Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009, the curtain descends.... last post for the old year. Happy New Year!

Photograph made in Paris, November 2009.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Auckland, on the way to The Mall!

Here are some picture I made yesterday on the way to the Mall to buy some beach towels, necessitated after discovering my daughters had made the other ones disappear, god knows where! (What has this got to do with anything?)

It was worth braving the vileness of the post Christmas rush of deranged bargain shoppers because I managed to make these pictures in one sad and empty spot. The blue door looks like a Mondrian gone wrong and the yellow tangled picture seems to record a fight between the forces of man and nature. Nature winning of course. And the red steps are well, just forlorn.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Larry Sultan dies of cancer at 63

Larry Sultan, an admired photographer and maker of one of my favorite photo-books, Pictures From Home, died last Sunday at his home in California.

Here is an obituary from Edgar Allen Beem at PDN and two memorable photographs from Pictures From Home.

Born in New York in 1946, Sultan grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and earned an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1973. His mission as a photographer was to “raise questions about the construction of a photograph and make that construction apparent.” Throughout his 35-year career, Sultan’s work was always about how pictures mean as opposed to what they mean.

In 1977, Sultan published Evidence in collaboration with artist Mike Mandel. The work is a collection of appropriated and de-contextualized photographs from business, industry and government archives. It made the point that context is everything, and that meaning is not inherent in objects or images but is a function of human perception.

Sultan’s subsequent work was about making compelling photographs that explore illusion and reality. Pictures from Home, published in 1992, examined home, family and suburban domesticity in the late 20th century. Combining photographs of Sultan’s parents with family snapshots, business photos, and home movie stills, Pictures from Home was occasioned by his father’s forced early retirement as vice president for sales of Schick Safety Razor.

Sultan portrayed his father as a kind of latter-day Willie Loman, a Corporate Everyman put out to pasture, his most iconic image being a portrait of Irving Sultan in a blue business suit sitting on a bed. Mr. Sultan, however, insisted, “That’s not me” when he saw his vacant expression in his son’s photograph.

"When you photograph me,” Irving Sultan complained, “I feel everything leave me. The blood drains from my face, my eyelids droop, my thoughts disappear.”

Sultan told his parents not to smile in any of the Pictures from Home photographs because he did not want them to be emotionally engaging. He explained that his interest lay in the tension he created between that which is depicted and the construction of the photograph.

“In my work there is a lot of ambivalence, wanting it [the photograph] to be true, knowing it’s not,” Sultan told PDN last spring. Sultan took it as a given that the presence of a photographer and of a camera inevitably changes that which they attempt to depict. By including his father’s objections and disavowals in the text of Pictures from Home, Sultan subverted not only his photographs but himself.

Yet the photographs in Pictures from Home, noted Sultan, “are not totally contrived.” They did depict his real parents in the photographer's real home, but under the direction of their son, the unseen man with a camera. Still, in the tension between the artist and his subjects, Sultan believed that something about the nature of home and family is revealed.

“That’s my abiding faith in my practice – how can the work itself call attention to its own construction?”

In 2004, Larry Sultan: The Valley (Scalo) extended Sultan’s investigations of myths and illusions into the realm of sexual fantasy, focusing on how the pornography industry appropriates homes in the San Fernando Valley as weekend sets for skin flicks. The Valley took the idea of “home” into the dangerous terrain of desire where the real homes of real people become the “realistic” settings for the films.

“I’m interested not in pornography, but rather in dismantling it, in exploring domesticity, the construction of desire,” Sultan once explained to a curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Sultan’s best photographs had the faux look of staged scenarios, an element of personal style that adds irony to the implied sincerity of the scenes he depicts.

“I’ve always tried to make whatever I do mine,” Sultan said, noting that when Interview asked him to photograph the over-exposed Paris Hilton, a celebrity famous simply for being famous, he insisted on doing it on his own terms.

“I said I’d do it if she would go to my parents’ house and let me photograph her in my childhood home in her underwear like a horny teenager,” Sultan said.

One of Sultan’s last projects, which he called Homeland, consisted of staged photographs of immigrants on the fringes of the California suburban landscapes. He hired immigrant day laborers as “actors” and depicted them in a variety of scenes, such as fetching water from a stream and carrying bowls along a weedy path behind cookie cutter tract homes.

“In all of the things I’m drawn to,” said Sultan, “photographs have a major role in constructing the mythology of the thing.”

And whether he is photographing home and family, sex and cinema, or immigrants in search of the American Dream, Sultan had a major role in deconstructing the mythology of the thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gabriel Orozco at MoMA

Gabriel Orozco is one of my favorite artists. From the New York Times issue of December 13, Holland Cotter reviews Orozco's show at MoMA:

Gabriel Orozco’s 1993 solo debut at the Museum of Modern Art was a barely there, very un-MoMA affair of a few photographs, a ball of clay, a hammock and some fresh fruit. His one-man show at Marian Goodman the next year was sparser still, with four plastic Dannon yogurt lids nailed to the walls of the gallery’s otherwise empty big front space.

Mr. Orozco got instant mileage out of thinking light. He was tapped by museums in Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Mexico City, where he grew up. He became an object of admiring critical scrutiny, and a hero to many young artists, especially in his home country. In 2000 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles organized a traveling career retrospective, and now at 47 he’s getting another one, called “Gabriel Orozco,” at MoMA.

He has, in short, received a degree of intense and sustained attention that relatively few artists, young or old, ever get. Why? The question lingers, only half-answered, after seeing his retrospective, a taut, attractive, but oddly conventional looking survey, heavy on painting and sculpture.

At least part of the reason for his continuing appeal can still be traced to the memory of that charmed first MoMA show, and the young, footloose artist who produced it. Born in 1962, the child of a leftist mural painter and teacher, Mr. Orozco studied art in Mexico City and then left for Spain, Brazil and New York, in the process immersing himself in international culture.

He learned what he liked and didn’t like. He was turned off by the big, expensive painting that defined a bloated 1980s market. He was attracted to the spare, idea-driven, Dada-inflected art of older figures like John Cage, Joseph Beuys and Piero Manzoni, and Brazilian conceptualists like Cildo Meireles and Lygia Clark.

Dodging commitments to mediums or styles, he took improvisation as his baseline method, and turned personal quirks into assets. Studios made him antsy, so he did without one. Instead he wandered, poked around, made art from what he found, often where he found it. Sometimes he created, added to or tweaked a situation. He photographed the results: a mist of warm breath on a dark wood surface; a pattern of circles traced by wet bicycle wheels; oranges, like little celestial bodies, placed, one per table, on a receding line of tables in a outdoor market.

Some of these photographs were in the 1993 MoMA show, along with the ball of soft clay that Mr. Orozco had rolled through Manhattan streets until it was black with grime. He hung the hammock in MoMA’s sculpture garden; anyone could use it. The fresh fruit? He arranged oranges in neat rows in apartment windows across the street from the museum. You looked up and there they were: bright dots connecting art and life.

It’s useful to remember that this pixilated exhibition came just a few years after the stock market had bottomed out, pulling the art market down with it. A revulsion against 1980s materialism had set in, and many young artists were heading in the opposite direction. In addition, identity politics, simmering through the previous decade, had come into its own, and the appearance of Mr. Orozco, a young Mexican artist, at MoMA was a political event.

Even if his art wasn’t directly shaped by any of these factors, it was a timely package. And this took a particularly succinct form in his contribution to the 1993 Venice Biennale: a single empty cardboard shoebox left on a gallery floor. This was a perfectly judged gesture: commanding in its modesty, vulnerable in its openness, and obliquely critical. Intended as a sly reference to the cramped exhibition quarters he’d been allotted, the piece might also be read as a comment on the scant room given to Latin American artists in history.

Gestures tend to lose some of their energy when they’re repeated. The shoebox is in the MoMA survey, it’s the first thing you see in the galleries. The dirty ball is there too. So are the yogurt lids, nailed to partition walls. But they feel archival.

The shock and delight of puzzlement, of seeing nothing turn into something before your eyes, are gone.

No one’s to blame; this is the way certain art operates in time. But the consequence in this case is a show dominated by a different, more traditional aspect of Mr. Orozco’s activity, namely his steady and increasing production of paintings, drawings, and sculptures, many — too many — of elaborate ingenuity.

The large early sculpture “La DS,” made in Paris in 1993, is basically a ready-made à la Duchamp, but seriously altered. He cut a 1960s Citroën DS lengthwise into three slices. He extracted the center slice, which held the engine, and rejoined what was left to create a skinny, doofy-looking, nonrunning vehicle that accommodated one passenger in front, one in back. One of Mr. Orozco’s best-known images, it has invited varied interpretations — it’s about technology gone batty, about consumerism, about French national amour-propre. What it is is an audacious joke, a 3-D cartoon, not much more.

Mr. Orozco has since designed things of even more complicated cleverness, like a Ping-Pong table with a lily pond in the middle; a sculptural house incorporating pianos; an outsize chessboard in which all the pieces are black, white or brown knights; and four bicycles welded together and going nowhere fast. The MoMA organizers — Ann Temkin, chief curator of sculpture and painting, and Paulina Pobocha, a curatorial assistant — have passed on these cumbersome bagatelles, but have included two of Mr. Orozco’s largest works.

One, “Mobile Matrix” (2006), is composed of an intact whale skeleton, its bones decorated with circular designs drawn in graphite. Suspended in midair in the MoMA atrium, it seems to have “Why?” written all over it. Yes, the Mexico City library that commissioned it had a large space to fill, as does MoMA. But Mr. Orozco’s demonstrable — and wonderful — Zen-like gift is for doing much with little, not for providing architectural filler.

Filler is also the word for “Samurai Tree Invariants” (2006), a series of more than 600 digital prints representing all the possible permutations of the red-yellow-blue-black-white-gold palette used by Mr. Orozco in sleek abstract paintings. The prints, which cover four walls of a second-floor gallery like wallpaper, are in turn being used as templates for a new line of paintings being turned out, atelier-factory style, with Mr. Orozco involved long-distance, submitting designs by e-mail.

The colors and forms in these series suggest the utopian, total-environment spirit of early modernism. Mondrian comes to mind; so does the Bauhaus, as exemplified in another show now at the museum. But what is Mr. Orozco really up to? Is he mocking these models? Revisiting them, as many artists — refugees from postmodernism — are, with a sense of relief? Either way, seen in the context of his earlier art, the prints and paintings come across as the work of a former maverick turned mainstream player.

This impression is reinforced by the sheer volume of scholarly writing devoted to Mr. Orozco, including catalog essays by the scholars Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Briony Fer, both of whom enshrine him in wordage. Possibly because he has been careful to distance his art from overt Mexicanness, he has become in some academic circles the canonical contemporary Latin American artist, in much the same way that William Kentridge, a white South African, has become the token African artist.

All of this is, of course, peripheral to the art, and Mr. Orozco’s intelligent inventiveness is not in question.

The dozens of small sculptures set out on shelves and tables in the last gallery are proof. Some are sketchy or merely busy, but others do what Mr. Orozco has always done best: find the cosmic in the commonplace, sweeten abjection with wisdom and wit. And at some point he may decide which he really wants to be: the artist of poetic epiphanies or of institutional product. In this show he is both.

“Gabriel Orozco” continues through March 1 at the Museum of Modern Art;

I have highlighted a couple of lines from this review. I really like the notion of "puzzlement" and of nothing turning into something.... doing much with little. Isn't this what we all aspire to.....

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Here are some very preliminary double page spreads (in fact the first section of the book) from my new book-work which I'm calling NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. Many of the pictures were made in Paris and London this last November and some in Rome last year....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Roberts v Bialobrzeski - continued

I've been tracking back and forth on my blog comparing Roberts v Bialobrzeski's pictures. Although superficially very similar on close inspection they reveal themselves to be quite different. In my view Peter's pictures are better seen. They have a clarity of vision, a resonance and finesse that I just don't see in Simon's pictures. Peter's view is removed, although perhaps a German thing, it heightens the sense of "strange". With his Heimat series there is a feeling of mystery and enigma, whereas in Simon's set the pictures don't seem to rise above being mere documents. I've always had a problem with the Bialobrzeski snow picture I posted yesterday which at first look has all the attributes of a Hallmark Card. These postings have forced me to look harder and the picture goes way beyond that. Perhaps the problem was with my view.....
Peter is a friend and we saw each other at Paris Photo.... and Simon and I shared a book-signing session at Schaden. I don't always like all of Peter's work (and I know he feels the same about my stuff) but when he gets it right he really gets it right.... his Heimat series works..... there are some pictures there I wish I had made, or wish I could make.

Mark Page of the blog Manchester Photography has this to say about Simon Roberts' WE ENGLISH. I've never met Mark but he has a great sense of humor....

"I've never got what all the fuss is about when it comes to We English by Simon Roberts. Starting with the title, it makes no sense. The work is clearly only about one very slender section of English life. Leisure, and a very slender section of leisure at that. It should be called 'These are the leisure pastimes of the readers of The Daily Mail with one picture of pissed scousers, some Blackpool shots and a picture of some Maccum footie fans thrown in to represent the North and non Mail reading English folk'. Although granted that's not such a catchy title but it is more accurate. No signs of Multiculturalism or Diversity in Roberts' England. Us English are apparently forever condemned to live in the home counties in 1955 with just the odd trip to 'The Lakes'. It received Arts Council money, I hope The National Trust have put their hands in their pockets, it sure looks like one of their ads."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Simon Roberts v Peter Bialobrzeski - part 1

Here are four pictures from Peter Bialobrzeski's 2005 book HEIMAT...

Simon Roberts v Peter Bialobrzeski - part 2

Here are four pictures from Simon Robert's just published book

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jessica Backhaus, special guest at Dijkstra/Graham workshop

Following our meeting at Paris Photo I'm very pleased to say that German / American photographer Jessica Backhaus will be coming to Auckland to join the AUT Rineka Dijstra / Paul Graham workshop as a special guest.

Jessica Backhaus was born in Cuxhaven, Germany in 1970. At the age of sixteen, she moved to Paris where she studied photography and visual communications. Here she would meet Gisele Freund in 1992, who became her mentor and close friend. In 1995 her passion for photography drew her to New York, where she started assisting photographers and pursued her own projects. Since then her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including The National Portrait Gallery in London and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.

In Fall 2005 her first book, Jesus and the Cherries was published by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg. Fall 2008 brought two new books, both published by Kehrer Verlag. The first titled What Still Remains and the second book One Day in November which is a visual homage to Gisèle Freund, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday in December 2008.

Jessica Backhaus is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, Robert Morat Galerie in Hamburg and The Photographers' Gallery in London. Jessica is now based in Berlin.

Using an unusual color language Jessica's work is quite poetic and profound photographing the everyday with warmth and authenticity. Here are two spreads from the book Jesus and the Cherries and two photographs from the book What Still Remains.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

get the picture.....

... is a photographers collective based in Paris, so far with six members. My connection to get the picture came about via facebook and one of the collectives members Simon Kossoff. Simon is originally from Brighton England, but now lives in Kansas City.
My introduction to Simon came through a mutual friend Marcus Haydock, a very fine and perceptive photographer whom I met some years ago when I gave a talk at Brighton University. I have always said the world of photography is really small. So here is proof.

In Paris this November I met gtp member Damien Lafargue and
was royally entertained at his home over dinner. As I live and work for much of the time in Auckland it is easy to feel isolated and disenfranchised. It therefore comes as a great pleasure to meet these photographers who not only are pleasant and generous individuals but also share a photographic vision keeping me connected to the World.

Here are some pictures from Simon Kossoff. I think you will see why there is a connection......

Paris in November - new pictures

Am working on a new (yet to be titled, well ok I'm not telling here) book project with photographs made in Paris and London this last November. Am trying to make the pictures as visually simple as possible but with maximum potential to extract a narrative. Here are five pictures. The world is a strange place when you really start to look.....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Paris / London picture edit.... first look are some first runs over the target, pictures I'll look at again and might use, might not..... these ones from London.

I came across these thoughts from Gabriel Orozco, good to have in the mind's eye while editing.

......Orozco pays meticulous attention to what he calls the "liquidity of things" as seen in mundane and evanescent objects and elements of everyday life- the momentary fog on a polished piano top, a deflated football, tins of cat food balanced on watermelons, light through leaves, the screech of a tire, chess pieces on a chessboard. "People forget that I want to disappoint," he has said. "I use that word deliberately. I want to disappoint the expectations of the one who waits to be amazed. When you make a decision someone is going to be disappointed because they think they know you. It is only then that the poetic can happen."

Paris Photo - after thoughts

Although not having a fix on gallery sales figures there seemed little evidence that the World's Economic Woes had any impact on Paris Photo 2009. Attendance was up from 37,760 last year to 40,150 this, clearly evident from the long lines waiting to get tickets.
For me Paris Photo is about catching-up with friends, renewing contacts and making new ones, and of course photobooks, (Schaden alone had 30 book signings!) which doesn't leave a lot of time for close inspection of the work on the walls. Having said this, one couldn't help but notice the over-hyped, make it large, wow I'm an "artist" work that stood out largely due to its lack of authenticity and appalling lack of substance. For me it's hard to go past an Atget or a Kertesz and they were there too.

It was great to meet delightful people whose work I admire, photographers Rob Hornstra, Andrew Phelps, with his new book NOT NIIGATA, Jessica Backhaus, with her publisher Klaus Kehrer, and her galerist Robert Morat from Hamburg, at Paris Photo for the first time and with one of the better showings. Great to catch-up with John Gossage and swap my SMALL ANARCHIES for his A FEW YEARS WITH A TELECASTER, this a knock-out small but perfectly formed book in an edition of only 50 copies. Good to see Antoine d'Agata, in Paris briefly before going back to Cambodia. Peter Bialobrzeski with a new book CASE STUDY HOMES. Martin Parr with his book LUXURY. Gerry Badger as laconic as ever. The team at Peter Fraser over from London. Christoph Schifferli in from Zürich. And Jim and Millie Casper from Lens Culture and their out-there Paris Photo party.

Subversive Fabien Breuvart was true to form when on opening night he dumped a truck load of "found photographs" at the Carousel du Louvre entry. I managed to grab a few small gems as a bunch of us headed off for the usual opening night dinner.... You can take a look here:

If you are involved in photography Paris Photo offers something for everybody. For me it reminds me just how small the photo universe is and that everybody knows everybody. And if you go along with Woody Allen's dictum that "90% of life is showing up" making the arduous trip from Auckland to Paris just for Paris Photo is well worth the effort. Surprising things can happen and they did! More about that later.......

here are a couple of pictures that get across a little of the PP flavor.....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hello Auckland Goodbye Paris

Three weeks in Paris never went so fast! Back to a mountain of emails, picture editing and projects to climb into. Not to mention blog entries. Paris Photo special as a place to catch up with friends and float new ideas. So much to do now..... here is a self-picture of Shelley and me, just for the record and to prove that we were there.....