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Archive for November, 2007

vandor.jpgI went to the preview for SF Camerawork’s annual benefit auction last night. Lots of good contemporary work along with a smattering of older pieces.

One of the vintage images that jumped out at me was Geza Vandor‘s “Scissors and Lace” (c. 1930) which shows a photogram jumble of sewing notions.

Born in Hungary in the late 19th century, Vandor started as a filmmaker in Budapest, then moved to Paris in 1921. He took up still photography a few years later and began showing with the likes of Kertesz, Man Ray, Brassai, Florence Henri. His images reflect his background: the intense shadow and angle of Soviet Constructivism and the odd and mysterious juxtapositions of Surrealism.

I particularly like his images of a solarized Christmas tree, a photogram of a man stubbing out a cigarette and this haunting image of a car driving down a tree-lined road at night.

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Life in Miniature

ventura.jpg Driving up to M+B Gallery in LA is a little like pulling into Pleasantville. The artspace is located in a little white clapboard cottage with neat green hedges out front, not the kind of place you’d expect to find an LA gallery in. But once inside, the place is definitely contemporary.

I was there a few months ago and jotted down the name of a monograph on display—War Souvenir by Italian photographer Paolo Ventura. Ventura is a miniaturist. His photos recreate scenes from a specific time and place, in this instance World War II. He uses GI Joe dolls to create replicas of life during wartime: the dreary dance floors, lonely street corners and music halls where soldiers look longingly for a little human warmth; military infirmaries; scenes of death, disaster, revenge and suicide. Dark, dark stuff, but the fact that it is staged (like a diorama at the Museum of Natural History) diffuses some of the charge, makes it clinical, instructive, easier to look at. It’s not actual people—just dolls—which makes you grin at first, then in the instant after the smile, dive deeper into this weird reality.

M+B seems be drawn to photographers who explore staged images: you might want to check out Matthew Miller and Patrick Tourneboeuf, too.

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frizot1.jpgI’ve been planning a small display of some of my found photos for a local café. Right now I’m puzzling over what to show and how to arrange it.

I think I’ve got just about every book published on found photography and I’ve been paging through them for inspiration. Each editor has a different organizational method. Some categorize images into themes—women, men, people eating, driving, relaxing, etc.

Others like Michel Frizot in Photo Trouvée use the random method in which images unreel with no narrative, no explanation whatsoever. I like Frizot’s haphazard, stream-of-consciousness editing which lets you, the viewer, make up your own mind what the photo is about. When you assign themes you’re taking away a viewer’s first impression.

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Photo Booth Redux

rideal.jpgSay “photo booth” and most people think of cramming themselves into a tiny space to take a picture for an ID or to clown around for the camera. Who knew a photo booth could become an artistic device?

Liz Rideal takes the cells of the photo booth strip with their black frames and uses them as building blocks or as she calls it “digits” in an elegant pixelated jigsaw puzzle.

She riffs on the repetitive, cinematic elements of the photo booth image to create mosaics that echo and reverberate within the grid. Multiple shots of nearly identical images line up in rows; waves of fabric in motion, plant materials, a hand or a spray of hair are laid out like frozen frames in a movie. By multiplying these tiny rectangular cells, Rideal creates animated tapestries…like this pattern of midnight blue kimono silk and sprays of pussy willow.

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lichtenstein.jpgAbout a month ago, a copy of New York Magazine started showing up in my mailbox every Thursday. I know I didn’t sign up for it and everyone I check with assures me it wasn’t a surprise gift so I’m enjoying this subscription that appeared out of the blue. I’ve taken to scanning the photo listings for interesting exhibits.

Miranda Lichtenstein has a show at Elizabeth Dee, but it’s not her current work that caught my eye. She created a series of Polaroids in 2003 that she shot while in residence at Monet’s studio in Giverny. And trust me, Lichtenstein’s Giverny looks nothing like Monet’s; hers is a dark flower garden, often with bright flashes of light that make the plant life look surreal. She describes the setting as “a staged Eden that Monet created in order to paint from a living still life.” Lichtenstein captures the scene in a different medium, photography, but in a strange way her photos end up looking like paintings, 17th-century still life paintings.

Her account of the residency is worth checking out. She discovered there’s an exact reproduction of Giverny in Japan, although the gardeners have struggled to maintain French flora in a different climate. She visited the site and took pictures there as well.

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flynt.jpg

Robert Flynt overlays 19th-century tintypes with images of contemporary subjects, mostly naked, whose bare, languid, ghostly forms dance, pose or float on the surface of the photo.

An unsuspecting sitter from another era is subtly undressed by the naked figure hanging over them. Ribs glide across the surface of a topcoat, a bare arm brushes the opaque sleeve of a jacket. Viewers have to adjust their eyes, try to separate the layers of a Flynt photograph as if they’re reading those transparent overlays in a Gray’s Anatomy where pulmonary, skeletal, or digestive systems merge until you turn the page.

Flynt creates a tension between dressed and undressed, motion and stillness, antique and modern. The dialog between nakedness and the cloth that covers it, between the skeleton and its envelope of skin is a theme that runs through all of Flynt’s work.

Flynt has published a book of his images in the format of a calendar called [Your] Numbered Days which he describes as “a ‘birth and death date book.” It’s available at Photo-Eye.

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ghirri2.jpgParis Photo, the annual event where hordes of international galleries converge on the City of Lights to show off pictures, see and be seen, begins tomorrow. Since I can’t be there in person, I’ve had to make do with virtual gallery hopping to keep up.

I fell in love with the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri whose work is on exhibit at Galerie Anne de Villepoix. Ghirri’s main body of work is from the 70s and 80s; he died too soon at age 49 in 1992. His Kodachrome series from the 70s is on view and the images have the faded yellow cast of so many prints from that era. His style is snapshot inspired and echoes Eggleston.

The pieces I’m most drawn to are those in which Ghirri plays with reflections in shop windows where advertising imagery mingles with real objects and people, creating unsettling mixes of dreams and the everyday. Like this man sitting beneath a photo mural of snowy mountains with a scrim reflection of a beer glass and train dangling in front of him. Or this odd Marilyn montage. It leaves you wondering how he captured the image. There are so many moving parts.

Ghirri doesn’t seem to have a huge presence in the US, although Julie Saul Gallery in New York did have a show of his back in 2001.

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