Photography Reviews

Hanafuda – Will Matsuda

Will Matsuda, grew up in Honolulu and now based in New York created a series called Hanafuda during an artist residency which reminds him of home and his Japanese Heritage. “Hanafuda” which translates as “flower cards” is a 200-year-old Japanese card game with roots in gambling. The game is a 48-card deck with a dozen suits. Each suit has its own flora that represents a month in the year. His grandmother taught him how to play the game when he was young, and when he found similarities of these flowers during his stay at the artist’s residency, he started to create this series as a way to connect to his family and his home.

© Will Matsuda, from the series ‘Hanafuda’; Source @ Will Matsuda

I love his diptychs. As he mentioned in an article published by NPR, “Some of the resulting photographs look nothing like the cards, and that’s okay. When immigrants can’t find ingredients from back home, they go to the local store and make familiar but entirely new dishes.”

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Photography Reviews

Photobooks 2019 – Part 2

Yeah, it’s already February and I’m still writing about photobook list 2019. I know I’m slow at this but hey, I take my time to read upon works that I haven’t come across which challenges my small little brain. So here another few that caught my attention, because of how many been listing them as top books where at first I found hard to comprehend but took my time to digest and read more about.

1. Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road by Tim Carpenter published by The Ice Plant

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© Tim Carpenter, from the book ‘Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road’; Source The Ice Plant

In Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road, Brooklyn-based photographer Tim Carpenter (born 1968) revisits the Central Illinois topography of his first monograph, Local Objects, with a sequence of 56 black-and-white medium-format photographs, all made on a single winter morning. In Local Objects he meandered this semi-rural Midwestern landscape through changing seasons in an abstract sequence, but here Carpenter follows a straightforward path, literally taking the viewer on a two-hour walk from point A to point B. Nothing much happens along this brief narrative arc—there are fallow fields, standing water, dormant trees, the occasional tire track on worn pavement—yet Carpenter explores the stillness of this outdoor space with a palpable, almost erotic anticipation, revealing intimate subtleties as the journey unfolds. Made with an intensity of attention and a lightness of touch, the photographs in Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road are less about the confines of this specific time and place than about a poetic strategy for narrowing the distance between human desire and the factual content of the everyday world. 

 

2. The Rug’s Topography by Rana Young published by Kris Graves Projects

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© Rana Young, from the book ‘The Rug’s Topography’; Source Kris Graves Projects

“My complex relationship with photographs began when I was young. I remember tearing images out of publications and bringing them to my dad prepared with questions. Where I grew up, normative values defined by anatomy at birth impacted an individual’s gender perception and performance. Raised by a single father, I experienced a non-traditional family structure in my home. Seeing photographs portraying the “wholeness” of family contradicted my reality. Those psychological impressions provoked my curiosity and propelled me to solve the mystery of what existed beyond the scene depicted. In retrospect, my search for missing context stems from an interest in narrative and how the single frame of a photograph begs questions rather than provides answers. As I conceive my photographs I am in a state of reverie. In my work, I use the figure as a conduit to move between past and future. My aesthetic interpretations of intimacy, privacy and identity mirror a metaphorical cycle of introspection. Subtle clues within the photograph may evoke an individual’s aversions or desires. I am interested in this negotiation, and through my work, investigate foundations of gender expression.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316608424_The_Rug’s_Topography

“The Rug’s Topography began with me photographing my intimate partner of six years. Simultaneously, we were facing an internal conflict: how we identified as individuals differed from the roles we occupied in our partnership. As we began to grow apart romantically, our anxieties rose in response to the distance widening between us. Our individual identities within a romantic context stemmed from the commonality of both having witnessed predominantly cisgender roles during our formative years. Our performance of those expectations was perpetuated by inexperience and an impulse to adhere to, or in my case “correct,” our potential family structure. Recognizing a shared inherent foundation opened our dialogue and together we began unpacking our preconceived notions regarding societal norms. Collaborating visually to express our reflections served as a catalyst for the reconciling of our emotional intimacy in the midst of a separation. It is through the juxtaposition of gaze and gesture we create blended self-portraits, expressing our emotions in relation to who we were and who we’ll become.” –LENSCRATCH.

 

3. The Island Position by John Lehr published by MACK

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© John Lehr, from the book ‘The Island Position’; Source MACK

The “Island Position” is an advertising term that describes the premium position of an advertisement surrounded solely by editorial content. In The Island Position, John Lehr explores the facades of American commercial spaces that are threatened by the emergence of e-commerce. In a rush to remain relevant, storeowners emblazon their windows and walls with anything that will grab attention: tessellations of quick-fading ads, floor-to-ceiling decals of fanned money or flowing hair, haphazard product displays, and desperate, hand-scrawled invitations. They repaint, renovate, rebrand, and rearrange, gestures which point to the desires and anxieties of people who are being left behind as our thumbs lead us into the new economy. The work presents a turning point in our cultural landscape: the transition from a physical culture to a virtual one.

Masquerading as a typology of storefronts, the surfaces in The Island Position embody something unseen: the people who constructed them. The signage is not simply an appeal to consumption, but a typography of emotion: vulnerability, ingenuity, distress, and hope—the language of capitalism as a form of public address. Lehr is not interested in what is for sale. He is interested in what is at stake.

A great interview was done by ASX with Brad Feuerhelm.

 

4. A Few Model Palm Trees by Bruno Roels published by Art Paper Editions

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© Bruno Roels, from the book ‘A Few Model Palm Trees’; Source Art Paper Editions

A Few Model Palm Trees is a remake, an interpretation, an appropriation, an adaption of Ed Ruscha’s famous book A Few Palm Trees from the 70s. Instead of using real palm trees, Roels makes use of downsized plastic trees that are used in architectural scale models, or that are used as children’s toys.

Roels often works with (photographs of) palm trees. All palm trees look alike, and as a symbol the plants are highly recognizable. Historically they’re connected to victory, triumph, endurance, religion, hospitality, wealth, luxury, vacation, paradise but also to colonization, trade and globalization. Palm trees have meaning across cultures. By using photographs of palm trees, Roels makes the idea of copying, mimicking and representation (all part of the very fabric of photography) very tangible. Now he takes on the next step by appropriating Ed Ruscha’s book.

Conversation with Brad Feuerhelm at ASX can be read here.

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Photography Reviews

A different kind of photobooks – texts & images

In 2019, there are several interesting photobooks that incorporate the clever use of text, turning them into the best photobooks of 2019 named by various renowned critics and artists.

One which I own myself – Slant by Aaron Schuman published by MACK and I wrote a review about, brilliantly combines the use of local newspaper reportage of succinct and “extraordinarily anticlimactic” accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events and non-events with black and white photographs. They are hilariously ridiculous.

Two more which came to my attention lately while reading the rest of the best photobooks of 2019 list by Photo-Eye.

Were it not for by Michael Ashkin published by Fw:Books

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© Michael Ashkin, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ Fw:Books

Were it not for combines a line phrase which begins with “were it not for…” with 218 photographs of the Mojave Desert. This combination creates a powerful sense of unease throughout the document, with the black and white images that show areas of bleak and grim, it seems as though don’t we always have an excuse for making this mess in the world? As Jorg Colberg mentioned in CPhMag, “Wherever you look, whatever you hear, it’s all the same hopeless mess: a lived environment that more often than not looks like a garbage dump, with soulless anonymous architecture everywhere, and a cultural/societal environment filled with endless violence, dread, and despair.”

Here the photographs don’t play the starring role like in most photobooks. They are not necessarily memorable yet it is its combination with the text and the whole book itself which creates this looming feeling of helplessness for the world. And that is what sticks to our mind.

I walk toward the sun which is always going down by Alan Huck published by MACK

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© Alan Huck, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ MACK

By way of an interior monologue, I walk toward the sun which is always going down is a reminder amongst the daily stream of distractions to slow down, give full attention to our daily endeavours and, according to Annie Dillard, “to discover, at least, where it is that we’ve been so startlingly set down if we can’t learn why” as Raymond Meeks describes in Photo-Eye. It is a book that takes a visual form of what a long meditation of the inner self while exploring a place with a very long walk. Highly recommended by many.

Refences: https://cphmag.com/images-and-text/

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Photography Reviews

To be called mama – Miki Hasegawa

I am a total sucker when it comes to photobooks or series about family and home. Japanese photographer, Miki Hasegawa, focuses her works on maternal love, and social issues revolving around that. The more well-known work, Internal Notebook, is about the emotional cries of children raised in abusive homes (which she started as she was worried she would be doing the same thing to her daughter). She took portraits of those children along with the diaries and notebooks they have kept. The book was made with Yumi Goto at Reminders Photography Stronghold workshops.

This work was interesting, no doubt, but her other works Jewels, Teck-mac-mah-ya-con and To be called mama caught my eye more. The trilogy talks about her relationship with her daughter, in their everyday life, from seeing the world through her daughter’s eyes, to worrying about her flying away somedays and seeing a glimpse of her feminity. They are all stages of life which are universal between a mother and a child.

When you read the images, there are subtle differences in the feelings you get from the images or the series. Jewels give a more naive and playful point of view, that mirrors the action of a 3 years old child.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Jewels’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

Teck-mac-mah-ya-con has a sense of about to disappear.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Teck-mac-mah-ya-con’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

To be called mama really portrays the feminity of 5 years old as if she is a grown-up lady.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘To be called mama’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

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Photography Reviews

The Second Shift – Clare Gallagher

Sometimes I like photography work that is highly representational, but sometimes I love works that are just simple and more directive, that it doesn’t take a genius or knowledgeable brain to pick apart or understand. You know, entirely simple and close to us in our everyday.

Clare Gallagher, an Irish artist based in the UK, made laundry and the everyday chores just as beautiful. “Although there has been progress, women still resent the day-to-day reality of housework, its draining repetition and the anxieties it breeds,” Gallagher says. “The more I research the subject, the more I think it is tied to the relentless drive of capitalism, and informed by deeply embedded notions of female duty and respectability. What’s really annoying is that you become good at it – cooking dinner, cleaning, coaxing the kids, doing the laundry and making sure it dries fast. And then you go to your actual paid job. In both contexts, you are constantly being measured up and judged.” From the Guardian by Sean O’Hagan.

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© Clare Gallagher, from the book ‘The Second Shift’; Source @ Clare Gallagher

‘Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.’ — Simone de Beauvoir

‘And what’s worse is that all of it, all of this work that I shouldn’t be doing, is taking place in the one place I shouldn’t have to be doing work at all: in fact, the one place I come to get away from work. It is taking place at home.’ — Edward Hollis

Get the book here: The Second ShiftReview of the book by Jorg Colberg

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Photography Reviews

The Unforgetting – Peter Watkins

I’ve read much about this book The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins, from Tim Clark at 1000 Words and Brad Feuerhelm at ASX to being mentioned by a few as top favourites of photobooks 2019, to be honest, I didn’t quite get it at first other than the captivating cold black and white images of object assemblages and memorabilia. As Tim Clark mentioned, “the work is spared of sentimentality: objects are catalogued and composed in a manner that evokes early scientific photography or evidence gathered at a crime scene.”

The work is based on the history of his own family marked by the suicide of his mother when he was nine years old. The heart of the artist’s project is his reconciliation to that loss, through an examination of their shared German heritage.

“This is a work that explores the machinations of memory in relation to the experience of trauma,” says Watkins. “The culmination of several years work, The Unforgetting is a series made up of remnants, as well as the associated notions of time, recollection and impermanence, all bound up in the objects, places, photographs, and narrative structures circulated within the family.”

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Self Portrait (2011), an image that pictures the artist stripped from the waist up and seated on a hard wooden chair. His face is cast down, fist clenched, shoulders hunched. Numerous large circles scar his smooth skin: the legacy of cupping, a well-known Chinese treatment for depression. Source @ 1000 Words

© Peter Watkins, from the book ‘The Unforgetting’; Source @ Peter Watkins

What really inspired me about this work was that the work has taken several different iterations since he began in 2010. He started out quite differently, with more of a documentary approach, visited the place where his mother had died, and filmed the village where she grew up, and interviews with family members. “What I came to realise was that everything seemed too literal to me, it was too sad and too sentimental and obvious somehow. I noticed from the filmed interviews that my family’s recollections had somehow blurred and merged into a kind of unified narrative as if the passage of time had stripped away any sense of complexity and subjectivity from each individual’s experience.”

“I didn’t want the project to feel sentimental in the way that projects about this subject so often tend to feel. It was about finding a balance between thinking and feeling. e.g. the Super 8 canisters contain home movies of my mother and her family on holiday. Instead of using those kind of seductive Super 8 images, which carry an unavoidable nostalgia, I came to think of that one picture as a way of conflating all [of the others] into one single, mysterious image that resists that kind of sentimentality. It’s an important part of the work, that resistance to the obvious or the overtly emotive.” he says.

References:

https://fotoroom.co/the-unforgetting-peter-watkins/

http://www.1000wordsmag.com/peter-watkins%E2%80%A8/

https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/06/show-peter-watkins-the-unforgetting-at-the-webber-gallery/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/13/peter-watkins-photography-ghostly-reflection-on-grief-and-loss

https://americansuburbx.com/2015/02/peter-watkins-the-pain-of-loss-is-a-motherfucker.html

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Photography Reviews

Entrance to Our Valley – Jenia Fridlyand

“Entrance to Our Valley” was one of the picks from Photobookstores as one of the best photobooks 2019. Jenia Fridlyand, a Russian photographer, photographed with a large-format camera the 200-acre farm in the Hudson River Valley that Jenia and her husband bought for them and their entire family. The beautifully poetic black and white images of this place, which was purposed for a multi-generational home – “for our parents, who are now living more than five thousand miles from the place of their birth; for my husband and I, both first-generation immigrants; and for our children, so they could have the privilege of coming back to a place where they grew up.”

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© Jenia Fridlyand, from the book ‘Entrance to Our Valley’; Source @ Fotoroom

Her work reminded me of photographic works by Raymond Meeks, Mark Steinmetz, Bryan Schutmaat, Jonathan Levitt etc. To me, they all possess a similar type of visual aesthetics which is intimate, calm and subtle that feels timeless yet still contemporary. Maybe it’s the everydayness that I like about these works, as it is not context-specific which everyone can easily relate to. I can easily resonate with most of the images here even though I am not a Russian, nor do I have a farm or live in the States.

Other references:

https://collectordaily.com/jenia-fridlyand-entrance-to-our-valley/

 

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Photography Reviews

Radiator Theatre – Ina Jang

Korean born artist Ina Jang now currently based in New York turns amazing colourful photo collages into paintings. Her latest work Radiator Theatre uses abstract shapes and distinctive colour palettes in the resemblance of female figures: round bodies, ribbons, masks, legs, and heels.

How the work came to life, she mentioned, “for Radiator Theatre, I encouraged myself to let go of my usual processes. Back then, I was exploring photography as a way of documenting what’s around me – I liked its immediacy and directness. I started sketching ideas, and suddenly, it wasn’t enough only to photograph objects as I found them. To create the Radiator Theatre images, I made temporary, painted three-dimensional structures. The project is devoted to the relationship with one’s mother-tongue and our encounters with foreign languages.”

© Ina Jang, from the series ‘Radiator Theatre’ ; Source @ Unseen / Trendland

The work was created from a small set made by the artist on top of the radiator in her modest apartment in New York. Each of the abstract figures is imperfectly hand-cut, hand-coloured, and suggest narratives of their own. They would float listlessly against the background, if not for the shadows created by the sun that shines through the apartment’s window. Their dark shadows root the figures to the ground, creating a sense of space and a new language for relationships between moments in the photographs.

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Photography Reviews

Photobooks 2019 – Part 1

2019 has now ended, and as usual, there are always lists of best of at the end of the year. So reading through some if not most of the important best of photobook lists coming from Sean O’Hagan, Photobookstore, Photoeye, The Times, Aperture, ASX and BJP, here are the ones that caught my eye so far.

1. Paul’s Book by Collier Schorr published by MACK

© Collier Schorr, from the book ‘Paul’s Book’; Source @ MACK

‘There is a common assumption about youth which is: Youth is about youth. But that isn’t really true. Youth is really about the past. Youth is not the pool that young men gaze adoringly into; it is the pool that old men gaze in, in order to measure the distance their bodies have travelled’. – Collier Schorr

Collier Schorr met Paul Hameline, a young French artist and model, in New York in 2015. A friend of a friend, he came to her home for a ‘go-see’, which is when a photographer gets to see how a model looks in front of the camera. Paul’s family lives in the Marais section of Paris around the corner from the hotel Collier stays at while in Paris, so they began to meet and to make a project that lasted two years in which Collier would visit Paul at his parents’ house and take pictures and talk. The idea was for Paul and Collier to experience photography as a social space, a conversation in which his body and her eyes could try and understand each other’s fascinations and fantasies. Many of the pictures were published in Re Edition magazine. Paul’s Book expands that magazine story to form a larger piece about the way in which a photographer and model can search for some greater revelations with the simplest movements and various states of undress.

2. Because by Sophie Calle published by Editions Xavier Barral

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3. L’Inventaire Infini by Sebastien Lifshitz

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Both a filmmaker and major collector of vernacular photography since his teenage years, Sébastien Lifshitz gathers in this personal anthology over 300 images. A surprising collection from all periods and origins. Beyond the playful or aesthetic aspect of this corpus structured under different themes, each set of images presents details that characterise an individual, a social class, or a lifestyle. The attention to clothing, the zoom on parts of the body, staging, and errors – all of the things that amateur photography explores allows the unique characteristics of the individual to be expressed. One encounters the same investigations as in visuals arts in this amateur approach. Each series is accompanied by a text written by photography historian Isabelle Bonnet. It thus resituates the themes broached within a particular context, exploring their aesthetic and conceptual qualities.

4. The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki published by Hatje Cantz/Yossi Milo 

© Kohei Yoshiyuki, from the book ‘The Park’; Source @ Radius Books

For his notorious Park photos, taken by night in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Kohei Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film and flash to capture a secret community of lovers and voyeurs. His pictures document the people who gathered in these parks at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings.

With their raw, snapshot-like quality, these images not only uncover the hidden sexual exploits of their subjects, both same-sex and heterosexual, but they also serve as a chronicle of a Japan we rarely see. As Martin Parr writes in The Photobook: A History Volume II, The Park is “a brilliant piece of social documentation, capturing perfectly the loneliness, sadness and desperation that so often accompany sexual or human relationships in a big, hard metropolis like Tokyo.”
5. Positive Disintegration by Tania Franco Klein published by Editions Bessard

© Tania Franco Klein, from the book ‘Positive Disintegration’; Source @ Tania Franco Klein

The work is influenced by the pursuit of the American Dream lifestyle in the Western World and contemporary practices such as leisure, consumption, media overstimulation, eternal youth, and the psychological sequels they generate in our everyday private life. The project seeks to evoke a mood of isolation, desperation, vanishing, and anxiety, through fragmented images, that exist both in a fictional way and a real one.

Philosopher Byung-Chul Han says we live in an era of exhaustion and fatigue, caused by an incessant compulsion to perform. We have left behind the immunological era, and now experience the neuronal era characterized by neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, burnout syndrome, and bipolar disorder. Drawing inspiration from his theories, Mexican photographer Tania Franco Klein places this contradiction at the centre of her autobiographical project.

The constant need to escape, to always look outside. Her characters find themselves almost anonymous, melting in places, vanishing into them, constantly looking for any possibility of escape. They find themselves alone, desperate and exhausted. Constantly in an odd line between trying and feeling defeated.

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