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.”
May 14, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When Jeff Malmberg saw an article in the arts magazine “Esopus” about the photography of Mark Hogencamp, he was taken by Hogencamp’s images of action figures acting out a narrative, as well as the story behind them.
Hogencamp was beaten to near death by five men outside a bar in Kingston, N.Y., went into a coma and came out with scant recollection of his past life. His way of rebuilding the self has been to document his life — both inner and outer — through a series of stunning photographs, in which dolls inhabit a miniature world he created in his back yard called Marwencol.
Malmberg’s film of the same name — his directorial debut — has gone onto widespread acclaim, receiving numerous awards and honors and offering Hogencamp with a feature length film that explains his personality and his work to the world. This gave him a platform for understanding what had happened to him and who he had become.
For Malmberg, it was a fortuitous pairing that led to creating a work that reflected what he had always wanted to do, in subject matter and process.
“It was very much a case of me and the people I was working with, and Mark, traveling down the same road,” he said, “because of his memory loss and because of his brain damage, it was the perfect fit of these people going, ‘We’re going to figure it out together.’ Those were some of the most satisfying things, giving him that sense of closure.”
Malmberg had already been on his own creative journey when he encountered Hogen camp’s work. More to the point, he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the creative side of his film pursuits. His years in film school gave him practical skills and experience, but he was unclear how that would translate into personal work, and that sent Malmberg on a road of creative soul searching.
“I found that I had the most fun doing little goofy things by myself,” Malmberg said. “So when it came time to graduate, I didn’t quite understand how I was going to run a crew of 100 people and be a, quote-un quote, capital-D director, and still do a good job and do something that was interesting to me and something that was close to the kinds of films I really liked, which were artistic, interesting films.”
Editing became the skill that brought him regular employment, and the resulting stints editing documentaries helped him realize that the form was very reminiscent of running around on your own with a Super 8 camera in film school — casual, intimate, immediate and personal, as well as the thing he most loved to do.
” ‘Marwencol’ was definitely a synthesis of all that work,” Malmberg said. “I always felt like the editing was always practice, practice, practice. It’s wonderful work, and I loved cutting more than anything. But in the back of my mind, I was hoping that it could be practice for something that I could do.”
Editing also prepared him for the true challenges of documentary filmmaking and where they deceptively existed in the process; they weren’t quite what Malmberg thought it was going to be.
“I thought it was going to be directing exercise, but the directing part was easy,” he said. “Here’s this subject, who’s literally photographed his inner-self. It’s not like I need to bring out a fancy camera. The challenge was the ed it ing, trying to do the detective work, the psychological stuff. They become the same thing after awhile.”
Malmberg initially thought he was going to dip his toes into documentary filmmaking, but found Hogencamp held much more substance behind his work than either imagined. Hogencamp was a mystery to be solved, and the process of filming only accentuated the levels that Malm berg would have to peel away for a comprehensive film that did justice to the photographer and his work.
“I thought ‘I’ll try directing a short,’ and I think the week I decided I was going to do this, I saw his photographs and thought, ‘Okay, this is my short,’ ” said Malmberg. “I thought it would be this clever little eight-minute short and it was just going to be so simple. I had already mapped it out in my mind. You fool yourself that you get to decide, so I had it all storyboarded, and then I went out and met him, and he filled in all those things that I was imagining. But there was clearly 100 things more, so I just kept filming and filming and filmlng, and slowly that clever little short went to the wayside and I was 300 tapes in.
“I feel like documentary can work really well when it’s about something that’s hard to define, the gray area stuff. At least for me. Maybe it’s be cause I like to edit and think about stuff more than I like to shoot it. I like subjects to be complicated. You’re going to be working on it forever anyway, so you might as well go on this big journey.”
Encountering each other gave Hogencamp an extra di mension to his own journey while offering Malmberg a subject that demanded investigation and affected him emotionally, not just as a project. The film became as much about Malmberg’s creative awakening as anything else.
“He was really not only an amazing person, but somebody who was really at the crossroads and was willing to share that,” Malmberg said. “That’s the rarest thing in the world.”
The film ended up being embraced by audiences as well as the subject, so much so that Hogencamp carries around a copy with him for whenever people don’t understand him — he can just hand it over as his explanation.
“Mark always said to me, it was like a chorus when I first met him — no one understands,” Malmberg said. “No one un der stands. That was the first note card I wrote. No one un derstands. Make them understand. My job at that time was to figure it out and then present it in a way that people would then understand him.”
The film Malmberg is currently working on has similar origins and themes when it comes to the concept of art as a tool for self-discovery and expression of the soul to the point that the art is actually an alternative version of the reality it is meant to represent.
Malmberg’s film will focus on an Italian hill town that has existed since the 1400s and its very unusual practice of the last half-century, which has seen it mount a play each year in which all the townspeople play themselves and the drama addresses all of their issues. Often, the town will invite others they might have a conflict with in order to spur conversation.
“A few years ago, there was a modern bungalow-style development being built down at the bottom of the hill,” Malmberg said, “and they were very upset about this and felt like it was affecting their town. So they wrote a play about that and invited the people from those new houses to watch the play and discuss.”
The project began with a chance encounter four years ago that Malmberg would not have thought would ever lead to anything.
“We were early for dinner and we had 20 minutes to kill, and we went in this painter’s studio,” he said. “This man was painting in the corner and he invited us in, but he was clearly very intent on what he was doing. I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on with this guy?’ I really wanted to find out more. Turns out he’s the guy who directs the plays and has been involved in the theater for their entire history, and is one of the leaders of this theater group. It’s strange to me that we were here and it just popped in my head.”
The project has made Malmberg realize that his job is literally answering one of the most basic questions everyone asks themselves at any given moment of the day.
“You walk down the street and you think, ‘What’s that guy’s story?’ ” said Malmberg. “You never expect to find out, so it’s weird to me that we’re actually here now, four years later, when that day I said, ‘Hmm, what’s that guys story?’ “
Malmberg says the first guy he thought that about, Mark Hog encamp, has seen his own transformation continue on from brain damage survivor to photo grapher to documentary subject.
“I swear he feels like a different and better person,” Malm berg said. “He’s much more social. He’s got a girlfriend. He’s really much happier. He’s in a position now where he’s going to start selling his artwork.
“I saw him last in August of last year — my wife and I went out to dinner with him, which he never would have done in the first place. The most I could get him to do was go to Burger King, because he loves Burger King, but we went to a nice sit-down restaurant in Kingston, and it dawned on us during the course of the meal that he had really changed. He would say himself that he’s grown up through all this.”
As a side product of his own development, Hogencamp has given Malmberg the opportunity to do what he always felt he wanted to do — and the per spec tive to know how to do it right.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a ton of money in documentaries, anyhow, so you might as well do what you really care about,” Malmberg said. “You’ve got a choice, and there’s no point in selling out in documentaries. What’s the price being paid? Just go do something interesting.”
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
For her work at Mass MoCA, London-based artist Chloë Østmo is reaching back to her past and picking up the pieces — literally.
“Falling,” her piece featured in “Making Room: The Space Be tween Two and Three Di mensions” at the museum, dates back to 2006, and the current installation marks the first time Østmo has shown — and put together — the piece in years. Its construction is such a precision piece of work that there is no way the current incarnation will be identical to the previous one.
“I think it’s quite interesting putting it up again because it’s not going to be exactly the same,” Østmo said.
“Falling” consists of numerous photos of a woman falling down stairs, taken by Østmo that are hung from the ceiling in a formation that pieces to gether not just imagery, but the action of a woman falling down the stairs. Østmo understands that any given visitor’s perspective of the work might be different from her own, important if you consider that her perspective is the point from which the installation truly begins.
“What I’m doing is going up a ladder and connecting the thread to the mesh and when I’m up the ladder, I can’t actually see if the photos are in the right place because I’m looking from a completely different an gle,” Østmo said. “I have to go down the ladder to the back of the room and from my perspective — I’m five foot three — ask ‘does it look like it comes together as a clear image?’ I go back up and move it a millimeter or so. It’s quite a long process. Unless someone stands in exactly the place I’ve stood when I’m making it, it’s always going to be slightly fragmented.”
Fragmented viewing links well to Østmo’s actual process of shooting the images, which follow the figure at various points of her tumble down the stairs. “Falling” was part of Øst mo’s undergraduate degree show at the University of Brigh ton, with Audra Brandt in collaboration as the figure who falls. This was actually Østmo’s second at tempt at the idea.
“Together, we choreograph ed a set of movements down a staircase,” she said. “I had tried someone actually falling down a staircase, but it didn’t really work out very well, so we tried these six poses. So I stood at the bottom of the stairs in a fixed position, and she would take up a pose at the top. I would take however many photos it needed to get her whole body in and then she would move into the second pose, and I would still be in the same place and take multiple images again. Each time she moved toward [me], she was getting bigger, so that there were more photographs. It’s multiple images.”
Østmo took far more images than she used, and the choreographing of all the elements that were meant to come together photographically took a long time to work through.
“I spent about a year making it,” Østmo said. “So we spent a lot of time going over lots of postures, getting me to be as steady as possible. Even things like the clothing was a massive issue. And then it was decided on this stripy dress, which just seemed to work, making the body feel more three dimensional. It was a long process but not necessarily particularly scientific.”
The sculptural configuration for the images Østmo was shooting was something that had to be devised concurrently with the taking of the photos.
“I’d end up collaging together the different postures, so the whole gesture is made up of nine postures, still moments within this fall,” Østmo said. “With each of those, I would print multiples of each image, and I did a lot of sticking them together so that I had a strange, solid cardboard figure, and then maneuvering and hanging those so I would have nine big bodies to try and get a three-dimensional, vague layout there.”
“It completely changes when you hang them singularly be cause the perspective changes, depending on the how close the photos are together, or how high or how low they’re hung. In the end, it was a matter of hanging the first photo and then hoping that the rest of it fell into place, so to speak, which it does.”
Østmo followed up “Falling” with two works that explored similar concepts: one of a wo man diving in water and another simpler one featuring a woman walking in a straight line. As she moved on in her work, the figures within them became less important, though not necessarily the movement. In her most recent work, Øst mo manipulates found images of buildings through a multi-layered process that creates a subtle surrealism that reveals the actual time/space of the image shifting within itself.
“I got to the point where I felt like I was looking at space — the physical experience of space which is body — and thought actually architecture might be an alternatively interesting subject matter,” Østmo said. “My later work really started being more about constructing alternative spaces and this idea that spaces are rooted in an image. I think there’s something quite interesting about how the image is a starting point for a physical experience.”
To create this body of work, Østmo photocopies the images and then manipulates those copies, molding the paper and then photographing the result. She uses a large format camera, like the type architectural photographers use, in order to take advantage of its adjustable perspective, and then scans the resulting negatives for large prints. The result is a three-dimensional quality to the image that sheds its illusion the closer you get to it, and the layers of the process are revealed.
“I’m really interested in our physical relationship with images and their physical presence as objects,” Østmo said. “There’s something about the kind of limitations of photography, something that essentially flattens things, but also we experience physically.
“Even if it’s a piece of paper, it still has a physical presence, and how that might be brought out into space to create a kind of alternative space that isn’t just a depicted image but has some kind of relationship with you.”
Originally, Østmo had in tended to show the actual models she created in a three-dimensional work, including a huge image of a building collapsing into the space, but she liked the subtlety that photography brought out in the work. She’s also attempted to take her own photos for similar work but felt something was lost by doing that. It took away some of the mystery that she strives for.
“I quite like using found photos. Particularly with the building series, I thought it added to this idea of the loss of any origin,” she said. “You can see some of the processes that it’s gone through. You can see the dots of the photocopy and the physical coupling, and it’s almost like there have been so many transformations that the origin of this building is lost and it gives it a timelessness.
“Although some people look and say “Isn’t that such-and-such building?’ or ask ‘Where is that?’ which isn’t really what I’m interested [in].”
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.”
October 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Illustrated Bibles are a dime a dozen, but this current incarnation by Brendan Powell Smith takes it steps further to a place bordering between the ironic and the clinical for a fantastic result.
For “The Brick Bible” Smith has adapted the Holy Book into sequential form by photographing Lego figures and bricks, but that doesn’t mean that he has translated the text into something irreverent — quite the opposite. Smith couples the very dry text of the Bible with his colorful photos and though it certain adds a whimsical quality to proceedings, the technique also manages to ground the text and reveal it at its word.
One unexpected impact of Smith’s effort is how the brutality of the Bible does leap out at the reader even as some of the most gruesome and lurid scenes are recreated with colorful little bumpy blocks. This is the greatest irony the adaptation presents — the Bible is regularly whitewashed for children, but Smith has taken a child-friendly presentation, but opted for no censorship. While it might pass as cute, Moses really does offer up 32,000 virgins as sex slaves, God really does routinely lay on the mass slaughter of anyone who isn’t Israeli and Lot really does have a drunken romp with his two daughters.
This is really the book so many believe everyone should read? This Lego version stands up to that proclamation and presents a version that challenges the feel-good revisionism of today’s Christianity and ups the ante — here’s a cutesy version that tells the truth of the original text. Try dropping this in a Sunday school.
In context of little toys enacting these stories, when you get the tale of Abraham hauling his son up the mountain and trying to sacrifice him at God’s request, the first thought on your mind is that if this happens nowadays, there’s a S.W.A.T. team on site. And despite what most of God’s most beloved followers seem to believe, rape is always bad.
At least with Smith’s version, each time you encounter something truly awful, you can offset that emotion by looking at the funny, colorful toys.
The real loser in Smith’s version is God himself. As personified by a little white figurine, he comes up as a pushy bully, a spoiled brat with a hair trigger and, of course, a mass murderer that reminds you more of Caligula than anyone else. I particularly like the scenes where he personally comes down from the heavens to slaughter people.
Moses doesn’t come off very well either, but at least he has the excuse of being only human.
Keep in mind that this is with minor embellishment by Smith visually, and none at all textually.
As a work of digital color, it’s a tour de force — as an example of utilizing whimsy to cut through vicious bull, it’s a triumph. Finally a version of the Bible that tells it like it is.
June 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Just when it seemed like Polaroid film was a relic of the past, an eccentric European company, The Impossible Project, reconfigured that relic from the ground up, ushering it further into our future.
The Impossible Project was invited by Wilco band member Pat Sansone, himself a well-known Polaroid photographer, to help curate an exhibit for Solid Sound weekend. The concept is that Sansone will pick four performing artists and the Impossible Project will pick four photographers that it works with, and send the crew out to capture the weekend with cameras and two packs of film.
One pack will be used to capture images that express “solid” and the other will be used to do the same for “sound.” The exhibit will undergo live construction on Friday and Saturday, with the final result available for viewing on Sunday.
The Impossible Project likes to make it clear that they don’t make Polaroid film. Their product works in Polaroid cameras and outwardly looks like the familiar Polaroid film, but inside are the result of entirely new chemical formulas.
The Impossible Project’s Silver Shade line provides monochrome images, ranging from black and white to sepia, and can be artistically manipulated by factors like temperature regulation. There is also the company’s light sensitive Color Shade film.
“There were several of the chemicals in the old Polaroid film that we really
didn’t have the luxury of being able to use, either because they’re not on the market anymore or some of them were banned by one or more of the environmental treaties,” said David Bias, a Polaroid photographer and vice president of Impossible America, “so we literally had to reinvent this and with that comes a lot of changes — a lot of changes that are really hard to get through the average American skull because we’ve grown up with this material it’s been so much a part of our lives for so long.”
“When you buy a pack of our film and you put it in your camera, you kind of expect, I don’t care who you are, for it to work like the old stuff. The simple fact is that it doesn’t — it doesn’t work like the old stuff and it doesn’t look like the old stuff.”
Bias was co-founder of a grassroots effort called Savepolaroid.com, which he and several partner launched in February 2008 after Polaroid announced it would no longer manufacture its instant film. Bias and his co-horts believed there was still a viable market for the film.
So did Austrian businessman Florian Kaps, who in June of the same year, saved a Polaroid plant in The Netherlands, when he teamed up with plant manager Andre Bosman. By October, they were producing the new film.
Bias eventually joined on with the American branch of the company. One of his big jobs has been to frame the American perception of Polaroid for the new manufacturers of the film in order to re-present it as artistic material in the United States.
“There was, in the States, the perception that integral film was associated with taking naked pictures of your wife, so that you didn’t have to drop off the roll at the photo lab and let the jerks at the photo lab see your wife naked,” Bias said. “In the States, we’ve gotten used to pay $10 a pack for it in the drug store. Even people who used it as artistic material were used to being able to find it anywhere and being able to find it cheap. A lot of what we’ve done here in the U.S. is realigning the idea of what this film is.”
In Europe, the film was more expensive and harder to find, so it easily fell into the province of artists’ material. This meant that, as a high-end product, the film was still very viable to manufacture in Europe.
“It never really achieved the mass success for the average snapshooter that it had in the States — it also never had the ubiquity that it had in the States,” Bias said. “You couldn’t just walk into any drugstore and buy a couple packs. You had to go to a proper photo store, so from the European point of view, the market was there, it had been there and it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Because of the mass market appeal in the United States, other uses for the cameras and film — as well as other varieties of both — were not common knowledge. Along with the popular 600 film, Polaroid offered to professionals sizes like 8×10 and even 20×24. Cameras of equivalent size were needed to house the film and considered very high end.
For the largest size, photographers had to be granted appointments to rent the equipment in a Polaroid studio, with a camera operator, for a couple thousand dollars — and that price covers the first photo. This runs very counter to the popular stereotype of the camera.
The main purpose of the Impossible Project has been to keep a form of analog film alive in a digital age, but it’s in digital photography that the company has found some of the biggest proof of the appeal for the film it creates. Now that everyday snapshots have moved into the realm of iPhones, photography apps have become a booming business and some of the most popular ones replicate Polaroids and other vintage photographic styles.
“It’s weird to me and I think it’s a reaction to how much the same all digital photos look,” said Bias. “One of the ways you can make them look more interesting is to make them look worse from a technical standpoint – make them a little blurry, tweak the color a little bit so it’s not so true to life, and I know for a fact that our film appeals to that same person and they’re not exclusive of one another.”
Bias said that the company learned very quickly that their customers are not enthusiasts only interested in throwbacks to analog photography, but photographers for whom choice is a major component of their work. They utilize several cameras in their work — one might be digital and another might be Polaroid, each with a specific photographic purpose.
“They’re just photographers who want the broadest variety of tools at their disposal and we offer a choice,” Bias said.
To this end, the Impossible Project has sought out photographers who are known for working with Polaroid film and given them a chance to try out their new film. The chemical formulas might be different and the tints might be expanded on, but the reasons for using the film is the same.
“On the simplest level it offers you a real print instantly,” said Bias. “It bridges that gap between film and digital, where you’re taking an analog picture with analog film, but you get to see it in a few minutes, which is sort of akin to digital. As you go deeper than that, each frame of film is a unique object.”
Bias points out that we live in a world of endlessly replicating imagery thanks to strides in digital photography, but a Polaroid-style process as invigorated by the Impossible Project offers individuality built into the material. You can’t help but create a one-of-a-kind item, and that’s the largest part of the appeal.
“Each Polaroid print is completely unique,” Bias said. “Two people can stand on the same spot, take the same picture with the same lighting conditions on the same film and those two pictures are going to come out differently just because of the chemical process.”