Photography Reviews

The beauty of deadpan

I never believe in a certain style of photography that artists or photographers should work towards. Photography is photography and that they just reflect a certain stage of who you are at that moment in time or the story you want to tell requires this form of visual language. There was a phase when I really enjoyed the gritty, high contrast, emotional photographs e.g. Jacob Au Sobol, Trent Parke, Hajime Kimura etc. And somehow this is dying out and I start to appreciate the ordinary, deadpan aesthetics of photographs. Actually, more like I can now see their difference in purposes.

John Myers‘ recently published book Looking at the Overlooked speaks to me this way. It describes a way of encountering the world. The images, all taken within walking distance of Myers’s home in Stourbridge are scenes encountered without narrative or emotion, as if Myers were the first person to come across the places he turned his lens upon. The work is sequenced as a journey through a town, generic and not site-specific, a backdrop to the mundane and everyday that is too often seen and yet not considered as part of our visual landscape.

© John Myers, from the book ‘Looking at the Overlooked’; Source @ RRB photobooks

He explained to BJP, “I think one of kind of great problems in a lot of photography is that photographers think they’re creating a story,” he added. “For me, too many photographs are full of chatter and noise and movement – newspapers are sold on the basis of noise, the more noise you can generate the better, and photographers go down that route. But what I enjoy is work that is silent. August Sander, Eugene Atget, even Walker Evans, the photographs are silent.”

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Photography Reviews

Jardin – Massao Mascaro

A garden is an enclosed space. A garden needs a frame if it is to be called a garden.
The garden is the moment when a place becomes a landscape.
The garden, or the orchard, is the germ of the settlement, the village, the town, the city and the nation.
The garden, we might be inclined to say, is neither completely natural nor fully human and as such stands at an equal distance between Man and God.⠀

Humans are makers of gardens just as they are tellers of stories.

© Massao Mascaro, from the series ‘Jardin’; Source @ Witty books

Young french photographer, Massao Mascaro, who is based Brussels did a book Jardin which talks about the mythical space of the garden, found in the streets and parks of Madrid. The scope of his work is profoundly political, as it is rooted in the need to explore how humans relate to the spaces (both cultural and geographical) they inhabit. His point of view is always intimate, his use of a soft-focus, a tight cropping and a narrow depth of field evoke touch.

I love the way he sees and the way he frames his images. The highlighted monochrome of the work makes it feel poetic and dreamy. The book looks promising and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

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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

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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