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

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

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It is estimated that ancient inhabitants first migrated from Africa by way of Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea (PNG) between 50,000-70,000 years. Around 7000 BC, agriculture developed in the highlands, making it one of the few areas in the world where people independently domesticated plants, and by 3000 BC, merchants from Southeast Asia began to  trade plumes  of bird of paradise native to the island.

Sharing an island with Indonesia, PNG rests just miles from Australia. Home to 6.3 million people, PNG is considered one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world with 848 different languages listed for the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. PNG is also one of the most rural counties, with only 18% of its population living in urban centers. Although the nation has the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world, as of 2011, at least one third of the population lives on less than $1.25USD per day.

PNG is one of the world’s least explored countries, both geographically and culturally, making the work of Stephen Dupont even more salient and prescient in ways we cannot yet fully comprehend. His newest book, Piksa Niugini Portraits and Diaries (Radius Books/Peabody Museum Press) is a two-volume slipcased set that documents PNG’s most important cultural and historical zones: the Highlands, Sepik, Bougainville, and the capital city of Port Moresby.

Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

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Nick Hand

Nick Hand

What you cannot see is always there when you look, and it is by our inner compass that we are drawn to an understanding of the world. For Nick Hand, that understand was to be found along five hundred miles of the Hudson Valley in New York. With a bicycle and a camera, Hand traveled over the hills and mountains and through the countryside, much of which is still raw, rugged, and wild. And it was on this journey that he set forth to connect with the artists and craftspeople that continue in the traditions of an earlier age, an analogue era that reminds us of how much the world has changed.

As Hand observes, “On a bicycle you take everything in, you can stop anywhere, you don’t miss a thing, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation.” The result of his travels is an intimate volume that reminds us of the pleasures of connecting with people whose passions inspire us. Conversations on the Hudson (Princeton Architectural Press) presents the photographs and conversations Hand had with the artisans of a time and a place that reminds us of an America of the agrarian past, of a generation committed to  cultivation of the craft. Whether a seed librarian or a sheep farmer, a boat restorer or a stone sculptor, the people featured in this book give us a window into their beautiful and charming worlds.

Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

Nick Hand

Nick Hand

Nick Hand

Nick Hand

Nick Hand

Nick Hand

Redbird (Stay High 149) photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. ©Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.

Redbird (Stay High 149) photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. ©Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. © Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. © Jon Naar. Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

It began in the stacks. Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York, came across a collection of black books Martin Wong had donated to the Museum in 1994, just five years before he would die from AIDS in San Francisco. The black books were the site of sketches and drawings, works on paper that were passed from head to head, giving writers a look at what their contemporaries were doing with marker in hand and giving them a space to contribute to the conversation.

In total, Martin Wong (1946-1999) donated 55 black books and more than 300 mixed media paintings on canvas, cardboard, paper, and plywood. The work Wong collected includes early permutations of designs that would later appear on trains and buildings throughout New York City. And though those paintings are long gone, their legacy lives on.

Now at the Museum of the City of New York, “City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection” presents 105 works by legendary writers DAZE. DONDI, FUTURA 200, Keith Haring, LADY PINK, LEE, and SHARP among others, alongside historical photographs by Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, Jon Naar, and Jack Stewart. Paired together, the paintings, drawings, and photographs take us back to a time and a place that, though not far away at all, no longer exists in our daily lives.

 Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

The Death of Graffiti by LADY PINK, 1982, acrylic on masonite, 19x22.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. LADY PINK painted The Death of Graffiti just as New York City Mayor Ed Koch and officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reinvigorated their campaign to rid the subway system of graffiti. LADY PINK depicts herself nude on a pile of aerosol spray cans. She points to a “clean train” emerging from the right edge of the painting that signifies the city’s effort to give all of the trains in service a fresh coat of white paint.

The Death of Graffiti by LADY PINK, 1982, acrylic on masonite, 19×22.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. LADY PINK painted The Death of Graffiti just as New York City Mayor Ed Koch and officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reinvigorated their campaign to rid the subway system of graffiti. LADY PINK depicts herself nude on a pile of aerosol spray cans. She points to a “clean train” emerging from the right edge of the painting that signifies the city’s effort to give all of the trains in service a fresh coat of white paint.

Bad Tattoo, Anonymous Press No. 7957

Bad Tattoo, Anonymous Press No. 7957

Dogtown, Anonymous Press No. 7945

Dogtown, Anonymous Press No. 7945

The anonymous. It is you and it is me and it is all of us. We are always anonymous, leaving footprints in our wave, evidence of where we have been and what we have done that draws or escapes attention. Identity, in as much as it is a construct, is the positive set against the void, the great swath of nameless humanity that makes for our history on earth, the way we are and we are not at the same time, and the way our technology reflects this.

The Digital Era empowers the anonymous to express and create freely under the protection of the First Amendment. Not only can we say anything we desire, we do not need to sign our name to it. Evidence becomes traces and tracks, not necessarily a complete truth, but a piece of the larger puzzle that will never be solved so much as it will be played out by countless hands through which it passes.

Anonymous Press is the spirit of our times, a completely mechanized process for zine design. It liberates the human element from the process, and presents us with something else, the ghost in the machine, perhaps. Karolis designed a simple system. Type in a title of your devising. The title can be up to forty characters. Press enter. In less than one minute, Anonymous will present a twelve page zine that presents a search of pictures found in Google Image Search. The images are placed randomly, then numbered and added to a public library. Each zine is available, print on demand, for $3 plus shipping.

There is no credit to anyone other than Anonymous Press, which was designed by Kosas as part of his MFA thesis at Virginia Commonweath University, Richmond, from which he graduates this spring.  Anonymous went live in December 2012. As of late February, over eight thousand volumes have been designed, proving that there is a relentless desire to create and disseminate ideas by any means necessary. It is the concept that makes each edition striking, the way that seemingly random information becomes part of a narrative when organized sequentially, around words of any language, even letters themselves. It is at once liberating and absurd, Dada to its core.

Anonymous Press appropriates appropriation so that there is nothing left, just a snake eating its tail as the ghost floats through the machine, whispering ideas in your ear. Kosas notes the inevitable trend towards vulgarity, as well as the self-promoting instinct that is now part of our lexicography, the way in which we are not only worthy of veneration but a brand unto ourselves. The way the anonymous connects to the known and spins through its archives and shares that which we may or may not know.

People want to know: Power, Sex, Love, Grief, Self, Reflection, Time, Edie Segwick, Tupac, Charlie Brown, Early Seventies, Frank Zappa, Shadow People, Skinhead, and Citizen Kane. Then it gets more complex. There were the book ideas themselves, things of distinction like: Crude Drawings of Men I Hate, Pictures of Girls Named Rachel, and I Am a Bodice Ripper. And lastly were the literary titles, the flashes of poetry and philosophy that made the words abstracted lyrics, feelings unto themselves, such as: We Demand to Be Taken Seriously and No Is Shorter Than Yes.

Anonymous Press is casually iconoclastic, dismissing notions of authorship with effortless grace, and in its place, offering a playground for unconscious energies. What we see is a reflection, though of who and what we will never know, but it allows us to consider that the ways in which we create and recreate meaning, in ways to subvert our understanding by offering an alternate interpretation through the very form itself. And it makes bookmaking more like playing the slots, which is has a charmingly harmless quality to the way it allows you to gamble against the odds.

First Published in
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE
30 March 2013

Harlem, Anonymous Press No. 8629 I Love You, Anonymous Press No. 8019

Harlem, Anonymous Press No. 8629
I Love You, Anonymous Press No. 8019

I Love You, Anonymous Press No. 8019

I Love You, Anonymous Press No. 8019

Untitled Film Still #32, 1979 Gelatin silver print 69,5 x 87,2 cm Astrup Fearnley Samlingen/ Collection © Cindy Sherman

Untitled Film Still #32, 1979 Gelatin silver print 69,5 x 87,2 cm Astrup Fearnley Samlingen/ Collection © Cindy Sherman

Untitled Film Still #56, 1980 Gelatin silver print 15,5 x 22,8 cm. Donation from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet, Inc., 2010 © Cindy Sherman

Untitled Film Still #56, 1980 Gelatin silver print 15,5 x 22,8 cm. Donation from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet, Inc., 2010 © Cindy Sherman

Woman as madman. As the grotesque. The primal and primitive underbelly that society erases all but the most glaring trace. She who is disturbed is disturbing for her lack of feminine grace. She who reminds us of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, of Medea, of Medusa, of gorgons and monsters of yore. The archetype of a woman who will destroy rather than create, who unleashes demons into this world like Pandora opening her box, this is but one of the many archetypes of the female that Cindy Sherman offers us.

Never one to shy from the discomfort that the unpretty reveals, Cindy Sherman’s work can be as revolting as it is beautiful. In Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (Hatje Cantz) we are witness to the darkness that lies beneath, a darkness that is menacing as it creeps and crawls out of its resting place to reveal itself. The book is the catalogue for a show of the same name at Moderna Museeet, Stockholm; Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo; and Kunsthaus Zurich in Switzerland.

Dispersed throughout the book are a series of essays by seminal contemporary authors including Kathy Acker, Sibylle Berg, Miranda July, Karl Ove Knausgard, Lars Norén, Sjón, and Sara Stridsberg. The essays provide a linguistic complement to the visual form, giving us an aesthetic response to Sherman’s catalogue of horrors. As Stridsberg notes, mellifluously, “Cindy Sherman’s pictures have a similarly unsettling effect on me, they break  over me like a storm, she slits something open in front of me and within me, something I cannot face encountering; she upends the roots of the beautiful trees in the forests and bares their crawling undersides: roots, earth, insects, darkness. She massacres, she maims, she tears to bits.”

Read the Full Story at
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

Untitled #470, 2008 Chromogenic colour print 216,5 x 147,5 cm. Acquired with founding from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet Inc., 2008 © Cindy Sherman

Untitled #470, 2008 Chromogenic colour print 216,5 x 147,5 cm. Acquired with founding from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet Inc., 2008 © Cindy Sherman

 

Angela Davis and Bo Holmström © Göran Hugo Olsson

Angela Davis and Bo Holmström © Göran Hugo Olsson

Black Panther Party headquarters, Harlem. © Göran Hugo Olsson

Black Panther Party headquarters, Harlem. © Göran Hugo Olsson

It began as a series of interviews, of films made, of speeches taped, of conversations, ideas, people. It began when Swedes began sending journalists out into the world, and those that came to the United States were attracted to the civil rights and black power movements of the 60s and the 70s. They had access, and they had nerve, and they never shied away from asking uncomfortable questions, because they could. And what became of these moments caught on film forty, fifty years ago, was first a documentary film, and now a paperback book titled, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 by Göran Hugo Olsson (Haymarket Books).

The book and film feature vintage footage made available for commentary by contemporary artists and intellectuals invoking nothing so beautiful as a tapestry, a fabric that weaves together the past and the present, the ancestors, the heirs, and our shared inheritance. For what this era begat was nothing short of fearless, of an unstoppable force in the face of one of the most treacherous regimes known to humanity.

The book is an expansion of the film, charting the course of the Black Power movement as a natural outgrowth of Civil Rights, charting the course of both movements that spoke truth to power. It was the American Revolution, this time from within, a period of resistance and rebellion sparked by the eternal flame of freedom and self determination, the very things that the United States had been founded upon, but denied the people it kidnapped and enslaved from the continent of Africa.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 takes us back to a time and a place where standing against the system was to stand in one’s integrity. It was to refuse to surrender, to submit, to be complicit in the exploitation of the status quo to line the pockets of the rich. It was a statement against the propaganda that projected the crimes of the oppressor onto the oppressed, and tells the truth about a time when the Truth refused to be silenced.

Read the Full Story at
L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

Harlem 1973 © Göran Hugo Olsson

Harlem 1973 © Göran Hugo Olsson

 

Gay Block: About Love

March 3, 2014

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Perhaps there is nothing so compelling as the human face. For all the beauty it holds, the experience it hides, the emotions it shares, it is a map of personal history. It is the thing we cannot see on ourselves, unless we look in the mirror, and once we behold our visage, we reconsider. It is hard to know what we broadcast, except to say chances are we are telling more than we know. It is written all over the face, who we are, what we believe, what we know.

The photograph then, becomes the record of but one moment in a long string of moments that make up each of our lives. About Love: Photographs and Films 1973–2011, by Gay Block (Radius Books) is a glorious catalogue of lives that have passed before the photographer’s lens. It is a massive tome, beautifully produced and elegantly crafted. The layout is deceptively simple, understated elegance at its finest, with enough white space to allow the eye to linger, to rest, to roam, to consider the people that sit before us.

Block’s work is About Love in the most pure sense, about being one with his subject so that they speak to us without saying a word. She presents them on their terms and allows us to enter their world, from our vantage point to see their lives through his eyes, and mediate the subject, the photographer, and ourselves. Each subject is treated with a dignity and a respect that belies the formality of portraiture, yet each of these images is just that.

The portrait, the story of a life in a single frame. Block’s wealth of knowledge of the human condition is captured here in each image she creates. “I’ve always loved exactly what somebody looks like. That’s what I wanted to photograph, and almost as much, and maybe as much, I’ve loved exactly the words they use to describe their lives, events in their lives, feelings, and things like that. I love exactly the way people talk.”

It is this penchant, nee devotion, to the exact that marks these images. There is a feeling of truth, of that new and honest space that exists between two people. These photographs are private conversations, spoken to the world. We as viewers are listeners, flies on the wall. Through our eyes, we are being told stories. Stories of lives lived, of people we shall never otherwise encounter. And it is Block’s affection and respect for the individual person, for the dignity and integrity of the human experience that allows us to share in what is not ours yet is available for consideration.

Block explains the way in which she uses photography as a means to something deeper, to the psychological study, to the spiritual connection. “Portraiture for me has always been so personal. I never felt like I was out to advance the medium. It wasn’t about photography for me; it’s about the people. They are inseparable from the work and yet I’ve always understood that I wasn’t going to advance the photographic medium; that wasn’t even an interest for me. I used photography to advance myself in an internal, personal way.”

Each image is a collaboration between subject and artist, and the result is a feeling that we are stepping out of ourselves and into other people’s lives. As Block observes, “In the beginning, I was practically non-directive except for asking that my subjects sit where the light was the way I wanted it, and asking them not to smile. I’d say sit on this couch not that couch—that kind of thing. But I would be doing the interview and then they would naturally move into a position on their own. I would interrupt and say, ‘Please don’t move anything. I’m going to turn off the recorder, because I want to take your picture just the way you are now.’ and that’s how it would happen. I would wait until I found them in a fascinating position.”

And so it is that what has fascinated Block will fascinate us, because the human face is the most compelling thing to contemplate, in person or in art. We want to know, we want to understand, we want this connection, the one that Block discovered is all About Love.

First published in
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE
6 January 2012

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Courtesy of Michael McCollom

Courtesy of Michael McCollom

The fashion moment is everything. It’s that je ne sais quoi that drives men and women to an image, a look, an energy that is expressed through style, through attitude and profile. The fashion moment is when the fates align and the image transcends and comes alive.

Ohio-born designed Michael McCollom began his career in New York as design director of the ISAIA NYC collection and was named one of the “Designers to Watch” by Vogue in 1990. Recognized as a designer and a photographer. McCollom’s clients have included Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Julia Roberts.

McCollom is also the author of The Way We Wore: Black Style Then, which has just been re-released by Glitterati Incorporated. Featuring snapshots from the personal photo albums of over 150 black men and women, the book features never-before-published photographs of Oprah Winfrey, James Baldwin, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyran Banks, Patrick Kelly, Kimora Lee, Bobby Short, Bethann Hardison, and Portia LaBeija, among countless others.

From the Harlem Renaissance to the birth of Hip Hop, The Way We Wore celebrates the personal style of African Americans over the larger part of the twentieth century. Each image reminds us of the space where the public and private spaces intersect, where style is the bridge between the individual to the world, telling a story of self through the fashion moment.

The Click spoke with McCollom about his personal style moments, about the things that he both saw and created that shaped and influenced his world.

Read the Full Story at
THE CLICK

Boza Ivanovic

Boza Ivanovic

“After a freak motorcycle accident left me with two crack vertebrate in my back and neck, two broken ribs, and a four-month confinement in bed, I realized what direction my career as a photographer would take after my recovery. I recalled a photograph of a tiger I had taken a few years back while at a zoon. I was struck by what had jumped out of the picture—a personality, a soul. It dawned on me that what the lens had somehow caught could be best portrayed in black and white. The essence of a creature’s spirit captured solely through motion and light,” Boza Ivanovic writes in the introduction to his first monograph, Out of the Wild: Zoo Portraits (Glitterati Incorporated).

I first met Ivanovic a few months before the accident, and when he told me of it, I began sending him books. After the accident, he began sending me photographs: portraits of animals behind bars, behind glass, only their trappings were invisible and what remained was a life anonymous, unknown but living for public viewing. The animals Ivanovic captured with his camera were living in captivity and each photograph reflects their singularity, their separation from all that is their natural reality.

It is in the instance of the lion, that a grandeur is conferred, because in Ivanovic’s lion we know the greatness that graces us, from within and from without. There is a pride and a humility, a purity and an honesty that the lion evokes. His visage takes my breath away, over and over again. Perhaps this is a tribute to the patience and discipline that Ivanovic exhibited to secure this shot.

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L’OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

Seaman George William Commodore, U.S. Navy. Tintype by unidentified photographer, about 1865-1867. © Collection of National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Seaman George William Commodore, U.S. Navy. Tintype by unidentified photographer, about 1865-1867. © Collection of National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

In February 1965, Martin Delany was received by Abraham Lincoln art the White House. There, Delany told the President, “I propose, sir, an army of blacks, commanded entirely of black officers.” Shortly thereafter, Delany received a commission as major of infantry—the first African American appointed an army officer. As Frederick Douglass reportedly stated, “I thank God for making me a man simply, but Delany always thanks Him for making him a black man.

The story of Major Martin Robison Delany, Fifty-second U.S. Colored Infantry, is titled “Most Defiant Blackness” and leads with his portrait, dressed in Union blues. This photograph is a cartes de visite, taken with a specially designed camera that produced eight images on a single glass plate, from which the resulting paper print. It was then glued to card stock and measured 2.5 x 4 inches in size, the perfect keepsake that was economically possible at this time. From 1961–67, “cartonamia” was unleashed, with some three million cartes de visite sold. This was the first time almost anyone could record his or her own image for posterity, and they immediately became decorative objects that made picture giving a cultural phenomenon. Not to mention a resource for an author as industrious as Ronald S. Coddington.

Coddington has just released his third book, African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album (Johns Hopkins University Press), a beautiful and meticulous presentation of the likenesses and lives of seventy-seven men whose stories are part of the complex and compelling tapestry that is America.  These stories offer but a glimpse into the vast ocean of men, some 200,000 African Americans, who served the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War. Some of them were born free, others escaped from slavery or set free by owners sympathetic to the war effort.

And, if only for a moment, imagine what it must have been like, two hundred thousand African American men army and dressed for combat on American soil, ready to fight the white man for freedom, the right to self sovereign. “I am for war—war upon the whites,” Delany wrote during the 1950s in a novel that stood in marked contrast to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Delany’s words are seen in the stories of men who served not only their country but something greater than this. As soldiers in the Civil War, they stood for what the United States was founded upon: Independence.

The stories provide a reverent context for the images we witness here. They lend a gravitas to the images, which charming in their dated stylistic iconography, the way in which the photograph easily replaces the painted portrait while assuming all of its conventions. Consider the portrait of Corp. Jeremiah Saunders, Company K, 124U.S. Colored Infantry, and his wife Emily. His master died in Kentucky in February 1965, he was not free for the Emancipation Proclamation only liberated those in the seceded states. Nevertheless, Saunders left the tobacco fields and headed straight to Camp Nelson, a Union establishment. There he signed his enlistment papers with an “X” and joined the 124 U.S. Colored Infantry, a regiment composed of men between 35­45, considered too old for active duty. And though he was not on the front lines, still he served. For this book proves that for all the darkness of humanity that does occur, the wheel of fortune will always turn. And though one might be born a slave, degraded in countless ways, there might just be another destiny that is meant to be. African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album serves us well to remind us of those who came before and honor them for these are the heroes we need today, the lives and lessons of humble greatness.

First published in Le Journal de la Photographie
21 November 2012

1st Sgt. Octavious McFarland, Company D, Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry. Carte de visite by unidentified photographer, about 1864-1866. © Collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.

1st Sgt. Octavious McFarland, Company D, Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry. Carte de visite by unidentified photographer, about 1864-1866. © Collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.

Q.M. Sgt. Alexander Herritage Newton (left) and Q.M. Sgt. Daniel S. Lathrop, both Twenty-ninth Connecticut Infantry. Carte de visite by James Horace Wells (b. ca. 1828) & David C. Collins (b. ca. 1805) of New Haven, Connecticut, about 1865. © Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Q.M. Sgt. Alexander Herritage Newton (left) and Q.M. Sgt. Daniel S. Lathrop, both Twenty-ninth Connecticut Infantry. Carte de visite by James Horace Wells (b. ca. 1828) & David C. Collins (b. ca. 1805) of New Haven, Connecticut, about 1865. © Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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Janette Beckman spent the summer of 1983 in Los Angeles, staying in the home of a good friend who was then managing the pop group, The Go-Gos. While in town, she came across a newspaper piece on the East L.A. gang scene; the story had no photographs, so Beckman took to the streets to see for herself. Although she was warned against visiting the area by local acquaintances, Beckman was young, brash, and bold and armed herself with just a Hasselblad and a box of prints to share her work.

Beckman drove her rent-a-wreck car to East LA, and began hanging out at El Hoyo Maravilla, a park in the neighborhood, which is also the name of Beckman’s newest  artist book, a limited edition of 500 published by Dashwood Books. The photographs were culled from the collection of negatives that sat in her closet for over twenty-five years; she showed the photographs when they were first taken but no one expressed interest in it at that time. Today, it is a different story, as the photographs have taken on a new life, having been published online and spurring contact from the subjects after all these years.

Beckman’s portraits are of a time and place that at once foreign and familiar, people strongly tied to the culture and the community from which it sprung. For Beckman, who was a rock & roll photographer working for Melody Maker, a weekly music magazine, and shooting album covers at the time, this foray into a new culture had the hallmarks of a world that was just as misunderstood as the world she had left behind.

Like the punks, skinheads, mods, and rockers that Beckman shot during the late 70s and early 80s in London, the gang members she met in Los Angeles were a people of a time and place, who made themselves part of the group by conforming to social codes that dictated behavior and appearances. It was these appearances that first drew Beckman in, with their definitive style that included perfectly pressed jeans and pants with a top crease, bandanas and shaved eyebrows, and white t-shirts and tank tops worn without anything else. The women wear strong make-up, dark eyeliner and hard lips, with long tresses of flowing hair while the men are also perfectly groomed. The gang codes of Los Angeles included hang gestures, graffiti, and tattoos, all signifying an allegiance with the group that protects and defends their neighborhood.

As Beckman came to discover, the deeper story is one of family, of a group of people that were native to California before, during, and after the Spanish and American occupation and acquisition of the land over the past three hundred years. As Beckman connected with her subjects, she was invited into their homes, meeting mothers and grandmothers and relatives, hanging out with older brothers, learning about the structure of gangs and the way in which they played a role in the community. “It was like meeting a big family They were all delightful,” Beckman observes, before noting how one kid wanted to show her his machine gun, though she doesn’t have a photographs of the encounter itself.

This is because Beckman’s photographs are not about the negative side of gang life. They are not an expose on violence, politics, or the economics of an historically oppressed people living in America. Instead, Beckman focuses on the love that exists in the community and the self-love that comes from pride. The only photograph that displays a weapon is the one of a couple standing in front of their home, where she is playfully holding the knife to his neck as he smiles comfortably, a bottle of Pepsi in his hand. It’s the “American Gothic” of 1983, Chicano style, reminding us once again that America is a land of opportunity, passion, and love for the world that we together build.

All photographs by Janette Beckman
Essay first published in Le Journal de la Photographie,
19 November 2012

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