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

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 Today

Photography = a piece of belonging?

“To the imagination, to memory, nothing is really lost if
it is experienced with affirmation. … In my photographs…,
I attempt to arrive at something poetic, something I can hold on to both as an image and as emotional sustenance…”

Taken From Memory published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg is the result of a 25-year long-time project by American photographer Sheron Rupp (b. 1943 in Mansfield, Ohio). Searching for connections to her own biographical past, Rupp took these photographs in rural America looking to find a piece of someone else’s life to give her a sense of “belonging”. Personal in nature, these photographs offer a stirring glimpse into the life in the commonly disregarded rural areas and small towns between the bustling metropolises of the East and West Coast. Without pretence or irony, without assertation or judgment, Rupp’s impressions from the past also work as a commentary on today’s US society.

To be honest, just judging from seeing the images on the screen, I like some of the images from the book, but I’m not in love with it. But what I really want to talk about from this book is what Rupp said, “these photographs were taken at a time when I felt desperate to find a piece of someone else’s life, which could give me a sense of ‘belonging.’” The question is, aren’t we all photographing something which gives us a sense of ‘belonging’? Isn’t that the reason why we take pictures? Because that’s the stuff we care so much about, which basically is really something that we truly want to be associated with? I belong to this community, I belong with this concept, I belong with this social issue. We are objectifying these feelings into images and prints so that we can hold onto and present them, so others who happen to want to ‘belong’ to the same space would resonate, would want to be part of it?

The notion of making pictures feels like a constant need to lead ourselves to be part of something, to belong somewhere, to associate with a moment in time. I don’t know for certain. It’s a theory I came up with. But what’s intriguing is the work by Dawn Parsonage which maybe is one of the outliers of this theory. Her “boring” series brilliantly highlights the private struggles we all face when bored – the struggle to find meaning, to find ways to occupy our restless minds. Do we want to be bored? Especially living in the 21st century when mass information can be loaded for you every second? I certainly don’t think that this is a concept that modern people would want to belong with, but it is no doubt a piece of us that we have and most often deny.

© Dawn Parsonage, from the work ‘Boring’; Source @ Dawn Parsonage

While some works remind us about what we care about, what we want to belong to; some remind us about what really belongs with us that we are constantly fighting to avoid or deny.

References: http://theheavycollective.com/2019/05/05/qa-sheron-rupp-taken-from-memory/

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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

Apple – Zhang Xiao

Zhang Xiao the star photographer from China who’s best known for his work “coastline” has been making works rigorously ever since (as he shared on the projection night). The installation work “Apple” was one of the main exhibitions showcased at the Lianzhou Museum of Photography during the festival.

Using apple as the anchor point, the work talks about how the cultivation of apple from the west brings in apple industrialisation in his hometown, Yantai and how that impacts on local people as well as the environment.

© Michelle Chan, series ‘Apple’ by Zhang Xiao at 15th Edition Lianzhou Foto Festival 2019

The work presented was a multi-media work with photographs, polaroid emulsion prints, videos and a apple tree sculpture installation that narrates the story from how apples are collected and industrialised to markets and other trading centres, to the effect it has on the environment and the society. The progression of the exhibition goes from photographs and a video of how apples are processed in the factories to a wall of meticulous yet beautiful photographs of death birds. Zhang uses birds as the channel for the storytelling because many birds are trapped in-between electrical fences that were built to protect the apples in the factories. The way they were photographed felt very much like corpse photographs but also photographs of specimen where the choice of printing on acrylic or glass reinforces the feeling of preciousness of these corpses. The very last piece of artwork was created from a collaboration with the local people putting fake apples printed “Gong Hei Fat Choi” onto winter trees, symbolising their wishes for prosperity for the coming year. This work shows how the value of apple as just a simple type of food changes according to human impacts.

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