Vague Storytelling @Camera Club of New York

Exhibition Vague Storytelling opened on September 14, 2012 at the Camera Club of New York (CCNY). The exhibition aimed to present four projects by five artists exploring “the idea of myth and place”. It turns out to be one of those rare occasions when I am able to present the entire exhibition right here in my blog:

From Florian Göttke & Rebecca Sakoun’s project

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AIPAD Panel Discussions

On Saturday, March 31, 2012 The AIPAD Photography Show featured a series of special panel discussions sponsored by Ryerson Image Centre, a research center and an exhibition space incorporated into Ryerson University, Canada. I attended two of them.

The first panel: Curator’s Choice: Emerging Artists in Photography was moderated by Lindsay Pollock, editor in chief of Art in America and featured Sarah Meister, curator of Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, Christopher Phillips, curator of the International Center for Photography, and Joshua Chuang, assistant curator of photography at the Yale University Art Gallery. The discussion began with a question: Which artists or work can be considered ‘new/emerging’? Sarah Meister pointed that the age of an artist doesn’t matter; it is not an artist who is new, but his/her work has to be new. Christopher Phillips said he wouldn’t differentiate artists in this way. The curators showed work of the artists they exhibited that they considered ‘new’:
Joshua Chuang – Anthony Hernandez;
Sarah Meister – Michele Abeles, Shanghai duo Birdhead (Song Tao and Ji Weiyu), Moyra DaveyElad LassryHank Willis Thomas;
Some of Christopher Phillips – Anna ShteynshleygerMichelle Charles, Series of books My Private Broadway published by Beijing-based photographer Lin Zhipeng.

Another question was: How does contemporary photography get into collections? Sarah Meister spoke about the Fund for the Twenty-First Century at MoMA, that was created to purchase work produced during last five years by artists who were not presented in the MoMA collection. In this case, curators often look for newer practices and try to present the work the museum audience is not familiar with. Christopher Phillips looks at an artist’s career to find a perspective artist who consistently produces bodies of work. Joshua Chuang considers work that fits artwork from the gallery collection and that is not limited to the photographic medium.

The participants also discussed the problem of digital photography. Everybody has a camera now and can produce images, there is an overwhelming amount of images on the internet. The curators talked about a trend of incorporating internet images into artists’ work (ex. Doug Rickard) and how a museum can deal with such kind of practices. With the digitalizing of old photographs, photography past is growing as well. We are overwhelmed with pictures in this image saturated culture.

Speaking about new work, many of curators pointed that new artists come from all over the world – China, South Korea, Brazil. In order to understand their work, we have to learn a background of the artists and a context that the work was made in.

The second panel: A Celebration of Francesca Woodman commemorated the traveling retrospective of Francesca Woodman (organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum through June 13, 2012 ). The panel was moderated by Robert Klein of the Robert Klein Gallery in Boston and included Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history at the University of California, Berkeley, Sloan Keck, a designer and friend of Francesca Woodman, and Elisabeth Subrin, a video artist. Julia Bryan-Wilson is an author of the essay featured in the catalog of Francesca Woodman’s show in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The essay surveys the critical and art historical literature that has proliferated around Woodman’s art. Elisabeth Subrin presented (or at least tried) a 36-minute video The Fancy (2000), an ‘experimental biography’ of Francesca Woodman exploring the interpretation of Woodman’s work and life based on published records only (ReadWatch the trailer). The discussion bounced from one subject to another, including questions: How interpretation of curators differ from the artist intent? What artists did influence Francesca? Sloan Keck, who was a close friend of Francesca since freshman year at RISD contributed some stories behind the photographs, talked on Francesca’s personality and read some experts from Woodman’s diaries.

On the break between panels, I went to The AIPAD Photography Show quite spontaneously. (I intended to attend the two panel discussions only but thanks to a photography collector who gave me a spare pass I got to see the show itself.) At AIPAD for the first time, I could hardly believe that I was seeing this enormous amount of photography history mixed with contemporary work in one location. The show was extremely overwhelming and I won’t even try to write about it at this time. Just some remarks about photobooks. There were two photobook dealer booths at the show:

Harper’s Books, founded in 1997, is a bookshop and gallery located in East Hampton, New York. It specializes in rare photography, art, and literary books. Among one-of-a-kind items Harper’s Books had on display Alec Soth’s notebook for his project The Most Beautiful Woman in Georgia and the mock-up of Ken Schles’ Invisible City. Check out the incredible list of items Harper’s Books presented at the AIPAD show. Thanks to Helka Aleksdóttir for sharing the opportunity to see those books. Look for the reviews at her wonderful blog.

Another photobook dealer was Jeff Hirsch Books from Evanston, IL., specializing in used and rare photography monographs and modern first editions.

One of the wonderful items I saw at the show is a book of famous George Tice’s photographs titled American Beauty presented by Nailya Alexander Gallery. It is a book of 24 Platinum/Palladium 8″x10″ prints on Japanese gambi paper. The book is slipcased and measures 16 x 14 inches. The preorder price is $18.000, the starting market price will be $20.000.

The AIPAD Photography Show creates a wonderful environment to look at photography treasures, to learn about the history of the medium and to experience museum-quality prints.

The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 @Jewish Museum

One of the most important photography exhibitions of this (and may be last) year, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 at the Jewish Museum is closing this weekend. The show presented the work of the Photo League members, known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life.  The exhibition included 150 black and white photographs from 73 different photographers covering the period from roughly 1910 to 1959, with a concentration between 1936 and 1951. If you didn’t have a chance to visit the exhibition, have a look at the Jewish Museum website that features information on history of the Photo League, artists, selected photographs from the show, and a Photo League photomap as a nice interactive element.

From the New York Times review: ‘A collaboration between the Jewish Museum and the Columbus Museum of Art, which both have extensive holdings of Photo League work, “Radical Camera” was organized by the team of Mason Klein (from the Jewish Museum) and Catherine Evans (from the Columbus Museum). The exhibition is, in some ways, as unwieldy as its subject. The curators have a lot to say about documentary photography in general, which went through a kind of growth spurt between the Depression and the Cold War, nurtured by an explosion of photojournalism in magazines like Life and Look. They deserve a lot of credit, though, for capturing the breadth and spirit of the league. There are some big names in “Radical Camera,” but the show’s best moments involve lesser-known talents like Lucy Ashjian, Jerome Liebling and Sid Grossman.’

From DLK Collection review:  ‘This show is roughly chronological, and this design allows the viewer to see the evolving stylistic approaches being employed by League members over the years of the club’s existence. Simplistically, one can imagine a continuum, at one end, documentary photography informed by activism, engagement and advocacy, a witness with an ideological purpose and a particular kind of social commentary to put forth. At the other end lies documentary photography informed by more subjective concerns, including individual emotions/reactions, aesthetics, formalism, and more personal questioning. As the years passed from 1936 to 1951 (the beginning and end of the League’s operation), it is possible to watch this internal debate raging on, where a new sensibility gradually starts to take hold.’

The exhibition catalog was published by Yale University Press and available online as well as at the Jewish Museum store.

There is also a film titled ‘Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League’s New York‘. It is the first documentary that tells the story of the Photo League. The film features interviews with a dozen surviving League members. Campbell Scott’s narration and 350 images paint a unique and unexpected portrait of New York City from the 1939 World’s Fair to Be-Bop and Abstract Expressionism. I didn’t find it on DVD but hopefully it will be available soon.

 

The Radical Camera was an important show to see. It included a lot of forgotten names and showed unique details of New York history. The main reason is very well explained by DLK Collection, and I will quote this review again: ‘I finally started to visually understand the small steps that made up the aesthetic and conceptual changes that took place between the 1930s and the 1950s, those missing evolutionary links between Abbott and Frank; The Americans now seems to me less like a thunder strike of genius out of nowhere and more like an innovative, original extrapolation from visual ideas that were already beginning to percolate around. <…> But the reason I found this to be one of the best photography shows of the year is that it also successfully fills in an important (and largely missing) gap in the recounting of the American photographic narrative.’

As my personal observation/note at the end of this post, here are some photographs from the exhibition with the same formal structure based on multiplicity of similar elements:

1.Consuelo Kanaga, Untitled (Tenements, New York), c. 1937

2. Jack Manning – Elks Parade, Harlem, from Harlem Document, 1939

3. Arthur Leipzig – Doll Factory, 1949

‘Somewhere to Disappear’, Documentary Film w/Alec Soth @Sean Kelly Gallery

‘Somewhere to Disappear’ is a movie documenting Alec Soth’s travels in 2008-2009, during the time he was working on the project/book ‘Broken Manual’. The 57 minutes film is made by two young European directors, Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove.

By the words of the filmmakers, the goal was ‘in no way to take a voyeuristic snapshot of someone who himself observes a subject, but rather to follow a character who fantasizes about his subject and gradually merges with it’.

‘They followed me for a couple of years, driving around America, and they’ve become family, I feel very close to them, which doesn’t mean I thought their film was going to be any good. I thought this could be a disaster. But it turns out to be a wonderful movie, focused on the subjects I photographed’ – said Alec Soth.

The documentary gives a nice opportunity to get an inside view on how the photographer works on a project. We know that this project, as well as the movie, is about a dream to disappear. But it’s also about a photographer’s dream to get on the road with a big (or small) camera, looking for the subjects, to experience moments of meeting something or somebody incredible, to have the feeling (once in a while) that you’ve taken a good picture today. Undoubtedly, together with an exhibition and a book, the movie adds another layer to Alec Soth’s project. But, it also portrays a photographer in general, just a guy who wanders around with a camera, going to places and meeting people that we could hardly believe exist. And in the end, a photographer helps us to understand ourselves better through the discovery of ‘another’, uncommon ways of living.

The movie is a part of Alec Soth’s exhibition, Broken Manual that closes this weekend at the Sean Kelly Gallery.

More about ‘Somewhere to Disappear’

Alec Soth: Broken Manual
February 3 – March 11, 2012
Sean Kelly Gallery (528 West 29th Street)

Exhibition ‘The Art of Small Books’ by Aperture Foundation @Soho Photo Gallery

Exhibition: The Art of Small Books organized by Aperture Foundation, hosted in the Soho Photo Gallery was a rare opportunity to look through sixteen books in journal-sized format, mostly published by Aperture over a period of years.

The title of the exhibition brought some confusion – I expected to see artist’s books with unique design in a really small scale.

The only book in the exhibition that fits this description was Christian Marclay’s ‘Shuffle’.

In this book, Christian Marclay has photographed the appearances of musical notation throughout the world. Each of the 75 color images is presented on an individual oversized card, and the entire deck is enclosed in a package that intended to be used as a spontaneous musical score. Have a look at pianist Anthony Coleman’s performance of Christian Marclay’s ‘Shuffle’:

The book that I had heard much about but never got a chance to look at before, was ‘Black Passport’ by Stanley Greene.

Outstanding concept and design of the book are the work of Teun van der Heijden, a designer from Netherlands. The book looks like a travel document with passport-like round edges and cover material. It is a personal memoir of war photographer Stanley Greene compiled out of excerpts from over two years of interviews conducted by Teun van der Heijden together with Stanley Greene’s images from Paris, Moscow, Rwanda, Iraq, Lebanon, San Francisco and many other locations. Watch this book’s trailer:

Another book with a modern magazine-like design was ‘Silent Exodus’ by Kabul-born, Switzerland-based photographer Zalmai. The book chronicles the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon; over the course of several trips in 2007.  He interviewed them, collected their individual stories and photographed them in their homes.

I am personally  fond of Japanese photography, and Takashi Homma’s book exploring every day life in Tokyo was one of my favorites in the show. The book compiles selections from the artist’s six previously published titles about the city. This is the first of Homma’s monographs published outside Japan.

Among classic photobooks presented in the show, were three books from the Aperture Masters of Photography series. The series was created in the 1970s in collaboration with the French publisher Robert Delpire and intended to make affordable photography books for wider public. The exhibition featured books on Eugène AtgetHenri Cartier-Bresson, and Wynn Bullock.

Another favorite of mine in the show was Robert Adams’ book ‘Summer Nights, Walking’. It is a re-edited edition of ‘Summer Nights’ published by Aperture in 1985. The book has very nice classic design and contains photographs of night landscapes that Robert Adams began making in the mid-1970s near his former home in Longmont, Colorado.

‘Travelers’ by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz is a book of constructed images of miniatures – toy figures in  snowbound environments.

This exhibition also presented two volumes of MP3: Midwest Photographers Publication Project, a series of books intending to introduce emerging photographers from the Midwest. Each volume contains three books of three photographers:  Kelli Connell, Justin Newhall and Brian Ulrich in Volume I, and Curtis Mann, John Opera, and Stacia Yeapanis in Volume II. These books have a modern, colorful, Blurb-like design.

I went to the exhibition on Friday afternoon when the space wasn’t crowded and got a chance to carefully look through all the books picking up some favorites that hopefully will become a part of my collection. It was a nice opportunity to look through this collection of old and new Aperture books.

The Art of Small Books
February 8 – March 3, 2012
Soho Photo Gallery (15 White Street)

Photography Exhibitions @Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

This month I happened to be in Kansas City, and having heard so much about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I couldn’t miss a chance to visit it.

After the acquisition of the famed Hallmark Photographic Collection in December 2005, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art became one of the premier museums in the world for photography. Since then the photography collection of the museum has extended to over 8,000 prints covering the medium’s entire history and primarily contains works of American artists with some international representation.

Two thirds of the Photography gallery is devoted to a historical survey of photography. The exhibition of works from the museum’s permanent collection is on view at all times, with new installations presented about three times a year (due to preservation reasons). The photographs are shown chronologically in five sections.

19th Century Daguerreotypes
Invented in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, the daguerreotype process, widely used in 1840-1860, produces a one-of-a-kind direct positive image characterized by extraordinary detail. Nearly every facet of American society from this period was recorded in daguerreotype: important events, occupational portraits, outdoor and city views, artistic and sometimes comedic subjects.

Unknown
Gold Miners with Sluice, ca. 1850
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

– 19th Century Paper Photography
Negative/positive process on paper, introduced in the 1850s, made photography even more widely popular and useful than before. It became a truly amateur activity in the 1880s with the introduction of dry-plate negatives and handheld cameras like the Kodak.

Carleton E. Watkins, North America, 1829-1916
View from Camp Grove, Yosemite, 1861
Albumen print
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

My personal discovery here was French photographer Eugene Cuvelier, 1837-1900. The only albumen print of his, titled Fampoux, 1860, that was on view at this time immediately caught my eye and encouraged me to research more on his work. Many of Cuvelier’s images were made at the Forest of Fontainebleau near Barbizon in north-central France. Simple in composition, soft and delicate in tone range, his landscapes are calm and meditative. The work causes a viewer to spend more time in front of the print.

– 20th Century Early Movements
This part of the exhibition covers a period from 1900 until World War II, when different styles and approaches evolved, such as pictorialism, straight photography, modernist and social documentary movements.

The pictorialist movement is represented with the work of Clarence H. White, one of the leading figure of this style at the turn-of-the-century. There is also a stunning work of William Fraser, who made one of the earliest artistic night images using effects of snow and rain in New York City.


William A. Fraser, American, ca. 1840-1925
A Wet Night, Columbus Circle, ca. 1897-1898
Gelatin silver print
 © The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

The work of Edward Weston represents a purist style and an interest in form. Formal research continues in abstract work of László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray. Modernist investigation of structures and geometric forms is shown in works of André Kertész, Charles Sheeler and Kurt Baasch.

Another personal discovery was Charles Sheeler, with his 1927 series at the Ford Motor Company plant outside Detroit – a study of fascinating forms of industrial architecture,…


Charles Sheeler, American, 1883-1965
Criss-Crossed Conveyors–Ford Plant, 1927
Gelatin silver print
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

…and an interesting work of Kurt Baasch who explored simple forms of New York City.

Kurt Baasch – Repetition, 1912

At this part of the exhibition, I also discovered Francis Blake, a scientist and an innovator in high-speed photography who designed a shutter that allowed him to take photographs with exposure times of 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second. Read more.

The documentary movement of this period is illustrated with works of Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange.

– 20th Century Post-War Movements
This is a period in the history when ‘the photograph was understood as a metaphor for internal truth rather then a simple document of the external ones’ and photography started to receive the institutional acceptance as an art form. The period is presented with works of Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.

– 20th/21thst Century Contemporary
The photography of this era is extremely diverse in techniques and approaches. The contemporary art world was transformed by photography and photography was influenced and became a part of the art world. This part of the exhibition is located in a larger room with a number of artists presented. I will mention the names of the artists whose work attracted me, even with only one photograph displayed.

Emmet Gowin’s photographs of his own family and natural landscapes immediately made me one of his fans. The subject matter and style perfectly fit my some of my latest interests in photography.

Emmet Gowin – Edith, 1971

I was also attracted to the work of Mike Sinclair, who documents ‘familiar places’ (landscapes of Kansas City area) and studies modern American mid-class social traditions.

The work of Sze Tsung Leong from the series Cities depicts urban areas – new kind of landscapes, ‘decaying and self renewing’.

And of course, I was happy to see the print of Alec Soth from his famous series Sleeping by the Mississippi. By the way, Alec Soth will speak about his work in a free public lecture sponsored by the Photography Society of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on March 3, 2012. I envy those of you who will be there!


Alec Soth – Herman’s bed, Kenner, Louisiana 2002

The Photographs of Brett Weston

The last room of the Photography gallery is devoted to small scale shows that change every three to four months. Currently the exhibition consists of Brett Weston’s photographs. The show contains thirty seven, rarely seen before works of Brett Weston.

Brett Weston, a son of the famous photographer Edward Weston, adopted the purist manner of his father. His photographs of water, paint, plants, rock walls, landscapes, buildings, trees and structures of the city celebrate ‘the beauty of abstraction’. The images, made with 8×10 inch and 11×14 inch cameras, have great detail. The quality of the prints is significant. The exhibition is on display through March 25, 2012 and definitely worth seeing! Read more.

All exhibitions in the Photography gallery are beautifully presented. The prints have interesting and informative descriptions and are very carefully lit. I could say the same about the entire museum from my brief excursion after my visit to the Photography gallery. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was a great discovery during my trip to Kansas City, and I highly recommend it to everyone!

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website