Artist Inspirations, The Art of Philosophy

Honest Photography: how to photograph with a free mind

Part 1. Kosuke Okahara on photographing with a free mind

“If there’s a pure form of documentary photography, the picture should not be influenced by any preexisting visions.”

Having been working on a story about the impact of drugs on local community in various parts of Columbia for 13 years, Kosuke Okahara became able to predict the kind of scenes that he would see even though he was in different towns, and in the way he would frame the images.

“It’s like I was trying to see what I’ve seen already… it’s almost like I’m copying myself…”

“I asked myself – am I documenting or am I just taking pictures of the situation that I kind of wanted to see… ” he quoted. 

A former aspiring Olympic skier whom became a W. Eugene Smith Fellowship recipient, Japanese photographer Kosuke Okahara shared his struggle with the philosophical dilemma he had with documentary photography, and his journey to finding his ways through making the work The Blue Affair

© Kosuke Okahara, from the photobook ‘The Blue Affair’; Source @ Kosuke Okahara Website

The Blue Affair is a a work with photographs taken in Koza, the heart of Okinawa, which gave Okahara the refreshing sense of being a photographer with a beginner’s mind again. The repeated visits without a specific purpose in producing a story somehow led to the people, the conversations, the happenings he encountered from this place infiltrating his dreams — as if these were symbolic gestures in nudging him to return, and at the same time, to relight his inner flame and re-experience again the joy of just pure photography.   

“… being more conscious takes one away from the purpose while getting ride of the purpose is the only way to get closer to the intent. In that sense, documentary is like a tragedy of fate. Achieving by losing – like a Shakepearean play.” —extract from the afterword written by Tatsuya Ishikawa, of the photo book The Blue Affair by Kosuke Okahara. 

Are we really creating images from a fresh eye every time we shoot, or are we already building on from pre-existing images of what to be seen? How can we be more aware when the way we photograph becomes purposeful rather than being open and honest with what is there to be seen? And how can we remove ourselves from the position of already knowing and begin again with a beginner’s mind? These are the questions to ponder, and with the blue affair, Okahara has shown us that it is possible.

Going through The Blue Affair book gave me chills. It’s the kind of book that gives you a visual journey in a way that you are drawn in as if you were present with the photographer, experiencing what he was experiencing at the same time. That’s the kind of work I aspire to work towards, because the work that one would remember the most, are the ones that are felt.

His recommended Photobook:  Rasen Kaigan by Leiko Shiga

Please check out his work:

Website: https://www.kosukeokahara.com / IG: @kosukeokahara

To be continued… Part 2. Teju Cole on embracing chance in a confined time

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Photography Reviews

Evidence – Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel

Larry Sultan, famously known for his work Picture from Home, which documents the lives of his home with parents in Southern California with contemporary photography, film stills, fragments of conversations and his own writings and other memorabilia, collaborated with Mike Mandel for a work less well-known Evidence, a brilliant recent discovery while reading the book Photography and Collaboration by Daniel Palmer.

Between 1975-1977, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel worked together and curated selected photographs from a multitude of images that previously existed solely within the boundaries of the industrial, scientific, governmental and other institutional sources. The work Evidence is about juxtaposing these previously contextualised images into new forms of narratives which some become humorous and while others perplexing. The work demonstrate that the meaning of a photograph is conditioned by the context and sequence in which it is seen, and by isolating from their original context that these images take on meanings that address the confluence of industry and corporate mischief, ingenuity and pseudo-science.

© Larry Sultan, from the series ‘Evidence’; Source @ Larry Sultan

One needs to read the book to fully absorb and comprehend what they set out to do (And I wish I have the book to read it closely too!). The absurdity of these pairings somehow has a common thread that holds the whole book, transporting you to a universe that you may be familiar with yet completely off in some way – suggesting that we often read images in a contextualised form and when that’s been removed, what seems familiar becomes floating in a space that is waiting for us to make meaning of. When there’s a series of these and are carefully curated and sequenced, our brain has its way to fill in those blanks and create new forms of narrative. Evidently these are images of evidence, of truths, of events, of history… somehow in Evidence the value of these images changed and became fictional.

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Photography Reviews

2:16.22 – Kensaku Seki

Japanese artist Kensaku Seki (with a background in physical education and himself also as an athlete) recently made a work 2:16.22 which looks at five athletes who stake their lives on the act of running and the on-going fight to set records. The work looks at the other side of glory in setting the record numbers – the sweat, the pain, the endurance etc came together for an artist book as well as an exhibition that is currently showing at Reminder Strongholds.

I really enjoyed the work perhaps because I was also a former swimmer and I resonate with the hardship behind the glorification.

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Photography Reviews

Particles – Boris Loder

German photographer, Boris Loder’s recent book Particles has a refreshing take with the use of photography as a medium to talk about landscapes and human impacts on urban planning.

The concept of identity often seems like a container that can be filled with very different, even contradictory contents. With Particles, Boris Loder transforms the notion of identity as a container into sculptural photographs. He collected objects from various sites around the city of Luxembourg and took them back to his studio, where he packed them carefully into 10-centimetre square plexiglass cubes. The resulting constructions were then photographed, and the silhouette of the plexiglass edited out in postproduction. In this way, assumptions about urban planning intentions are contrasted with actual use. Fast food on a sports field or a drug stash near a renowned bank allude to socio-geographical realities that only very rarely surface in popular notions of Luxembourg.

© Boris Loder, from the book ‘Particles’; Source @ ASX

A landscape is understood both as a physical place and a representation of a physical place which both forms are reliant on the idea of a boundary – the first, on invisible political demarcations separating one tract of land from another, the second, on pictorial boundaries of linear perspective. What intrigues me was how he challenges the limitation of photography of transforming a 3D landscape into a 2D print. He cleverly uses fixed 3-dimensional cubes to building sculptural photographs. As Eugenie Shinkle from ASX puts it, “each photograph, in other words, is a two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional construct held together by an invisible boundary – a landscape by any other name.”

His other work Cloroplastics is also intriguing in that he uses plastic plants to try to answer where and why people prefer the substitute rather than the ephemeral beauty of the original.

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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

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

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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