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Archive for February, 2008

friedlander_car1.jpgMost Americans experience the landscape around them from the comfort of a moving vehicle. Lee Friedlander plays this idea out in his latest photo series, “America by Car,” at Fraenkel Gallery.

In image after image, an American scene is framed by a windshield, a rolled down window, a side view mirror. These modern automobile interiors are cold, anonymous and plastic, but their familiarity is comforting. This is, after all, the way that most of us view the world.

The photographer’s presence is felt as he lets the prosaic environment of his car envelop and fringe the subject he’s shooting—a constant reminder that he and his camera are there. Friedlander’s inventive angles expand his images into other fields of vision—reflections in another  window or a rear view mirror.

In Death Valley, a raven sits eerily perched atop a roadside bluff so close it seems you could reach out and touch it. In Arizona, a tangled prickly cactus looms in a side window, echoed in the garish upholstery of what must be a rented car. And in Las Vegas, pulled up behind a mobile advertising truck with vanity plates, the garish ad on the back door promises “Hot Babes.”

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chiara.jpgSan Francisco-based photographer, John Chiara, works with a lumbering camera he built himself that he carts around with him on the back of a flatbed truck. He creates unique prints by exposing directly onto photographic paper placed on the inside back wall of the camera, using his hand over the lens as a dodge and burn tool. Maneuvering his way in and out of the camera through a long black baffle tube made from heavy plastic tarp, he looks like he’s being consumed by the camera.

With his outsize equipment the process is much less science than it is poetic approximation—the lack of exactitude, the larger-than-life apparatus are what make Chiara’s work so singular and theatrical. Picture taking as performance.

Chiara develops his prints in a large tube created specifically for this purpose that he fills with chemistry and rolls across his studio floor. His photos have the hazy, otherworldly look of early landscape photography. Chiara calls his images “visual memories,” objects that “reference apparition and memory.”

KQED television’s art program, “Spark,” did a great interview with Chiara that walks through the shooting and developing process with him. His work is on display at Von Lintel Gallery in New York.

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collier.jpgAnne Collier takes pop culture objects and images from the 70s and 80s, photographs them and then delivers them in conceptual format, wrapping sentimentality up in deadpan commentary.

Magazines from 30 years ago with their dated production values and period clothes and hairdos. Posters of saccharine sunsets overlaid with equally saccharine poems. Images of a lone Jeff Buckley album or a cassette with its tape tangled and exposed. Things that were once of the moment become dated, distant and the feelings they once evoked are gone, transformed into nostalgia for those who remember and curiosity for those who don’t.

Collier’s work is currently on display at Presentation House and Anton Kern.

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vanmanen.jpgBertien van Manen is a Dutch artist whose work is on display at Yancey Richardson in New York.

The current show features images from her travels across Russia, where she photographed people she befriended in the intimacy of their own home. Her style is an intriguing mix of documentary and personal.

Van Manen has an earlier series called “Give Me Your Image” which immediately caught my eye. During her travels all over Europe, she began staging images in people’s houses, selecting a family photo, an image dear to someone and shooting it in the context of their bedroom or entryway, posed on a dresser top or kitchen table. Pictures within pictures. Scenes within scenes. The physical proof of an intangible emotional connection to another person.

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Class Act

deep-sea-diver.jpgIrving Penn’s “The Small Trades” is a series he created for Vogue in the 1950s which documents service people in Paris, New York and London. This collection of images has been acquired by the Getty in its entirety and will be on show in 2009.

Penn is known for his classic portraits of models and artists, a far cry from this series which features cleaning ladies, waiters, glaziers and deep sea divers among others. And yet Penn’s pictures of the working classes have the same gravity and elegance as his fashion shots.

Each individual is posed against a backdrop in their typical uniform and with the tools of their trade. I like this deep sea diver with his bubble mask looking like some sub-aquatic astronaut.

The New York Times wrote a piece about the Getty acquisition recently.

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Images of Flight

I watched Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” the other night. It’s a movie about two generations of an Indian family living between two places, Calcutta and New York. The film shuttles between cities, languages and cultures, and the waiting halls and runways of airports become the metaphor for this double life.

jetee.jpgThe DVD includes a special feature on the photographs that influenced the look of the movie. It includes Chris Marker’s “La Jetee” and Garry Winogrand’s airport series, “Arrivals & Departures.”

Each photographer’s image is juxtaposed with the scene it inspired and it’s obvious that Nair and her director of photography have steeped themselves in these photos and internalized them. Winogrand’s waiting lines in airports and lonely conversations in phone booths or Chris Marker’s little boy climbing up on a railing to catch a glimpse of the runway at Orly—all of them echo in Mira Nair’s film.

Marker and Winogrand’s photos are some of my favorites because they capture perfectly that moment when you’ve checked your bag and entered a realm of suspension, waiting to be there, not here. In Marker’s image, a man stands fixed on the jetty, looking off into the distance, watching and waiting while around him the clouds, winogrand.jpgthe lines of the pavement, the lightpoles create a sense of lift-off. Winogrand’s subject does the same, shading his eyes with a newspaper, staring transfixed at something out there.

The intensity of this gaze, the way both men propel themselves off into another reality simply by squinting their eyes and fixating on a far-off point encapsulates for me the mystery and aura of flying.

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steckelberg_3.jpg I’ve often wondered if memories were qualitatively different before photography was invented. When a loved one dies we have the crutch of a family snapshot to remind us of details that without the photo might become cloudy.

The online photo magazine, Lens Culture featured the work of Ludmila Steckelberg recently, a Brazilian artist who doctors her family photo album, blacking out the shapes of those relatives who are no longer alive. It rings of those found photos where a person is cut out or torn away, an arm wrapped around a shoulder or hip the only trace of this vanished person.

But Steckleberg’s images are of loved ones, so to forcefully block them out is a painful memory exercise. If we could no longer see their physical features in a photo, how would we remember them, what would we remember?

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