And Now It’s Dark – American Night Photography

And Now It’s Dark brings together the work of three contemporary American photographers and provides context by setting them amongst a brief collection of American night photography from between 1900 and 1964. It is curated by Dr Mark Rawlinson (Associate Professor of Art History at The University of Nottingham) and runs from 6th September to 9th November at the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham. Continue reading

Gallery Visits, Brussels

Brussels (1)

Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few days in Brussels. I visited with my wife, mother-, sister- and uncle-in-law. While they were busy seeing the sites of a city I’ve visited a couple of times previously, I headed out to see a few of the many photography shows on in the city as part of its Summer of Photography.

I visited the following:

Woman – The feminist avant-garde of the 1970s: Works from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

Where we’re at! – Other voices on gender. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

No Country for Young Men – Contemporary Greek art in times of crisis. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

The Belgian Six – a group show for Belgian photography curated by The Word Magazine. Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. 26 June 2014

Regenberg M. Fair use. Foundation Stichting. 27 June 2014

Heinecken R. Lessons in posing subjects. Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels. 27 June 2014

I’m not going to attempt to write up all of the shows in detail, but will concentrate more on the thoughts I had regarding the type of photography that appeals to me and that I aspire to take having seen such a broad variety in a very short time. Much of the photography I saw was very conceptual and brought me right back to that first chapter of Charlotte Cotton’s book. The work demanded engagement, imagination and thought from the viewer and while I am happy to put that effort in, I sometimes struggle to do so when I see such a volume of work in one go.

The major show, Woman – The feminist avant-garde of the 1970s was a collection of 450 works from 29 female artists. Much of the photographic content was conceptual art from Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman’s familiar self-portrait work, through Annegret Soltau‘s Self series, Rita Myer’s Body Halves, Suzanne LaceyRenate BertlmannBirgit Jürgenssen and Martha Rosler to more accessible work such as Helen Almeida’s Study for 2 Spaces. At times it was very heavy going, reflecting the feminist movement’s politics, protest and occasionally fun. It was necessary to remind oneself that these were not contemporary works and probably far more provocative and controversial in the 1970s.

Where we’re at! featured women photographers and video artists of African, Caribbean and Pacific cultural backgrounds and began with some straight-forward but striking portraits by Angèle Etoundi Essamba before moving again to more conceptual work and video work on subjects like genital mutilation that was impossible to watch.

The Greek and Belgian shows had more accessible work that I was instantly drawn to. In the collection of Greek work that is informed by the recent and ongoing problems there, two photographers’ work stood out. Panos Kokkinias‘s images are staged but subtly so. His night time work is very much in a style that I aspire to – this new work ‘Paros’ is magnificent, particularly when shown in a gallery; perfectly printed and impeccably lit. It dominated a cluttered space, not because of its size, but because it had a luminescence of its own. The subtlety of the lighting on the young girl’s face, lit by a mobile phone à la Dan Witz is beautiful.

Alkis Konstantinidis is a photo-journalist who has shot many graphic and striking images of the troubles in his country. A set of these was printed on to newspaper and pinned to the gallery wall. After so much conceptual work in the previous collections, the images were refreshing and a I actually breathed a sigh of relief.

My favourite work of the weekend however came the following day. A long walk across the city brought me to the exclusive Foundation A Stichting and Max Regenberg’s Fair Use show. He photographs the billboards and advertisements that elbow their way into our surroundings and tackles similar subjects of ubiquity of images and the power of subliminal absorption as Tim Davis’ wonderful ‘Retail’. His eye for the way that these huge images can be complimentary or at odds with their surroundings (for example, the Marlboro cowboys riding into a sunset with the orange turned up are presented against snow, bare trees and a particularly unappealing fence) is entertaining, provocative and cleverly presented.

Brussels

Reflecting on what I liked and what I didn’t from these six shows, it appears that I have much work to do on my appreciation of the photograph as contemporary art. I am much more comfortable with documentary or subtly staged photography (that isn’t photographs of performance art) than more complex, narrative heavy, concept driven work. But I question whether I need to apply myself in this way. Why should I? What is important is my ability to express myself and my ‘world view’.  That may take the form of straight representations of what I see in front of the camera, or it may, with time, develop into a desire to challenge myself and my viewers to engage with my photographs in a different way.

It’s back to the bio I wrote when I started the course; I can take pictures that people will ‘like’ and ‘fave’, but maybe photographs need that extra layer, that engagement from the viewer that only comes when the work becomes conceptual and that requires interpretation and effort from the viewer. Perhaps it’s like listening to a song without paying attention to the lyrics. The voice can be just another instrument to one listener who will enjoy the song. Someone else who studies the words, gets the references and applies themselves to engage with the writer will appreciate the work on a different level. But do they enjoy the music any more than the first? Or just differently?

 

References

Cotton, C (2009) The photograph as contemporary art. London; Thames and Hudson

Higgins, J (2013) Why it does not have to be in focus. London; Thames and Hudson

Witz, D. (2010) In plain view – 30 years of artworks illegal and otherwise. Berkeley, CA; Gingko Press

Max Kandhola – The Aura of Boxing, Part Two

Last Thursday, I took the afternoon off work and headed to Derby to see the final part of Max Kandhola’s Aura of Boxing show. You may remember from my previous post that the show is the realisation of Kandhola’s 17 year study into ‘the aesthetic and moral conflicts of the boxer within the spatial interior of the pugilistic landscape’.

The exhibition has been split across three venues:

Kandhola 1

The Chocolate Factory is an interesting space for such an exhibition. It’s an old industrial unit that seems to be without heating or any attempt to welcome its visitors, other than the cheery staff. It does allow the images to be shown at a scale that the artist wished and in an environment that is similar to those used by boxing gyms.

During my visit, the artist was leading a tour of the work, providing a valuable insight into his methods.
Kandhola 2

The images are again printed on canvas and glued directly to the walls, like the posters advertising fight nights that are featured occasionally – they look superb. Kandhola says that he presents his work without frames or glass to stop them becoming precious or ‘pieces of art’,  in turn, removing a barrier to the viewer.

The work, when presented at this scale and with the repetition of a contact sheet, becomes detailed and almost forensic.

Like the black and white images, only one boxer ever features in each frame. There are no fights, no ‘Mr Universe’ poses. Instead, it feels like a personal encounter with the individual athlete and gives us a taste of the dedication that the subjects show for their sport. We see the sport in its purest sense with all romanticism and gloss stripped away. As the title suggests, the work is about the aura, the feeling, the experience. Strangely, while he photographs around the subject, it takes us straight to the heart of it.

Kandhola 3

The contact sheets show us a little of Kandhola’s method and his discipline. He doesn’t take many pictures of each scene, photographing only what he ‘needs’ to to produce his vision and version of the scene. He isn’t distracted from that original idea.

Kandhola 4When speaking to Max Kandhola, that is the lesson that comes across most strongly, and one that I desperately need to learn. Discipline is essential in photography.

As Kandhola says:

whatever you’re shooting, shoot only that

 

 

Cory Scholes

Cory Scholes – Surface Tension

Cory Scholes

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”

Susan SontagOn Photography

Over the last few months I’ve become aware of Cory Scholes’s work through the Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery and particularly its Facebook page. The photographs that he posts to the group are almost always obviously his without needing to read the caption, such is his distinctive style and personal ‘quality control’. He seems to have created quite a following locally, so much so that his influence is beginning to be seen in other people’s work within the group.

I’ve chatted with Cory previously about the desire for an artist, photographic or otherwise, to cultivate a look or style of their own; it’s what he calls a ‘unique visual signature’. Playing devil’s advocate, I suggested that the best photographers should be able to turn their hand to anything from holiday snaps of their kids to fine art. Cory stood his ground:

When I was studying, we obviously had to try our hand at various styles/techniques, which I think is important, as is a good understanding of the workings of a camera and the effects settings etc can have on the final image (there are lots who don’t get this aspect, but I think it’s essential). Speaking purely from a personal perspective, I feel my own show would maybe be diluted if I tried to have lots of different styles in there, I feel it has to have a distinct ‘whole’ as well as strong individual images. Having said that, it contains work that could be classed as portraiture, still life, architecture, street…..but I would say it all looks like ‘me’ if that makes sense.

Between us we came up with very few examples of artists who exhibited varied work. Their subject matter changed, but that signature style remained – you can tell a Parr or a McCullin or a Gursky without reading the caption, so well developed is their personal style. People like Philip-Lorca diCorcia may shoot travel photography to fund his art, but any influence from it is kept a long way from the gallery walls or the monograph.

Cory Scholes

Cory’s show at the Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery features work from the last 12 months (other than a couple from his previous exhibition in 1997 (does that make it a ‘retrospective’?)) and was shot in Paris, Valencia and mostly Leicester. These Parisian accents are enough to make the whole set feel continental and even the view of Leicester’s inner ring-road is mistaken for the Rue de la Somethingorother when given Cory’s treatment. Throughout, the rigorous adherence to his personal aesthetic remains.

There are a lot of photographs here, allowing us to immerse ourselves into the work but requiring time to fully appreciate. A great deal of thought has been put into their presentation and sequencing and Cory admits there ‘a couple of crowd-pleasers’ that he has strategically placed through the set. These more playful images and some colour work allow us to take a breath and relax from the occasionally oppressive contrast and abstract.

http://corydscholes-photographicart.co.uk/

The show is characterised by strong black and white contrasts, grain and blur, paired with unusual angles and cropping that breaks all sorts of compositional ‘rules’. It brings to mind Daido Moriyama, particularly his Farewell Photography set or a monochrome Uta Barth. Many images, particularly the colour photographs, are reminiscent of Saul Leiter‘s work although Cory tells me that he was a latecomer to Leiter and had developed his style independently.

The work, as with much contemporary art is less about technically accurate recreations of a scene and instead becomes the about the creativity and imagination of the artist and their ability to show us their interpretation of the scene. The viewer questions how the subject came to be in front of his lens and in many cases, why. These blurred, abstract, fragmentary views of the world appear to substantiate Cory’s photo-flâneur method:

In terms of how I work, to me it’s a very instinctive thing, I never have a set idea of what I’m going to take, I simply grab my camera and walk, and let the world reveal itself to me as it wants to, and when it does, I’m there to hopefully capture some of that hidden magic, and then subsequently it’s up to the image to hopefully connect and speak to the viewer.

Cory Scholes

Cory’s rigour (it’s that word again) and dedication to his aesthetic sets him apart from other local photographers. This exhibition allows him to present his world view on what feels a large and definitive scale. If you don’t ‘get it’ after seeing this set then you never will.

we think of photographs as fact, but they can also be fiction, metaphors or poetry
– Gerry Badger

All images remain copyright of Cory Scholes and were used with permission.

Cory’s blog post on the Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery site – http://lppg.wordpress.com/blogger-archive/cory-scholes-guest-blog/

Cory D Scholes website – http://corydscholes-photographicart.co.uk/