Photobook Wishes

Another Black Darkness- Saiko Nomura

I remember seeing Saiko Nomura’s work at the HKIPF Provoke show last year 2018. And her’s stands out the most because of the experimental way of printing.

“Another Black Darkness” is Nomura’s first experimental series created through solarization. The book, which consists of black ink oriented on black paper, has been highly praised for being the most experimental out of all recently published photo collections.

Would love to get my hands on this book!

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The Origin of Photography

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this BAFTA award winning documentary series about art and images. But every time I re-watch this again, something new inspires me. This is the magic of really great work.

Episode 1 – John Berger talks about the reproduction of images due to the invention of photography and new media e.g. television. How this has an impact on how we appreciate art from the past.

In summary, he talks about how art was appreciated within context – the frame, the place displayed which creates the whole aesthetic experience subject to that piece of art. And art was unique in that sense – one piece one place one time. With the invention of photography, art becomes trasmittable – we no longer need to go to a particular place or travel to a certain country to have this experience. The art pieces can be delivered on prints, on television, in the context of our home. But will this experience be the same?

Berger argues that how we see the original art piece is entirely different to how it is being transmitted and displayed in front of our eyes. In some way, you are able respond to the original art piece by choosing how to see and appreciating the authenticity of it; in contrast, with the transmitted work, how the art work is arranged (e.g. zoom in or out, panning left or right, what music to play in background) is entirely coded to what the presenter wants us to see. The art can become easily manipulated and diverge from its original meaning. It has become like words rather than holy relics. He emphasised at the end that we need to be sceptical of how these images and meanings are arranged.

 

Episode 2 – he talks about the differences between being naked and nude – where the former is about being seen as oneself, whereas the latter is presenting oneself as an object, being on display without clothing. This refers to the portrayal of the female nude, an important part of the tradition of European art. Berger examines these paintings and asks whether they celebrate women as they really are or only as men would like them to be. Photography has elevated this issue to raising beauty in the public image of women and how this influences how women see themselves today.

 

Episode 3 – in this episode Berger examines where the value of art comes from. Before photography, art was somehow raised above life, turning it into a kind of religion. He said that when you buy a painting you also buys the look of the thing it represents. Early paintings were representations of private possessions, and some how possessing these paintings deduce a form of pride – because the sense of what you can put your hands on became closely connected with the sense of ownership. The celebration of merchandise began.

 

Episode 4 – the last episode he talks about the publicity of images. Where traditional art shows private possessions that consolidates the owner’s sense and value, the public images share a message of what we don’t have. The sight of it makes us want to possess it so to be envied. Publicity is a way of manufacturing glamour. It plays upon fear. Objects themselves are neutral, only publicity and images that raises or demolishes their values.

“In the urban world, we are surrounded by images of an alternative way of life. We may remember or forget these images – but briefly we take them in. And for a moment they stimulate our imagination, either by way of memory or by anticipation. But where is this other way of life?”

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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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The Origin of Photography

Rhetoric of the Image – Roland Barthes

Barthes, has clearly demonstrated that there are signs in photographs. In his theory,

Signs (anything that convey a meaning) = signifier (things that give meaning) / signified (the mental concept of the things presented)

Here, is the famous advertisement that Barthes uses in his text “Rhetoric of the Image” to explain his theory of how to read photographs.

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According to Barthes, there are 4 signs here that can be read from this image:

  • the half opened bag and the unpackness signifies returned from the market
  • the tomatoes, pepper and pasta signify Italianicity – the food themselves as well as the colours, constituting to the Italian flag – green, red and white
  • the collection of the objects signifies a dinner to be prepared, the tin of product surrounded by fresh and natural food signifies its equivalence to them
  • the image composed is with relevance to painting categories of “still life”

There are also denoted message here, meaning the signifier is same as the signified. E.g. the image of tomatoes signifies tomatoes, the image of pasta signifies pasta. We still need to acquire these anthropological knowledge to be able to read these messages.

In his text, he claims that there are 3 messages from a photograph:

  • linguistic message
    • anchorage – this is the text which acts as an anchoring point for viewers to derive information from the image. For press photographs especially, the text often directs what information to focus and what information to ignore in an image, “remotely controlling the viewer towards a meaning chosen in advance.”
    • relay – this is text which complements and works alongside with the images in e.g. comic strips or films. Creating a dialogue. The meaning is found in the sequence rather than the image itself.
  • denoted message
    • He said that the denoted and connoted message is relational, not having one without the other. At least, there is no such image of representing just the denoted message.
  • connoted message
    • With connoted message, it truly depends on the knowledge of the person, as the reading of these signs are not fixed but varied – practical, national, cultural, aesthetics etc. And the language of the image is not just the total utterance emitted but also received

All in all, he claims that the denoted message counterbalances or neutralises the connoted message, and while the connoted message refers to culture, denoted message refers to nature. It is what both exists that makes the rhetoric of an image.

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The Origin of Photography

The Photographic Message – Roland Barthes

What is a photographic message? Is there a structural analysis into what a photograph transmits?

A lot of the philosophers have been saying how closely photography is related to realism (Walton, 1983). Even Barthes is saying that it is a literal transformation of the reality onto light sensitive photographic paper (what he later calls – the denoted message). Making a photograph does not rely on the beliefs of the creator, as Walton says, unlike a piece of artwork. A photograph, although still depends on the choices of the framing and technical skills of the creator, it in itself is something recorded from what’s in the world. Whereas with art, the creator can create and put onto the canvas of anything that he imagines or hallucinates.

But Barthes argues that there is a second message that photography transmit – known as the connoted message – which derives from the decisions of the creator e.g. frame, composition, style to the extend of how the society receives it i.e. inputting the cultural context into the composition of the photograph. Even with press photographs there are connoted messages – from composition, treatment, words attached to it plus the newspaper company itself are symbols to how the public reads these signs (note: this is especially transparent with the image consumption during the midst of Hong Kong protests). Barthes says that the connotation is realised at the different levels of production of the photograph – trick effects, pose, objects to photogenia, asetheticism and syntax.

Trick effects are often used in propagandas e.g. the American press 1951 photo of Senator Millard Tydings and Communist leader Earl Browder. The heavily connoted message in this photograph is really a sign only for certain society and people with certain values. Without understanding the history or the cultural context of what was happening in USA during 1951, this image is merely an image of two people conversing.

Objects are inducers of association of ideas e.g. a bookself = intellectual. So are people (but the associations are more complex e.g. Mother Teresa = compassion). In a photograph, objects and people are the vocabulary of the visual image, and how they are composed and posed turn this lexicon into syntax. “E.g. a window opening on to vineyards and tiled roofs; in front of the window a photograph album, a magnifying glass, a vase of flowers. Consequently, we are in the country, south of the Loire (vines and tiles), in a bourgeois house (flowers on the table) whose owner, advanced in years (the magnifying glass), is reliving his memories (the photograph album) – Francois Mauriac in Malagar (photo in Paris-Match).” (Barthes, 1971).

With photogenia, it relates to the technology of photographic production (lighting, exposure, printing) through which certain effects (motion blur, double exposure etc) create connotations in the photograph; aestheticism is about connotation based on classical paintings e..g classical rules of compositions and syntax, is about the connotation created by viewing a sequence of images and which emerges from the photographs in relation to each other rather than singly.

What Barthes also mentioned in this chapter from Image, Music, Text (1971) book is the relationship between text and images. Formerly, images illustrates the words but when text are attached to an image, it has a parasitic nature to quicken the understanding of the image and it affects how the image is being read. As Barthes says,

“The relationship is not the image which comes to elucidate or realise the text, but the latter comes to sublimate, patheticise or rationalised the image.”

Sometimes the text accompanied can invent a totally new message or contradict the image to produce a different message to the reader. So the big question is, do we read photographs based entirely on its entity, or the message is eluted or deluded by the surrounding text?

 

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Artists Inspirations

Edward Weston

An inspiring photographer from the 20th centuries. He has been called “one of the most innovative and influential American photographers” (reference from Wikipedia).

A film about him and his philosophy of photography which I feel so inspired from.

“This attention to detail, this care and accuracy, this technique, is what produces art in any medium, but only if it serves the feelings and the knowledge of the artist. That is the hardest apprenticeship to art. To open the gates around our hearts, so that we can feel freely, to clean up the clutter of our mind, so that we can think clearly. No teacher, no master can tell us what to look for in the world around us, nor how to evaluate what we find. They can encourage our patience, our inquisitiveness, our right to have our own feelings and our own ideas, but we must do our own work.”

We must do what it takes to do our own work and walk our own path. Live the life you love and that’s all there is.

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Blog

A brand new start

1st October.

This day marks the brand new direction of this photoblog. I’m going to be working and writing about photography and contemporary visual arts, in hope to motivate self-learning, as well as sharing my love of visual arts with those who share similar sensibilities in art.

These topics will include:

  • The Origin of Photography – mostly about theories and philosophy of photography (back from where it all started)
  • Photo Critiques – discuss and comment on contemporary image-based works worldwide
  • Exhibition Reviews – this will mostly be exhibitions based in Hong Kong or wherever I get a chance to travel to photo festivals and exhibitions in other countries
  • Photobook Wishes – works that are made into photobooks which I feel are not just books but are totally different art objects will be discussed here
  • Artists Inspirations – interviews and inspiring words from masters of visual arts and contemporary artists
  • Photography Today – this will be about the controversy topics and issues relating to photography today and the future

I hope this new direction will aid both you and me, in sharing, discussing and exchanging the love of visual arts.

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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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