Tag Archives: photography

THE INkSPIRED NOW

 

Traditional and contemporary do not necessarily exclude each other. This is what INK ART is proving.

On first sight, the pieces on view seem te be very recognizable Chinese inspired works. The mainly black and whites, the unmistakable bold brushstrokes, the use of paper, the calligraphy and the paper scroll format can all be associated with the ancient and very traditional forms of Chinese arts. You know that you are still in the ancient Chinese art section of the Met!

But then, on closer inspection, it dawns on you that this is not an exhibition of traditional art.  This is tradition translated into contemporary language.

Maybe there are only three forms of approaching art:

1. you copy the past

2. you break completely with the past

3. you embrace the past and lead it to the future

Tradition is often looked upon as an inert concept with both feet firmly in the past. It’s supposed to withstand time, in this way making it timeless. But tradition is inevitably influenced by the present times too. So changes are inherent to tradition.

If tradition is to survive, it has to keep an eye towards the future. It has to live in our time also, not only dwell on the past.

I think the artists in this show have sublimely understood this. Cutting with one’s roots is nearly impossible and not even recommendable. Instead of trying to translate their artistic talents into estranged images of unrecognizable creatures, as there are so many in the contemporary (Chinese) art scene, the featured artists are using their cultural baggage to bring new messages in modern concepts, formats and materials.

Apparently traditional brush painted landscapes with rocks, waves and trees turn out to be photographic compositions of high-rise buildings and towers of electric power lines.

What seem to be traditional Chinese characters are in fact English words, demystifying Chinese script for the western viewer.

Repeated writing on a face, gradually covering up the entire skin, is a reference to body paint and, again, traditional tattoo art. But it’s also the visualization of the slow loss of identity in a world of mechanization.

The meaningful strokes of traditional brushes are reduced to complete abstraction.

The classical block characters on endless scrolls are supposed to tell a story. But in this case it’s a story of nothing. The otherwise so recognizable characters have no meaning at all and are inventions of a non-existing language.

Photographic prints of landscapes are painted over, leaving nothing but a subtle and hazy impression of what was there.

INK ART holds a very smart balance between traditional art and contemporary conceptualism. No matter where your preference goes out to, this exhibition is sure to have you fascinated.

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through April 6, 2014

 

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FAMOUS ON TIMES SQUARE

 

If you want your moment of fame, now is the time to get your face on the biggest billboard on earth, Times Square.

The project INSIDE OUT by French street artist and photographer JR gives everybody the opportunity to have his or her portrait taken in a photo booth on the spot. You can either choose to take your picture home with you and hang it over your bed, or paste it down to the square.

Where normally Times Square is the place of fast and ever-changing images of famous people and brands, this project is all about “the man in the street”.

The famous are high up and in flashy colors. The ordinary people are down on the street, in black and white, trampled by thousands of feet.

Yes, you get to be famous, in an anonymous way, that is. But it’s an ephemeral kind of fame because in the end your face fades away, your image gets worn out and eventually ripped apart.

There’s a chance however to be lifted up to the realm of the really famous. Every night, just before midnight, a selection of faces appears on the big electronic screens surrounding the square.

But here again, you will be a short-lived celebrity. At the stroke of midnight -remember what happened to Cinderella?- the spell is broken, your image disappears and you’re back to being one of the faceless crowd.

It surely is a fun project. Tourists are having a blast and get to take a picture of their picture on Times Square. And sitting down in a photo booth has always been a hilarious thing to do. There’s the hundreds of smiles and funny faces to show for it.

So if this collage of faces makes you think of some sort of memorial, or a wall of missing people, or wanted people, the happily dotted background is there to prove you’re wrong.

But, let’s “face” it: we all want to be famous. “We can be heroes just for one day”. So “strut down the streets and have your picture took”, glue your face “where the streets have no name”, get trampled (like any other day on Times Square)…and have some fun in the process.

 

 

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SMOKING KIDS

 

Make a portrait of a young and adorable child. Most probably, the picture will be adorable. Make a portrait of the same child smoking a cigarette. The result will be less adorable.

To some it may seem absurd: a child doing what normally is done by adults. To others it will be offensive, unacceptable and shocking: a child should not be allowed to smoke.

Although the series of photographs by Belgian artist Frieke Janssens was inspired by a real Indonesian kid smoking, “Smoking Kids” is not really about kids smoking.

Whimsical and volatile as smoke itself, the smoking culture in western society is undergoing constant change. Until recently, smoking has always been widely and socially accepted. There were times when actors and actresses had a cigarette in their hand all the time. Like in American Indian cultures, where a pipe is passed around and brings a sense of community, smoking is like a ritual, a form of communing. In spite of the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, this ritual, although shifted to porches and sidewalks, still survives. It remains a way of making contact.

The kids in Janssens’ images look like little adults, just because of the act of smoking. But also because they have been depicted as famous people of long ago. Also the format refers to old school medallion style portraiture. Without placing them in a too specific era, it is clear that the photographs refer to a time gone by. A time when smoking was the norm, and where kids doing so would only have been laughed at, and not scolded or punished.

By showing the act of smoking in an unconventional way, the artist is only trying to draw the attention to the meaning of smoking, then and now. Kids love to imitate adults and do what is forbidden. For adults, in present society, very often, lighting a cigarette becomes like a rebellious act, defying the socially accepted norm. For decades smoking was a way to belong to the mainstream. Now smoking is seen by many as underdog behavior.

 

For anyone who’s worried about the children’s health during the making of these photographs: the kids have never been exposed to cigarettes nor cigarette smoke.

 

SMOKING KIDS by Frieke Janssens

VII GALLERY, 28 Jay Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY 11201

 

 

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RICHARD AVEDON, against black&white walls

He put his subjects against a white background and shot them. It’s one of the aspects that made Avedon what we know him from.

He started as art director for Harper’s Bazaar in 1945. He soon took on fashion photography for VOGUE. He had his models pose with elephants.

He shifted his attention to portraiture in more personal work. The list is long. Andy Warhol, Isabella Rossellini, The Beatles, Brigitte Bardot, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, Björk, Brooke Shields, even the Dalai Lama, they all stood in front of his lens. In the 1950 and 60’ies Audrey Hepburn was his undisputable muse.
But his attention did not only go out to celebrity. Miners, oil field workers, patients of mental hospitals and drifters were also his subjects. This fact earned him a lot of criticism: he showed a not very good image of the USA…

Set on an austere white backdrop his portraiture captures the soul of its subject. Avedon’s most personal style was minimalistic and sharp.
During shoots he would ask questions, not rarely of the most psychological kind. Thus he tried to dig deeper into his models’ personality. The result is that many a model, beit a celebrity or an every day person, shows an expression he or she was normally not known for, revealing an underlying aspect of their being.

The Gagosian Gallery, who represents Richard Avedon since 2011, exhibits four huge scale photographs, also called his murals, and related smaller size images.

The images represent four themes: 1/ Andy Warhol and The Factory, his work studio, and his Superstars, the people of his direct entourage. 2/ the beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his family. 3/ the Mission Council, Vietnam War officials and military. 4/ the Chicago Seven, political radicals accused of inciting riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

A special mention goes to David Adjaye (Adjaye Associates) for the set-up of this exhibition. A narrow tunnel leads to the middle point of the gallery. From this position, the eye is led in four directions to the large size murals on white, allowing a spectacular view on each without any kind of obstruction or distraction.
V-shaped partitions make it feel like looking through a giant funnel. These partitions, opening up to the four corners of the hall, contain the related smaller portraits on the inside. Here the photographs are mounted on a black backdrop. Where the murals jump blatently and unwavering in your face, the black corners allow a more intimate, yes, maybe even voyeuristic view.

Gagosian Gallery
522 w 21st, New York City
Till July 6
http://www.gagosian.com

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Vivian Maier: A Treasure In A Locker

Here’s one of those stories where you have to die to become famous.

Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was a nanny with a passion for photography. She roamed the streets of New York and Chicago. Apparently she never left home without her camera. She took over 100.000 photographs but only printed a fraction of them.

She became poor…but three persons she took care of when they were children, remembered her and gave her an apartment to live in.
Later, after she had died, private lockers were opened, to reveal the stuff that she had collected throughout her entire life…small things, newspaper clippings, and thousands of negatives.

She was what we call now a street photographer. She documented everyday live in the streets of the big city. Everyday scenes of ordinary people. A lot of her shots show children and women, sometimes posing in front of her camera, but also caught off guard. She had an eye for detail, focussing for example on a lady’s hairdo or her shoes.

Very striking is her fascination for photographing reflections in mirrors or shop windows. In this way she also became the protagonist of her own images. She appears in them with her camera in her hands. These selfportraits reveal a woman that curiously enough didn’t want to be the centre of attention. Except for her hat and her camera, she had a very common appearance.
As anonimous as she was herself, a major part of her images are untitled and even undated. Apparently she had no intention whatsoever to expose herself nor her work to the rest of the world. In some pictures she is present, but only in the form of her shadow.

Why did she never show her photos to anyone? Why did she hide them in lockers so nobody could find them? Did she think her images were not good enough? Or was she just to poor to print them? Was the action of taking photographs more important to her than the image itself? Did she want to avoid any recognition?
The image we get of her is one of an introvert woman, maybe a bit lonely.
She remains a little mystery. But her images are talking clearly, leaving us an important document on American society.

Her work can be seen at the Steven Kasher Gallery, together with Weegee (see my previous post). Putting Maier and Weegee together is an adventure! And a striking contrast! Weegee was after bloody action and shocking news. Maier shows a kinder image of the same society.

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WEEGEE : looking for trouble in the wee hours

Picture this : New York, late 30s and 40s, it’s the era of black and white, the time the city was flooded with immigrants of all sorts. New York was becoming a boiling pot of conflicts and uprising crime.
And there was this man who saw that this was the perfect time for unforgettable shots. He maybe didn’t think of them as a long term project. He started as a freelance news photographer for newspapers. But his work has definitely survived some rough times and now forms a priceless historical testimony.

Arthur Fellig (1899-1968), who called himself Weegee, understood that, to do his business, timing was crucial. He had his contacts which allowed him to be on the scene in no time. Insider information got him to arrive on the crime spot even before the police showed up.
His images are often very crude, extremely direct, with victims of crime and accidents lying on the sidewalk, blood gushing from fresh wounds. Not rarely taken in the smallest hours of the night, the images are exposed to cruel and unforgiving flashlight.

But Weegee’s interest went beyond coldblooded reporting of crime. I think he becomes a genius when he decides to turn around and shoot the surrounding scenes. Surely the direct image of a dead body is confronting. But the reaction of the bystanding crowds that formed around it sometimes told a complete different story, more human, but therefore not less cruel.

There’s this shot where young people stretch their necks to see whatever there is to see on a crime scene. The excitement in their eyes, the urge for sensation. Some are shocked, others are smiling. And in the middle of this gathering crowd is a woman. She is crying. Her nephew has just been killed.

I don’t know if Weegee has ever been considered a heartless reporter. Should we call his working method unethical? Is it acceptable to capture full frame images of bleeding or dying people? The norms have definitely shifted compared to those days. But even today we still see heartrending images of war victimes, torture or whatever actions that are considered to be beneath all human acceptance. They are not supposed to pop up on the internet, but they do! They seem to slip through the nets of censorship.
What is the right thing to do? Aren’t we allowed to see and know what is happening in this world? Or in our city? Freedom of information. This opens a whole different debate. Where do we draw the line? What is acceptable? What isn’t? Should everything be allowed?
It so much depends on the point of view… It’s a human thing to always be looking for sensation. We love to see blood. But on the other hand I wouldn’t want to be on the front page of the New York Times with my belly ripped open.

“Weegee: Murder Is My Business”, International Center of Photography, NYC
“Weegee: Naked City”, Steven Kasher gallery, Chelsea, New York City

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