Exploration of Space

Peter McCready’s Virtual Reality work (http://www.petermccready.com/) reminded me of something Robert Polidori mentioned briefly in his talk a few months ago: very high resolution displays, with a resolution that can compete with print, to the extent that when a person walks into a still-life frame, that will be a surprise. Contrapuntally, in McCready’s work, it is a bit of a surprise that we can explore frozen/still space in 3 dimensions; the surprise is when we see frozen people in that space even as our point of view is moving through it. Though he has many pieces from the CERN Large Hadron Collider to coincide I guess with the news cycle, I found the one about the European Space Operations Center most interesting (unfortunately he has fallen into the Adobe Flash trap of not providing URLs for specific pages), where the eye passes over banal objects like file drawers, fire extinguishers, an electronic display board listing satellites and missions (well not so banal) like flights in an airport, etc, with a loop of scientific chatter playing in the background like a message from a vanished planet.

I’m not so sure I like the ability to control (with the mouse) what I see and and at what pace. Art is this dance between the artist and audience; the artist provides the material to the audience to complete the art with; to relinquish this degree of control seems paradoxically a sign of insecurity on part of the artist, a kind of spray and pray.

“Produced” Photography

Some of the prominent photography we see around us is heavily”produced” – Edward Burtynsky, Robert Polidori, Mary Ellen Mark. The work often elicits a kind of sneer – oh he has a bunch of scouts looking for locations for him. Mary Ellen Mark had interns taking polaroids of potentially interesting couples on the prom dance floor that she could pick from to put in front of her 20×24 camera that came with a professional operator. For us scrappy photographers, there’s a tinge of envy to these remarks – could we ever have the foreman of a football field sized factory in China stop the assembly line for a few minutes so we could get a sharp 8×10 (like Burtynsky)?

Interestingly, this is a not a new phenomenon. I found out that for “Small Trades”, Irving Penn’s landmark fifties’ studio portraits of workers with their tools, he had two scouts in Paris looking for interesting subjects – and one of them was the young unknown Robert Doisneau!

A Tale of Three Critiques

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

Anthony Shadid Interview by Terry Gross

Here’s a really great interview http://www.npr.org/2012/02/17/147033362/fresh-air-remembers-war-reporter-anthony-shadid

He’s able to communicate at an emotional level why this kind of work is important. Particularly touching was the moment where the Libyan soldier (on Qaddafi’s side) apologizes to him for tying his hands too tight; as well as when he talks about rebuilding his ancestral home in Lebanon.

Webb Disappoints, Tagore Delivers, Choe Delights

With the term winding down, I finally had some time to look at art outside ICP, and with a painter-friend about to go away for a while, Friday was a good opportunity to catch up on several counts. We started with what turned out to be a little appetizer, the Seydou/Sander show at the Walther Collection. Since part of Sander’s strength derives from the encyclopaedic nature of his work, the show was a little small to have impact. Seydou Keita was a great revelation, but I wish the prints (which are not vintage) were printed with a little more mood, perhaps a little warmer. They were a little too straight, but Keita’s use of backdrops almost as an active participant was very interesting.

We walked one street over to the Aperture gallery for the Alex Webb show. What a disappointment! High contrast, cartoon colors. There was almost a condescension in the palette – look at these miserable third-worlders with their saturated solid color plastic shoes. What a distance we’d traveled in a block from the dignified treatment of Seydou Keita. We rested our eyes with an extended pizza break before heading uptown to the Asia Society.

It is always with trepidation that one introduces to others the work of a revered figure from one’s own culture: Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer who was the first non-European to win a literature Nobel (for what that’s worth), and who let flourish a late, serendipitous discovery – a genius for drawing and painting that started with the doodly editing process of his poetry. Not being formally trained, his oeuvre is like no other painter’s. The work passed muster with my friend, and I was rewarded with the originals of many paintings I had not even seen in reproduction before.

But the real jewel, the little pièce de résistance of the day lay across the hall – a mobile by the Korean artist U-Ram Choe. It is not a mobile really in the Calder sense of the word; it is a delicate piece of delightful electro-mechanical dance. I will not spoil it by saying more. Get over  and see for yourself – both shows close on December 31. Free on Friday evenings.

Telephone Sí, Text No?

We’re often exhorted not to rely on text in our photographs, but I sometimes wonder if this has become a rule applied too mechanically. For instance, I recently wanted to show that a neighborhood was a rough one, using the following image:

but the instructor preferred the following one:

because it didn’t rely on text. However, I think that once you get past the hurdle of rudimentary Spanish, the first image is much more powerful – it’s an AA for youths, and by the fact of it being in Spanish, tells you something about the social/ethnic background of the afflicted children.

What do you think? I appeal to your Walkerian natures!