Reading

Henry Wessel

NYPD : March 12, 2017 10:03 am : New York Photo Diary

Not Your Photographer’s Photographer:

A Review of Henry Wessel’s Traffic/ Sunset Park/ Continental Divide

Opening the front cover, I find myself driving through traffic on the way to work. The sun is blinding my eyes as I roll to stop at a light. A car pulls up next to me.

Grabbing a handful of pages, I flip forward to find I’ve just finished dinner. The dog wants go out for a walk and so, in a half-tired daze, I pull on my jacket to walk among the small glowing bungalows; the dog occasionally stopping to sniff under fences or bark up a tree.

Now I’m driving across the American West, but I don’t stop to gaze up in wonder at the redwoods, or the mountains, or the canyons – instead I’ve been lulled into a stupor by the radio and the winding road. I’m mesmerized by the sparse trees poking out of the landscape, and a huddle of hitchhikers who disappear into the landscape as I pass them.

Such is the wandering mood of Traffic/ Sunset Park/ Continental Divide, a re-print of photographer Henry Wessel’s work set to be released by Steidl this month. In 228 pages and 105 black and white images, we people-watch out the car window of Wessel’s daily commute in Traffic. We wander up and down residential streets, breathing in the suburban noir in Sunset Park while noticing the twisted branches of trees, and the trickling light of living rooms. Then, with renewed wonder, we get back into Wessel’s car in Continental Divide to drive across the mountains and down into the desert – this time looking out at vast stretches of road and the patterns of telephone poles.

A member of the New Topographics, Wessel is famous for his photographs of the American West which eschew emotionality in favor of a deadpan, purely topographic style.

Unlike the dramatic tonal contrasts of Ansel Adams’ mountain ranges and sweeping vistas of California redwoods, Wessel surveys his surroundings via the lineage of Walker Evans; documenting shop fronts and picket fences, while paying tribute to the significance of the mundane.

But it would be a disservice to Wessel’s work to argue that it simply flattens and distills the world into architecture and form. A heart beats beneath this critical catalogue. On an opening page, Traffic/ Sunset Park/ Continental Divide borrows a stanza from Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” to prime the reader for Wessel’s poetics of perspective:

“Why do you imagine golden birds?

Do you not see how the blackbird

Walks around the feet

Of the women about you?”

Rather than reaching for lofty heights, Wessel turns his gaze on the grounded and what is already at his feet. But this book does more than collect blackbirds. Wessel’s arrangement of images provides rhythm, rhyme, and movement to his series. The images hum, repeat themselves, bump shoulders, and call out to each other; revisiting the same ideas again and again like mantras — becoming totally strange, then familiar once more. Wessel reaches out into the world and unifies it around his lens. As Stevens writes,

“A man and a woman

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird

Are one.”

But the egalitarianism of Wessel’s gaze and his meditative tone can also serve as a barrier for his viewers. Sometimes Wessel stops the car. He stares into a landscape for what seems like forever and we stare with him, having no idea whether he’s seen something rustle in a bramble, or if the unremarkable view triggered a memory that we’ve never had. Occasionally, Wessel stays out so long under the porch lights that we shiver beneath the night breeze. Our fingers go cold. In our impatience, sometimes people in traffic are just people in traffic.

For all its poetry, the mundanity of Wessel’s photography occasionally exhausts its project; leaving the viewer to wonder if they’ve perhaps missed some central point – overlooked some key thesis of the New Topographers, or failed to pick up breadcrumbs of extra-textual reference. Wessel’s aversion to the tropes and frills of commercial photography and his renowned reputation in the art world invites him to be labeled as a “photographer’s photographer” – a term as exclusionary as the concept itself. When the democracy of his vision collapses on us in a moment of confusion we’re left to wonder whether we’ve fallen short of expectations. We wonder whether a “photographer’s photographer” believes that knowledge of the language established by Evans’ slanting sidewalks, or Eggleston’s cacophonous road signs is necessary to recognize the significance of these symbols, and to read them in the world.

Ultimately, there’s no secret decoder or cypher to hold up to Wessel’s work. Wessel’s photographic journey doesn’t unfurl into a manifesto, or a universal guidebook on how to twist the world into the fantastic. Wessel doesn’t even suggest that there is magic to be found everywhere. Instead, his photographic journey feels fundamentally personal and wholly unconcerned with whether his photographs will resonate. Henry Wessel simply leaves his house with a camera in hand and invites us to come along.

-Sasha Patkin

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Like zen koans or visual haikus, Henry Wessel’s photography creates an archive of meditative sensations which perplex as much as they enlighten.

More information: https://steidl.de/Buecher/Traffic-Sunset-Park-Continental-Divide-0224303543.html

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Terms and Conditions of Purchase

NYPD : November 8, 2016 4:46 pm : New York Photo Diary
  • If you are interested in purchasing one of our exhibition pieces, please get in touch with us at: [email protected] or call Daniel Pateman on +447595662648.  Confirm your name, the work(s) you wish to purchase, the address you would like the work delivered to, and your telephone number.
  • Payment method can be discussed after confirmation of interest. However we cannot accept cash or cheque.
  • We, the curators, will help organise the delivery of the work to you from London, UK, selecting a suitable courier for the item’s delivery domestically or abroad. However, all delivery related costs (which may include customs charges if sent abroad) will be the responsibility of the buyer.  The cost of postage is not included in the advertised cost of the item.
  • Once the item has been handed over to the preferred courier, New York Photography Diary is not responsible for any damage or wear that may occur in transit. Should you wish to purchase insurance as part of delivery, please let us know as soon as possible after confirming the purchase, so that we can arrange the appropriate delivery option for you.
  • 20% of total sales will be taken as commission for the editors/curators who organised the “Elsewhere is a Negative Mirror” exhibition, except in regards the works of Abdulazez Dukhan, who will receive 100% of the total sale amount of any transactions.
  • After December 13th 2016 we cannot guarantee that works will still be in our possession for the buyer to purchase.  However if works have not been sold we may be able to put you in touch with the originating artist to discuss purchase directly with them.
  • Once purchased items cannot be returned or refunds made.
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New York Photography Diary Exhibition: Price Listing

NYPD : November 6, 2016 2:35 pm : New York Photo Diary

*Last Chance to purchase work from “Elsewhere is a Negative Mirror”*

Terms and Conditions of Purchase

Artist: Clement Valla

Postcard from Google Earth (43°5'22.07"N, 79° 4'5.97"W) Clement Valla

Title: Postcard from Google Earth (43°5’22.07″N,  79° 4’5.97″W) (from the seriesPostcards from Google Earth)

Year: 2010 (this edition printed 2016)

Medium: Archive pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 23 inches x 40 inches

Frame: 10mm, wide flat black style

Price: $3000

 

Artist: Colin Edgington

Border Monument 1 Colin Edgington

Title: Border Monument 1 (from the series “Ash”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print, edition 1/5

Dimensions: 16 inches x 24 inches

Frame: 20mm, black wood

Price: $800

 

Artist: Griselda San Martin

Title: Friendship Park (from the series “The Wall”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on fotospeed smooth pearl paper

Dimensions: 16 inches x 24 inches

Frame: 34mm, black, flat profile

Price: $1125

 

The Wall Griselda San Martin

Title: Through the Wall (from the series “The Wall”)

Year: 2015 (printed 2016)

Medium: Archival pigment print on fotospeed smooth pearl paper

Dimensions: 16 inches x 24 inches

Frame: 34mm, black, flat profile

Price: $1125

 

Artist: Abdulazez Dukhan

Abdulazez Durkhan

Title: Sleep Deeply (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

dukhan_01forgotten_borderslondon-jpg

Title: Forgotten (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: Hope (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: From The Sky (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 7 inches x 5 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: Inside My Eyes (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: Non (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: Numbers (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

dukhan_08theend_borderslondon-jpg

Title: The End (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

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Title: Waiting (from the series “Through Refugees Eyes”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 5 inches x 7 inches

Frame: 18mm, dark walnut, deep profile

Price: $150

 

Artist: Juraj Starovecky

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Untitled Flare Iron Curtain Juraj Starovecky

 

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Title: Untitled (Alert).  Triptych from the series “The Curtain”.

Year: 2015

Medium: Archival pigment prints on Hahnemule Baryta paper, mounted on dibond

Dimensions: 33.7 x 28; 19.7 x 19.7; 11.8 x 9.8 (inches)

Price: $3250 for whole triptych.  Otherwise $1670 (large); $1115 (medium); $558 (small).

 

Artist: Netta Laufer

west-bank__________-______________________-______________

Title: West Bank, الضفة الغربية,הגדה המערבית (from the series “25FT”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 33 inches x 23 inches

Frame: 34mm, black flat profile

Price: $2100

 

Dog, كلب, כלב Netta Läufer

Title: Dog, كلب, כלב (from the series “25FT”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag Pearl paper

Dimensions: 23 inches x 15 inches

Frame: 34mm, black flat profile

Price: $1700

 

Artist: Erlend Linklater

erlend-linklater_new-york-photo-diary

Title: -2.33526, 55.63205 (from the series “Borderline”)

Year: 2014

Medium: Digital C-type print, matt, mounted on 5mm foamex

Dimensions: 30 inches x 30 inches

Edition No: 2/8

Price: $940

 

Artist: Daqi Fang

Plastic Utopia II Daqi Fang

Title: Plastic Utopia II #2 (from the series “Plastic Utopia II”)

Year: 2016

Medium: Archival pigment print

Dimensions: 18 inches x 18 inches

Frame: 20mm, black

Price: $800

 

Terms and Conditions of Purchase

 

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Book Review: No Circus, Randi Malkin Steinberger

NYPD : September 6, 2016 12:50 pm : New York Photo Diary

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One of my favorite things to do as a passenger in a car is to lean my head out of the window and gaze out at the houses as I pass them by, dreaming about the worlds and lives which must exist within each. Surely there are stargazers in that house with the porch; a lonely child inside the house with the chipped paint. Every house seems to possess its own cosmos; its own palette for a life which I, as a passing stranger, am free to imagine. Having lived my entire life in the relatively cool climate of the greater New York area, I can’t recall ever having ever passed by a house wrapped up in a brightly-striped tarp for fumigation, as happens more frequently in warm climates which allow termites to swarm. Luckily, Randi Malkin Steinberger’s forthcoming photobook, No Circus, turns its gaze on the tented curiosities she found while driving around Los Angeles, and provides not only an excellent roadside survey, but a chance for the viewer to step out of the car, wander around, and begin their own imaginings.

In many ways, No Circus, comprised of nearly 70 photographs houses undergoing fumigation, seems almost too easy of a photographic project. The circus comparison is obvious, and there’s an easy absurdity to the tents, which is as unmissable a spectacle as a showgirl riding an elephant down the middle of Main Street. The bright carnival pinstripes beg to be photographed, and the tents’ alluring contrast to the familiar suburban settings and L.A. landscaping which they have been pitched against is a quality I would argue most photographers would gravitate toward. The houses, cartoonized into bizarre geometric forms, seem almost too opportunistically bloated and out of proportion to the dull normalcy of the rest of the neighborhood to pass by. I imagine that for the residents of L.A., the appearance and disappearance of the tents on quiet suburban streets must especially carry with it the same exotic mystery of a travelling circus; the tents materializing overnight and then vanishing again without warning, as though called away by some invisible director, his sights already set on the next town. Of course, lingering in the background and adding in interest to the strange disjuncture of normalcy is also the knowledge that these tents belong to a league of structures which have been abandoned and temporarily pulled from their daily roles to be pumped full of poison and are – as Malkin Steinberger’s title reminds us – no circus.

But the true mark of a successful photographer is not the ability to see what everyone else can see, but to pursue that thought past the individual house in question and down to the end of the street, and to the next, until the streetlights come on and living-room windows glow purple from the glow of the TV. With every turn of the page, Malkin Steinberger’s obsessive tent studies feel like the repetition of the same word over and over again until it loses all of its context and seems to stew solely in its own nonsensical existence. Although not all of her images are remarkable individually, the power of No Circus lies in the obsessive pursuit of a single idea; in finding and multiplying the strange until it populates the entire world.

Perhaps because I am a writer myself, what I found to be the most communicative element of No Circus, however, was D.J. Waldie’s beautiful and poetic introductory essay, which snaps the images together thematically and then expands them into a thousand directions. Oscillating between tender personal narrative and an informative overview of fumigation and its many associated dangers, Waldie’s essay sets a dark and contemplative tone over the entire project, occasionally pulling on heartstrings and letting them resonate all the way back to childhood. After a discussion of sulfuryl floride and chloropicrin, the poison gases used to break down termite’s bodies, a short blank stretch of a paragraph break leads us to his own boyhood. He’s playing hide-and-go-seek with his brother, and finding himself standing alone in his bedroom. “Because I’m small, the room seems large. And I’m afraid. My knees actually begin to knock out of fear. I’m afraid of what isn’t in the room. I fear my own absence.”

Montana-Ave-Randi Malkin Steinberger- No Cirucs-2

A house is more than its structure, he explains, and has a life beyond those who live there – its essence is composed of the anxieties inside; all of its absurdities, and associations. “Houses haunt themselves,” he writes. “While we’re away, the chair improvises a sitter, the door frame a passing figure, and the bed a sleeper…. As the key is set in the door lock by new owners for the first time, as the door knob is turned, as the door sweeps inward, the house constructs a whole life.”

With Waldie’s words in mind, I returned to the photographs. There, hiding behind the easy punchline I first found in No Circus, I uncovered a subtler, more haunted infestation of an idea. Coupled with Waldie’s concerned sense of “home” and disturbed overview of the invasive danger of fumigation, I felt a real sense of anxiety began to permeate a few of Malkin Steinberger’s images, which come in a little too close to the ugly reality of the tubing and stitching of the tents to allow them to maintain any cheerful world. Although many of her photographs seem to delight in the bright and the absurd, others seem to examine the houses with the same scientific caution one might bring to examining brightly-colored poisonous dart frog. A few photographs are taken from behind shrubbery, or through the links of a fence. A photograph labelled Montana Ave. is dark and blurred, having been taken at night from the other side of the road. We focus on a white car parked in front, as though watching out for who might be nearby. Malkin Steinberger peeps through rips and flaps, and stops here and there to examine the red warning signs reading “Caution! Peligro!” and reminding us of all of the dangers which threaten these poisoned houses: suffocation, gas explosions, burglary. Such houses have not turned into our childhood dreams, but into our adult nightmares. Like weeping clowns, these images unsettle in their contradictions.

But standing alone, Malkin Steinberger offers a weak thesis. Her images display less of the direct statements or moments of introspection found in Waldie’s writing than a general magnetism to contrasts – the contrast of the shape of the tent to the shape of shrubbery in front of it; the bright colors of tarp to the natural colors of nearby flowers; the apparent excitement of the tent to the opposing monochrome of the rest of the street. Perhaps a tighter edit of images might have offered a less diluted narrative, but where Waldie leads, Malkin Steinberger only wanders.

Bienveneda-Ave-Randi Malkin Steinberger- No Cirucs

Still, there’s something delightful about No Circus which doesn’t suffer from the lack of heavy intent found in Waldie’s essay. Isn’t that the point of dreaming, anyway? Not to offer a plot or a moral, but to notice the elements which make up a world and wonder how else they might appear. Whereas Waldie worries, Malkin Steinberger imagines. Her images, which linger as long by flowers as they do by caution tape, seem to dream life into these abandoned structures, engaging with sights that catch her attention, rather than illustrate a point.  “To be something more a windbreak or a covering from rain or a frail barrier, a home must have dreams inside. A house undreamed in is already neglected,” Waldie writes, and Malkin Steinberger answers with a blue tarp cutting across with sky; with a ring of silver tent clips left in the dust like a performer’s forgotten crown, or a memento from a dream.

At once material and imagined, fantastic and ordinary, Malkin Steinberger’s No Circus opens the door to a world which is absurd in its anxiety, delightful in its dissolution, and, perhaps, already just next door.

No Circus will be published by Damiani Books on September 27, 2016.

Sasha Patkin

Sasha Patkin is a writer, photographer, and contributing editor to The New York Photography Diary. More of her writing and work can be found at www.sashapatkin.com.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer

NYPD : August 14, 2016 4:20 pm : New York Photo Diary

ongoingmomentvintage1To quote the famous dictum: writing about music is like dancing about architecture. With that said, I would gladly watch someone dance about architecture, if the opportunity ever came along. While I have yet to read Geoff Dyer’s book But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (1991), in which he writes about music (or dances about architecture – I honestly haven’t read it), his writings about photography in The Ongoing Moment (2005) are often as innovate and freshly conceived as I imagine a foxtrot about Brutalism might be.

No one ever argued that dancing and architecture are opposed, after all, and Dyer is quick to make clear that writing about photography is not an irrelevant or unproductive venture. Painting a backdrop connection between writing and photography, Dyer cites Walker Evan’s musing that writers like James Joyce and Henry James were “unconscious photographers,” ceaselessly describing and categorizing the infinite variety of the world into a haphazard order. But while the concerns of photography are as encompassing as the human condition, Dyer  – who is not a photographer, and claims not even to own a camera – does admit that there’s a distinction between the “idea of photography” (he borrows the term from Stieglitz), and photography in practice. Even his title, The Ongoing Moment, is a reinterpretation of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s phrase, “the decisive moment.” While photography attempts to pin down the ephemeral to speak to the essence of a moment, Dyer’s writing loosens these same silent images from the wall and shuffles them into new conversations, reading over them histories and biographies which expand their meanings and sweep them into a current of ever-evolving contemplation. Dyer’s writing rambles, returns, and reconsiders; offering no thesis or history, but a winding narrative of associations.

At times, Dyer’s writing feels like an (albeit delightful) run-on sentence. He drifts between themes grand and specific such as blindness, hands, nudes, hats, benches, beds, and stairs with hardly more than a breath in between. The Ongoing Moment is truly ongoing in the most literal sense of the term, and with no strict divisions or natural breaking points occurring in the text, I was forced ever onward in my reading – tumbling unwittingly into the next section before I had even realized I’d arrived. In such a flurry of thought, the distinctions between images seem at once obvious and negligible. (For example, here is the quote which serves to bridge the transition between the themes of “blindness” and “hands,” paraphrased from a private eye: “The things you notice in broad daylight – colours, hair, clothes – can all be changed quickly and easily. But the things you are obliged to concentrate on at night… never change. They are as permanent and personal as the lines of your hand.”) I often found myself having to flip back several pages to discover how I had gotten to what I was reading, or flip forward in the text to see when I might be afforded a change to pause and reflect upon what was being presented. Needless to say, I rarely found either direction completely satisfying.

But Dyer’s stylistic choices and transgressions are justified by their accordance with the larger, philosophical musings he is attempting to make about the nature of understanding the world. Dyer often ruminates about taxonomies and attempts to order the world, an impulse which he feels is inherent to both photography and writing, but he is also fascinated by the arbitrary divisions of many lists, and particularly about photography’s intrinsic tendency to bleed through many traditional categorizations. Further freeing him from owning responsibly for his informal arguments or owing the reader any sort of comprehensive account of the history of photography, Dyer is also quick to adopt the role of humble dilatant. “The person doing the learning is the person writing the book as much as the person reading it,” he writes in his introduction, adding that that his focus throughout is partial – both in the sense that it leaves out many important photographers, and that it is driven primarily by his own personal interests.

Instead of stiff academic writing, The Ongoing Moment presents dreamlike, capricious connections between seemingly unrelated works that would likely have remained overlooked by those with both feet stuck in the traditional mires of art history. The result is liberating, and reaches past individual photographs toward an enchanted philosophy of sight. In one memorable passage, Dyer takes us on a nearly fairytale-like journey as we walk first with Walker Evans and then Lee Friedlander as they photograph individual numbers and letters on signs and advertisements, attempting to isolate, itemize, and decontextualize the symbols into what Dyer describes as a “a vast anagram of the city,” emerging into a “bacteriological rather than the literary sense of the world.” The description is beautiful, narrative, and imaginative, and could just as easily be applied to Dyer’s own artistic pursuits. The richness of language one might expect from an accomplished writer combines in The Ongoing Moment with a meditative dissolution of the established of tropes literature and art, and the result is a new, living order which sprouts from overlooked corners and lays out its own network of roots.

There is no definitive conclusion to Dyer’s book, just as there is no closure to any of his arguments, which instead reoccur and transform throughout like the theme of a fugue. Reaching the ending paragraphs, I was left with the impression that the book might be as successfully read backwards, or outwards from the middle, or even in an infinite loop without repeating the same experience. Dyer’s conversations continually build and collapse upon one another, and the end result therefore is at once exhilarating or exhausting, fine-turned or flawed – but always essentially, decisively ongoing.

– Sasha Patkin

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Submission Guidelines

NYPD : July 20, 2016 1:11 pm : New York Photo Diary
  • Deadline for entry is Thursday, September 1st 2016, at 12:00am EST. Works submitted after this date may not be eligible for consideration.
  • The “Borders” exhibition will take place at Carmel by the Green, located near Bethnal Green tube station, from Thursday, October 6th to Tuesday, December 6th 2016, with an opening reception on October 6th.
  • The call is open to anyone aged 18 and over, and who is a practicing photographer or lens-based artist, ideally with connections to the New York or tri-state area. Work on this theme from other locations may be considered.
  • Works for consideration should be emailed to [email protected] with the subject “Borders Exhibition”.  Please include a maximum of three (3) works, in digital format (jpeg, max 2mb per file), and an artist’s statement of up to 500 words. Please do not submit materials in the form of links.
  • Artists must also supply the following information regarding their submissions: title of works, dimensions of prints (length, width, & depth if applicable), material, year(s) created, and edition number (if applicable). For example: “Untitled (Borders), 14 x 11 inches, Chromogenic print, 2016, Edition 1/10.”
  • The selected artists will be notified by September 6th, and artwork must be delivered to Carmel by the Green by September 25th for installation. Artists may either ship their work directly to the gallery or arrange to have it printed in London, and are responsible for costs incurred with either method. Works that arrive at Carmel by the Green after September 25th cannot be guaranteed to be exhibited in the show.
  • Selected artists are encouraged to have their works framed. NY Photography Diary can supply A3-sized frames, or resources for obtaining inexpensive, ready-made frames in London. Large, unframed works will be pinned to the walls.
  • If selected artists desire to have their works printed in London, NY Photography Diary can provide a list of trusted printers. However, NY Photography Diary will not be responsible for ensuring the quality of prints. Any works printed through such an arrangement will be subject to the terms and conditions set forth by the independent printer, and we encourage artists who choose this route to begin working with a printer as soon as possible.
  • All works will be available for sale during the exhibition, and a 20% commission will be taken on any sales, which will go to the editors and curators who have organized the show. Selected artists will set the price of their own works.
  • After the exhibition’s closure, the artists will be contacted by NY Photography Diary to arrange for the collection or return of unsold works.
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Photo Romania Festival 2016

NYPD : June 20, 2016 11:04 am : New York Photo Diary

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There is a buzz and a joviality in the air at the 6th edition of Photo Romania Festival. I arrive at Sapientia University half way through the five day programme, warmly welcomed by festival organiser Sebastian Vaida and ready for a day of talks and discussions. I watch as friends and colleagues fill the building, their welcoming embraces and friendly chatter reminiscent of a family reunion, and one by one I am introduced to this amiable bunch. For many this is a fixed event on their social calendar. The desire to support each other and extend the reach of photography is uniformly shared, with many attendees part of PHEN (The Photo European Network) and hailing from all over the EU. The infectious passion and comradery is one of the defining characteristics of the festival, helping bring everything together with a sense of purpose.

Despite a pleasingly casual vibe (we’re on “Romanian Time” I’m told – meaning everything starts 15 minutes later than advertised) the festival comprises a packed schedule of events that take place across the beautiful, laid-back city of Cluj-Napoca. Among a number of guests Colin Ford is in attendance to give a talk on Hungarian Photography, as well as Keith Moss who is here to deliver a street photography workshop. Numerous in-depth presentations are lined up, detailing a compelling array of artistic projects, and practical sessions have been organised covering specialist topics such as wedding, fashion, landscape, and concert photography.

Sebastian calmly shepherds his guests and speakers into the auditorium as a day of talks begins. The variety of work presented is aesthetically experimental and intellectually incisive, often approaching difficult subjects in considered, thoughtful ways. Particularly fascinating is Gema Polanco Asensi’s discussion of her work Como Dios Manda (“As is Proper”) and her photographic investigation into how women are controlled for the benefit of male hegemony, through what Michel Foucault termed bio-power (the subjugation of bodies by modern nation states through a range of diverse practices).  While bio-power is evident in a number of contexts, Asensi’s focus is “upper middle-class Spanish women”, using her own family as a case study and combining archive photos with her own work.

Como Dios Manda (As is Proper) 2016 © Gema Asensi

While she iterates that this method of female subjugation is seen the world over, it is noteworthy that her mother and grandparents grew up in the shadow of Franco’s Spain, where women were expected to submit to the traditional values of motherhood and family or risk being ostracised by their communities. Subsequently, internalising the values of this ruling power they pass on these ideals of femininity and subservience to their female offspring, confirming the effectiveness of a ‘silent’ kind of government where woman’s role as nurturer is just “common sense”.

Her pictures have a critical, sociological objectivity; many of them are cropped or blurred to obscure individual faces, drawing attention to their behaviours instead. These are often subtle gestures such as holding, touching or petting, acts codified as care but implying a form of physical and psychological control. The archive photos of her mother and grandmother are juxtaposed with Asensi’s recent work in which she becomes part of this recycling of hegemonic values. Through the comparison of old and new we see the same gestures recur, with the often de-personalised bodies playing the same roles: wife, carer and mother. One particular image, a mother’s hand on a young woman’s head as she brushes her hair, hints at the veiled nature of control. The subject of the picture is subdued, groomed; being moulded perhaps into an object of attraction for a future suitor.

Johan Österholm’s series Peculiar Notions at Dusk conflated the cosmic and the ordinary with an Isaac Newton inspired investigation into the fall of that fateful apple. Covering the cross sections of fruit in a photo-sensitive emulsion he then exposes it to starlight to create “a cosmos within the apple”, resulting in some stunning images. Taking a more socio-political turn, Juraj Starovecký’s The Curtain explores our ongoing enforcement of arbitrary and unnatural barriers. Reanimating the “Iron Curtain” era for a generation born after the Cold War, he illustrates the extreme obstacles encountered by those either wanting to enter or leave Soviet-Russia between 1945 and 1991. In a more personal, nostalgic vein he also investigates childhood and memory; in Familiar Story cutting out the faces of his family photos to disrupt one of the central purposes of photography – to document and record our lives – while allowing other people to project themselves into similar situations from their past.

Jonas Forchini Mangrovines

Mangrovines, 2016 © Jonas Forchini

I’m taken by the suggestive nature of Jonas Forchini’s Mangrovines (currently exhibiting at PhotoEspaña along with Asensi’s Como Dios Manda). Illuminating the difficult situation of many Senegalese, who in the past have made a living from artisanal fishing in their home country, he describes how their livelihood has been threatened by the over-exploitation of their waters by European fishing boats. The stark minimalism of a number of his images (ropes transcending black space or a blanket looped through a single rope as though through a noose) evokes the tenuous existence of these men. “The sea becomes asphalt” when they are forced to emigrate, here to the urban milieu of Madrid, where they make a living through the illegal activity of street-selling.

Forchini is sympathetic to their dilemma and interested in how they adapt to their new environment. He draws out the parallels between their old native trade and their new prohibited one. The fishing net which contained their catch before becomes the blanket with their cache of illegally sold goods. The rope conflates the fear of being caught by the police with that of the fishing line. As well as this, the symbolism of the stretched rope, continuing beyond the frame and often knotted, suggests to me the interconnected global web we are all a part of; our actions always having consequences, on communities or the environment, whether we are aware of them or not.

Breaking for lunch, we coalesce in the courtyard just outside the university, amiably chatting as we spoon plates of food into our mouths. Sitting with the very personable Henriette, a representative from Nordic Light Festival and a member of PHEN, we express an impatience to explore this beguiling city. As soon as we are told there are numerous exhibits in the Casino building in Central Park, not more than fifteen minutes away, Henriette’s blue eyes disappear behind dark shades and we are off into the sunny streets, heading towards the warm heart of the city.

The park is awash with activity. Medieval street theatre greats us, though my Romanian doesn’t stretch much further than “Excuse me” and “Can you speak English?”, so to me it is just men with plastic shields mouthing off on horseback. There is also a stunning lake in the park on which kids peddle huge car-shaped boats (best idea ever!). We are stoic though and, refusing to be distracted for long, enter the Casino building.

Casino building, Central Park

The majority of the spare, rather empty hall is given over to the works of the renowned Romanian photographer and journalist Iosif Berman, whose black and white pictures adorn the orange walls. Living from 1892 to 1941, he was a socially committed photographer fascinated by rural Romanian life and its customs. His expressive images attest to this. He shows the material lack of these areas, as well as the simple joys of the inhabitants and their warm and generous spirit. On icy landscapes men are pictured labouring, axes caught mid-swing. Children sit covered head to toe in the snow, their mouths open in joyful cries, while in a cemetery a large group kneels by the graveside as though performing a ritual. Given the absence of captions, one infers that this work was produced as part of his partnership with the sociologist Dimitrie Gusti, part of their contribution to the then emerging genre of ethnological photography.

In the same building Cătălin Munteanu’s After 25 Years: The Closed Gates of the Industry in Ploiești (2014) explores the steady decline of the aforementioned city, just north of Bucharest. Once a place of great civic pride for its industrial might – it was home to the world’s first oil refinery – the fall of communism in 1989 arguably led to its collapse, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, along with the closing of vocational facilities that provided training for employees. As capitalism took over, a once self-sustaining economy began to rely on imported goods, and its landscape became littered with abandoned buildings and shopping malls.

The images displayed present a lost world through the bleached bodies of disused factory buildings.  A power station sits idle behind rusting green gates and crumbling walls. Only a station attendant stands in front of Ploiești West’s neglected and peeling facade. Nature is seen reasserting her supremacy where time has been called on human endeavour, creeping over walls and burying railway track. Apart from a few resigned individuals, the photos are desolate and uninhabited, full only of broken glass and corroded metal. “This”, Munteanu says, “is the progress of 25 years of wrongly understanding capitalism and democracy.”

Cătălin Munteanu After 25 Years (2014)

After 25 Years, 2014 © Cătălin Munteanu

On the way back to the university I indulge in a delicious sweet-cheese pastry from a local bakery, and when I return, tanned and full of sugar, I’m somewhat sleepier than before. A talk on the use of fairy-tale elements in fashion photography presents some imaginatively designed shots, and surreal scenes of fair-maidens parade before my drooping eyelids.  I can’t be sure I’m not dozing when the phrase “You used the unicorn…I didn’t do that” reaches my ears. As evening slowly descends and the day’s events draw to a close I head back out into the warm air, passing by Avram Iancu Square with its cathedral and towering statue before leisurely walking to Samsara, where the Photo Romania crew in celebratory mood eat and drink late into the evening.

The next day I head for Casa Romania: the headquarters of the festival’s operations and informal chill out zone. Ascending the hill in the 24 degree heat I pass some fantastically dilapidated houses, held back behind tall iron gates like something from a horror movie (we are in Transylvania after all!), before finally spotting the exultant words “PHOTO ROMANIA” along a fence. Here a large number of the photographers’ works are displayed, as well as being the place where PHEN are holding their day-long discussion. Irina, providing support and coordination for the festivals day-to-day activities, sits cheerful and diligent behind a laptop at a table strewn with flyers, and I potter about taking in the weird and wonderful décor and a lot of fine photography.

Arresting monochrome pictures from Javier Corso’s Fish Shot are stretched out across two rooms, part of a documentary project investigating the interwoven issues of loneliness, isolation and alcoholism in Finnish society. There is a stark beauty in the sprawling shots of barren landscapes, the emptiness evoking a sense of unease. Geographical isolation is shown to be part of the problem, while social atomisation is evident in the fact the majority of these photos show men journeying alone.  This is potentially the flip-side of Finland’s successful welfare state and its plentiful housing, reducing the necessity for co-habitation and additional networks of support.

Javier Corso Fish Shot

Fishshot, 2015 © Javier Corso

The spectre of oppressive emotion is implicit in a number of images, and the motif of the axe recurs, symbolic in Finnish culture for “the violence”. In one shot it is expressionistically lit, like a still from The Shining. In another a man sits in a sauna, one hand with a beer and the other to his downcast face, the feint reflection of a woman behind him, suggesting a narrative of gender-based violence and male shame (heavy drinking is present in more than 50% of suicides and homicides in Finland). Powerfully expressing the cyclical nature of the problem is a photo of a man submerged in water, only his hand visible as it breaks the surface; showing both the suffocating emotion and subsequent immersion in alcohol to cope with it. “The pictures try to evoke a daily situation for many people in Finland”, Corso explains. “The social pressure to drink, trying to forget the loneliness.”

Well-known for his iconic images of festival revellers and swaggering rock bands such as AC/DC and Guns ‘N Roses, Miluță Flueraș presented a slightly more subdued collection of images with Taking my Time to Pay an Homage. A tribute to “the living moments before the disaster” that occurred at Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest on October 30th 2015, the series memorialises those killed in the deadly blaze. A big supporter of the band Goodbye to Gravity, Flueraș was there to cover their free concert when the venues’ polyurethane ceiling caught fire, a result of the bands pyrotechnics. 64 people were killed, including band members Mihai Alexandru, Bogdan Enache, Vlad Țelea and Alex Pascu.

Taking My Time To Pay An Homage, 2015 © Miluță Flueraș

Given the knowledge we have of the subsequent events, it is difficult not to read these pictures in a foreboding and melancholy way (especially one of the lead singer flanked by lit sparklers and a flame-illustrated band banner). Flueraș’s intention though is not to present a sombre view of what occurred but the opposite: to commemorate “a great band [who were] very underrated” and to convey the joy and excitement at the venue, with shots of the crowd “bursting with happiness.”

He has a keen eye for drawing out the empathic connection between an audience and performing artists. A monochrome shot of the crowd taken from across the stage captures the band’s guitarist looking out into the sea of people, mostly obscured in shadow except one boy’s face, metaphorically and literally lit up, smiling beatifically. Other shots, streaming with bright lights and colour, show the bands immersion in the music as they jump up and down, storming the stage with eyes full of passion. Watching them perform their rousing song “The Day we Die” on YouTube, I’m reminded that rock music is all about defiance and rebellion, and a rallying cry against the most pedantic jobsworth of them all, death.

Taking a break, a few of us sit in the sun eating lunch and sipping coffee, including the laid-back and engaging Simone from Newcastle Photography Festival, something of Photo Romania groupie and Cluj fanatic. A few people bid adieu, Gema and Jonas among them as they return to Spain for the next instalment of their photographic saga at PhotoEspaña. I return indoors, intending to peruse halls lined with the work of native Romanian photographers, but it is hard to be industrious when everyone is so outgoing. This is just one of the things that makes the festival such a joy: a genuine sociability that extends beyond mere networking.

I head off downtown, determined to visit at least one more exhibition before my time here comes to an end. It requires all my navigational and Romanian language skills to locate the café where the group show Layers is being held. Naturally, lacking said skills, I yo-yo up and down Strada Universităţii numerous times. I am also distracted by the huge crowd that has amassed in Unirii Square, and briefly join them in being captivated by an operatic onstage performance. Finally, and with lots of help, I find the elusive Insomnia Café. All that is now required for me to do is convince the manager that she does indeed have an exhibition there to show me.

Eventually I’m taken to a very sparse, functional room (i.e. it has walls). But though the space is underwhelming, the photography is thoughtful and eye-catching. Most of the images are not much bigger than postcards, the majority shot in black and white and presenting what I assume to be the anonymous, underdeveloped side of Cluj. From my brief time here, the city certainly seems to have a dilapidated charm equivalent to Berlin; impressive architectural and grand historic monuments vying with a plethora of stoic but cracked facades.

Layers show, group exhibition

Layers show, group exhibition

As the show’s slightly cryptic mission statement attests, it is an exercise in “beautifying a city in which oldness, poverty and poor environmental taste is pretentiously displayed, like inadequate makeup.” The images are visually compelling and abstract, the majority aestheticizing architectural ugliness, shifting our perspective away from the social to the purely visual (the shots also suggests a clandestine gaze occupying these neglected urban ruins). The empty shells of buildings are shot with a pleasing symmetry and depth; stairwells crisscross and shadows contribute their own geometry, creating multi-layered images. Unusual vantage points are presented, with photographs opening up into Escher-like dimensions. We are encouraged to see differently by focusing on the combination of shapes, patterns and complimentary angles, rather than the neglected and decaying structures that form the ostensible subject of the frame.

It is with a touch of reluctance and a smile on my face that I leave Photo Romania Festival and the easy-going vibes of Cluj-Napoca. The people and my experiences there have been a real pleasure, and while also promoting Romanian photography the festival showed itself to be a truly cooperative, international affair. Before I head back to the UK though the remainder of us dine together at Casa Tiff. Radu, aware that I am a stranger to the enticements of Palincă (a highly alcoholic Hungarian fruit brandy), kindly places a shot of the spirit in front of me. I knock it back without question and it’s like a small atomic bomb going off in my oesophagus. I’m somewhat disconcerted by the anxious faces looking back at me, but against expectations I stand up and walk in a straight line out of the restaurant, retaining consciousness all the way back to the hotel.

– Daniel Pateman

Special thanks to Sebastian Vaida for his hospitality and for making my attendance possible.

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

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REVIEW: TODD DRAKE’S INDEPTH LOOK AT THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM’S PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION ON ISRAEL & THE WEST BANK

NYPD : April 3, 2016 4:27 pm : New York Photo Diary

Great sculptures are engaging from any perspective. Whether viewed from the back, side or front, they offer their audience something to consider. Similarly, great exhibitions hold up under the myriad angles from which they might be approached. An awareness of one’s own personal perspective is important to bear in mind when viewing the Brooklyn Art Museum’s current photography show exploring Israel and the West Bank, This Place, on view through June 5th, 2016. Organized by Frédéric Brenner (his work is also featured) and curated by Charlotte Cotton, the exhibition features 600 works by twelve artists, who are not Palestinian or Israeli, but who came to Israel and the West Bank between 2009 and 2012 to create work for this project. Likely this conceptual decision was made with the intention of making the exhibition as unbiased as possible—and to work around the cultural boycott which inhibits Palestinians and Israelis from working together; however, this choice also limits the windows we are given into “this place.”

I, for one, came to the show with the personal experience of having spent three weeks in the West Bank in 2013 teaching photography to Palestinian youth, and I came away from the exhibition feeling like their story—and the story of the larger Palestinian population in general—was not properly shared in the exhibition. There are only hints of the daily drudgery and harassment experienced by Palestinians. Missing from the overall exhibition is any discussion of the issues surrounding ID checks for Palestinians and the limitations on their movement throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Gaza itself was completely missing. Most problematic, several large scale portraits of Israeli settlers by Nick Waplington and Frédéric Brenner, which show whole Jewish families at dinner or assembled in front of or inside their homes, are not matched in any way by similar representations of Palestinians. This absence gives the message that only one group has ownership of this place.

As outsiders, the photographers in this exhibition had to decide whether or not to engage in political commentary or develop relationships with the communities they worked within. For the most part, it seems, the artists avoided taking positions. While Gilles Peress’ street photography, for instance, focused on Silwan, a village just outside the walls of old Jerusalem, the ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes there was not in any way present in his images. This comes across as a considerable misprision when one considers the unblinking eye with which Peress has looked upon such conflict zones as Bosnia, Rwanda and Northern Ireland.

Instead of the struggles between Palestine and Israel, the land itself is an important theme in this exhibition. The first major room features several bodies of work that illustrate landscapes, empty of humans. While this works to focus our attention on the environment, it also reinforces the impression that this is an an unoccupied, promised land, waiting for colonization. I kept looking for the scenes I had witnessed first hand of old Palestinian men tending to olive trees, farmers standing in wheat fields, children shepherding or harvesting potatoes. They are not present.

The empty landscapes and cityscapes of Stephen Shore’s work reminded me of the trope “a land without people, a people without a land,” used to justify the Zionist colonization of Palestine after World War II. Meanwhile, the drone-perspective of the Sinai Desert captured in Fazal Sheikh’s aerial photographs is texturally and conceptually interesting, as is the visual range given between the high elevation landscape photography and his portraiture (the latter are not present in this exhibition but can be found in the museum’s gift shop in Sheikh’s photo book set). Sheikh’s title for this series, Desert Bloom, is an ironic commentary on Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s historic promise to “make the desert bloom” through Jewish settlement.

Daybreak, a large scale photograph by Jeff Wall greets you at the entrance. It depicts a small group of Bedouins sleeping in an open field on tarps under cheap Chinese-made blankets, an Israeli prison rising in the background. Wall recreated the scene after witnessing it on a previous visit. While this is the artist’s standard working process, here it also simulates a core concept in the creation of Israel: the act of recreating a remembered reality. And while provocative and poignant, this shot also reinforces the image of the Palestinian as a vagrant and temporary nomad of this land.

Although many of the works that Rosalind Fox Solomon produced for this project address the “othering” that is done so well in this region, they are not included in the exhibition. They can be seen in her book, judiciously titled THEM. The works presented in the exhibition extend her interest in the odd among us but come across more universal in theme and less specific to the subject of Israel and Palestine. In some ways the most disengaged was Jung Jin Lee, whose large scale black and white photographs of stark landscapes and man-made objects could have been from any place in the world. Yet, the photo of the tightly bound bale of barbwire, sitting alone in a barren landscape do speak volumes about the forces of war and national borders.

Wendy Ewald, despite her initial disinterest in working in Israel, takes many brave forays into both the Israeli and Palestinian worlds. The American photographer and educator chooses not to present her own photographs, instead she teaches photography skills within communities and then collects and curates the photographs they produce. In this series, she collaborated with diverse student populations (Muslim, Druze, and Christian) of The Sisters of Nazareth, the Melach Haretz Military School, and the Stateless Al Nawar (or Gypies), to name a few. The images are printed postcard size and presented in groups within a wooden large frame. The display format for this work is beautiful, if somewhat overwhelming—the impact lessened somewhat by the sheer number of images–but Ewalds appears to stand alone in bringing together the opposing sides of a conflict through her work and opening a window to their voices and lives.

Recognizing the strength of my own perspective, I made a point of asking a wide range of visitors for their impressions. Two dual citizens of Israel and the United States, a husband and wife, gave me valuable insights: the husband pointed out the although the Israeli settler portraits by Waplington and Brenner are powerful in their large scale presence, they represented the fringe of Israeli life. “They are not the average Israeli. We had not ever even seen the sect which wears the covering over their eyes. They exoticize us in these portraits.” The wife felt the photography was balanced but had real problems with the artists’ statements, feeling they all slanted “to the left – just like all exhibitions on Israel in New York City.” Frédéric Brenner’s statement, for example: “Repairing the world begins by repairing the world in us. There is no other promised land. It belongs to no one and to everyone. It is everywhere awaiting our return.”

In almost every instance of the feedback I received, Josef Koudelka’s installation elicited the strongest praise or criticism. Installed in a waist high viewing case, a concertina book with images of the separation wall traverses the first large room of the exhibition—acting as a wall itself. For many, this book brought out the strongest emotions and responses. The stark black and white photographs, the relevance of this wall to our own border issues, and a text that clearly explains the Palestinian community’s struggles with its existence, contributed to this reaction. The Israeli couple felt that Koudelka’s presentation of the subject did not share the Israeli perspective over the wall.

While This Place gives us many views of Israel and the West Bank, it reinforces some concepts about the region that need to be looked at more frankly and bravely. Though, regardless of one’s perspective—in this case, my own—this is still an important show worth your time and consideration, from all angles.

On view now through June 5, 2016

 

Todd Drake is a photographer, educator, and human rights activist. His exhibitions tours nationally and he has worked most recently overseas in Palestine and the Turkish-Syrian border. A teaching artist for BRIC Arts Media, Drake lives in Brooklyn, NY.

 

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REVIEW: DOUG FOGELSON AT SASHA WOLF GALLERY

NYPD : March 23, 2016 5:27 pm : New York Photo Diary

DOUG FOGELSON: CREATIVE DESTRUCTION

It’s been more than 50 years since Silent Spring indicted the human race for systematic destruction of the planet, and over 150 years since Thoreau allegorized Walden Pond as an analogy for the innate freedom of man. At a time when the earth’s natural environment at last takes center stage as a global political platform of its own, Doug Fogelson’s new works — prismatic, saturated views of forests, treses, fields, and mountains — presciently honor nature while implying the artist’s anxiety about its destruction. By layering multiple exposures and manipulating color film before printing his large-scale works, Fogelson creates hyper-energized, collage-like pictures that suggest the ever-changing quality of nature as well as threats to its longevity. In works such as Ceaseless No. 1, 2015, the torn and wrinkled layers of film pigment fan out in translucent magenta and cyan sheathes, giving way to an image of dense forest that bleeds into full resolution where the film remained undestroyed.

A lover of color and the mechanics of film development, Fogelson has long explored ways in which the act of making photographs can innately reference environmental fragility. A recent series featured a grouping of full-color Photograms made with plants, insects, bones, and other natural elements. Graphic and vibrant, the works showed once-living objects in silhouette, having exposed the photosensitive paper in stages to create the effect of shadows. Beneath broken-glass picture frames, Fogelson’s photograms allude to the impermanence of nature: What lives today may just as well be a fossilized relic tomorrow.

Fogelson’s newer works expand on the color sensibilities of his photograms with an added depth of field. In psychedelic hues that at times translate as a sepia tone (such as the fade-out quality of Creative Destruction No. 2, 2016, which slides from full-color, sun-dappled foliage into pastel pinks and greens) or the colors one might see in a dream (Creative Destruction No. 4, 2016, an abstracted pond that appears as an acid-bath topography: lime green plants in the foreground; neon blue water in the back), Fogelson’s photographs evoke a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness – a melancholy that premeditates an urgency to preserve the environment. Though the artist’s hand contorts and bruises his images of nature, in doing so he also creates capsulated jewel box depictions of an endangered world.

 

On view at Sasha Wolf Gallery till April 16, 2016

Anne Prentnieks is New York City-based art writer and critic for publications including Artforum.com and WSJ Magazine.

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Review: Here and Now/There and Then: I am a Lie and I am Gold at Yossi Milo Gallery

NYPD : February 12, 2016 3:50 pm : New York Photo Diary

I love photographs. I love them because of how they allow you to travel through their surface to another time and place. Authors have filled countless pages to celebrate, theorize, and challenge the notion of photographic transparency, or the way the medium directly links the ‘here and now’ of the viewer to the ‘there and then’ of the subject. In other words, the indexical medium makes use of the interactions of light with chemicals – or, more recently, digital sensors – to re-present a subject for viewers to see or to experience.

So what would an exhibition about photography be like without the inclusion of a single photograph? This is the question that I am a Lie and I am Gold, curated by Marco Breuer at the Yossi Milo Gallery, sets out to examine. Taking its title from Amanda Lear’s song “I Am a Photograph,” the exhibition engages with photography as a “principle” and includes drawings, paintings, prints, sculptures, and mixed media works by twenty-five artists, but no photographs.

Some of the artworks offer photography-like experiences through the vitality of the surface of their images. Mark Khaisman’s light-box Tape Noir Glimpse 47 (2012) radiates light through layered yellow, green, and blue tape to create what looks like a glass-box office building at night. Nathalie Boutté’s Kalulu (2015) is a collage of typed letters on small pieces of fringed paper. The text provokes the sensation of a grainy photograph; the image disperses into text when viewed up close, but from further away the disparate words form the nineteenth-century boy Kalulu’s figure. (Unfortunately, Kalulu hangs in the middle of the wall, and a concrete pole prevents you from viewing the work straight-on from across the room.) Frank Selby’s overlaid graphite drawings, which repeat naturalistic compositions within a single frame, activate the image and connect the viewer to the here and now of the drawing as well as the there and then of the seemingly past moment represented.

The other works in the exhibition relate obviously to photography, as well. Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) (1967-70) displays hand-written quotations about the medium in a glass case. Looking inside of Julianne Swartz’s In-fill-trate (2004), a series of curved tubes with mirrors, allows you to see the side of your own head or whoever else stands in front of the wall piece. The meandering and mirror-led reflections of Swartz’s piece mimic the way mirrors and lenses of the camera disorients you until you become acclimated to the vantage point of looking through the device. The remaining artworks on display make similar references to seeing, the photographic, and the history of the medium.

As Amanda Lear sings, “I am a photograph/ I’m better than the real thing.” But can this exhibition claim to create the same “gold” as a photograph? While viewing this exhibition, I frequently oscillated between frustration and disappointment. The exhibit posed many, many questions about the unwieldy medium of photography, so it is almost inevitable that a show with this theme would be both too theoretically broad and too thin on the ground. I found myself most interested in works like Khaisman’s, Boutté’s, and Selby’s because they give rise to the sensation of viewing photographically. But this same photographic magic does not translate through many of the other works on display; what they offer is not better than “the real thing” of photographic experience. That said, even though many of the works do not allow for the travel through time and space, they still confirm what it is that makes me love photographs. And I still love photographs.

– Corey Dzenko

 

CoreyDzenko

Corey Dzenko earned her Ph.D. in the History of Photography from the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include the intersections of photography, performance, and new media; art as an agent of social change; and the ideologies of identity. She has presented in numerous national and international conferences and has published in sources including Men and Masculinities and Afterimage: The Journal of Media and Cultural Criticism. In 2014 she was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Nottingham. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor of Art History at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

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