Ivan's Blog

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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.

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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.

http://www.patoleszko.com

A thought.

Walking along a dark corridor and I come upon a glowing object in the middle of a dark room.  I’ve never seen an object like this, scared at first; my curiosity beckons me to investigate it further.  This glowing object is in a shape of box its height is just above my knee, about 30 inches, and is almost square in width.  The light that comes from within the box is bright white, intense, and comforting. It’s sleek and clean by design.

A blue book binder is on top of this box with silver duck tape holding it closed.   Pulling the duck tape off, I slowly open the binder finding it full of slides, hundreds of them in plastic sleeves.  At first I can’t make out what they are pictures of, so I pull one out of its sleeve, placing it on top of the glowing box, using it as a light box, to discover it’s a picture of the Universe.  Turning the page to another sleeve I pull another slide and it’s a picture of an Egyptian ruin.  Flipping to the middle of the book, pulling another slide, I find it’s a picture of Jesus dying on the cross.  Later noticing that each sleeve is label in Spanish by categories in the following order: Universe, Archeology, Idols, Bible, Crosses, Missions, Buildings, Bibles, Temptations, The Ten Commandments, Jesus’ birth, Jesus praying, Jesus standing, Jesus judge, Crucifixion, Jesus in Modern Times, The Second Coming, Angels, Landscapes, Flowers, and Spiritualism.   The slides are also individually labeled referencing the image.

All of this is a thought.

Understanding the Art Scene in Central Florida.

Living over 30 years in Central Florida and many art shows attendance, the major compliant I’ve heard from art lovers and artists is that there is no art scene or support for the visual arts in the area.  People love to go to art shows, but it’s mostly a social gathering.  To give you an example, the show that draws the most attention in Orlando yearly is “Nude Nite.”  It is usually held in a warehouse, charges a high admission usually $25 per person, with a cash bar/food, not only that they also charge an entry fee to artists and commission if the work is sold.  It draws large crowds and the main interest is to see naked people in artwork or naked models walking around with airbrushed paintings on them.  Sex sells, what else is new?   Other than that nothing much else happens in the sense of the art impacting the viewing public, unless you are a virgin to the local art scene.  Then it’s a sensation of a wonderfully, never seen, most spectacular exhibition in the world.  I will admit that I’ve been through this experience, but once you learn about the history of art, and go to many shows you become a little numb.   Also art really doesn’t sell unless its sugarcoated art.  There is nothing wrong with sugarcoated art, but it is a level that seems to dominate the Central Florida art scene.  The people I’ve talk to their belief or understanding of when art stopped being art is after one of the following art movements:

-Renaissance (da Vinci)

-Post-Impressionism (Van Gogh)

-Cubism (Picasso)

-Surrealism (Dali)

These are the majority of artists that are usually referenced.  I might get other artists names thrown in this mix: Michelangelo, Titian, M.C. Escher, Wyeth, Rothko, and Pollack.

From a big city’s perspective such as New York City, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles it’s not up to par.  They have better artistic communities that support each other, and the art that is displayed is more on a more of an international level.  Cities similar to Orlando’s development such as Houston also have better art scenes, why is that?  The people that have settled in the Central Florida region are mainly from the north, escaping the hustle and bustle of big city life or replacing the shoveling of the snow and freezing temperatures for warm weather and sunny beaches.  So people from the north settle here they should be bring some of the culture they were exposed to while living up north. Right?  I’m mean we have bad drivers, spring training, NY Pizzas, Philly Cheese Steaks, and Chicago Hot Dogs, why not art?

Galleries come and go, and so do some interesting artists that couldn’t make a living here.  I have discussed this theme over the years with several people to understand why Orlando’s visual art scene does not grow.   By grow I mean why the art that is shown is not touching conceptual themes, why do local galleries keep showing art movements that are long gone.

Reason 1) Orlando is a transient city.  The very talented get restless here in a town that stifles them.   Orlando lacks the community support to make people want to stay for a long period to see their fruition bare to fruit that they are so passionate about.   Some people do succeed, but the stain power does not last because of a finicky consumerism.

Reason 2) The Mouse controls everything.  The majority of Orlando’s local government caters to the Walt Disney Corporation in meeting their needs, because tourism feeds our hand.  Disney does contribute to the arts, but it mostly all goes to performing arts.  Disney and the surrounding parks employ the majority of the local artistic community, which are performers and designers.   To say that these corporations have a say in what visual art is shown is hard to believe that it dictates what kind of art is acceptable and what is not.  I think Disney is too occupied patrolling the Internet for copyright infringement or the reselling of Disney property on Ebay to worry about what Joe Schmoe is showing in some gallery.

Reason 3) The majority of people who live in Central Florida relate to Disney as an art form, including the theme park experience (Universal, Sea World, etc.).  People want an escape from reality and for them it’s “The Parks.”  I have many friends who have annual passes to several of these parks and go routinely.  They are entertained by the fantasy becoming a reality.  The same experience can be attained in the movies, cable, movies on demand, and video games.  Yes, this is an art form that is very lucrative, and allows us not to think except when our stomachs tells us we are hungry, so we need to decide what to eat.  When the escapism is over we then think about the experience that has transpired and how it relates to us.  The reaction is similar to art hanging on the wall and what we take from that piece.  I believe that Orlando has a big concentration of people wanting to escape, and this group’s definition of art lies in the fantasy realm.

Reason 4) People are not educated about the current visual arts world or they do not care to understand since the theme do not relate to their everyday life.  Conceptual art is very intimidating, especially when you don’t understand why it’s considered art.  People’s understanding of art is you paint what you see or feel, and the painting is suppose to show the mastery of paint, and leave you with a good feeling.  Conceptual art is not only visual based, but recreates an experience, reinterprets history or an issue, makes you interact, makes you aware of an issue, or makes you aware of the complication or simplicity of the surroundings.

I believe that there is not one specific reason to why the art scene has not thrived, but it is a culmination of the above reasons.

Review of Duane Hanson’s Exhibition at The Museum of Florida Art.

I’m reviewing the Duane Hanson exhibition that is presently showing at The Museum of Florida Art in Deland, FL.  It is rare to see an exhibition of a high caliber contemporary artist near Orlando.  Central Florida in particular is a strange place when it comes to art.  Being so close to Miami, the gateway to the southern hemisphere, and the host of Art Basel, you would expect to see more exciting shows presented in the vicinity, but I will explore this issue in a later post.  At the moment I would like to keep this post focused on Duane Hanson.

What made his work important in the history of art is that he took the mundane, and the controversial of everyday situations and made them into realistic life size sculptures, but also by making them into life size he elevated his subject matter to a level that was reserved previously for heroes, gods, and important people in history.   Also by making us aware of these figures it makes us focus at ourselves as a whole.

I have previously seen only one sculpture of Duane Hanson, The Janitor at the Milwaukee Art Museum, so I was kind of excited to see more of his work in a group showing.  What was being shown was his series of sculptures he did depicting the mundane everyday characters of the United States, and not his controversial work of drug users and police riots.  The museum is carpeted throughout in a neutral brownish tone including the walls.  The space of the museum echoes the same overwhelming mundane feeling as the sculptures, which adds to the viewing sensation.  The only problem I have with his sculptures is the hair; it’s very unrealistic compared to the rest of the sculpture.   They shout wigs or old Barbie doll hair.  The pieces seem to be collecting dust and it’s especially noticeable in the hair and skin.  This must be a problem for conservators when it comes to maintaining these works of art.  Also included in this show were polaroids of the models posing for the sculpture, so it’s nice to see the inspiration behind these figures.   If you have never seen Duane Hanson’s work I highly recommend it.

Please see link to view Duane Hanson’s artwork.

http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/duane_hanson.htm

Defining the Levels in Art.

So for today’s post I have decided to define the levels of art so people can understand the differences and that not all artists are created equally.  What is disheartening to me is when someone finds out I’m an artist and automatically ask me to paint something for their living room.

Definitions:

Local Art– This type of art is usually shown in bars, coffee shops, or community centers made by recently graduated high schoolers, college students taking art classes at a local college or university, and self taught artists.  The art is usually basic, but it has the principles apparent in them such as line, form, composition, texture, light, and so on.  The experience of this artist is very limited; basically they are just getting their foot wet in a vast ocean known as “THE ART WORLD.”  The art tackles themes such as the use of color, composition, and subject matter, which is usually a portrait of someone close to them, a still life, a landscape, a pet, or an object.  Same thing applies to photography and sculpture, and the sculpture is usually made of earthenware.

Regional Art– This art is shown in small museums, consignment galleries, local government buildings, upscale restaurants, shops, and bars.  This also includes trendy shops exhibiting outsider art.  The art is created by art grads, and self taught artists where you notice of course the principals of art, but also better craftsmanship, technique, and a cohesive body of work.  Art styles tend to be similar to surrealism, impressionisms, abstraction, and realism, if its photography the artwork tends to be documentary, fashion, or modernist.

National Art-This art is shown in academia galleries, contemporary galleries, bigger museums, and art festivals.  What has been defined in Regional Art applies here, but the difference is the art is more focused on a theme ranging from conceptual, design, beauty, and narrative.  The majority of artists are emerging or mid-term, and art critics, art dealers, and curators are taking notice of the art being created by these artists.  Also the artist spends a big chunk of personal time grant writing in hopes to get money for their artistic ideas, or getting into shows.

International Art– The big show! The art is shown at major art fairs, biennials, the top museums, and auction houses around the world. Oh! And let us not forget magazine interviews, and books being made about the artwork.  Artists can do what ever they want without justification if they want.  The majority of viewers are confused by the content and usually are running out of the museum complaining they wasted time and money on a load of shit,  “my two stating year old can paint that!” or they stay silent and make no comments, but art critics love it.  Collectors buy it because they want to show off their latest purchase and rub it in to other rich people about their money status. The artists don’t care about craftsmanship, or the mastery of medium, the content is what is priority.  They outsource when it’s possible, use ready-made objects, or appropriate images.  The art has many faces, it interacts with the audience, or it’s activism to bring attention to an issue, or a video on Youtube.

Please keep in mind this is all a generalization of the “art world.” There is no fixed path an artist can take to reach the international level.  Some of us are content on certain levels; others don’t want to sell themselves to become prostitutes.

There is validity in conceptual art.  The art is not only about the visual entertainment, but also sharing the content of what was created and why.  When viewing or interacting with contemporary art, each person will experience it his or her own way, and this is OK.  It’s does not have this one solitude meaning and everybody is suppose to walk away from it thinking the same.  If you walk away from the piece angry because it confused you that might be the artist intent.  Art brings an emotion, an issue, a viewpoint, a perception, an understanding, a beauty, an ugliness etc. to a world that is constantly changing as you read this post.

Why Am I An Artist?

(Circle one):

A)   To create a new way of looking at important issues in today’s culture.

B)   To be happy.

C)   To become an art star.

D)   To be selfish.

E)   To be able to sleep at night.

F)    To leave artifacts for future archeologists, and sociologists to understand what life was like during my lifetime.

G)   To make the 1% happy with my art.

H)   To make my mother happy that I have a career.

I)     A, and B.

J)     C, D, and E.

K)   F, G, and H.

L)    All the above.

M)  None of the above.

O) Does it really matter? (This option is not intended to be rebellious, facetious, or malign.)