Shots and Works 2
LOOK3 Blog, by
“Photography has this uneasy relationship to narrative. Unlike other narrative forms like film or literature, a photograph is frozen and mute. There is no beginning and there is no end. It has a very limited capacity to tell a story. And whatever story you can manage in the end remains a mystery. It’s restriction. It’s containment.”
I’m not sure that every photographer would agree with such a bold statement, but then again, not every photographer would make a picture the way Gregory Crewdson does. The idea of making a picture is the key thing here, since Gregory doesn’t take the picture himself (it’s the cinematic DOP’s job to press the shutter). He’s too concerned with getting everything to look right—and right, in Gregory’s world, is nearly always to the left of center.
Like everyone, Crewdson is built from the experiences of his youth. Growing up in Brooklyn, he remembers the time when he put his ear to the ground to listen in on his father psychoanalyzing his patients. At the time, Crewdson was too young to understand what was going on in the home office downstairs, so he would create an image in his head of what he heard. It was secret. It was mysterious. “In retrospect, it was my earliest inkling of having a particular view of the world,” he says.
In the most literal sense, Gregory’s view is both separatist and enlightening. The protagonists—when there are more than one—typically don’t touch each other, and they are lit by far too many lights than Crewdson himself can count. The stills have a cinematic flair to match an equally cinematic budget.
Beneath the Roses is, perhaps, a good case study on eight tumultuous years of the artist’s life. Eight high-value productions—or “lonely endeavors”, as he describes them—came at the same time his second marriage was falling apart. You could say that the images might be evocative of that moment since no one touches each other, but then again, they rarely do.
Despite the lack of contact, there is no denying that his subjects have a deep connection with their environment. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. Since everything in Gregory’s work is distinct and purposefully placed, it’s hard to imagine the two existing apart from one another.
Maybe there is contact. It’s frozen and mute, but maybe there is contact.
(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)
Josef Koudelka, interviewed by Anne Wilkes Tucker…How cool is that?
Named by Time as “America’s Best Curator”, Tucker took us through a chronological selection of Koudelka’s work, taking pause with each passing milestone to ask Josef questions. A lot of material was covered and a lot of insight and knowledge was shared.
Josef came onto the stage to a standing ovation. Having never really taught any classes or conducted any workshops, he had not been the most accessible of photographers. He admitted to being uncomfortable sitting in front of the packed Paramount Theater.
Koudelka started shooting when he was 14. He studied engineering and graduated in 1961—the same year that he staged his first exhibition. A few years later, he quit engineering and photography became his sole focus. He was hired by theater companies to photograph productions. He was 23 at that point. Czechoslovakia was experiencing “socialism with a human face” and Josef enjoyed the freedom to experiment, as that was increasingly prevalent. He wanted to know what could be done in photography. He agreed to shoot the theatre productions, but insisted on having control over the final result.
“Freedom is an essential thing in my life,” Josef explained to a captivated LOOK3 audience. Not too fixated on the script or the story, he would sit through rehearsals and maintain spontaneity in his work. He insisted that he be allowed to walk between the actors during three actual performances, evaluating the results each night, and trying to improve upon them the next day. Koudelka was trying to create art as much as he was trying to document. The owner of the theater told him, “Josef, you were lying, but you were lying to tell the truth.”
Koudelka embarked on a project to photograph gypsies in Romania. He vividly remembers how the entire village walked towards him as he approached. Building a relationship with them was important and he didn’t start shooting right away. Instead, Josef shared his love for folk music and played songs on an old tape recorder he carried. It gained their confidence and exposed the depth of his character. The resulting work was published in his book “Gypsies” some years later.
With the gypsies, Josef learned that he didn’t need much to live and to be alive.
In August of 1968, he returned to Prague. A few days later, the Russians invaded. Here he stressed, “I am not a courageous man.” It was an extreme situation, and when his girlfriend woke him up and told him the Russians had invaded, it was a natural reaction to pick up his camera and make pictures. He didn’t make the images so they could be sold into publications; he made them for himself.
Everything that followed was pure chance. His negatives were smuggled out of Prague and into the hands of Magnum, who syndicated them, crediting “P.P.” or “Prague Photographer” to protect his identity. Koudelka won the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1969, still anonymous. He left the country because it was dangerous. It would not take the authorities long to find out who P.P. was.
Josef told us that the authorities were pulling people off the plane just before takeoff. You could imagine his relief when the flight took off.
From there, Koudelka became akin to the gypsies he once photographed. Travelling constantly, never staying longer than 3 months in any location. He traveled with a sleeping bag and had never paid rent for at least 16 years. Owning little, he continued to shoot for himself, never taking a full time job. “I need to travel. If I stay too long in one place, I will go blind.”
More books and awards followed. Josef stopped shooting with a 25mm and moved to a panoramic by chance. He learned composition and cropping, and his minimalistic sense continued. The panoramic gave him a new challenge—an opportunity to change and to develop. He focused on landscapes and stopped shooting people. “I love people, but I like to be alone,” he noted. His travels continue. “I go to places because I know there is a picture there waiting for me.”
In each place he visited, Koudelka would walk alone, feeling the place much as he had felt the theater. Each book that was published was different: an attempt to cover a new aspect of life. Practical and progressive, he embraced digital photography because it was less expensive to produce, liberating him from the need to raise funds. It was also lighter, which became more important as he grew older.
At the start of the event, Josef asked that we not judge him by anything that he said but by his pictures. He judges other photographers the same way and doesn’t have any heroes. He wasn’t moved to photography by the work of other photographers. The motivation was inside of him.
When asked where his home was, he said “Your home is the place where you leave from. So for me, my home is here because tomorrow, I go away.”
His journey continues.
(Story by Anil Ramchand / Corbis)
“What do you think? Don’t sit down,” was Rosler’s reply to the audience member who had asked a question at the end of the talk.
Martha Rosler is not one to sit down. Throughout her career, she has used various vehicles to inform, question and protest. Her projects have used photography, video, installation, sound, text, and performance to draw attention to issues in our world. She’s even planted a garden in Singapore.
Over the past 30 years, Rosler has used art to draw attention to issues such as war, homelessness, gentrification, and the media. Her most recent work—which is on display here at LOOK3—raises awareness to the danger of weaponized drones. Working with fellow activists David Swanson and John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, she outlines and explains the near- and long-term impact and danger of weaponized drones; not just here in America, but also overseas.
Her portfolio of work is wide, inspiring and brave. It will certainly make you think, and it will make it harder for you to just sit down.
(Story by Anil Ramchand / Corbis — Photograph by Mark Makela)
There exists a bittersweet joy in watching your kids grow up. As a father of two, I can only tell you how great it is to see them develop personalities, and how sad it is to concede to the bare memories of how they once were.
In that strange paradox where you end up becoming a father to yourself, Nick Nichols is LOOK3. The growth of the festival has become an extension of his career; maturity met with great pride and curiosity for what comes next. The thought of going out on top is no enigma, but it is bittersweet and it does concede to memory.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a crossroads, there is a good chance that LOOK3 goes right and Michael “Nick” Nichols goes left. No turning back for either one, but you do get the sense of new direction. Quite literally, there have been plenty of yellow signs along the way.
As Nick stood before his children at the Paramount, all he could do was sob and gently wipe away the tears. The giant screen had played his career in retrospect, and it was obvious that a three thousand foot rope could not measure or scale his accomplishments. His children stood with him, unanimously applauding before he could even say the words, “Thank you all. Fuck.”
The expletive provided immediate levity, but it also carried a meaning deeper than the four-letter word by itself. It was a touristy way of Nick asking the crowd for directions like where to go, what to do, and how far he was from the location. They were interesting questions from a man who never would have asked them on the 455th day of the MegaTransect. But when you’ve traveled with J. Michael Fay for two thousand miles across the Congo Basin, the call for simple instruction is not hard to imagine. Because, really, what do you after that?
We know all about the work that Nick did before 2002 with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossy. And, of course, there are the intelligent Elephants, the three hundred foot Redwoods, and the happy Serengeti Lions that came after that. (Go see them at The Haven before its too late.) So, it’s not so much as what to do, but more like why he should do it anymore.
It has taken a toll on him. You could see it. He told you so himself. But the paradox between Nick Nichols and LOOK3 ends there, because as the photographer is winding down, the Festival is just getting started.
Since my involvement with LOOK3 in 2011, I could recite the names of the artists with the same effortlessness as I could name any of Nick’s work. Mary Ellen Mark. Christopher Anderson. Lynsey Addario. Hank Willis Thomas. George Steinmetz. Stanley Greene. Massimo Vitali. Alex Webb. Camille Seaman. Donna Ferrato. Steve McCurry.
The list goes on. I could sit in a tree for 19 days and listen to any of them speak without growing weary of their work. The same goes for Nick, but the notion of him being available for so many days is up for debate. It’s hard for me to understand.
David Quammen posed an interesting question to Nick during yesterday’s conversation. “Given that photography was invented in 1826, who would you be and what would you be doing if you grew up in the 1790s?”
“That’s a crazy question,” answered Nichols. “I’d probably be in prison. I don’t have a life without photography. If it weren’t invented yet, I wouldn’t have been there. I couldn’t have done etching because it’s too slow. You can’t shoot two hundred thousand etchings.”
And therein lies the contradiction. A passionate creative admits that he is nothing without the means to create; yet he is willing to give up his life in exchange for something new. Nick has said that he desperately hates following other people’s footsteps, but when you think about it, it is exactly what he has done for decades. The world would be absent of his photographic treasures had he not done so.
That fact the Nick would call it a career is an absolute sacrifice. (It should come as no surprise that his Lions are displayed in a church.) And in that strange paradox where you become a father to yourself, we are LOOK3; and the bittersweet joy becomes ours, having to assume role of the parent and concede to the memory of what Nick was, and forever will be.
A damn good photographer.
(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)
Herds of us gathered at The nTelos Wireless Pavilion on Friday night to enjoy two hours of art from over twenty emerging and established photographers. We sat under the stars on chairs or blankets, in the company of our friends, as the images explored aspects of our nature and the condition of our planet.
The impact of progress was put under the lens. Nina Berman’s “Fractured” took a cold, hard look at the initial impact of Fracking on rural Pennsylvania, while Stanley Greene examined the impact of electronic waste on the planet. Will Steacy’s “Deadline” documented the decline of the newspaper industry over the last five years.
Andrea Stern and Lindsay Morris dove into the lives of children. The former explored the seriousness of kids engaged in extracurricular activities, while the latter captured the spirit of children at a camp, where they were free to dress and act as they pleased, irrespective of their gender.
We saw Vannucci’s convicted criminals taking to the stage in the troupe Compagnia Della Fortezza, playing to sold out crowds in Italy, returning to their cells at night. Van Agtmael travelled through America exploring its “brutal and romantic” landscape.
There was much more… and there will be more tonight at the same place and at the same time.
(Story by Anil Ramchand / Corbis)
The relationship between photographer and subject is a two-way street, but not always equal. The photographer generally holds the cards and the direction of the narrative. It is how she chooses to participate in this relationship that separates Susan Meisales from the pack.
She seeks the truth.
Susan has been invited into a diverse mix of groups, cultures and subcultures, from carnival strippers to neighborhood kids; from rebels in Nicaragua to foreign workers in Rochester. She rewards their trust with a tasteful and fair representation of the moment. The photographer and her subjects share a risk that allows for a more meaningful, long-term exploration of substance.
It’s about the material. Meiselas approaches her stories from various angles, taking great care to expose viewpoints without judgement. She doesn’t know what she is going to find. She doesn’t know how her stories are going to end. Her job is to examine and handle the cloth more directly, unravel its threads, and then sew them back for the audience to appreciate its true fabric.
When Richard Misrach first took an interest in photography during college in 1967, he approached the medium much in the same way as other young and ambitious academics do: with an emboldened passion to document and change the world. Campus life filled his 35 mm camera with street riots, demonstrations and tear gas developed in black and white. It wasn’t anything that he was commissioned to do; it’s just what he saw.
Richard published his first book in 1972 at the ripe-old age of 22. Telegraph 3 A.M. captured the average street person in Berkeley, California through eye-level confrontations along a five-block stretch between home and campus. The images contained the sort of grit that identified with youth. ICP took notice and showcased Richard’s work during the group’s inaugural event in ’75. And while Telegraph had been elevated and displayed on the big stage, it landed on far too many coffee tables with an audible thud.
Something was wrong.
Perhaps it was more gullible than he first thought. Not everyone’s first body of work is their best, after all. But it wasn’t that. Richard believed that his camera had exploited its subject matter in a way that others took for granted; and, it didn’t sit well with him. He no longer wanted to shoot at the expense of others, despite knowing that photographers before him had profited their careers in that very way. Diane Arbus produced squares of people that many considered ugly. Garry Winogrand approached his subjects as deer-in-the-headlight. Richard wouldn’t do that, so he hid.
In the desert, to be precise.
Away from others, he embodied his profession. Shooting with a strobe in the middle of the night, Richard was brought to light by the connection between him and his environment. Suddenly he could identify, contain, divide and elongate his subject matter. The poetry of this discovery must have inspired his life’s work, the Cantos.
In lengthy poems, cantos are the earmarks of pages. They are the intimate conversations that happen in a room full of people talking about the same thing. Richard’s dialogue began in 1979 and are planned to continue until a photograph can no longer be taken. Between those lines exist terrain, space shuttles, floods and fires—little dots, if you will, that connect an audience with his work in a way that does not exploit.
You could think of the Paramount as a dot of its own. Intimate conversations in a room full of people all talking about Richard Misrach. Talking about the mass graves of dead animals in desert. Talking about Playboys being used for target practice. Talking about the world’s fastest mobile home or a manmade cloud that doesn’t move. Talking about Hurricane Katrina. Talking about a remarkable set of pictures hidden for twenty years. Talking about work produced after 9/11—a utopian response to devastation, inspired by small bodies jumping from windows of the World Trade Center. Talking about the wonderful Petrochemical America Exhibit at the McGuffey Art Center. Talking about what they haven’t seen yet.
Richard’s career may have no punctuation, but his LOOK3 conversation did. It ended with a portrait, no less, of a couple taking a “selfie” on an iPhone. You might have thought that it was return to the exploitation that Misrach so heavily fought early on, but it was actually a new and creative study on pixel depth in photography. Richard zoomed all the way into his photograph until he reached its core, and then zoomed all the way out to reveal the picture taken by the iPhone itself.
Richard Misrach said many clever things on Friday, and quoting T.S. Eliot was one of them. “The world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” In a poetry of work divided into elegantly-phrased cantos, we find that hard to believe.
(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)
Carrie Mae Weems.
Look at the name. Say it out loud. Examine it. Tear it down. Sexualize it. Build it up. Stare some more.
We have witnessed many powerful introductions to LOOK3 over the years, but we have seen few deliveries that would seem to pose more questions than answers. What did I see? What does it mean? Where do I fit in the conversation?
That last question is particularly important, because Carrie Mae Weems carefully aims to place you in her work. She is a photographer. NO. She is a conceptual artist. NO. She is a documentarian. NO. She is a performer. NO. She is an educator. YES.
NO. You are unsure. Weems is carefully designed by many disciplines to engage viewers—nay, participants—across an entire spectrum of beliefs and opinions. You get the feeling that her work is judging you and your own perception of art, history and context. And while she precisely targets all three of those constructs, it’s the sting of history that leaves us red in the face.
Slavery. Gender. Objectification. Placement. Perception. Revision.
By her own admission, Weems is more of an architect than anything else. But before building her projects she absolutely tears them down. Gets to the core. Understands the message. Creates meaning. Looking at her work could make you proud or it could make you uneasy. It does introspect.
Deborah Willis was an amazing moderator. No one could have been more prepared to navigate through the many layers of Carrie Mae Weems. Her questions were masterfully terse and academic, as if she knew that planting the seed was enough to allow her counterpart to water and grow the narrative. You could tell that they were friends. The Paramount needed that connection between the two to help explore their own relationship to the widescreen before them.
Everyone can relate to the kitchen table series because we’ve all been there. We can relate to the conversations and the displays that take place in such a confined space. It might mean something. But not everyone can relate to the history or experience of black people in America. Few people have lived it, and perhaps fewer truly “get” it.
Beyond my own control, a carefully framed set of squares and ovals lowered my head. Painted red and played in succession, they were appropriated stills of black soldiers and the archetype of mammy behind etched glass—each one captioned “HOUSE” or “YARD” or some other impertinent, pre-fabricated American classification. I was embarrassed, although I had no reason to be.
“What do you want the viewer to feel?” asks Deborah.
A rare pause.
“I don’t know if I want you to feel, but I want you to be deeply engaged,” Carrie responds. “I try to establish a rhythm of language that helps you move through a difficult piece from beginning to end… so that the language becomes an anchor for the viewer, to assist the viewer from one difficult experience to the next. My responsibility is to CONSTRUCT. The work forces me to look at what I am doing with my own life.”
Suddenly the image of Carrie, seated at the kitchen table with a mirror pointed at the camera, makes sense. You have to confront your own notion of self and accept or deny what it is that you actually see. Her work is colorless, revealing the true aspects of human behavior.
The woman dressed in black is a common protagonist in Carrie’s work, playing witness to environment, surrounded by physical constructs. That, too, makes sense, until you realize that her demonstrations go beyond witness.
They are calls to action.
To ad-lib Carrie Mae Weems’ wonderful control over the English language is rather stupid, but I’m left with no choice beyond my own memory to account for her final dissertation on the importance of subject matter. It actually turns the mirror on herself. She left the Paramount saying that, “everyone writes about Picasso because there are one million books him, but who will write about Lorna Simpson or Joe Crawford?”
In this case, it was more of an answer than it was a question.
(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)