Category Archives: eyecurious

Romka magazine: a collective photo-album

Romka magazine, Issue #7

I wrote about Romka magazine over on the eyecurious Tumblr some time ago, but I will confess to never having picked up a paper copy before, so the latest issue (#7) is the first I have been able to flick through. The conceit is a simple one, “favorite pictures and the stories that lie behind them” by pros and amateurs alike. No book reviews, no interviews, no ads… no excess fat. The result is a kind of crowd-sourced collective photo-album, which makes it sound terrible when it is really quite good. Romka simply does what it says on the tin: it presents a series of single images by photographers (that might be Roger Ballen or it might be Sachi “the builder who lives in a pink house in New Orleans”), each accompanied by a short text explaining what that image means to them. It is a very simple recipe, and like many simple recipes it is hard to get right, but when it works it is rather delicious. Although it follows a fairly strict formula it doesn’t feel formulaic because of its democratic, all-inclusive approach to images and because it helps to reveal some of the myriad reasons why photographs matter so much to people. This simple formula also makes it refreshingly different to most other photography magazines out there.

I have done a lot of wondering (to myself and sometimes out loud) about whether the photo album has become irrelevant today given the changes in the way that we make and look at photographs… Romka makes me think that there is life in it yet.

Romka magazine, Issue #7

Romka magazine, Issue #7

Romka magazine, Issue #7, November 2012, edition of 1,500.

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Photographers

Loving this short film montage by Mishka Henner and David Oates, collectively known as BlackLab. By extracting and resequencing hundreds of movie scenes featuring photographers, Photographers explores the tropes of the photographer on screen from voyeur, to fashion photographer, investigator or war photographer. Beyond the fun of trying to figure out what films were used for the montage, this is also a fascinating deconstruction of the mythology of the photographer.

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Review: Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere

Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere

Andres Gonzalez’s book Somewhere is a deliberately slippery beast. As its title implies it is not about a specific place, but more about the idea of place itself. It begins and ends in an airplane, as if to make the point that it will be taking us on a series of journeys. These photographs were taken all over the world (Mexico, China, Namibia, Ukraine…) over the course of a decade, but Somewhere is clearly not a travelogue. There are no images of the Great Wall of China or of the Namibian desert, but rather of the late afternoon light pouring into a bedroom or of an anonymous shopping mall parking lot. The book doesn’t follow a narrative or focus on a single subject, but instead it seems to have been structured to mimic the way we remember, where one memory will lead to the recollection of another from an entirely different time and place. The design by Dutch graphic designer extraordinaire, Sybren Kuiper, emphasizes the overlap between these moments even further by interweaving sections with different sized pages to create a subtle flow of images that slowly appear and disappear.

Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere

Like the subconscious, Somewhere does not neatly catalogue memories of different times and places, but instead allows them to shuffle together into a more complicated and confused whole. Much of what we see is revealed through a window or behind curtains and the reflective matte paper stock itself contributes to this impression of distance from the subject. While it deals with many of photography’s major themes—place, time, memory, dreams and reality—it isn’t interested in making any grandiose statements. It is a quiet and modest book (it fits nicely in the palm of your hand), a book of emotions and atmosphere rather than of concept or ideas. It successfully conjures up the world of dreams and of memory, but without offering any particular resolution: Gonzalez’s images obstruct as much as they reveal, and the impression that the book leaves is elusive and even a little frustrating… an intense dream that you cannot quite remember.

Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere

Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere

Andres Gonzalez, Somewhere, (Self-published, 84 pages, hard cover, 2012, edition of 700)

Rating: Recommended

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10×10: Japanese Photobooks

10x10

2012 is turning into the year of the Japanese photobook exhibition. After Contemporary Japanese Photobooks at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, New Yorkers now have the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks Reading Room to look forward to from 28-30 September. 10×10 is a 3-day pop-up reading room sponsored by the International Center of Photography Library with 100 Japanese photobooks selected by 10 specialists (=10×10). Since this event is also sponsored by the Photobook Facebook Group, there had to be some online action too, so the organizers have asked 10 people from the Internet to each select 10 books, which, according to my stellar arithmetical abilities, gives us a total of 200 books. For my list, I have tried to select books that represent different facets of Japanese photobook production over the last 60 years (I have managed to get one book from every decade since the 1950s). I should also mention a few obstructions in my selection. Firstly, I was asked not to select books that had already been selected other participants. As I tend to do things at the last minute, I had to make a few changes to my initial selection. Secondly, I have only selected books that I own so I could include some (rather poor quality) photographs of them. So without further ado…

Hiroshi Hamaya, China As I Saw It

Hiroshi Hamaya, China as I Saw It [Mite Kita Chugoku].
(Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1958).

In 1956, just before Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Hamaya travelled through China to Canton, Shanghai, Xian, Lanzhou, Urumchi and Beijing. As with most of his early work, these photographs focus on the local folklore and people’s everyday life. Although it is not self-published, this is one of the most self-made photobooks that I know of. Hamaya took the photographs, wrote the text, designed the book inside and out (which leads to some unusual layout choices) and used his own calligraphy on the cover and for the fantastic end papers (a hand-drawn map of the route he took through China). With the gorgeous gravure printing of the period thrown in for good measure, this is one of those “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore” books.

Hiroshi Hamaya, China As I Saw It

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Naoya Hatakeyama, A Bird: Blast 130

Naoya Hatakeyama, A Bird: Blast #130. (Tokyo: Taka Ishii Gallery, 2006).

I tried to avoid choosing personal favourites for this list, but I have to confess that this is one of them. The book is a kind of outtake from Hatakeyama’s Blast series on the explosions used in limestone quarrying. The Blast pictures are frame-by-frame deconstructions of explosions of limestone taken with remote cameras in order to get as close as possible to the action. When going through his contact sheets, Hatakeyama discovered that a bird had flown through the frame for the duration of one such blast. The book starts just before the charges are set off and ends as the dust is still settling in the air. Throughout, the bird continues its flight, only adjusting its course slightly in order to avoid the disturbance below. The drama and violent beauty of the explosion is made to feel almost insignificant by this bird flying across the sky. The production of the book is nothing special, but then it doesn’t need to be… in a way it reminds me of the flipbooks I loved so much as a kid. As an aside, Hatakeyama’s Blast series has, amazingly, never been published as a book, but thankfully that is soon going to be put right.

Naoya Hatakeyama, A Bird. Blast 130

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Eikoh Hosoe, The Butterfly Dream

Eikoh Hosoe, The Butterfly Dream. (Kyoto: Seigensha, 2006).

Eikoh Hosoe has produced some of the great and most elaborate Japanese photobooks. The first two editions of Barakei and the first edition of Kamaitachi are some of the most sought after books on the market. This book from 2006, devoted to the late Butoh dancer, Kazuo Ohno, deserves to be better known. As with Tatsumi Hijikata, who collaborated with the photographer to embody the kamaitachi, Hosoe photographed Ohno throughout his dancing career until his death in 2010. Hosoe made the book as a gift for Ohno’s century of life and it was published on the dancer’s birthday. The Butterfly Dream was designed as a companion piece to Kamaitachi, so that each of the two masters of Butoh would have their own. The brilliant Tadanori Yokoo designed the slipcase for the book, just as for the 2005 Kamaitachi reprint produced by Aperture.

 Eikoh Hosoe, The Butterfly Dream

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Mao Ishikawa, Hot Days in Camp Hansen

Mao Ishikawa. Hot Days in Camp Hansen [Atsuki Hibi ni Camp Hansen]. (Okinawa: Aaman Shuppan, 1982).

This is the first of two books on Okinawa in my selection. Ishikawa’s first book, Hot Days in Camp Hansen is a very unusual beast. Photography was still a male-dominated world in Japan in the late 1970s and a female photographer from Okinawa would have had virtually no opportunities to publish her work at that time, let alone work has uninhibited as this. The book focuses on the girls who worked in bars catering for the American GIs near the US military bases. To do this project Ishikawa became one of these girls herself, working in one bar for a period of around 2 years. The result is an astonishingly frank but joyous and affectionate portrait of the girls she worked and lived with and the GIs who frequented the bar. One of a kind.

Mao Ishikawa, Hot Days in Camp Hansen

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Kikuji Kawada, The Last Cosmology

Kikuji Kawada, The Last Cosmology: Photographs. (Tokyo: 491, 1995).

Kawada is known—almost exclusively—for his 1965 book The Map [Chizu], an extraordinary photographic object that now fetches astronomical prices at auction. Whereas Chizu was a kind of mental map of the horrors of the Pacific War, The Last Cosmology is Kawada’s personal map of the cosmos. Like many of his books, it combines seemingly unrelated images: long exposure photographs of of the night sky (Kawada is an amateur astronomer) are interspersed with visual fragments that echo the celestial patterns. Less elaborate in its construction than Chizu, like all of Kawada’s books, it is still beautifully produced.

Kikuji Kawada, The Last Cosmology

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Jun Morinaga, Kawa Ruiei

Jun Morinaga, Kawa, Ruiei / River, Its Shadow of Shadows (Tokyo: Yugensha, 1978).

Kawa is a study of Tokyo’s waterways as they were slowly being choked by the economic boom of the postwar years. This is a book of texture: Morinaga focuses almost exclusively on the surface of the water, as it bubbles, froths and stagnates in the mud. One of the most remarkable things about Kawa is its design by Sugiura Kohei, the man behind many of the best Japanese photobooks of the 60s and 70s. His use of gatefolds slows the reading process down and draws you in to Morinaga’s muddy, claustrophobic, abstract world and the way in which the images are integrated into the pages of text at the end of the book is masterful. Morinaga was W. Eugene Smith’s assistant for his Minamata project and the latter contributed a short text to this title.

Jun Morinaga, Kawa Ruiei

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Seiji Shibuya, Dance

Seiji Shibuya, Dance (Tokyo: Akaaka, 2011).

For my money, Akaaka has been the most interesting photobook publisher in Japan over the last few years. Shibuya’s previous book Birth, was a little too perfect for me, a succession of achingly beautiful images that didn’t really go anywhere. Dance is a much stronger book, particularly thanks to the edit and the sequencing of the images where little series appear and disappear like musical riffs. The book was made from Shibuya’s entire archive and the edit took around one year, using some images that Shibuya had apparently forgotten about. The book isn’t driven by a concept or idea, but instead seems to focus on conveying a certain mood, a kind of sunny melancholy. This book also has my favourite cover of recent years, not so much for its cover image but because of the thick textured paper on which it is printed which just makes you want to pick it up.

Seiji Shibuya, Dance

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Akihide Tamura, Afternoon

Akihide Tamura, Afternoon. (Tokyo: Match and Company, 2009).

If most photobooks are novels, Afternoon is more of a short story. With a mere 23 plates of black-and-white landscapes over 32 pages, the book is remarkably economical but very well made… not an ounce of excess fat here. Tamura was one of the photographers featured in the landmark New Japanese Photography show at the MoMA in 1974. My sources (ahem, Wikipedia) tell me that he shot the stills for several of Akira Kurosawa’s late movies, but I know very little about him apart from that. I know a little more about the publisher, Match and Company. They are the Machiguchi brothers, a cross between rock stars and book designers. Their books are immediately recognisable—maybe even a little too recognisable—with their clean, minimalist style and they are one of the few Japanese publishers with an eye for roman typography. They have also developed an interesting model, designing, producing and selling their books themselves through their online shop bookshop-m.

Akihide Tamura, Afternoon

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Shomei Tomatsu, Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa

Shomei Tomatsu, Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa. (Tokyo: Shaken, 1969).

Although far less elaborate than those of Eikoh Hosoe, Tomatsu’s books have also become some of the most highly collectible postwar Japanese photobooks. Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa is a somewhat lesser known title, which, you guessed it, focuses on the islands of Okinawa. Tomatsu has always been fascinated by the Americanization that took place in Japan after the war and in the 1960s he travelled to Okinawa, where the US has maintained a major military presence, to photograph. The islands became a major subject for his work and eventually his home (he has lived there for many years now), not only because of the US military presence, but also for their natural beauty and way of life so far removed from the intensity and chaos of Tokyo. In some ways this is a protest book (the slogans on the cover call for an end to the US occupation of the islands), but it also shows Tomatsu’s burgeoning interest in the beauty of Okinawa and its way of life. Some of Tomatsu’s color photographs of Okinawa appear in the current issue (#280) of Aperture magazine.

Shomei Tomatsu, Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa

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Yoshihiko Ueda, Quinault

Yoshihiko Ueda, Quinault (Kyoto: Seigensha, 2003).

In the summer of 1990 while scouting for a location for a fashion shoot, Yoshihiko Ueda, a successful fashion photographer, had a “moment of vision” when he discovered the extraordinarily lush Quinault rainforest to the west of Seattle. Ueda eventually returned with an 8×10″ camera and color film to try and recapture the feeling he first had in discovering Quinault. The images in the book are taken at eye-level in very low light to convey the feeling of wandering through this dense forest. The book is beautifully and very subtly printed on a thick matte paper in an oversize format to retain some sense of the imposing scale of the forest. If you are unfashionable enough to appreciate natural beauty, this one is for you.

Yoshihiko Ueda, Quinault

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Conceptual photography

For its latest issue (#71), Source magazine is asking the question, “What is conceptual photography?” To go along with the mag they have produced three short talking-head videos exploring this question with a handful of artists and critics. The importance of the “concept” in contemporary photography has always interested me. In the photo-world, the question regularly pops up about why “straight” photography isn’t taken seriously by the art world. Those in the straight photography corner often appear to see conceptual photography as impure in some way, as if it were not what photography is really about. Without wanting to spark off another one of these debates, it seems to me that concept is indeed considered paramount in Western art photography today (in my experience, this is not at all the case in Japan, where “serious” photography can still very much be about wandering around with a camera and taking pictures). For example, I’m often struck by young photographers struggling to hang an ill-fitting artist statement with some big ideas in it over the shoulders of work that is clearly not conceptual in the slightest… presumably because they have been taught to do so in art school. Wherever you stand on this question (or however delightfully far away you stand from it) these videos provide an interesting look at how photography became so excited about concepts and what the hell “conceptual photography” is even supposed to mean in the first place.

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Art Space Tokyo

Art Space Tokyo

Tokyo is not an easy place to get to grips with, especially for those of us who are used to the structure and scale of most European cities. Its multi-layered sprawl and labyrinthine underground transport network can make it feel like a never-ending maze. Like the city itself, Tokyo’s art scene can feel impenetrable to an outsider. The fluctuations of the art world make it difficult to keep up with the art landscape in any big city, but Tokyo more than most as the contemporary art market is not as developed and established as in the US or Europe. This doesn’t mean fewer galleries, but rather more of them and a constant ebb and flow of relocations, openings, and closures too. As a regular visitor to the city over the last decade, I still feel as if I have only seen the tip of the art scene iceberg. Galleries are often small, tiny even, and difficult to find, rarely at street level but tucked away in a basement or on the 4th floor of an anonymous building in a non-descript neighbourhood. Part of the charm if you’re gallery hopping, but if you actually have to get to a meeting, it can be a little more stressful. I often rely on Tokyo Art Beat, a kind of online art events guide (in both Japanese and English) including exhibition reviews that tells you what is on in Tokyo. A very useful tool, in its attempt to be comprehensive it also ends up being a little overwhelming and is probably more useful when you know what you are looking for.

Thankfully there is now another online English-language resource to turn to. Art Space Tokyo has existed as a physical book since 2008, but it has now been launched on digital platforms and as a website including three major sections: spaces, interviews and essays, as well as a timeline of some of the major art events in Tokyo over the last 60+ years. Rather than going for a comprehensive picture of the Tokyo art scene, Art Space Tokyo limits itself to a couple of handfuls of spaces and art world ‘players’, providing the essential info but also going into some depth and analysing current trends. The essays included also tackle interesting questions such as the nature of Japanese street art or the state of art journalism and criticism in Japan, making this much more than a guidebook to the Tokyo art world. The authors, Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod, have also clearly given a lot of thought to translating all the content from a paper book to digital platforms (iPad, Kindle) and to a website. They have been generous too, putting up the entire contents of the book online for free, even holding on to Nobumasa Takahashi‘s great illustrations, rather than treating the site as a sneak preview promotional tool. This one is bound to come in handy on my next visit to Tokyo.

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Review: Nina Poppe, Ama

If I had to choose a single word to describe Nina Poppe’s book Ama it would be ‘modest.’ It is not a ‘clever’ book, nor a powerful one. It is quiet and does little to promote itself (the book’s open spine design which does not allow for text guarantees that it will be all but forgotten on a bookshelf). This modesty runs throughout every aspect of the book, from the subject matter to Poppe’s photographic approach to her subject, and even to the book’s size and design. In many ways it is a very ordinary photobook: a simple, straightforward documentation of the life of a small community. These unassuming, unfussy qualities could make it easy to overlook, and yet I think they are what make Ama one of the better recent photobooks of its kind.

Ama takes its title from the Japanese word given to these female divers. The book centres on a particular community of women abalone divers on the island of Ise-shima in Japan. Poppe has photographed these older women (they appear to all be in their 60s or 70s) as they prepare for and emerge from their dives, and go about the business of daily life. There are no photographs of the dives themselves. Instead Poppe has come up with the elegant solution of reproducing a spread of an ama mid-dive from Fosco Maraini’s 1963 book The Island of the Fisherwomen, one of the books inspired her to undertake this project. The image is printed on a different, thinner, light blue paper stock which differentiates it from Poppe’s pictures. The same device is used at the end of the book with an accordion fold on the same paper, featuring spreads from several other books through which she presumably researched the ama. I found this to be an elegant way of introducing what it was that attracted her to the subject in the first place and to share her love for the photobook.

In addition to the ritual of the dive, Ama reveals the physical environment of the island, giving a sense of an extremely simple lifestyle turned towards nature. Although it opens with a saying from the Ise-shima region which states that, “A woman who cannot feed a man is worthless,” there isn’t a single picture of a man in the book. Their absence gives this proverb an almost ironic quality, as the men seem irrelevant in the world of these women. Aside from the ama, the only other people that appear are children and young women. Their portraits seem to act as a contrast to the divers, raising the question of how different the lives of these different generations are. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these young girls were in any way interested in the tradition of the ama, or indeed could even become divers themselves one day, or whether the women pictured here would be amongst the last to dive in this way.

While this all may sound rather nostalgic or melodramatic, this isn’t the sense that comes through in these photographs. These images are not romantic or lyrical. Instead, Poppe has built up a simple portrait of the ama and their island, one suffused with affection, warmth and respect, but which refrains from inscribing them in some form of mythology. This restraint is another of the book’s great strengths for me.

Japan remains a fascinating photographic subject for the West and one which has a potent exotic aroma. Much of the work that I see by foreign photographers on Japan seems to be unable to get beyond a search for the exotic other, a search for a series of clichés or preconceived ideas rather than an attempt to photograph what is there. I was struck by the fact that Poppe, a young German woman, avoided this trap so assuredly. The result is that Ama does not feel like the book of an outsider, but rather a work with an open mind.

Nina Poppe, Ama (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 88 pages, 56 colour plates, 2012).

Rating: Recommended

Note: An exhibition of the series Ama is on show at Foam in Amsterdam from 11 May to 27 June 2012.

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Interview: Jon Rafman, The lack of history in the post-Internet age

 

Jon Rafman is a Canadian artist and filmmaker based in Montreal. He recently gave a talk about his work entitled “In Search of the Virtual Sublime” at the Gaité Lyrique, a new space devoted to digital culture in Paris. I met up with Jon in a café near the Jardin du Luxembourg to discuss Google Street View, street photography, the cyberflâneur and what the future looks like.

How did you start working in the digital space?

After I graduated I discovered a community of artists on the social bookmarking site del.icio.us. It really felt that an incredible artistic dialogue was taking place informally: a new vernacular was being formed online. There was so much energy to it. The dialogue was so exciting, mixing humour and irony, critique and celebration. Del.icio.us was the platform on which I really started working with the Internet. At this point Facebook and Tumblr have pretty much replaced it.

I had known about early net art but I was never attracted to its glitchy aesthetic. So when I discovered this community I felt like I had found what I had been searching for all through art school. Del.icio.us led me to various different collectives like Paintfx. That is the period when I started my Google Street View project.

The project started out as PDF books. And then I started to print out the images just like photographs. I experimented with the printing for a while and eventually decided to print the images as large format C-prints. In 2009 the art blog Art Fag City asked me to write an essay, and that was when the project really took off, but I already had a huge archive of material by that stage. The 9-eyes tumblr blog came directly out of that. I had already been working with Google Street View (GSV) for one or two years when I created 9-eyes.

What was your process to find the locations and images that you used?

At first it was just long, arduous surf sessions. I went to places I wanted to visit, mainly in America (GSV had not been launched in many countries at the time), but not in a systematic way. As the project grew, I learned certain tricks. For example the best place to go for images is to check where the Google cars are and to follow those. Otherwise, Google may have removed any ‘anomalies’, which often make the most interesting images.

Once the project went viral I started getting tons of submissions from people. Some of these I used directly and some would act as a departure point to search for images.

What were you looking for specifically?

I was working a bit like a street photographer: keeping an open mind and responding to my intuition. The process was really about editing down. The entire project is a process of subtraction: since everything has already been captured on GSV, it is about editing down until you find the core, essential moments. I think it could be considered as a major editing project.

Are there any online GSV communities or forums that you use to find images?

There is a forum for pretty much anything you can think of. There is a forum where people only collect images of prostitutes, some of which I used in 9-eyes. I don’t like fetishizing labour. I don’t want to play up the amount of time I spend finding these images. This can become a kind of artistic crutch. The greatest works of art for me can be a single gesture that took very little time at all.

Even though this project is inherently time consuming, I don’t want that to be its central focus. It could easily have become an endurance piece, a kind of artistic marathon. If I had an algorithm to find all these amazing images, I think I would be equally as happy.

Take Duchamp’s ready-mades: they changed art. If everything can be art, then what is art? I see that as the healthiest state for art to be in: questioning its very nature.

How conscious were you of specific street photographers’ styles when taking these images?

I was very aware of photographic history when working on this project. I really believe that photography was the medium of the twentieth century, because of the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether it was or was not art, due to photography’s mechanical nature. I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.

The perception of reality associated with photography is very modern. In the past, representations in the form of images were always imbued with a certain magical quality. The photograph shows a world that is empty of that. It is just a reflection of the surface of things. In that way the photograph is the perfect embodiment of our perception of the modern world. More than specific photographic history, I was thinking of photography from a philosophical point of view.

Most of your work deals with digital media of some kind. Do you consider yourself to be a digital artist?

For a while the term “Internet-aware” was used in relation to artists working with the Internet. Nobody was happy with the term, or with “net artists” which felt too ghettoising. In the same way, many people do not feel comfortable with the term “new media artist”, because it implies a kind of fetishisation of new technology.

I would prefer to be recognised simply as an artist. Unless you are very specific to a medium, which I’m not, I don’t think it is necessary to add these labels. I’m fine with championing net art, but I don’t want to be wedded to it forever.

Take Elad Lassry for example. He is one of the most successful young photographers that I know, and in some way I think that is because he doesn’t position his work as photography but as art. I have a lot of respect for those ‘purists’ that are attached to the formal qualities of their medium, but I don’t want to be associated too closely with a particular medium as I’m interested in exploring many different approaches.

There are other artists, including Michael Wolf and Doug Rickard, who have worked with Google Street View. Do you see GSV as a territory where there is only room for one or do you see it as a vast territory that more and more artists are likely to explore?

GSV is in the zeitgeist and it is a vast territory to explore. In a way I’m surprised that there haven’t been more artists working with it. We all have different methods of working. For example, Michael Wolf photographs the screen to make his images, whereas I think that Doug Rickard removes all traces of Google from the images: the symbols, the Google copyright. My process is more akin to the ready-made.

You have also referred to the flâneur in relation to your work. How does this term that is generally associated with nineteenth century art in Paris relate to your practice?

I’m very interested in the notion of the flâneur. The lack of history in this new post-internet age is making it harder to have a sense of self. The Internet has already become so ubiquitous, that it is now a banal part of our reality.

In Internet years things are forgotten so quickly. The importance of history in building a sense of self is one of the main themes running through my work. Many of my projects focus on very marginal sub-cultures such as gaming (ed. Codes of Honor, for example). They feel the lack of a sense of self acutely because their culture can die out any day. The game is everything to them but from one the day to the next the culture of that game becomes obsolete.

The reason I tie in the flâneur is because I want to find the connection between the cyberflâneur and the flâneur of the Parisian arcades of the late nineteenth century. On one level the comparison is absurd, but on another level it is very apt. In the same way that Internet cultures die off, so did the arcades of Paris.

People talk about how the Internet age is so new, and the idea that technology has changed everything. I think it is very important to see that many of these things existed in different forms in the past. For instance, the information overload that is thought of as defining the Internet era dates back to early modern times and the emergence of the modern city.

The NYTimes recently published an article by Evgeny Morosov about the death of the cyberflâneur. Morosov makes the point that in the age of social media, web surfing is essentially over, that the information we get from the Internet is essentially pre-digested. Do you agree with that view?

People often ask me what the future is going to look like… I’m not really sure why… maybe simply because I work with new technologies.

In the past we relied on dystopian and utopian views of the future. The future was thought of as fundamentally different from the present. Today, there is a sense that the future is going to be a lot more banal, that we are already living in the future (like with the phone that you are recording this conversation with), that the future is going to be more of the same… more apps and technologies that are designed to mediate and ‘improve’ our experience of reality. It is essentially a more Facebook-like future. This is very different from the early Internet, which was more like an exploration of a vast unknown territory.

 

Note: Jon Rafman’s latest exhibition, MMXII BNPJ, opens at American Medium in New York on May 5.

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