Category Archives: Exhibitions & Books

Paul Strand: A Retrospective

Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the C20th

This July I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum‘s major retrospective of Paul Strand (1820-1976). This important collection shows how the American photographer became one of the most influential figures in documentary and fine art photography today.
This exhibition brings together photographic images, notebooks, a film and Strand’s early large format cameras that he used while moving through, and understanding the different genres of pictorialism, cubism, abstraction and early street photography.
‘Paul Strand dedicated his life to exploring the social and artistic power of the photograph. A champion of fine printing and of photography as a modern art. Motivated by socialist politics Strand looked to film making to encourage social change and as a researcher used materials and techniques to dig into the truth and meaning of the world.’ – Victoria & Albert Museum, March 19th-July 3rd.
After mastering pictorialism, Strand moved away from this painterly style as for him it lacked the social elements that were important to him. In 1919, he began using a large view camera and by printing to the 10×8 format, was able to increase detail in the images leading to him by 1927, to produce photographs of nature, and a more ‘meditative’ approach to his work.
The photograph Wall St. NY 1915, shows a graphic style, using contrast and the shadows of early morning. The image depicts an early ‘rat race’ of sorts as people go on their way to work, their shadows dragging behind them to emphasize the daily grind with the imposing building behind.


In his candid portraits of people in the streets, Strand used a decoy lens mounted onto his camera whilst keeping a real camera under his arm so his subjects would think he was pointing the camera at something else. It would be interesting to know if this method was used for his picture of the blind woman as an act of respect or whether this was a first step towards being more comfortable with his subjects which later was the case when he began asking their permission.
In 1932, Paul Strand travelled to Mexico and developed the idea of a ‘collective portrait’, a series of photographs of people, architecture and religious artefacts to depict an overall impression of pride and dignity of the culture and area. Here, he fixed a prism to his lens enabling him to view street scenes as they unfolded or people unaware as in his street portraiture before. Later, he was able to change his approach and began asking for the co-operation of the sitter.
Strand produced a portfolio of 20 Photogravures of Mexico, a process using intaglio or etching onto a copper plate that has been coated in gelatin. This printmaking process was first introduced by Fox Talbot, later perfected by Czech artist Karl Klic (1841-1926) and allowed the wider public to view photography through books and journals. The photogravures of Mexico are thought to be the most impressive examples made. -The History of the Photogravure [online] At http://www.photogravure.com/history/keyfigures_strand. (Accessed on July 1st 2016).
Paul Strand visited many other places including the Hebrides, Romania, Egypt, Morocco, France choosing places where identity was becoming impacted by globalisation. Some of his most famous images were taken in the Spring of 1953 when after meeting screenwriter Cesare Zavattini who wrote the classic ‘Bicycle Theives’ suggested he should photograph the village of his birth Luzzara. Here, Strand was able to photograph a whole village, a desire of his since watching Winesburg, Ohio,Sherwood Anderson.
Luzzara is a small agricultural village in northern Italy specialising in cheese and straw hats. Here Strand spent time observing the villagers and photographing them with the help of a translator. Strand would stand in the square until people got used to his prescence, only then could he photograph them unobserved. –Martin Barnes V&A
One of the most iconic images of this trip was of the Lusetti family outside their home. The different personalities are shown in this ‘deconstructed’ group portrait and shows their place within the family. The father had been killed previous to this being taken.
As the exhibition continues you see a confidence in Strand unfold that begins with fake lenses and prisms to detract the sitter from his picture taking to communicating with the subject and then begin direct contact that becomes more intense as his travels continue.
This remarkable exhibition shows how a photographer working so long ago was a street photographer, most people equate this genre to be quite modern day, but also depicted scenes of the ‘rat race’ workers in Wall St, and was concerned about globalisation.
Refs: M.Barnes senior Curator, Victoria & Albert Museum.(Accessed July 1st 2016) [online] .vam.ac.uk/articles/paul-strand-un-paese
photogravure.com/history/keyfigures_strand . (Accessed on July 1st 2016).[online]
Philidelphia Museum of Art http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/805.html [Accessed July 2nd 2016] [online].

Photo London 2016 (part 3)

Photo London 2016 – Other Highlights

Don Mcullin was named as Photolondons 2016 ‘Master of Photography’.  An exhibition of Mcullins work, spanning six decades was shown in association with Hamiltons Gallery.

In a Photolondon 2015 conversation with artist Isaac Julien, Mcullin says “Photography is a way of communicating and passing on information. Photography has been hijacked by digital practice and the art world it’s ok to be (just) a Photographer”.  Mcullin is untrusting of digital imagery where portions of the image can be moved or erased from the picture. “ Colour is re-inventing the chocolate box” I think he is saying that colour is making things appear ‘better’ than they are or fake and too staged.

In the conversations that I attended at Photolondon and interviews I have watched since, it seems that all the photographers use digital to some extent if not all the time but also have frustration of the digital revolution and the saturation of images upon us.

Photolondon in collaboration with the Leica gallery showed work by Magnum photographer Alex Webb. ‘ Selections’ are a collection of favourite images by Webb.With so many blown-up images taken with larger format cameras on display it was interesting to see how these images looked in comparison.  Webb uses a Leica 9 rangefinder camera and spends a lot of time walking the streets for a shot.

“I like to think my photographs question the nature of the world.  Working the way I work — wandering the streets, allowing my camera and my experiences to lead me where they will — is a long and often frustrating journey.  This kind of photography is 99% about failure.  Only occasionally do the gods of photography smile down on me and I stumble upon a startling moment in the street.” Alex Webb-The Leica Camera Blog 2016

As the day wore on, I felt as if I’d had ‘image overload’ photographs started blurring into each other and I knew I’d had enough for one day. Whilst looking for the exit, I stumbled upon a collection of older black and white images. Some of these by photographer Sabine Weiss (b.1924) but the ones that really caught my eye were by Spanish photographer Ramon Masats (b.1931) There were  similarities in the images to Cartier-Bresson, the form, shapes and shadows. These are the types of images I noticed when I first picked up the camera. The types of image that really excited me and inspired me in the first place.

In an exhibition of this size with the best that photography has to offer it is easy to feel intimidated rather than inspired. I was beginning to feel like producing work to this standard and attaining ‘success’ was even further away than before. Ramon Masats has reminded me of what I love about photography and because of this, it was my favourite part of Photolondon 2016.

Photo London 2016 (1)

Photo London-Somerset House May 19th-22nd

On May 20th I traveled to London to visit Photo London. The photo fair, now in its’ second year brought together leading galleries from around the world, exhibitions and daily talks with influential photographers. I was lucky enough to listen in with Alec Soth, Massimo Vitali, and Richard Misrach.

As well as the talks, I was really excited to see some works by one of my favourite photographers Evgenia Arbugaevia. Her work was part of the Photographers Gallery and I was able to chat with Print Sales Specialist Anstice Oakeshott about Evgenias work and possible lighting techniques that she may have used in her series ‘Weatherman’. In the Polar skies there is very little light and Arbugaeva is able to use these fleeting windows to create a sense of space and dreamlike scenarios.

Evgenia Arbugaeva(b.1985) is a Russian photographer who studied at The International Centre of Photography. ‘Weatherman’ is a series of documentary style images that depict Vyacheslav Korotki a meteorologist living at an Arctic outpost, an hours helicopter ride away from the nearest town. Evgenia wanted to portray a lonely, hermit type of person that had run away from something in the world but realised that he wasn’t lonely at all. In an interview with the New Yorker she speaks of Korotki as ‘not having a sense of self like most people do, as if he were the wind or weather itself’ –The New Yorker Portfolio Dec 8th 2014.

‘I am photographing the ‘real’ but also trying to create a dreamlike, surreal atmosphere to emphasise feelings. I am not so interested in the reality of a place, but rather little pieces, moments that contribute to the fairy tale feeling I have when I am there’– The Photographers Gallery 2016.

For ‘Weatherman’ Evgenia recieved help from Photo De Mer, a French grant program that funds photo essays about the sea.

Refs: The Photographers Gallery

The New Yorker/Portfolio Dec 8th 2014.

American Photo MagazineL.Comstock, March 9th 2015.

Printing

When I visited the Alec Soth exhibition Gathered Leaves I noticed that some of his work was printed chromogenic and some archival. At this point in my studies I could not tell the difference by looking closely at them.

A Chromogenic (C-Print) Print-Developed in the  1930s as reversal type film then used in the 1940s as light sensitive paper. This is a process where the dyes are activated by a chemical reaction during development. Multiple layers of gelatin containing silver halides combine with the dyes  Cyan/Magenta & Yellow within the layers forming a ‘Sub-Tri-Chromatic’ Colour system. Used for film, transparency or digital. This was the most common printing practice until Archival Pigment Prints.

Archival Pigment Printing is a refined printing system that renders particles of pigment resiliant to environmental factors, that fade or erode images,thus preserving the quality. Used with digital images, once the photo is stored, can be reproduced again and again without loss of quality and produced in any size or resolution again retaining the exact look of the original piece.

Ref: Tip Top Gallery/Paris Photo.

Renaissance Photography Prize-Getty Images

On November 19th I visited Getty Images to view the Renaissance Photography Prize shortlist of images. This was my first visit to Getty, so was really excited. The prize winners were to be announced that evening, as a result I was their only visitor and had to dodge tables being moved and assistants looking stressed!

The next day I was dismayed to find my favourites did not become the winners! The 3 images below that I was drawn to all happen to be in the ‘Line’ category. This is interesting to look back on our exercise using line.

These images were not displayed together in the exhibition but seeing them together here you can see there are similarities. Clearly they all depict ‘line’ as this was the category. They are also clean, blue and show space within the frame.

Gathered Leaves-Alec Soth

Gathered Leaves by Alec Soth-Media Space Nov 19th/2015.

I visited the Exhibition of the American photographer Alec Soth.

In Gathered Leaves, Alec brings together 4 of his major works: Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual & Songbook.

The work I most liked was Sleeping by the Mississippi (2002) A journey through America, following the Mississippi river, a 2000 mile journey south toward the Gulf of Mexico.  Soth photographed  boyhood homes of Johnny Cash and Charles Lindberg (their starting points) and a theme of beds and mattresses sometimes in a motel room, sometimes floating in a river.  These themes of moving along and escape whilst sleeping  entwine with the idea of the meandering  river following its own course of escape. Wandering through the landscape, not knowing  what is around the next bend like our own lives.

The colours and clarity of the images are intense. My favourite image is Peters Houseboat. The striking colours contrasting against the clean background is beautiful. If you listen you can hear the inhabitant stating this ramshackle abode is all I need to survive in this bleak environment. The clothes are pegged up, almost in defiance on the line like a flag marking his territory.

I really liked Venice, Louisiana the bed is a reminder of comfort, where we go at the end of each day knowing that one day we won’t return. All that is left is the bed and the sense of the foliage still growing reminding us that when we die, the world carries on.

As with Helena, Arkansas  a mattress is our retreat and here it is cast out, left to fend for itself against the harsh environment. Cruel and abandoned. This is a sad image. I wonder if Soth was missing his home and family when he took it.

From Niagara I was attracted to Cadillac Motel  I really like the colours, clean lines and the detail in the snow as you move closer to the image.

Misty, as with the previous photographs, it’s the ‘pop’ of colour. I don’t know if Misty is her real name but her expression is also misty. She is aware of the camera but her mind is elsewhere.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/alec-soth-americas-greatest-photographer

Books Reading

‘The Photograph as Contempory Art’ – Charlotte Cotton

‘Pictures On A Page’- Harold Evans

‘Ways of Seeing’- John Berger

‘Behind The Image’-Anna Fox/Natasha Caruana

‘Context & Narrative’-Maria Short

‘Key Concepts’ -David Bate

‘The Genius of Photography’ – Gerry Badger

‘American Photography’ 1830-1965 -MoMA

‘The Nature of Photographs’ – Stephen Shore