourist, that is a good observer who is always just passing through’ – quotes from The Latin American Photobook, Frenandez.
Larrain has history with Rencontres having had a show here in ’91 and I think the venue and placement in the order was a reflection of the reverence held by the establishment here for the man and his work. Beautiful prints again.
Two exhibits: Album Beauty and 24Hrs of photos
The first of these continues the thread of found images, found photo albums and re-presenting them to, in my mind, infuse them with a renewed vitality, or perhaps a new life. Albums are collected together, tied in bundles and placed on the floor, others are photographed and enlarged to develop their importance/significance perhaps? What I’ve found looking at old photographs, and in particular the archive I have had access to is the way these photographs can take one unawares. A photograph of a circumstance, an event, a record may have had little or no consequence to the original owner, hence their discarded nature, but either in complete isolation or in a curated sequence will take on new meaning. This mutability is interesting from a number of aspects, firstly it may suggest, a critical memory or more tangentially a connotation completely unconnected with any physical presence on the image that develops a sense of the new viewers past. Or, it may be the direct denotation, within certain images, successfully create a lost narrative either within or without the photographs being viewed. This power of photography to invoke past moments – for they are always past moments, either phantasms or relived realities, is an interesting curio of the medium’s strength. Alternatively found photographs have the ability to shock, either by the actual mis en scene being depicted – which might be a cultural norm in the place and time the image was created, or by the sheer ‘otherness’ being recorded. The hanging scenes in Iran come to mind in the archive I have been viewing which hail from a family album set mostly populated with vernacular photographs of the age, picnics, holiday trips, family get-togethers etc etc.
I’m assuming the curation of these images was on purpose as this image – of two distinct images conflating to make a third – seems to be a contrivance to unlikely to be one of chance. Lots of different things to think about.
24 Hrs of Photos.
Simply taking he number of photos uploaded by Flicker in a 24 hour period, printing them and piling them into a space is a very simple idea both in conception and in practice. However the more one considers the art work the more one comes to consider what is being said. Ephemerality, of course. The ‘new digital age’ as well. The vacuous nature of the digital age? The democratization of photography, certainly. All interesting.
You couldn’t make this up!
When Mr. Garcin retired from his job in a lighting shop in 1995, he skirted around for something interesting to occupy him. Living in Marseilles it wasn’t a huge distance to travel to Arles, and when there he participated in a photography class at the Recontres. Pascal Dolemieux was the tutor and he set Mr Garcin on an inspired journey of photo-montage that has resulted, at the age of 84, with a significant show at this years Rencontres ( not discounting the other shows he has had in the meantime!).
Appearing as himself in all of his images Mr Garcin in a grey overcoat enacts a visual depiction of the title of the photograph, or maybe the title of the photograph is a direct reflection of the image that he has created. These sixty or so images represent a major retrospective, from his very early post Recontres ’95 to much more recent, and include both laugh out loud images to some which have a more serious overtone. Very clever, with a superbly simple idea that is being mined from a very rich seam. I succumbed early and brought the book!
Four or maybe six big rooms forming a single exhibition hall for some ver very big prints. I suppose my natural instinct is to question, not the size, but either the ego or the worshipfulness of the organisers, to provide both the space and encouragement/need to fill it. Tillmans fills the space and what this has done for his ego is unknown (to this viewer), and reading the artist statement – well at least the statement that accompanies the artwork the artist is announced to consider thus “….Tillmans is not only seeking the ‘new’ in terms of political and economic change, but also in relation to the digital development of photography (?), which can now enable the presentation of details with a degree of clarity that no longer reflects the capacity of the human eye and vision. Equipped with a digital camera, Tillmans travelled around the world and stayed in each place for just a short time – just long enough to focus intensively on the visible surface of the situation there.” Exhibition catalogue. Wasn’t it Descartes who nearly said “I can therefore I think I might as well?” Well I suppose Tillmans can! His digital camera – which can now enable the presentation of details with a degree of clarity that no longer reflects the capacity of the human eye and vision. – is more than most have access to, and staying long enough to focus intensively! did he, I wonder, get out of business class to even look around the airport? I asked two obliging Frenchmen to pose for me – there were a few this big…….
There were a few close-up images that were also enlarged to disproportionate size. I took some closer up images of them and present them for what they are:
Good luck Wolfgang, apparently we need you to help us see what you can provide illumination to…..
On first sight this exhibition appeared as a non-exhibition. In as much as an exhibition is to exhibit, to expose, this work didn’t do either very well. The photographs appeared around on four walls with the central space being a series of sculptures which were, by comparison brightly lit. This ensured that viewing the largely low key, low contrast images, framed and mounted behind glass was always going to provide a visual conundrum for the viewer. I would perhaps go so far that the perceived image of photograph – which were not flat and reminded me of ‘unflattened’, fibre paper, silver gelatin prints (hence attracting a great deal of reflecting light – and the brightly lit central serie of sculpture , AND the viewer were all intended to appear in the image the viewer was looking at. The walls were also very dark ensuring very little light ‘bounceage’ into the photographs. Whilst I didn’t take to the artist’s intent vis a vis the recorded image I did think that presentation methodology provided some interesting food for thought.
One of the headline acts, and perhaps the ‘top of the bill’. Sugimoto has two shows ‘Revolution’ and ‘Colours of Shadow’
Revolution has a dozen (?) very large prints of the sky and sea– and sometimes a moon and/or stars. Set in a long hall it has at the two ends a single print showing at one end a seascape and at the other a mountain vista; both, seemingly long exposures. Aloong the two side are some very tall (2.7mtrs) portrait depictions of the night sky over water – these prints are standard landscape orientation (whereby the horizon runs the width of the longest side of the print, but then the print is mounted to the wall in a portrait orientation – which means eithet they had run out of space (unlikely I suspect) or that was the artist’s decision. This transposition is difficult at first to ‘believe in’ but after a short while the artifice seems to ear off and the image seems to speak for itself in this transgressive hanging.
Sugimoto talks of an ‘out of body experience’ as a boy and these images seem to speak to him of those experiences, he also talks of the scale of these vistas, how immense they are and whether they will still be in centuries to come.
I have notes on many more of the exhibitions I visited during the six days I was there and there many more artists I could write about here. My overall impression was that it was a very worthwhile experience.