Ivan's Blog

Thank you for stopping by. This blog will be dedicated to art criticism in today's culture.

Month: March, 2013

Documentary Photography Part Two

Basically I found this quote to get to the guts of what I’m addressing about photo documentary and photography all around. Critic Jonathan Greene describes in American Photography: “The camera cannot lie, neither can it tell the truth. It can only transform.”  The photographer manifests this transformation, but the viewer can also manifest a transformation according to his or her cognitive.  Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against the medium of photo documentary as long as they are aware how photography functions.  What bothers me is when I visit a website claiming photographs are non-fiction.  Controlling the aperture, exposure, cropping, all these functions done both in the camera and the darkroom is deviating from the original scene.

So the five photographers and their body of work I saw at the Southeast Museum of Photography were the following:

A Perpetual Hold and One to Nothing/ Irina Rozovsky

Not Natasha/ Dana Popa

Eighteen/ Natan Dvir

Historia, memoria, y silencios/ Lorena Guillen Vaschetti

Los Jardines de Mexico/ Janelle Lynch

On the first floor of the museum were the works of Rozovsky, Popa, and Dvir.

Irina Rozovsky’s work titled A Perpetual Hold is about documenting her return to Russia after a long absence to a place she called home.  Her images are seeking a connection to her family and the past.  I found some images surreal while others a splash of reality about her journey, but an underlying tone of wanting to connect or relive was conveyed in this body of work.  Some images where taken at angles as if a child had taken them, or instinctual, which reinforces the understanding that the last time she was in Russia was at the age of eight.  Unlike One to Nothing were photos of her travels to the country of Israel seem distant, cold and calculated.  It was refreshing to see a photographer using the square format in a digital age, with such rich colors, and crispness that I have not seen in a while.

Eighteen by Natan Dvir are images of young Muslims living in Israel reaching the legal age of 18.  The scale of the images were large, each depicting a young person in their environment in a natural pose, shot straight on, with a paragraph or two telling the life history and ambitions of each participant in the project.  I will admit I’m ignorant, it never dawn the idea of Muslims living in Israel with issues dealing with Hamas and neighboring Muslim countries, why would Muslims want to live in a Jewish State. I’m very aware the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam sharing Jerusalem as a holy city, but still it never crossed my mind.  With that out of the way I did not find these images interesting, since I’ve seen countless of shows prior with similar compositions.  I thought this bodywork is stronger in a book format; I wanted to get intimate with each young adult and read about his or her problems. It seems that it is fashionable to make prints large just because it possible.  Make everything big to catch the viewer’s gaze.

On the other hand Dana Popa’s Not Natasha was similar in one-way to Eighteen, each image had descriptions telling the viewer what was transpiring or a history of the subject matter, but the difference was instead of posting it on the wall next to each image, the gallery gave each viewer a sheet of paper numbering each image, and next to the number the description.  The photographer traveled to Eastern Europe to document young women who are kidnapped, forced, or sold into the sex trade industry.  Natasha is a nickname given to women who are prostitutes that look like they from Eastern Europe, which according to Popa the women absolutely hate to be called this.  The way the images were displayed they reference traditional photo documentary display in a gallery, roughly 16 X 20 inches, with a 3 inch white mat around the each image, so it made me think of 35mm film, but she also works in square format.  I don’t know if she used film or digital, but I did not care.  The images were personal, and intimate like she took the time to spend time with these victims. I did not spend much time reading the descriptions, it didn’t matter, because you felt the sadness, desperation, hopelessness these women, family, and children face on a daily level.  It makes me angry on how low humans can go.  Humanity has its beautiful side and its ugly side and Not Natasha reminds us of the ugly side.

Moving to the second floor I encountered Historia, memoria, y silencios (History, Memory, and Quietness) by Lorena Guillen Vaschetti.  The images were large prints roughly 60 X 40 inches, all horizontal except for one vertical.  They were re-photographs of slides, with the miniature effect applied to them, and a big black border around each image.  According to the photographer her mother was throwing away all the family slides, because they were the only two remaining people from a large Italian family she wanted to protect her from a dark past, but on further research on the internet it also states the slides had no value so she decided to throw them away.  This adds to the confusion to the story and it affects the viewer on how you should feel towards these people, well to me it did since I did some research before seeing the show.  Anyways Vaschetti was able to salvage only one box of slides.  The images don’t reference anyone particular, and in some of the images the faces are blurry.  The body of work is trying to hold on to memories that at one point were important enough to capture but now had no value to no one, except to the photographer, being these are the last documentation of past relatives, and experiences.  To me this body of work was the strongest out of the whole exhibition.  Vaschetti also had another set of images small with a black background that were conceptually interesting, but not as strong as the large photos.

The last photographer was Janelle Lynch, with three series of work under one titled Los Jardines de Mexico (The Gardens of Mexico), which technically they all dealt with gardens, but in different themes. They were the following series: El Jardin de Juegos (The Garden of Playgrounds), La Fosa Comun (The Common Grave), and Akna (Mother, translated from Mayan).  The first two were taken in Mexico City, while the third Akna was taken in a natural reserve in the department (state) of Chiapas. I will not go into much detail about this series because overall the way the images were taken or displayed, it implied not much effort such as time and research went into each body of work. It felt as if the photographer snapped the photos in one or two days and within a close vicinity to each other.  The way the exhibition was hung it did not offer much variety in translating the importance of each theme. You could have taken away two images from each series and it would not have made much difference getting the point across.

Overall this exhibition is 70/30.  For people who don’t know much about photography this show is a great introduction, and it sheds light on issues overlooked specifically the sex trade and Muslims living in Israel, but for people whom are aware of issues and knowledgeable about photography it is a sold good show.


Documentary Photography Part One

This is a prelude to my critic on the current exhibitions at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona Beach, FL:

I’ve been viewing photography shows for a long time and my tastes have changed over the years.  For example I use to love documentary photography, but now I don’t like seeing several paragraphs explaining to the viewer what is taking place in the photo, this is why books were invented.  Yes, I do know of art exhibitions were the literature is vital to understanding the artwork, but to me documentary photography has evolved to a different level over the years where this is not necessary.  The problem is in the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” Photographs can have many different meanings and if the picture needs a paragraph or more explaining what is going on in the picture is the photograph really working as what the photographer intended? Or is it the curator’s decision in placing this information since they feel the need to make sure the masses will have an understanding of what the intentions are of the photographer.

Documentary photography is a very difficult genre where the belief among documentary photographers is that they are taking images of what is “reality.”   They believe they are capturing a story to document and make aware of an issue, war, or newsworthy.  Since the time of Edward Curtis’ documentation of Native Americans, the history of photography has shown that the photographer yields his will of the subject matter with the click of the shutter.  A photo is but a fraction of time.  We don’t know and will never know what happen before or after the picture was taken.  Conceptual art has tackled this theme to question how photography works starting with the artworks of Joseph Kosuth and John Hilliard to contemporaries such as Joan Focuberta, and Vik Muniz.  Photos have been altered since its invention.  We want to believe what is transpiring in the photo is real, but we then question if it has been “Photoshopped” if we have a hard time grasping the reality.

(To be continued in my next post.)

The Salon

Two weeks ago I attend what might be my last Salon held by the Atlantic Center for the Arts.  My second year as an MFA candidate is coming to a close and usually third year candidates are not invited to attend the Salon, giving the opportunity and the experience for the incoming class and the second years.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts is a residency program that operates year round.  Each residency session has three master artists usually made up of one visual artist, one composer, and one writer.  For supporters of the program they have a night, usually a Thursday night that is a mix of a meet and greet, and show and tell of the artists, titled “The Salon.”

The night of the Salon the artists presented in the following order: Carolyn Forché- poetry/memoir, Richard Teitelbaum – composer, and Pat Oleszko- visual and performance art.   Carolyn talked about her experience second time around as a master artist in residency at the ACA, her new memoir about her experiences in El Salvador in the late seventies, and finally read a poem about her battle with cancer with a friend who succumbed to the disease.  Richard spoke about a opera that he is composing about the Rabbi Sabbatai Zevi, who claimed to be the Messiah, declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and who was then forced to convert to Islam.  Richard mostly works with electronic music, but for the opera he is working with traditional instruments, and singers.  The opera is performed in five different languages.

Please keep in mind I’m not an expert in literature or music, but Carolyn’s poem was very good, giving hope and inspiration in handling the difficulties of life.  Richard’s opera is an interesting idea, but the story doesn’t have a large audience appeal.  What crossed my mind was what if somebody wrote a modern day opera, but sung and composed like Verdi opera.  For example the story could be of Lindsey Lohan, Kurt Cobain, or Marilyn Monroe.   The majority of operas are tragic and yes I know of Rock Operas and Andrew Lloyd Webster, but I thought it would be interesting mixing the both to see what you get, with one hell of a light show similar to a Beyonce’ concert.

I knew a little of Pat Oleszko and her work prior to the Salon (see link below), but hearing her presentation made me appreciate her work more.  She presented in a way that an audience who is not well informed about performance art could relate and understand what she does.  She kept her art speak to a minimum; she did not over burden the audience with too much information about each performance to keep our imaginations going, and enticing us too keep listening.  By the end she had us all laughing and wanting more.  She is a court jester in today’s society, but she takes what she does very seriously, using humor primarily to tackle serious issues such as global warming.

In the past I have attended three salons where egos were big, and complications arose during the presentations, it was nice to end it with a laugh.