Photo Critiques

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photo Critiques

Solastalgia – Shi Yangkun

“Solastalgia” by definition it means the distress caused by environmental change. In the case of Shi Yangkun’s series, it is about a form of melancholy evoked by changes that have happened in the used-to-be familiar home context, referring to a special homesickness sensed by people when they are still within the home environment.

What drawn me to this work is probably because of my own history of leaving my home Hong Kong, and studying and living in UK, and now being back, everything has changed. And that sense of loss is permanent, unlike nostalgia which may just be temporary.

Quoting from Shi Yangkun,

“People are eager to go back home because they feel safe and comfortable with familiar attachments. From the view of nostalgia, the loss of attachment is temporary, because a person believe that they can go home sooner or later. The memory of these attachments could provide comfort. However, in the case of solastalgia, I would argue, the loss of attachment is permanent, which means even though they are standing in the original place they cannot find these attachments any more.”

The photographs speak to me because I totally understand that feeling and I can really resonate with the visual images. In his work, he questions not only the impact of the industrialisation but also reflects his uncertainties under a particular environment.

© Shi Yangkun, from the series ‘Solastalgia, 2016- ; Source @ Shi Yangkun

References: https://phmuseum.com/Henri/story/solastalgia-106f85fec8

Interview with SCMP: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2091520/photographer-misses-his-home-especially-when-hes-there

 

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Photography

Casting out the self – Dominic Hawgood

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© Dominic Hawgood, CGI still from the series ‘Casting out the Self, 2017 ; Source @ Photoworks

With the increased digitalisation use of photography, a whole system of photography techniques, methods and production equipment was replaced by another superstructure of methods and devices (electronic, or digital), which dramatically changed and expanded the possibilities of capturing, editing and circulating images.

Instead of conventional image capturing, Hawgood focuses on practices associated with image manipulation and the production of computer generated images – which raises the questions of the ontological and epistemological nature of photography, while simultaneously forcing us to question the limits, tensions, and articulations between real and virtual, between fact and fiction, between representation and imagination.

While photography is being questioned in this direction, “Casting out the Self” took this direction and turned it around to explore the spiritual side of digitals. The work explores the aesthetic properties of DMT – a psychedelic drug that is seen as a means to access the spiritual world. The aesthetic side of the effect as Hawgood described, “offered this digital experience — I felt like I was inside a computer simulation of some kind… you experience strange perspectives, distortions that might feel symmetrical or something like that. There’s unusual depth, noiselessness, clarity—all kinds of things that you associate with building imagery in CG (computer graphics) and digitally.”

He collaborated with another artist and created video animation which displays various images, visuals, and objects. This work focuses on digital technology and the visual world this technology makes possible, but also serves as a means to raise questions regarding the transition from the real world to the digital world.

The work tests a lot of boundaries that touch upon topics of my interest: spirituality and the line between real and fake. No doubt his work stretches and bends over my mind on how nowadays what photography is. Is CGI rendered images also a type of photography? With the increased digital technology usage in photography nowadays, what is photography?

References: https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/dominic-hawgood/

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Photography

Searching for Mu – Paul Cupido

I came across his work while browsing and spying on what other people were following on social media. And here, I stumbled onto beautiful works by Cupido. “Searching for Mu” or actually Cupido’s artistic concept “revolves around the principle of mu: a philosophical concept that could be translated as ‘does not have’, but is equally open to countless interpretations. Mu can be considered a void, albeit one that holds potential. Searching for Mu — taking shape in photographs, film clips, sound and folded paper — is tantamount to a quest. I have journeyed nearly as far away from home as possible, nevertheless, a journey outward equally means an exploration of our inner selves. A journey inward searching for acceptance that life comes to an end, yet at the same time knowing that life is circular, starting over time and again.

The artistic philosophy behind his work is beautiful – combining some form of zen or buddhism philosophy of life is impermanent and that everything comes in full circle. What’s more beautiful is his artist statement:

“I aim to engage with the world with wide-open senses. My work is about the magic moments of life as well as its inconveniences. I want to take pictures, while forgetting about the process of photography, until I’m saturated with an existential sense of life. Every step I take begins with the notion of ‘mono no aware’: the transience of everything, the gentle melancholy of things, being sensitive to ephemera.

His work reflects so much about his philosophy of life. And I guess why I love it so much is because not only his visual works are strikingly beautiful and give me such a great feeling of calm and peace, but also we have such similar and common philosophy.

Some of his work:

 

 

 

 

 

 

His work and philosophy reminded me so much of Masao Yamamoto’s work, who is famous for his zen type of photography (will do the next blogpost on his work).

 

References (where he talks more about the process of his work, and the concept behind his books) – highly recommended:

Interview with GUP: http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/ephemere-an-interview-with-paul-cupido

http://www.bildhalle.ch/fotografen/paul-cupido/?L=1

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Photography

Masahisa Fukase

The renowned Japanese photography work “Ravens” by Fukase has recently has his “Family” book reprinted by UK publisher MACK. Family has always been a topic that’s close to my heart. Knowingly that the “Ravens” work was really an antidote of the aftermath of his wife and muse Yoko leaving him, bringing him to use “ravens” as a symbolism to characterised his solitude of loneliness, pain and sorrow, the work “Family” is somewhat a different visually narrated work.

The cover and the design made my very first impression of the book. The design of the cover was very much similar to the Chinese 族譜, a documented scroll of written names of the ancestors and family branches in the entire history of e.g. the Chans. The 33 plates images (all done by dry plate technique) are studio portraitures of his immediate and relative families beginning and closing with the house that he lived in.

 

They are, in fact, no ordinary portraitures. In all the plates, his wife Yoko stands out the most, even when in group photographs where all face backwards. From the review by Jorg Colberg, he mentioned that “she is allowed to only wear what I learned is a traditional undergarment for women (koshimaki). In effect, she is naked, and it is only said garment and her long flowing hair that allows for some form of modesty.” For me the work speaks a lot about the masculinity power and how women and females are positioned in Japanese families. According to Colberg, the work also talks about cruelty and the relationship between Fukase and his father. Without knowing the history of him being terrified of his father since young, I guess personally I wouldn’t be able to nitpick this from reading the image (plate 29) alone. I do wish I can read Japanese to understand the synopsis written in his website to have a better view of his family history and the work.

What I really agree with Colberg is that “…what attracts me to this body of work, to this book, is that it resists the kind of resolution of so many other family projects where differences are acknowledged, and people might go their own ways, but it’s all good. Often enough, life just will not conform. Here, that narrative is missing, and there is just an assembly of fragmented ideas and aspects, some which are fighting each other… Sometimes, it’s good when things are not too spelled out.”

I think sometimes you don’t need to be extremely knowledgeable in the art history or skilled in visual literacy to be able to feel the the work. I guess this is the reason why this work is another masterpiece of his. The emotions, the conflicts and the tensions happenings within and portrayed in these family photographs can be felt and understood even though I’m some stranger and no family connection of his. For me, that is a timeless piece of work.

 

Side note: Towards the end of his artistic life, he also made another work called Bukubuku (means bubbling), which is his self-portraits when bathing in water, showing his solitude and isolation of the world once again through this visual diary of himself.

An excerpt of the work and article published by FOAM.

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Photography

Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko, a Japanese photographer / visual artist, whose work often revolves around small things and little moments in our day to day lives. Her work dances between the subconscious of dreams and the subtlety of the reality – flying birds, close-up of the details of hands, illuminated skies etc – creating loose narratives of visual poetry which gives a tranquil and serendipity feeling from within.

From PHMuseum we learn that she adopts her work ethics from Japanese culture and Buddhism. “I’m not a strict Buddhist, but I like an idea of Buddhism”, Kawauchi explains. And with this comes an appreciation of simple things, and their imperfections.”

Honestly I didn’t know how to appreciate her work before, when I felt at that time her work was very ordinary and nothing special. Yet maybe through my own buddhism practice as well, there’s a growing love and appreciation towards her work. The pictures often display moments that feels so close as if they can be touched. It feels as though I can just walk into this life of what she created – the dance between dreams and reality.

SFMOMA interview:

https://www.sfmoma.org/watch/rinko-kawauchi-contemplates-small-mysteries-life/

 

 

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Photography

The Discrete Channel with Noise – Claire Strand

 

This series by Clare Strand is a simple and a brilliant analogy about communications in this era. How information nowadays can be miscommunicated and misinterpreted – be it positive or negative, whether deliberate or accidental – has an ever-increasing and overwhelming effect on our everyday life. These failures of communication can lead to minor confusion, fantastic revelation or global outrage, depending when and where they occur. Her inspiration came from the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1971 film adaptation, Mike Teavee says: “You photograph something then the photograph is split up into millions of tiny pieces and they go whizzing through the air, then down to your TV set when they are all put together in the right order.” However, what Mike fails to foresee are the complications and disruptions that can occur in the act of transmission. When Mike transports himself via Wonka Vision he is indeed broken into a million pieces, but when put back together again he is a 10th of his original size.

Strand asked her husband, Gordon MacDonald, to select images from her archive and create a grid. They became this human machine for transmitting information of an image from one person to another. From there, he would communicate the sequence of numbers depicting the tonal code (ranging from 1-10) of each photographic element on the grid and Strand would then paint the code on the corresponding large-scale grid she had drawn up in her studio. This method was actually forseed by George H. Eckhardt during the pre-internet age where he discussed the potential for transmitting a coded photograph via telegraph to produce an accurate representation of the original image.

This work reminds us the very physics of photography and what it used to be – chemicals, papers, chemistry and shapes. And how using such primitive methods can translate to visual representations about issues happening nowadays.

References:

https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/04/clare-strand-looks-at-misinterpretation-of-information-in-the-digital-age/

http://www.cpif.net/en/Programme/the-discrete-channel-with-noise

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Photography

Dialogues with Solitudes – Dave Heath

 

I came across Dave Heath’s work when I was reading The Photographer’s Gallery newsletter about images and wellbeing. To me, photography and heath has always been closely linked as many artists and photographers I know have used photography as a channel to release their emotional turmoil, and to use it a a therapy to make sense of the world. Dave Heath, an American photographer who was abandoned by his parents at the age of four, had a difficult childhood and spent his years in orphanages and foster homes. At fifteen, a photo essay in Life on a young orphan in Seattle, “Bad Boy’s Story” by Ralph Crane, was to have a decisive impact on his future: “I immediately recognised myself in this story and photography as my means of expression.” Photography became a way for him to enter the world, it was not a matter of choice, but a necessity.

His work “Dialogues with Solitudes” captures moments of individuals in their solitudes and vulnerabilities. Although photographs are taken at a distance, the work has an opposing effect of tenderness and sensitivity as if the photographer was standing next to the subject hugging each and every one of them. “There is a range of care within the frames. What is further striking about this viewpoint of alienation is that not only that Heath took portraits of extreme empathy, but that when doing so, he nearly always managed to avoid eye contact with his subject. What could be construed as voyeuristic is instead in the very rare case of Heath about the empathy needed to let his subjects be themselves without his intervention.”

A lot of the photographs were crops of the original frame, all of which was done afterwards in the darkroom, plus editing to low key visual forms showing the isolation and loneliness of individuals, magnifying each and everyone’s emotions and expressions.  It was his intention that “almost all of his photographs give no indication of location, date, or action – Dave Heath sought to translate an intimate experience of the world, something lived and felt: tension, in the city streets, between the constrained proximity of bodies and the isolation of individuals, as if they had lost their sense of self. He focused on isolated figures in crowds, and filled his frame with their “absent to the world” presences.”

His work reminds me of the recently published work by Christopher Anderson’s APPROXIMATE JOY, which is also capturing portraits of people from Shenzhen and Shanghai and their China dream. Similar approach but giving off totally different vibe. One is sensitivity and care, the other is ethereal and fantasy.

References:

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/dave-heath-dialogues-solitudes

https://www.le-bal.fr/en/2018/06/dave-heath-dialogues-solitudes

https://www.americansuburbx.com/2018/11/david-heath-dialogues-with-solitudes.html

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Photography

Girl plays with snake – Clare Strand

 

After watching the video of MACK and Clare Strand making this photobook, it got me interested to look into what the book is about and who Clare Strand is.

Clare is a conceptual artist based in Brighton. This photobook is based on a very simple idea of her conflicting love and hate of snakes. She as a person is terrified of snake yet she collects images of people, especially women, holding snakes since 30 years ago. Clare found this notion very interesting, she said, “It strikes me as rather perverse to collect what I despise.”

The book plays around with the magnified fragment of the original images, showing the intensity of the relationship between the hand and snake, followed by the original images (sometimes snakes held by women, sometimes just the snake on its own), and then a poetry which is automatically generated from the written stories on the back of the collected press images and tweeted by Strand. “Bound in a faux-snake leather cover, the book fits comfortable in the hands—its size suitably intimate. Combining dramatic full-bleed images with full-size reproductions, the book moves in and out of the images—drawing us close and then pulling away. Love. Hate. ”

On the surface, we see the book is about the relationship between girls and snake, yet deep down, the book also reflects the momentary power that women have over the snake, that split second when there’s a balance of control. As Strand mentioned in her website, “the relationship between snakes and women has a long history, which Strand acknowledges through her discussion on the work. “The snake has been the subject of allegory and metaphor since biblical times, signifying eternity when holding its own tail; suggesting cunning and temptation to Eve; the agent of suicide for Cleopatra, and even the symbol of health and healing in the rod of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The snake can represent both good and evil, wisdom and cunning, rejuvenation and death, and, of course, sexuality and the phallus.” This book is more than just about girls and snake. It can also represents our inner conflict tug of war between good and evil.

What interest me as well about this work is that we can see this work flourish from start to end. From the concept and idea to how the book is made, how the ideas and concepts are translated into book form. And then, how that same idea and concept is translated into forms of exhibitions, showing how the same concept can be played and manipulated with different forms of publications. In the “Girl plays with snake” exhibition, the poetry are instead boldly imprinted on top of the enlarged fragment of original images. “The result is an overt and graphic interplay between text and image. Alongside the framed works, another automatic poetry generator, constructed for this exhibition, is projected onto the walls of the gallery, creating new random arrangements of Strand’s poems. The automatic text is printed out as a snaking ticker tape for the audience to tear off and take away.” This is something which increases the interactions between the artwork and the audience that can be only done in the form of exhibition, but not in a book form.

Her more renowned work about digital misinterpretation “The Discrete Channel with Noise”  will be discussed next.

 

References:

http://blog.photoeye.com/2017/01/book-review-girl-plays-with-snake.html

https://www.clarestrand.co.uk/exhibitions/?id=352

https://mackbooks.co.uk/products/girl-plays-with-snake-br-clare-strand

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Photography

Slant – Aaron Schuman

 

Aaron Schuman is an American artists based in the UK. I came across his work because I love books from MACK and his new book “Slant” caught my eye. Only then when I started studying about his work that his previous work “Folk” was listed as one of the best photobooks in 2016 by Alec Soth, and that he has also been a curator and educator for years. Well his “Folk” work I will need to spend another morning looking into and studying, but what “Slant” interested me is that it features the little police reports from a small town in Amherst, Massachusetts and they are just hilariously ridiculous. These succinct and “extraordinarily anticlimactic” accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events and non-events newspaper cutting from 2014-2018 are cleverly diptych with photographs made around the same town. The photographs are poetically matched with the text showing a “slanted” way fo rhyme, drawing this inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all truth but tell it slant”.

Each of the image pairing was carefully made with many layers and meaning, providing a third space for the viewer to imagine and create possibilities. Quoting from what Aaron says at an interview from photocaptionist, he explained thoroughly how 2 images have been carefully thought out with different added layers:

“in the case of the fig tattoo photograph that you mention, there are many layers. Firstly, I should explain that I grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts – eight miles from Amherst – which is the home of Smith College… … it’s Program for the Study of Women and Gender continues to be one of the most important and prominent within academia, and attracts feminist scholars from around the world. Furthermore, Northampton is often referred to as ‘the lesbian capital of America’, as its population includes the most lesbian couples per capita of any city in the United States… …. it is considered one of the most liberal, left-leaning, ‘open-minded’, ‘alternative’ or ‘countercultural’ communities in America.

What I find fascinating about that particular ‘Police Report’ – ‘A man reported that he was uncomfortable with a protester standing at the intersection of Amity and South Pleasant streets with a sign stating “kill feminism”.’ – is the protest itself, and the fact that today, within Trump’s America, such an ultra-conservative sentiment has become a part of public landscape, even within the most progressive of places. But I’m also interested in the fact that the police were contacted because the protest was deemed threatening; that within this extremely liberal environment, someone’s public expression and protest via ‘free speech’, albeit of their very conservative beliefs, was deemed aggressive and provocative to warrant police attention, and met with such a conservative response. Also, the fact that it was a man who reported that he was ‘uncomfortable’ with this particular act of ‘protest’ is rather intriguing. And furthermore, there’s the irony of the street names – ‘Amity’ and ‘Pleasant’ – which imply certain, very American aspirations on the part of the original town planners, but which are somewhat undercut by the activities described as occurring on those streets today. So the text is already incredibly loaded in so many ways.

Then, there’s the story behind the photograph… … I knew that the fig had all kinds of symbolic meanings, Biblical and otherwise – the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves during The Fall, the fruits own sensual and sexual suggestiveness, and so on – so after the tour was over, I went over and asked her if I could photograph her arm. She guardedly said yes, and afterwards I asked her, “Why a fig?” – “Its kind of embarrassing”, she said, “It a reference to The Bell Jar. You know, Sylvia Plath?”

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet”. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, 1963

…the photograph of the giant foot … … In the collection, I actually have multiple Reports from over the last three years in which the police were contacted because someone asked to photograph the ‘victim’s’ feet (as you say, it could be a prolific local foot-fetishist, or more likely several undergraduate art students trying to fulfil some brief given to them by one of the surrounding colleges) … … I passed this bizarre foot sculpture on the outskirts of Amherst – it was in the parking lot of a local ‘winery’ (something to do with squashing grapes with bare feet, I guess, as the area is certainly not known for its wine production) – and it was just too good to be true.

The whole spin of the work “initially, in 2014, I simply found these newspaper ‘Police Reports’ quaint and hilarious. But today, in 2017, I actually find them both unexpectedly poignant and painfully disturbing; they seem to reveal certain worrying undercurrents in America, psychological or otherwise, that point to a particular loss, at least in terms of being in touch with reality.”

The work itself is layered, complexed and highly informative with different insights coming together after each read. Attractive and simple at first, but hidden with deep meanings with metaphors relating to politics, media and psychology. I personally find this book is a jewel.

Reference:

https://photocaptionist.com/ism/slant-interview-aaron-schuman/

https://www.aaronschuman.com/slantpages/slant01.html

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