Tag Archives: Three Decades

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.

Carrie Mae Weems: A Look Back on Three Decades

The cover image of Carrie Mae Weems’s engaging book finds the artist and photographer wearing a long black dress as she stands at the shoreline with her back to the camera, looking at the ocean. It looks as if she is contemplating the morning. We, the “reader” or “viewer,” wait in anticipation to open the book and look into her world. The cover image is our invitation! The photograph is from Weems’s Roaming series from 2006. She becomes our narrator to history. She states: “This woman can stand in for me and for you; she leads you into history. She’s a witness and a guide.”

Weems is an art-photographer, performance artist, activist and videographer—well known for her photographic series and multi-screen projections relating to themes focusing on family, beauty and memory. For the last 25 years, she has relied on stories from the ‘kitchen table’ and of life in the low country of South Carolina, antebellum New Orleans, cities in Senegal, Cuba, Ghana and Italy to create a body of work that engages in history. An artist concerned with iconography, she has constructed a series of works questioning black women’s presence in popular and material culture as well as art history. Throughout her 30-odd year career, Weems has re-staged historical moments and created images that re-imagined everyday life from family stories to political history. Weems focused her camera on her own body to create multiple conversations. She interrogates and assembles old stereotypes and disassembles them.

In 1992, she refused to accept the scientific racism that prevailed in the 19th century circulating about black Americans. In re-imagining the photographed experiences of some of the blacks enslaved on a South Carolina plantation photographed by J. T. Zealy, a daguerreotypist commissioned by zoologist Louis Agassiz, Weems used the narrative of slavery and re-purposed the images. The title of her series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried is a text and image installation of large scale framed images printed with a red tint, possibly to signify the life’s blood still flowing through the memory of their enslaved experience.

Born in Portland, Oregon, and now living in Syracuse, N.Y., photo-artist Weems interweaves a narrative of black female subjectivity, black beauty and the gaze in her work on beauty. Weems’s photographs are ‘performing beauty’ through lighting, posing, acting and fashion. Weems confronts historical depictions and restages them with ‘what if…’ questions. In her series, Not Manet’s Type, Weems critiques the white male art “masters,” and how beauty is defined through their paintings. The ironic series of five self-reflexive photographs with text, questions not only Manet but also Picasso, DeKooning and Duchamp.

Weems is the ideal model and she is well informed about the history of art, using her own partially dressed and nude body. The posing reveals her formal training as a photographer, and her choice of props is influenced by her sharp observation as a builder of ideas. The series’ power lies in her narrative voice and her ability to create a scene. At first glance, it looks as if the photographs are all the same because of the square format and the centered art deco-style vanity dresser. The setting is the bedroom, a private but inviting space. We, the viewer, peer through the square mat into the round mirror that frames her body, which lends an effect of peeping at a private moment. Her sensitivity to the historical gaze is quite evident, the time of day, the lace on the brass bed, the large white vase holding dried flowers, and the art work framed on the wall offer a sense of reality, as the bright sun bleaches the lower half of her body and the bed. Weems stands with her back to the viewer; the bold red text reads:

“It was clear, I was not Manet’s type… Picasso—who had a way with women only used me & Duchamp never even considered me.”

The series’ text clearly shows her vulnerability as she attempts to empower her image. The next images states: “Standing on shakey [sic] ground I posed myself for critical study but was no longer certain of the questions to ask.”

Women artists like Weems, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Renee Cox and Carla Williams challenge ideas of beauty and desire, which are both critical components in Weems’s work. All of these artists dare her viewer to rethink their understanding and the positioning of contemporary art practices. Mirrors are often found in Weems’s self-portraits; she’s gazes at her statuesque frame which is reflected in the mirrored image. Gates states, “An artist does not make a work called Not Manet’s Type (1997) without a keen sense of her own authority, a respect—not reverence—for those artists who came before her, and an ability to laugh in the midst of serious thinking.”

Deborah Willis is a photographer, photo historian and professor at New York University. Her recent work includes a book and exhibition of the same title Posing Beauty in African American Culture on exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Willis’s writing is featured in Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, which will be released by Yale University Press in October.
A retrospective exhibition of the same name is also on view at the Frist Center in Nashville from Sept. 21, 2012 to Jan. 13, 2013.

It will then travel to the following locations:
Portland Art Museum:  Feb. 2–May 19, 2013
Cleveland Museum of Art:  June 30–Sept. 29, 2013
Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University: Oct. 16, 2013–Jan. 5, 2014
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York: Jan. 24–April 23, 2014

Bruce Morton

Some say that you can’t go home again, but I think you can go home, but you don’t always find “home” when you get there.  When photographer Bruce Morton returned to his home town of Bowen, IL after three decades, he was struck by what was missing.  A landscape that was once filled with farms and agriculture and activity has returned to untended pastures, housing a few storage structures and not much else. His stark black and white images set the mood for loss and memory in his series, Lost Homes.

Image for Lost Homes

Bruce was born in west central Illinois and received
his BS in Science from Southern Illinois University and an MFA in photography
from Arizona State University.  Bruce lived in Arizona for most of his
career, working as a desert landscape designer–a profession that connects him
deeply with the land.  He is now working as a fine art photographer and living in Illinois.

Lost Homes: These photographs are from a series I call
“Lost Homes”.  I was
raised in the rural farm area of far west central Illinois where there were
farm homes almost every half mile. 
These homes raised families for decades.  I left my home town to go to college and did not return for
over thirty years.  Upon my return
I noticed how many of these farm home sites stood vacant but yet there still
seemed to be an aura of refusal to give up. 

Many of the sites are still used for storage purposes but several are only represented by a single tree or lane.  Some still have foundations or basements left behind and the trees that surround them have a distinctive character as if they were monuments.  Maybe they are.  I have been photographing these sites for a few years under various weather conditions hoping to catch that spirit which still seems to exist. 

Alex Webb, Magnum Contact Sheets @ FORMA

©Alex Webb / Magnum Photos

April 26 through June 17, the Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia hosts two compelling exhibitions: The Suffering of Light, Photographs by Alex Webb, as well as Magnum Contact Sheets.

Alex Webb’s latest monograph The Suffering of Light, published by Aperture in spring of 2011, is a retrospective of his 30-year “photographic dialogue with the streets.” This Spring’s exhibition of his body of work at Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia in Milan brings together this same thirty years of photography and journalism, further celebrating Webb’s use of dense, vivid colors to tell stories about places and situations in some of the most unusual corners of the world.

The self-termed “street photographer” describes the practice of assembling three decades of his works in color as an exercise in exploring “the dominant obsession of [his] photographic life… a particular way of seeing in color.” A trip to Haiti in 1975 incited change in his way of seeing, since driving the photographer toward localities where “light and color are essential to understanding and describing the territory.” Color emerged as a language closer to his own sensibilities, since becoming an essential choice in his visual storytelling.

“Three years after my first trip to Haiti, I realized there was another emotional note that had to be reckoned with: the intense, vibrant color of these worlds. Searing light and intense color seemed somehow embedded in the cultures that I had begun working in, so utterly different from the gray-brown reticence of my New England background. Since then, I have worked predominantly in color.” – Alex Webb

Curated by Alessandra Mauro, The Suffering of Light: Photographs by Alex Webb is on view April 26 through June 17 at Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia in Milan, accompanied by a weekend workshop on May 5th and 6th, entitled “Milan: Finding Your Vision.”


©Peter Marlow / Magnum Photos

In simultaneity, Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia will host Magnum Contact Sheets, an exhibition that presents forty of the most important, and most valuable, contact sheets by great artists of Magnum Photos, alongside their respective final images. The selected contact sheets, shown with notes by the artists themselves, construct a revealing narrative, retracing the artist’s creative process of shooting and choosing. In a The Telegraph UK review of the 2011 publication, it is noted that Henri Cartier-Bresson, cooperative founder of Magnum, speaks of the contact sheet as “a little like a psychoanalyst’s casebook.” Also on the subject of the contact sheet as an intimate document of the artist, Belgian photographer Martine Franck, Cartier-Bresson’s widow, confesses:

“I feel that by allowing myself to be violated [sic], and by publishing that which is most intimate, I am taking the very real risk of breaking the spell, of destroying a certain mystery.”

At a time when digital photography has dramatically changed the way photographers work, the exhibition recalls an entirely different way of approaching photography; contact sheets allowed photographers to look back through the lens of time across visual memories of an event, a time, and a particular state of being.

The Suffering of the Light: Photographs by Alex Webb and
Magnum Contact Sheets
April 26 through June 17

Milan: Finding Your Vision
A Weekend Workshop with Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb
Friday, May 4th, 6:30PM
Saturday, May 5th and Sunday, May 6th, 10AM – 6PM

Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia
Milan, Italy

Deadline reminder for the Roger Ballen workshop in Fez, Morocco

With little over two weeks left to apply for the next 1000 Words Workshop with Roger Ballen in Fez, Morocco (5-9 May 2012), we thought we would bring you up to date with some recent news.

The workshop has managed to attract notable press here on The Daily Telegraph online and here at GUP Magazine, while Roger Ballen has been busy directing his first music video, the oddly engrossing, I Fink U Freeky for Die Antwoord to widespread critical acclaim, receiving more than 1 million viewers on Youtube in less than 24 hours. At the same time, he has been working towards the first major UK exhibition of his photography this spring, at Manchester Art Gallery which will explore three decades of Ballen’s career, and be on show from March 30 until May 13.New, previously-unseen work will also be showcased in the forthcoming issue of 1000 Words – Uncertainty – out 3 March.

If you are considering applying but are wondering if this opportunity is really for you, have a read of the testimonial from a previous workshop participant below to get an idea of what you can expect. Whether it be fresh approach to your photography or a desire for new experiences, it’s time to challenge conventional thinking and shake things up. With a strong onus on image-making, photographers who have attended our workshops in the past have done so with great success, and, in the process, produced new bodies of work that have since been featured in magazines such as The British Journal of Photography, released in the form of books with publishers including Max Strom or gained them representation from the prestigious Prospekt agency to name just a few.

Here is a Saskia Vredeveld film titled Memento Mori from 2005 about the weird and wonderful world of Roger Ballen that should get those grey cells ticking.

“The workshop in Fez was a mind shaking experience, and for me that was just what I needed! Antoine’s repeated question to me was, “but what do you want?” What a simple question it may seem but to truly honestly answer this was one of the hardest things. Antoine struggled with me daily to be truthful to the process of shooting and to my work. Trying to do this as a white woman in a muslim foreign country seemed scary at first. But soon enough this fear pushed me to go farther than I had before. To take more risks and be more bold. In the end, I had allowed myself to befriend men and women who were at first just strangers on the street. My once beautiful but safely intimate portraiture became more real for me, evoking not only the fear of letting myself leap in a strange place but in the process of doing so, being able to see so much more in others.
The workshop venue was such a treat and incredible place to be able to go to every day. A sanctuary to rest and to edit and collect your thoughts. A place to run into your fellow work shoppers and bounce around ideas. The food was more than I had expected and in fact pretty much the best food I ate in Morocco in my three weeks travel. Tim and Michael were so on top of the workshop; they were there managing every detail from accommodations, food, coordinating the class meetings, running film to labs, scanning, and even just being sweet and kind pals to talk with about your day or have a beer with and brainstorm about your project.

All in all, this workshop could not have been better and I feel so lucky to have had such an opportunity. Antoine’s phenomenal out of the box thinking and honesty is one of a kind. 1000 Words’ workshops fall into the ‘do not miss this’ category!” Katie White

Click here to apply. The deadline for submissions is 1 March 2012.

Living with the Past in Liberia

Like much of West Africa, Liberia is a country of dark, heavy skies emerging from bloody civil war. But like everywhere else in West Africa, there’s also much more to the place — elements that make it unlike any other. A street friendliness that all but snuffs out Monrovia’s reputation for street violence. A patois that is both thuggish and warm. Strange points of excellence, like an ambition to become the first biomass-powered country in the world or the proud possession of some of the world’s best surfing breaks.

Liberia’s history is particularly arresting. The country was created in the 1820s by former American slaves shipped back to Africa by philanthropists who purchased their freedom — hence Liberia — only to watch their freed charges, dressed in top hats and hoop skirts, exploit the local population. It’s a tale that holds some hard lessons about human nature, and charity, and has divided the country between locals and Americos ever since. After more than a century of oppression, in 1989, the indigenous population staged a coup that led to two civil wars, the second of which ended in 2003. The fighting displaced a third of the country and left 200,000 dead. In a country of just 3 million, no one was untouched.

Glenna Gordon has been documenting Liberia since 2009. She made her latest collection of images during the run-up and aftermath of last October’s general election. In the images, she tries to present “a wider view of Liberia as neither a place filled with mythically strong women led by the cult of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” who won the Nobel Peace Prize days before the poll and is due to be inaugurated for a second term today, “nor merely a post-civil-war success/failure story.”

Johnson Sirleaf’s opponent was Winston Tubman, the nephew of the former President William Tubman, himself a grandson of a former American slave. During his nearly three decades in power, from 1944 to ’71, William Tubman ushered in massive foreign investment. One of the things Gordon examines most closely is America’s historical, cultural and economic legacy in Liberia. “I seek out signs of a time before the conflict — remnants of the past that are easy to romanticize today,” Gordon says. “I seek traces of war wounds — psychological and physical — and examine the improvisations used to hide the pain … and embrace the present.”

Gordon has been photographing and writing about Africa for various publications since 2006, including TIME. You can see more of her work on her website and blog.

Perry is TIMEs Africa bureau chief. His latest book Lifeblood: How to Change the World, One Dead Mosquito at a Time was published in September.

Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman

One of the highlights of the recent Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, was meeting so many wonderful photographers and and reviewing some terrific portfolios. Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman presented two stellar series, one of which I am featuring here. Barbara and Lindsay have collaborated as photographers for over thirty years, and the results show a deep knowledge of art, photography, and themselves.

Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman met as students at the Institute of Design in Chicago at Illinois Institute of Technology over three decades ago. They are drawn to the narratives of femininity — from domestic mythologies to the imprint of history and popular culture in shaping how we see ourselves. Their photographs comment on the consequences of these processes and showcase our connection to the natural world, reflecting the sensual and powerful beauty of being alive. Their photographs have been in numerous solo and group exhibits and are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Barbara is a photographer/graphic designer living and working in Chicago. Lindsay is a Milwaukee based photographer and teaches at the University of Wisconsin.

The stunning series below, Natural History, features one-of-a-kind cyanotypes that incorporate portraiture and botanicals. The juxtaposition of faces that show history and presence with the fragility of flowers and plant life bring a renewed energy to the standard portrait.

In Natural History, we transform portraits into tangled shadows of time. Grafting techniques from the history of photography, the cyanotype impressions of botanicals pay homage to Anna Atkins’ use of the medium in the nineteenth century while the underlying portraits are printed using digital technology. They speak of evanescence and hidden nature. Mapping inner life, they are blends of art, science and historythrough the portrait.

They wished to flower,
and flowering is being beautiful:
but we wish to ripen,
and that means being dark and taking pains.
—Rainer Maria Rilke