Many people sing in the bathroom, as it is such an aurally pleasing environment. Under the shower, while cleaning the body, gleaning some extra self-confidence can be an optional bonus. “Hey, that doesn’t sound too bad!” one might think while hitting a note from that pop song (or famous aria) going round in your head.
Just as a bathroom makes for an obliging arena to test your singing capacities, so the camera, by design, can deliver a very pleasing visual effect that is relatively easy to arrive at. The great ability of photography as a medium of creative expression, however, is that it not only allows one to capture reality but also to express one’s subjective point of view.
Because the camera so generously gives a perfect image—to everybody but no one in particular—the achievements of autonomous photographers/visual artists are expected to be derived from a unique, idiosyncratic way of seeing. Or, alternatively, creative expression by means of photography could be seen as a reflection of a certain (psychological) state of being. Whichever way you take it, the thing to stress here is that the outcome depends not so much on the machinery and all the more on a way of working with it. […]
Browsing the image bank of the local Amsterdam City Archive.I stumbled upon a photograph, depicting a male figure jumping from one rooftop to another, across a street in Amsterdam. This man will never touch the ground. He eventually died – or so it must be assumed, considering the date of capture was approximately 1931 – but in this picture he continues to jump, ad infinitum. Forever, and again.
Immediately, this stunt triggers a link with Yves Klein (1928-1962), the French artist who in 1960 jumped from a rooftop in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses. Klein hired two photographers to capture this salto mortale while friends held a tarpaulin down below, to prevent him from smashing on the street. We know that, but we don’t see it. Two negatives were montaged together to make it seem as though Klein was all alone in his ‘leap into the void’. […]
A photograph is commonly considered to function as either a ‘window’, through which the exterior world can be seen in all its presence and reality or, alternatively, it is to be understood as a ‘mirror’ to the photographer’s sensibility. While both applications are concerned with the recording of an external event, the latter serves as the expression of an internal experience.
Visual artists, however, are actively exploring a blurry middle ground in this apparent dichotomy, by means of a narrative structure – more and more so through the form of a book. In order to further elaborate on this matter, two recent publications are discussed here: Post (Actes Sud, 2016) by Marta Zgierska, and The Epic Love Story of a Warrior (SPBH, 2016) by Peter Puklus.
By the end of the 1970s, John Szarkowski – responsible for the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York at the time – proposed a clear distinction between photographs that either function as a ‘window on the world’ or, by contrast, as a ‘mirror to the soul’. Both of these applications could share a certain aesthetic ideal, but when juxtaposed, the difference in the artist’s intention is more apparent: the ‘window’ group of images reports on actual events, while the ‘mirror’ section includes depictions of something that is altogether more transcendental; they’re images that reflect an artistic need to symbolise an inner state of being. […]
The occasions deemed worthy of photographing have only grown over the years, and the range of the images that result from this are as wide (and as wild) as our imaginations. However, when it comes to holiday pictures, we can still detect a forceful aesthetic conservativism. How can we explain this apparent continuation of the ritualistic ‘Kodak moment’, specifically with regard to travel and leisure?
At the end of the twentieth century, following an extensive inquiry on photography as a middle-brow art, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his team arrived at the conclusion that the medium has given an aesthetic satisfaction that spans all levels of society. That is to say, regardless of whether someone is using the camera as a means to preserve the euphoria of celebration or as a way to bestow a scene or subject with the dignity of a work of art, they’re having a great time. Either way, it is by now obvious that this democratization of the medium did not just happen overnight. In fact, the recreational practice of taking pictures evolved from a very successful marketing strategy of one company in particular: Kodak.
Indeed, Kodak’s ‘you press the button, we do the rest’ slogan was a reference to the package deal they offered of experiences and the means of recording them, since they could supply both the functional device (the camera) and the means to get results from it (film), while also promising super easy processing to arrive at the finished products (photographic images). But what’s even more significant in the popularization of amateur photography, is that George Eastman (1854–1932) turned out to be savvy enough to not only attract the masses to the medium, but also to position his start-up (Kodak) in such a way that the users of his products could be trained in when and how to take pictures.
Eastman’s company managed to successfully surf the wave of mass tourism that was fast approaching: in the beginning of the twentieth century, due to economic and technological progress which stimulated individual mobility, there were more people who were in the position to travel. Kodak seized this opportunity two times over, by first opening shops at tourist hotspots such as Niagara Falls, and second by investing in viewing platforms for the sightseeing locations. They even placed prefabricated frames that would help the visitors in the perfection of their compositions. They meanwhile also initiated a Hula Show in Hawaii, a staged performance of local dancers that allowed tourists to construct an idealized picture of that experience. Similar initiatives were soon enough effectively carried out and popularized elsewhere, and those opportunities were successfully advertised as ‘Kodak moments’.
This is a well-documented history, of course, but it is nevertheless good to be reminded of it, if only to articulate the fundamental changes that have occurred in the ways in which amateur photographers have approached the medium ever since.
The history books have been rewritten. Now, in addition to the established canon of photography from Europe and the United States, key artists and artworks from Latin America, Africa, India, Russia, China and Japan are also included in anthologies describing the progression of the medium over the years. This acknowledgement has helped a handful of photographers from previously ignored regions to be ‘discovered’ – which is remarkable, considering the fact that many of those practitioners had been working with the camera for a long while before eventually gaining international recognition.
Since the 1990s, more than merely a correction of the canon, there has been a slow but steady growth of an infrastructure that supports the stretched understanding of photography as a worldwide practice. This has altogether resulted in a genuinely worldwide model of events and (online) platforms. For the sake of progress, however, what should be prevented is that the globalized ‘art world’ more or less defines the practice of photography in certain countries by merely iconizing those ‘discoveries’. That is to say, we meanwhile need to continue to keep a vigilant eye out for emerging local artists. Or else we’ll continue the bias of having a blind spot for unknown territories. […]
More than merely touching on the subject of the (sexualized) human corpus as a creating visual artist, Tiane Doan na Champassak (1973) is also a prolific publisher of books that surround that very same theme. He has already released over a dozen books with a fresh, contemporary graphic design, but Siam’s Guy(the third collaboration with RVB Books) is his debut when it comes to blending together self-produced and re-appropriated material.
Champassak – who grew up in Europe but has a mixed heritage with partly Asian roots – stumbled on, among other things, a stack of copies from a (censored) Thai adult magazine from the 1970s at a flea market in Bangkok.
Paying tribute to the characteristic design of the initial periodical, Champassak selected 68 pages directly from among the 100 or so issues that he retrieved. The edit is then superimposed with a selection of his self-established nude portraits, keenly layered over its antecedents (thus placed exactly where the original images were located). This results in a bridging between two different eras: the one from which the magazines arrive (’60s/’70s) and the contemporary (by means of Champassak’s recently shot nudes). […]
What is home? There is no generic definition for the concept of ‘home’, right? Or is there?
Jan McCullough (1991, Northern Ireland) stumbled on ‘How To Make The Home You Want’, a 1950s publication with tips – if not strong advice – on house decoration. An instruction manual for something that is, supposedly, super subjective. Home is immediately linked to things intimate and personal, the word ‘idiosyncratic’ seems to be designed for it. Yet, apparently, how it should be interiorized is also something open for debate. As McCullough soon figured out after purchasing the (rather outdated) second hand book, there are still plenty of people today who feel the urge to motivate into the absurd detail what should be done to arrive at the ideal living space. A peculiar matter worthy to be further investigated. […]
Viewers often manage to ignore the arrangements lurking behind staged portraits. That is, even knowing all too well that the poses in a portrait arrive from directions given by the photographer, this consciousness is suppressed in the act of looking. Sometimes, however, the theatrical setup is a significant part of the concept, as has been the case in two prominent projects: Leon Borensztein’s American Portraits and Richard Renaldi’s Touching Strangers. The differing methods with which American Portraits and Touching Strangers have come together might not make for an obvious comparison, yet it is interesting to consider if the intimacy we perceive from either series evaporates as soon as we pause to consider their making. What happens once we become aware of the way in which the portraits have been established? Does it matter to know if the interactions between the models are genuine or not?
A long time ago I realized that life isn’t fair,” concludes the American photographer Leon Borensztein (1947) in one of his diary notes. A personal journal that he keeps to reflect on his daughter Sharon, her behaviour and how he responds to it; scribbles on a relationship with a vulnerable child that happens to be his. Sharon, as it turns out soon after her birth, is going to need a lot of attention and loving care while also becoming a source of concern, frustration and occasional despair. Before anything else, Sharon’s existence turns out to be the cause of a seismic change in the life of Leon Borensztein and Cathy, the mother of his child.
‘Sharon’, the book, is a testimony of a reluctant father growing into a loving one, documenting every stage of the challenged life of his daughter – diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, which, as Borensztein himself notes, ’essentially means that there was some kind of insult to the brain’. Sharon is considered blind and her parents are told to expect more complications. Without a clear prospect, the family tries to make the best of life but their path is also perpetually leading to doctors and hospitals. Luckily, as the pictures indicate, there are also plenty of more relaxed moments.
Not all is captured by the camera (sometimes deliberately, as stated in one of the notes) but the photographer in Borensztein urges him to keep track of Sharon’s partly eclipsed life by portraying her continuously over the years, which also has a therapeutic element: it is his best shot at establishing an intimate communication with his daughter who has limited motor skills and expresses elements of autism. […]