A Couple Days Late

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Bookmakers at Chateau d’Eau

Sorry I haven’t posted – I was down in Toulouse working on getting together the latest iteration of Le Garage.  Which, incidentally, has a new website.  Check it out at legarage.cc.

In the meantime, though, An-My Lê’s new show “Events Ashore” has opened at Murray Guy.  It’s work on the US Navy, that I first had a sense she was working on due to an appearance in her Art:21 documentary.  It seems a slight departure from her previous work (I find it less lyrical… or more, I’m not sure), but certainly worth a look if you’re in NY.

Also, Carly Steinbrunn of Le Garage showed me this absolutely delightful video about the festival at Arles. This isn’t exactly timely (Paris Photo is closer than Arles), but you gotta watch it if you speak French…

And finally, tiny little water creature photographs.

Next post: much less random, I promise.

Ouverture du Bal

Friday, September 17th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

I am very pleased to announce that a project that I had a small part in helping along is finally opening this weekend.

That’s right – Le Bal opens it’s doors tomorrow, Saturday, September 18th, with an exhibition entitled ‘Anonymes.’

Co-curated by Diane Dufour and David Campany, it’s a look at ‘Unnamed America in Photography and Film.’ I’ve seen it, and honestly, it’s a really good exhibition. I highly urge anyone in Paris to check out this new photography space…


Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

© Melanie Bonajo

It’s the rentré here in France – everyone’s getting back from vacations and jump straight into work.  So, back to the blog.

I wasn’t completely idle over the summer, though. I manage to write a short essay for Le Bal (WHICH OPENS SEPTEMBER 18th, BY THE WAY) on the New Weird.  I urge you to read it:

Obviously, this kind of work has long had a history in the art world – Art world critics, curators, and collectors have long had a much easier time with a work as an independent expression of an idea than has the photography world. The photo world has always had an implicit belief in the photograph as an authentic document that, though not necessarily a conveyer of truth, is the medium for authentic communication between creator and viewer. New Weird photography frequently claims to be nothing more than an assembly of symbols and juxtapositions and that it can be nothing more than some king of photographic Rorschach ink blot to the viewer’s predispositions and prejudices.

More here. This essay, in its current form, is unfinished – I’m interested in expanding upon it, so any comments or input is appreciated.

Others were also not idle – which I’ll get to as I catch up on my linkage.  To start, though, here’s a call for entries from 3/3.  12th Press will be submitting;  You should too.

Little big press  exhibition aims to survey the tendencies that, during the last few years, changed thoroughly the world of photobook publishings.

A more and more increasing vitality is directing photobook evolution towards an independent, self published and scale reduced position, giving life to independent photobooks or fanzines, while small publishing houses are becoming more and more active and prolific all around the world.

Apply at treterzi.org.

UPDATE: I posted the entire essay below.

We, as photographers, are still working through the effects of the digital revolution.  I suspect that this will be the case for yet a few years to come as we come to grips with how new technologies like digital cameras and digital distribution have changed how we view, approach, and create photography.  But, some of these effects have already become evident – one clear example is how you, a distant reader, have found this blog and this essay and connected to a community of photography enthusiasts interested in working through some of the problematics of the documentary image: Our project here at Le Bal.

This interconnectedness has led to interesting conglomerations of photographers and photography styles, connected only by the tenuous links of a common approach and the streams of data travelling over the internet.  A common approach to a medium is by no means nothing new – It has happened at many different moments throughout art history and finding and identifying the causes of these brief moments of synchronicity are one of the prime occupations of art historians.  But I would argue that the internet is increasing the frequency and scale of this, by its very property of making work and information widely distributed all over the world to your desktop computer.

A good contemporary example is the category of photographic work dubbed ‘New Weird‘ or, in previous writing by me, techno-spiritualist photography.  Characterized, in the most general sense, by an approach that emphasizes the visually surreal or weird in the banalities of contemporary life and a strong concern with the construction of the photographic image, New Weird photography exploded on the internet several years ago with the introduction of the blog i heart photography.  Since then it has made its way into the the most exalted of contemporary art institutions and its influence can be found, either directly or indirectly, in huge swathes of the fine-art photographic landscape.

i heart photography (which is still active) was created because Laurel Ptak, its founder, « was just seeing the same work in the same style of photography over and over again, in galleries, on the pages of magazines, everywhere in the established art world, and I just knew there was more going on than that.»  [via] Determined to find an outlet for the type of work that she enjoyed, and taking advantage of the possibilities afforded by an internet environment (which was really just starting to see huge numbers of photographers posting their own work on their personal sites), Ptak began posting on photographers that shared common concerns with her; a do-it-yourself ethos coupled with a post-modern interrogation of the nature of photography through approaches such as collagearchiving, and neo-surrealist work.

If one has to identify only one element that runs through all of this work, it was that none of it fits into the thread of photography that starts with the photojournalists of the 30s, through Cartier-BressonFrank, and WinograndArbusGoldin, etc.; so-called ‘Straight Photography.’  It has none of the faith in the socially transformative power of photography, or even in the narrative abilities of photography.  Instead, it seeks to put a question mark against the entire idea that the visual document can tell anything beyond that with which the viewer originally approaches it with.

Obviously, this kind of work has long had a history in the art world – Art world critics, curators, and collectors have long had a much easier time with a work as an independent expression of an idea than has the photography world. The photo world has always had an implicit belief in the photograph as an authentic document that, though not necessarily a conveyer of truth, is the medium for authentic communication between creator and viewer. New Weird photography frequently claims to be nothing more than an assembly of symbols and juxtapositions and that it can be nothing more than some king of photographic Rorschach ink blot to the viewer’s predispositions and prejudices.

It must be noted at this point how heavily much of New Weird photography is influenced by Surrealist photography. But Surrealism never doubted the photographic document, using it instead to suggest other meanings through association as opposed to suggesting that there may be no meaning or, at the very least, meaning is relative. For example, much of the darkness drawing its roots from the symbols of Freudian psychotherapy present in a lot of surrealist photography has been neutered in its contemporary incarnations.  We don’t really get the sense of danger and perverseness in, say, Melanie Bonajo’s ‘Furniture Bondage‘ as we do in Hans Bellmer’s ‘La Poupée‘.

New Weird photography is a direct product of the internet – a collective unconscious, sanitized and behind a screen, and frequently an easy commodity, arriving on our screens and then clicked through to the next image.  In alot of ways, it mirrors the image factory of the internet itself.  Sites like ffffound and the so-called ’surf clubs,’ results of many collective users trolling the internet for interesting images to share, are frequently eerily similar to the sites of artists who have instead created their work.  That isn’t, of course, to say that the work isn’t without merit, or even to take out the intentionality of the artist. This is instead an acknowledgement of how of-a-certain-time-and-place New Weird photography is.

Film + Flash

Sunday, June 13th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Image courtesy of Mus-Mus

I received a new call for submissions from mus-mus, which I’m happy to pass on:

Team mus-mus is looking for your help with an archive that will let us all see film and flash products that we’re bidding au revoir, leaving behind, or perhaps still clinging desperately to. Since George Eastman first invented an emulsion coating machine to mass-produce photographic dry plates in 1879, commercially available photography technology has been a sustaining feature of the photographer’s practice. As old technologies are increasingly falling away and sometimes re-emerging in new ‘skins’, it will be interesting to take a collective worldwide snapshot of what’s on hand in studios (and maybe flea markets) now that are gone from stores or will be tomorrow.

See details and submit here.  I have too many things to submit…

Print Sale

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine

I’ve been a bit busy lately, hence not alot of posting, but I’m collecting things to show you all, so rest assured that I haven’t given up.

In the meantime, though, check out the work of my friends Carly Steinbrunn, Véronique Besnard, and Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine. And, more importantly, visit the page of the Le Garage print sale on Grégoire’s site – it’s to support the running costs of the Le Garage project, which is really shaping up to be great, so don’t forget to submit your book dummies, due May 31st!

Le Garage

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

So, I’m happy to announce a call for submissions for Le Garage, “an itinerant exhibition project born out of a common love for photography-related books and publications.”

In actual fact, Le Garage will be an exhibition of photobook dummies by both known and unknown photographers, held off-program at the opening week (10 days, actually) of this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival. I’ll let you all check out the details on the website, but I will say that it promises to be alot of fun and good exposure too – Arles is always jam packed with photographers and photography lovers that week, and I can promise you that we’ll be putting together an exhibition that will attract them all (or at least the good ones)…

More details later as the project comes together.

Victorian Photocollage

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier, ‘Butterfly’

If you’re in New York before May 9th, be sure to check out the Met‘s show, ‘Playing With Pictures.’  It focuses on Victorian photocollage, practiced by upper class women including Lady Georgiana Berkeley (who I’ve blogged about before) and others.  There’s a NYTimes review here (with a slide show), more info on the Met site (with the same images), and a bit on the site from the Art Institute of Chicago, where the show originated, as well as a video interview with the curator at Truthful Enthusiasm

Simon Starling

Monday, February 1st, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Simon Starling, from the video ‘Red (in the Search of the Elusive Okapi)’

Ah, back from an involuntary break, as my computer decided it would go on strike.

At any rate, I just visited a show here in Paris at Galerie Kamel Mennour.  I have to admit that every time I go to that gallery I’m set for disappointment as they seem to only show artists with a proven market, which more often than not just means sellable art and not necessarily good art.

This time was an exception.  Though they split half the gallery with Roger Ballen‘s ‘Boarding House‘, work which, though good, I’ve seen so often and in so many different venues that it utterly fails to interest me at this point, they devoted the other half to two works by Simon Starling, on loan as part of the Berlin-Paris exchange from the Neugerriemschneider Gallery.

Simon Starling came to my attention, and most other people’s, when he won the 2005 Turner Prize.  His work tends to be concerned with process and context, a not-entirely-original preoccupation in today’s artworld, and though the two works on show at Kamel Mennour were no exception to this, they did highlight other, more interesting preoccupations of his.

The first body of work, ‘Three Birds, Seven Stories, Interpolation and Bifurcation’, takes up the front room of Kamel Mennour and consists of quite a few (I forgot to count) platinum prints that display the usual tonal glory of platinum prints. The subjects of the images are real and fictional variations on the story of the German architect Eckart Muthesius, who was given a commission to design a fabulous palace for an Indian maharaja, completed in 1934.  The subject is simple enough, but Starling presents the palace and it’s objects as almost technical records of imagination – the images don’t entirely make sense together (in a positive way) and you’re left to draw what meanings there are from them on your own.

The real highlight for me was actually Starling’s film ‘Red (in the Search of the Elusive Okapi)’, shown in an adjacent gallery.  It alternates between red-toned photographs of a trip down the Hudson river in a canoe which ends on the steps of the Museum of Natural History in New York and video shot in a darkroom where the same photographs are being developed, where the safe-lights cast the same red tone one finds in the photographs.  The entire video is accompanied by voice-over reading the text of the journal of Herbert Lang, a naturalists whose trip down the Congo provided two Okapi specimens still seen in diorama at the same Museum of Natural History.  I found the tying together of photography, natural history, colonialism, collecting, traveling, and history perfectly tuned: Not overbearing, but not insensitive to its own implications either.

Go see them both at Kamel Mennour in Paris, up until March 6th.
A blog post on the making of ‘Red; by Dante Birch, of MassMoca, here.
An interview with Starling here.

Studyo Osep

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Tayfun Serttas
Studyo Osep

I was flipping through Artforum’s 2009 best-of issue when I came across an image that immediately stopped me – you can see it above.

A little research reveals that it’s from a show at Non Gallery, in Istanbul, of prints from a certain Studyo Osep.  Studyo Osep is Osep Minasoğlu, one of Istanbul’s oldest studio and set photographers.  The show is the result of work by Tayfun Serttas, a young social scientist and artist, who organized the show as a reflection on representation and history in Turkey over the course of Osep Minasoğlu’s career.

You can find further images of the show here and here (with installation shots), a biography of Osep Minasoğlu here, an image of him on Non Gallery’s facebook event, an interview (in french) here, and the catalog from the exhibition (which was the thing that made the best-of list) can be ordered here. I want.

Paris Photo

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Timofey Parchikov
Timofey Parchikov
, from ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow’

Paris photo ended yesterday, as I’m sure you’ve probably realized if you read photo blogs.  I’ll be splitting observations and related matters over 3 posts as a few very distinct issues came up.  This first one will be on the topic of the fair itself, whilst the next one will be on the state of the photoblog world (a topic of a type of satellite blogger meeting organized by Laurence Vecten of LOZ), whilst I’ll address ‘The New Weird’ stuff that I’ve been mumbling about in the one after.

So, the fair.  First off, I’ll say that, of the 3 Paris Photos that I’ve been to, this one was the best.  That being said, the previous two didn’t set much of a high bar.  Which is not to say that the organizers habitually do a terrible job, but rather the very structure of the fair is really really hard to take.  For one, you have so many people there that you almost have to elbow spectators aside in order to see a piece.  Second, fairs are commercial affairs, so the only organizing principal is that the work displayed be sellable.  And finally, there’s just so much of it that the work blurs together:  In one of the booths there was a sculpture, which, by sheer fact that it wasn’t a photograph, made it instantly memorable.  Someone made the comment that some kind of ingenious gallerist would rent a Paris Photo booth and show nothing but sculpture and installations and sell out simply by sticking out.

But, with all of those caveats, I still found the fair pretty decent this year.  There was, of course, the greatest-hits-effect where most of the best work I saw I had seen a million times before, but a good portion was unknown to me, helped along by my relative ignorance on the subject of this year’s theme, Iranian and Arabic photography.

I made a concious decision this year not to dart around the fair and instantly note down the names of artists to blog about, but instead to let the work settle in before making a choice of my favorites. In retrospect, that was a stupid decision: On the last day I showed up to do one final look around before writing anything – I lasted about 15 minutes before deciding that after almost 5 consecutive days of drinking and socializing and, above all, looking and thinking about photography, I was done.

That was yesterday – so, today, you can check out the few highlights I have information for or just look around at other people’s round-ups, a list I’m collecting at the bottom of the post.

Bookshop M: Just inside the door of the fair was the relatively uncrowded booth of Bookshop M, a Japanese publishing venture with jaw-droppingly beautifully constructed books. 5b4 reviewed one of their Takashi Homma books (Trails) a little while ago if you want more info.

Olivier Cablat’s Etudes typologiques des effets de causalité observés
sur des individus exposés à des épreuves physiques à caractère podologique
: A hilarious but serious book – There’s a full preview available here.  Note that the English translations are on the left hand side, but only faintly.

Pobeda gallery: My favorite gallery find of the fair – a Russian space with really nice work, including that of…

Timofey Parchikov: Okay, yes, he has a way Flash site, which would normally disqualify him, but the two prints I saw at Paris photo were two moments of “Oh, wait, stop,  yeah, this is why I’m here…”  They were both, incidentally, from the series ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow,’ available on his site.

Arab Image Foundation: Their members seemed like they were everywhere and they presented the centerpiece show of the fair, which seemed somewhat thrown together, but it was enough to remind me what great work they do.

Anders Petersen’s Du Mich Auch:

Be wary of:
Nicely formulated principles and truths.
Useless feelings of guilt and sins
of the past or while we’re at it, a
photography resembling pretty adjectives.
On the other hand, I like private
diaries and family albums.

-Anders Petersen

Hans Peter Feldman’s Voyeur: They published a fourth edition of it and I got my hands on it.  Worth a look if you haven’t seen it before.

Round ups:
Hippolyte Bayard
Horses Think 1
Horses Think 2
The Year in Pictures
Lens Culture’s Preview
Eye Curious
More as I come across them or you leave them in the comments.