Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Auckland - Rineke Dijkstra / Paul Graham workshop - it's a wrap

The AUT St Paul Street workshop with Rineke Dijkstra and Paul Graham concluded on Sunday night. Twenty participants including a big group from Christchurch, and from Sydney, Melbourne and special guest Jessica Backhaus from Berlin spent three charged days with Rineke and Paul and my feeling was that everybody left super positive and more motivated than ever. Rineke and Paul showed their work and talked about their working processes and participants presented their work which was discussed in open forum.

As is so often the case with artists at the top of their game Rineke and Paul were delightful, modest, funny, and showed signs of the uncertainty that we all feel. And not to mention were inspiring teachers. For me it was a great relief to discover that Rineke suffers, just as I do from "camera manual phobia". Here are a few shots from the workshop including a group picture which was made by Ans Westra who happened to be passing by. There is also a photograph made by Becky Nunes of Ans shooting the group.

It was great that Rinke and Paul made the big trip down here, very special thanks to them and thanks to Neil Cameron and Leonhard Emmerling at AUT for putting their energy and enthusiasm into the workshop. Thanks too to everybody who attended ..... roll on the 5th edition in 2011!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Paul Graham - Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult

(The text was written for the Yale MFA photography graduation book - Yale MFA Photography 2009: We Belong Together)

It’s so easy it's ridiculous. It’s so easy that I can’t even begin – I just don’t know where to start. After all, it’s just looking at things. We all do that. It’s simply a way of recording what you see – point the camera at it, and press a button. How hard is that? And what's more, in this digital age, its free - doesn't even cost you the price of film. It’s so simple and basic, it's ridiculous.

It’s so difficult because it’s everywhere, every place, all the time, even right now. It's the view of this pen in my hand as I write this, it's an image of your hands holding this book, Drift your consciousness up and out of this text and see: it's right there, across the room - there... and there. Then it’s gone. You didn’t photograph it, because you didn’t think it was worth it. And now it’s too late, that moment has evaporated. But another one has arrived, instantly. Now. Because life is flowing through and around us, rushing onwards and onwards, in every direction.

But if it's everywhere and all the time, and so easy to make, then what’s of value? which pictures matter? Is it the hard won photograph, knowing, controlled, previsualised? Yes. Or are those contrived, dry and belabored? Sometimes. Is it the offhand snapshot made on a whim. For sure. Or is that just a lucky observation, some random moment caught by chance? Maybe. Is it an intuitive expression of liquid intelligence? Exactly. Or the distillation of years of looking seeing thinking photography. Definitely.

"life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can admit to in a lifetime, and stay sane" - Thomas Pynchon, V

Ok, so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here and now. How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary? Do I walk down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should just photograph the land, the rocks and trees – they don't move or complain or push back. The old houses? The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all?

Yes and yes and yes. That's the choice you are spoiled for, but just don't let it stop you. Be aware of it, but don't get stuck – relax, it’s everything and everywhere. You will find it, and it will find you, just start, somehow, anyhow, but: start.

Yes, but shouldn’t I have a clear coherent theme, surely I have to know what I’m doing first? That would be nice, but I doubt Robert Frank knew what it all meant when he started, or for that matter Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe or Atget or... so you shouldn’t expect it. The more preplanned it is the less room for surprise, for the world to talk back, for the idea to find itself, allowing ambivalence and ambiguity to seep in, and sometimes those are more important than certainty and clarity. The work often says more than the artist knows.

Ok, but my photography doesn't always fit into neat, coherent projects, so maybe I need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it's all my life, surely it will make sense? Perhaps. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s indulgent, but really it’s your choice, because you are also free to not make 'sense'.

"so finally even this story is absurd, which is an important part of the point, if any, since that it should have none whatsoever seems part of the point too" - Malcolm Lowry, Ghostkeeper.

Ok, so I do need time to think about this. To allow myself that freedom for a short time. A couple of years. Maybe I won't find my answer, but I will be around others who understand this question, who have reached a similar point. Maybe I’ll start on the wrong road, or for the wrong reasons – because I liked cameras, because I thought photography was an easy option, but if I’m forced to try, then perhaps I’ll stumble on some little thing, that makes a piece of sense to me, or simply just feels right. If I concentrate on that, then maybe it grows, and in its modest, ineffable way, begins to matter. Like photographing Arab-Americans in the USA as human beings with lives and hopes and families and feelings, straight, gay, young, old, with all the humanity that Hollywood never grants them. Or the black community of New Haven, doing inexplicable joyous, ridiculous theatrical-charades that explode my preconceptions into a thousand pieces. Or funny-disturbing-sad echoes of a snapshot of my old boyfriend. Or the anonymous suburban landscape of upstate in a way that defies the spectacular images we're addicted to. Or... how women use our bodies to display who we believe we should be, Or...

"A Novel? No, I don't have the endurance any more. To write a novel, you have to be like Atlas, holding up the whole world on your shoulders, and supporting it there for months and years, while its affairs work themselves out..." - J. M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year.

And hopefully I will carry on, and develop it, because it is worthwhile. carry on because it matters when other things don't seem to matter so much: the money job, the editorial assignment, the fashion shoot. Then one day it will be complete enough to believe it is finished. Made. Existing. Done. And in its own way: a contribution, and all that effort and frustration and time and money will fall away. It was worth it, because it is something real, that didn't exist before you made it exist: a sentient work of art and power and sensitivity, that speaks of this world and your fellow human beings place within it. Isn't that beautiful?

By Paul Graham

Photograph by Caitlin Price, Zdenka, 2009

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rineke Dijkstra, a conversation

The following interview with Rineke Dijkstra is from Image Makers, Image Takers: Interviews with Today's Leading Curators, Editors and Photographers (Thames & Hudson, 2007) written by British-based journalist and critic Anne-Celine Jaeger.

Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra tends to work in series, concentrating on individual portraits. She focuses on people in a transitional stage of their lives, such as women after giving birth in 'Mothers', adolescents and pre-adolescents in her 'Beach' series and new recruits in 'Israeli Soldiers'.

When did you get into photography?
I was studying to be an arts and crafts teacher, but didn't feel comfortable doing that. Then a friend lent me his camera once and I just thought, 'this is it.' I was 19. I did a photography course to learn the practical side of things and then went to Gerrit Rietveld Akademie, an art school in Amsterdam. I've always liked observing. Even as a kid I was obsessed with watching people that looked special to me.

Do you think it's important to be technically proficient?
It depends what kind of photography you do. It's important to know the possibilities in terms of what you can do. For example, how I use the flash and light is very important in my images. For me it was a case of learning by doing because I never understood anything they taught me at school. about authenticity. I try to find people that have something special. I don't even know what it is. It's intuition. The pictures of the kids in the Tiergarten in Berlin, for example, came about because those children were actually playing a game and I was simply to get to know them just by observing them when I am taking the picture. I try and look for an uninhibited moment, where people forget about trying to control the image of themselves. People go into sort of trance because so much concentration is needed from both photographer and the subject when you are working with a 4x5. Even the tiniest movement means you have to refocus. I also need to be able to relate to my subject. For example, when I took the portraits of the girls in the Buzzclub in Liverpool, England I could relate tothem. I tried doing the same in other clubs, but it just didn't work.

What interests you about the transition of a person?
I think photography really lets you examine how a person is changing. When I was photographing Olivier, the Frenchman who enlisted in the Foreign Legion, every time I went to see him I thought he hadn't changed at all. But in the picture you can see the change in his eyes, in his expression. They were subtle, but you could see them clearly.

What do you look for in your subjects?
It's important for me to know the location is right before I approach a subject. Then, I'll find the subject within that location and work from what the subject does. When subjects are posing for me, I don't ever want to manipulate them too much.

What is your aim when taking pictures?
I want to show things you might not see in normal life. I make normal things appear special. I want people to look at life in a new and different way, but it always has to be based on reality. It's important that you don't pass judgement, and leave space for interpretation. For example, in the Almerisa series, the young Bosnian refugee, whose portrait I took for the first time in the early 1990s, it was important for me not to show any specific details of her surroundings such as the décor of the apartment. If you show too much of a subject's personal life, the viewer will immediately make assumptions. If you leave out the details, the viewer has to look for much subtler hints such as how her shoelaces are tied, or her lipstick or the state of her The same goes for the picture of the boy in Odessa.You could show he is poor by including a trashcan or a stray cat in the picture. But for me it's all about subtlety and the fact that you really have to read the image to get clues about the boy.That makes it equal for everybody.
I like it when photographs are democratic. I usually find that portraits work best if you don't have a specific idea of what you are looking for. You have to be open for anything to happen. If you try and force something, there is always the danger of a picture becoming too one-dimensional.

How did you come up with the idea for the 'Beach' series?
I broke my hip about 15 years ago and started doing self-portraits after swimming in the pool where I was doing physiotherapy. I was fascinated by capturing something unconscious and natural in a photograph, something that was miles away from the boring and predictable businessmen I had until then mostly photographed. I was interested in photographing people at moments when they had dropped all pretence of a pose. Once I began taking these pictures, I realized I would prefer to do a series because it gave me a better grip on a subject.

What equipment do you use?
I use a 4x5 inch field camera with a standard lens and a tripod. The negatives are the size of postcards, which gives you really wonderful sharp detail and contrast. The end result is that your photograph is almost more real than reality.

How do you set up your lights?
In the beginning I always had really complicated lighting set-ups because I thought: the more lights, the better the picture. Now I work with as few lights as possible. For me, daylight is the main source of light, and the flash is really only there to lighten the shadows. I use one Lumedyne flash. It works with batteries so you can use it inside and outside.

How many frames do you shoot per subject?
I take about four or five sheets of film per subject, but I might shoot about five different people in a park on any given day. I've realized that I can't just go to a park and wait for the right person to turn up. I have to start working. Then I get into it and become part of the environment. It's a development. For example, a picture I took of a little girl in Barcelona only came about at the end of my working day. I was actually finished and packing up but then I saw her. She was there with her dad riding that scooter, looking at me like 'What are you doing?' and it's exactly the same look as in the photo. That's what I'm looking for. It's got to be emphatic. If you see the picture, it shouldn't look forced, it should look like a snapshot. You're not supposed to think it's all set up. You should take it for granted and it should be totally natural somehow. I took three frames of her. That's how long her concentration lasted. But I got my picture.

How do you edit your pictures?
I scan the negatives and make them bigger so you can see more. Then I might leave them for two weeks because you need distance to see properly. It happens to me that I take a picture and I think it doesn't work at all and then I look at it three years later and I think it's a great picture. It's probably linked to having something in mind and being disappointed that your expectations weren't met, but then realizing later that it was in fact a lucky moment. But in general I make sure the light, the facial expression and the posture of the body look right.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I like the work of contemporary portrait photographers like Thomas Struth, Paul Graham and Judith Joy Ross as well as some of the older generation, in particular Diane Arbus and August Sander a lot, but generally I get more out of looking at old paintings such as the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Versproncks at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I think the light, as well as the emotional and psychological forces at play are so incredible in those paintings. I prefer the old classics to contemporary art shows.

What art form does photography come closest to?
Perhaps sculpture. I think it's important that people understand and look at photography in a more abstract way. It's about being able to imagine looking behind the image as if it was three-dimensional.

Why do you print your images large format?
I like it when a picture is monumental – especially in a museum setting. But for me it's also important that if you stand in front of my picture, you feel the urge to come closer. If photos are too large, people tend to look at them only froma distance. I like them to be printed big enough so people view them froma distance but small enough so that they step forward and look for all the details in the picture. I think there is a whole story in all those details. It's about intimacy too.

Do you ever do editorial work?
When I first left art school I did portraits for magazines and newspapers but found it difficult because I wanted to create something more substantial that related to everybody, not just to one specific person. I learnt a lot about how to be technical, how to work with people and how to work fast, but now I'm more interested in my personal projects. Occasionally I do assignments for The New York Times Magazine.

Do you think people can learn a certain way of seeing?
I think everybody can do it. Diane Arbus said that you just have to choose a subject and continue photographing it for as long as something comes out of it. You always have to use your own fascinations as a starting point. It's the same if you are in a group of people: you will always look at the people who are the most interesting to you. The same goes for photography, you have to photograph what you like. Passion is really important.

What excites you most about photography?
I love being totally in the moment, when everything comes together and is just right. You actually see things clearer. But I can spend weeks in the park without ever seeing anything interesting and I never know whether it is because it simply isn't there or because I just didn't see it.

What makes one image stand out more than another?
A photograph works best when the formal aspects such as light, colour and composition, as well as the informal aspects like someone's gaze or gesture come together. In my pictures I also look for a sense of stillness and serenity. I like it when everything is reduced to its essence. You try to get things to reach a climax. A moment of truth.

Rineke arrives in Auckland next week for her AUT workshop with Paul Graham.

The photograph above is Poland, July 27 1992

Monday, January 4, 2010

Auckland, walking my camera, its first outing for 2010

Here are some of my first pictures from 2010. Four pictures here from the hundreds (thousands even) I could have made. Why make these pictures and not something else? Where do they fit, what's the point and does it even matter?

Paul Graham, an interview.....

..... Paul Graham talks with Richard Woodward, New York City, June 2007.

RW: Let’s start with this new book, which is actually a series of books, and work backwards. How did the project originate?

PG: Well, my principal source was from reading Chekhov’s Short Stories, and the critical essays around those. A lot of people have tried to understand why this writing works so well, since in the stories there’s not much happening. They’re dealing with the simple, everyday things—in one of them a woman is combing her hair for six pages, remembering that night at the theater; in another a school teacher is coming home in a cart dreaming of meeting the landowner, who does ride past and they exchange a few pleasantries, but nothing more. But there’s something magical about how perfectly described they are, the transparency of what’s happening, without guff or show, simply described, with nothing proscribed.

I’ve been traveling around the States for a while now, and wanted to do something looser and freer, to take pictures of people at the most ordinary, everyday moments—cutting the grass or waiting for the bus, smoking cigarettes or traveling to and from the supermarket. I wanted to reflect Chekhov’s openness, his simple transparency; this was something I tried to move toward. I’m not, of course, literally illustrating Chekhov’s stories, but simply isolating a small rivulet of time. So, each of the individual books is a photographic short story, a filmic haiku. They are quite short, but complete in their own modest way.

RW: But difficult to convey, I would think, no? The layout must have been the crucial step.

PG: Yes, in terms of making them, it was a process of letting go of one’s own pretensions and not looking for this great summation picture of any given situation. For example, while photographing a man smoking at a bus stop in Vegas, I just had to slow down, take a step back, and realize that the moment before and the moment after are just as valuable as the instant when he takes the perfect drag on the cigarette.

The multiple book form is the most logical development of this—ten or twelve volumes each holding one or two stories within their pages; self-contained yet linked to each other. And I’m fortunate enough to have Michael Mack and Gerhard Steidl support this. One book has just a single picture in it; another has 64 pages of images taken at an intersection in New Orleans, watching life roll by.

RW: Where was the picture of the lawn mowing man taken? It’s fantastic.

PG: Thank you. it's in Pittsburgh. That was one of my early road trips and I really wasn’t expecting much. When I set out I thought, I’ll never be able to do anything good, so I’ll just have fun, and see the country a bit. But then I saw this guy cutting the grass. It’s kind of perfect that his shirt is a riff on the American flag too.

RW: What I like about the work is that you are clearly dissatisfied with the confines of traditional documentary but you haven’t made the jump, as so many do, to video. You haven’t given into temptations…

PG: …like staging my work. I’ve never wanted to become a filmmaker. I’ve always seen the two major tropes in photography as the studio and the street. And I’m a street person. I don’t get tired of trying to understand and look at the wonderful amazing nature of what’s around us. Yes, I have dissatisfaction with classic documentary language. It was wonderful when it was invented. But it has to be alive, to grow, develop, just like the spoken word. We don’t speak the same way we spoke in 1938 or 1956, so why should we make pictures the same way?

RW: But the dissatisfaction of others, particularly with the narrative limitations of photography, has led them to add sound or moving image sequences. You seem determined—and happy—to stay within the boundaries.

PG: Well, some might see these books as leading toward building a narrative.

RW: Clearly.

PG: Part of this is about the new flexibility of digital photography. You are able to shoot and shoot and then look at everything on screen. The technology does liberate people. You can get remarkable quality, close to 4x5, working on the street.

RW: But you are clearly an outsider and we never learn much about these people.

PG: I have no problem with that. I don’t want to feign being intimate with somebody I meet 5 minutes ago. I accept and embrace that so much in life is “ships passing in the dark.” The world is comprised of 99.9% strangers.

RW: Is that what you don’t like about photojournalism, the pretense of intimacy that is there?

PG: It’s undoubtedly there in some photojournalism. But I have more problems with the motives and uses of photojournalism—the clichéd stories they tell, or the way photography is used to service a written story. There is of course some great and rare exceptions that far exceed this criticism, but we have to be honest: so much in photography is pabulum, and aspires to nothing beyond well-worn vernacular.

RW: Let’s move backward. Who were the important photographers to you when you were starting out in England?

PG: The important photographers for me belong in that period from 1966 to 1976, mostly American, let’s say from “New Documents” to “New Topographics”. It was a profound creative period for photography. Szarkowski at MoMA radicalized things for photographers by creating an artistic territory to operate in that wasn’t there before. Before, you were either an editorial photographer working for magazines in a semi-documentary style, or a fine-art photographer making pictures of landscapes or nudes or rocks. He swept aside that division and showed that people like Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand were making the most profound photographic work of our time, and though it looked like ‘documentary,’ it was far more than that, and it didn’t belong in magazines, but in museums. This was transformative: bringing ‘documentary style’ work into the highest museum of our country. It’s little appreciated, but was perhaps Szarkowski’s greatest gift—recognizing and defining a new artistic space.

RW: How was that work translated for a man growing up in England?

PG: When I became aware of it in the mid 70s, it was through books. Hence my great emphasis on books in my work. Reading Public Relations, and the Diane Arbus monograph and Lee Friedlander books, was very important. I didn’t get Robert Frank at first, because it seemed almost photojournalistic, but strangely I got Eggleston right away.

RW: Really?

PG: It was an instinctual rather than an intellectual understanding. The first thing I saw of his was a promotional pamphlet for Election Eve. A friend came back from the states, and he gave me this brochure with six pictures in it. I was struck by his elliptical, tangential approach. So elegant and beautiful.

RW: So you were taking pictures by then?

PG: I learned how a camera works early on, maybe even in the Scouts… but there was no concept of what you could do with it. Seeing the work of Winogrand or Friedlander was like the proverbial light going on. The fact that you could say something profound about the world through photographs was a life-changing revelation.

RW: That’s a bold leap to make right out of the box, from the Scouts to understanding a Winogrand or Friedlander photograph.

PG: Well there were a few years between the two! I wouldn’t claim to understand everything about Winogrand’s work, though essays like Tod Papageorge’s in Public Relations are wonderful reading for anyone who cares about photography. One of the great things about this medium is that you don’t need to have an academic degree to get it; photography can be so visceral, it cuts right through language that way.

RW: Did you go out and try to take Eggleston pictures?

PG: Well, yes and no… (Laughs.) … the great open road journey photography doesn’t translate that well to the United Kingdom. It’s not that big. What I adapted was an amalgam of Eggleston and Robert Adams, and put that together with the classic British obsession with Social Critique. It became my own mash-up, if you will.

RW: Did you realize that you could have a career?

PG: A “career”—god no! Sadly I belong to that naïve alternative culture of the 70s that rejected “careers.” I did what most UK musicians and would-be rock stars did: I went on the dole. Oh, and I worked Saturdays in an arts bookshop, which meant I could order anything I wanted. I stocked the place with these amazing books: New Topographics catalogs, Robert Adams’ The New West, early Ed Ruscha books, etc. We never managed to sell any of them—they were all remaindered for 50c!

RW: But if you’re going to travel to Europe and Japan you must have figured out ways to support yourself.

PG: You sleep on friend’s floors. I traveled in an old Mini—the original Mini—and I slept in the back of that for a long time. That was uncomfortable! I ate in truck driver’s cafes, and had a friend who found out-of-date film for me. Then you do some teaching and get a small grant. The documentary-style tradition is very strong in England. Eventually I met up with Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Graham Smith, John Davis.

Then my first book, A-1 The Great North Road came out in 1983. It was a journey along the main artery of the UK, much like Alec Soth did with the Mississippi recently. Large format color, landscapes, portraits, buildings, etc. The book proved quite poisonous to that black-and-white tradition. It’s been forgotten how radical it was to work within the social documentary tradition in color, at that time. Now it’s so commonplace, people wonder what was the issue?

Within four years I published three books: A1, Beyond Caring, and Troubled Land, driven by the boundless energy of youth, no doubt… but by 1987, I we had this juggernaut of color documentary photography emerging in England; it had really taken off. Martin Parr switched to color, so did people like Tom Wood, and then our students, like Paul Seawright or Richard Billingham or Nick Waplington came along. So… I felt it was time to move on from that, before it became exhausted. For example, the mixing of landscape with war photography in Troubled Land was striking and quite successful —I had shows in NYC galleries—but what happens is that you hit this resonant note and everyone wants you to repeat it. I was invited to duplicate Troubled Land in Israel and South Africa. Commissions, dollars, travel, the whole nine yards. But I thought, I can’t do this. For better or worse, I’m one of those artists who once something is “proven,” have to drop it and find another way to scare myself.

RW: So you went to Europe?

PG: In the early to mid 80s I had made friends with a group of German photographers who were quite distinct from the Becher’s Dusseldorf school. They were mostly around Essen-Berlin: Volker Heinze, Joachim Brohm, Gosbert Adler, and Michael Schmidt too, who was running these workshops in Berlin and inviting people like John Gossage and Lewis Baltz to come over.

RW: It’s funny that that school is so unknown here. Michael Schmidt even had a one-man show at MoMA.

PG: Yes, a great show and few remember it. It's as though the Gursky show wiped out people’s under-standing of everything else in German Photography. Gursky is much more accessible. He goes for the jugular because it is about the ‘Great Photograph.’ Of course, he succeeds, but it’s recidivist, in a way. Photographers have been trying for years to make bodies of work where images work together to build up a coherent statement. It’s not about one great picture by Robert Adams; it’s about twenty or thirty pictures that form a sensitive, intelligent reflection of the world. It’s the same with Garry Winogrand, or Robert Frank. Gursky brings it back to that “wow” moment. It sort of undoes that way of working, and reduces things to the “What a great shot!” appreciation of photography. I’m a sucker for that as much as anyone, but want people to appreciate what Robert Adams does more so.

RW: So you were hanging out with these guys and going back and forth to Europe?

PG: I actually lived in England most of the time, but I would go stay with Volker in Essen or visit Michael in Berlin. I lived in Berlin one summer; actually one photograph in New Europe is inside Michael’s apartment. We all came and went. It was a reciprocal thing. Somehow I went from being part of this English group with Martin Parr et al, to being an honorary member of this German alliance. They became much more relevant to my way of working and seeing the world. My work grew quite a bit, as all of ours did in that grouping, and when it was finished, in 1992, I released the book ‘New Europe’. That was made for the opening exhibition for the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, but the book was never distributed here in the U.S. so it’s not so well known. Gerry Badger insisted it be included in The Photobook II so at least someone saw it.

RW: One of the paradoxes of our time, and I’ve discussed this with many people, is this explosion of photography books at the same time as the explosion in new media. Every photographer has his or her own website and gets their information on-line. And yet they all still want to make books. What is the enduring appeal?

PG: John Gossage made a great comment that his books are the original work. It’s the summation of one’s endeavors—the book is the work. Now, a painter or a sculptor can have a catalogue of their work but… it’s completely different in photography. It is the exact thing—maybe a little smaller scale—but with a one-on-one dialogue when you read it. Looking at a Nan Goldin book is quite different from viewing her photographs on the wall with other people around you. The book is personal and direct, from the artist to you, complete and faithful.

RW: That’s true. When you’re looking at images on-line, it’s a much more public experience than with a book. You’re part of a community and reading in a public square when you go to your computer.

PG: Yes, you’re right. It’s something I wonder about with A Shimmer of Possibility. Am I diffusing that intimate experience by doing twelve books with Steidl? Or am I taking it to the maximum degree by separating each piece of work into its own volume, allowing each story to have that precious moment of intimacy with you? So much art relies on the confidence transaction. I know this is different, doing ten or twelve books. I know it seems crazy, but I’m asking you to trust me and enjoy this quiet journey. Just slow down and look at this ordinary moment of life. See how beautiful it is, see how life flows around us, how everything shimmers with possibility.

The photograph is New Orleans (Woman Eating), 2004


Paul arrives in Auckland next week, along with Rineke Dijkstra for the AUT summer photography workshop.

Friday, January 1, 2010

10 of the most memorable books I've added to my library in 2009

1. Luc Tuymans: Ende
This volume is the first to document one of Tuymans' wall paintings, completed for an exhibition at Kabinett fur Aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven, Germany, which he documented with Polaroids throughout the entire process. A richly illustrated volume, printed in a limited edition of 1000 numbered copies, includes an interview between Tuymans and Udo Kittelmann, Director of the National Gallery Berlin.

2. John Strezaker: The 3rd Person Archive
Stezaker has been collecting photographic city views from the 1920s and 30s for 30 years, focusing on subjects photographed by chance. Here, he presents hundreds of mostly stamp-size details, miniatures that hint at the fates and encounters of long-forgotten people caught in urban labyrinths. This wonderful book is an art object in it's own right.

3. Roe Etheridge: Rockaway, New York
Photographed in disparate geographical sites, from St. Barts to upstate New York, Ethridge plays the roles of both a thematic archivist and a wandering narrator, mapping an uncertain ground in which it is unclear if the representation is a blank image, nothing more than the sum of it's surface, or the fountainhead of some deeper significance.

4. Paul Graham: Paul Graham
A pioneer in the reinvention of contemporary photography. Graham has continued to push the envelope, demonstrating a commitment to expanding photography's artistic space, and to the unity of documentary and artistic considerations in an unblinking engagement with life as it unfolds. This volume, which coincides with a touring European retrospective, appraises 25 years of Graham's work, from 1981 to 2006, tracking his steady expansion of our notions of what photography can say, be or look like.

5. The Painting of Modern Life
This museum catalogue, published by the Haywood Gallery charts the 45-year evolution of the translation of photographic images to paint, revealing an extraordinary breadth of stylistic and thematic diversity. This volume features 22 painters whose sources range from snapshots to commercial media, among them Richard Artschwager, Robert Bechtle, Celmins, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, Thomas Eggerer, Judith Eisler, Franz Gertsch, Richard Hamilton, Eberhard Havekost, David Hockney, Johannes Kahrs, Johanna Kandl, Martin Kippenberger, Liu Xiaodong, Malcolm Morley, Elizabeth Peyton, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Richter, Wilhelm Sasnal, Luc Tuymans and Warhol. A great book and a great show.

6. Hans-Peter Feldmann: Album
This photo-book contains no text. Even the frontispiece is a photograph of boxes from Feldmann's picture archive, amassed over many years and comprising images from magazines, advertising supplements, photography books, postcards and collectibles. Travel photos, family snapshots and pictures of friends play their part. Feldmann has become increasingly noted for his commentary on the way we archive photos, sending up the everyday from a very personal perspective.

7. Alec Soth: Niagara
Working over the course of two years on both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls, Soth has edited the results of his labors down to a tight and surprising album. He depicts newlyweds and naked lovers, motel parking lots, pawnshop wedding rings and love letters from the subjects he photographed. We read about teenage crushes, workplace affairs, heartbreak and suicide. A quietly passionate and heartfelt book.

8. John Baldessari: Pure Beauty
Published in conjunction with a major exhibition organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Tate Modern in London. The monograph has eleven essays by critics, curators, art historians, and an artist and former student of Baldessari's round out this volume. Few contemporary artists have achieved the range and relevance of Baldessari's oeuvre, which is finally given its due in this elegant retrospective book.

9. Margritte and Contemporary Art
The Treachery of Images, is a detailed discussion about the meaning(s) of representation. Here, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art brings together more than 50 of the most important Magrittes with an equal number of very significant works by contemporary artists, both cool and edgy, including Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, Vija Celmins, Joseph Kosuth, Sherrie Levine, Richard Artschwager, Jeff Koons, Martin Kippenberger, Jim Shaw, Raymond Pettibon, Robert Gober and Marcel Broodthaers.

10. Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave
Accompanying Dumas' first major mid-career survey in the U.S., with stops in three major American cities, this substantial, fully-illustrated publication features a newly commissioned essay by renowned scholar Richard Shiff, placing the artist's work in relation to both American figurative painting since the 1980s and Abstract Expressionism. The book also includes curator Cornelia H. Butler's examination of Dumas' photographic sources.

2010, my first post for the New Year...

... midnight, Auckland, seeing in the New Year with the fireworks from the city's Sky Tower photographed from the terrace of my studio.