Archive for November, 2010

UNBOUND: Maes and Roberts

November 29, 2010

This week we are featuring the work of S.M. MAES and SHAUN ROBERTS, two participants in the THE PHOTO PROJECT WORKSHOP that we conducted this past October.  In this workshop, we work with the participants to help them shape a project into a more coherent form, ultimately into a handmade book dummy.  This process involves working with participants to edit and sequence their work, and pushing them to try to come to grips with the core or heart of their project.   In addition, Rebecca, who is a writer and text editor as well as photographer,  helps the participants write an artist statement and find a title.  Lastly, we introduce workshop participants to the process of working with a designer.  Each photographer meets with a designer early in the week, who then creates two covers for their work-in-progress by the end of the workshop.

Here are two of these cover selections –– along with their accompanying artist statements and titles ––one from Belgian street photographer, S.M. Maes, and the other, from the San Francisco-based photographer and director, Shaun Roberts.  Over the course of the next six months or so, we will publish the other covers produced in the workshop. There will also be an exhibition in New York, hopefully next spring, of all the covers plus one framed print from each of the projects at the Caption Gallery in Brooklyn.

We expect to give the workshop on an annual basis in Brooklyn the last week in October.  To stay updated about this and other Webb Workshops, please request to be  added to the WEBB WORKSHOP EMAIL LIST.  You’ll find the details at the end of this blog posting.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

AMBIGUOUS CITY: Photographs from Antwerp

By S.M. Maes

S.M. Maes, cover-in-progress for "Ambiguous City"

“[Antwerp is] ambiguous—a vibrant blossoming culture on top, and a rusty brown sentiment beneath the cobblestones…Like every city, there is a visible one, and one where only its inhabitants can lead you.”––Ramsey Nasr, city poet of Antwerp

“..the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings, which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping…something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene… ” ––Italo Calvino, from “Invisible Cities

 

The act of taking a picture to me is an attempt at transforming the city around me into the city I ‘feel,’ as it were. This city is out there, imagined by me somehow, and reveals itself in glimpses. It’s a city that is characterized by a strange and an alluring complexity –– a city in which different people, situations, actions, moods, and emotions intersect. Because of this complexity, there is no singular story to be told, but two or three or multiple stories, all existing simultaneously. Hence there is no need to search for a single ending or resolution or meaning. One would only get lost. ––S.M. Maes

S.M. MAES WEBSITE

AUDEN’S WORDS

Photographs by Shaun Roberts

Shaun Roberts, cover-in-progess for "Auden's Words"

 

“Healing,” Papa would tell me, “ is not a science, but the intuitive art

of wooing nature.” – W.H. Auden


This project grew from a need to make sense of the world around me after having suffered a personal loss in my life. A close friend and poet offered the above W.H. Auden quote to consider. I found comfort in these words that quietly stuck with me, even if I didn’t fully grasp their meaning.

Again in again, in Shanghai, Bangkok, San Francisco, New York, where ever I traveled for the next few years, I found myself drawn to the undeniable grace of strangers. Some passed me in a fraction of a second, barely enough for an exposure — while others eventually I had the privilege of getting to know.

The images they offered me  – gathered together in this book – mysteriously but consistently wooed me away from the pain and the isolation. They showed me how to fall in love with the world –– person by person, moment by moment, frame by frame –– all over again.––Shaun Roberts

SHAUN ROBERTS WEBSITE


To stay updated about the next PHOTO PROJECT WORKSHOP, which is not posted yet, please request to be added to the WEBB WORKSHOP EMAIL LIST by emailing Rebecca at rebeccanorriswebb@yahoo.com.

TRENT’S PICKS: Friedlander at the Whitney

November 14, 2010

TRENT DAVIS BAILEY is a young photographer from Colorado who recently moved to New York.  He recently received a BFA in photography and a BA in art history from the University of Colorado.  Besides photographing and working with us on a variety of projects, he is also currently reviewing exhibitions for Daylight Magazine.  We have each chosen a photograph to accompany Trent’s review of the current Lee Friedlander show at the Whitney, “America By Car,” which is up through November 28th.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Lee Friedlander, “Alaska, 2007,” represented by Fraenkel Gallery

LEE FRIEDLANDER (b. 1934) has long been recognized for his compound street photographs, which document “social landscapes” through a complex arrangement of reflections, shadows, street signs, and self-portraits. For his latest book and current exhibition, “Lee Friedlander: America by Car,” the photographer went on a decade-long succession of road trips driving on US highways, city streets, country roads, and thoroughfares. In the tradition of other itinerant street photographers, such as Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, Friedlander’s work examines the expanse of infrastructures and social constructs that pervade the United States. And now, at age 76, Friedlander is still demonstrating his ability to revisit, challenge, and extend his well-established photographic vocabulary.

By photographing through car windows with a Hasselblad Super Wide, Friedlander uses his camera’s foreshortening perspective to methodically construct images that operate as a frame-within-a-frame (often with rear-view mirrors and side-view mirrors acting as additional frames). The photographs focus on the makes, models, and hardware of his rental cars while also considering the environments beyond the cars’ interiors. As consistent with his past work, Friedlander is not at all timid about including himself in these photographs either. Whether it is the flare of his flash or his reflection in a mirror, his presence is felt in every image.

Pictured beyond many of Friedlander’s cars’ windows are especially bleak locales such as dilapidated Rust Belt factories, suburban homes in California, and a car graveyard in Arizona. In this context — when gazing through a rental car window — the visual contrast trades cynicism for wit. And even though each photograph is muddled with information, Friedlander is still able to establish a compositional order. The physical and figurative relationship that coexists between the car interiors and the momentary scenes beyond each window provides a timely, often-satirical commentary on contemporary America.––Trent Davis Bailey

Trent’s review via Daylight Magazine

Lee Friedlander: America By Car
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
September 4 – November 28,  2010
http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LeeFriedlander
To see more of Lee Friedlander’s work, visit the Fraenkel Gallery website.


Lee Friedlander, “California, 2008,” represented by Fraenkel Gallery

NEW YORK AND BEYOND: OTHER NOTED PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITIONS:

–The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro
The International Center of Photography, New York, NY
September 24, 2010 – January 9, 2011
Exhibition: http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/mexican-suitcase

More about the suitcase: http://museum.icp.org/mexican_suitcase/

–From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
September 12, 2010 – January 2, 2011
http://calendar.walkerart.org/canopy.wac?id=4673

–Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century
SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA
October 30, 2010 – January 30, 2011
http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/409
.
–Chicago Cabinet: Views from the Street
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
October 16, 2010 – January 16, 2011
http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/exhibition/Street
 

TWO QUESTIONS: On Unpeopled Frames, On Early Influences; On Working Near vs. Far, On Text and Photographs

November 3, 2010

The TWO QUESTIONS column this month features questions from photographers from TWO CONTINENTS: Matthew Goddard-Jones from Australia and Carolyn Beller, originally from Alabama.  Matthew’s dynamic, playful, and often surprising images from his long-term project, “Pastimes,” perfectly echo his subject matter, Australians at play.   Carolyn’s curiosity about the world has led her from her potter’s studio in Chicago to follow her relatively new passion of photography in Myanmar, Rwanda, and other countries around the globe. You can read more about each photographer –– and be linked to their work ––  at the end of this column.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

RNW, St. Francis, Rosebud Indian Reservation, SD, from "My Dakota"

ON TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS AND ON EARLY INFLUENCES

MATTHEW GODDARD-JONES: Rebecca, do you consider the writings in your books as stand alone imagery, or do they add to the visual images?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: One of my artistic obsessions is exploring how text and images can work together in a photo book to illuminate one another. I’m a writer as well as a photographer, so I tend to see in images, whether I’m using a pen or a camera.  So I guess in a way what I’m also exploring is a form that echoes my own creative process, especially when that process is trying to deal with something as complicated as loss, from the loss of our natural world –– as in my first book, “The Glass Between Us” –– to a private loss, as in the book I’m working on now, “My Dakota.”

For me, I like to think of text and photographs as equal elements in a book, as if they were all notes in the same piece of music, or images in a single poem.  With each book, I try to figure out the particular relationship between the two that makes the most sense for that particular body of work and the themes that accompany it.  Broadly speaking, I guess I would say that my combining text and photographs has something to do with how I experience the world, and also how this experience is translated in how I build my own photography books ––image by image (sometimes using text, sometimes photographs), page by page, so that the emotional resonance and/or suggestiveness of each image spills over onto the next, allowing each image to be awash with all the others.  This kind of layering — image by image, page by page — colors and shades the body of work until it’s shaped into a completed photo book, a process similar to the creation of a painting or a poem.

For instance, now nearing the completion of “My Dakota,” I’m only now beginning to understand that the my repeated use of shrouds and veils in this series reminds me of the villanelle, a poetic form in which lines/images often repeat, yet each time they repeat, the meaning varies somewhat.  Perhaps I was intuitively drawn to this sort of villanelle-style repetition/variation in both my text and photographs because it’s a form that closely reflects the process that the grieving and troubled mind goes through while grappling with what is lost and –– simultaneously and paradoxically –– what can never be lost.  And it’s probably no accident that one of my favorite poems is a villanelle about loss, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

CAROLYN BELLER:  Alex, it seems that the art of photography is sometimes very misunderstood. Most people would never dream that they could compose a brilliant concerto, paint a masterpiece, or write a classic novel, as these works of art are created by artists out of nothing. A photographer has a camera and in a split second captures what actually exists. It would seem that if a dog, some people, a building, a road exists than we all can see those things and yet a great photographer sees these same things in a very different way. Your iconic images are SO complex. Most people can’t see contrast, shape, color, gesture, scale, expression, and composition in a 3D world expressed as a 2D image. Do you think that you were born with an acute visual awareness or have you developed it over the years by taking hundreds of thousands of images? Have you always sought visual stimulation and have you always been visually curious? What were some of the things that interested you as a child?

ALEX WEBB: It’s always a little hard to have any kind of perspective about one’s self and evaluate the influences on one’s work.  But I’ll make a stab at it.

I’m quite sure that how I photograph was greatly influenced by my upbringing. I come from a family of artists: my mother is a sculptor and draftsman; my father, though a publisher and editor, was also a writer; my brother is a painter; and my sister, who partially escaped the family’s artistic tradition by studying biology, ended up becoming an ornithological illustrator as well as an author of illustrated children’s books.  Art was everywhere in our house when we were growing up: whether we were hanging out in my mother’s studio, listening to my father discuss fiction, or going to museums with both parents.  So from an early age I was exposed to all kinds of visual and literary stimulation.  As a child and well into my teen years, I tried to paint, to sculpt, and — especially later on, and somewhat more seriously — to write fiction.  Fortunately the world was spared these efforts and I became a photographer.

But that predominantly explains something about the urge to become an artist — it doesn’t explain the particular nature of how I see the world as a photographer.  I suspect that early exposure to various modernist painters — especially De Chirico and the Cubists — influenced how I see.  Their paintings still rattle about in the back of my head.  And of course I have been deeply influenced by the stream of street photographers, from Cartier-Bresson and Kertesz on to Frank and Friedlander.  And there are writers — Graham Greene, Conrad, Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa — whose vision of the world has certainly influenced where I have chosen to work and how I perceive some of my chosen locales.  But I think there may be a further, ultimately more personal, influence.  My father was an incredibly nuanced thinker, a man who often discovered  alternative perceptions, who seemed drawn to complexity.  I don’t think I inherited the conceptual complexity of his way of thinking — I’m certainly not the thinker he was —  but perhaps something about his attitude toward the world, his embrace of complexity, wore off on me.  As a photographer I am always looking for more — more elements that qualify or transform the image.  This is not just a drive towards visual complexity for complexity’s sake — it is something ultimately more philosophical.  And in that sense perhaps it parallels something about how my father seemed to perceive the world.

AW, Tijuana, Mexico, 1999, from "Crossings"

 

ON WORKING NEAR VS. FAR; ON UNPEOPLED FRAMES

MGJ: Alex: Is it easier to photograph away from your own environment? If so, why?

AW: I don’t think it is easier or more difficult to photograph away from one’s own environment.  It’s just different.  That said, I think that in the act of photographing, when there is that sudden moment of recognition, when somehow all those elements come together and become a photograph, I think it’s pretty much the same. It’s just that the process of getting to the moment is different.

In the mid-seventies after graduating from college, I felt that my photographs were becoming dead, predictable. I began to look outside of the world of New England and New York that I had been photographing.  I went to Haiti, to northern Mexico, eventually to other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.  I discovered worlds where life seemed to be lived on the stoop and in the street, a world of immediacy and energy, far from the gray-brown reticence of New England.  The brilliant light and intense color that I discovered in these places compelled me to eventually start working in color, which I continue to do to the present.

Was it easier to choose this route than another?  Not necessarily.  Some of the places I have chosen to work in are resistant to photography.  Others less so.  But it was the right route for me at that time for my work.

Now, however, having wandered the globe for some thirty years, I am interested in returning to the United States and photographing more here.  Will it be easier?  More difficult?  I don’t know for sure.  I think it’s always very difficult to take truly interesting photographs.

CB:  Rebecca, in your layout for your upcoming book, My Dakota,  I see that you have included few images with people in them. In The Glass Between Us, however, you include many images of people but they are primarily reflected images. Why have you made these choices in each book?

RNW: As I mention in my introduction to “The Glass Between Us”, this work began thanks to a serendipitous visit to the Coney Island aquarium, where I saw a beluga whale that appeared to be floating high over the heads of a group of people, whose images were reflected in the glass tank.  I first thought, “I’ll get rid of that reflection,” and then realized, “No, that’s what’s interesting…the relationship between the people looking at the whale and the creature itself.” The project expanded from aquariums to zoos to natural history museums.  Many of the photographs are of reflections of people on glass aquarium tanks or the glass walls of monkey houses, capturing the moment when the person was spontaneously responding to the animal he or she was watching.  So the literal reflection on the glass is also a kind of musing/reflection on the nature of the relationship between a particular animal and a particular viewer/visitor.

Yet, even in this body of work, two of my favorite images contain no people at all, merely the vestiges of them:  a faded African savannah mural painted in the 1930’s on the walls of the giraffe enclosure in a Paris zoo; the crooked seams of a crudely-sewn belly of a giraffe specimen in an Italian natural history museum.

Thinking about those images now, I wonder if they in some small way helped to prepare me –– unconsciously, creatively, intuitively –– for what I could not possibly be prepared for –– how to respond to the unexpected death of my first immediate family member, my older brother, Dave.  I don’t know the answer, or even if there is an answer.  What I do know is that, thankfully, I felt compelled to take my camera back to my home state of South Dakota during those darkest days of my life.

That’s not say that I always managed to push the shutter. Some days, all I did was drive and drive and drive, often without encountering another human being for miles. So a major reason this work is relatively unpeopled is because that reflects my actual experience photographing this sparsely-populated Great Plains state.  That said, in many of these images, there’s often signs of people –– a tinted car window in the badlands, a faded painted teepee on a ruined Lakota motel, an animal skeleton on a barbed wire fence near Pine Ridge.  I guess you could say that “My Dakota” is inhabited by the abandoned belongings and other traces of people, something that may well begin to explain the work’s elegiac tone.

Matthew Goddard-Jones, from "Pastimes"

 

Matthew Goddard-Jones is a freelance photographer based in Western Australia, who studied graphic design at the London College of Printing. Always seeking to challenge himself to develop as a photographer, he has recently attended Magnum workshops in Australia and New York.

Matthew is passionate about documenting people in their own environments, and is currently working on a long-term project “Pastimes,” documenting the changing face of the sports, hobbies, and other activities in Western Australia. He has exhibited widely.

Matthew’s website

Carolyn Beller, Burma, 2008

 

Carolyn Beller is a native of Montgomery, Alabama and graduated from Tulane University with an M.F.A. in Studio Art and a minor in Art History.  She has lived, worked and studied art, language and interior design in Italy, France, Japan, Austria and New York. Carolyn has been making utilitarian pottery since 1980. She has maintained a pottery studio and taught art in Chicago where she now lives with her husband and three dogs.

Carolyn’s work in photography started in earnest in 2006. In her own words:

“In 2006, I traveled to Rwanda to fulfill my childhood dream of seeing Mountain Gorillas in the wild. Returning home I began to read everything I could find about the history and the people of Rwanda and promised myself that, one day, I would return with more knowledge and a “real” camera. Later that year I traveled to the Terai in western Nepal to work on a pottery project with the indigenous Tharu people who are hunter-gatherers well known for their ancient skills as artisans.

I took my first digital SLR on that trip and realized that a camera could be an invaluable tool to see deeper into a people and their culture.  Photography has opened my eyes even wider.  I am amazed by the world everyday.”

Carolyn has attended photography workshops, and studied with Nevada Wier, Catherine Karnow, Jay Maisel, David Alan Harvey, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb.  She has traveled to Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Turkey, and throughout the U.S to study and to make photographs.

Last year, she returned to Rwanda with a “real” camera.

CAROLYN’S WEBSITE


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