See/Saw

One subject a day, for one year, from two perspectives. Three-hundred and sixty-five photos, times two.

Monday, May 31, 2010

tens... #5

she saw:

unknown



she said:

"love the tones of this picture. it's peaceful to me."


he saw:

Peter Beard





he said:

Peter Beard. where to start? for one thing, he's a lot less controversial than sally mann. he's a fashion photographer, fine arts photographer, painter, assembler, collagist, conservationist, naturalist... artist. he's they type of person who could be The Most Interesting Man In The World: charming, handsome, fit, smart, sensitive, artistic, rustic, sophisticated, etc. you know the drill- women want him, men want to be him.

his photography is top notch, even before he begins smooshing it all together with animal bone fragments, scrapbook style ephemera, other photos, newspaper clippings... even his own blood. i don't know what it is about collage photography that flips my switch, but there's something there that really gets me going. maybe it's that on a large enough scale, the whole thing is a puzzle where someone has taken any number of seemingly random items and given you the task of deciding how it all fits together?

or maybe it's a 'bang for your buck' type of thing? it's fun to feel overwhelmed at first, and to jump in to the puzzle. i certainly don't feel the same impact that i would from a singular, strong image, but graphically i'm drawn to the collagists and enjoy the process of picking apart the larger image, dissecting each building block, and forming a narrative on my own. and maybe it goes a little deeper than that.

perhaps the single, straightforward image is like seeing your neighbor standing on his/her front steps- not confrontational, but direct. looking at a well put-together collage is like looking in that same neighbor's windows after they've gone inside for the night, and following them from room to room, window to window, and getting a lot of what's going on, but there's that time between rooms, between windows, where you have to use your imagination, and you wonder what's really going on...

i just like them, that's all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

tens... #6

she saw:

unknown


she said:

"love the red against the fog."


he saw:

Sally Mann











he said:

when i got to college and began studying photography in earnest, i had access to all kinds of work i hadn't seen before. this was the artsy, edgy stuff that barnes and noble wouldn't stock (or couldn't keep in stock). i'm sure that when i say artsy and edgy, you're thinking of the same kinds of artists i am- the kind that take lots of pictures of their own little kids naked. what? sounds terrible, doesn't it? i hope it does. who wants to see that? well, surprise, surprise, i did. that is to say that once i saw some of it, i wanted to see more. wait. that doesn't sound right either.

Sally Mann's photography more closely resembles a dream sequence from a Faulkner novel than anything lewd or naughty you were imagining. still, the fact that these are her children, or members of her family, and they are in fact nude for the most part, has led to claims of exploitation at one end, and just poor judgment on the other.

yes, there are small children, and some adolescents and even teens, as well as the occasional grown-up, but what her work often portrays is a kind of eden-inspired innocence, a pre-fall of man sensibility. the nudity itself is more a characteristic of this lifestyle she is capturing, something to be weighed against the impact of the entire image. she might say that she captures only innocence, and it's up to the viewer to corrupt it.

furthermore, the images are often spooky and unsettling, not titillating (unless you're into that sort of thing. people are, it's okay). the best thing to do, of course, is to let the images speak for themselves. but much like the mainstream maligned work of Jock Sturges, context is everything. when judging work of this nature, it's best to keep in mind that in the end, the intense and dreamy expressions on the faces of her subjects remind us as much of the abyss as they do of any heaven: you are looking, as something looks back at you.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

tens... #7

she saw:

lost america


she said:

"this is inviting to me, even though it looks very deserted."


he saw:

mike and doug starn













he said:


mike and doug starn are twin brothers who have worked together for all of their professional career. along with witkin, they were probably one of the first photographers that i took notice of, even before i was actively shooting my own stuff. and like witkin and man ray, they have a fairly nontraditional approach to the photographic medium.

what drew me to their work was their method of turning photographs into sculpture, or adding texture and a three-dimensional quality to a two-dimensional medium. they routinely printed on materials other than photographic paper, and then would layer pieces on top of each other, collage style. they heavily dyed and tinted the surfaces, used transparencies and overlays, and using many small pieces crafted large images jig-saw puzzle style. i guess i liked the non-photography aspects of their photography. they were photographs, but not photographs. they were sculpture, but not sculpture, painterly, but not paintings.

in their series titled "blot out the sun" they create images of stark, leave-less trees that fill the frame almost entirely and are printed so heavily contrasted that they more closely resemble japanese woodblock prints than photographs. in "attracted to light" they produce large scale portraits of moths, cobbled together from smaller panels. in "toshodaji" peaceful portraits of buddhas are assembled from patchwork exposures that bear greater resemblance to printmaking than they do photography.

they have a striking visual style that unlike much of photography is more graphic than narrative. something i've always looked for but have yet to realize is a sense of texture within my images- either actual, by some secondary process, or implied via the printing process. the starn's work remains the primary influence, even after all these years.

http://www.starnstudio.com/

Friday, May 28, 2010

tens... #8

she saw:

unknown


she said:

"i feel like i can feel the silence of this photo."



he saw:

joel peter witkin














he said:


wikipedia says Witkin's "work often deals with such themes as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and various outsiders such as dwarfs, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people." well if that's not enough to get the attention of a seventeen year old heavy metal fan, i'm not sure what is. so yes, i admit it, i came for the hermaphrodites. but i stayed for the technique and the presentation.

when i first saw it, Witkin's stuff blew my little mind. first it was his autopsy portraits of mexican inmates- the scandal of bribing officials to photograph dead prisoners is titilating enough. but these weren't just bodies on slabs. they were often seated upright, eyes half open, mouths agape, heads lolled to one side. if it weren't for the train tracks of stitches making their way up and down the torso, you might assume this person was drugged, or maybe just waking up.

and while they were photos of corpses, these were not photos for gore-hounds. in western culture, one of the many ways we're taught to process and deal with death is to look at a corpse as an empty vessel- 'that's not the person we knew and loved, it's just the leftover container,' or what have you. i don't necessarily disagree with this notion, but i have to admit that it strips what's left behind of an awful lot of dignity. whether you believe in a soul or a non-corporeal identity, that physical body still served a purpose, held that energy, was that person, etc.

so while on one level it's easy to look at the work he's done with the corpses as grotesque and demeaning, when i look at those images, i see a being restored to some degree. they're no longer just bodies, they're returned to a kind of existence. the work is careful and meticulous, not flashy or insubstantial. there's a definite aesthetic going on that transcends merely being shocking. if i were feeling particularly macabre, i might say that Witkin sculpts in used flesh.

aside from the work with corpses, most of his work is what i would call "theatrical" photography. the images are Hieronymus Bosch paintings come to life, and what appealed to me most was how well crafted the scenes were. even the most basic image shattered what i thought was possible in terms of studio still lifes. and like the manipulation work of Man Ray, Witkin's work is created manually, without the use of computers and software. he uses chemicals, scratches negatives, and employs elaborate props and costumes to achieve the end result.

thematically it wasn't a direction i wanted to go in, but i was captivated by the effort and style. his work may not be for everyone, but he's got a spot reserved on my bookshelf. and if you can past the idea of body parts or 'dead' things, some of it can be quite beautiful.

for purposes of discretion, and with the exception of the top pic which is one of my favorite photographs of all time, i didn't post any of the dis corporeal work because i didn't want to surprise anyone who wasn't prepared. i'm including some links to his work and if you're feeling brave you can check them out. if not, that's okay too.



http://www.correnticalde.com/joelpeterwitkin/

http://www.zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/witkin2/

http://www.art-forum.org/z_Witkin/gallery_show.htm





Thursday, May 27, 2010

tens... #9


she saw:

Keith Foster


she said:

"the size of the wave is unbelievable, i love the black and white tones, and the drama of it."


he saw:

Man Ray












he said:

Man Ray

when i was in high school i became really interested in surrealism through the work of Salvador Dali. from within the surrealist movement i became interested in dadaism, and from there ended up at the work of Man Ray.

originally a painter, he grew to become one of the first truly multi-media artists. i became interested in his work through his experimental photography, but he's also known today for his varied contributions to fashion and portrait photography, collage, film work, and sculpture. he was also considered a conceptual artist years before that term would come to be widely used.

what i found fascinating about his work was his ability to bring various skills to whichever medium he chose to work in. his commercial photography work demonstrated a more than adequate skill level or technical proficiency for straight-forward image making, but he insisted upon taking the images a step further.

at a time when many respected photographers did little to edit their images, even by way of tinting or cropping, man ray applied many darkroom techniques to his photos to alter their final appearance. one of his most famous techniques was solarization. it involved exposing the image onto the photo paper, then during the developing process exposing the paper to another light source, be it a lamp or sometimes direct sunlight, for a short time, before returning to the darkroom to finish the developing process. this left the image with a sometimes silver, sometimes black halo and accentuated certain lines in the images so as to appear half positive and half negative.

he also pioneered a form of abstract photography using photograms he re-named "rayographs." often times photograms are created when simple objects are placed on light sensitive paper and exposed to a light source- usually direct sunlight. when processed, the objects leave their silhouettes on the paper and can be arranged into various shapes or patterns. Man Ray took this a step further, creating sometimes elaborate geometrical designs using cut-outs, templates, and involving multiple exposures.

it was this experimental work that influenced me most. my senior thesis in college involved a series of manipulated images accompanied by a short prose piece from a fellow surrealist playwright and poet, Antonin Artaud. the images featured a sleeping model who, in her dreams, took on various identities and textures, before emerging from that consciousness as the sum of those parts. the idea was that whatever identies we assume in fantasy are just as valid as our "waking" or conscious identity, and that ultimately the reality of our true selves is not, nor does it have to be, separate from the fantasy of our dream selves. wow, pretty self-indulgent and artsy-fartsy, right?

since what i was doing was all hand-made and pre-photoshop, it was messy and involved lots of trial and error. i needed lots of space to lay out templates for multiple exposures, over multiple developers, and i often did the work overnight at the college's large communal darkroom. considering how easily experimental photography can fail, and the way in which it's usually received (poorly), i got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement for my efforts, if not the final product. if i'm feeling particularly brave, maybe i'll scan and post some of it in the future. at any rate, i couldn't help but feel like i was channeling Man Ray as i stooped over my construction paper mattes and templates, shuffling from one developing tray to another.

Man Ray also got me started on photo-collage, and collage in general. thanks to the introduction his work provided, i discovered other photo-collagists like Peter Beard, Walter Ioos, and the late Dan Eldon, and as i think about my photographic goals and philosophies, it all seems to first point back to Man Ray...