Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The future of photography

It's been at least six months since an institution posed the modest question, what is the future of photography? so here is the latest manifestation of that discourse. During Unseen 2012, the Friday afternoon panel discussion 'Future of Photography' examined 'what's next' in the contemporary photography landscape. Panel discussions members included Marc Feustel (Eyecurious blog), Simon Baker (Curator of Photography and International Art, Tate), James Reid (Director of Photography at Wallpaper), Christine Ollier (Artistic Director of Galerie les Filles du Calvaire), Francois Hébel (Director of Les Rencontres d'Arles Festival). The discussion was moderated by Marcel Feil, Artistic Director of FOAM.

In all seriousness, it's a highly engaging and enjoyable video, particularly the section that flags up work from the new generation of photographic artists who are making waves (think Dru Donovan, Asger Carlsen, Letha Wilson, Akiko Takizawa to name but a few) and serves to highlight the many and various directions in which the medium is headed. If you want to read a summary of the issues that came to the fore before watching click here.

Doug DuBois @Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh County Cork

All images © Doug DuBois

Tomorrow evening the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh County Cork, Ireland, will open the exhibition of works by the brilliant Doug DuBois - My Last Day at Seventeen.

In a text describing the project, DuBois ventures the following:

"Russell Heights is a housing estate of uncertain vintage that sits on Spy Hill overlooking the Cork Harbour on the Great Island in East Cork. The neighbourhood is insular: everyone seems to be someone’s family member, former girlfriend or spouse. Little can happen there that isn’t seen, discussed, often exaggerated and fiercely defended against any disapprobation from the outside.

My introduction to Russell Heights came at the invitation of Kevin and Eirn, two teenagers who took part in a photography workshop I gave at the community centre. The title of the project, My Last Day at Seventeen was uttered by Eirn when I photographed her on the eve of her eighteenth birthday. Certain photographs are made spontaneously, but most are fashioned collaboratively utilising a chosen wardrobe, setting and circumstance. These scenes are carefully crafted and stylised to evoke the narrative rhetoric of literature and film without abrogating entirely the photographic claim to depict lived experience. The portraits, similarly directed, are often tightly framed to concentrate on the anxious countenance and fragile bravado of a future not fully imagined or realised."

The photographs were made over a four year period during a series of artist residencies at the Sirius Arts Centre under the invitation of Artistic director extraordinaire Peggy Sue Amison. Collectively, the images present a somewhat fictional, somewhat documentary account of adolescence in Ireland and a coming of age story about a small group of teenagers from Russell Heights. 

The exhibition runs from Thursday 25 October to Sunday 23 December.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Cindy Sherman

What is there to say about queen bee Cindy Sherman? For 30 years she has starred in all of her photographs and yet they reveal nothing about her. For they are anything but self-portraits. Rather, her collection of pictures toss a molotov cocktail through the stained-glass window of photographic truth.

We recently happened upon this rare interview with her, produced by Art21. In it she reveals how dressing up in character began as a kind of performance and evolved into her earliest photographic series such as Bus Riders (1976), Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), and the untitled rear screen projections (1980).

Through her myriad of guises, metamorphosing from a busty Marilyn Monroe to a cowgirl to a forlorn clown, she examines issues of gender, identity and power, and explores how photography is complicit in these contructions. Often with the simplest of means - a camera, a wig, makeup, location, an outfit - but always freighted with self-reflexive irony, Sherman chosen heroines pursue this with overt anarchy energy presenting ambiguous but memorable characters that suggest complex social and cultural realities lived out beyond the frame. Having developed an aesthetic and artistic language of their own, they interrogate public images, from kitsch (film stills and centerfolds) to art history (Old Masters and Surrealism) to green-screen technology and the latest advances in digital photography.

But of course that’s not the only advance she has made. Sherman’s Untitled #96 from 1981 - more commonly referred to as 'Orange Sweater' - passed all records for photography, and was sold for $3.89 million in Spring this year. According to Art Info, the buyer was New York dealer Philippe Segalot, and the underbidder was Per Skarstedt, also a New York dealer. Christie's confirmed that this was a record for a photograph at auction, previously held by Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent II Diptychon, which fetched $3.35 million in 2006. Sherman recently had another high profile sale, with her work Untitled #153, from 1985 reaching $2.7 million in late 2010. Needless to say, the price of a photograph should never be the measure of value but nobody can deny her stature and influence on the medium, the esteem with which she is held by critics and curators, and the prestigious collections that contain her work.

Below is another video, this time comprising a panel discussion on the occasion of her retrospective survey at MoMA that finished back in June. It features artists, working in a variety of mediums, as they consider Cindy Sherman's influence on contemporary art practice. Panelists include George Condo, Kalup Linzy, Elizabeth Peyton, and Collier Schorr. It is moderated by exhibition organiser Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Daido Moriyama printing show @Tate Modern, London

Our Associate editor, Brad Feuerhelm on the rare opportunity to create his own limited-edition, photo book with legendary Japanese photographer, Daido Moriyama.

I was lucky enough to get to the Tate Modern last week to take part in making a book with Daido Moriyama along with a bevy of other photography aficionados. The idea of the printing show has been successfully resurrected by curator, writer and Goliga Press head Ivan Vartanian for the Tate’s current show Klein + Moriyama, which in itself is a great behemoth of a dual retrospective.

Mr. Vartanian has taken his cue from the original printing show that Moriyama did in New York City in 1974 wherein he notoriously and, in perfect participatory harmony, assembled a small workshop in the commercial gallery and invited interested parties to become part of the performance of book arts selection. Members were allowed to pick an amount of Moriyama’s images to collate into their own book. A highly probable gesture to the unique and collaboration bereft of the pressures of commerce normally associated with a commercial gallery endeavour. This seemed to be a kind of citizen artist project with a nod to the happenings of the 60’s. Collaborative. Inspirational. Effective. 

On the sixth floor of the Tate Modern with its expansive views over a lovely sunny London, participants were asked to repeat the process whereby they are allowed to pick through a pre-selected amount of Moriyama’s works to collate and produce their own book on the spot with other members allotted the same time. It was a hubbub of friendly, weekend activity with museum curators milling about with the public and of the photographic enthusiasts on the same level, the level of artist. The sort of open experience is one of the many reasons the London photographic community has been greatly enabled by the Tate’s push towards photography under the tutelage of Simon Baker, chief in staff of bringing photography howling down on London, the beast tamed and now sharply in the spotlight.

Before entering the sanctity of the Tate, I had already decided to reduce my knowledge of Daido Moriyama into one image and to repeat it over and over, making a repetitive, yet completely unique object barring any other paraphoto nerds had not beat me to it in 1974 at the original staging or at the recent Tokyo happening. At $40,000 for an original copy of the 1974 book, I think I will decline to pursue its possibility. In selecting an image of lips, I felt that I selected an iconic summation of the desire in Moriyama’s work. My ultimate choice would have been the ‘stray dog’ image, which I can still envision as a single image book.

Moriyama, ever the provocateur, was clever to exclude ‘stray dog’ and the famous tights image for his pre-selection of works available in the book making process. I remember chuckling on the way in when I realised it was not there, knowing he had got the best of me under his controlled and fairly so, tyrannical application of what we could choose. The images on display were gorgeous and the second-guessing about making it a more straightforward book still swayed to repetition and the single idea/image.

After selecting your images on a card (all cleverly organised), you give the selection to a printing assistant who then goes through the process of stapling the images to a pre-made screen printed cover of which there are two choices to pick from. I went blue. The title… Menu

I waited while my book was assembled to have my number called out to retrieve it from Simon Baker. My Menu served, a deserved light chuckle from him at its insistence to be different and I was sent off to wonder in the big smoke for the rest of my Sunday, feeling that the experience was well worth the obscenely cheap £20 ticket. Whether I felt I collaborated or parasitically stole myself into a vain collaboration with Mr. Moriyama is another matter entirely!
Brad Feuerhelm

Monday, 15 October 2012

Antoine d’Agata

All images © Antoine d'Agata

Antoine d’Agata’s latest publication ICE continues his ongoing fascination with sex, drugs, death and dissecting taboos, finds Chloe Athanasopoulou.

Perhaps it is too soon to judge whether Antoine D’Agata’s newest incarnation, ICE, is his swan song, but undoubtedly, it is the most contextualised and revealing book he has produced so far. Refreshingly amoral, excessive beyond reason, paradoxical and seductive, his journey through the prism of the drug, metamphetamine hydrochloride or so-called ICE, is unlocked here not just by way of photography but also through extensive writing.

Alongside already familiar photographic work produced since 2005 in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the injections of text throughout the book, such as his personal diary, emails to and from prostitutes portrayed in ICE, his editor, and his children back in France, offer a new dimension and level of complexity to his work that refrains from repetition. ICE is not an answer, but rather a multi-layered question, a circle of construction and destruction where the chronological distance between the photographs taken becomes spirally bigger together with the intensity of the pure experience. Antoine’s ambivalence between pain and pleasure, and instinctive gravitation towards the fugitive and circumstantial leaves no space for romantic notions of idealised beauty.

The protagonists of ICE are contemporary nymphs; abyssal and suffering, humane but still hard to reach and to keep hold of. Ka, the most beloved and indeed photographed of all the girls, is a contemporary Olympia, a Baudelairean Red Hair Beggar Girl, a queen, a prostitute, a cannibal, an anorexic desire and still, as D’Agata describes her, "taller than a mountain". The complex relationship between the prostitutes and the photographer is exposed through the extraordinary textual part of ICE; the shocking honesty and brutal rawness from both parts in regards to sensitive matters, such as the exploitation of the sitter, intimacy, sex and love, is far from pretentious and counteracts the judgemental and reassuring predisposition of our times.

The oeuvre of Antoine d’Agata has never been easy to digest and ICE is unquestionably his toughest body of work yet. The rigour and sheer determination of his quest reveals much of himself but uniquely, and crucially, opens up to the experience of his subjects.

Chloe Athanasopoulou

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

William Klein + Daido Moriyama @Tate Modern, London

Fresh from the media view of the hugely anticipated Klein + Moriyama: New York Tokyo Photography Film exhibition, which opens today at the Tate Modern, Rachel Ridge reports back on her findings and brings us a quick q&a with Daido Moriyama. Also, after the drop, are two of latest of Shots videos.

Klein + Moriyama: New York Tokyo Film Photography is the latest in a recent rupture of thoughtfully curated photography coming out of the Tate Modern. And, following the likes of Diane Arbus, Boris Mikhailov and the 2010 show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and The Camera, it appears to have a penchant for the candid wanderers of the world.  
So here we have two connoisseurs of the street in what is essentially two retrospectives back to back. It begins with American painter, filmmaker, and photographer William Klein (b.1928), and ends with Daido Moriyama, (b.1938). The story goes that a twenty year old Moriyama stumbled upon Klein’s seminal photo book, Life is Good and Good For You in New York, published in 1956, a daringly stark portrait of New York, which would go on to change the way he photographed from then on.
These are men who see the city as a mysterious world, that births a strange kind of existence filled with stark realities, performance, isolation, desires and nervous energy. Both shooting predominantly New York and Tokyo in black and white with a point and shoot, they seem to subsume street photography into their own brand of photographic impressionism. Quick to capture what grabbed them, their images had little time for technical expertise and appear more like throbs of instinctive impulse, that often dissolve into abstraction.
The show literally opens with a bang, with Klein’s film Broadway Light 1958, towering over you in pulsating neon flashes which cut to close ups of garish street signs, ‘Don’t walk’ and ‘Taste it’. Klein explores the city as cinema, a phantasmagoria, lulling us into a waking dream state. His work appears to be an intense investigation into these wheels of control and seduction.

Elsa Maxwell's Tory ball, Waldorf Hotel, New York, 1955. © William Klein

An interesting paradox is his heavy involvement in the fashion industry, working as a photographer for Vogue in his early career. We see enlarged pictures of models head to toe in designer clothing parading the gritty streets of New York, and a satire of the fashion industry in the film, Who are you Polly Magoo? which plays in a room looping a retrospective of his films. It’s quite hard to believe how he got away with poking fun at fashion, whilst at the same time, changing the face of it forever. In his most creative fashion endeavour he mixes photographs of models with photograms showing them interacting with moving light.
There is an inherent urgency about Klein’s practice that speaks to some kind of post war hysteria; rooms of abstract paintings, photograms, films then back to photography. A man on a manic quest for his own truth and always trying to break down the façade, he even does this with the photograph itself in huge blown up photo laminates of painted contact sheets unveiling the selection process for all to see. Laying things as bare as he can, the American dream seems to shatter slightly every time Klein clicks. The war may have been over but a new one was being waged.
The mania of Klein’s rooms pave the way for Moriyama to adopt a more sensual approach, where Klein is the rampant explorer, Moriyama, ten years his junior, is the flaneur letting his intuition lead.
Memory of Dog 2, 1982. © Daido Moriyama

Moriyama, born in Osaka but later settling in Tokyo, seems to be trying to make sense of these fragmented places, which the city poses. His democracy of vision renders real-artificial, human-animal, subject-photographer, inanimate object-nature all equal, all up for investigation. His photographs are where pre conceptions go to die. The city is merely a plethora of possibilities and he is open to them all. In the series Platform he captures different groups of people waiting for the train. We see a businessman, a granny and a housewife all coexisting on an equal plane, all having a story we can get lost in.
Moriyama’s influence, Jack Kerouac’s On the road, can be seen in the countless open-ended narratives that pour onto the walls in a stream of consciousness. Like Kerouac did with writing, Moriyama pushes the limits of photography - shooting grainy, disjointed compositions, overlapping images and over exposing. Photographs become his own subconscious imprints. In Farewell photography we see how Moriyama like Klein, uses personal expressions and distortion of light to remind us of the façade of the photograph.
The curator, Simon Baker, explains this is “a show about photographic architecture”. Staying true to Klein and Moriyama’s love affair with the photo book, the exhibition utilises this in a visually exciting way. There are vitrines full of books, issues of Japanese vintage publication Provoke. The photographs adorn the walls in grids resembling something of a free flowing book etched out on the wall. This, coupled with mammoth sized images and large-scale films create a constant flux of shapes and forms. 
Ultimately, this exhibition is an opportunity to witness how pioneering both were in breaking from the confines of the photograph to create a visual language where perception can roam freely, in turn, producing images that seem to spring from the dark recesses of our imaginations and fantasies.
Rachel Ridge 
Rachel Ridge: Do you see the relationship between you and William Klein? 
Daido Moriyama: Rather than feeling there’s any particular connection with the artist, I feel very happy and very fortunate to be able to share the same space with him. When I was in my twenties and saw Klein photographs of New York it really inspired me to become a photographer and change the way I took photographs myself.

RR: I read that sometimes you don’t look into the viewfinder when you’re shooting; you let your body take the photograph. How much do you rely on instinct and intuition?

DM: Yes. Intuition is very important and the instinct there. Sometimes if you’re in the town you might be looking one direction and you’ll just feel that there’s something happening over there and so you’ll just turn the camera and take a photo in the other direction and that is pure instinct. 

RR: Can you elaborate on how Jack Kerouac’s On the road has influenced your work?

DM: It’s not as though in every shot I take there is a bit of Jack Kerouac or a bit of Andy Warhol. When I was young I was very influenced by seeing their work or reading their work and that has somehow sunk into my subconscious and so it probably is present in all that I do but I’m not very conscious of it when I’m taking the pictures. I can emphasise with them in how they see the world, your basis stance to what’s around you.

RR: So like an intuitive remembering...

DM: It’s intuitive sometimes when you’re actually taking the photo. It can be intuitive what kind of photo you take but at the same time this basic stance to the world around you that’s the base on what you’re standing, so not quite the same as intuition. Through the lens it might be an instinctive motion to take a photo but the whole of my life and memories are acting through that one motion at that time.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Spencer Murphy

All images © Spencer Murphy

Spencer Murphy’s name should ring a bell thanks to his editorial commissions which has seen his photography published in such places as The Guardian Weekend, Telegraph Magazine, New Statesman, and the FT Weekend. He has also been included in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize no less than five times!

Here though are extracts from a personal project, a delicate and visually understated series entitled The Abyss Gazes Into You. It offers a gentle and thoughtful glimpse of Murphy's use of the landscape as inspiration and as a means to discover something within him.

“These images are a reflection of something inside myself – a feeling of both being trapped and floating endlessly in time and space, a mixture of hope and despair, desolation and beauty,” says Murphy.

“The sense, perhaps, of what it is to live a finite life in an infinite universe. They are pictures that, to me, hint at the unfathomable scale not only of the universe, but of life itself. They are instances in which, by accident or design, I have found myself staring once more into the abyss, and the abyss has momentarily returned my gaze.”

Lofty themes and grand claims, but does the work bear the weight of these words? Check out more from the series here and decide for yourselves. We are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Born in 1978, Murphy grew up in the Kentish countryside and studied photography at University College Falmouth, graduating in 2002. Murphy now lives and works in London.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Chloe Borkett

All images © Chloe Borkett

Chloe Borkett’s vision is sensitive to the melancholia of the world. Her project Stories East of the River is a delicate yet direct document on the lives of the younger generation in small republic of Transdniester in the region of Moldova. Portraits, punctuated with lyrical details and brooding landscapes, capture a sense of an uncertain future for a generation whose identity and solid basis for growth is riddled with doubt. Sitters stare into space or look directly back at the viewer as if searching for something positive with bold yet concerned expressions.

Says Borkett: "The young are deeply proud to be Russian but are starting to question the tiny Republic’s success and the implications on their futures. International trade is restricted; jobs and opportunities are limited and on-going difficulties with obtaining expensive visas, limits economic migration."

Borkett’s strength is in her beautiful use of colour to convey a sense of the story without either artistic indulgence or hard, objective, journalistic tactics.

Born in 1978, she graduated with a degree in documentary photography from the University of Wales, Newport and is now based in London. She has been involved in various exhibitions including the Ian Parry exhibition in 2011. She continues to pursue projects concerning social issues with a focus on human rights.
To view more work from this series click here.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Rafael Arocha

All images © Rafael Arocha

“Photography keeps me alert,” writes Rafael Arocha by way of introduction to his project entitled Midnight. “The photographic process allows me to critically and creatively understand, and get closer to different situations, feelings and people, learning more about my own thoughts and inner emotions. I believe this process allows the photographer to discover and connect with his/her obsessions, doubts, intellect and memory.”

With more than a whiff of Anders Petersen, this imagery plumbs the heart of grimness. Alive to the presence of human flesh, it looks at the relationship between instinct and desire, where night time is the stage set on which courtship becomes ritualistic. Filtered through his uncompromising lens are scenes, incidents and gestures that become transformed into things of profound and often awkward beauty.

“Midnight refers to a fleeting moment,” Arocha goes on to explain, “a line that divides one moment in time from another. It is then that a transformation happens, a metamorphosis, and an instinctive drive, from deep within, offers us the opportunity to show ourselves as less ordinary. Things happen, sometimes unnoticed, which reflect our own obsessions or fantasies. Non-verbal codes are used to communicate, and once interpreted, they become intimate longing and desire.”

Rafael Arocha was born in 1978, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Click here to view more work from the series. To learn about his practice visit