Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Short History of Photography - John Daly-Peoples reviews

Arts writer John Daly-Peoples of New Zealand's National Business Review writes:

Harvey Benge invents a new history of photography.
Most artists are copiers, inspired and guided by other artists. In many cases this stylistic appropriation is obvious as with work by Michael Parekowhai in his borrowings from McMahon, Walters and Moore. However for most artists the borrowing is not intentional and not immediately obvious with influences continually refined and redefined.
Appropriation in its various forms is the history of art. No artist is really free from the ideas, processes and styles of the past.
In his latest book of photographs A Short History of Photography, Harvey Benge has acknowledged his connections to other photographers and the history of photography.
Initially he noticed that one of his pictures reminded him of a Friedlander, another of someone else. Picking out his Friedlander and his Parr and his Baltz he embarked on a collection of contemporary photography featuring some of its biggest names.
So the book lists the names of these photographers on the cover of his own version of the history of photography.
Its generally easy to see the connections although sometimes as with his industrial tower work it is really just a witty reference to the Bechers work.
It is a nice conceit, the idea that one person can embody the history of an art form and Benge pulls it off partly because his own approach and style are still obvious.
In many of the examples where he has seen connections between his and other photographers work the similarity only alerts the viewer to the fact that there are other connections.
So when he uses one of his seascapes to show the similarity to the work of Sugimoto the work could equally well be a nod to the seascapes of Laurence Aberhart.
Similarly when he links his shot of a high flying plane to the work of Tillmans there is as much a connection with a similar work by Peter Peryer.
And his beach scene by Vitale looks like the famous Brian Brake image.
One could probably go through his appropriated works expanding the linkages and connections with a host of other photographers.
The introduction to the book by Gerry Badger makes some perceptive comments about photographic style noting that Susan Sontag believed that “Style in photography… is a function of subject matter. In short it is usually a matter of the style for the job.”
Badger also makes the point that “It is also important that the pictures here did not arise from a conscious stylistic exercise where Harvey Benge set out deliberately to make a Shore or Koudelka. These images emerged from his normal practice as a street photographer.”
While the book is interesting from the point of view of guessing the photographer they real pleasure with this book is that it is another set of the photographers work in which he takes an idiosyncratic look at the world, seeing humour, drama, eroticism, dysfunction and unity in the world about him.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rome - Posters and Pines

There is something that always hits you in any city and becomes a sort of visual leitmotif. In Rome's case two recurring visual elements would have to be the endless variations of the torn posters that grab you at almost every step. I had to photograph these, even at the risk of producing Aaron Siskind me too, look alike cliches. The variations roll on in their tattered beauty and are a great way of taking the current political temperature, which in the case of Italy is often bubbling if not boiling. Then there are the pine trees, impossible to miss and a constant reminder that Rome is a southern Mediterranean city. They are tall and ragged reaching for the sky and light between the apartment blocks and down the median strips of endless avenues. And what a beautiful green against the ochre yellow earth colours of the buildings. And the smell hits you too, a waft here and there. Here are three torn posters and pine trees with a cross thrown in. A cross because they too are impossible to avoid in this ecclesiastical city.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rome - Time passing

I can think of no other place where the sense of time past and time passing is so evident. In the streets, in the trees, in the landscape. In the air. Time is on my mind when in Rome.

Rome - polarities

Rome, a city of incredible extremes. Polarities that make this place so special. So profound. The ancient and the modern, the sacred and profane, substance and trivia, the real and unreal. To illustrate, here are three confessionals and a green shed with old stump.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Polish people (are wonderful!)

The wonderful Poles....charming, friendly, delightful, smiling and hospitable. Here are three people I photographed; a guy at the train station, a young woman from Warsaw in Lodz to see the festival, and a gentleman whom I took to be the mayor of a little town outside of Lodz where photography students were showing work in an abandoned prison.

Polish style

My May European travels took me to Poland, mostly in Lodz for the Photography Festival - and with a few days in Krakow with time to take in their month of photography -
Although today very much a part of greater Europe there seems to be evident a particular sense of Polish style, a particular visual look in their design. A sort of modernist thing it seemed to me. Here are two photographs that have that look.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Short History of Photography - Launch in Auckland

Next Tuesday night June 10th between 5 - 7pm at John Leech Gallery in Auckland I will launch my latest book A Short History of Photography.This is published in New Zealand by Random House as a co-edition with my British publisher Dewi Lewis. Gerry Badger, British photography critic and writer in his introductory essay writes: "While looking through his contact sheets, Harvey Benge noticed that one of his pictures reminded him of a 'Friedlander', another someone else. All photographers do this, and if the photograph in question apes another photographer too closely, it's usually a cause for rejection. But Benge did the opposite. Picking out his 'Friedlander' and his 'Parr' and his 'Baltz' he decided to make an 'anthology' of contemporary photography featuring some of its biggest names. Yet they are all genuine, original Benges. They are also all good pictures, not mere pastiches of the 'originals' of which they gently but insistently remind one. This may be a game, but games can be very serious, and this fascinating book is both a serious and light-hearted exploration of photographic style."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Satellite Gallery - They Were Young Once

In the company of Bruce Connew, Marti Friedlander and Gil Hanly I will show at the Satellite gallery in Auckland, this image,
BL Medici, made in 2003. The show opens on Tuesday June 3. Also opening same night is a group show at The John Leech Gallery where I will show images from my new book A Short History of Photography. Work from this book is also showing in Paris at SPREE, 16 rue la vieuville in the 18th.

Paris - Small Anarchies

Back from Paris, just. Here are some preliminary images from random wanderings in the street. No real idea in mind. Chance and circumstance. Looking through what I shot, Paris life seems to have taken on a sub human quality, where humanity, has become secondary to the constructed, the ephemeral, the unreal. A Baudrillard simulacrum, where the hyperreal has become truth in its own right. There are many readings, many pictures and many edits too. What to make of this?