Kehinde Wiley

April 21, 2014

After Jean August Dominique Ingres' The Virgin with the Host, Black Light series Photograph 2009 by Kehinde Wiley

After Jean August Dominique Ingres’ The Virgin with the Host, Black Light series Photograph 2009 by Kehinde Wiley

Ingres' The Virgin with the Host

Ingres’ The Virgin with the Host

Identity is an ever-shifting series of self-imposed labels that come from within and without. It is who we are and who we think we are that creates the self. We define ourselves based on that which we are attracted to or repulsed by; we identify with who we aspire to be and who we fear we are.

Identity is not a definition, though it feels as such because we like labels and use words to make static what is always changing and growing and moving towards the unknown. And in using words to identify ourselves, we begin with what we can biologically determine: race, gender, age, sexuality. Then to this we add into what we are born: class, nationality, family. And the list goes on, as we pile label after label on top of ourselves.

We appear to ourselves in the mirror of other people’s eyes, and it only through relationship that we can begin to realize, to recognize, to seek new definitions, or even better yet release ourselves from words at all. And when we release ourselves we become free as the soul has always intended; we become spirits of the universe.

And it is these spirits with whom we seek communion when we engage with art, for it is in the artwork that the spirit finds its manifestation here on earth. It is the work of art that outlives us all, and if that work of art is cherished and protected, it might last thousands of years. And into this realm the photograph has emerged, not just as a thing of immediacy, of a means to documenting the time in which our bodies inhabit the earth, but a way that we can leave a record of how we see ourselves.

Kehinde Wiley is at the vanguard of redefining the image of the African American male in our lexicon. He has taken an image to some that is the height of masculinity, a kind of original maleness that is so profound that it has been denigrated in ways that go beyond the scope of this essay. He has taken the black man and restored him to a kind of beauty that has yet to be seen in the likes of the canon of western art history.

In Kehinde Wiley (Rizzoli International Publications), the artist shows us a catalogue of work that has shot him to the forefront of the artworld today. Best known for his paintings, recreations of works that became icons of power, status, money, virtue, and (for lack of a better word) humanity, Wiley has co-opted our understanding of art as a propaganda machine. His work easily subverts the representation of the Great White Male, but more than that, it crosses every threshold by subtly causing us to question our assumptions of representation of the common man.

But that common man is not just any man, he is young and he is black and that is an image that the media has long sought to pervert. And within this book, Wiley includes a powerful series of photographs, photographs remaking artworks that he painted luxurious patterns upon. And so he offers up yet another juxtaposition, the issue of sexuality as it is codified by representations of the masculine and feminine. What is it to be hyper masculine yet surrounded by flowers? What is it to pose a man in the same pose as the Virgin Mary? What is it to show us beauty as something that is not from a framework we know, yet integrates canonical representations of that which is the beauty of the soul?

Wiley offers no answers. He simply questions, over and over again, and the more he questions the easier it is for us to forget. To release ourselves from our assumptions and be swept away by the force of the spirit of beauty that lives and breathes through the work itself.

Originally Published 15 June 2012 in
Le Journal de la Photographie

Keyshawn Wamer, After Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert, Black Light series, Photograph 2009 by Kehinde Wiley

Keyshawn Wamer, After Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, Black Light series, Photograph 2009 by Kehinde Wiley

Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert

Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert

he is risen

April 20, 2014

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when asked about the origins of 420
Wavy Gravy said it began

somewhere in the foggy mists of time.
What time is it now?
I say to you:
eternity now.

Shayne Oliver by Dustin Pittman

Shayne Oliver by Dustin Pittman

Dustin Pittman began photographing the downtown New York fashion collective Hood by Air a year after they burst on the scene, sharpening the cutting edge, bringing together the realms of music, art, and style into a raw blend of city chic. Headed by Shayne Oliver, Hood by Air has become the one to watch, as everyone from the street to the front row are keeping an eye on the trends they set and the looks they create. And all of this is captured through Pittman’s lens.

As Pittman observes, “As a photographer I am always looking to fill my frame and capture new and fresh thoughts and concepts from my subjects. It doesn’t matter if I stood in the middle of the dance floor at Studio 54, or Paradise Garage in 1978 or backstage shooting fashion in 1976 or working with International designers in their atelier or the Boom Boom Room at the Standard in 2010.  I’m always searching, looking, always ready, on guard to capture the moment. I have been photographing people for over 40 years. In the studio. On the streets. Way Uptown. Way Downtown. New York, Paris, London, Milan, Tokyo, Europe, India, Middle East, the entire World. Day for Night. Night for Day.

“My style of photographing has always been the ‘Polaroid School of Photography’’. Spontaneity. I have always been in the cinema-verite mode. What does that mean. I leave people alone. I let them ‘be’. I let them interact . I want them to show me their beautiful hearts and souls: their Spirits. I love their life. Past and Present.  I don’t want to destroy that precious ‘moment’. I let them perform. I got that from Andy Warhol.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

(of all you see)

April 17, 2014

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I’m walking somewhere, the sun is shining
my shoulders are brown against a hot pink bra
my hair is down, curls spiraling through the air
my stride is long, my hips swing whpshh whpshh whpshh
as the clouds go round.

Words float through my mind, real words that is
and as I’m putting them together in a sentence
my heart breaks open

The Lion and the Jewel

April 16, 2014

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In the sunlight of awareness,
Everything becomes sacred.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Simon Menner: Top Secret

April 15, 2014

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Spione fotografieren © Simon Menner

George Orwell foresaw in 1949 a world where government surveillance was fully integrated into modern life, and warned us of what happens when the object of power is power. “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing,” Orwell wrote.

The best way to do this is to know your subject better than they know themselves, to observe them in their daily routines, their habits, the large and the small, and to teach your operatives how to infiltrate their world by putting this knowledge into use. The Stasi, the East German secret police, were notorious for spying on their own populace, employing almost 300,000 people to keep tabs on their citizenry. After the reunification of Germany, most of the Stasi archives were opened to the public, making access to its secrets unprecedented and unique.

Using this access, Simon Menner (born in 1978 in Emmendingen, Germany) edited a selection of photographs for Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives (Hatje Cantz), presenting us with an overview of the various uses of government surveillance under one of the most repressive regimes of the twentieth century. From a series of seminars on disguises, where Stasi personnel were taught how to change their appearances in order to camouflage themselves with wigs, fake facial hair, Western tourist costume, or East German professional dress to the collection of body gestures meant to convey secret signals from one agent to the next, the photographs in Top Secret take on the air of the absurd.

Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

Uebung zum ankleben falscher baerte © Simon Menner

Uebung zum ankleben falscher baerte © Simon Menner

Aus einem handbuch fuer verkleidungsvarianten © Simon Menner

Aus einem handbuch fuer verkleidungsvarianten © Simon Menner

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This is an American family. It is a story we do not hear. A story of five generations brought together in honor of the life of its matriarch. Idell Marshall, born on April 14, 1915, died on July 16, 2011. She was 96. For all intents and purposes, she died of old age. When she began to get weak, her daughters reached out to all members of the family and they came to her bedside to say goodbye. One of her grandsons is Eric Johnson, a photographer whose works are ingrained in popular consciousness. But in the presence of his family, he is just Eric, one of the 91 members of Mrs. Marshall’s family.

Johnson had been on a job in Miami when he received the call from his mother. And he began shooting as he came up on the train. He documented his journey as part of a larger story, the story of a family brought together by a woman whose success few can claim: 14 children (8 alive today), 28 grand children, 38 great grandchildren, 11 great-great grandchildren—a veritable clan is Mrs. Marshall’s legacy.

But this is not just the story of a family, it is the story of a place. Charlotte County, Virginia. The South. The American South. Charlotte County was formed in 1764, and was the second governing body in the 13 colonies to declare its independence from England. During the Civil War, a ragtag group of Confederate old men and young boys beat the odds and held off an assault by 5,000 Union cavalry soldiers on Stauton River Bridge, which was of strategic importance to General Robert E. Lee.

Today the population numbers over twelve thousand, with Caucasians accounting for 65% and African Americans accounting for 33%. And of that 33%, Mrs. Marshall and members of her extended have lived here their entire lives. Mrs. Marshall and her now-deceased husband had purchased a large tract of land in 1968 that now is home to five families of the clan. And in keeping the family closely connected, Mrs. Marshall and her descendants have accomplished something very rare.

Our idea of family has become plastic. Time begets progress and progress begets change, and where families were traditionally tied to each other and the land for countless generations, it is now common for families to be in so many ways estranged, most notably from each other, but also far from the town that was once known as home. And it appears to be normal, if not acceptable and encouraged, if we are out of regular contact with the world in which we are from.

But with the ownership of land comes the opportunity for a greater investment, not just in the self but in the long-term viability of the family. And so it is that when Mrs. Marshall passed, her family of 91 was easily united, and so it came to pass that the funeral was to be held three days later, bringing together not just her descendants but all the people whose life she had touched.

Johnson’s pictures tell the story of a family, of a people united by blood and shared experience. It is a story of stories within stories, so many layers that in each of these photographs there are histories untold. We see individuals, people whose lives are interrelated in ways that we may never know. But with each frame Johnson gives us access into the heart of a family united around the woman who made it so.

One of the most striking images is Mrs. Marshall before her death, gripping Johnson’s hand. The image is evocative in revealing the strength that life holds, even as it is slipping away. In complement is the photograph of Mrs. Marshall lying peacefully in her coffin in perfect repose. In looking at her face we feel assured that one can pass peacefully into the next world. We can look at Mrs. Marshall as a woman who not only lived a life like no other but we can aspire to have the peace in her heart, the faith that has guided her through life and made her death an expression of grace and dignity.

What is also striking is a small backstory to this image. Growing up Johnson recalls seeing photographs of deceased family members in the photo album, and being uncomfortable in the presence of these images. He remembers turning the pages quickly past these pctures, as a way to avoid the feelings they raised. It is then that this story is all the more fitting, that he should take this photograph of his grandmother and be able to observe death, both in person and through his lens, as something that is serene and natural.

But this is not a story about death; it is a story about the eternal continuum. For the circle has no beginning and no end, and so in these images we return time and again to the lives of all Mrs. Marshall has left on earth. And each of these lives tells a story, and each of these photographs offers a glimpse. And the greater story has yet to be told because this is just the beginning, my friend.

First Published 14 April 2012
Le Journal de la Photographie

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Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you,
and to give thanks continuously.
And because all things have contributed to your advancement,
you should include all things in your gratitude.
~Emerson

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Artist, activist, and author Clayton Patterson is the unofficial historian of New York’s Lower East Side. For over three decades he has lived in the neighborhood, establishing himself as fixture in the landscape that has been central to the development of New York’s underground scenes.

He moved to New York in 1979, where he began working as an artist, creating paintings, prints, photography, and sculpture. He had his first exhibition that same year at the Frank Marino Gallery in Soho. By 1982, he purchased a building on Essex Street that became home, studio, print shop and gallery for himself and partner Elsa Rensaa.

His life changed dramatically on the night of August 6-7, 1988 when he gained notoriety for videotaping the Tompkins Square Park police riot. In what was the first of many legal cases for Patterson that concerned artists’ rights to their work and freedom of expression, he was arrested for refusing to give up his tape and sent to jail for eight days before a settlement was negotiated that allowed his release. The actions of officers that night against neighborhood residents, homeless individuals, affordable housing advocates, anarchists, squatters and others resulted in the filing of over 100 complaints of police brutality. The footage was important evidence in the investigations and legal proceedings that followed and several officers were disciplined or criminally indicted. The city also paid an estimated $2-3 million in settlements to the injured.

The Tompkins Square Park tape changed the direction of his work and his life. Afterwards, he became actively involved in neighborhood struggles and his video and photography often focused on such issues as the homeless crisis, drug trafficking, police corruption, and the displacement of the poor and artists by gentrification.

Patterson speaks with The Click about the nature of New York in this time of change, a period of revitalization under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that changed the very fabric of New York’s landscape. Read the full story at THE CLICK.

JR: Women are Heroes

April 10, 2014

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Since its inception in the late 60s, graffiti has been a the most public of public arts, the ultimate statement of self, a mark of existence that enlivens the streets. Since it began with tags, it has since expanded in all manners including beyond its original letterform. As it shifted into an image-based lexicon, it took on new forms, and was dubbed Street Art as a way to differentiate itself. And while many have succeeded in any number of mediums, there is only one photograffeur: JR

JR has taken photography to new heights. By employing the ideals of graffiti—scale, placement, and proliferation—JR’s work creates its own expectations. The 2011 winner of the TED Prize, he works on a global scale using art to effect a change in the world. Women Are Heroes: A Global Project by JR (Abrams) showcases one his most noble efforts, a tribute to women on a massive scale, with public art works produced in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, India, and Cambodia. Mural size photographs of everyday women were created on monumental scale from simple black and white portraits that are at once intimate and outlandish, evocative and emotional, provocative and profound. The cumulative effect of JR’s work allows for a new understanding in the representation of women, as well as in the discourse of public art.

Public art, such as it exists, has been a tool for the establishment to reinforce itself. Whether it is the monumental sponsored work of the church and state, or more recently, the art world’s ever-present self-veneration masquerading as a “profitable investment” most public works have been imposed by external forces upon the community it claims to serve. Graffiti and street art also impose, but they do so by way of the anonymous insider making his or her presence known. Here, JR takes the insider to the furthest possible reach, making heroes out of the people themselves, effectively saying, “In you, beauty exists.”

JR’s installations serve the people by becoming part of the whole, by transforming the landscape by fusing the internal and external at the same time. The placement of the works are as telling as the choice of subjects themselves, for the art of Women Are Heroes exists only in lands of extreme poverty throughout the world, in lands where people are marginalized in ways we of the first world all too often forget.

But JR won’t let us forget, and he takes us deeper into the abyss by granting access to the personal side of his subjects in “As Told To” narratives throughout the book. As Chantha Dol of Cambodia reveals, “I agreed to have my photograph put up so that the men in power in Cambodia would open their eyes and take a look at our condition. The reason my eyes are so wide open is to show my anger. Words are no longer enough. I want people to ask themselves why these photograph of women were put on the walls of their houses.”

But Ms. Dol might not know that when she agreed to be photographed, the question she wanted people to ask themselves would be a question to travel around the world. JR’s continued success allows the work he is doing to reach new audiences that go far beyond the traditional realms of photography and street art. As his audiences expand in both size and prominence, the questions his work raises gain power and strength, inspiring us as individuals and as societies to look at ourselves with fresh eyes.

Women Are Heroes is a sumptuously produced tome that pleasingly combines the grand scale of the public works with the directness of the photographs and stories being told. It provides context at every turn, allowing for a more complete experience of the installations themselves. This book is equally provocative and pleasurable, as each turn of the page reveals an unexpected angle on the power of photography to tell stories and touch hearts. Imagine eyes softly shut, black eyelashes lain thick, now imagine this image pasted to the side of a garbage truck at a dump in Cambodia. JR reminds us women are worthy of a veneration that goes deeper than the flesh, that celebrates an inner beauty in every being that only art can truly make manifest.

First Published 12 December 2012
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

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Carlos Batts: Fat Girl

April 8, 2014

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You never really know. You go along, thinking, “This is so” until what is becomes what was, and you look around to see what remains of the dream you held in your heart…

In September 2013, Carlos Batts published Fat Girl (Rare Bird Books) a collection of photographs of his muse and wife, the venerated feminist porn star April Flores. The photographs for the book were edited from an archive dating back twelve years, to the very first day they met. It was at a photo shoot. Flores still remembered how it went.

She was on her way up to Batts’ studio, walking up the steps. She stopped between landings and was hit with a message: If she continues forward, her life will change forever. “I decided, ‘Fuck it. Let’s see what happens,’” Flores recalled. And it was at that fated first photo shoot that it all began.

Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

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New York City, 2011 gelatin-silver print 18-1/2 x 12-1/4 inches (image) 20 x 16 inches (sheet) (white mesh bag) © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

New York City, 2011 gelatin-silver print 18-1/2 x 12-1/4 inches (image) 20 x 16 inches (sheet) (white mesh bag) © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The feminine ideal: she is an industry unto herself, a vision of beauty held above all, as a thing to aspire towards, or to have and to hold. She exists because we need her to be, a vision of power or submission, whatever the frame may be. She is both muse and mistress, demanding our attention in ways that go beyond the physical, infiltrating our imagination with a siren song that has come to rely heavily on Autotune. She exists, today, as a reflection of the dominant race, pale of skin, lank of hair, and svelte of shape. She is as curvy as she is allowed to be, not so much as a thing of flesh and muscle, but of the bare minimum because, you see…

Fashion sets the trends, consumers keep the pace, and what is often see in two dimensions is made manifest in three when we pass by store windows advertising their visual glossary. Mannequins are the new public art, replacing sculptures of the goddess in the name of commerce. In a culture where money is king, the greatest art and aesthetics are that which can be purchased. And so it is the mannequin must relay our ideals and fantasies while simultaneously making them accessible, in the form of purchasing all that is covering she.

More often than not, we look without seeing. We look at what we can purchase, should we choose, but not necessarily at the setting. We don’t see the frame, nor do we see the stage, nor do we consider that we are at once actor and audience in a story that demands our participation. We don’t necessarily think of the layers of meaning upon that which we have rendered mundane, for questions go against the capitalist grain. “I shop therefore I am,” Barbara Kruger declared, and it is the mannequin that reminds us that she can be we if we so dare.

Lee Friedlander’s Mannequin (Fraenkel Gallery) is a meditation on the matrix that is the marketplace, the space where sex, fashion, and consumerism commingle in strange and mysterious ways. Over the past three years, Friedlander has walked the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, taking aim at the surreal and modernist spectacle. To make the photographs for Mannequin, he returned to the hand-held, 33-mm camera that he used in the earliest decades of his career, taking note of the way in which the female ideal becomes one with the urban landscape in provocative and surprising new ways.

For Friedlander, the magic of the mannequin is to be found in the glass behind which she stands, visible yet inaccessible, like so many strangers we pass. Yet the mannequin never moves, she is always rooted in place, an object of display and repose, calling us to her with flawless physique. Yet, it is this very glass that creates a hallucinatory effect, situating the mannequin in a sea of reflections that make her at once a mystical object. As Friedlander’s eye catches the transformation of light upon glass, we see the female ideal as majestic, much like the buildings themselves. Caught on film, the mannequin is no longer a mere model for ever-changing product, but something more mythological than this: this is the goddess re-imagined in the lexicon of the urbane ideal. She is ethereal, much like a spirit or ghost, inhabiting both the space in the window and the space beyond. Her form, so carefully crafted, disintegrates. In Friedlander’s vision, no longer is the feminine ideal a thing we already know, but a new way of seeing woman and her place in—and as—the world.

Originally Published 23 January 2013 in
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

dissolve again

April 6, 2014

François Boucher - Les Sabots (detail).

François Boucher – Les Sabots (detail).

Observe the wonders
as they occur around you.
Don’t claim them.
Feel the artistry
moving through
and
be silent.

~Rumi

the soul has no limits

April 5, 2014

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     Lois Mailou Jones (1982) | "Two African Hair Styles"

Lois Mailou Jones (1982) | “Two African Hair Styles”

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The best way
to make your
dreams come
true is to
wake up.

~Muhammad Ali

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Anton Perich is the underground, a man whose innovative brilliance shaped the course of American art for the last quarter of the twentieth century; he who invented the electric painting machine (an early predecessor to the inkjet printer) in 1977-1978 was also the man who introduced public access television (an early predecessor to reality TV) to New York City in 1973.

Born in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Perich was in Paris from 1965-1970. He recalls, “I was associated with Lettristes from 1967 to 1970. I worked with Lemaitre and Isou, painting, writing poetry, shooting films, doing the shows. Lettrism was my school. I was educated by the two greatest artists and thinkers of that time. Of course Isou predicted the 1968 revolution and went mad. We did some performances at L’Odeon, it was occupied, Non-stop 24 hours spectacle. I spent few nights there.

“I think that the Revolution of 68, the Paris Spring is grossly misunderstood today. It was not the flesh and blood revolution, no guillotines. It was the revolution of spirit, of the young, so unique in the history of revolutions. It paved the way for other bloodless revolution in the Eastern Europe. Imagine, the Communism died the bloodless death. Tell it to Stalin, or Lenin.

“I lived my own revolution there. I became something else at 23. It is difficult to transform oneself, only fantasy and revolution will do it. And spirit. And resurrection. And the fire in Paris streets. And ‘sous les paves la plage’. The greatest slogan ever written.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

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