Tag Archives: Digitally

Light from the Middle East

The Middle East, a sprawling and nuanced geographic mass that is home to many cultures and traditions, is often seen through the lens of politics. The Victoria & Albert Museums latest photography exhibition, however, manages to transcend this overarching narrative, producing a show that focuses on the subject of contemporary photographic practice.

As the exhibition’s curator Marta Weiss acknowledges, until now, the V & A Museums collection of photographs from the region reflected the Eurocentric term itself: Most of the photographs that we have that relate to the region were made by westerners, she says. This exhibition marks a departure from that, recognizing instead the wealth and variety of photo-making from this diverse region. This is very much an exhibition that is not about outsiders, but rather a view of the Middle East from the Middle East.”

Spanning over three decades and encompassing the work of some 30 artists and photographers, the show is divided into three parts: recording, re-framing and resisting. The categories, explains Weiss, show how photography is being employed by photographers.

The ambitiousness of the show lies not in its geographic scope, but rather in the drawing together of a diverse group of practitioners who have engaged with the medium in multiple ways.At one end of the spectrum, there is the iconic work of Magnum-photographer Abbas, documenting the unfolding revolution in Iran from 1978-1979 in his series Iran Diary, a precursor to the events attested to recently in the Arab spring. Nermine Hamman focuses on this very subject, photographing young Egyptian soldiers in Tahrir Square. Displayed in the “resistance” section of the exhibition, Hammans digitally altered images remove the soldiers from their immediate surroundings and place them instead among candy-colored mountain scapes and cherry blossoms. Entitled Upekkha (2011), the images have a postcard-like quality, drawing a parallel between the spectacle of Tahrir Square to that of a tourist attraction.

Despite the intention of the curators to shift the emphasis away from the political, Weiss acknowledges there is a lot of politics in the works. Though some of the photographers openly challenge this. Shadi Ghadirians re-staged portraits of Iranian women in the Qajar period (1786-1925) play on the tensions between tradition, modernity and gender. linkwheel . The warm grey theatrical studio photographs feature playful reminders of modernity, including an explorer bicycle and Pepsi can.

The artists on show do not limit themselves to just the Middle East however. Taysir Batnijis series documenting Israeli watchtowers in occupied Palestinian is a clear homage to German artists Bernd and Hillary Bechers iconic typologies of industrial structures in Europe. Yousef Nabil, who once worked with David LaChapelle, also looks to Europe for inspiration, photographing elderly Yemeni men in England. By hand-coloring the portraits in the style of old Egyptian film stills however, Nabil celebrates the rich tradition of Middle Eastern image-making, which, as the exhibition is testament to, is as strong and vibrant as ever.


Light from the Middle East: New Photography is on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from Nov. 13 through April 7, 2013.

Kharunya Paramaguru is based in TIME’s London office.


History in Color: Rare Photographs of Czarist Russia

A bright orange orb hangs just above the horizon under an expanse of blue and yellow sky. It’s hard to take an interesting picture of a sunset, and at first glance, there is nothing remarkable about this one. What is remarkable, however, is that this vivid image was taken a century ago—a time usually seen only in black and white.

The sunset is just one of thousands of color photographs that Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii made between 1905 and 1915. With funding from Czar Nicholas II, he set out to document the diverse people and landscapes of the vast Russian Empire. Prokudin-Gorskii planned to produce images that would be used in classrooms, but the widespread exposure he envisioned for his pictures was not to be.

Without an affordable method for mass reproduction and with the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, the photographs languished until the entire collection, including nearly 2,000 glass negatives, was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948. But they too were unable to find a suitable way to present Prokudin-Gorskii’s work until nearly 100 years after they were taken—when digital equipment allowed the library to scan all 1,902 negatives and restore Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures to their original color.

“His cutting-edge technology met our internet and digitizing cutting-edge technology in just an almost perfect cycle,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the LOC.

Made public through the LOC’s website beginning in 2001, Prokudin-Gorskii’s digitally restored photographs were shared over the web and featured in a number of small exhibitions around the world. People were drawn, Zinkham believes, as much by the format of the pictures as the content.

“It is as rare as hen’s teeth to have color photography from that era,” said Zinkham. “So it just knocks peoples’ socks off, even if you have no direct connection to Russia.”

Among those who discovered Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures online was Robert Klanten, the publisher of German publishing company Gestalten. “I saw a couple of these photographs and I was immediately in love with them,” said Klanten. This October, Gestalten will release Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs, which will feature 283 of Prokudin-Gorskii’s works.

Combing through the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection, Gestalten’s editorial team was particularly drawn to the portraits and scenes from daily life—many of which were shot in a ‘snapshot’ style despite the three-second exposures necessary to create them.

The pictures themselves cover a remarkable range—both geographically and in subject matter. Portraits were taken against backdrops that range from lush Siberian forests to neatly planted fields to a dank and crumbling prison yard in Turkestan. Even simple scenes—a train track cutting through a rock-strewn landscape or mine workers filling horse-drawn carts—are striking when you realize they portray a land on the verge of revolution, both industrial and political. It is even more appropriate, then, that Prokudin-Gorskii captured these scenes with a groundbreaking photographic method.

“Most people think of the past as something that happened in black and white,” said Klanten. The use of color, combined with Prokudin-Gorskii’s less-formal style was revolutionary in photography, according to Klanten. “The way he approached the whole thing is kind of a precursor to modern photography…it is almost a democratic approach to photography.”

Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs will be released in the U.S. by Gestalten in October. 

You can explore the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection at the Library of Congress

Do Process at the Verve Gallery

While teaching a Santa Fe Workshop last week, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Verve Gallery in downtown Santa Fe and viewing a terrific exhibition about photographer’s processes. The show features the work of eight image makers, each using a different technique to create their photographs. Accompanying the work are process images that allow the viewer to understand the how each photographer approaches their art. Today, I will feature three of those artists, and each day this week, I will feature another photographer and technique. The exhibition opened on February 24th and will run though April 14th, 2012. Do Process is a celebration of 21st century approaches to 19th and 20th century photographic processes. All the work in the exhibition was produced especially for this show. Feel free to click on the process images to make them larger.

Some of the images in the exhibition are made using contemporary processes, while others use alternative processes. Still others are made using both modern digital tools and old proven techniques. These techniques are characterized as “alternative processes” to distinguish the final print from the more ubiquitous gelatin silver print or contemporary digital print. The work in this exhibition ranges from 19th century print making practices, such as, hand-painted Gelatin Silver prints, Gum Dichromate, Bromoil, Mordançage, Photogravure and Albumen printing to more modern digitally composed and mixed media Photomontage prints. The exhibition showcases the history of some of the photographic techniques used over the last three centuries.

MAGGIE TAYLOR

Since 1997, Maggie Taylor has created surrealistic imagery using computers, flatbed scanners and small digital cameras. She sees the scanner as a type of light-sensitive device, not much different than a digital camera. In both instances the scanner and camera capture a slice of time. In addition to placing small objects directly on the scanner, the artist also scans daguerreotypes and tintypes that she collects in antique shops and purchases online. The subjects in her images become the cast of characters that shape the artist’s pictorial stage. Once Maggie has finished her creations, she prints them in her studio on an inkjet printer. As is the case with all her creative work, Maggie runs through many test prints, image revisions and adjustments before getting the results she wants.

KAMIL VOJNAR

Kamil Vojnar is showing photomontages on paper and canvas from his ongoing series, Flying Blind. Kamil’s work focuses on the contradictory world in which we live, metaphorically focusing on the place where beauty and suffering meet. He mixes elements from dreams in his work and lets intuition and the materials he uses to guide him to his final image. Kamil often revisits his images repeatedly to place them in different contexts, creating variations of one image several times.

Kamilr’s unique approach to his work layers images from many different photographs and textures. Sometimes his work is layered on canvas creating one-of-a-kind pieces, and other times he layers on fine art paper, creating a small edition. In both instances he varnishes with oil and wax, sometimes painting on further with oil paints.

JOY GOLDKIND

Joy Goldkind’s Bromoil prints are from her Adagio series. The images are abstractions of dancers created by a double exposure and slow shutter speed so as to deliberately capture the blur of moving figures. The silver gelatin prints are then converted using Joy’s Bromoil technique. She also has her new work in this exhibition where she uses mirrors so as to create images that distort the human figure. Once again, Joy uses the Bromoil process to alter the traditional photograph and thus create a “unique painterly print.”

As the digital world advances and film options decline, Joy finds it necessary to combine the earlier photographic processes with modern world technologies. She creates her negatives using a digital camera and a computer. She then makes prints using a traditional darkroom to create a typical silver gelatin print that she then converts to a Bromoil print. The Bromoil process was introduced in 1907 by E.J. Wall and eventually replaced the Gum Dichromate process. Once an enlargement is made on silver gelatin bromide paper, it is then bleached in a solution of potassium bichromate to remove the black silver image on the print. Then using special brushes, Joy applies the greasy inks to pigment the gelatin surface of the print.