Category Archives: art

Under a Blood-Red Sky

Not kidding:

019

This is the sky this morning, 8.30 am. No filter, no mumbo-jumbo. Just a crisp, cold winter morning in the city centre of Dublin. We are back to the time where I just about finish my morning work and get up from the desk – to notice the colour of the sky outside. (In deeper, darker winter the sun has not yet risen when I take my breakfast break.)

The image comes with a reminder for all Dublin readers that the annual Turner show is on in the National Gallery of Ireland. I make my pilgrimage to the exhibition every year. It is all the more special because the Turner watercolours are only ever shown in the month of January (as stipulated in the Vaughan Bequest from 1900 that stated the Turner watercolours were to be shown every year in the month of January – as the light was least damaging in the muddy grey of the Irish winter… too right). They match the sunrise in their pinks, reds and oranges – although Turner does not paint with a wide, wet brush or however else we usually see watercolours. There is an amazing amount of detail in the vague, the occasional stronger brushstrokes and the carefully unpainted parts of the images. I find these paintings so un-watercolour-ish, I am astounded every time I see them.

My photo does not reach the lofty heights of artistic expression that Turner perfected. But the view of the sky certainly connects me with him. The beauty of colour. Amazing.

Advertisements

Glad to be a Photographer

I praise the day when I decided to pursue photography in earnest – or even professionally. How much excitement that interest has brought me in the last four years. The places I have been allowed in to see, the people I have been able to meet, the experiences I have gained. And yesterday was another example of that. But it has simultaneously also shown me that I am glad I am not a cinematographer.

Yesterday’s occasion was a shoot in a shoot. The star of the film was – my house. But the fact that I work in a studio in this house suited the filmmakers plans, and thus I was asked to “act” in her film. I will be a mere footnote in the finished work, but that suits me well, because what I wanted to get out of this, I certainly got. I got a first-hand experience of a professional video production. Five people were involved in the shoot – the director, her AD , the director of photography, a steady-cam operator and a focus puller. Now, I have often read these titles in the credits of movies, and of course I had a general idea what their roles were. I had a glimpse of it when I acted as an extra on a soap opera years ago, but when you are a mere extra in a big production, you do not get to ask questions or to poke behind the scenes.

Photography – Drawing with Light, Literally

The attention to detail in video productions is staggering. Furniture was moved, paintings re-hung, decorations arranged to the millimetre. Light was artificially enhanced and recreated. My role in all this was to act the photographer, i.e. I was in the frame as a photographer who is in the middle of a photo shoot. An easy role to play, you might think, but not if you are aware of a camera moving around behind you, which you have to allow space to pass by while still acting your own part.

Most interesting for me was that stills photography and cinematography are two entirely different kettle of fish. Yes, both work with the recording of light, time and space, and yet it seemed to me as if photography, although much less complicated, needed a much stricter framework than cinematography. For starters, the mixture of lightsources – flash and daylight, did not seem to impede the camera very much. For me, however, it was slightly tricky to be shooting flash with light streaming in from an open window. (For those not in the know: A mixture of light will result in funny hues in the image.) On a usual shoot, I would not place my sitters as close to the backdrop as I had to yesterday. And I certainly would know that my flash has to be much closer to my subjects in order to illuminate them properly than it sits in this shoot. For the steady-cam it was more important to have the whole composition right, the flash did not really matter much to it, and similarly the intensity of light seemed to be less of or little consequence. My demands, of course, were secondary to the production, and so I had to go along with the “script”. I will have to issue a massive caveat before any of my photography friends see the final products – the gaps in my “studio safety” alone will have those in the know scream in agony…

The shoot has left me with a new appreciation of all things video. It was interesting to see the split responsibilities of the director on the one hand, and the DP on the other – one in charge of the aesthetics, the other looking after the technical side of things. Likewise, roles of the camera people were clearly split as well, with the steady-cam operator moving the camera with the poise and deliberation of a ballet dancer through the room, while the focus puller crept along to concentrate only on the focus of the image that he saw transmitted onto his screen.

All of these jobs were incredibly multi-task – operating complicated pieces of equipment while keeping the instructions of the artistic and technical directors in mind, all of that restricted by the dimensions and characteristics of the room. One wrong angle or a bump against the rigging and you can start again. And all this before you even get to the participation of the “extras” who unwittingly look at the camera, or move the wrong way, or move to quickly, or what have you. It’s pain-stakingly slow, and what will appear as a minute-and-a-half in the finished video has taken us three hours to shoot.

I am glad that as a photographer I am operating in a slightly less technology-filled realm. Give me a lightsource and a subject and off I go. But those have to be set in direct relation, otherwise it won’t work. There is still plenty of multi-tasking going on in my job, too, and lots of technology to arrive at the desired outcome. No doubt you can easily do with a pair of extra-eyes and a few hands to move the details around. But nowhere near the complexity that filming needs. Phew – glad I am not doing that. I most certainly lack the patience for cinematography.

So yeah, I am glad to be a photographer. I am able to understand what is going on in the world of cinematography, but I am happy that what I do requires less pre-planning, less manpower, less post-production and is altogether that little bit more accessible and tangible. Simpler, maybe, but certainly not less enduring or impressing.

I think I may have just inadvertantly discovered Cubist photography.

Seriously though. Cubist photography. Is it possible? Or is it just a mere rip-off of Cubist painting? I have been thinking about this for a while. Since 1997, actually. That’s when I first became interested in Cubism. But not in its fine arts form. I have never held much interest in the likes of Picasso or Juan Gris. Quite frankly, I never found the Cubist portraits that they produced particularly visually pleasing. That is entirely subjective and individual point of view – I do accept that their art was ground-breaking, original and highly aesthetisized. I just personally would not hang a Cubist painting á la Picasso in my sitting room. It was the Cubist architecture in Prague that actually got me to reconsider. It sounds impossible – how can you break the laws of perspective with a three-dimensional edifice? The buildings are of course conventional in the sense that they are habitable spaces with floors, doors, windows – but the decorative elements are strangely and definitely modern with windows in rhombus shape, rather bulky decorated doorways and pillars, all protruding from the facades and thereby enabling a different shape/view of the building from different perspectives.

I have the good fortune to work in a house that was once the workplace of a Cubist artist, however, and her work has always appealed to me. Mainie Jellett was the first Cubist painter in the British Isles. Despite a rather conventional background, the unmarried artist was able to study in Paris with the likes of Albert Gleizes and André Lhote. Her work is less representational than Picasso’s and based on a stringent theory of shape, light, colour and movement. The abstract quality of it with shifting shapes is what fascinates me, and I have made attempts at recreating that in photography. (See my blogpost here.) But I never got into it because it involves too much Photoshop for my liking.

As I was arsing around with my iPhone today, looking for a suitable picture for my still on-going 365 project (now in its second year), I happened to point it at a disco ball. And this is the result:

This is much more like what I would consider Cubist photography: Straight lines breaking up parts of the image into facets. Together the facets do not represent a seamless bigger picture, but mirror reality broken into pieces. In a way that looks like David Hockney’s photo collages, without being broken into individual photographs. That appeals very much to my laziness. *coughs*

Is there meat in this? Could this be turned into something? For starters, the problem is the obvious presence of the camera in the shot. Could that be avoided by use of a LF camera, for instance, which is able to “shoot around the corner” so to speak? Or is it necessarily a bad thing if the camera appears in-shot, anyway? Isn’t the camera part of the reality that is being represented in the shot – one facet of many?

I am intrigued. I may have to play with this.

Mirror, mirror on the Wall

My almost-daily musings on photographs today led me to think about mirrors in photography. (Tech nerds tune out – I am not talking about the internal mirror of the SLR but of the kind that hangs on a wall.) 
I was looking at a fashion shot in which the model was staring into a mirror, thus the viewer could both see the model’s impressive profile as well as the delectable face, full-frontal. Same, obviously, applied to the clothes in the shot. And I was wondering how good or bad I like that little style device.
Now, I’ve used it as a compositional device, myself. And felt thoroughly unoriginal for it. Shots over shoulder into the mirror *yawn*. 

This is evoking an image that gives the viewer a perspective on the subject from two (or more) points of view. (Just think of Picasso’s famous portraits of Dora Maar and you know what I mean. ) But this is actually Cubist photography on a far more realistic level than Picasso was ever able to create. No weirdo nose growing out of an ear and chameleon eyes twisting around to the sitter’s back. 

Art historians will tell me that that is not what Cubism is about. I am simplifying. Maybe it’s something to be explored in a different way…

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!

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