Tag Archives: art

‘Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’: Collaborative Semantics

Years ago, the photographers Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel decided to put together a book about the work on which they had collaborated, decades worth of significant art made between the 1970s and 1990s. Each had been working on his own solo projects and Mandel had left California, where the two grew up and met and studied together, so the book was always meant to be a look back, a visitation from a place of finality. But then Larry Sultan got sick. Sultan succumbed to cancer in December of 2009 at the age of 63.

We thought it would be great to take some of the work that people hadnt seen a lot of or hadnt seen anything about and bring that to light, and we just thought now would be a great opportunity to do that, now that we were kind of moving into a different part of our lives, Mandel says. We didnt realize Larry was moving into leaving this place.

The book project was dormant for a while after Sultans death, but his wife, assistant and galleristwho continued to be involved throughout the projecthelped Mandel get the idea going again. Because the book had always been about a collaboration that had ended, the form and structure imagined by Mandel and Sultan could still be implemented. linkwheel . The resulting book, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released by Distributed Art Publishers in September.

The artists, who met as graduate students at the San Francisco Art Institute, shared an openness to conceptual and experimental photography. We were lucky to be young and freshly in that world when so much was changing, says Mandel. The medium was expandingalthough Sultan later became known as a photographer, the work the two did together is photography mainly in a conceptual senseand the community was small enough that the two had access to influential teachers and artists even outside their school environment.

Courtesy Mike Mandel

Larry Sultan (R) and Mike Mandel, circa 1997

Their collaboration began in 1973 with public art displayed on billboards, work that both interrogated the tropes of advertising and challenged art by placing it in a commercial context. They continued to make billboards for many years. They also worked together on books, including How to Read Music in One Evening, which re-appropriated advertising imagery, and the seminal Evidence, their best known work, which took documentary and archival photos out of their contexts. Later, the two turned their attention to the news media, applying their signature critical mindfulness to the subject. Alongside photographic highlights of their art career together, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel features analytical essays and a metaphorical commentary by author Jonathan Lethem.

Mandel says that this new book was an opportunity to revisit some of their projects that had not been previously examined. As time went on I think we recognized that a lot of the work we had decided at the time we didnt need to talk about really ought to be talked about, for different reasons, he says. We did re-frame what we chose to put in the book based on this idea of looking back and being a little bit more generous toward ourselves.

But even though the photographers had discussed the content of the book prior to Sultans illness, Mandel was left to make many decisions alone. He says that there were moments when he knew that there would have been a disagreement if Sultan had been there; the weight of sole responsibility was a heavy one. And they hadnt yet decided how to end the book. Mandel chose the project Newsroom, a 1983 exhibit in which they used news tickers to edit their own versions of the days events, as the book’s stopping place. He says he felt that to stop there was to present the most coherent set of ideas, and it was also a chance to step back and look at a project that the artists had been such part of that they never got to see it from a distance. If Larry had been with me it would have been really great to have done that together, Mandel says.

In an essay that accompanied Evidence, Robert F. Forth, the dean of the California College of Arts and Crafts, examined the meanings of evidence, surprise and context. He wrote about the yin/yang balance between the circumstantial and the evident, the way that the two compliment each other to make one whole thought. If one has any defect, its relationship to the other can fill that whole. Likewise, says Mandel, his own introverted working process and Sultans gregarious quick thinking co-existed without one drowning out the other.

We just had a very different way of being but we both trusted each other a lot and we both gave each other as much room to argue and promote our ideas as much as we could. Thats what the Socratic attitude was about. It was about testing these ideas, says Mandel. We collaborated as equals all the way through our relationship.

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, will be released in September byDistributed Art Publishers.

Photoville: Established 2012; Population Growing

Photography doesn’t usually have the problem that it’s too noisy an art form, but that was exactly the challenge that faced the organizers of Photoville, a new photo festival that will open in Brooklyn, New York, on June 22. One of the major components of the show is an exhibit inside a warren of industrial shipping containers. Forty-two of them, to be exact, laid out in a maze carefully planned with both exploration and safety in mind.

Sam Barzilay

Viewers check out photography in a shipping container at a past United Photo Industries event.

“Getting a container is simple. Getting 42 of them placed in an intricate pattern is complicated. The most complicated thing is they’ll show up, they’ll dump it and they’ll drive away. I’ve learned that their preferred hour of doing that is 4:30 in the morning,” says Sam Barzilay, formerly of the New York Photo Festival, who is one of the three minds behind the festival. “Dumping a container as it grinds off the truck onto cobblestone is about the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.”

But when the festival opens, the containers will be there, full of photos. And that won’t be all: Photoville will also include about 1000 feet of fencing covered with community-centric photography, presentations from organizations like the Magnum Foundation and Photo District News, a number of workshops and even a beer garden and a dog run with a dog photo booth. And it’s all completely free.

Photoville is the product of United Photo Industries, a year-old cooperative comprising Sam Barzilay, Laura Roumanos and Dave Shelley. Barzilay says that the idea behind the event, and United Photo Industries’ other projects, is the realization that New York real estate affects the art scene. Empty storefronts have meant that small pop-up galleries have been relatively accessible during the last few years, but that won’t last forever. “The writing on the wall was sooner or later the economy would pick up again and people will be back in business, opening the stores,” says Barzilay. “Those spaces weren’t going to last.” They wanted to figure out a way to continue to present artwork without the overhead needed for a giant space. And once the shipping-container idea struck, the ideas just kept coming.

The end result is meant to appeal to photographers and civilians alike. “Even though it’s the most easily relatable art medium at this point, because everybody carries a camera, I think a lot of the time people are afraid of photography exhibitions,” says Barzilay. “We’re trying to cater to a full spectrum of people. I want people to come and enjoy it.” That’s why the free and open model is so important to the organization.

Barzilay and Shelley have both worked for the New York Photo Festival in the past, but Photoville is not meant to be competition for the more established festival. New York is big enough and “art-loving enough” to support many festivals, says Barzilay—and, besides, Photoville isn’t even meant to be a festival in a traditional sense of the word. “We’re trying to build a destination, trying to build a place where you go and spend a day listening to lectures and participating in a workshop, probably having a beer, to bring your dog to the dog run,” he says. “It’s a place to spend physical time with the photography, not so much as a passive viewer.”

Photoville will be held in Brooklyn from June 22 through July 1. More information about the event is available here.

See more work from Bruce Gilden, one of Photoville’s featured photographers, here.

Shane Lavalette: Musical Heritage in the New South

During his short but noteworthy career, Shane Lavalette has examined distinct regions of the world, illuminating their respective character without succumbing to powerful clichés. At the age of only 25, Lavalette has photographed the west coast of Ireland, a small town in northern India and his native New England. You won’t find any pubs, elephants or lush shots of fall foliage in these collections. Instead, Lavalette combines portraits of ordinary people with pointed images of each area’s commerce, culture and the immediate countryside to create a portrait of a place as it might be seen by a local, but through the eyes of a wandering explorer.

In 2010, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which for decades has been the leading art museum in the South, commissioned Lavalette to produce a new collection of photographs for their Picturing the South series. “Having grown up in the Northeast, it was primarily through traditional music–old time Blues, gospel, etc.–that I formed a relationship with the South,” Lavalette says of his project. “The region’s rich musical history became the natural entry point for my work.”

As in his previous projects, Lavalette steered clear of standard images of the American South: willows and oak trees wilting in the humid heat; cotton fields and mountain trails. Nor was Lavalette interested in shooting a documentary about Southern music today. Instead he turned to “the relationship between traditional music and the contemporary landscape through a more poetic lens.”

There are scenes of nature, but not the sweeping landscapes often seen in the South. Lavalette shot ripples on a pond, where the towering pines are only visible in the reflection on the water. There’s the graffiti-strewn interior of an old café, with a poster so covered in marker scribbles that it’s nearly unrecognizable. Lavalette shows the collision of modern life and nature in the form of an empty parking lot beside the rusted wall of a warehouse, where kudzu has begun to encroach upon the asphalt.

Music has always permeated the consciousness of the South. The home of blues, gospel, bluegrass and countless combinations of those styles, the South is a region rich with musical heritage, a perfect gateway into understanding the region’s history and its culture today. “Moved by the themes and stories past down in songs,” Lavalette says, “I let the music itself carry the pictures.”

Shane Lavalette is a New-York-based photographer. More of his work can be seen here. The exhibition Picturing the South is on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from June 9 through Sept. 2, 2012.

Photographs of the ‘Great British Public’ in London

Bright red telephone boxes, afternoon tea, bobbies with batons. Today even the most naive tourist knows this Mary Poppins vision of Britain is about as true to life as Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent. But what, then, does it mean to be British in 2012? That’s a question the London Festival of Photography has tried to answer with its headline show, “The Great British Public.” The exhibition brings together 13 photographers who have captured modern British life, from posh wingdings to a wind-lashed laundry day on Scotland’s Orkney Islands. “We wanted to celebrate Britain more than be depressed about it,” says curator Grace Pattison, noting her countrymen’s talent for grousing. “It’s about the quirkiness, irony, the humor of the British. It’s quite an uplifting show, really.”

Nothing jars more with the British sensibility than the idea of forced positivity. Yet Pattison is savvy enough to have built a ‘warts-and-all’ show that winks at its subject while patting it on the back. Some of the photographers have taken on traditions that still thrive in parts of the country. Chris Steele-Perkins captures the lives of the increasing number of Brits who live to be 100 and receive a congratulatory birthday card from the Queen. Arnhel de Serra (the only non-Brit in the show) has captured the action at countryside agricultural shows, where elderly ladies in tweed vie for top prizes in jam-making and flower arranging. Giulietta Verdon-Roe presents a different glimpse into rural life with her elegiac images of the northernmost Orkney Island, population 51 (plus a few thousand seaweed-eating sheep and one very tall lighthouse).

Other photographers focus on the new traditions being created. Photographer Ewen Spencer followed the rise of the Grime music scene (epitomized by black artist Dizzee Rascal), and the young people who hope to rap their way out of London’s poorest neighborhoods.

And then, of course, there is Britain’s ethnic diversity, often packed into small areas like the borough of Hackney in London, documented by Zed Nelson, or a street in the northern city of Birmingham, photographed by Liz Hingley, which hosts over 30 different places of worship including a mosque and a Hindu temple.

It’s impossible to talk about British photography without mentioning Martin Parr, whose seminal The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton (1982-86) presented working class holiday-makers—they of the bulging, pink flesh and oily fish and chip wrappers—in all their vulgar glory. For the exhibition, Pattison preferred not to dwell on Parr’s 80s oeuvre (“It’s not the most exciting way to talk about Britain anymore.”). Rather, she chose an homage to Parr in the work of Peter Dench, who returned to the parts of New Brighton featured in The Last Resort and photographed them as they are today. Even now, the northern town near Liverpool provokes wry bemusement among the British: “It’s all quite gray and the scenery isn’t that exciting,” says Pattison. “It’s seaside life, but with a quite humorous look.”

One image of Parr’s does appear in the exhibition: a picture of an English bobby, standing in a red-brick town, hands on hips, while children hula hoop in the street. “At first glance, you think, ah, it’s a really traditional English scene,” says Pattison. “But it’s actually a historic museum in the Black Country [the industrial Midlands]. It’s actually just a mock street and he’s an actor dressed up as a policeman.”

Finally, the exhibition touches on the British at play, whether it be country and seaside escapes (Simon Roberts), a barbershop in London where locals hash out the day’s politics (Nick Cunard) or the beer-swilling excesses of English football fans (Homer Sykes).

Even with such a multifarious show, Pattison is worried the British public in question will find something to quibble about. “By calling it ‘The Great British Public’ we are potentially asking for criticism if people don’t feel like their view of Britain is in there,” she says. But in the year of the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Pattison is allowing herself to be Britishly optimistic. “Hopefully not too many people will say that,” she says with a laugh.

The London Festival of Photography’s exhibition The Great British Public will be on view from June 1 through June 24. More information is available here.

Analog Interactivity and the Photography of Anouk Kruithof

While most photographers aim to depict the world in a fresh way through the lens of their cameras, Dutch artist Anouk Kruithof aims to revolutionize the way we actually experience looking at photographs. She delights viewers by making unexpected photo, video and spatial installations as well as social, in-situation works or “take-away art.” Last year she won the Jury Prize at the Hyères International Photo festival in France and, as part of that prize, produced an exhibition at this year’s festival—one that literally takes the unexpectedness of her installations to a new height.

The proliferation of digital photography has led to a glut of images in the world, and Kruithof’s holistic approach to making photographic artwork feels fresh within a new generation of artists who question that surplus. Like many young people, she is a compulsive photographer and calls her habit “automagic.” She saw the exhibition at Hyères as an opportunity to do something with ten years worth of images languishing on her hard drives, and that led to the search for an editor who would see the images in a new way.

For the project, called “Untitled: I’ve Taken too Many Photos/I’ve Never Taken a Photo,” she set out to find someone to help her edit her work—someone who had never taken a photograph in his or her life. She began by posting signs in her Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, that read, “Did you Never Made a Photo in Your Life.” Even with the grammatical error, she decided to put them up. The responses led her to a young man named Harrison, who was 19 years old and the only one of the 15 respondents who had never taken a photograph.

“I saw him at his house and asked a lot,” she says. “So I am sure he never took a photo before, which was super special. He is a bit of a ‘pearl’. Also his name is excellent: ‘Harrison Medina.’”

The editing process began with 300 images, which Medina narrowed down to 80 and sized. Kruithof recorded the process as part of the work. “He was just reacting naturally, very much from the heart—just reflecting on them in a very pure and personal way,” she says. Medina looked for two types of images: “He saw either things which reminded him of the ‘bad’ situation in society—a situation he is also in—and, on the other hand, he just used his imagination to see things in the photos.”

       

At the exhibition, the images are all installed on the ceiling and viewers are given hand-held mirrors to view them. “The space, which is an old medieval tower, made me think I wanted to respect it because of the beauty of the building and the atmosphere inside of the building. You cannot hang photos on these walls; it wouldn’t make any sense to me,” Kruithof explains. “When you enter this serene space the first natural thing to do is to look up.” She also believes that the installation format allows viewers to see all 75 photos together or to “frame” their own pictures, rather than looking at one at a time. The framing of the image, in a way that is literally in the hands of the visitor, encourages active participation in the exhibit. Those who see the exhibit become editors, like Harrison was. Kruithof calls the process “analog interactivity.”

The dynamic nature of the installation is something the artist sees throughout her work. “It is like a never-ending chain; one project, book, series or single work ties onto the other one with a certain flow,” she says. “With every new thing I do I want to be surprised  and make something I didn’t see before. Otherwise it would not make sense for me.” And in this case the surprise was a happy one: ”It gave me a good feeling seeing all these people busy framing their pictures and looking at the mirrors of others. It had a lot of depth, in content as well as in form,” she says. ”I am not often happy when a show is up, but in this case I really was.”

Anouk Kruithof is a Dutch photographer. Her most recent book is A Head With Wings, made in collaboration with Alec Soth and Little Brown Mushroom. She was recently awarded the Infinity Award for art by the International Center for Photography. “Untitled (I’ve Taken too Many Photos/ I’ve Never Taken a Photo)” is on view at Hyères 2012 at the Tour des Templiers, historic center through May 26 and she hopes it will come to the States this year. More of her work and books can be seen here.

‘Lakes, Trees and Honeybees’: Matthew Brandt at Yossi Milo Gallery

When photographer Matthew Brandt started studying for his MFA, he began with the earliest forms of photography, immersing himself in the history of the process. Studying at UCLA also allowed him to return to his hometown and catch up with friends and family members; it was only a matter of time before the photography and friendship collided in a series of portraits.

And then the collision furthered: one day, a friend who Brandt was photographing started to cry. Brandt asked for her tears. “I know it seems a little mean but at the time it seemed to make sense,” he says. He had been studying salted paper prints, a very early form of 19th-century photography that requires just salt solution and silver nitrate to add light sensitivity to a piece of paper. The sight of that naturally occurring salt water triggered an idea. He used the tears to create a portrait of his crying friend. “It was like this ‘eureka’ process in the dark room,” Brandt says. “I was like, ‘oh my God, this actually worked.’”

Brandt, whose work will be featured starting May 24 in an exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City, finished his degree in 2008 but has continued to make photographs using the physical matter of the subject in the development process. The upcoming exhibition Lakes, Trees and Honeybees will include work from three series. For Lakes and Reservoirs, Brandt soaked photographs of lakes in water collected from the subjects, creating unpredictable colorscapes. In Trees, photographs of the title vegetation are printed on paper and with ink made from branches fallen from those very trees. The Honeybees photos are pictures of bees printed with a gum-bichromate process that required using a solution of the bees themselves in the developing process.

These photographs, of their subjects in both senses of the word, also share a certain degree of pathos and a somber tone, says Brandt. Each of the three series is imbued with its own particular sense of loss, a feeling that something is changing, maybe for the worse. The moment captured is one of crisis.

Lakes, for example, while also addressing the more obvious meanings of wetness, highlights the obsolescence of wet photography; color negative paper was becoming hard to get. The Trees series was made right around the time that Brandt graduated from UCLA and George W. Bush left office. The trees photographed are in George Bush Park in Houston; Brandt says he didn’t want to make an overtly political statement but rather to capture a sense of ambivalence about what the future could hold, an uncertainty that he felt in himself and observed on a national level. And Honeybees was made when Colony Collapse Disorder was making news, prompting the photographer to think of the bees as a clue that something was going wrong in the world.

But not everything is changing. The old-fashioned photography processes Brandt uses—not to mention the work involved in making his own paper and ink—are extremely labor-intensive, but Brandt has no plans to take it easy. The photographer, who cites classic American landscape photography as an influence, still sometimes goes hiking with a large-format camera, frequently returning to Yosemite with Ansel Adams in mind. “The guys who would travel with their wagons through these crazy hills—if they put that much work into making a picture, I should do the same,” he says.

Matthew Brandt is a California-based photographer. Lakes, Trees and Honeybees will be on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City from May 24 – June 30. More of his work can be seen here.

Jessica Eaton: Cube, Color, Cosmos

Canadian photographer Jessica Eaton uses her camera to create color invisible to the naked eye. She gives bright hues to gray forms in her series Cubes for Albers and LeWitt, and that work was recently awarded the photography prize at the 2012 Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography—a prize for which TIME’s director of photography Kira Pollack sat on the jury.

Jessica Eaton

A gray cube in Eaton’s studio

“We’ve all mixed two colors of paint together, and either it makes another color or, if you keep going, it gets muddy and progressively gets darker,” she explains. “In light, things work really differently.” Eaton explains that she exploits the properties of light through additive color separation: whereas the primary pigment colors (red, blue, yellow) get darker as they blend, the primary colors of light (red, blue, green) move toward white. Eaton applies filters in those three colors to her camera and takes multiple exposures, a process that turns the gray form seen here into the vibrant ones seen above. “The color itself is mixed inside the camera,” she says.

One of the byproducts of Eaton’s process is an element of surprise: because her images are created within the camera, she doesn’t know what she’ll get until the photos are developed. “It’s a bit of a conversation with the world,” she says. “With the forces of time and space and contingency and errors that happen, because often there’s so many steps going into one of these, I get back something that’s also new to me, and those are the pictures that tend to end up in exhibits.”

Jessica Eaton

Filter Samples for Spectrum, 2009

Her work in other series, samples of which are also included in this gallery, may use different techniques (for example, Spectrum is the product of covering a window with gels, as shown here), but they all come back to experimentation with light and color. That experimentation is something that she has been building toward throughout her career. Eaton says that when she began taking pictures, in 1998, her work tended toward documentary and portrait photography. But even then, working in the dark room, she says that she felt a push to test different processes and see what would happen. She was aware of the science of light at work even in what she calls “normal” photographs, aware that subject and content buried those phenomena, preventing viewers from seeing what was there. In 2006, her work shifted and she began to bring those hidden elements to the forefront. She isolated light and color and time, even though to do so was to challenge the classical definition of photography as a way to capture a single moment. Her multiple exposures—as in Quantum Pong, which comprises four exposures of more than 500 ping-pong balls that had been dropped 20 feet—allow her to leave that definition behind. “In most of these photographs, what you’re looking at is more than one moment,” she says. “They aren’t static moments of time. They’re layers of time.”

But the photographer likes challenging definitions, and not just photographic ones. Although she dislikes the term “abstract” as a description of her work—it implies that the light she captures doesn’t exist in reality—Eaton says that her photographs acknowledge “how incredibly limited our ability to perceive the world is.” We lack the sensory mechanisms to see her colors with our naked eyes, and Eaton sees that as a metaphor for our inability to see the extent of the physical universe, whether it includes multiple dimensions or parallel universes. And, in that metaphor, she sees hope. “I love the idea that no matter how bad it gets,” she says, “there’s this wild so-called reality way beyond what we have decided it is.”

Jessica Eaton is a Canadian photographer. Her work will be presented in a solo show at next year’s Hyères festival. See more of her work here or here.

Taryn Simon: ‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII’

If Taryn Simon hadn’t become a photographer, she could have made a fortune in sales, because she has persuasive powers that the rest of us can only dream of. For her 2007 exhibition and book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, she got herself admitted to dozens of places where outsiders with cameras aren’t usually allowed, including a nuclear-waste storage facility and a reconstructed crime scene at a forensic research center, complete with a rotting corpse. For another project, Contraband, she persuaded the wary authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport to let her photograph every item seized by customs over a five-day period, from counterfeit Viagra to cow-dung toothpaste. Despite a personal manner that’s the last word in low-key, she has a way of getting what she wants. “If somebody closes the door,” she says, “I have to find another way to get in.”

Simon, 37, had to find a lot of ways in for her new show, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, which is on view through Sept. 3 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City before moving to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The organizing principle for this project is what she calls bloodlines: all the living descendants, plus any living forebears, of a single man or woman who sets a story in motion. Traveling to 25 countries, Simon tracked down hundreds of family members bound together by not just genealogy but often some curious or painful fate.

Read more about Taryn Simon in this week’s issue of TIME: There Will Be Bloodlines