Tag Archives: Portraiture

Pictures of Pictures: The Ambiguities of Laura Letinsky

The declaration that “a rose is a rose is a rose” is one of Gertrude Stein’s best-known lines. Now, with an upcoming body of work called Ill Form & Void Full, photographer Laura Letinsky—who is a fan of Stein’s—has her own take on the idea: “What’s the difference between having a picture of an apple and having an apple and having a picture of a picture of an apple?” she asks. “If you take a picture of a picture of an apple or if you take a picture of an apple, it ends up being the same thing. It’s still a photograph and it’s always distant.”

The work, which will be exhibited at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City from Sept. 6 – Oct. 20, is a series of still-life photographs in which the tableaux are constructed from objects as well as pictures of objects. The title of the series is itself a reference to Stein, says Letinsky, who was inspired by the writer’s ability to make a word carry more than one meaning.

Letinsky, who has been making still-life photography since 1994, is familiar with double-meanings and illusions. She says that her interest in the genre came partially from the way objects speak to material desire, the way that the realm of the home is staged—in much the same way that a photograph of a piece of fruit can be placed on a real table. “We still want to think of [domestic life] as some sort of natural or organic presence,” she says. “It isn’t; it’s a constantly fluctuating and manufactured idea.”

In addition, the line between still-life art and advertising has blurred, she says, causing levels of meaning to expand. Whereas Letinsky can point to the four clearly delineated areas of art that would have existed hundreds of years ago—historical narrative, landscape, portrait, still life—today a still life’s common, commercial use has also made the genre a form of portraiture. “It’s very revelatory of identity in the general sense of being about a portrait of a culture, how culture values things, what things are deemed important,” says Letinsky. “The photograph figures on the one hand as making us feel like we have something, and yet we don’t have it, so it sets up a desire for the thing.”

And, for Letinsky, that ambiguity, the question of whether we have something in a photograph or we just want to have it (and, in turn, whether the object is an object or an image), is central to Ill Form & Void Full. The work—which she says is not meant to be pessimistic—questions whether photography ever shows us anything real, or if we just see what we want to see. So, in the end, when it comes to this work, it turns out that there’s a common phrase even more appropriate than the one about the rose: “It ends up becoming a kind of chicken-egg problem,” says Letinsky. “We produce the culture that we consume that we produce that we consume.”

Laura Letinsky is a Canada-born photographer. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. More of her work can be seen hereIll Form & Void Full will be on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City, Sept. 6 – Oct. 20.

Dan Winters in a Thousand Words: An Ode to a Friend by Nick Offerman

Ironically, I have been asked to describe this photographer with 1,000 words. Given the profound affection I feel towards him and his work, it will be a challenge to wrap it up so briefly. Humor, beauty, erudition, skill, generosity, fun. There’s six.

Travis Smith

Dan Winters

Dan Winters and I had exchanged a few sincerely firm handshakes in 1999, but it was at the bachelor party of a mutual friend in July of 2000 that I feel we first truly took each other’s
measure. Dan and I were to appear as fellow groomsmen in the impending nuptials, and I clearly recall a gratifying sense of relief when I was told that, instead of the traditionally misogynistic stripper fete complete with uncomfortably soused fraternity brothers, Dan would be leading we grooms-buddies on a hike to a swimming hole in his native Ventura County. “God damn”, I thought, “this Dan guy might be all right.” I didn’t know any of the guys except the groom, but having been brought up properly in a fine, rural Illinois family, I was reasonably certain I knew just how to comport myself in this situation. I arrived at the location with a canvas army backpack filled with ice and a case of Coronas. To my relief, my new compatriots quickly confirmed that I had acted appropriately in the arena of refreshments, then Dan took one look at my vintage World War 2 backpack and told me the exact Allied campaign in which it had been utilized, as well as the year the Swiss switched over from canvas to leather shoulder straps. A crush began to blossom in the springtime of my heart. He said, “C’mon. You guys are gonna love this place.”

We hiked, rather arduously, albeit enjoyably, up a rocky, switchback trail for about an hour, to arrive, astonished, at an altitudinous landscape, the likes of which I had only previously seen in an Ansel Adams calendar. The “swimming hole” was but one perfect basin in a series of boulder-strewn pools that had been created over the millennia by a small creek burbling ever deeper into the granite hill. One deep, round hole, complete with cascading waterfall, allowed for a 20-foot cliff-dive into its emerald water. Having spent most of my life in the relatively flatter environs of the Midwest, this magical setting Dan had gifted upon us fairly beggared my imagination. It seemed much more suited to a scene in which Bilbo Baggins might be found engaged in a chin-wag about finger-jewelry with a thin, lisping, somewhat amphibious chap, than one in which seven men in their 30’s lay about sipping cold cervezas. However other-worldly it might have seemed, we were not in a fantasy. We were simply in the place where Dan had taken us.

Dan Winters

Brooklyn, 1987

Soon thereafter, Dan visited my woodshop, pointing out all the right materials and jigs, and we giggled like cub scouts over a myriad of jack planes, spokeshaves, bandsaws, and especially my 1943 Delta drill press, the clear “hottie” amongst my arsenal of machines. Curves for days. We had a drawn-out discussion about floor sweeping techniques. No shit. Once again, he knew more about my tools and their inner workings than I could ever hope to learn, for you see, this man is lovingly obsessed with all of the implements mankind has created, using nothing but ingenuity and elbow-grease. He is fully enraptured, and luckily for us, he has a penchant to make us see what he sees as well. Dan Winters is in love with a telephone pole! It sounds silly until you see the picture he has taken of it. Then you say, “Oh…Jesus. Wow.” A suspension bridge, a firearm, a salad fork or an engine will possess him until he has taken it into the embrace of his lens and spun it about the dance floor for all of us to countenance, until we have perceived the message and realized the poignant beauty that caused him to pick up his camera in the first place.

The many-colored layers of his talent and his fascination do not stop at leather saddles, hand tools and carburetors. Dan’s portraits of human beings, from anonymous citizens to luminaries, are deceptively simple renderings of personality and nuance. They are pregnant with pathos. I’ve never seen photos of celebrities that made them seem like such, well, human beings. He suggests that the viewer really think about the person depicted, in a different way than we’ve been taught by modern fashion. His haunting plates of honey bees are shot with the efficient scrutiny of the entomologist combined with a surrealist’s elan. The works on paper are laced with specific meaning and emotional truth, in turns beautiful, humorous, and chilling. He takes on sumi-e black ink painting and writes an entire poem with three strokes of his brush. The longer I’ve known Dan Winters, the more I am astonished at the breadth of his ability to convey relevant and powerful emotions with his images.

I’ve seen Dan break into a sweat simply from the enthusiasm he feels for a conversational topic. Our world, and the people living in it, excite him. He will not be contained. When he’s shooting, Dan begins to behave like a hound who has caught wind of a coon. His pulse quickens and his eyes are never still, evaluating the light, the composition, the subject, until he locks in through the lens and then his eye never wavers. He makes photographs in the same spirit with which he’ll drive you to Lockhart, Texas in his cherry 1964 Chevy pickup, give you a tour of the three greatest barbecue joints in the world, then actually show you how to eat the barbecue. “Take a bite of brisket. Amazing, right? Now take a little bite of the jalapeno. Right?” Right, indeed. Dan Winters is a genius at tasting life who loves to share his gifts with the people, and that makes you and I a couple of lucky bastards. 1,000 words. Insufficient.

Nick Offerman is an actor, writer and carpenter currently starring in the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Click here to see more of his carpentry work.

A retrospective exhibit of Dan Winters’ work will be on view at the Jepson Center in Savannah, Ga. from Sept. 14 to Nov.11. Winters’ book, Last Launch, was recently featured on LightBox.

The DNC in Pictures: The Delegates by Grant Cornett

Unlike the Republican delegates—who were chased and divided up during a harrowing primary—the delegates attending the Democratic National Convention were a foregone conclusion. They would arrive in Charlotte in solidarity, casting their votes for the sitting President who on Wednesday night became the Party’s official nominee.

But while they’re united behind Barack Obama and his quest to revive the economy, their pet causes range: from protecting the environment to improving education, from expanding gay rights to defending abortion rights. They are a diverse group, in age, race and creed.

Photographer Grant Cornett took to the streets of North Carolina, capturing members from each state’s delegation. His work puts a face on the Democratic Party of 2012.

To see the Republican delegates from last week click here. 

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. In addition to working on features for TIME and TIME.com, she contributes to TIME’s Swampland, Healthland and NewsFeed blogs.

Photo Stroll – The V&A’s permanent Photographs Gallery collection 2011-12

Click to view slideshow.

When I went to the press call at the V&A for the announcement of the up-and-coming show of work from the Middle East, I got shown the exhibition of photographs taken from the V&A’s permanent collection. The collection is of photos from 1839 to the 1960s and changes on a yearly basis. It includes some gems from the photographic archives, one of which, Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square, Attributed to M. de Ste Croix, 1839, can be seen in the slideshow below, is on a 1:10 cycle. That is, it can only be exhibited one in ten years for preservation reasons.

I highly recommend a visit before the autumn when a new set of photographs will be on display. And if that’s not possible, then read more to enjoy a virtual photo stroll and a gallery of thumbnails of all the images.


Filed under: Documentary photography, Fashion Photography, Photographers, Photography Shows, Portraiture, Women Photographers Tagged: archives, daguerrotype, history of photography, london, M. de Ste Croix, Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square, photo exhibition, V&A Photographs Gallery 2011-12

Albrecht Tübke, Untitled

Albrecht Tübke, Untitled

Albrecht Tübke

Italy, 2008
From the Heads series
Website – Tuebke.info

Albrecht Tübke is one of the most celebrated young photographers at work today in Europe. Several of Tübkes recent series of portraiture appear at once strikingly innovative and deceptively simple. Originally from Leipzig, Germany, Tübke trained at the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig before completing his MA at Guildhall University of London. His work has been included in numerous prestigious exhibitions in Europe, among others Animalism at the National Media Museum in Bradford, How We Are: Photographing Britain at the Tate Britain, Zeit, Raum, Bild at the Historisches Museum Frankfurt, and New Photographers 2006 at Antwerp’s Museum voor Fotografie. His work can be seen in the public collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Centre National de l’Audiovisuel, Luxembourg and the National Media Museum, Bradford.

Sophia Wallace, Untitled (Girls Like Us)

Sophia Wallace, Untitled (Girls Like Us)

Sophia Wallace

Untitled (Girls Like Us),
Brooklyn, 2012
Website – SophiaWallace.com

Sophia Wallace (b. 1978) is an artist working in conceptual photography and video. She received a BA from Smith College in 2000 and an MA from New York University and the International Center of Photography in 2005. Her work has been exhibited at Kunsthalle Wien Contemporary Museum in Vienna, Colgate University’s Clifford Gallery, Milk Gallery, Aperture Gallery, and Carnegie Art Museum among others. Her solo exhibition showed at Leslie-Lohman in 2010. Wallace is a 2012 Van Lier Fellow with awards including PDN’s Curator Award and Critic's Pick by the Griffin Museum. Notable publications include Identities Now, a book of contemporary portraiture by Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art and No Fashion Please! a hardcover catalog. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Ceremonies of Disappearance: Kimiko Yoshida’s Critique of Identity

“The preoccupation with I has become a cliché in contemporary art,” says Kimiko Yoshida. The Japanese photographer challenges that cliché by creating large, color photos of herself in which she wears elaborate costumes that reference a wide range of subjects, from haute couture and indigenous cultures to the canon of Western painting. By constantly changing what at first appears to be a self-portrait, Yoshida says, “I am basically saying that there is no such thing as a self-portrait,” she says. “Each of these photographs is actually a ceremony of disappearance. It is not an emphasis of identity, but the opposite—an erasure of identity.”

Born in Tokyo in 1963, Yoshida came of age in a tradition-bound culture where the conservative attitude towards the role of women left her alienated and unhappy. She studied literature and worked in fashion, which allowed her to hone her creative eye, but she remained frustrated. Over her father’s objections, she enrolled in the Tokyo College of Photography. Even after she had her degree in hand, she felt her options for a creative career in Japan were limited and moved to France to escape those stifling confines.

“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women, I amplified through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, voluntary servitude of women, identity and the stereotypes of gender,” Yoshida says.

Yoshida critiques the idea of a firm and unchanging identity in a variety of ways, most obviously by physically changing it. In her “Brides” series, she often photographs herself in indigenous garb that she borrows from museums. Meanwhile, in her “Paintings” series, she and her husband repurpose items from the archives of Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne. But no matter what the source material is, Yoshida riddles the final product with playful anachronisms and cross-cultural references that undermine its perceived authenticity. The Paco Rabanne garments and accessories, made between 1965 and 2000, are themselves full of unusual materials, from plastic bottles to CD-roms. Yoshida adds a twist by refusing to wear them as intended: shoes become headdresses while dresses become hats. Yet another twist comes when you realize that Yoshida’s odd remixes actually reference paintings from Western art history, from Caravaggio to Picasso to Warhol. The fact that many of her images are nearly monochromatic threatens to drown whatever individuality that may remain. Finally, Yoshida often displays her images on walls in overwhelming numbers, thus minimizing their specialness.

The end result is evocative of Cindy Sherman, another artist who dons costumes in front of the camera and who even references art history like Yoshida. And while the meanings of Sherman’s work reside in its surfaces, Yoshida’s work provides the artist with an internal, metaphysical space. “Art is above all the experience of transformation,” explains Yoshida. “All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.” In the end, perhaps the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance. But it is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, has made them with such a singular and memorable voice.

Yoshida has solo shows at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland, and the Musée Pavillon Vendôme-Dobler in Aix-en-Provence, France, both opening June 13. Her work is also in a group show at the Musée de la Tapisserie in Angers, France that opens June 29. More of her work can be seen here.

Jody Ake

I recently had the great pleasure to co-juror the Portrait Contest hosted by the Santa Fe Workshops.  Over the next several days, I will be featuring the work by several of the winners.  Almost a thousand photographers submitted close to 4,000 images and the decision process was a tough one.  So many stellar photographs, so I am thrilled to featured these stand-out portraits.
Jody Ake’s Director’s Award image
Jody Ake was born in the American South and attended the College of Santa Fe in
New Mexico with a major in photography. Later he moved to Portland, Oregon to
continue his education. He received a Masters in Photography from the
University of Oregon and shortly thereafter relocated to New York City.
While living and working in NYC and Brooklyn, Ake continued to explore
collodion as his process of choice, shooting portraiture, landscapes and
still life subject matter, and has maintained his profession as an
independent photographer throughout. He currently lives and works in
Portland, Oregon. His self portrait is below.
Jody creates portraits, nudes, still lifes and landscape images
using the wet collodion processs. Invented in 1851, the method entails
coating a glass plate with collodion and exposing the plate while it is
still wet. The end results are ambrotypes, appearing on glass in the
form of a negative until backed by black velvet, thus rendering the
positive image. Jody is one of a handful of contemporary artists who have
revived this photographic method, hand-mixing all of the necessary
chemicals for each and every exposure.  I am featuring two bodies of work, Portraits and Landscapes, using these methodologies.  Needless to say, Jody is a master technician, bringing a strong and consistent sensibility to a process that is unpredictable at best.

I believe the portrait can disclose more about the subject than what is found on the surface. The subject , either willingly or subconsciously, shows us more than he/she intends. The camera can see more than the naked eye, moving past our persona and catching a glimpse of who we really are. With this in mind I turned the camera on myself. I hoped to see deeper, looking to see if there were aspects of myself that would be revealed in the image. After years of self-reflection I started photographing other people, looking for differences and similarities between them and myself.

I have always loved the west. The mountains and desert
plains call to me with a promise of adventure and solitude. I travel there as
often as I can, amazed at the scope of the land, looking for meaning in the
emptiness. I think of early photographers heading west for the first time.
Carrying with them their large cameras and working with laborious early
processes. Capturing images of the west that most will not see for themselves.

I think of them as I look for signs of those that came before me. Photographing the evidence left behind by progress and expansion. I photograph the New West through an old process, comparing what I find with what those that came before me found.