Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hamburger, Hamburger

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

David LaChapelle


A friend told me about the photographer, Bruce Monk. This image is called, "Swans" which I have to assume is from Swan Lake. Sometimes when we document someone elses art (i.e., dance, architecture), it is difficult to do anything other than record, and therefore, how do we interpret it and make it our own in a photograph? I think this is a good example of creating art from art rather than simply recording it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

André Kertész

Homing Ship, New York
13 October, 1944

The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago has a very succinct bio on André Kertész that reiterates his under-recognized talent. (Click here to read it.) The bio starts off mentioning the quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson whereby he stated, "Whatever we have done, Kertész did first." The "we" in this case referred to a group of artists in Paris in the 1920s and specifically to the photographers that included Robert Capa and Brassai.

I have to admit that I learned about Kertész in the requisite History of Photography course at School of Visual Arts, but it is only now that I am really appreciating him. Initially, I probably like others dismissed his talent, not yet able to fully realize that what he did was just simply "pure" photography. It may seem trite or even pretentious to say "pure" but tell me upon looking at his work that you don't feel that exact descriptive.

Kertész's photography at first glance is understated, sometimes playful, sometimes ordinary, but upon further inspection, it is as if it breathes a new life into the viewer. The things we take for granted and his sort of one-on-one viewing of life brings us into a different perspective. We see the things Kertész saw as if with new eyes and I don't mean the obvious -- of course, a photographer can bring a new look to the familiar or convert the jaded and sway the popular opinion -- but this is about shedding every preconception and seeing the imagery as if you stripped everything away to its bare essence. It is so cleansing that we abandon the known to celebrate the apparent simplicity as a brand new interpretation. It may seem elementary on the surface, but it is layered so that the longer you look at one of his photographs, the more it reveals, the more unnerving that we didn't stop to, say, "smell the coffee". His work forces us to stop and inhale deeply.

Even his distorted images, long before the advent of Photoshop, don't feel "altered" per se. There is a sort of innocent confidence about them in the sense that they feel experimental yet deliberate and as if he worked only with the visuals -- the composition and the shape and form, not the technique.

It was in 1912 that Kertész began his long, illustrious and prolific career. He was born in Budapest in 1894 and in 1925, he moved to Paris where he remained until the threat of World War II prompted him to move with his wife to New York in 1936. He was still shooting in the 1980s when he then created a series using a Polaroid SX-70. He was clearly one to evolve and continue and persevere. His conviction was especially apparent in the fact that even when slighted -- even when others were credited for his work or when he was omitted from important exhibits, he did not let this deter him.

The term Kertészian was coined to describe his language which was essentially a combination of Hungarian, French, and English -- likewise, it has been observed that Kertész had three distinct periods, the Hungarian Period, the French Period, the American Period.

Kertész did something that ironically is not always done -- he shot photography so honestly that you tend to think that he created the art itself. That is what I mean by "pure".

Broken Plate
Underwater Swimmer
January 1, 1972
Arm in Ventilator
December, 1937

The Violinist's Tune
Circus, Budapest, Hungary

Carrefour, Blois
Carousel Figures on Truck
Avenida Grde Julio, Buenos Aires
Rainy Day, Tokyo
14 September, 1968
Boy Holding Puppy
Mademoiselle L
On Reading, New York
Wooden Puppets, Paris

Slaughter House
18 April, 1937
Bike Stand, Washington Square Park
22 October, 1961
Corner Building, Tree Branches
June 16, 1963

Washington Square, Day
Washington Square at Night
On the Boulevards
Eiffel Tower, Paris
MacDougal Alley, New York
Solitude, New York
Defense d’ Afficher, Paris

Chez Mondrian

Melancholic Tulip, New York
Distortion #76C
Distortion #40
Distortion #6

~~~ + ~~~
His later work as shot with a Polaroid SX-70:


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What camera is this?

If you can identify this camera held by Robert Plant, please let me know. I'm guessing maybe a Nikon F? John Bonham appears to be holding a small movie camera.

Wistful Thinking

Today I looked at the work of André Kertész (in part to prepare for an upcoming post). Today I also am working on a submission for my stock agency. Today I'm in technical hell while reminded of the genius of the masters and how simplicity ruled. A sort of less is more approach as applied to process. With all the technological advances in photography comes the equal and sometimes more significant issue of frustration.

On top of that comes the issue of greater quantity since digital is more accessible, more forgiving, more prone to causing a willy nilly style of shooting. When in doubt, fire away! And bracket galore! You don't even have to know what you're doing! With all that mass and volume -- the ability to shoot thousands and thousands of images, no worry to the time developing nor the cost, the edits along with the photographers must be whittled down so that competition is sometimes based on the technical alone. This explains the phenomenon of tech geek turned photographer.

What I mean is that if you place two photographs side by side and they are identical, the one with greater resolution will win even if the image is supposed to be, say, underexposed or too contrasty. Reproduction rules even in the realm of photographs intended only for a gallery wall. With film, you could intentionally blow out your whites or block up your blacks.

I miss the darkroom and the endless hours of watching something grow before your eyes. More so, I miss the film -- how shooting it was more deliberate and even, more ceremonial. Revealing your final results was like unveiling a long awaited sculpture. Don't even get me started on the tactile enjoyment of film or that great sound of the film being wrapped around a reel -- how it was at once crisp and yet mellow. (I know, I'm romanticizing.)

As much as I love the immediacy of digital shooting, I miss the fact that quality was almost anything you wanted it to be. If you wanted grain or overexposure, no problem! If you wanted to shoot "low res" through a Coke bottle and a cardboard box or if you wanted to smear Vaseline all over your lens, it was allowed. No matter what you did, you could always chalk it up to art.

I'd like to just pick up my camera, grab a fleeting moment and know that it's going to be judged not on perfection but vision and interpretation of a scene or subject. It's as if all the requirements for technical prowess are stifling creativity. One of the very things we love about digital, the spontaneity, gets kicked in the bum and bogged down by rules and histograms and mega bytes. If you can't blow it up to the size of a billboard, be prepared to re-shoot or forget it.

But don't get me wrong. I do thoroughly appreciate digital -- I love the ease and instant gratification, even the reduced expense on materials. There are the added infinite pleasures of post-production as if Photoshop is the venue for some all-night party and it is, after all, the modern day darkroom. I don't know if I'm wistful or rebellious. I long for the elementary and I get ornery when I feel intimidated. Technical schmechnical. It's just so hard to colour within the lines.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010