Tag Archives: Contemporary Culture

Susan Barnett

A number of years ago, I met Susan Barnett when she sat down at my table at Center’s Review L.A.  I was reviewing portfolios and knew that I was looking at a body of work that “had legs”.  Well, those legs have grown arms, a torso, and a head full of possibilities.  I am so thrilled to share the news that Not In Your Face has reached gallery walls with Susan’s first solo exhibition at the DeSantos Gallery in Houston.  The show opens on Saturday, June 16th, with an opening that begins at 5:30pm.  Susan also recently announced that the Library of Congress has purchased three prints from this project. And there is a lot more good news on the horizon.
This is a project that I often show in my classes because it is complex in it’s simplicity.  She shows us what we are communicating at this point in history, via the great leveler, the T-Shirt. Susan finds themes of self expression, explores the idea of personal advertisement, and ultimately, makes us look at our humanity with a sense of humor and a sense of reality.
This might be Susan’s first solo gallery exhibition but by no means has she been laying low.  Her work has been exhibited and published all over the world, and in 2013, she will have another solo exhibition at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, Colorado. She lives in New York City and comes to photography after a career as a gallery director.

 In the series “Not In Your Face” the
t-shirt is starkly evident but these photographs are not about 
the t-shirt per se. They are about
identity, validation and perception. I look for individuals 
who stand out in a crowd by
their choice of the message on their back and  for those people willing to pose for me. The messages are combinations
of pictures and words that are appropriated from contemporary culture but have
the unique effect of mixing up meanings and creating new meanings.

On the streets these personalities create
their own iconography that explore the cultural, political and social issues
that have an impact on our everyday lives. The t-shirt “performs a function of
identifying an indvidual’s social location instantly”.  In the early months of 2012, the LA
Times ran a front page article describing the emergence of the t-shirt and
hoodie as a staple of the protest movement worn in support of Trayvon Martin, a
young man gunned down in Florida that became a cause célèbre throughout the

The Trayvon Martin protest T-shirt has become a
staple at rallies across the country, and it’s 
difficult to think of another item of clothing more
representative of the nation’s twitchy 
zeitgeist in April 2012. Sometimes it seems as
though the old-fashioned medium of the cotton t-shirt has done as much as the
Internet to spread the memes associated with the tragedy through the 
country — and the world.

In these photographs we witness a chronicle
of American subcultures and vernaculars which illustrate the current American identity.
These photographs demonstrate how these individuals wear a kind of “badge of
honor or trophy” that says “I belong to this group not the other”. T-shirts
speak to like-minded people; a particular t-shirt may be meaningful to those
with different views and affiliations.

Each one of these people reveal a part of
themselves that advertises their hopes, ideals, likes, dislikes, political views, and personal
mantras. “The t-shirt speaks to issues related to ideology, differences, and myth: politics, race,
gender and leisure”.

I believe the power of each portraitʼs
meaning becomes apparent from the juxtaposition of many images. It is a universe of individuals
but when seen in groups they 
create a picture of our time without the imposition of judgment. Is this
democracy at work? We may feel we know more about these individuals than we
really do. What is their story? Here their individual mystery is preserved and the power of
photography can celebrate our urge to unravel it.

Dedicated to my late Mother, Mary, whose faith in me made all this possible.”Dedicated to my late Mother, Mary, whose faith in me made all this possible.”

Shanghai duo Birdhead fly into Paradise Row for first solo show in London

Click to view slideshow.
All Photo Stroll iPhone photos, © Miranda Gavin. Photos of work © Birdhead.

If you want to get a taste of contemporary Shaghai in the 21st century, then head down to Paradise Row gallery where the debut London solo show of Shanghai-based photographic duo Birdhead – set up in 2004 by friends Ji Weiyu and Song Tao  – is on for the next two weeks.

Daily life in China is captured through a series of black and white images, Welcome to Birdhead World Again, using a snapshot aesthetic and arranged for the show as a series of grids and sets of multiple images. The images are specifically arranged and organised, much in the same way collectors categorise objects, while the grid arrangement allows the work to be read and experienced in multiple ways; left to right, right to left, up and down and vice versa, as well as diagonally. this arrangement could also been seen as echoing the block-like structure of buildings and the layout of many modern cities, making the reading of the work as dynamic as the city itself.

The classical Song dynasty poem, Youth Does Not Know How Sorrow Tastes, by Xin Qiji and translated by John Scott and Graham Martin, is  re-presented in the gallery space and provides inspiration for the images . “Each word of the poem is extracted photographically from neon signs and billboards around the city”, writes Katie Hill in the catalogue;  fragments from the past appropriated from contemporary culture.  One gallery visitor commented that the translation was, perhaps, too flowery. Welcome to Birdhead World Again runs until 4 April and is highly recommended.

Being touted as China’s hottest duo, Birdhead showed work at the recent 54th Venice Biennale. See over for more about the work.

All photos above © Birdhead, courtesy of the gallery.


Birdhead “use photography to capture, mediate and occupy their contemporary experience of daily life in Shanghai, China’s greatest metropolis whose ever increasing scale and vitality is more than itself – being read the world over as a gauge of the flow of power from West to East.

“Their tactical use of the snapshot aesthetic and the high volume of images they deploy make manifest a visual stream of consciousness. We see the artists going about their lives; being with friends, laughing, talking, eating, working, partying, sleeping etc. all this against the backdrop of the urban landscape of Shanghai. Tall towers, skyscrapers, telecoms masts and vast flyovers punctuate the images of human activity, of youth and consumer culture, illustrating the strange symbiosis between inanimate infrastructure and the life that it shelters and facilitates.

“Alongside their images, Birdhead present, Youth Does Not Know How Sorrow Tastes by Xin Qiji, a classic poem from the Song dynasty era. A melancholy masterpiece, the poem reflects upon the arc of experience that forms each life, the Romantic naiveté of youth and the price paid for wisdom. In common with Birdhead’s sensibility, the poem is imbued with the pathos of the individual set against the sweep of historical time.’ From the press release.

Filed under: Photographers, Photography Shows, Visual Artists Tagged: Birdhead, contemporary photography, Ji Weiyu, Katie Hill, Paradise Row, Shanghai, Song Tao, Youth Does Not Know How Sorrow Tastes

Christian Bendayàn – El Paraíso del Diablo

I try not to write about shows that are already down but given that I’m in Lima and you probably aren’t, it’s a moot point, so I’ll go ahead. I had the luck recently to see a show by Christian Bendayán, a Peruvian painter from Iquitos. I posted about him last year and it was a real pleasure to see his large scale paintings in person. His work has been a huge influence on me in photographing in Iquitos. The paintings were on view at the Sala Luis Miró Quesada Garland.

El Encuentro del Amazonas by Christian Bendayán

The show is called El Paraíso del Diablo or The Devil’s Paradise and deals with the contemporary culture of the Peruvian Amazon, but also with the dark history of exploitation and the loss of memory and culture. The center piece of the show is a painting entitled El Encuentro del Amazonas. It’s update of a mural by Amazonian painter Cesar Calvo de Araujo which was destroyed in 2009 when the old city hall of Iquitos was (illegally) demolished. The mural depicted the discovery of the Amazon by Francisco de Orellana in 1542. In Bendayán’s painting, he follows the general composition of Calvo’s painting but updates the people with types from modern-day Iquitos. The natives become transvestites in native drag, a catholic priest becomes and evangelical preacher, and so-on.

Detail of El Encuentro del Amazonas by Christian Bendayán

I also quite liked this painting, Fila India, which combines two images from the turn of the century, the background of the Iquitos waterfront by Otto Michael and a photograph of girls from the Boras tribe by Manuel Rodriguez Lira.

Fila India by Christian Bendayán with Carlitos

I asked my friend from Iquitos, Carlitos, to stand in the photo to give a sense of its scale, although Carlitos is only 5′ 3″, so keep that in mind when judging the size. Here are the two source images which were on the wall next to the painting.

Muchachas Boras,by Manuel Rodriguez Lira

Iquitos waterfront in 1910, watercolor by Otto Michael

Also present in the show was this painting, El Curandero del Amor for which Bendayán used flourescent paints commonly used is bars and discos in Iquitos.

El Curandero del Amor by Christian Bendayán

In this interview, in Spanish, Bendayán talks about the link between neon painting in working class pubs (bares populares) and experience of colors and visions of psychoactive drugs like Ayahuasca. He also talks about the distinct culture of the Peruvian Amazon and  the historical cycles of exploitation and corruption.

Melinda Gibson

It’s hard to ignore a statement like: “I am interested in the changing perspectives of the photographic medium, how images are viewed and understood through the technological advances in photography and the help and hindrances this begins forth into our contemporary culture.” It’s pretty clear from her statement that Melinda Gibson is looking at photography in a new way. Her images are wonderfully complex and layered, and allow us to question reality.

Melinda was born in the UK, and currently lives and works in London. She studied Photography at the London College of Communication and after graduating in 2006 she assisted various photographers, notably Martin Parr and Wolfgang Tillmans, while continuing to develop her own photographic practice. In 2010, The Magenta Foundation selected her, as one of the British winners of the Emerging Photographers Award and Melinda is 1 of the 15 winners of the annual Talent Call chosen by FOAM magazine in 2010. Melinda is participating in the European Capital of Culture exhibition, “Alice in Wonderland” Finland’s largest contemporary photography exhibition held in Turku, Finland throughout 2011.

The Photograph as Contemporary Art: This series of work titled, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” examines the educational text by Charlotte Cotton. Through the medium of photomontage, each piece is a trio of imagery removed from the book and re-contextualised as one. This body of work brings forth questions surrounding our educational system, copyright and licensing as well as audience participation.

Photomontage III, (taken from pages 106,136,202), (2009-2010)

As the publication of imagery continues digitally, every image can be searched for, clicked on, cut, copy, pasted. Yet a book manages to hold onto its copyright, as by law you may only reproduce 10% of the entire volume. What becomes apparent is the canonisation of imagery found in such sources, the same photographers, images appear and re-appear.

Photomontage IV, (taken from pages 6,18,185), (2009-2010)

This sameness is only reiterated through the educational system bound to our institutions. These textbooks that are presented to us, to hold dear, do little to expel such problems. Or do they?

Photomontage V, (taken from pages 87,147,120), (2009-2010)

Taking such texts apart helps to really question this canonisation, far more than when they are within the constraints of a book. By slicing, cutting, composing these images against one another, you de-contextualise them, recreate them into new dismembered realities.

Photomontage VI, (taken from pages 74,99,176), (2009-2010)

Each piece is composed of three separate parts, where the same sized images are manipulated into one; placed under or over one another, parts have been removed, discarded while others have been added. Each image is an appropriation of an original, re-organised with additional elements that makes itself into a new original. Through this deconstruction you start to gain a greater appreciation of the works and start understanding why and how these photographers, these images have become so prominent.

Photomontage VII, (taken from pages 71,106,204), (2009-2010)

Photomontage VIII, (taken from pages 40,123,146), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XII, (taken from pages 153,169,178), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XVI, (taken from pages 133,169,196), (2009-2010),

Photomontage XVII, (taken from pages 25,105, 149), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XVII, (taken from pages 25,105, 149), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XIX, (taken from pages 128, 179,192), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XX, (taken from pages 103, 193,194), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XXII, (taken from pages 17,182,195), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XXVIII, (taken from pages 24, 58, 131), (2009-2010)

Photomontage XXX, (taken from pages 37, 42, 46), (2009-2010)

Photo News London: Rotimi Fani-Kayode at Autograph ABP and Jan Ŝvankmajer’s The Ossuary is screened as part of a Gothic Revival at the Institute of Contemporary Arts

© Rotimi Fani-Kayode, 'Black Friar', 1989, photo courtesy of Autograph APB

© Jan Ŝvankmajer, The Ossuary, 1970.

Scholar Kobena Mercer is presenting a keynote lecture, Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Themes, Inspirations and Influences, on the work of the late Rotimi Fani-Kayode at Autograph ABP in east London on Friday 3 June at 6:30 pm. This event is free but booking is essential. To book, follow this link.

The Ossuary, (1970, black & white, 10 mins) – a short film by Czech filmmaker and artist Jan Ŝvankmajer – will be showing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London on Saturday 11 June as part of a two-day event Template for Terror: The Revival of the Gothic. Running at the ICA, London from 11 June 2011 – 12 June, the two-day event comprises a series of presentations and discussions looking at “the prevailing influence of the Gothic on contemporary culture”. If you haven’t come across Ŝvankmajer, I urge you to explore his hugely influential works, including his first feature film, Alice (1987) – a brilliant adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. See over for more on these events…

The event “will reflect on the peculiar relationship between photography and time by focussing on the photographic studio as an imaginative space that is both ‘in’ time yet ‘outside’ its reach. Considering Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s influences among artists for whom sexuality is a medium for cross-cultural translation, Mercer will discuss how his photographs, created over twenty years ago, still take contemporary audiences by surprise.

“Joining the panel discussion will be artist and curator Sunil Gupta, who will discuss the context and politics of the time Fani-Kayode was working in London; and artist Robert Taylor, a close friend and collaborator, who will present his ‘Eulogy for Rotimi Fani-Kayode’, first written in 1990.”

The Ossuary by Ŝvankmajer is “devoted to the wonders of the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic”. However, there are, I believe, a couple of versions of the film, so it would be interesting to know which one is being shown, as the original is now available. The commission to document the ossuary was  government one, but the 10-minute finished film was deemed “subversive” by the authorities and the narration was replaced with a shorter spoken intro and jazz soundtrack.

I visited this remarkable ‘bone chapel’ (as we called it), on numerous occasions when I lived in Prague from 1995-6, and on subsequent visits.  It features alongside another Ŝvankmajer short, see over, as part of Saturday’s Dark Vision, Haunted Time: Gothic in History, Gothic.

“From Dracula and Frankenstein to Twilight and Shaun of the Dead, contemporary culture continues to appropriate the stock themes of the eighteenth and nineteenth century gothic novel. This weekend of panel discussions, presentations and screenings will explore the societal impulse that draws us to the darker side of life, looking at the influence of the gothic in contemporary art, literature, film and music.” The second of the Jan Ŝvankmajer shorts is To Castle of Otranto, (1973-79, color, 17 mins). Ŝvankmajer’s short film based on Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

Presentations and discussions:
£8 full, £5 Members & students. Cinema 2 screenings: £5 all tickets

Day Pass Saturday: £15 full, £12 Member & students
Day Pass Sunday: £12 full, £8 Member & students

Filed under: Art Galleries, Artist Talks, Photographers, short films, Visual Artists Tagged: Autograph ABP, Dark Vision, Gothic, Haunted Time: Gothic in History, ICA, Inspirations and Influences, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Jan Ŝvankmajer, Kobena Mercer, Robert Taylor, Rotimi Fani-Kayode: Themes, Sedlec Ossuary, Sunil Gupta, Template for Terror: The Revival of the Gothic, The Ossuary

André França

Last week I attended the new Annenberg Space for Photography’s exhibition, Beauty CULTure. The show got me thinking about the work of André França, a Brazilian photographer, who has created a project titled, Vanishing. As a woman, I can interpret his work in so many ways. For me, it’s about loss, about becoming invisible, about our culture and the desire to turn back time, or about those were lost to abuse and murder. André doesn’t have a statement for this project, as he prefers to have the viewer bring their own interpretations to the work.

André was born in Brazil and received an M.A. in Communication and Contemporary Culture at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil. Currently living in Salvador, Brazil, André creates his work all over the world, including New York City, London and in Brazilian cities. His first photography exhibition was held in Salvador, Brazil, in 2003. Since then his work has been displayed in solo and group shows at the Goethe-Institut gallery in Salvador, Brazil (2008), A Gentil Carioca gallery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2009), and at the X Bienal do Recôncavo in São Félix, Brazil (2010). His work has been published in “10×15” and “Muito” magazines, in exhibition catalogues, as well as featured on art and photography blogs on the internet. His work also appears in private collections.

Images from Vanishing

Violence and Representation (Tate UK Video) with Simon Norfolk, Susan Meiselas and Others

To coincide with the exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, this symposium explores violence as a subject in relation to representations in the broadest range of historical and geographical contexts.It includes international artists, photojournalists and theorists who from their distinctive perspectives will attempt to unveil notions of spectatorship and consumption of violent images in contemporary culture. atlanta seo firm . long boards . Key questions will encompass the notion of the political, apolitical or depoliticised spectator of representations of violence; the consequences of these kinds of practice and the difference between photo reportage and art photography. Speakers include Shahidul Alam, Steve Edwards, Susan Meiselas, Simon Norfolk, John Roberts, Julian Stallabrass and Alberto Toscano.Supported by Oxford Art Journal, Oxford University Press, the Open University and the British Council.

Openings Tonight!


Delphine Diallo, Monica, courtesy the artist

Exhibitions opening in Chelsea, NYC tonight!

The Black Portrait: An exhibition curated by Natasha L. Logan and Hank Willis Thomas

The word black has several meanings in our society. It may reference individuals or groups with dark skin; a complete absence of light; the opposite of white; or the embodiment of a negative or pessimistic disposition. A portrait is understood to represent a person or thing, usually in the …form of a drawing, painting, photograph, engraving, or text. 

When these terms are linked, a sense of alchemical potency is suggested. This exhibition brings together paintings, photographs, videos, collage and sculpture by ten artists contending with what it means to make a black portrait. It aims to use this linkage to expand dialogue about identity, difference, and belonging in contemporary culture.

The exhibition will feature artists Christine Wong Yap, 
Coby Kennedy,
 Aperture Portfolio Prize Runner Up Delphine Diallo, Duron Jackson,
 Felandus Thames, 
Kajahl Benes,
 Kambui Olujimi,
 Keisha Scarville, 
Shane Aslan Selzer, and
 Toyin Odutola.

Hank Willis Thomas among others will participate in the two day-conference Beauty and Fashion: The Black Portrait Symposium at the department of Photography & Imaging Tisch School of the Arts at NYU on April 2-3.

Buy a signed copy of Hank Willis Thomas’ Aperture book Pitch Blackness here!

Opening Reception:
March 31, 6:00-8:00 pm

Exhibition on view:
March 31 – May 21, 2011

Rush Arts Gallery
526 W 26th Street, Suite 311
New York, New York


Image courtesy Ruben Natal San-Miguel

First Class/Second Class:  An exhibition curated by Asya Geisberg and Leah Oates

This exhibition features work that investigates various aspects of class structure via either a personal narrative or an outsider’s perspective. The artists come from a range of backgrounds and cultures, and do not necessarily foreground the theme of class in their work. They include Chris Verene, Rebecca Morgan, Miles Ladin, Devin Troy Strother, Ruben Natal San-Miguel, Holly Jarrett, Conor McGrady, and Brian Shumway. This exhibition extracts class as a necessary and frequently overlooked prism through which we can interpret their work. First Class/Second Class posits that class is omnipresent as an identity marker, and frequently undermines race, gender, and nationality, while simultaneously being dependent on individual circumstances.

Opening Reception:
March 31, 6:00-8:00 pm

Exhibition on View:
March 31 – May 7, 2011

Asya Geisberg Gallery
537B West 23rd Street
New York,

Watch Chris Verene here on a panel at The New School titled: Contemporary Documentary Practices.