Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Russian photographer Alexei Vassiliev‘s hazy subjects hover just beyond the viewer’s reach, disappearing in a blur caused by a sudden movement or an out-of-focus lens. A woman in a turquoise coat stands in a metro station, bobbed brown hair and a tired swanlike sway to her neck. Her gaze beams directly at the camera, but her eyes are indistinct, hollow gray fields that make her glance all the more intriguing and intense.

Vassiliev who now lives and works in Paris describes it this way: “The more blurred the subjects of these portraits, the more they looked as if they were on the verge of dissolving, fading away, or disappearing — that is when their presence really asserted itself.


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Tattered and Torn

sabella.jpgSculptor and photographer Nadim Sabella studied archeology in his native Germany. He’s now based in Oakland where he turns out artwork that is very much driven by his training as a cultural detective. Sabella’s work puzzles together stories from the remnants of a not-so-distant past.

His photos capture abandoned rooms where plaster and sheetrock crumble beneath neglect, the elements, vandals. Rooms overgrown with ivy. Rooms left hastily. Rooms where the TV no longer works. Universal rooms with no time, place or circumstances given (although some look like they’re taken in Germany).

Sabella’s photos remind me of demolition sites in Paris. Buildings used to be constructed with murs mitoyens, a common wall shared by two buildings. If one building was torn down the common wall remained, still covered with a tattered patchwork of wallpapers, traces of stairwells, mangled faucets and dangling showerheads, the innards of the vanished building exposed, leaving only a skeletal imprint of the lives lived in its rooms.

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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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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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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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epaminonda.jpgI discovered Haris Epaminonda at the Venice Biennale earlier this year. Epaminonda is a Cypriot artist who splits her time between London and Nicosia. Her work is all about the appropriation of images—whether they’re plucked off the Internet, ripped out of old French magazines or culled from vintage film footage.

In a small, darkened room in the Cyprus pavilion, two video screens flickered with short clips that looked like they dated from the 50s or 60s. A woman walking down a street, a couple walking backwards in a garden, two lovers shopping for a wedding ring—all in saturated colors. Each clip was no longer than a minute, enough to create the outlines of a story, but the threads slipped away just as rapidly, leaving only haunting impressions.

Epaminonda’s show included collages built by layering images cut from old French magazines (which is probably why they resonated so strongly for me). The odd, funhouse Nativity scene above sets a baby child center stage while unrelated crowds of people are pasted round, like spectators in a theater—abducted from their original story and dropped into a new one. Epaminonda forces disparate images to coincide, transforming them into newly charged versions of reality.


John Stezaker‘s pieces also reinvent reality. He combines found images—defacing portraits, literally, by covering people’s features with picture postcards or blank squares of paper.

Movie scenes and movie stars suddenly have gaping holes in them filled with another person or pattern or place. Image collisions cause shifts in depth perception and alterations in gender. Other worlds—in the form of a picture postcard—suddenly merge with a face, creating bizarre, often comic effects.

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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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