Tag Archives: Familiarity

My Belarusian Brides: Katherine Wolkoff’s Search for Family and Familiarity

In college, one professor regularly told photographer Katherine Wolkoff that she looked like the Belarusian woman whose face represented the nation on a 1975 National Geographic map that hung in a history department office. Her father’s family had in fact emigrated from Belarus in 1906, but growing up, Wolkoff had never considered it part of her cultural identity.

That changed after her father, whom she had always looked like, passed away in 2010. Suddenly, Wolkoff became interested in traveling to Belarus in search of other women who looked like her. “It was inspired by the idea of tracing this abstract family tree,” she says. “Sort of like finding this extended family that didn’t exist.”

In July, Wolkoff spent 10 days in Belarus photographing more than 50 women who shared her physical traits. With the help of a 25-year-old Belarusian guide and social media—and the sole stipulation that the women have blonde hair, be it natural or dyed—the photographer made a series of minimal but captivating portraits collectively called ‘My Belarusian Brides,’ a title that touches on family and the nation’s booming mail-order bride business.

Katherine Wolkoff / Courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery

Katherine, 2012

Wolkoff traveled with a digital Hasselblad HD40 camera, which allowed her to see the images instantly. “I photographed a woman in front of these trees, and it became so clear that this was the image I’d intended to make,” she says. And to bring the idea of family full circle, Wolkoff even created a self-portrait for LightBox, capturing herself in the same light and setting seen in the series.

Some women showed up all dressed up and in full makeup, and many brought their friends or boyfriends. “In part, I think the shoot was a moment of fantasy for them—like the Hollywood fantasy of being photographed,” Wolkoff says. “Belarus is a pretty repressed society, particularly for women, and I think this was a moment of expression and excitement for them”

Wolkoff says she saw a piece of herself in each of the women she photographed, from the tenderly awkward teenager eating an ice cream cone, to the older, self-assured Svetlana who arrived in coral lipstick. “It was an incredible look at aging process—to see these women who weren’t my relatives, but looked very much like me,” she says. “It’s as if we were an ephemeral family.”

Katherine Wolkoff is a photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Medium Festival: Jamie Johnson

Featuring photographers seen at the Medium Photography Festival in San Diego….
Once in a while, a photographer has that light bulb moment, where they see something in their work they never noticed before, and then they see it again and again and all of a sudden they realize that, without their knowledge, they’ve been building a body of work–in the case of Los Angeles photographer, Jamie Johnson, quite a profound body of work at that.
I’ve known Jamie for many years and she’s the hardest working photographer I know.  Jamie has a family and children portrait business that keeps her busy seven days a week, year round, but one month out of every year, she explores a part of the world, often on her own, where she leaves the “platinum pacifiers of Bel Air” behind and refreshes her appreciation of humanity.
She has won awards from Prix De La Photographie Paris , Women in Photography International, the Gold Award at Color Magazine and shown at The Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, amongst many exhibitions across the country and online. 
One World 

I cover many terrains as a photographer. I work as an editorial and portrait photographer with an emphasis on family and children portraiture, I am drawn to the simple quality of just being in the world. A simple passion that lured me to travel around the globe and I make work as a way of exploring other cultures. With no particular direction, my two worlds suddenly became one. It started with an instant of recognition, of familiarity of a gesture, an expression, or a person, and I began to see that we are much more one world, than individuals. 

I began to see clearly that we are all experiencing the same joy, the same sorrow, the same routines, the same commitment to family and I began to see the universality of being human. My series, One World, features two photographs, captured years apart without any connection to the other image. The surprising similarities within images that I have been creating over the years, speaks a powerful truth and lesson about who we are.

Review Santa Fe: Yiorgos Kordakis

Over the next month, I will be sharing the work of photographers who attended Review Santa Fe in June.  Review Santa Fe is the only juried review in the United States and invites 100 photographers to Santa Fe for a long weekend of reviews, insights, and connections.  

Greek photographer, Yiorgos Kordakis, lives and works in Greece and New York. He attended college in Italy and London, which reflects why his work has such a universal appeal and focus. Using 4×5 Instant Polaroid and Fuji film, Yiorgos captures the world with a bleached out, timeless approach that evokes feelings of memory and time passing.  I am featuring two of Yiorgos’ series, 10,000 American Movies, where he rediscovers the US landscape stimulated by memories of American movies, and Global Summer.
Images from 10,000 American Movies
10,000 American Movies: I always find it to be a unique experience
when I touch upon US soil. I call it familiarity. I am acquainted with
everything. I have been here before. Perhaps I even grew up here. In a way, I
think I did. And that’s because of the thousands of American movies I have been
watching since I was a little kid. America feels like I am on set on its own
and I am the action. I’m racing through the endless highways of the State of
Texas, I book myself in cheap motel rooms on the road, I eat pancakes at desert
diners in small desolate Mid West towns, I seek parking lots cramped with old,
faded, street mural advertising all in search for the America that I know. The
country that I saw flickering across the screens of movie theatres and TV back
at home in Greece.
For the past four years, I have been driving
across the country reliving each American 
movie scene I had in my mind. I thought I was
the action, but I learned that I was becoming the direction. I started to
physically explore America.
My images represent thousands of little movie
moments, which are deeply rooted into my memory. I am not looking for a movie
location. I’m looking for the reflection of reality in the mirror of film. In
my eyes and lens, this is a country that seems like an endless movie set.

Images from Global Summer

As Syria Grieves: Photographs by Nicole Tung

In the mountains of northern Syria, the summer fruits ripened in the orchards. Farmers collected their crops, walking between olive groves, tomato patches and lush trees with a plum-like fruit they call ‘mish mish.’ It was a scene of serenity when I arrived over a week ago, surprising given the news that has streamed constantly out of Syria for the past year. Daily life must go on, my friend Mohamed said. “If you don’t work one day, maybe you won’t eat the next,” was his answer to a question on how the revolution and war affected civilians in Syria. Groups of armed Free Syrian Army fighters, many of them defectors from the military, manned check points and greeted civilians with warmth and familiarity. They knew how close the military was and how the government would not hesitate to use force, so they stayed on watch all the time, handling the meager weapons they had. AK-47s, RPGs, one tank and one 23 mm anti-aircraft gun, the latter two acquired in fights with the Syrian Army. This equipment was all they had to cover the string of more than 40 villages in the mountainous region outside of Idlib.

From our mountain top perch last Saturday, I watched the twinkling lights of the villages and towns below. And then the sickening thuds of incoming mortars erased any notion of serenity. Just 20 kilometers away, the Syrian Army was conducting its usual, almost nightly, attacks on the town of Maarat al Noman, a town of about 100,000 situated on the outskirts of Idlib City. I sat with my hosts as the word arrived about casualties. By 11 p.m., the estimated number of deaths hovered between 20 to 30—mostly the result of mortars.

We decided to go, but it would be no easy feat. The army was stationed at 13 checkpoints inside the city, as well as in the surrounding mountains and farmland. Some were as close as 4 km away. The only way to communicate with the inside was through FSA radios. After more than an hour of planning and coordination between FSA commanders, we were on our way, negotiating back roads and the lack of light. On the final stretch to the city was a Syrian Army check point, located on the top of a hill in what looked like a little house. “There, that’s the army, we’re in a dangerous area now,” Mohamed warned, but I wished he hadn’t told me. I could feel the tension in the car as Ibrahim, a shy FSA fighter who was driving, accelerated, and then I heard the crack of gunfire—four bursts. I waited for the sound of bullets hitting metal, and when it didn’t happen, a collective sigh of relief filled the car.

The shelling momentarily ceased. It was now 1 a.m. as we arrived at a mosque where locals had placed six of the dead in white sheets. The main hospital was under the control of the army, and there was no refrigeration or city morgue. The mortars had reduced the contents of the sheets to nothing but piles of civilian, human flesh—unrecognizable except for a single hand and one somewhat intact body.

I looked for a minute, began photographing, and then felt my stomach turn. The bodies were covered in chalk and large blocks of ice and water bottles were placed between the limbs. “They were just coming out of the mosque after evening prayers,” one local man screamed. “And that’s when the mortars killed them.” Even in the darkness of the mosque, streaks of blood could be seen, almost as if a giant red paint brush had been run across the floor.

In a house nearby, the women of a family were gathered in their living room reading passages from the Quran. They wept as they read, children sitting near them, bewildered. The body of Alaa Milhem, a 22-year-old French Literature student at the University of Aleppo, lay in the middle of the room, his white undershirt soaked with blood, light hair curled across his forehead. His mother bent over him, crying, sobbing, and at times wailing. “Why, why? Why?” She spoke tenderly in hushed tones to her dead son. The women around her began to cry harder, covering their faces with the Quran. Overcome with emotion, they struggled to read it any further.

All I could do was pause for a few minutes and watch. I felt my jaw clench—I could feel the pain in the room. There were no answers for his mother. Her son was studying for his final exams, heard the shelling, ran outside to help the injured, and was hit by another incoming round.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. See more of her work here.

Still / Life: When the Familiar Becomes Abstract

There are certain moments when everyday objects suddenly lose their veil of familiarity and become abstract. The usual meaning that you give these objects is altered and, for a split second, you see them in a different light. I use this moment in time as a starting point for the images in my exhibition Still / Life, currently on display at the Foam Museum in Amsterdam.

Traveling and being immersed in different landscapes has also played an important part in developing my work. It is only when I am out of my everyday life and free from its repetition that I have the space to truly see what is around me. Being in places unknown to me forces those abstract moments to appear more frequently and allows me to concentrate on finding the right location for the right object.

The physical contact of working with the objects themselves is essential in creating the images. Although raindrops made with buttercups or a black dust fog may seem computer manipulated, they have carefully been sewn by hand or created by using a long aperture. I love creating the installations for the photographs: sewing flowers together, covering a motorcycle in pink pigment, creating a cloud from collected plastic bags. Most images take days of preparation and some objects I have with me for months until I find the right location in which to shoot them. By working with the material itself, I can make the objects more animated and the image easier for the viewer to see and believe.

 

Elspeth Diederix

Vanishing Still Life, 2004

Elspeth Diederix

Still Life Milk, 2002

The pieces in the Still / Life exhibition [shown above] were built up slowly by rearranging, adding and deleting objects and consciously choosing the colors for each detail, until I reached the essence of what I wanted to show. I was looking for that moment when you are suddenly overwhelmed by the invasion of objects and how they start to live a life of their own.

Elspeth Diederix was born in Nairobi, Kenya and is currently based in Amsterdam. She received the prestigious Prix de Rome award in 2002. Still / Life is on view at Amsterdam’s Foam Museum until October 26.

Gift of Gift of: Clare Gallagher

The Gift of Gift of Program recently purchased an image by Northern Ireland photographer, Clare Gallagher, for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston collection.

Clare Gallagher was born in Northern Ireland and studied photography in London, Canterbury, Toulouse and Belfast, earning an MFA photography with distinction. Her work has been exhibited in Belfast, Dublin, Montpellier, London and Houston and will be shown later this year in Bratislava and Delhi. Clare is also a shortlisted artist for Saatchi’s New Sensations 2011. Clare is a photography lecturer living in Northern Ireland and is currently working on a project on weeds, with support from the Arts Council NI.

This image was selected for the Gift of Gift of Program:






















Domestic Drift is concerned with everyday life – the ordinary activities, states of mind and conditions of existence that fill time outside the moments of drama and spectacle. I am interested in working with the sense of ordinariness inherent in the repetitive, habitual work of home while trying to appreciate the experience as simultaneously mundane and precious. The everyday is complex terrain. It is always there, readily and universally available; surely it is so obvious that it needs no unveiling. And yet it is also shrouded in haze, our sense of it dulled by familiarity and habit. It may induce a feeling of comfort in simple rituals or of imprisonment in tedious routine.






















Ambivalence is a central experience of everydayness but that quality also means it is difficult to define, depict and study. While the ordinary and unremarkable constitute the fabric of much of life, our attention is lured away from the quotidian toward the dramatic and exotic. This privileging of the apparent over the obscure fuels the fragmentation of everyday life and creates an impression that those parts of life lived away from the public arenas of street, workplace and media are unproductive and insignificant. The result of this “triviality barrier” is that the most ordinary, familiar parts of daily life, while seeming the most present and obvious, are often disconnected from our sensory perceptions and conscious thoughts. We are at risk of missing out a significant portion of our experience that is ever-present yet escapes attention.























Inspired by Guy Debord’s Theory of the Dérive, I began by following his directions:
In a dérive, one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.

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.