Tag Archives: Appropriation

Displaced History and the Art of Collective Memory

Somewhere in Switzerland there’s a municipal archive, the collective memory of a town, with negatives and newspapers and postcards and photographs that tell the story of the area from 1880–1940. It’s the collective paper memory of the place, including a picture of four children who might not have grown into respected elders, a picture of a priest who may have performed important rituals in the town, a picture of a young woman whose face you might recognize—if the town’s memories are your own.

On the other hand, for photographer Nicolas Dhervillers, who spent only six months residing in Sion, the people in those images were more like characters in a play he would write. Acting the parts to which the photographer assigned them, they appear throughout a series called My Sentimental Archives which will be exhibited at Galérie Bacqueville in Lille, France through Nov. 20. In a meditation on appropriation, each photograph is a two-in-one. Dhervillers’ landscape photography from the area was subjected to a digital process adapted from the cinematic “day for night” technique, lending an eerie look to pictures taken in broad daylight; the archival figures are placed within those landscapes and washed with the unnatural digital light.

“It was very important to find a technique that gives an impression of being ‘outside time,’” Dhervillers told TIME in an email. “Thus, it’s not about a simple photograph but rather a photograph that mixes different mediums that I particularly like: theater for the positions and attitudes of the characters, movies for the light, photography for the idea of controlling the framework, painting for the final rendering.”

Each figure from the archives—small, dusty, black and white people—has been carefully restored by Dhervillers. And, in the process of restoration, the photographer says he felt that the images raised a spiritual question: can we create a present, a now, out of the scraps of the past? “The appropriation of the collective memory, of photographic memory, overlaps with the desire to question a picture in a larger sense,” he said. “This series takes us into a fictional space outside of time, through the photographic processing.”

Dhervillers has worked with appropriated figures before; his series Tourists uses images taken from the internet. But in this case, in the end, his questions about photographic appropriation took on another dimension: the archives from which Dhervillers took the figures did, in a way, become “his.” Even if he didn’t share the town’s history, he felt he knew its inhabitants well. “I spent a lot of time with these little characters,” he said. “I raised them, I colorized them, I gave them life.”

This interview has been translated from French.


Nicolas Dhervillers is a Paris-based photographer represented by School Gallery/Olivier Castaing in Paris.

Street View and Beyond: Google’s Influence on Photography

When Google Street View started as an experiment in 2007, the company sent SUVs equipped with cameras, GPS and lasers to collect its first pictures. The idea of capturing images of the entire world from the perspective of the street was revolutionary, if not a little insane. Now, five years later, Google has recorded 360-degree photographs of streets in more than 3,000 cities in 43 countries around the world. Google Street View cars—along with snowmobiles, giant tricycles and Trekkers–have covered more than five million unique miles of road since the project began, making tens of millions of still images in even the most far off places on the map, such as Antarctica.

The massive and growing archive has spawned a virtual world of images like we’ve never seen before in the history of photography—and its accessibility has inspired a new generation of photographers who are using the tool to document the world while simultaneously redefining the boundaries, quite literally, of contemporary art photography.

While critics bemoan the trend of artists using Google imagery in their works, the artistic appropriation of photos is as old as photography itself, employed by everyone from the Surrealists to the post-modern Pictures Generation of the late 1970s.  Google’s Street View images aren’t a commentary on the world, but are surveillance photos taken for the practical purposes of just showing us places we may not be able to visit. The machines and cameras used to collect them have no discretion, much less artistic influence. Through meticulous research, framing, grabbing and reformatting, photographers themselves are assigning photos artistic value, in much the same way they do when  shooting, toning or retouching a raw file or an analogue negative. “In its raw form, satellite imagery can be quite dull,” says Mishka Henner, an artist who often works with Google’s images. “Cropping, adjusting, and forming a body of work out of them completely transforms these images into something that can be beautiful, terrifying and also insightful. If the internet remains free and open, I’m confident that in ten years photographic work like this will be as prevalent as imagery produced by hand-held cameras.”

Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

The Google street view mapping and camera car is seen as it charts the streets of Washington, DC, on June 7, 2011.

At this point, all the Street View images are created by a human-operated Google cars with a spherical camera affixed to the top. The device looks like an all-seeing eye that has nine directional cameras for 360° views at a height of about 2.5 meters. The new high-resolution replica of the world that Google provides is every voyeur’s dream—one can virtually visit an endless variety of places from the comforts of one’s own home.

In the catalogue to the show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera since 1870, editor and curator Sandra Phillips compared the biblical story about elders spying on Susannah to present day, saying: “Today, however they would use cell phones to grab a picture of a young woman in a compromised position and send it to friends, having located her garden through Google Earth. Human hunger for seeing the forbidden has not changed. The technologies to facilitate it have.”

And she’s right—this technology has been adapted quickly by artists and devoured by the art world. Doug Rickard used Google Street View to see the back roads of the nation in a series called A New American Picture, which was featured at New York City’s MoMA last year and is currently on view at Yossi Milo Gallery. Geoff Dyer wrote extensively in the Guardian about Rickard, saying: “Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically.”

Rickard says he probably made 10,000 images of this work before narrowing the selection down to just under 80 images. “The only difference [between this work and traditional street photography] is that the world’s frozen, so you’re limited to that surrounding,” he says. “You’ve got a fixed lens and your distance is determined by the width of the street, not where you walk. But there’s a lot in kinship with traditional photography that was really partly responsible for me being able to embed 1,000 hours into this in four years.”

Jon Rafman’s project 9-Eyes captures uncanny images of reality and provides a case study on the unrelentingly objective aesthetic that comes from Google Street View. ”The potential sentimentality of these photographs is counteracted by the manner in which they were captured,” he says. “There is a tension between the indifferent robotic camera, and the human gaze that sees meaning and interprets narratives in these images. That tension is the essence of the project. People often say that technology is changing our perception of the world, changing our perception of reality, but I think that the inverse is also occurring—a technology becomes successful because it taps into something fundamental about contemporary consciousness, it expresses how we are already experiencing the world.”

Some artists, however, are looking at another aspect unique to the use of Google imagery. Clement Valla, through his project, Postcards from Google Earth, is finding the glitches and bugs unintentionally captured by Google Earth’s lens and documenting them to comment on the mistakes resulting from technology’s limitations. “Because Google Earth is continuously updating, there’s kind of no archive of these particular moments or situations,” he says. “So I thought it would be interesting to take them and print them as postcards.”

The prevalence of Google’s imagery and technology is already permeating the aesthetic of more traditional photography and even artists working in myriad disciplines from sculpture to street art. Manuel Vazquez still begins his process with taking his own pictures but later intergrates the aesthetic of surveillance imagery and Google Street View, as seen is his project Lonely Crowd, which incorporated the pixelated nature of digital works to convey the physical and emotional distances between strangers in a crowd. “The web has changed the way we access and read the city, through technologies that have shortened and broken the boundaries of space and time,” he says. “It is like a walk with no specific destination, affecting time, space and perspective with every click. There is not a linearity of past-present-future. It feels like a continuous flow of information that is updated.”

Fake Google Streetview car urban invention by artist group F.A.T. Lab, February 2010 at Transmediale 2010, Berlin. Image courtesy of Aram Bartholl.

Fake Google Street View car urban invention by artist group F.A.T. Lab, February 2010 at Transmediale 2010, Berlin

Interdisciplinary artist Aram Bartholl, meanwhile, has used Google imagery as the inspiration for some of his work but hardly produces only photography. Bartholl creates sculptural objects that represent virtual objects such as the red map marker icon found on Google Maps. “Services like Google Maps change the way we perceive the city,” he says. “I remember once I had a parcel service on the phone claiming my address didn’t exist because it couldn’t be found on Google Maps.” His works, which have been shown at Rencontres d’Arles, among other festivals, aim to explore how technology imitates reality and vice versa. “The map marker icon is just a 20 pixel interface on the screen, but when you switch to satellite mode and then zoom in more, it looks like it becomes part of the actual picture, casting a shadow on the city,” he says.

Despite the growing number of photographers who use Google in their works, it remains unclear how this technology will influence our perspective in photography—and perceptions of spatial reality—outside the virtual world.

In the meantime, we’d love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts about how other artists are using Google Street View and Google Earth in the comments section below.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulmoakley.

Reporting and interviews by Zara Katz, TIME photo intern and graduate student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow her on on Twitter @zarakatz.

Erasing Robert Frank with Photoshop: Is it art?

henner_4.jpg

“Le quatre juillet”, originally by Robert Frank, then mostly eliminated using Photoshop.
From the self-published photobook “Less Américains” by © Mishka Henner, 2012.

Appropriation in the practice of making “new” art has been around for a long, long time — and often with very exciting results and a fair amount of controversy.

When I heard about this “remake” of Robert Frank’s classic photobook, The Americans, I had a glimmer of hope that it would reveal some overlooked details in Frank’s photographs, thereby increasing my appreciation even more.

At least the new title was funny, shifting the original French title, Les Américans, to a jokey mixture of English and French, Less Américains. The whole idea hinges on the removal of most of the details of every image from the classic book by erasing them with Photoshop.

But in the final analysis, it feels like a cheap gimmick and a publicity stunt. See more erased images, and read the review in Lens Culture.

Pirating, Appropriating, and Stealing

TO PIRATE: One who makes use of or reproduces the work of another without authorization.

TO APPROPRIATE: Take (something) for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

TO STEAL: To take surreptitiously or without permission

This week has been full of bad news about the Internet.  Living in a culture where we hold All-Access-Passes to events on-line means we have to deal with the good and the bad aspects of the world wide web. And the bad has to do with what some human beings choose to do with that access.  I was disgusted when someone hacked into my e-mail last year, and sent everyone in my address book pleas for money, and I am now disgusted by what some very sick individuals are doing for their own gain.

So here is this week’s list of grievances:
I was first contacted by one of my students that a photographer in Italy had taken one of her images, placed it on his website, and was submitting it to competitions…and getting IN!  It was a shocking realization what lengths people will go to for recognition.

The second incident was that a friend discovered a Lenscratch blog post that I had written about her work appearing on a Polish blog,”compiled” by Pawel Filas.  After further investigation, I discovered hundreds of appropriated posts, used without my permission, still continuing on a daily basis. And I am not the only blogger whose content he is appropriating. For my posts, there is a link to “Aline”, so it appears that I am writing for his site.  I am working with other bloggers to get him to cease and desist, though he is not acknowledging our communications.  He has friended a number of photographers on Facebook, and all I can say is buyer beware.
I am wondering if today’s post will appear on Mind_Mag too:

His post:

My post:

Just when I was reeling from the sting of appropriation, a friend alerted me this copy-cat site by someone named Tony Hai who has lifted my entire blog:

I have discussed some of this on Facebook, and through that process, heard many additional tales of appropriated writing and imagery. I am sharing this post so that you will keep an eye on your photographs and writing.  We create our work with the best intensions and put so much labor into what we produce.  Those who appropriate our work are truly criminal.  As a community,hopefully we can work together to create better systems for protection and exposure.  And we need to share our stories and expose those who do us harm.

This is a VERY timely article by Joshua Dunlop on “The Daily Mail Stole My Photographs And I Got Paid“.  Well worth a read as it contains some excellent suggestions.





Retouching a Classic: ‘Less Américains’

In the digital age, touching the work of established photographic masters can be sensitive business. Recently a Swedish artist named Sanna Dullaway applied her colorizing skills to several historical photographs that included Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of an on-the-spot execution of a Vietcong on the streets of Saigon. The debate surrounding these modified versions was whether the interpretation was an improvement that could somehow be more powerful emotionally—due to addition of a color palette and the ability to reach newer generations who disconnect when they see black and white images—or simple vandalism.

The artist Pavel Maria Smejkal in his Fatescapes series took his appropriation of historical images one step further by digitally removing the people from images such as Nick Ut’s photograph of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack and the aforementioned Adams image. By leaving only the landscapes or streetscapes to play on our subconscious memory of historical places and events, he questions the limitations of a photograph’s accuracy at the representation of history.

Perhaps the most provocative example in terms of potential copyright infringement is when the artist Sherrie Levine re-photographed some of Walker Evans’ famous images from the 1930s Farm Security Administration project and presented them unaltered and with her name (the series was called After Walker Evans). Many viewers were outraged. Her act called into question many issues regarding a photograph’s author, copyright (Legally the FSA photographs are owned by the American public, which financed the project so there is no copyright infringement case that could be brought against Levine) and the portrayal of the poor. To some it was Art, but to others, it amounted to Blasphemy.

After Evans, Robert Frank may well be the most influential photographer the medium has seen. Frank’s book The Americans, published in the United States by Grove Press in 1959, was equally celebrated and reviled for its view of the U.S. and its citizenry. Today there is hardly a contemporary photographer who does not acknowledge that Frank accomplished greatness while photographing America for two years on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Americans hasn’t escaped its own touches with appropriation. In his newest bookwork Less Américains, London-based artist Mishka Henner takes his humorous title from the French Edition of Frank’s book Les Américains, published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris. By scanning and applying Photoshop to Frank’s images, Henner has proceeded to remove most of the vital subject matter from all 83 photographs—leaving only small details hovering around the frame like background props on an empty theater stage.

Of course, as the title suggests, Less Américains does away with the “Americans” in Frank’s photographs so all that remains, for example, of the Hoboken City Fathers are a line of hats and some political bunting hanging on a two-by-four. And what has been spared in the most famous of all New Orleans street car picture which so perfectly expressed the implied race hierarchy of Jim Crow in the United States? A few vague, unidentifiable shapes that sit within the frame like mismatched puzzle pieces. To quote Jack Kerouac, who wrote an introduction to the American edition of Frank’s book, “The humour, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures (!)” linger like a ghost in these secondary elements.

Less Américains includes an introduction by the artist Elisabeth Tonnard that takes the form of a concrete poetry version of Kerouac’s prose. Tonnard’s approach was to systematically white-out the individual letters A.M.E.R.I.C.A.I.N.S. from Kerouac’s text, leaving an incomprehensible soup of vowels and consonants. His “…basketa pittykats…” becomes the even more cryptic “…B k t p tty-k t …”

Well, what can we make of Henner’s reworking of this masterpiece? I think Kerouac said it best: “What poem this is, what poems can be written about this book of pictures some day by some young new writer high by candlelight bending over them describing every grey mysterious detail.”

Less Américains was published earlier this year.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Visit his blog here.

Klompching Gallery’s Fresh 2011 Exhibition

Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, owned by the insightful Debra Klomp Ching and PDN’s Darren Ching, recently had a call for Fresh photography. The exhibition was jurored by W. M. Hunt, a well established curator, collector, and consultant, and Darren Ching–both gentlemen who have seen a lot of imagery over the years and would be well informed to make a decision as to what is “fresh” in photography today. “The objective of Fresh, was to showcase—in exhibit and online—photography that is fresh in approach and vision. The curators looked for photographs that fully employ the medium of photography within the context of contemporary photographic practice.” I thought it was a good idea to explore these selections as a divining rod to what is new and now the the photographic waters.

The Fresh exhibition opens tonight, July 20th and runs through August 13th. The gallery is featuring the work of 4 photographers: Skott Chandler, Harold Ross, Donna J. Wan and Ahron D. Weiner. In addition to the exhibit, Klompching Gallery is showcasing the works of the following 10 short-listed FRESH photographers on the gallery’s website: Mary Ellen Bartley, Erik Boker, Christopher Capozziello, Christopher Ernst, Jim Kazanjian, Avery McCarthy, Leigh Merrill, Kristen Schmid Schurter, Tina Schula and Kimberly Witham.

If you can’t make it to Brooklyn, coinciding with the gallery exhibition, Fraction Magazine is publishing a special online edition of its magazine for the four exhibiting photographers, with an introduction by W.M. Hunt.

“In each of these series, the artists make us look in a fresh way, to consider scenes that might not seem that extraordinary until their mediation … Curiously these selections demonstrate photography’s unique appreciation and appropriation of reality.” —W.M. Hunt.

THE GALLERY EXHIBITION

“Skott Chandler’s “House Watch” series are shot from a ceiling fan point of view, capturing room interiors and the small scenarios playing out below with a sense of lightness. These manage to slow down our “reality TV” hyped up metabolism. The dramas are low key, and not so very explicit, but seemingly intimate or private, with literally roomfuls of detail. Further, the walls of the rooms act as an unusual framing device within the photographic image.”

Skott Chandler, UNTITLED BREAKFAST NOOK, 2011 (House Watch series)

Skott Chandler, UNTITLED BEDROOM 1, 2011 (House Watch series)

Skott Chandler, UNTITLED DINING ROOM, 2011 (House Watch series)

“The point of view in Harold Ross’ “Night”-time forest landscapes makes for a different sort of collaboration between the artist and the viewer. Here we are not overwhelmed by the enormity of things but rather “creeped” out by the strangeness or “other-worldliness” of the scene. The lighting and rich palette are haunting and odd. The vegetation is vaguely threatening; the leaf cover seems to blanket something ominous underfoot. Even a clothesline seems ominous and fearsome.”

Harold Ross, UNTITLED NUMBER 13, 2010 (Night series)

Harold Ross, UNTITLED NUMBER 5 , 2009 (Night series)

Harold Ross, UNTITLED NUMBER 15, 2010 (Night series)

“Donna J. Wan does literally put us “In the Landscape.” How we look or how we see is at the heart of this work. Man’s presence is important in this work because it provides us with a sense of scale, the way in which we are dwarfed by the enormity of Nature. She gets it right. Seeing from the photographer’s distant point of view we share that smallness, like little specks of humanity, flies on the wall … of a mountain.”

Donna J. Wan, ON A PLATFORM IN THE DESERT, 2010 (In The Landscape series)

Donna J. Wan, AT THE EDGE OF THE LAKE, 2011 (In The Landscape series)

Donna J. Wan, AT THE GORGE, 2009 (In The Landscape series)

“Ahron D. Weiner’s “Bible AdInfinitum©” poster-like collages have a bold, graphic handsomeness. After a few viewings they begin to reveal elements that are not immediately apparent. These works are based on “found” posters but they are actually artfully made constructions based on disparate materials. They make a discrete attempt at summoning up Old Testament imagery. This all makes for a series of good looking, smart deconstructions of advertising.”

Ahron D. Weiner, THE CREATION OF MAN — GENESIS 1:27, 2010 (Bible Adinfinitum© series)

Ahron D. Weiner, THE TEMPTATIONS OF EVE — GENESIS 3:4, 2010 (Bible Adinfinitum© series)

Ahron D. Weiner, THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM — GENESIS 19:25, 2006 (Bible Adinfinitum© series)

THE ONLINE EXHIBITION

Mary Ellen Bartley, ALL THE MORE REAL, 2011 (Standing Open series)

Erik Boker, SACRIFICED FOR ME, 2011 (Ascension of the Brand series)

Christopher Capozziello, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US #8, 2010 (The Distance Between Us series)

Christopher Ernst, LAUNDROMAT, 2010 (Interior Landscapes series)

Jim Kazanjian, UNTITLED (LOW TIDE), 2009 (Aberrationss series)

Avery McCarthy, X=? (DIVINITY), 2010 (X=? series)

Leigh Merrill, SUNDANCE SQUARE, 2011 (Into the Sunset series)

Kristen Schmid Schurter, OUTSIDE WORLDS, 2008 (Father To Son series)

Tina Schula, MISSION BRIEFING, 2010 (Radical Camp series)

Kimberly Witham, STILL LIFE WITH PEACHES, 2010 (Domestic Arrangements series)

Mary Ellen Bartley

Looking at participants from Photolucida…

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Mary Ellen Bartley’s work-I featured it on LENSCRATCH after Photolucida two years ago and again this January. This year, Mary Ellen brought a new series, Standing Open, that is an evolution of her previous projects. Three images from earlier series: Paperbacks, Blue Books, and Book Series are featured below.

Her new series, Standing Open, allows us a peak into what is beyond the cover, yet still brings a painterly and abstract sensibility to the work.

This is my fourth series of photographs looking at books. While shooting my stacks and rows of tightly closed paperback books I started seeing some of the standing books loosen up and show bits of the space between their pages. I was drawn into the uniquely beautiful interior space of the books. I began opening all kinds of books and placing them standing open around my house where sunlight might fall on them. This quickly became a project of looking into my photography books in a new way, falling into and out of the books, falling into and out of abstraction.

A Road Divided

This work interests me on many levels. First is the sheer beauty of the physical books and the unique formal discoveries of looking at them close up. Among the repeating formal motifs I’ve found are the stripes the pages create, the shadowy voids between pages that read like burns or stains, and the reflections the photos can make on the pages facing them.

All the More Real

On another level I’m fascinated by conceptual ideas concerning appropriation and reproduction in a mechanical versus digital age that the work can’t help but throw into question. Finally what drives the work for me is the emotional connection I have to the books. I’m trying to evoke the sensuality and intimacy of reading and looking through books as well as the fleeting inspiration, little jolts of connection I find in photo books I love.

( Note : the photographs are titled with the photographed book’s title )

At the Edge of the Decipherible

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Kohei Yoshiuki The Park

Sleeping by the Mississippi

Summer Nights Walking

The Dusseldorf School of Photography

The Edge of Vision

The Waking Dream