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Archive for June, 2007

moholy_nagy1.jpgThe George Eastman House and ICP have teamed up to create an online museum called Photo Muse that puts the archives of both online. The site is geared toward students and researchers and leans more toward the historical than the contemporary, but what could be better than to “finger” your way through the George Eastman collection.

Their search is very clumsy, but if you play around with it you can come up with some interesting finds. I type in “France” and come up with Brassai, Lisette Model, Atget, but also Jane Eveyln Atwood’s documentary photos of the blind or this wonderfully tattered image of Biarritz by Stieglitz.

The George Eastman House’s upcoming exhibits all look tempting: Bellocq and a look at László Moholy-Nagy‘s photographic work in the 1920s. If you can’t make it in person, a sample image gallery and brochure for each show allows for a virtual visit. The site also offers a brief chronological history of photography with representative artists called out and historical and cultural context thrown in. A good quick reference.

On a previous version of the site they had a “randomizer”—a search engine that pulled up a completely random sampling from their collection and allowed for more free-form browsing. It would be great if they brought this back, but there’s still plenty up there to stumble upon.

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hofer_auster1.jpgOn the plane back from Paris, I needed something to help me make it through the 11 hour flight so I picked up a Paul Auster book, Brooklyn Follies, and sped through it, reasonably entertained. Only when I finished did I look more closely at the paperback cover and realize it was an Evelyn Hofer photograph. I just recently blogged about discovering Hofer through her dye transfer prints at RoseGallery in L.A. Chalk it up to serendipity or maybe some sort of magnetic attraction. The colors are so saturated, I wasn’t sure at first whether this was a painting or a photo.

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covering_photo.jpgDiscovered this website a while back and added it to my list of interesting collections: Covering Photography. The site’s creator, Karl Baden, teaches photography at Boston College and along the way started cataloging book jacket designs that use fine art photography. He decided to document all this on the Web so he scanned covers, uploaded them, made everything searchable and voila!—a database of intriguing marriages between pictures and poems, artists and writers.

Brassai mingles with Genet and Jean Rhys. Kertesz with just about everybody—Don Delillo, Paul Auster, Eudora Welty among them. Sometimes a photo dresses a piece of fiction or nonfiction up—teasing users with a striking image and then perhaps disappointing them once they crack the spine. Or then there are the more suggestive matches where the cover and the story feed each other. Nan Goldin’s images give a face and a mood to several novels. And Man Ray’s surreal images grace the covers of books about unsettling things like love and passion and cosmetic surgery.

The home page is laid out like a dust jacket—the back blurb includes a search engine that allows you to browse by author, photographer, publisher, pub date, designer. Baden doesn’t include them, but I wonder if some more subjective search categories like mood or color or theme might not bring up some curious, unexpected combinations.

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The Koch Gallery in San Francisco had a show featuring Belgian photographer Carl de Keyser earlier this year.

De Keyzer became a full member of the Magnum agency in 1994 and is known for his documentary work. Part of the show was dedicated to his “Zona” series which records his journey through Siberia. Visiting several prisons that were formerly Soviet gulags, de Keyser captures both the harshness and the mysticism of these places. In one portrait, inmates, most of them boys in their teens, are squeezed together at communal tables, shoulder to shoulder with scarred, shaved heads. The focal point of the image is one prisoner in particular who stares directly at the camera, his expression an uncertain mix of toughness and boyish vulnerability.

dekeyzer.jpgAn exterior shot of a prison is taken through a fence constructed of crude rebar that’s molded into ornate curling motifs and covered in glistening crystals; with the layers of ice and the light, a grim barrier becomes almost beautiful. And there are other fairytale notes that de Keyzer unearths in this very unfairytale-like place: a wolf captured in the nearby woods and kept in a “gold” cage, or an iron statue of a horse transformed into an ice sculpture beneath layers of snow.

In addition to de Keyzer’s Siberian prison photos, several images from his “God, Inc.” series were also included. In these, de Keyzer focuses on the surreal drama of American organized religion. Touring the US for 13 months in a Winnebago, de Keyzer uncovered many strange spiritual moments. Four middle-aged women at a Mormon pageant hold images of Jesus to their chests like teenage girls at a rock concert. Pentecostalists swoon in trance-like states. Earnest Easter passion plays unfold in kitschy costumes.

If the Soviet series is about finding odd bits of beauty in harsh, repressive environments, “God, Inc.” is about showing American spirituality in its sometimes unflattering reality.

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jpg1.jpgThe folks at JPG magazine organized a show at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery called “Breakthrough: An Amateur Photography Revolution.”

Six Bay Area curators put together “themes” of ten or so photos. Chuck Mobley curated a set of “stolen” photos snapped on the sly by stealthy museum goers. I like Marshall Astor’s shot of Yoko Ono’s telephone at a Berkeley Art Museum exhibit—apparently Yoko periodically called the phone during the exhibit.
Also worth checking out—Heather Powazek Champ’s selection of pinhole photographs.

The photos on view weren’t really art prints, but that’s not what the show is about. It’s a look at the digital community that’s sprung up around photo sharing and the way themes or “memes” arrise. To top it off, there’s a video piece by Jonathan Coulton, the celebrity songster from YouTube, which strings together a stream of Flickr photos accompanied by a goofily ironic soundtrack.

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hofer2.jpgWhile at RoseGallery, I wander into the back room and spot a print leaning against the wall, perched atop a file. “That’s Evelyn Hofer,” the gallery owner offers. The photo is a lustrous shot of a leather banquette in a diner, “Little Italy, Mulberry Street, New York, 1965.” The surface seems to absorb the light, embrace it then slowly release it more radiant than before. “It’s dye transfer,” the owner explains, a process developed by Kodak for which they’ve stopped manufacturing the film and chemicals. And very few printers remain.

I hadn’t heard of Hofer so I went online to find out more about her: born in 1922 in Germany, she fled to Switzerland with her family to escape the Nazis. She studied photography in Zurich with Bauhaus-trained Hans Zinsler and eventually ended up in NYC in 1946 where she worked in fashion photography and was published in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Life and The New York Times Magazine.

Her images often look like paintings. The shadows are intense, like in her recent still lives of fruit inspired by the Spanish painter Zurbaran, and the objects she captures have a certain stillness and gravity as if they’ve been motionless forever. Marianne Moore’s ivory hued gloves lying preserved in a simple fold of tissue paper. Or Lee Krasner’s paint-splotted shoes posed on top of a wooden stool.

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RoseGallery at Bergamot Station in LA is now showing German photographer, Gotz Diergarten. A student of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Diergarten has created his own “typologies,” only they’re not water towers, factories or silos, but facades.

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Over and over again the front doors and windows of middle class shops and homes repeat in a banner running at eye level along the gallery walls. The repetition strips the images down until you see the reduction— the one form and its many variations.

Doors and windows are all about movement—entrances and exits, peering in and peering out. Yet Diergarten’s facades are purely about surface, inscrutable fronts that prevent the eye from entering the photo, allowing it only to skim the surface. Diergarten’s method forces users to look at something they usually ignore; building fronts become rich in detail and texture. In this photo, the slanting blue and gray tiles counter the lines of the mailbox slots, the slats of the wooden door, the corrugated awning and the cement stoop. A suburban house suddenly transforms into a beautiful pattern.

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