Richard Learoyd, 1966, UK, graduated in Fine Art Photography at the Glasgow School of Art. He has a very unique way of working which creates absolutely unique photographs. He build a giant camera that can best be described as a huge camera obscura. The camera is comprised of two rooms. In one room is the model or the object in a light source. In the other room, behind a large lens, is a huge piece of photographic paper. Once exposed, a unique, life-size direct-positive print is created. Unlike the pinhole camera images, Richard’s photographs are clear of distortion, sharp and very detailed. Apart from the technical aspects, he manages to create poetically stunning imagery. He places people, clothed and nude, as well as objects in front of his lens. The exposure takes 8 hours, so the models have to sit still while being under hot lights for the same amount of time. The final and approved images, he destroys the one’s that are imperfect, have a painter-like quality to them with soft tones and melancholic poses. He considers the method to be a natural step in search of the ultimate image.
JÃ¶rg Colberg: How did you come up with the idea of doing the Yangtze River project?
Nadav Kander: I don’t generally work like that. There wasn’t first an idea and then off I went to take pictures. I suppose I always look for places on the edge of uneasiness, I’ve called them troubled lands in the past. China seemed to be a place moving at such an unbelievable pace, changing so quickly, that it would be a place that would be very interesting for me to go and photograph the way I do. I think of things more that way.
I photograph very intuitively and try to see what affects me in the place, rather than documenting what a place is. The Yangtze River was a way of giving me a pathway through China that would keep me on a certain route. It’s a great metaphor for change, of course, and also very much spiritually in the hearts and minds of most Chinese people.
JC: Given what you just said, I take it you did not really prepare much for the trips? You went and looked? Or did you look into Chinese history and into the background a little bit?
NK: The information that I will tell you about China was found out much later. I would first go there very open-mindedly. I made a trip to the mouth of the river and then halfway up the river to Chongqing. And then as I came back I would learn little things, I would read on China. It’s the extraordinary things I read that made me return. But each time I would return it became more and more conscious what was affecting me there and how I was responding to it. Then I could go back, do similar things, try to slip into the same way of working, and slowly a body of work forms. That’s more how I work.
JC: So things were very organic. It grew out of its own?
NK: Yeah. I think that the amount of time I spent on it really shows in the work. Had I gone there and made one trip over two or three months I’m sure my work would have appeared much more documentary-like. Although it has become a sociological document, it was never intended to be a documentary project.
JC: You don’t speak Chinese, do you?
JC: So you had to rely on interpreters and on people helping you get around and maybe even to get permissions. How was that, relying on other people to help you in certain situations to take photographs?
NK: Really difficult. There was a great person who accompanied me, an American. That made it a bit easier. But when I was working with a translator and a driver who were Chinese often, after a few days, a mist of mistrust would come over the thing. I think it would be heightened for them by being yelled at by the public sometimes: “How can you let these foreigners photograph the streets of our town?” They come from a very Communistic culture, where the only useful photography is certainly camera-club like, always photographing the sunset or the views of famous bridges. People got a lot of stick who worked with me. That often broke things down after about ten or twelve days.
JC: You mentioned that in your book, where you say that some of the people were taunting your translators.
NK: Yeah. I think they found it really difficult. It all started of with the best intentions, and they’re very generous people, but after a while they really had a hard time understanding how I worked. Sean Hakes . I couldn’t tell them what I was looking for. I needed just to look, and then when I found what I was looking for I might be excited by it. They absolutely couldn’t understand it.
JC: This must be a very difficult situation. You ended up with the photographs that you wanted, though, right? Or were there situations where you couldn’t just photograph because it became impossible?
NK: There were. One instance was when I was photographing closer to Tibet, which is a very military area. Wherever we went we were followed. It was very difficult to get any pictures of that area, they thought we were taking pictures of this highest railway in the world. So once they were onto me that area became impossible. But generally I found it free and accommodating and fine. I don’t know if I was followed or there’s a file on me.
JC: If a lot of the Chinese people didn’t really understand why you were taking those photographs in some ways it’s similar to people complaining that a lot of contemporary photography is “boring.” A lot of people in the West also love photographs of sunsets and something that’s beautiful, the beautiful landscape photograph. For you, when you see a picture or a scene that you want to take a photograph of – what is the appeal of that which you see? If somebody came up to you and said “why is this photo not boring? Can you explain this?” what would you say?
NK: I think it’s a universal Western truth that we have a real problem thinking any lower than our head into how we feel about things. I think when we are always trying to make our brain do the work and separate a picture into why I like it or why I don’t and what are the reasons for it, it’s often as simple as that it touches me in an emotional place, in a place inside me that responds to this for whatever reason. Maybe the way I was brought up, maybe the way my parents were brought up. Who knows how far these things go? We all have a problem in knowing that.
Good art works on that level very, very well. Think of Rothko as an excellent example. There’s almost no information on the canvas, and people can sit in front of them for hours, with very, very strong feelings. So composition in itself and weight of composition and colour can give you very strong connections to you and your past. I think that probably explains it.
But I would say to people, if I was going to simplify it, that I photograph everyday situations that compositionally attract me in a very beautiful way. What’s probably more succinct is what is boring is something that is justbeautiful. Beauty, like yellow or red or boy or girl, is just a word.
JC: I was gonna ask you something that’s related a little bit to something you said earlier. There are photojournalism and documentary photography, and we always think of those as very different from what artists do. I’ve always thought that a book like the one you did in a certain way is documentary. It’s just a different kind of documentary. Even though it is art it also informs us about a place.
NK: I think when you photograph new lands or new views with the clarity of a camera it always has a layer of documentary in it. But I think the intention of an artist needs to be away from documentary for it to fit into the art context. For it to fit into an art context it needs to reference or react to other art. I think it needs to sit well or change the direction of the mainstream. I think when you go and just document that isn’t one’s intention. That’s the main thing, the intention.
But of course, by photographing China with the clarity of the lens it of course becomes a sociological document, even though that wasn’t the intention. The intention was much more to make photographs the way I make them, which is to really go on automatic and to go with one’s feelings and let the humanness of the person making the work clearly show.
JC: I suppose it comes a little bit down to the question of truth, too. In documentary photography we wouldn’t argue so much about whether the images are true, whereas in art we would. But I think there is actually… maybe we can call it a poetic truth in the work, which, I think, can be used in some ways to learn about China. China seen through your eyes, even though there is the beauty in the images that you look for… there still is something that is simply true.
NK: Sure, but I think had I asked a person to stand still for me I would have manipulated it. If I waited for a sunset I would manipulate it. search engine optimization Philadelphia . If I waited for very harsh light or rain I would manipulate it. Every decision you make before you let the light hit the film… all of those decisions are your decisions. It always completes that three-way triangle. Is it a landscape in front of you, or is it actually the person behind the lens that you’re seeing, and I think it’s very equal. I think whether it’s a portrait or a landscape there are three corners, you’ve got your scene, your artist, and the viewer. And with art all three interact pretty equally.
JC: Let me take that and be a little bold. Let’s apply that thinking to the pictures you did of the Obama people, the then new administration. You took their portraits. The different context aside, is there a different way for you to work, or do you still apply your vision?
NK: Obama’s people actually are a very good example, because most commercial work isn’t, because it’s so much about a collaboration. The more people collaborate the less it is distilled down to that single person behind the lens, and that triangle breaks down.
With Obama’s people it was a very clear idea with Kathy Ryan and myself to work in a similar way to how the Bechers work, where if you photograph multiple things in a very similar way you will very accurately see the differences. That was really the thinking with the Obama’s people.
In its accuracy it was probably not in the normal realm of what Americans or people in the West see as celebrity photography. It certainly didn’t glorify people. It was really intent on being accurate. And I really like it.
In that same way it’s pretty similar to China because I’m again trying to not think about it, but just work with a person, without talking to them very much, and just willing them into being themselves. Nobody can be themselves better than themselves. If I can just let them be that, whether it’s nervous or very comfortable or however they are, very connected, not connected… when they are who they are knowing it and pressing the shutter. So in a funny way it’s a good question, they’re quite similar.
JC: I kind of thought that you would say that, but I didn’t want to assume anything.
NK: People quite often have asked me why my portraiture – my other portraiture, which is really quite different to Obama’s people – why does it often have the same kind of feeling as my landscape work. I would describe it in a similar way. With a landscape you might travel hundreds of miles and feel nothing, and then a little later suddenly you get out your car and the atmosphere is different. It all comes down to the atmosphere. And you start to photograph. Things feel right for you.
With portraiture I always start with an opinion and light accordingly. It’s not an opinion whether I like the person or their views or not, it’s more about how I can show them in an interesting way, which is the same with a landscape. And if it isn’t working – what if I asked them to turn slightly? Or what if I moved a light? – so it’s very similar, you’re making the atmosphere and taking advantage of it when it’s there in the room.
JC: The difference is in a landscape if something doesn’t work you can just get into your car and drive on, whereas in a studio you literally have to make it happen with what you have.
NK: That’s right. But what you’re doing is changing the circumstances so that you can then react to the atmosphere. It’s not really making the atmosphere, it’s more changing the circumstances so that the two come together.
Again when you look at a portrait do you think you’re looking at that person, or do you think you’re looking at the person who made the picture? I think it’s incredibly equal – one is useless without the other.
top image: Chongqing II, Chongqing Municipality, (c) Nadav Kander; all images courtesy of and (c) Nadav Kander, Obama’s People photographed for thr New York Times
A MANNERIST TRANSPARENCY
Essay by Peter Zuspan
. . .
katsushige nakahashi, zero project, 2006, photographs, tape
IÃ¢ve regained the ability to watch Ã¢Entertainment Tonight.Ã¢ I couldnÃ¢t watch it for a while. It wasnÃ¢t that my Hollywood news index had weakened or that IÃ¢d lost an appreciation for the content. My reluctance to view the program came from a frustration with the method of its presentation. The problem was that each story, when finally revealed, would more often than not feature the same content and last the same amount of time as the countless teasers before to the commercial breaks. I felt swindled. repair foundation cracks . recycled glass jars . But when a bit distracted from my disappointment, I noticed that beyond whatever capitalist agenda drives these unfortunate narrative decisions, there is actually a beautiful model of transparency in this form of presentation. The body of the broadcast is almost identical to that which lies on its flashy cover: the faÃ§ade is a copy of the interior. The news magazine operates with a sort of mannerist transparency, by which inside and outside are not negotiated and theorized around a border of politicized reciprocity, but rather they are more or less simply repeated, using recognizable pop conventions of glitz, glamour, and celebrity exposure.
IÃ¢m an architect. I think about architecture even while watching news magazines sometimes. Recently, IÃ¢ve become increasingly interested in looking at architecture as a problem of distraction. A subjectÃ¢s experience of a building is rarely contemplativeÃ¢far less so than his experience of most other art forms. Contemplating architecture as one would a painting or a photograph is an esoteric mode of vision reserved largely for academics; however, the institutional context of the gallery or the museum forces even the non-connoisseur into a contemplative position with artwork. Architecture is rarely placed in such an environment. Instead, it often provides this environment. Architecture lingers peripherally within the subjectÃ¢s realm of perception, where it seeps into his consciousness as a background for other events. This kind of spatial perception requires a farsighted attention, while perceiving objects within architectureÃ¢books, paintings, photographs, and filmsÃ¢demands a nearsighted attention from the viewing subject. Each of these objects produces anti-spatial qualities in architecture. Each requires a close inspection and a duration of contemplative attention to comprehend it. In choosing to do so, the subjectÃ¢s attention is cast away from the farsighted architectural gaze towards the nearsighted material. His attention falls into the narrative or experience of these images and thereby temporarily escapes the larger architectural space. On this level, architecture exhibits symptoms that suggest its contemplative irrelevance to the modern subject.
The Ã¢Zero Project,Ã¢ a series of sculptures by Katsushige Nakahashi, calls to mind the method by which architecture positions the subject in a relationship between contemplation and distraction, between image and architecture. Each work in the series is constructed from more than 20,000 close-range photographs of the surface of a toy model Zero Fighter, the historic airplane of JapanÃ¢s World War II fleet. The photographs are taped together to form a life-sized replica of the airplane.
katsushige nakahashi, Zero Project, 2006, photographs, tape
These sculptures use a similar technique as Ã¢Entertainment Tonight,Ã¢ a kind of tabloidal repetition. This repetition is not used to negotiate inside and outside per se, but rather each sculpture takes Ã¢Entertainment TonightÃ¢sÃ¢ model of transparency and nests it in a sort of tertiary repetition, where the large iconic sculptural form, the array of photographs, and even the toy itself (represented in the photographs) each present the same referent in an ever-decreasing degree of scale. Because these different levels of material all reference the same content, any contemplative focus on any levelÃ¢the form, the photograph, or the toyÃ¢offers a type of feedback. The viewerÃ¢s attention, once invested in the detail of the photograph, for instance, would easily loop back into the larger architectural scale, since the toy plane depicted in the photograph is also apparent in the larger sculptural form. repair foundation cracks . Thus, due to the nested repetition of content, the project presents images in a manner that tempers their digressive contemplation. Instead of dissipating attention, distraction concentrates it by feeding back into the larger architectural scale.
Beyond the repetition of content, the sculptureÃ¢s mode of production also offers a blending of nearsightedness and farsightedness. The gridded assembly of photographs constitutes an affinity between the media of photography and architecture. ArchitectureÃ¢s size requires that it be made of parts. The sculptureÃ¢s assembly of rectilinear photographs is stereotomic, arranged as an architectural patterning of construction that aligns itself with the orthogonal frame of the photograph. This provides a pivot for the subject to negotiate both with the photograph and the larger-scale form. Moreover, each photograph of the toy model is taken at extremely close range. These macroscopic images produce a space in which the viewers cannot imagine themselves; they cannot project themselves into the photograph as it is too shallow. This method presents an animosity towards a contemplative digression, as only the eye can inhabit the image. A productive relay ensues between the photographic and the architectural via an overlapping technique of both media: the camera zoom lens meets the architectural preoccupation with scale. The images force the eye back to the larger scale.
In addition to these techniques of production, the material quality of the photographsÃ¢their glossÃ¢adds yet another level of animosity to a nearsighted contemplative attention to the image. Gloss presents an albedo effect, a glistening reflection of light that migrates from one photograph to the next, tracing the relationship between the subject and sculptural form and linking the stereotomic assembly of parts into one topological whole. This gloss provides a surface tension to the photographic space that is a constant reminder of its material flatness, where reflected light often obscures the shallow space depicted in it.
katsushige nakahashi, zero project, 2006, photographs, tape
In the Zero Project, the image does not demand contemplative attention away from the architectural scale. The individual images are simple enough that they do not require intensive contemplation. They are not iconic. They do not reference anything but the zero fighter itself. And should the subjectÃ¢s attention collapse into the picture-window of the photographic detail, his gaze would travel through the photograph to the Ã¢interiorÃ¢ space where the toy model resides, only to proceed back Ã¢outsideÃ¢ to the overall scale of the artwork. The project suggests a space in which the imageÃ¢s life in architecture could operate outside the arrogance of formalist readings or the opposing alternative arrogance in the presumption of the subjectÃ¢s popular culture awareness. The project suggests an architecture where image does not destroy space, but rather constructs it. The contemplative image still distracts the subject, but in this case, it forces architecture into the contemplative foreground. A future of architecture lies in the use of this model of repetition, one in which popular cultureÃ¢s stockpile of calculated mannerist distractive techniques spills into buildings. Let the architect be swindled.
. . .