Ways of Seeing

Monday, June 22nd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Ways of Seeing

The only time I ever used my university library’s tremendous film library was once, for about 6 hours, to watch the entirety of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing tv series, which most of us are much more familiar with in book form.  Well, the book was based on the series, and, for once, the tv show is better than the book.  Smashing Telly, a non-photography-related-but-still-extraordinary-site dug up youtube videos of the first episode. Check it out.

Iconic Photojournalism

Friday, June 19th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

The New York Times
The New York Times (uncredited photograph – a practice they go with when they believe publishing the name of the photographer puts him/her at especial risk)

Sorry, major major deadline Monday, keeping my posting light.  But check out Fred Ritchin‘s blog After Photography for more on the following. He brings to bear an unusually perceptive eye on what has become the rather tired discussion of citizen journalism:

Instead of seeing a few strong images, we will probably need to get used to seeing many dozens or even hundreds of photographs taken, perhaps of the same scene, without any editorial filter. It will demand more of the reader who will have to try and figure out what this mass of imagery is saying. This will also make it harder to wrongly accuse any images of being fakes because so many other photographs and videos will corroborate, to a significant extent, what any particular image shows.

Instead of a single iconic photograph we will often be looking at imagery made by people who, as amateurs, are not schooled in the history of photography–they will be making imagery for information, not to replicate or create new icons. As such, their imagery will probably often be both more original and more awkward, but it may also make it more difficult to find the telling metaphors. In this sense, the imagery will be more modest and probably more credible.

Too many good thoughts to adequately block quote it – you should really read through the original, here.

And I know I went with the professional photography image for this post, but you should really check out the flickr streams coming out of Iran.  An especially good one is that of Mousavi1388.

Related: This youtube video which sends shivers up my spine in admiration.  They’re chanting “Allahu akbar” (God is great), the same thing that was chanted from rooftops during the ’79 revolution.


Monday, June 15th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Gilbert and George
Gilbert and George, 1974

A propos to the reports coming from Venice and Art Basel, check out this article on the professionalization of art that appeared in Frieze back in March:

Interviewed in Thornton’s book, the former Artforum editor Jack Bankowsky observes that ‘You have to understand the pieties […] Seriousness at Artforum and in the art world in general is a commodity. Certain kinds of gallerists may want the magazine to be serious even if they have no real co-ordinates for distinguishing a serious article from the empty signifier of seriousness abused.’ You have to understand the pieties: the weight of an artist’s monograph or how many times their name crops up on e-flux announcements; someone’s preference for reading October rather than frieze; the internationalism of the contemporary art world – some romantic residue of the idea that, if you travel regularly by plane, you must be high-powered because your business reaches far outside your locality; artist names exchanged as collateral by those jockeying for position in the marketplace of curating or criticism. These are the little curlicues that adorn the edifice of the professional arts establishment.

In many respects I appreciate being firmly wedged in the subculture that is the photo world as you encounter fewer self-important markers of seriousness, though as many people have pointed out, most recently Colin Pantall in his ‘How Not To Photograph‘ series, we have plenty of pieties of our own.


Friday, June 12th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Stephen Crowley / NY Times
Stephen Crowley / NY Times

As has been widely reported aroung, the NY Times has a new photography blog, which seems to not yet have hit its stride.  That being said, it’s pretty good, though a little overbroad for my taste.  One particular project to note was their recently published photo essay by Stephen Crowley, which gave a completely different view of Obama’s recent visit to Cairo than the ones that were widely shown.  See it here, though the images are way too small.

New Urbanism

Monday, June 8th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

“Magnolia, Palermo.” Courtesy of Domingo Milella.

I think my Invisible Cities post should have made it abundantly clear that I’m obsessed with how cities are made up and visualized, the psychogeography of cities, if you will.  For the hell of it, I’ll put out there the rest of my must read list on this topic: Jonathan Rabin’s ‘Soft City,’ Shelley Rice’s ‘Parisian Views,’ Peter Schneider’s ‘The Wall Jumper,’ and I fully expect the new BLDGBLOG book to make the list as well.  Also of note, though not directly addressing this topic are Dante’s ‘Inferno‘ (which is really an odd book about a city), Marco Polo’s ‘Travels‘, and ‘Cities‘ by John Reader. [Let me know in the comments if you have your own books to add to this list.]

Along these lines (and obliquely mentioned in a post about a year ago) is a really really interesting way of picturing the city I’ve seen popping up here and there over the last couple of years.  Unlike, say, Gary Winogrand or another Street Photographer, it’s not so much concerned with the life in a city as with the life of a city.

That is to say to photograph the city a little like a living organism, like a lichen spreading out and in and up in it’s given space.  I suppose this has been technique has been applied before, most notably by Robert Adams with his The New West (coincidentally recently republished by Aperture), but whereas the New Topographics were concerned with how man was changing the American landscape, these photographers seem more obsessed by how the inner ecology of a city changes itself.

The ‘gee wow’ parallel here would be how Adams migrated from picturing the exurbs of Colorado to photographing forest and nature (albeit in a way with which man’s presence is always if not on the surface than at least near it), and the most direct pictoral line I can mentally draw is from Thomas Struth.  Struth, of course, is well known for many different things, but among them his eerily still city views, frequently taken in the morning with no traffic or sign of life, but with an architectural photographers eye with no one structure to monumentalize.  From there he moved on to his ‘Paradise‘ photographs, images of all consuming jungle whose apparent simplicity of subject matter belied a complex compositional instinct and a clearly biblical referent.

It’s easy to see strong similarities between Struth’s ‘Paradise’ series and Domingo Milella‘s work, for example.  Milella, too uses a large format camera, but instead of Adam’s and Struth’s relations to the Edenic myth, Milella’s work is about a tower of Babel – A pile of garbage extends from the foreground where it is creeping into a stream up into a series of apartment blocks to the suburbs on a hillside – a cemetery crowded and colorful like a market or slum – a tree that seems to explode out of the ground but receives no more notice than as a subject for tourists’ photographs.

Karin Apollonia Müller too has her weird echoes of biblical judgment – houses cracking in half in the ‘On Edge‘ series and ad posters inexplicable ripped to pieces while life around them mysteriously continues. In her ‘Timeshots‘ series, we see a homeless camp in one photo later covered over by a large and expanding construction site.

In both these photographers work the city moves, expands, and contracts, subject to forces internal and external, reacting to its environment and in some cases failing to, but always continuing.  Their work seems to be to document the  ebbs and flows of the city, not as a stage for human interaction but as one giant network subject to its own logic independent of any individual within it.

Related: Sze Tsung Leong, Oliver Sieber’s ‘Imaginary Club,’ Niels Stomps’ ‘Mist,’ and Nils Clauss‘ ‘Deciphering Seoul.’

Misc.: Domingo Milella, in an e-mail exchange concerning this post, had a wonderful quote: “Photographs are the visual sponge of the technocratic age, and the time of machines hides inside them.”

Least Wanted

Friday, June 5th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

From Least Wanted‘s ‘Credentials‘ Flickr set.

A quick one today followed by a more extensive post Monday.  Sorry, but I just got back from North America and I’m hell of jetlagged.

Anyways, I stumbled across Least Wanted through the interestingly niche-y blog Prison Photography.  It’s a big collection of portraits in the form of ID photographs of various kinds, including, but not limited to, mugshots, hospital badges, FBI files of communists, medical files, and many others besides.  I won’t say too much about it, save that it’s well worth wading through the awkwardness that is an ID photograph in any context.