Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category
This will sound like a geek’s ‘Guide’ to Eggleston, but one of the things that most interested us about the William Eggleston Portraits show at the NGV in Melbourne was the printing. Of course, of course, the images were important (she says hastily) – the glorious Devoe Money on the flowered seat and many other famous, and less well known portraits – but it was the printing and its relationship to images in various books, and contemporary versus historic processes that we are still discussing.
In New Zealand, significant international work is usually encountered in books. Although trips overseas sometimes bring first-hand encounters (I still remember being shown some famous Eggleston images at the Frankel Gallery in the ’90s) but the reproduction in the book remains the prime source. As famous books are re-issued, new and better reproductions replace the images printed in the 70s and 80s.
In the Portraits show where they’d gone to lengths to source vintage prints, some surprises were in store. The much talked about dye transfer prints for example – well, quite often they weren’t that pleasant as exhibition prints. If the image had been taken in the shade or dim lighting, the pervading sense was of a print that was too dark. The reproductions of these images in books are often better to dwell on. There were exceptions, of course, such as the boy at the grocery store beautifully lit by the afternoon sun, but this was an exception rather than the rule.
Another ‘verdict’ we came to was that images printed as contemporary archival pigment prints were much superior and quite often gorgeous, for example the riveting, uneasy ‘Artist’s uncle Adyn Schuyler Senior with assistant Jasper Staples’, which sang as an ultra large contemporary print.
And there were other printing surprises too. The recent book of Eggleston’s Portraits which accompanies the exhibition, starts with early black and white work, sized to fill the page. In the book I found myself appreciating these in a rather distant way, impatient to get to the colour work. In the exhibition, the small vintage black and white prints were beautiful and all at once, the spirit of the images snapped into place. The one C-type print in the show was of a romantic image of the artist’s children with flowers. As a small negative print it was full of delicacy and wonder. Enlarged in the book, the singing quality is gone.
All this fretting over relative merits of reproduction and sizes, has I think at the bottom a sense of unease about how relative significant photographic images are – today, they can be online, in a show, a book, a magazine, on your computer, in your phone or camera. If the images are those that are hardwired into the brain, it’s like your childhood memories unearthed and thrown up into the air to come down in thousands of different forms. But I also take pleasure in one of my favourite thoughts about the past from American poet Mark Doty explaining our understanding of our personal histories as: climbing the internal staircase of a lighthouse, spiralling around an experience, one’s perspective always changing and developing.
Excited to say I’ll be at the Melbourne Art Book Fair, 17 to 19 March, with my photobooks. I’ll be sharing a space with Peter Black and Rim Books.
See you there!
To preview our publications:
- Peter’s publications include The Shops, which was a finalist in the New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards.
- Follow Peter on Instagram
Gregory Halpern’s Paris Photo award-winning ZZYZX and Alice Oswald’s shortlisted for the Forward Prize Falling Awake, hardly need reviews from me. But perhaps no one has yet put them together in a commentary.
To plunge right in, which is what these works do, both smash through received wisdom in their respective mediums (photography and poetry), reminding one to take the hallucinatory or psychedelic seriously and believe in the raging guitar of musicians like Jimi Hendrix.
Halpern’s ZZYZX’s 6 x 7 negative photographs travel from the southern California desert, through Los Angeles to the sea, on a journey so subjective it functions like fiction – and like the best fiction it takes one to a place of emotional truth. Beautiful, thrusting, ambiguous portraits of down-and-out people loom in his wide verticals, as do rocks, birds, buildings, a rabbit and shattered glass. Running through it all is sunlight and dryness, with the book opening with an image of fire (something to fear in the land of drought). When we reach the sea at the edge of the dream, it’s not a wide blue welcoming expanse, but something rough and lurid that splashes against the lens.
Superb sequencing of related, yet wildly contrasting images, also hold the book together along with repeating references to hands and eyes and the primacy of sun on skin. This portrait of a land and its people, with it’s odd, beautiful thrusting images is music for our times, and sweeps aside desire for large/medium format, composed, soulful land and city scapes – begone endless documentary work it says. Begone endless work shot on overcast days. Work like this, done this well, has all the bite you’ll need.
Despite loving gardening and the outdoors, nature poetry normally isn’t something I normally seek out. But acclaimed UK poet Alice Oswald put us face down in the dirt, reminding that nature is about death, competition, disintegrating bodies and strange snuffling creatures – human, animals, insects and mythological figures. Her work opens with one of several vertigo inducing poems, this one about rain, and moves to flies, rotting swans and the severed head of Orpheus floating downstream.
But it isn’t just radical subject matter that makes the poems rock. Oswald has the ability to twist a perspective or an experience, moving her lens up and down so it’s close up and personal.
Here’s the opening of Body, which plays with the finding of a badger’s body:
” This is what happened
the dead were setting in under their mud roof
and something was shuffling overhead
it was a badger treading on the thin partition ..”
and here’s the swan looking down at her own decomposing body in Swan
“ and leaving her life and all its tools
with their rusty juices trickling back to the river
she is taking last look …”
What makes these poems stand out isn’t only the viewpoint, it’s also the dense earthy language and a swinging gasping syntax that sweeps the reader with it, like a landslide of mud and stones. It seems as if the desire to see the world differently has, like Halpern’s work, found a perfect radical voice.
Here’s Gregory Halpern taking a well considered swipe at documentary work and academics:
and a piece by Sean O’Hagen in The Guardian:
and an interview with Alice Oswald about her collection:
Really thoughtful review by Peter Ireland of Steve Braunias and Peter Black’s The Shops on Eye Contact.
Here’s a review of the Medical Daydreams exhibition, The Shops and other shows at Photospace Gallery.
Peter and I will be talking about the making of our books – The Shops and Medical Daydreams – tonight at the Wellington Photobook Club. The event starts at 6.30pm at Photospace in Courtney Place. All welcome.