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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

press++

April 11, 2016 | by

Thomas Ruff, press++01.16, 2015, chromogenic print, 72 7/8" x 91".

The German photographer Thomas Ruff’s “press++,” showing now at David Zwirner Gallery, comprises space-age images culled from the archival clippings of various American newspapers. Ruff scanned both sides of the original documents and layered them in Photoshop, thus presenting both the photos and the context—the smudges, cropping, commentary, and retouching—that surrounded their initial publication. “I think photography is still the most influential medium in the world, and I have to deconstruct these conventions,” he told Aperture in 2013:

I try to find out how the image was created and in what context—historical, political, or social—the image belongs … There are a lot of different photographs, and different photographs have different intentions. Fine art, medical, propaganda, and of course the most influential image-production machine is advertisement. This transformation, let’s say, of the scientific photography into the art world, or advertising photography into politics (as seen in the last U.S. election)—this modification of images from one intention to another brings about interferences. The image, and the meaning of the image, changes.

“press++” is up through April 30.
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Here’s to Hearing the Hum, and Other News

April 11, 2016 | by

A visualization of the Hum made by Louviere+Vanessa, who broadcast audio files through a digital spectrometer then print them onto handmade Japanese kozo paper Dibond-primed with gesso, covered in gold leaf, and coated with resin. Photo via New Republic.

  • Though his criticism can be acid, and though it sometimes deploys words like gassy, Michael Hofmann isn’t “a lit-crit Johnny Fartpants,” experts say: “As he sits in an incongruously rowdy Hamburg bar, all shy eyes and nervous hands, one is reminded that he is also a poet and translator: a humble servant of words, not just their sneering judge. In smooth RP tones that belie his German parentage, he explains that none of his hatchet jobs were written out of personal animosity … ‘I have a sense of the enterprise being ecological,’ he says. ‘There is so much excessive praise and excessive interest in the books world, and it’s all too focused on too few people. If you cut things down to scale, you do something good.’ ”
  • Tinnitus is more than a condition. It’s a worldview. Or so it is if you’re among the lucky 2 percent of the population who can hear the Hum, widely reported as “a low, distant rumbling, like an idling diesel engine, mostly audible at night, mostly noticeable indoors.” Colin Dickey looked into it: “Hum sufferers have been consistently written off as either delusional or simply suffering from tinnitus … It’s important to remember that there’s so much we still don’t know about how hearing works. We know low-frequency waves can cause pain, nausea, and other deleterious effects on humans—indeed, the United States and other governments have long experimented with using sound and vibration as nonlethal weapons … Add to this the fact that since the early twentieth century we’ve been bombarding the atmosphere with all manner of frequencies and waves. Rather than dismiss Hum hearers as delusional tinnitus sufferers, the question that might be better asked is why don’t more of us hear it?”
  • There’s an argument to be made that any and all instances of the Hum are in fact to be pinned on Tony Conrad, the experimental filmmaker and drone-music progenitor, who died last week at seventy-six: “After his graduation in 1962, Mr. Conrad briefly worked as a computer programmer and immersed himself in New York’s experimental music scene. As part of Mr. Young’s ensemble, he performed seemingly improvisational pieces that involved holding notes for what might have felt like hours at a time. Some audiences found the music maddening; others were exalted. ‘It appeared as if Schoenberg had destroyed music,’ Mr. Conrad said … ‘Then it appeared as if Cage had destroyed Schoenberg. Our project was to destroy Cage.’ ”
  • For aesthetes, the mug shot provides a great reason to avoid a life of crime—it’s so unforgiving, so permanent. A new exhibition at the Met, “Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” looks at its history: “In the 1870s, a Parisian policeman named Alphonse Bertillon pioneered the mug shot as part of his ‘anthropometric’ system of criminal identification based on minute physical measurements. For no pay, he spent his free hours examining inmates at La Santé prison, using calipers and rulers to record the length and width of prisoners’ fingers, noses, foreheads, and mouths … If one measure of a photograph’s power is the extent to which it inspires us to fill in the circumstances around it, then the mug shot of a 1930s Baltimore shoplifter is a small masterpiece of portraitist art. A woman in her late forties, with whitening blonde hair, turns slightly away from the police photographer’s camera with a mix of melancholia and trapped defiance. The flesh around her left eye is badly bruised, a messy black puddle that spills along her cheek and temple. Who slugged her—the department store security guard, the arresting cop, the shopkeeper himself, or an intimate friend? Her lips are thin and subtly crooked, her jawline is just beginning to sag. The life before (and after) the picture rushes in on you in an imagined story of filled-in time.”
  • Violette Leduc was a protégé of Simone de Beauvoir, and yet she seldom appears on syllabi—why? “A journey through Leduc’s rejections, documented in her autobiographies La bâtarde (1964) and Mad in Pursuit (1970), lay bare the insidious gatekeeping that money and masculinity exert on literary inclusion, then and now. Leduc was born poor and illegitimate; her mother is the help, her father is the heir and she, the child of their furtive union, is unwanted … De Beauvoir spent her time earning the title ‘intellectual.’ Her story is one of early erudition, acing exams, stunning philosophical acuity and a romantic (if also conveniently strategic) alliance with Sartre. In Leduc, she sees the authenticity that she theorizes, and in playing midwife to her self-exposition she seeks the vindication of her philosophy. In existentialism, we are all free to choose, exercise our radical free will; the constraints of past experience can be shaken off, truth told and freedom achieved. Leduc’s life, told in her writing, has to be evidence of the truth of this. De Beauvoir’s feminism, unleavened by any literal struggles with the whims of men, needs Leduc’s literary liberation to prove its practical application.”

May Those Tears Flow with Impunity, and Other News

April 4, 2016 | by

The ugly cry—proudly, defiantly.

  • Man, being a beat poet must’ve been pretty far out if you were a man—I mean, the drugs, the politics, the … roads, and the being on those roads. But what if you weren’t a guy? Lynnette Lounsbury writes, “I loved the beat generation and the men in it. I loved how they shared themselves with each other and their readers, generously. But I always had, and still have, the sneaking and sinking suspicion that there would have been no place for me in that world. There were no Scarlett O’Haras in the beat world. There were women, certainly, but they felt like cardboard cut-outs, something to move around, admire, shift gently out of the way when necessary. In fact, the only women Kerouac and Ginsberg seemed to genuinely respect were their mothers … I found the beat women as outsiders in offside compendiums, as afterthoughts and even instigators, but rarely as the orchestrators and creators of their own place in literature.”
  • Advice for famous artists: take photographs, too. It can’t hurt. Ellsworth Kelly did it, and a new show demonstrates the degree to which his pictures influenced his canvases: “The images remain resolutely tethered to the formal concerns of his paintings, illuminating far more about his evolving thoughts on art and abstraction than they do about the time and place in which they were made … Most of the earliest works in the show, all taken in the seaside town of Meschers, in Southwestern France, are studies of timeworn surfaces: the weathered side of a barn, its boards haphazardly cobbled; a mismatched patch job in a wall, where the celestial mottling of old stone is interrupted by utilitarian brick; the side of a striped canvas beach cabana, mended enough times that it looks like a Japanese boro blanket … In both his photographs and his shaped canvases, Kelly was engaged in building an idiosyncratic visual alphabet, with each letter chiseled down to the bedrock of form, color, and scale.”
  • And advice for novelists: keep it snappy. I don’t got all day. Cynan Jones advocates for the very short novel: “Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside. Equally valid, but a different thing altogether, with a different mechanism of engagement … For years after my first short novel, The Long Dry, came out, and even though it worked, length was the chief reservation from publishers. They wanted a ‘full length novel’ … Well, as Beckett said, in response to criticism that his play Breath was short: “All of my works are full length, some are just longer than others.” It's extraordinary that the term ‘full length novel’ still abounds. If the novella exists, purely based on length, then the novellissimo must exist … Anything that will hold a heavy door open should be a novellissimo; anything that can be used to right a wobbly table, a novella.”
  • One of the main reasons I never cry, apart from an ill-advised inclination toward rugged stoicism, is that it fucks my face up. I look bad. But I see now that I should let it rip. The concept of the “ugly cry” comes, especially for women, with a shameful subtext: “American culture nurtures a robust association between our emotional expression and shame. We’re warned against tearing up in professional settings … We imply that untethered grief, by virtue of its excess, does not hew to the cultural expectation that beauty be placid and symmetrical, fundamentally unthreatening. Sometimes the very notion of the ugly cry seems, more than anything else, an inside joke: What woman has not been schooled in the doctrine of Western patriarchal standards of beauty? We know when we have transgressed—when we have become more than men can fathom … The hysterical woman’s power—for power she does possess—lies in her refusal to cry inside the lines, and from her dismissal of a westernized emotional doctrine that condemns passion as excess.”
  • In Ciro Guerra’s new film Embrace of the Serpent, Nathaniel Rich sees a skillful departure from the norms of what he calls “jungle quest films”: “There was a boomlet of jungle quest films during the eighties and early nineties, not all of them set in the Amazon, reflecting a dissatisfaction with what Jimmy Carter called the ‘moral and…spiritual crisis’ of modern society. The heroes of these films come to the jungle with predatory or utopian intentions, only to discover the folly of their ways. The plot tends to resolve with the explosion of a forest-clearing project: a river dam in The Emerald Forest, a logging road in Medicine Man, a missionary camp in The Mosquito Coast … Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a finalist for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars, features the familiar fever-addled explorers, of vigilant jaguars and snakes baring their fangs, long pans of the jungle canopy, and indigenous tribesmen imparting portentous wisdom (‘The jungle is fragile; if you attack her, she’ll fight back’). But the film is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.”

In Bamako

March 17, 2016 | by

Malick Sidibé, Le Faux Musicien Derriere sa Voiture, 1971/2008, silver gelatin print, 20 7/8" x 14".

The Malian photographer Malick Sidibé’s latest exhibition opens tonight at Jack Shainman Gallery. Sidibé, who’s seventy-nine or eighty, lives in Bamako, where he’s worked as a photographer since the fifties; he’s known for his vivacious black-and-white studies of the city’s youth culture. “You go to someone’s wedding, someone’s christening,” he told LensCulture in 2008, speaking of the renown he gained as a party photographer:

I was lucky enough at that time to be the intellectual young photographer with a small camera who could move around. The early photographers like Seydou Keïta worked with plate cameras and were not able to get out and use a flash. So I was much in demand by the local youth. Everywhere … in town, everywhere! Whenever there was a dance, I was invited … At night, from midnight to four A.M. or six A.M., I went from one party to another. I could go to four different parties. If there were only two, it was like having a rest. But if there were four, you couldn’t miss any. If you were given four invitations, you had to go. You couldn’t miss them. I’d leave one place, I’d take thirty-six shots here, thirty-six shots there, and then thirty-six somewhere else, until the morning.

His new show spans the whole of his career; it’s up through April 23. Read More »

Rambling Through Rio, and Other News

March 11, 2016 | by

Kurt Klagsbrunn, Dama acompanhando a corrida no Jockey Clube (detail), Rio de Janeiro, 1945. Image via Aperture/Museu de Arte do Rio

  • Today in zits: if you like to spend your free time watching grotesque pimple-popping sessions on YouTube, you’re not alone. (I may or may not have dedicated an hour to zit vids in the very recent past.) Sandra Lee, a dermatologist, has turned her science into art, posting “extraction” videos and picking up 850,000 subscribers along the way: “Sensing an untapped audience, Lee began posting more videos of things popping from the skin, and her audience gradually grew … Her online fans didn’t seem to mind the ick; in fact, many of them relished it. Some fans reported that their mouths inexplicably watered when they saw a particularly juicy pop; others claimed that they found the videos so soothing that they used them as a sleep aid. Lee began setting videos to punnily titled music, like Duke Ellington’s ‘Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me).’ ”
  • Milking the rest of it,” a new poem by Dorothea Lasky, is rich in bodily fluids, too: “Turn the faucet on / Turn the breast on / Emptied completely of milk / With the tiny hoses in a row … ”
  • The photographer Kurt Klagsbrunn captured the people of midcentury Rio as no one else could: as a stranger. Ali Pechman writes—“A Jewish Austrian refugee, he arrived in the city in 1940 and photographed its people and places until 1960, the year the government decamped for Brasília … He took no less than 100,000 photographs of his new city. The austerity of his early pictures quickly gives way to crowded street scenes with a focus on character, whether a trolley fish seller, a carnival samba dancer, or a Carioca walking her dog in Copacabana. A chic young journalist eyes the camera suspiciously as two white-coated waiters dote on her; a grisly greengrocer looks on tiredly from inside his shop … The photographer’s own off-kilter sense of humor is never out of sight.”
  • Today in critical shrugs: a critic shrugs. That critic is Barry Schwabsky, who understands the degree to which his role is in flux: “I have to admit that the critic’s loss of power doesn’t worry me much. I don’t see my job as mainly that of making or breaking artists’ reputations, or of informing collectors or curators what they ought to buy or exhibit. If they don’t listen to me, fine; I have other responsibilities toward art … If there is a crisis in art criticism, it has to do instead with an inner transformation in the nature of art itself. What if art no longer requires a public—that is, someone like the active spectator Duchamp spoke about? That would be a conundrum, for the critic would no longer have a position from which to evaluate art. It’s not impossible, and it’s not even a new idea: Back in 1966, for example, Allan Kaprow called for “the elimination of the audience”—for participation rather than a merely “empathic response.” In recent years, in great part as a result of their revulsion toward the financialization and globalization of art, more and more artists have been taking this idea seriously, avoiding the audience and instead working only with participants, with collaborators and communities.”
  • Meanwhile, in China: everyone is really into this rom-com about a mermaid. It’s called, appropriately enough, The Mermaid, and it’s just become China’s highest-earning film of all time. How, you ask? One word, my friend: environmentalism. “The Mermaid is not pure escapist entertainment. The ills it addresses—environmental pollution and rampant speculation against the backdrop of a widening income gap—are impossible-to-ignore facts of everyday experience for a Chinese audience. The film opens with a montage of documentary-style footage: sludge pouring from factory pipes, oil-smothered animals, dolphins being herded up for slaughter …  It serves a cathartic function, providing an anxious Chinese audience with an opportunity to laugh at their daily injustices, pairing an everyday violation with a larger dose of fairy tale, one in which everything will work out in the end.”

NPR Mug Optional, and Other News

February 26, 2016 | by

Lit mag to the stars.

  • That image above comes from the trailer for Maggie’s Plan, which features Ethan Hawke reading our Winter 2014 issue (if I had to guess, he’s somewhere deep in the Michael Haneke interview) as Greta Gerwig looks on with envy. Is the rest of the film this scintillating? One can only hope.
  • Since it closed in 1957, Black Mountain College has achieved a level of renown verging on mythic—it’s now the subject of an exhibition in Boston, the fourth show devoted to it in recent years. Barry Schwabsky asks: “Why the recurring preoccupation with a short-lived, unaccredited school at the back of beyond, which never had enough students to pay its way? It could be the school’s believe-it-or-not story and how, the more you learn about it, the more unlikely it seems … The idealism, the creative élan, the infectious sense of possibility that the exhibitions highlight—these were all part of Black Mountain, and the school’s implicit promise was fulfilled surprisingly often. But there were illusions, too … the community’s internal politics turned out to be nearly impossible to negotiate with grace. An educational philosophy based on ‘the whole person’ gave no indication of how to square the conflicting goals of community and individuality.”
  • In 1960, James Baldwin gave a speech called “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel.” “I want to follow a group of lives,” he said, “almost from the time they open their eyes on the world until some point of resolution, say, marriage, or childbirth, or death.” Edwidge Danticat unpacks those remarks: “In other talks and essays, he laid out some ideas about what made an unsuccessful novel, citing problems like too neat a frame, sentimentality, and facile lessons and solutions. The novel he was referring to in the speech, though, he claimed, was both ‘unwritten and probably unwritable.’ Neither was it meant to be a ‘long, warm, toasty’ novel. ‘This hypothetical book is aiming at something more implacable than that … The social realities with which these people, the people I remember, whether they knew it or not, were really contending can’t be left out of the novel without falsifying their experience.’ ”
  • Before the black-and-white photograph came to prominence, there was the lowly cyanotype, a photographic process known for its blue tint and its speedy, easy production. A new exhibition gives the form its due, as the curator Nancy Burns says: “The fact that they were blue was also just too weird for people—that the idea of what a photograph was supposed to look like was black and white … but blue was just too bizarre … Last but not least, is that they were used for making blueprints—that you could make cyanotypes as not just a photograph, but you can use it to transfer a drawing or text. And because it has an association with something so pedestrian and being used as a photocopier, it didn’t quite make it into the earliest histories of photography because people weren’t entirely convinced that they were photographs.”
  • Creative people like to say they hate small talk, with its eye-rolling tendencies toward banality and formality. But no matter what Heidegger and other opponents of “idle talk” suggest, their hatred for it is probably to blame on the fact that they’re bad at it: “We are living in a low moment for the art of minimal social interactions … Small talk has always been a tool to avoid the minefield of unintended boorishness … Even those who found small talk uninspiring once recognized its utility, like the British statesman Lord Chesterfield, who’s responsible for the first-known use of the phrase … It requires playing within the lines. Using sports, weather, family, and other unremarkable raw material, the skilled conversationalist spins it into gold—or at least cotton candy.”