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Archive for August, 2007

sugimoto.jpgThe De Young Museum‘s retrospective of Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s work is phenomenal.

Entering the first gallery is like stepping into a dimly lit theater. The room is dark with only small, diffused spotlights on each work. All of the familiar pieces are there, the dioramas from the Museum of Natural History, the wax figures, the oceans, the Buddhas, the theaters, the drive-ins. Standing in low light in front of each image is meditative.

The oceanscapes, six of them, line one long standing wall, flickering past like fragments from a film reel. The ocean, even from varying geographical and chronological viewpoints, is the same opposition of land and sky, light and dark. Time and space are stripped away and there are just moods.

On the other side of the wall, the 1001 Buddhas from Kyoto’s temple of Sanjusangendo unfurl in one long ribbon. The panel’s kaleidoscopic reflections of Buddha upon Buddha is even more breathtaking when you realize it’s not a staged, optical trick, but a real wall of 1001 statues, all of them nearly identical, yet each slightly unique. If Sugimoto’s oceans are compressions of time and space, the Buddhas are an explosion.

Then the white screens of the theaters and drive-ins that pulse with an almost three-dimensional light. The individual frames of a feature length film, which outside this frozen image appear each once for a unique split second, appear now all at once, superimposed. This is what it might look like if time stood still.

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maisel2.jpgDavid Maisel‘s photos look like Richard Diebenkorn dropped his paintbrush and took up a camera. His photos of the earth from above compress geographical texture into flat abstraction. Salt flats and polluted lake beds escape the 3-D realm for a moment and become just intense fields of color.

The earth seen from above has never looked so good—strip mines, toxic rivers and urban sprawl become lovely geometric compositions. In projects such as Oblivion, Terminal Mirage and The Lake Project, Maisel’s eye zooms in on form and pattern, flattening scarred, abused landscapes in a way that makes them look stunning.

In Library of Dust, another project unrelated to his landscape work, Maisel unearthed a collection of cremated remains in the storage room of an old mental institution. The ashes had been stored in copper containers that had greatly eroded, blooming into violently corroded colors. The cans and their contents are basically individuals reduced to simple mineral material—and the only indication that these might once have been distinct faces and names lies in the way each vessel has decomposed with its own unique color and texture. Photos from this series are currently on display at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

And check out the write-up he got in Wired Magazine this month.

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ningde.jpgTo look at Wang Ningde‘s latest photo exhibit at SF Camerawork, you’d think all of China is sleeping. “Some Days” is a series of images in which people are going about daily activities—taking a train, riding a bike, playing cards, standing in a garden—but they are all somnambulating, eyes closed, deep in slumber.

I didn’t know the premise of Ningde’s work, so with the first image I looked at, I wasn’t sure why the man and woman were standing, heads tilted sideways, eyes closed like sleeping birds. Wandering from photo to photo, the thread became clear—the subjects were all slumbering, faces empty of expression. Their bodies seemed lifeless, present but not present; limbs moving while minds bathed in reverie.

The same characters make appearances in more than one image, like actors in a play. The little school boy in shorts and a black and white striped shirt. The woman in the flowered dress. The men in Mao jackets and caps with faces powdered and cheeks lightly rouged. The figures are almost archetypal, the man, the woman, the child, each playing their carefully defined role. The men in Mao jackets seem like throwbacks to another China. The woman in her delicate dress seems dreamily innocent.

With the tumult and change going on in China right now, Nindge’s portraits provide little islands of calm forgetfulness—sleep as an escape from the rush and chaos of the present, dreaming of another moment.

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morrill.jpg

Apollonia Morrill loves old buildings, can’t get enough of the ghosts of things past.

Based in San Francisco, Morrill has created four documentary series that capture the spirit of an historic space. She’s taken her clean abstract style to look at San Francisco’s Castro Theater, a vintage movie house; San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, a once thriving commuter hub that will soon be torn down; the Kalaupapa leper colony in Hawaii which is now a memorial park and the Metals Bank Building in Butte, Montana which had its heyday during the early 1900s copper mining boom.

This red curtain is from her series on the Castro Theater. Morrill never takes a sweeping view, just presents fragmentary glimpses of architectural details, making observers feel as if they’re peering through a keyhole or a small window. Her images offer flashes of perception, a fleeting vision of a stairwell, a glance at a tiled floor, a row of theater chairs caught in the corner of an eye, an old janitor’s mop hiding in the shadows, ceiling lights reflected in the sheen of an old granite floor. In places touched by history you cannot recreate the scene, only re-imagine, which is exactly what Morrill does with her elegant renderings of empty rooms and corridors.

She will be having a show at SF Camerawork from October 23rd to November 17th.

If you like abandoned buildings, take a look at New York-based Lisa Kereszi’s documentary photo series on Governor’s Island, a decommissioned military base at the mouth of the East River. The series has been published as a book as well.

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Strontium.jpg I visited the De Young Museum over the weekend and took a long look at Gerhard Richter’s “Strontium.” It’s the second time I’ve seen it and it’s still stunning. The image to the left does it no justice (you can click to see it slightly larger), but you won’t really get the full impact unless you see it in person.

The piece measures an overwhelming 30 x 30 feet and hangs in the main entrance hall. Richter has mounted 130 c-prints side by side, each one covered with a crystal latticework that represents the molecular structure of strontium titanate (Sr), the 38th element on the periodic table. Strontium titanate is often used to create artificial diamonds. Each print is backed with aluminum and covered with a matte plexiglass. The surface blurs and shimmers, refusing to come into focus as you stand gazing at it. The pattern transmits an illusion of depth that makes you want to dive in, get to the bottom of it, but “Strontium” is an ever-receding, elusive image.

The pattern reminds me of the sprockets of a film reel or the eye-like mechanical window shutters of Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.

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shrew.jpgStumbled across the photographer Audrey Heller while browsing the local quarterly food journal, Edible San Francisco; her photo graces the cover. Heller specializes in images that stage Lilliputian-sized people in the middle of our much larger day-to-day universe, reeling the viewer in to look more closely at these miniature toy worlds.

In “The Shrew,” a diminutive washer woman kneels on a book page, carefully scrubbing away at a few of the naughtier lines in Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

In an image called “Urban Culture,” little people tend weeds that grow up between cracked pavement. Or in “Damage Control” tiny construction men work on a broken string of Christmas tree lights. Wonderful visual puns.

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babbette.jpgWhen I was down in LA, I got the chance to visit Babbette Hines’ Found Photo Gallery.

Hines is the author of Photo Booth, a beautiful collection of shots ranging over 75 years, beginning back in the 20s. You can find it in most bookstores, but Babbette would probably like it if you bought it online at Arcana, the art bookstore where she works.

Every two months, Babbette curates a themed show at her gallery located in The Brewery arts complex in Los Angeles. Photos are grouped around quirky topics such as “I fought the law + the law won,” “The lure of television,” “Shhh, I’m sleeping” or “Is it still a portrait if you can’t see my face?”

She’s currently working on a project about food and family that’s centered around a collection of vintage Thanksgiving dinner photos. She’ll intersperse these images with text and old recipes that have been handed down, noted in the margins of old cookbooks or jotted on scraps of paper, most of them with a confident disregard for precise measurement. It should be a visual, textual (and gastronomic) window into the idea of tradition and how it’s passed along—how shared recipes or dinners evolve into something much more than a meal.

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