May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“If You Knew Me You Would Care” is a collection of portraiture photography like none I’ve ever seen.
Maifredi is both a fashion photographer and a portrait photographer, who found himself looking for something different to shoot, something meaningful. Salbi and the organization Women For Women International gave him that by providing access to the women they represent, organize, help.
If you’re unfamiliar with Women For Women, one of its most successful aid programs is a direct sponsorship for women in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Rwanda, and help them get the training and knowledge they need to start their own businesses, and provide a safe space for them to meet. The book concerns itself with women from these countries and their stories.
What unravels before you is a parade of these women, presented as glittering, vibrant, powerful and spiritually gorgeous. Some have faces of strength, others of weariness, all of experience, and at least several of joy.
What makes the book so harrowing are the first-hand accounts of many of these women’s lives, the circumstance that brought them to the point that Women For Women could transform their lives.
It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every woman in the book has been raped, many of them serially as sex slaves, often shunned by their communities and families after their ordeals — the book pulls no punches as the women recount their horrors.
The personal degradation and violence is just a component of lives surrounded by poverty and war, even genocide and sex slavery, often fueled by male domination that is so ingrained that domestic abuse and child marriage become accepted parts in many of these cultures.
In other words, these women have noticeable odds they have to beat to even make the smallest something of their lives.
With their gleaming and proud eyes on display throughout, it’s tough to claim this is a book about victimhood, and it really isn’t. What is shown here is that within each victim is a survivor and a hero. This book is a tapestry of how not to be defeated by the unimaginable.
Says Zahida from Bosnia and Herzegovina “I know that I’m a fighter, but I can’t believe that someone else recognizes me as a fighter.”
That’s really what the book is, a celebration of fighters and a refutation of our current trend against the idea of a handout. These women show that what they did to earn the charity they receive is to make it through impossible circumstances with the bravery of any solider who would be more typically lauded.
The way they pay you back for the charity is to make something of themselves and seize their own narrative, no longer victims of their history, becoming examples to follow in your darkest of times, proving that good things do happen even in the worst situations and brightening the world with their dignity and joy.
March 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Tattoos have hit the kind of critical mass where it seems as though those without are the ones on the outskirts of normalcy. Margot Mifflin tackles the fascinating history of how body ink has manifested itself on women, and what it means when it’s done in the 21st century in this thorough updating of her lovely historical survey by way of photography book, “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.”
Tattoos were once generally equated with a disreputable portion of society, but that’s largely because hepatitis scares in the 1950s and ‘60s led to making tattoos illegal. Only certain kinds of people were going to procure and flash body ink at that point. Before, that, though, the practice hinted at a kind of exoticism that was sometimes dangerous, though deliciously so.
Tellingly, it was common for early tattooed women in sideshows to claim that they were taken by Native Americans and forcibly inked against their will. This qualifies somewhat offensively as a rape fantasy and links with some of the current hypersexualized presentations of tattooed women.
At the same time, though, from some point in the Victorian era up to the Great Depression, it became all the rage for society women to have a tattoo. In many circles, it was downright fashionable — even Winston Churchill’s mom sported one. After the mad fad, there were still plenty who kept hidden images on their flesh.
In capturing this era, Mifflin compiles stories of the colorful women who populated the sideshows, as well as those who made their names in the male-dominated profession of tattoo artist. She then traces their impact on their polar opposites in the world, the very society women who came begging for decoration on their skin. It’s a chronicle of oddball lifestyles and a few madcap adventures among women, and also a testament to some marital partnerships.
The book moves forward, though, into the 1970s, when tattoos and women began to be concurrent with empowerment, onto the 1980s and a spiritual component, and then into the 1990s, when popularity began to slowly rise outside of a alternative crowd. The tattoos get more colorful, but not necessarily the lives of the people wearing them.
It’s in the boom of the 21st century that causes Mifflin to show some distress, presenting a world in which tattoo clientele has become dominated by rich corporate folks, reality TV shows have normalized the practice and, in some cases, highly sexualized it — along with a slew of slick magazines — in order to sell it to voyeurs in a way far more offensive than the days of freak shows.
That is the lesson of the triumph of the mainstream over any alternative culture, and the tattoo world is learning it now. What was once meant to individualize, personalize, becomes a conformist affectation meant to ignite the sagaciousness for any given customer.
And then there is the concern that openness is causing young women to fill their bodies with ink too soon, before they have the real experiences required to fill such real estate. They are self-mythologizing too soon, and that’s probably why it’s reported that 69 percent of tattoo removals are on women, usually marks they got at age 20 that became “stigmata.” At the same time, the number of older women getting tattoos is on the rise.
Mifflin refers to the inking of women as “a never-ending project,” and her book shows that it is — but neither is the human need to adorn yourself, define yourself, separate yourself or include yourself, any of which tattooing can service
February 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Photographer Lucas Foglia grew up on a small farm in the suburbs of New York, a halfway house between the socalled civilized world and the more secret realm of off-thegrid self-sufficiency. For his book, “A Natural Order,” Foglia traveled around and captured images of people who go all the way in their rejection of what most Americans would term a normal life, and in doing so reveals not only the commonalties that you hope are there, but the alien qualities of such an existence that don’t magically disappear once you see the people.
Specifics are vague in Foglia’s work and, because of that, some of the photos have the same effect as those you might see taken in South America from a helicopter of tribes that have had no contact with the outside world. Not in the strict sense — Foglia walks among his subjects, on equal ground — but in emotion, at least for the viewer. Foglia’s lens is not judgmental.
And so Foglia’s subjects run the gamut of what you would expect. There are the families that don Mennonite and Amish fashions — one can assume their turn away from the mainstream had much to do with religion — as well as wild-child hippie types, some modern primitive enthusiasts, perhaps an extreme libertarian or two who embrace rustic as an aesthetic — captured both in and out of their element.
Some stories can be parsed by careful examination. In one photo from Tennessee, a girl, named Valarie, peers into a barn, looking fearful. It’s uncertain whether it’s Foglia’s presence, or that of the man in the hat, whose shadow Foglia has captured, that is the source of hesitation for her.
This, it seems, is the sister of Victoria, who we saw earlier tending to goats in the field, and will soon see again in a family portrait that has dad holding a photo of mom on their wedding day, revealing that the plain woman before us was once a gaudy bottle-blond bridezilla.
In the next photo, one of the girls — or another one in the same community — faces their home-school blackboard, cramped with words in such a way that it must be the state of the grown-up’s mind.
Hints of dystopian fiction — Huxley and Orwell terminology is on the board — mix with words like “new world order” and “doomsday” — the dark side of natural living.
Elsewhere in the book, Foglia captures people who spend time reconnecting by living in rags in primitive conditions on what is known as the primitive living circuit, like some survivors living in a postapocalyptic world, alternately amusing and creepy. The question there is whether they areonly playing at such a life.
All gathered, Foglia’s photos are alluring and mysterious, and certainly beg for more information— which is certainly not his duty. But the faces and the scenery that he captures, filled with hints about what lurks both behind and beside the photos, speak to anyone who would look at them, and they seem to say, “Ask me more. I want to tellyou.”
January 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Pabst Blue Ribbon has risen in the beer ranks over the last few years, a return to former glory, thanks to the embrace of urban hipsters who no doubt took their cue from the film “Blue Velvet” and its unsavory characters’ use of the brand as a mantra for a destructive night ahead.
The 168-year-old brewery originated in Milwaukee. Its Blue Ribbon beer debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, though it’s unclear that the beer actually won a blue ribbon. The ribbon on the can seems to be enough for its fans.
Pabst stands as one of those old-world American brews that has managed to stay alive despite the rise of micro-brews and a working class association, and its old headquarters in Milwaukee stands as both a gravestone to a world now gone and a crumbling tribute. This was the world of beloved brewing patriarchs and workers who could down a bucket of the stuff they helped make, now long gone and probably never to be recaptured.
Photographer Paul Bialas turned his attention to the old brewery and has self-published a book collecting many of the images that resulted, with some accompanying historical text, all with the blessing and encouragement of August Pabst, a former executive of the company.
For lovers of urban exploration and industrial decay, Bialas’ book is a welcome discovery. There are plenty of higher-profile books from major publishing companies mining similar territory, but Bialas’ work stands out for its intimacy and wonder, as well as its honesty. Bialas takes in whole rooms and small corners, captures and contrasts textures, colors and the minute debris created by time, offering a strong sense of living rooms now deceased.
Bialas takes you through the brew house, the malt house, the bottling building, as well as other Pabst sites, and he records not only the crumbling of the edifice, but the ghosts there too in the form of detritus left behind. Office equipment, tools, signs, stained glass and, of course, the occasional decrepit bottle or can of PBR, or even Pabst Extract, can be found laying around as the skeleton of a former community of workers continues to fade into history.
Bialas is a keen investigator and he takes you into nooks and crannies that you might not notice if you toured through it yourself, with a wonderful sense of the colors and textures — and, therefore, artfulness — of decay.
A good portion of what Bialas photographed no longer exists in the same form, now being refurbished into a hotel. Bialas is currently documenting that renovation project — you can see some of that work on his website — which makes this self-published release even more imperative to view, as the telling corpse from the past is being dressed up for tomorrow. A print edition can be purchased at lakecountryphoto.com/store.html. Ebook versions are available through Amazon’s Kindle store and iBooks.
December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In technical terms, photos capture a moment. That’s the motto, right? “Preserve your special moments.”
But each moment is squashed between the past and the future, and both sides are wide webs that stretch out through reality. How much had to happen prior to the moment in order to lead to it? Personal, cultural, historical, all winding together by pure chance and arithmetic. And how much spirals away from the moment captured?
And how can a photograph with only one person visible in it comment on everyone else in the world? If a photo is defined by its empty space, by the lack of people crowded in the borders, what is it saying to us and about us?
There’s a photograph that’s out of New York City that has garnered grim attention and manages to offer little hope at all in the wider scope of the humanity. You might not have seen the photo — you might have chosen to not look — but you might be aware that the New York Post ran an image of Queens resident Ki-Suck Han moments after he had been pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train.
He is alone. No one is trying to help. It’s just him and the train.
I’m unclear that there was any chance for anyone, including photographer R. Umar Abbasi, to have saved the poor man on the rails. According to his account, no one bothered and he used his flash in an attempt to warn the driver. I’ve been in the New York subways millions of times. They are fast. Really fast. From what I see in the photo, there was no hope for Han. And it’s very easy to judge someone who was there when you weren’t.
Abbasi also stated that when Han’s body was pulled from the rails after being struck, the emergency responders were mobbed with bystanders taking video and photos with their cell phones. Abbasi claims to have tried to push the crowd back.
The situation has further been muddied by the perpetrator’s claim that Han attacked him, which has been corroborated by at least one witness who described Han getting agitated by his murderer. Han’s wife has said that Han left home, drunk, following an argument with her. So it was a heated incident, to be sure.
It’s a hard tightrope to walk. In terms of immediacy, being a news photographer in a huge urban area like New York City isn’t much different from being a war correspondent. Anything can happen at any moment in that arena, some of them ugly, and part of the mission of a photojournalist there is to capture the reality of living in that city. History is littered with instances of capturing horrible, grim moments in war that sometimes the photographers themselves are helpless to fix and sometimes they choose not to.
The New York Post running the photo is an entirely different issue from the photographer taking it, though.
Newspapers do run photos of disasters and accidents, of course, but I think sometimes the sensational nature of an event gets the adrenaline of an editor flowing past reason. I think back to the New York papers that ran photos of people diving out of the Twin Towers on 9-11 as a similar situation. Photos like these may have some public worth at some point, but I’m not quite sure they do the day after the incident.
But, if true, Abbasi’s testimony points to the terrible truth about humanity that his photo captures. It’s one that we’ve all seen in action and, if only to have it rubbed in our faces again until we do something to change it, there is unfortunately a good reason to have to look at poor Ki-Suck Han moments before his death and think about the people who waited to flock to him only after the spectacle.
November 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As a symbol, an “x” is not a kind one. It is generally used to mark something either for further use or as completed, or to cross out something that is wrong. Either way, some form of violence comes to mind — further use might be digging or maybe demolition.
We’ve all seen the red x’s that adorn condemned buildings as signposts for destruction. In proofread copy, a red x is a mark of violence, certainly, demanding that whatever mark lurks below it should now be wiped out from the work.
In “Cancellations,” photographer Thomas Barrow makes use of the shock of the x as a way to mark his images of a mostly desolate and often industrial landscape. Begun in 1973 and finished in 1981, the project had Barrow capturing spots in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. Humans pop up exactly once in the work; the rest is devoted to metal debris, abandoned parking lots, dilapidated factories, fencing, abandoned project sites, displaced storage bins and anything else you can think of that, though inanimate, looks sad and lonely against a desert highway and barren landscape.
Most of these images has an x ripped across the negative — Barrow apparently used an ice pick to make these marks — except for the few that have several hole punches in them instead, and these physical marks offer a fiction that links all the images beyond their subject matter, an extra dimension to the flat space that extends into the imagination of the viewer.
What about these sites needed to be crossed off? Is it a symbol that we are done with them? Are they like makeshift gravestones that stand solemnly and physically etched on an image that is nothing more than light and shadow? Or is it a statement on photography itself? Is the act of capturing the moments of these sites in their sad afterlife a conceit that deserves to be blotted out?
It’s for the viewer to ponder, though I’m certain no actual answer will be forthcoming.
What you are left with is the beauty of Barrow’s photographic renderings, the magnetism of his tour of a haunting landscape abandoned by innovation and a psychological mark that this is something more than a mere photograph we are looking at.
In that way, Barrow has perfectly captured the nature of the American landscape, a place defined by what has lived there and then abandoned it. It’s the perfect series of portraits of our country.
November 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As cameras pop up everywhere, watching us in our most mundane moments, many have proclaimed our descent into being a surveillance state.
But it’s always been so, largely as a consequence of living on top of one another. The suburbs and small towns have the archetype of the neighborhood snoop, but when you live a big city, staring out the window — and sometimes into other windows — is just part of your everyday experience.
The photography of Gail Albert Halaban capture this reality, and in her book “Out My Window,” her photos work to create a mosaic similar to a group of windows on the side of a building that show that people in a city might be separated, but they are not alone, and one thing they share are their gazes in each other’s directions.
Halaban’s photos are taken from two basic vantage points, looking inward and looking outward, but then with one subtle variations — sometimes, they are inward and also looking in ward, neighbor upon neighbor.
This functions like the nexus of all the actions, which also might include a more intimate shot of someone in their apartment with the action of the world sprawling in the background through their window, or the view from the outside, staring up at trying to discern what mysteries of life are hidden behind little squares with the sheer obstructions they sport.
Mysteries aside, Halaban’s work has a natural beauty that seems inescapable considering the subject matter. It’s all lines and borders, frames, corners, and often darkness with bursts of light that create geometry with cascades of color, orderly prisons with bursts of passion. They are perfect outer shells for what Halaban captures within the confines of these structures, and hint that we may have no choice but to look where we aren’t suppose to and try to pierce the secrets — the containers are beautiful, and so what is inside them holds interest for us.
Certainly, there’s a hint of Peeping Tom-ism in all this — don’t worry, Halaban had the permission of her subjects — but peeping as a common experience, almost involuntary, is really the point. People are both the focus of our attentions and just a part of the landscape, small details in a wider work of art. As humans, we watch. Halaban captures this constancy in our existence, and renders it sympathetic to all parties.
June 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A new documentary about photographer Gregory Crewdson captures not only his creative method, but his life-long relationship with the Berkshires, which fuels his photography.
The film “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” makes its area premiere at the Berkshire International Film Festival on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
Crewdson’s renown has centered partly on the production values of his photography and partly on their locations. Treated like a movie shoot, Crewdson scouts locations, builds sets and casts photos like a film director would, with results that show the fruit of the intricate conception and pre-production. His chosen area of focus is the Berkshires, and his huge photos of Pittsfield, North Adams and many other places in the region have graced museums around the world as well as Mass MoCA and the Berkshire Museum.
Director Ben Shapiro first encountered Crewdson when he was asked in 2000 to film a piece on him for the public television series “Egg,” a show covering the arts. This footage of Crewdson photographing a beanstalk scene was taken in Lee and used in Shapiro’s film. The two men became friendly and four years later, Shapiro was asked to do another piece on Crewdson by another television program. After that, Shapiro began to devise a larger work based around Crewdson and his photography.
“I had a sense of how I would represent him and his work on film,” Shapiro said.
“We got to know each other a little bit, and based on that, he felt comfortable inviting me to come to the sets and to follow him and keep on filming.”
Shapiro’s film follows Crewdson as he creates the body of work known as “Beneath the Roses” as well as utilizing the older footage, which captures him at work on “Hover” and “Twilight.”
Crewdson’s focus on the Berkshires began from his childhood encounters with the area. Though he was a Brooklyn kid, his family took regular trips to Becket, which ignited a fascination and communion that continues to this day.
Shapiro has a similar connection to the Berkshires. He was born in Stockbridge, though he grew up in Southern California. His parents would bring him to visit friends throughout his life and have returned to the Berkshires more recently, as has Shapiro’s sister.
Even with the commonalties to the region, Shapiro didn’t have an preconceived plan for a film about Crewdson other than the starting point of how interesting he was. Any thesis took shape with time spent observing Crewdson.
“I knew that after I had visited a couple of his sets that there was something very special happening in the way he created the pictures,” Shapiro said. “I felt like there was a drama there and a visual interest there that went beyond and was even apart from what’s captured in his photographs. That was very compelling to me, so I knew I wanted to do that.”
What always surprised Shapiro and further seduced him into Crewdson’s work was the scale of the productions, which were so large in service of capturing something so ethereal, as measured against the concerns of the creator, which were things Shapiro says any of us could relate to. There was a gripping humanity within their scope.
“Even though the scale of the work was so large, his concerns are the same kind of concerns anyone else has on a project,” he said. “You’re working on an article or you’re working on a film or you’re working on a photograph and you hope it will be good, you hope it comes off well, you hope you can pull it off. Things come off well at some point. Some things seem more difficult. Gregory’s concerns are very much what anybody goes through when they’re making any kind of creative thing.”
Just as ideas float around Crewdson’s images, they also float around his work space, triggering thoughts that the filmmaker would file away for the editing room. Crewdson himself, however, is not so apparently as large as life as his photos are. In fact, he’s an unassuming, nice guy who, to meet, you might not connect with the psychologically charged photos that hang in museums. The images are equated with a fascination with the dark corners of the world, but Shapiro maintains it is more properly characterized as a wider interest that is inclusive of said dark corners.
“There is certainly a dark side to Gregory’s photographs, but there is also an interested side — interested in people, interested in how the world looks, interested in the experience of seeing,” he said, “and I think those are all obviously very much a part of him. When you talk to him, those things become apparent, as well. I wouldn’t want to reduce his work too much in a one-dimensional way so that the work is strange.”
Rather than wearing his obsessions on his sleeve, Crewdson chooses to focus on getting them onto the wall. His photographs exist like outside representations of the what goes on in his mind — thoughts for which the surroundings they are created in are crucial, so creating a melding of the psychological and the physical. There’s enough there that is personal to Crewdson, but he also populates his images with prompts that any viewer can latch onto, as well as elements of the locations that are specific to the spot. The images could not exist without the landscape Crewdson has chosen.
“It’s a fusion,” Shapiro said. “It combines elements of documentary photography and something constructed, including the fact that a lot of the people in the photos are from the communities where the pictures take place. So it is merging imagined aspects and these documentary aspects.”
It’s not so much that the images are the stories of these places, but the stories as Crewdson has chosen to divulge them after years of unraveling them in his head.
“The imagined aspects are an interpretation of those places,” said Shapiro. “They’re very connected to those places and also Gregory’s life-long response to those places.”
Scouting is a crucial component to Crewdson’s process and highlights his relationship with the landscape. The film shows the amount of time the photographer spends just driving around the Berkshires, parking, staring, communing with possible locations. There’s quite an intricate and prolonged “getting-to-know-you” period with any location before he settles on using it. Crewdson’s give and take with any location becomes so intimate, though, it’s as if he’s looking into its soul as well as his own, something that could only result from a relationship.
“It’s funny. There are some photographs that I wasn’t around for when he made them, and I’ll be driving around the area and I’ll spot a location,” Shapiro said. “It happened with that motel shot, and I was driving up from Monterey to North Adams and I drove by that place and thought, ‘Oh that’s where that is.’
“That was interesting to me because I knew that Gregory must have driven past that place just as I had. It’s not like these buildings are things he’s discovered. He’s probably seen them all many, many times. But after visiting them over and over again, at some point, some idea comes to him about that particular place and he follows that train of thought. That’s just how his process works.”
Even more than taking residence here, his travels have cemented him as a member of the community, and these connections add to the way his work unfolds. It’s become a key component to the photography since he lives in his own canvas.
“There’s not a solid barrier between him and his work and the community he lives in, or the community he’s part of up there, which is significant,” Shapiro said. “He meets people and interacts with people in the community. He spends a lot of time driving around looking at things, and so part of his work involves connecting with a community in those ways.”
“Visually, by inhabiting it, by having history there, those things all contribute to his work. That’s one of the things I was hoping the film would draw out a little, all those things about his relationship with the community, his interests and his life that all go into the making of his pictures.”
November 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Photographer Lodiza Lepore examines the pathology passed from generation to generation through the items of our whimsy — figurines, toys, dolls and more.
Lepore’s work, “Circus on Broken Boulevard,” can be viewed at Images Cinema.
For the photographs currently on view, Lepore uses various figurines in highly surreal realizations that touch on the ideas of victimization and abuse, and their relationship to fascism. These are long-term, thematic concerns for Lepore, but it was an encounter with the work of German filmmaker Michael Haneke that led her to her current series.
“The points I’m trying to bring out in the show have concerned me my entire life,” Lepore said, “but when I saw that film, ‘The White Ribbon,’ it brought things more to the surface, and I started thinking about it and the idea of doing a show bringing out those points.”
Lepore is specifically concerned about child abuse, certainly for all the reasons anyone would be, but also for its perpetuation across generations and its effects of societies as the real trickle-down effect from the upper echelons of their structures.
“I think it is responsible for the rise of fascism. You see it in governments; you see it everywhere,” Lepore said.
The photos represent one aspect of Lepore’s work that happily engulfs itself in an experimental surrealism that offers equal thematic importance to the items being
photographed and their juxtaposition together. It’s a constant process for Lepore that has her scanning the world around her for ways to externalize her concepts within the objects.
“I just kept thinking of the ideas and how to find props that might explain what I was feeling,” she said. “I was just thinking about it a lot and I spend a lot of time looking for objects that I can use in my photographs that represent ideas. Traveling around, I’m always on the lookout for something that will convey what I’m thinking.”
Sometimes Lepore will buy an object with the thought that it will mean something later on, but more often the thematic connection is immediate and the object has a home in her visual thought process.
“I’m always thinking about things that bother me about the world,” said Lepore, “and so, if I see something, it will strike me right away if it fits in to an idea that I want to capture on film.”
Lepore likes to work with the miniatures, partly for the surreal quality they lend to any photographic statement, but also because they function as direct extensions of her own psyche, something only marginally possible when other people are included in the work.
“When you have these figures, you can fully do as you please and you have nobody to answer to,” Lepore said. “You are just creating your own world there and it’s a lot easier for me, not having to deal with anybody else and arranging things exactly as I want. You don’t have to worry about them moving or getting tired. I feel like I can have poetic license with these figures. It’s just hard when you’re working with people.”
Lepore first started taking photographs in the early 1990s in Rochester, N.Y., where she worked for the University of Rochester. A layoff gave her ample time to delve into the craft, and she took some classes where she was required to constantly take photos.
“They wanted us to shoot at least six rolls a day. For me, that was no problem,” Lepore said.
An open call for a coffee-table book to be published by the City of Rochester saw her first professional sale of 18 photographs, and gave her the encouragement to move forward.
For Lepore, though, the real interest wasn’t entirely the external focus of being a photographer and more grounded in the darkness than the light of day that created her exposures. She was married to the dark room.
“I wasn’t particularly interested in photography until I started learning darkroom,” she said. “As soon as I went in the darkroom, I was overcome with this passion to keep doing it practically non-stop. For the longest time, I was practically living in the darkroom because I became obsessed with it.”
The darkroom gave Lepore a tactile outlet for her creative work that made the entire process seem more an act of artistry than any other part of it.
“If it wasn’t for the darkroom, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Lepore said. “Being in a darkroom makes me feel like I’m part of the creative process. I think that’s one reason I’m not at all attracted to digital photography. I can’t imagine spending my entire life sitting in front of a keyboard.”
Lepore’s devotion to darkroom photography is also related to her views on digital photography and how that is shaping people’s visual sophistication. She thinks that the tactile process in the darkroom adds to the appreciation of imagery, and this translates into more potential for the final product.
“People are losing the ability to really see things [by] using digital,” said Lepore. “You have these discs and you can shoot 1,000 images. So people are just clicking, clicking, clicking, and picking out something that came out okay instead of really looking at what you’re seeing.”
Though her current exhibition highlights her more experimental work, Lepore is quick to point out that her photography covers many other areas, including one of her favorites, photojournalism. The opportunity to create that sort of work doesn’t come up often enough in the area, and Lepore has seized on her enthusiasm for the Occupy Wall Street movement as an outlet for this side of her work.
Lepore has traveled to the Occupy encampments in New York City and Boston with the intention of capturing the diversity of the crowds as well as the energy she feels.
“I’ve photographed people of all different ages and backgrounds,” she said, “so you can see through the images that all these people aren’t a bunch of people that just escaped from an asylum. They’re just trying to paint a very negative impression of the people who are involved in the movement, so I think if I could get these images up, it’s a way of educating people.”
Lepore hopes to trade-off this body of work with her current offerings at Images Cinema soon.
The final photo in Lepore’s show brings these two sides of her photography together — it’s the only one included that involves human figures rather than miniatures. A group of girls dressed-up in prom-style gowns move over a crosswalk with balloons in their hands into an uncertain darkness. It captures the center of Lepore’s philosophy and the reason why investigating abuse and the Occupy movement both make perfect sense under her thematic umbrella.
“Man just keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, even with all the tragedies that happen,” said Lepore. “Nothing ever changes and you just see these people walking off happily in the sunset with these balloons, no cares at all. Nothing affects what’s happening, they just keep going on in their oblivious state.”
October 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Photographer Ben Ripley is fascinated by the moment and what that means in context of photography — in a new work, he attempts to make the moment he captures more inclusive of the time it slices out.
Ripley’s show “Photo of this Undescribed” opens on Thursday, Oct. 27, with a reception at 5 p.m., at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Gallery 51.
Among the works Ripley will show is a 75-foot photograph that Ripley created by mounting a camera packed with equal size negative film on a boat and exposing the film manually as the boat moved.
The boat — two kayaks and a platform mounted to it — was created this summer during the nautical art group Mare Liberum’s appearance at the Bureau For Open Culture at Mass MoCA. It was loaned to Ripley specifically for this project and will return to the group after its appearance in the gallery for the show.
Ripley pulled from the past in order to get the job done.
“It’s a technology that’s pretty old,” he said. “It’s a camera from the early 20th century that was used to record horse races, to stream it along and then they’d be able to see exactly which horse was crossing the line first, instead of having a picture to just get that exact moment.”
“There’s a lens and the negative is moving behind it. The full frame is only a tiny slit of exposure at any given time on the negative. It’s kind of like painting an image as the negative moves.”
The mechanism is very similar to that of a scanner used on computers, just requiring negative film rather than a digital process. There is an iPhone App that does a similar thing with that computer, which Ripley had considered using for tests last spring before opting for a different camera setup. The image created by such a process features moments of coherency with other moments of waviness.
“I tested it using a 35mm camera,” Ripley said. “I took a beer can and made a little screen in the back with a slit out of it and built a model that was maybe a foot in each dimension and figured that out and then made the full sized version.”
Ripley built the full-sized camera from plywood and made use of a 19th-century brass lens used originally for taking 16×20 portraits.
He didn’t require any instructions, improvising his own design based on cameras that were being used in the 1920s.
The image is created through several motions at the same time the paces of these have a direct effect the final product.
“On the boat, you’re cranking as the boat moves,” said Ripley, “so it’s including the motion of the boat and the motion of the operator, so if the operator bobs or weaves in, it might lighten or darken the photograph.”
Ripley required a long roll of negative film to accomplish this task, and tracked down some Swiss-made film on eBay that he believes is from the 1980s, so technically considered expired film and requiring a raise in temperature when developing. From there, Ripley had to expose the negative onto photographic paper. For this, he had to rig up another mechanism, as well as find a roll of 75-foot photographic paper and the space in which to accomplish the processing.
“I teach at Buxton School and we just finished this really nice fine art complex and the new dark room is something I got to design three years ago and it was just built,” Ripley said. “It’s huge. I was able to build the mechanism into that, but the mechanism for developing the film that prints is huge, it’s ridiculous — windshield wipers and hair dryers and glass rods.”
Ripley modeled his contraption around film developing machines that they used to have in drug stores. This system is not hand-cranked — Ripley has the pace of the motor and spools fairly wellregulated “I try to make it as consistent as possible,” he said. “It’s not too bad,” The idea for this work came out of a previous project Ripley had been working on that was based in language, exploring the idea that a singular word is like an act of violence against the continuity of the stream of language. If a sentence is the whole being, then a word is body part ripped from it.
“Every time you choose a word, you’re removing something from its context and destroying the actual thing you’re communicating,” said Ripley. “That kind of thing is what I have been thinking about and then I’ve been thinking about what you can do with photography and take it further. Those two ideas linked up.”
In context of a photo, the work is obviously about time, but Ripley points out that it is also about space — photography is partly the art of editing through framing the visual, even as the image eventually exists as a slice from the continuum.
“When you’re taking a picture with a regular camera, the shutter opens and cuts off a moment and then closes,” said Ripley. “It also cuts off space, too. It cuts off everything to the left and right, it cuts off everything on the top and the bottom and it defines a perspective. So it’s about time in that it freezes and it does the same thing with space, too, which I think is pretty cool.”
Ripley does have plans to further the project by extending the negative indefinitely, making the photographed moment as unknowable in length as the moment it portrays.
“I’ve found that negative material is usually packaged in 50-foot spools, so I have to connect two of those,” he said. “Photographic printing paper often sells in the 100-foot length, though I don’t know that too many people would expose the entire thing. Then they have some that are 100inch thick. If you splice together two negatives it is possible to get a good, continuous photo.”
The project is not without its practical considerations, though, and Ripley is thinking about those now even as he prepares for his conceptual future.
“I think what it would have to be is around 100 feet and not too much further, although it wouldn’t fit in the gallery,” said Ripley. “This one is already going all along the wall and around the corners.”