Tag Archives: Contradictions

Boys Don’t Cry: Joseph Cultice

My friends at Baang + Burne Contemporary in New York are opening a new exhibition, Boy’s Don’t Cry, on October 4th. This three person exhibition features the work of Rich Tu, Joseph Cultice, and Chris Jehly. Joseph Cultice, the only photographer in the exhibition. brings his series, The Garden, to the B+B walls.

Joseph comes to fine art photography with a long career as a celebrity and fashion photographer, with a love for shooting musicians.  He is also a well know video director, including his feature, Dead to the World, a documentary about Marilyn Manson’s tour. More importantly, he has gotten stoned with Mick Jagger, been hit on by Freddy Mercury, and joined a prayer circle with the Jonas Brothers. He has been told he looks like Bono, Mel Gibson and Johnny Cash, but only by people with glaucoma.

The Garden is drawn from his personal experience of building a family and the contradictions that come from being a parent, homeowner, good citizen, yet the pull to keep a little bit of debauchery in one’s life is ever present.

The Green Book Project by Jehad Nga

Following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last year, photographer Jehad Nga set out to explore the former dictator’s political and military philosophies within the framework of an underlying and contrasting Libyan culture. Here, Nga he writes for LightBox about his project, The Green Book, which depicts the conflicting values of reality through gathered images broken down into binary code.

The Green Book, first published in 1975, is a short tome setting out the political philosophy of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Intended to be required reading for all Libyans, the 24 chapters were constructed simply, containing broad and basic slogans rendered in a rudimentary writing style easy to understand by all. Gaddafi claimed to have developed the book’s theories in order to resolve many contradictions inherent in capitalism and communism thereby—by his logic, freeing its citizens from bondage of both systems. The book, however, proved for most to be nothing more than an inane manifesto used to further reduce the value of a population’s role in the building of a society.

During the revolution that finally brought Gaddafi’s reign to an end last October, it was common for the intelligence arm of the government, in its heightened state of awareness, to target people attempting to traffic information out of the country.

Employing the similar technological principles, I used a satellite adjusted to intersect varying levels of Internet traffic flow transmitted over Libya. An assigned command allowed for the satellite to look only for photographs and disregard all other associated data traffic.

Without any distinguishable narratives, the constant stream of communication I captured visually grew over time to resemble a hyper-realized paradise, where the borders between the natural and supernatural had been washed away. From the ebb and flow of images being sent between people—the population’s naked, unedited psyche rendered visual—I harvested 24 representative images.

Once the images were captured, I wanted to further explore the meaning of my action. I first reduced each image to its most basic structure, binary code, which singled it out from the other billion bits of data shooting through the sky. This conversion exposed each image’s digital “cell structure”—millions of algorithms mathematically, miraculously unified to produce something of beauty. Code is built in layers, each with a metaphor constructed by its programmer to enact and describe its behavior. Reducing an image to pure binary data strips it of any individual identity, any protection, and any premise.

I was able to exploit this frailty—the structural weakness of each image—by introducing new information into its binary data. Each chapter of The Green Book was introduced into the code structure of each photo, threatening to break the image file past the threshold of recognition. Sometimes the new data caused the complete collapse of the image structure. When my experiment was successful, the text at once contaminated the image and created something new.

The final product is a depiction of how something with “genetic predisposition,” something rigid and fixed, struggles to coexist with additional textual information. The conflicting “values” are evident in the distorted and augmented reality presented by the photographs.

Taken as a whole, The Green Book Study, a collection of 24 images that carries with it Gaddafi’s three-volume manifesto in its entirety, becomes an method for evaluating the process of which a society’s human structure becomes distorted and at time fully collapsed by a command line of one totalitarian vision.

Jehad Nga is a New York-based photographer. LightBox has previously featured Nga’s work about his Libyan roots as well as a photo essay on the world’s biggest refugee complex.

The project will be showing at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York and the M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.

‘American Photographs’ by Walker Evans

Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.

But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.



As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.

But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.

And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.

This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)

As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.

The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest  way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.

Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.

The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.

The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.

These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.

‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

Robin Maddock @ TJ Boulting, London

“Maddock’s views and snatches of life are both surreal and individual. He has the enviable ability to turn nothing much into something quite profound.” – Martin Parr
Opening tonight at TJ Boulting, is Robin Maddock’s God Forgotten Face, an exhibition in conjunction with the book of the same name, published by Trolley, which examines aspects of the everyday life in Plymouth, a port town still bearing the scars of the Blitz.
The exhibition showcases both key images from the book as well as new additions, taken more recently. In the words of gallery director, Hannah Watson, these have the effect of “introducing a slight shift to a lighter and more lyrical interpretation of the city.”
In her press release for the show she goes on to say: “After two years spent living in the town, where he has had family all his life, Maddock achieves a familiar interaction with his subjects, visible through his portraits in night clubs and pubs, and in the witnessing of the various goings on down at the sea front or in the local rec. In the misty early morning a nun stops to call her dog, whilst later a police forecourt is bathed in light and transported to a sunny LA; Maddock’s insight into the city is at once affectionate and optimistic in outlook, but stamped with his own aesthetic and curiosity.
In the book Owen Hatherley writes with a similar affection In Praise of Blitzed Cities, citing that the negative and concrete environs that come into most people’s minds when they think of Plymouth are in fact overlooking its “shabby, ad hoc vitality that most heritage cities would die for.” As a town, Plymouth’s past has been one of ongoing economic and cultural isolation since the shrinking of the Navy. Now it reflects more a broader England in decline, whilst all the post-modern ironic contradictions of the evolving new economies are present; ‘Francis Drake’ is a shopping mall, and what was the ‘Royal Sovereign’ pub is now a ‘Firkin Doghouse’. 
His childhood memories of the place are also challenged by more adult quotidian realities of Maddock’s time there, and his own preconceptions; the journey’s question shifting from, ‘What am I doing here?’ to the more telling, ‘What am I, here?’ The ‘God Forgotten Face’ of the title, originally derived from the 1945 Philip Larkin poem Plymouth, and the words “Last kingdom of a gold forgotten face…”, perhaps coming to represent his own personal account as a photographer finding himself changed in the face of the subject he had returned to find.” 
The exhibition runs until 2 June 2012.

2011 Benefit & Auction Spotlight: Jane Hilton

Pat Meinzer, Cowboy, Benjamin, Texas 2009 © Jane Hilton/ Nailya Alexander Gallery

Jane Hilton is one of the many great artists featured in our 2011 Benefit and Auction. Her photograph Pat Meinzer, Cowboy, Benjamin, Texas will be up for bidding during the evening’s Live Auction. Inspired by a commission in 2006 to photograph a 17 year old cowboy, Jeremiah Karsten, who traveled 4,000 miles on horseback from his native Alaska to Mexico, Jane set off on her own four year pilgrimage, criss-crossing the cowboy states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming to capture America’s 21st century cowboys which has culminated in her recently published book – Dead Eagle Trail. This particular image was nominated for the 2010 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and exhibited at The National Portrait Gallery as a runner up. She writes, of the image:

“This portrait is one of a series of cowboys I photographed in their homes, from the buckaroos of Nevada to the cowpunchers of Arizona and Texas. The paradox of photographing a cowboy at home, and showing their obsession with the lifestyle was much more fascinating to me, than photographing them on a horse.

A window acts as a constant reminder to the outside world. All of them were shocked that I wanted to go inside their houses, and sometimes even their bedrooms where they spend the least time. But it was much more interesting to see them in less familiar territory, revealing their softer and possibly more feminine side. They were always immaculate despite the harshness of their working environment. It is the contradictions that are infinitely more enlightening.

Pate’s bedroom clearly demonstrates a feminine touch by his wife, with their wedding photographs and religious icons on the walls. Most of the cowboys I photographed had a strong sense of spirituality. As one cowboy told me, “I don’t need to go to church. My horse is my church and I am out with God everyday.”

Freedom is a cowboys’ life. Most were brought up on ranches where it was always hard work and never particularly profitable. Even today a cowboy can expect to earn only a few dollars an hour, but this is not what drives them. Real cowboys boast of never having met a stranger, most can’t swim. All of them have a John Wayne story they love to share. This series is a celebration of The West as it is now. Nobody can predict whether in a hundred year’s time the cowboy will still be around.”

Jane Hilton is a photographer and filmmaker living in London. The contradictions in American society and the American dream are recurring themes in her work. She filmed a documentary series for the BBC, “The Brothel / Love For Sale,” as well as a series of exhibitions on desert landscapes, pimps and prostitutes. Jane’s work is regularly published in The Sunday Times Magazine and The Telegraph Magazine.

Click here to preview Auction artworks and to bid online

Click here for more information and to buy tickets to our 2011 Benefit & Auction

Rawiya Photo Collective


Rawiya is a photography collective founded by five female photographers from across the Middle East.

Rawiya presents an insider’s view of a region in flux balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes.

As a collective, Rawiya’s photographers respect the human dignity of the stories they tell, pooling resources and vision to produce in-depth photo-essays and long-term projects.

Rawiya, meaning “she who tells a story”, brings together the experiences and photographic styles of Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak, Tanya Habjouwa, Dalia Khamissy and Newsha Tavakolian.


Visit Rawiya Photo Collective

Rawiya on Facebook

Or click on a photo below to see that photographer’s website:

Tamara Abdul Hadi
Laura Bousnak
Tanya Habjouqa
Dalia Khamissy
Newsha Tavakolian


Photographs of Agony – John Berger

The possible contradictions of the war photograph now become apparent. It is generally assumed that its purpose is to awaken concern. The most extreme examples – as in McCullin’s work – show moments of agony in order to extort maximum concern. Such moments, whether photographed or not, are discontinuous with all other moments. They exist by themselves. But the reader who has been arrested by the photograph may tend to feel this discontinuity as his own personal moral inadequacy…

The US Marine Counteroffensive, Day Nine. Don McCullin

Read the rest of Berger’s “Photographs of Agony” here, along with a few other chapters from About Looking which you should buy if you don’t already own.


Douglas Stockdale

I first became acquainted with California photographer Douglas Stockdale through the blogoshere. At one time, he was involved in four blogs and making his own work, all will holding down a full time job in the “real” world. He still produces the blogs Singular Images, The Photo Book, and The Photo Exchange.

In his sliver of free time, Douglas has created a new book, Ciociaria. Ciociaria, about a region in central Italy, is having its European launch in conjunction with FotoGrafia Festival Internazionale di Roma, this September in Rome, Italy. The Festival runs from September 23rd to October 23rd. Edizioni Punctum will be distributing the book in Europe and Douglas will be handling the distribution in the US, and taking pre-sale reservations on his site or blog.

Ciociaria: This project is an investigation into complexities of familiarity, ambiguity and displacement, about an underlying discomfort with your surroundings in which it seems you belong, but do not fit in. It is about being a stranger in a vaguely familiar place.

My project took place in a loosely defined region in central Italy that encompasses places called Anagni, Pigilo, Fuiggi, Morolo, Acuto, Torre Cajetan, Ferentino, Fresinone and Porciano. The people of this ancient Latin region have adopted a traditional name, Ciociaria. This name is derived from a particular ancient leather sandal, the ciocie, worn long ago and yet still today by a few. This region is without a known history and this has intrigued my imagination as the terrain and environment remind me of my home in Southern California. I am drawn to investigate the similarities and contradictions I sense about this region, and it is a metaphoric place for the dichotomy of belonging while yet feeling a sense of alienation.

As an American, I have only the slightest ability to converse in the local Italian language. I was neither raised in this region nor can I claim to be very knowledgeable of the culture or customs, I am truly an outsider who is looking in. Although I observe events that I relate to, nevertheless, these same events also make me feel uncomfortable, as I can never be sure of the true meaning of what is unfolding before me. This region remains an allusive mystery to me and reveals many hints of a complex and multi-layered culture that elicits familiar memories of home.