Monthly Archives: August 2012

Stars Behind My Back

Sometimes I feel as if I am 17 again. Cod, the insecurity. The worry. The heat. No, this is not a cross-posted private rambling on my mental well-being (mad – obviously), I am referring to the faltering self-confidence that I get hit with every once in a while. It gripped me last week when after a longish absence at long last I had a studio shoot on again. And I wondered, whether I still knew how to use the studio lights.

Silly really – you don’t lose a skill like that in a matter of weeks. But in any case, I had to test the set-up and the lights before I could go ahead with my model. The order of the day was going to be a nude shoot. And in the absence of willing guinea-pigs, I had to put myself in the picture. NO! Don’t worry. Neither did I shoot myself in the nip, nor did I photograph naked. I am merely saying that I had to pose for myself to play with some effects that I was hoping to employ.

Even on the technical level, it is challenging to photograph oneself. And I am beginning to wonder whether all those famous photographers’ self-portraits were actually executed with assitance? (For my top 5 favourite photographic self-portraits of all time check here: Marianne Breslauer, Ilse Bing, Helmut Newton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray) I mean – save taking a picture of yourself in the mirror while you are looking through the viewfinder – how do you actually get the focus on yourself when you are IN the picture? Just the smallest aperture and then general guesswork? Autofocus while remote releasing? I sort of guessed the focus, set the camera on manual and then shot myself time-delayed. Surprisingly the result is presentable – minus the soft focus, of course.

And is it any wonder that my self-portrait happens to be b/w? Not when you have looked at the famous self-portraits above. Granted, some of them were made before the advent of colour photography. But b/w is always my natural choice for a self-portrait. Subconsciously, I think, they alienate the viewer from the ‘viewed’. Because the standard nowadays is colour, the use of b/w implies a conscious decision on part of the photographer. It seems to distance the sitter from the viewer, making the portrait a deliberate ‘likeness’ – but not a ‘sameness’. It is clear that a b/w self-portrait is only just ONE interpretation of self – possibly one that leaves the less savoury bits in dark shadow while highlighting the good parts?

I did do some post-production – obviously the cropping of the image, plus I added a kind of “starry background” as a nod to a publicity photograph which I really love (click). Some stray hair had to be photoshopped out, but I left the rest of it in there. I guess I am a bit disshevelled in real life. The portrait was shot with rimlight, as I wanted to experiment if and how the light from behind would light up fair hair. Otherwise I used a flash that was set up at 45° to the left of me. I even managed to keep any reflection off my specs. 

So this is me. One Saturday afternoon in August 2012.

Style Dilemma

You know you are in a photographer’s house when…
… their sitting room is plastered with photographs. Of all different kinds. Not even coordinated – all contrasty B/W architecture shots, or romantic misty morning landscapes, or edgy street photography – but a higgledypiggledy mishmash of colour and B/W images of different sizes in uncoordinated frames. Style? You would think it comes naturally to a pro in visuals! But no, all mixed together.
And then the whole egocentricity of it all, when you realize you are looking at the occupier’s own work. Ugh. The presumptiousness of it. The exaggerated self-confidence! It really makes you feel sick. Do they really think their work is so fantastic that they want to look at it all day long, every day? Do they have tours in their private gallery? Next thing they’re gonna charge you for looking at the cr*p, the inflated egomaniacs!

Well, let me explain why my sitting room wall looks like something that could never appear in an interior design magazine. It’s not that I am unaware of the unaesthetic onslaught. It’s not even that I am too poor to buy coordinating frames or that I couldn’t be arsed about making it look better or that I might seriously believe my work is so wonderful I want to have it around me at all times. The explanation is quite simple: there’s no better storing of your printed and framed work than hanging from a nail in the wall! With a number of exhibitions under my belt, I happen to have a bit of a depot of framed works. There’s my initial ‘Still Dublin’ stuff from my first exhibition three years ago, still in black frames and up on the wall for want of a better place. Then there are the wood-effect A4 size pictures of my large format project on the lighthouse in Wicklow. I don’t even like wood-effect frames! But I framed my positive prints in them as a nod to the LF cameras which historically were made of wood. And then there are the same pics, bigger and framed silver. Again, not tied into the colour scheme or style of my sitting room (although that could be described ‘eclectic-historical’ *ahem*) – but simply the result of a frame swap for the latest exhibition I was involved in. Framing is expensive – and as a starting photographer I have to watch my budget. And reuse my frames…
So next time you recoil in horror when you step into a photographer’s sitting room in view of the cacophony of frames and the apparent self-importance of the creator, remember my words. And toss the artist a couple of coins. He/She’s probably already saving up for the next framing job!

Stormy Weather

Oh dear, when will I ever learn? This is the woman who has changed lenses while sitting on a sand dune where the Namib desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. I.e. where there’s plenty of sand and strong wind. Granted, it was only my 350d at the time. And did I not pledge here, in this very blog, that I would take greater care of marky Mark and honour and cherish him and never expose him to the elements while exposing images onto the sensor?

Hmph. Fail. I didn’t quite go as far as taking off the lens, but I think poor marky Mark may have suffered a bit on this “surfing adventure”. I was on the beach the last three days, and try as I might, I just could not avoid getting the fine sand of Tullan Beach into my trusty old camera bag and onto the camera. It is a bit of a crux – I want to USE my camera because it is my chosen means of documentation or communication. But I also need to preserve and protect it. What to do? Of course I shot with it. Despite the sandstormy conditions. It was just too beautiful, too interesting, too memorable. But marky Mark is overdue a proper clean. I have spotted some spots again; and despite hearty efforts at cleaning lens, UV filter, viewfinder, there are a couple of spots I just can’t seem to wipe off. It’s time for a trip to the camera cleaners. Or some lengthy sessions with Ps.
Back home to less sandy conditions tomorrow. But no rejoicing – while the camera won’t be threatened by sandstorms on the East coast, it looks as if Dublin is drowning in heavy rainfall. Jumping out of the frying pan into the fire…

Thinking Caps On

Another exhibition over. It kind of passed me by very quickly, this time. Which is a pity, considering that it was our first exhibition as our new photo collective, Melt. So yesterday the pictures had to come off the wall and make way for the next exhibition which will be on in the lovely space in Farmleigh.
Is there a conclusion to be drawn from the exhibition? Not sure. It all happened too quickly. And despite invigilating on two weekends, I am not sure what the stats are for this show. How many people have seen it? How many people have engaged with any of the pictures? Were there any sales? I wish there was a handy little app – a “transparency report”, analytics of an exhibition. 
Resisting the urge to fall back into the fuzzy cushion of post-college depression, we need to get our skates on. I have made some attempts at project work but for the minute it has to rest because it is a project that I cannot shoot in Ireland. 
Going on holiday did make me take the camera in hand, though. And maybe another idea will be born out of the next little trip. I will be heading off today for a few days in the West of Ireland. The weather – as befits Ireland – is as bad as could be. Not ideal for photography. But good for thinking. I better bring that thinking cap!

Big Names at Last

On my quest to find some big names in photography, I finally struck lucky – against all expectations. I had bought a ticket for the Bremen Kunsthalle in order to see Lynn Hershman Leeson. Well, *yawn*. And then I stumbled over Ruff, Hockney, Parr and Tillmanns. Who would have thought, provincial Germany has multi-million Euro photography in its portfolio?
The Düsseldorf school of photography was well-represented in this exhibition – both in the shape of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s documentary photography of industrial architecture, as well as in their students. Thomas Ruff’s image “Substrat 18 1“, for instance, absolutely blew me away. I am attracted by the softly rounded, organic shapes on the image. I love the strong colours. Abstracts like this invite the viewer to think – but they do not force him to do so. You can happily lean back and simply enjoy the colours and the shapes without wasting a thought on the “why”. BUT a couple of ugly questions raise their heads: Is this photography? Ruff never took a single picture himself for the series “Substratum”. He downloaded existing images of Japanese anime characters from the internet and then manipulated them. They are prints of digital files. But are they his if they are originating from someone else’s work? – Easy answer: With a big name as his, he probably does not have to fear accusations of plagiarism. And the image is still interesting to look at, so who gives a cr*p???
David Hockney’s well-known “Brooklyn Bridge” was goosepimple inducing. Well to me it was, because I like Hockney’s attempts at what I perceive as a photographic cubism. Multi-perspective reality in a photograph. Impossible by definition – but artistically and even philosophically, intriguing…
Martin Parr’s kitsched-up and colourful representation of (some) British life is – as usual – funny and at the same time exposes the (lower middle?) class sense of self with peach-pastelly artificial roses on summer hats and greasy donuts in chubby toddler hands.
A classy exhibition. Well done, Kunsthalle!

Lynn Hershman Leeson

No matter where I go, I always check if there is a photo exhibition on. I am currently in my old hometown, back in the Fazerland. Bremen is not really the centre of cultural buzzworks, but it always surprises me that there is something photographic on when I am home. Last year I was very lucky and got to see a gem of an exhibition – Elliott Erwitt’s images of dogs and their owners. A great exhibition, full of humour and esprit. (I cannot believe that I actually never wrote a review of it for 2picsaweek *tuttuttut*). This time ’round I am not quite so lucky. No big names are exhibiting in Bremen at the mo. Or so I thought…
Bremen – despite admittedly being slightly “provincial” – has a fantastic “Kunsthalle” (art gallery) which is well worth a visit, due to its extensive collection of impressionist paintings. (Against contemporary convention, the then director of the Kunsthalle, Gustav Pauli, showed foresight and knowledge when he assembled a large collection by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and German impressionists, particularly those of the Worpswede school of impressionism.)
Initially I had planned to look at the current exhibition by Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Seducing Time”.
Well, to be blunt: I was not seduced by time. In fact, I thought that time was passing extraordinarily slowly – a sure sign that I was not enamoured or even interested by what I saw. But let’s be fair and describe what Leeson is showing in Bremen.
Leeson, b. 1941, is not exactly or specifically a photographer. The artist is more well-known for her pioneering intereactive and computer-based art. Nonetheless, a number of photography-based artworks are on show in Bremen. Her photographs kick off the exhibition – and personally they were my highlight of the Leeson expo. Her mid-1980s series “Phantom Limb” depicts women in various poses whose heads have been replaced by monitors, TV sets, cameras. A very obvious collage-trick and expression of media-critique. More evocative, however, was the series “Hero Sandwich” (also from the same creative period in the late 1980s) in which Leeson merges/overlays portraits of well-known artists, creating what we nowadays  know as “morphs”. Particularly the Bowie/Hepburn hero sandwich works so well, you have to look very hard to determine which half of the image is Hepburn and who is Bowie. Questions of gender identity, celebrity culture and media phenomenons are inherently addressed with these images – still topical after 25 years…
Apart from these images, however, I was not blown away by Leeson. This is probably due to the fact that performance art has never really convinced me. “Roberta Breitmore” is a social experiment in which she recreates an artifical person. I was simply creeped out by this persona, her (performed???) psycho therapy and her performances.
If this had been all I saw in the Kunsthalle, I would have been disappointed. Much to my surprise, the elusive “big names” suddenly cropped up in another part of the gallery. But that is a story for another day review.

Lynn Hershman Leeson
“Seducing Time”
June 2nd – August 16th 2012
“Carrier of Light” – relief by Bernhard Hötger

Pastime – Past Time

So, an involuntary extension of my holiday. How to pass the time. With a pastime? Possibly of past times? Bingo – inspiration can strike from nowhere, I guess. Although this time I can actually pinpoint exactly where the inspiration came from. 
This year was the third time that we rented a holiday home on Holmsland Klit (stop sniggering!!!), a narrow strip of land between the North Sea on the Western side and a lagoon called the Ringköbing fjord on the Eastern side. On the beach of the Klit are a number of goosepimple-inducing reminders of the last great war – bunkers left by the Nazis, built as part of the so-called Atlantic Wall. 
History excursus: The Atlantic Wall was a massive fortification and defense enterprise thought up by the Nazis. Nearly 3000 km of coastline from Spain all the way up to Norway were fortified with bunkers, anti-aircraft batteries, and minefields. The defense line was never properly completed, but those buildings that were finished remain there until this day. They have been moved by tide and time, however, and while the coastline is being eroded by the onslaught of the waves, the bunkers which were originally built into the sanddunes, are now slap bang in the middle of the beaches. They look like giant building blocks, haphazardly thrown into the sand by a giant baby (strangely, that is almost a fitting metaphor for the lunatic that led half of Europe into doom and disgrace 70 years ago…)
Anyhow, faced with these relics, I thought of the human price that was paid for the war. And it occurred to me that the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 is coming up in three years’ time. Which also means that fewer and fewer contemporaries are around to tell of the times. 
However (and now we are finally getting to the point), in Germany at least, there are some visible reminders of the last war. Every village in Germany has a war memorial. But as the war slips from living memory, the war memorials, too, seem to become forgotten, despite their rather conspicuous presence on village greens, hills and all sorts of exposed spots. The history nerd in me is piqued – war and memory. Unfortunately that is an ever-current topic as wars never seem to stop. Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan. 65 years ago, the victims of war were “immortalised” by plastering their names on bombastic memorials. But does anyone ever look at them? Are they in our consciousness or have they somehow blended into their surroundings? Maybe it is time to document them before they are also lost in the black hole of time and oblivion. 
“Vermißte” – The Missing    
If nothing else, it will certainly fill my time – because there are loads of these in the villages and hamlets around me home town… MIA, S.

Holiday Snapper

Hello there from my holidays! They have just been extended due to unforeseen circumstances. It seems as if my gran – who may RIP now – had decided to hear my plea for some sun and relaxation and this way wangled an extension of my stay in Germany. So, more opportunity to do some holiday snapping?

After all my disillusion with photography, the holiday probably was just what I needed. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking marky Mark with me. In fact, I carried him around every day, despite his considerable weight. More often than not I did not pull him out: my hands were greasy with sun tan lotion. Or there was a sandstorm on the beach. And the seaspray was misting up the lens. But a quick glance at my DCIM shows me, that I took pictures (almost) every day. 
The images mainly amount to holiday snaps. Documenting the holiday accommodation. Sunset on the beach. A trip on a rail cycle. Landscape photography. Some history nerdism in view of the half-sunken Nazi bunkers of the “Atlantic Wall”. Most of the images are devoid of (recognizable) family members – a characteristic of all of my holiday snapping ever, which tends to focus on architecture, attractions and landscape and tries to ignore any reference to the human company I am keeping. What conclusion can be drawn from that??? (Let’s not go there, methinks…)
I suppose we all have our own approaches to holiday photography. How do you snap on holidays? Am I a total weirdo with my strictly-no-people!-approach? Humour me and click the poll!
Your holiday photography approach: