Conventional Wisdom

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Image courtesy of Dean Kaufman

So the global financial armageddon seems to finally be coming around to affect art and the art market. And critical opinion of what it means and what it will lead to seems to be solidifying. Take the following excerpt from a Jerry Saltz article on Frieze, from New York Magazine, as an example:

As for artists, too many have been getting away with murder, making questionable or derivative work and selling it for inflated prices. They will either lower their prices or stop selling. Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly. Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability. Many of the hot Chinese artists, most of whom are only nth-generation photo-realists, will fall by the wayside, having stuck collectors with a lot of junk.

Much good art got made while money ruled; I like a lot of it, and hardship and poverty aren’t virtues. The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists—especially emerging ones—won’t have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand. They’ll be able to experiment as much as they want.

He goes on to wish a ‘pox on the auction houses,’ an opinion that seems to be widely shared. Jonathan Jones even dug up a quote from Damien Hirst that goes ‘Most of the time [the money men] are all selling shit to fools, and it’s getting worse,’ and that makes me want to bang my head against the wall given who it’s coming from.

William Eggleston

Sunday, October 26th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

William Eggleston

Shane Levallette is linking to a profile of William Eggleston from W magazine. Not a lot of commentary, but an interesting portrait of the man:

Asked when he realized he could take the art form in a wholly new direction, he contemplates and says, “I’ll have to think about it. I’m going to have a quick cigarette. Will you join me outside?” There, sitting on the steps to the small office building that houses his trust, a cigarette dangling from his long, thin, graceful fingers, Eggleston finally answers the question: “Almost instantly.”

I wonder, though, if these profiles of artists-as-celebrity do the artwork itself a disservice. After all, instead of “Look at this thing that so-and-so did, isn’t it great?” it becomes “Everything that so-and-so does is great, he/she’s a genius.” Which, I find, tends to enshroud the work in a hoary, art-historical atmosphere and precludes a viewer’s honest approach to it. But then again, Eggleston’s gallerist must be thrilled, and W is not exactly a magazine known for its probing, in-depth analysis of the nature of celebrity. (BTW, did you see that the cover story of this month’s ‘Art’ issue is a week’s worth of snaphots that Brad Pitt took of Angelina Jolie?).

Baghdad Bureau

Friday, October 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Max Becherer for the NY Times

The NY Times, a while ago, started a blog for its Baghdad bureau (aptly titled ‘Baghdad Bureau‘) to, among other things, augment its coverage of the Iraq war. One of the things in the ‘Among other things’ category is to provide an insight into the situation in Iraq for its reporters. In this line comes the ‘Photographer’s Journal‘ feature, with a really interesting and informative first post by Max Becherer. In it, he describes the transformation of the last four years, as well as what it’s like to work as a photographer in these conditions:

A few more steps, however, and there was a hand on my arm and the driver was telling me people wanted me to come into the building beside the blast with them. The gap was closing very quickly. The crowd had noticed the foreigner among them and they were starting to take keen interest.

“We have to go. Run,” the driver said. After a few brisk steps away from the burning wreckage to show we were not fleeing like prey, we skipped to a run. We jumped in the car just as the men pursuing us reached our car and they kicked the car trying to make it stop as we sped away.

War And Distance

Monday, October 20th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Gerda Taro, Spain, 1936, by Cornel Capa

Geoff Dyer writes one of his usual rambling pieces (this is not meant as a criticism) over at the Guardian. He takes a review of the exhibitions ‘This is War! Robert Capa at Work,’ ‘Gerda Taro,’ and ‘On the Subject of War,’ all at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, as a jumping off point to rif on the question of distance (metaphorical and physical) in war photography. It’s worth a read, both for its anecdotes as well as its questions of what makes a good photograph of this particular subject. An excerpt:

Through no fault of [Robert] Capa’s, several pictures now known to be by [Gerda] Taro were attributed to him. Leaving the gender politics aside, such confusion is hardly surprising. As Susan Sontag pointed out in the early 1970s, “the very success of photojournalism lies in the difficulty of distinguishing one superior photographer’s work from another’s, except insofar as he or she has monopolised a particular subject.”

One of the emblematic images from the Vietnam war shows a severely injured civilian woman lying covered in blood, a soldier crouching over her protectively. It was taken in Saigon in 1969 by Larry Burrows. And by Jones Griffiths. The two photographers were right next to each other, snapping away at the same moment. So these pictures are emblematic less of the Vietnam war than of the way images are gathered and presented.

L’Officiel de la Mode

Sunday, October 19th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Cover of ‘L’Officiel de la Mode’ for issue number 95, July, 1929

My girlfriend is a fashion designer (yes, I live in Paris), and as part of each collection she spends a week or two researching images for the ‘mood board.’ Well, fashion week just ended in Paris, so they’ve started work on the new collection and, as part of her research, she stumbled across an archive of every issue of L’Officiel, ever. We’re talking seriously in depth, too: Every page has been scanned, including all of the ads, and you can view everything at full screen. She forwarded the link on to me, and I’m (clearly) giving it to you because it’s an amazing visual resource, whether or not you’re into fashion.

The magazine dates back to 1921 and includes what seems like every style of fashion, photography, and graphic design since then.

The site also has some other titles (including Jalouse), if you click on Accueil, but be warned that the site is entirely in French. It shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, though, as most navigation is done via thumbnails.

Juraj Kammer

Sunday, October 12th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Juraj Kammer

Lucia Nimcova, who recently came out with an excellent book entitled ‘Unofficial,’ has curated a selection of photographs by Juraj Kammer for cee photofund and Take a look!

Martha Rosler

Friday, October 10th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Martha Rosler, ‘Invasion (2008)’

Still working through cutting my ‘To Blog’ folder down to a reasonable size. Still, though, it’s a sisyphean task – As soon as I post or delete one thing, I find, like, five others to replace it. Like this recent-ish Martha Rosler feature from the NY Times.

Fashion Magazine – Lise Sarfati

Friday, October 10th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Lise Sarfati, ‘Christy,’ from ‘Fashion Magazine’

I was at the opening party at the Maison Rouge for Magnum‘s newest iteration of ‘Fashion Magazine,’ shot by Lise Sarfati (the previous three were shot by Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden, and Alex Soth), where I got my hands on a copy of the volume in question, shot entirely in Austin, Texas, and was able to peruse it at my leisure.

Lise Sarfati, it must be said, is one of the more recent photographers to join the agency, and is one that fits well with the more editorial direction that Magnum seems to be headed in. Her work has included a book on post-Communist Russia, ‘Acta Est,’ and another on American adolescents, ‘The New Life.’

That last book, ‘The New Life,’ heavily informs the pictures shot here (Quentin Bajac, who art-directed this ‘Fashion Magazine,’ points out in the introduction that this series is meant to be read in relation to ‘The New Life’) and the themes of adolescent detachment and dreaming run through both. Sarfati is a really excellent image maker – the pictures here and elsewhere are beautiful, with simple compositions and colors that seem to invoke movies more than anything else. This, coupled with her penchant for shooting teenagers with a passion for dressing up (wigs and makeup feature heavily), really makes her work seem ideally suited for the uses to which they are put in ‘Fashion Magazine.’

The similarity between her normal work and fashion work might be the most profound thing about this project – how easily it slips into from one into the other. But what seems poetic in the context of social documentary seems less so in a field where you expect all style and no substance. Which is not to say that it isn’t done well – there’s a filmy sexiness to young people with bright red lips staring off diffidently into the distance – but ultimately the images seem less exceptional in a context where what they offer is the norm.

Richard Kern

Friday, October 3rd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Richard Kern

Richard Kern, of the Vice TV series ‘Shot By Kern,’ (link NSFW, even by my standards) has an exhibition opening at Feature Inc., and Art Fag City has some questions about it:

The best of Kern’s work not only presents a clear portrait of heterosexual male desire, but reveals it to be more complex than just a love for tail. Model Release for example, a collection of his photographs published by Taschen in 2000, demonstrates that the language of porn is flexible enough to capture the erotic in imperfection and individuality. A model’s underwear doesn’t fit perfectly, her breasts aren’t perky, she wears braces; all of these details prove surprisingly sexy.

Given this, it’s hard to understand the rationale for work that seems almost indestinguishable from porn — maybe the booming amatuer market has made hot imperfection seem pervasive and boring — but I’m hoping the exhibition will prove my jpg evaluations wrong. Cliche photographs like Divided Beauty (H&M) however, don’t bode well.

First off, Kern actually has a porn site, New Nude City (waaaaaay NSFW), which actually makes me respect him more.

For my own aesthetic opinion, I find Kern’s work rather… unexceptional. But this question of whether someone’s erotic gaze is simply enough to justify a work is a good one. Whether you like or dislike the following photographers’ work, Nobuyoshi Araki, Antoine d’Agata, Helmut Newton, Terry Richardson, and numerous others have all confronted this problem. The question, I suppose, is what is it in each one that makes the work more than just a visual manifestation of a male erotic fantasy? And, if it’s nothing more than that, what about these fantasies elevates these photographers above the status of mere pornographers?

Errata Editions

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Another book by Sophie Ristelhueber, from a gallery of illustrated books I randomly stumbled across

Jeffrey Ladd, of the well known photobook blog 5B4, has a new project in the works: It’s entitled Errata Editions and is a small publisher that will reproduce some of the greatest and hardest-to-find photobooks. Their first four titles are Eugene Atget‘s ‘Photographe de Paris,’ Walker Evans’ ‘American Photographs,’ Sophie Ristelhueber’s ‘Fait,’ and Chris Killip‘s ‘In Flagrante.’ A pretty good line up, no?

Even better, though, in terms of what you can look at now, Ladd spent the five days he was on press blogging about the experience, which is an interesting look at the process behind making a book. Days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all available on 5B4.