The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock
4 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post is also featured at www.cellophaneland.com
Remember that time, not so very long ago, when we all rushed down to the local Boots to drop in our films for printing? From this frustration of impatiently waiting anything from an hour (for those willing to stump up extra) to a week, to see the results of all the careful holiday snapping, lays the foundation of the Polaroid.
Back in 1943 Edwin Land, having been asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see her photo right away, immediately set to work. Within an hour he had conceived the technology and the story of instant photography had begun.
When the long and painstaking development process (no pun intended), documented in the book by prototypes, models and test images, had been completed, the result was not only scientifically groundbreaking but also heralded a new chapter of artistic expression. The New York Times proclaimed “There is nothing like this in the history of photography…”
Nowadays Instagram is the leading representative of the world of instant imagery. It should therefore not be surprising to know that prominent in the lobby of their California HQ sits a collection of Polaroid cameras, the most noteworthy being the 1977 OneStep featuring the rainbow logo appropriated by Instagram in its own design.
Land had in the seventies already predicted escalating use of cameras saying that they would soon be used ‘All day long…. like a telephone’, whilst probably not anticipating they would often be one and the same apparatus.
In this lay the recognition that the world, and people, had irrevocably changed; the barrier of subject and photographer had started to disappear in line with Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ and there was a continuous recording of lifes events and expansion of the ‘sharing’ experience. The almost instant sharing of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to be a natural development of what began with the Polaroid.
For the more artistic the new product was impressive but came with many built in limitations. Images were usually of limited size (save by using larger studio-bound cameras), fixed formats, limited camera adjustments. Laboratory colour and exposure manipulation were impossible.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these very particular restrictions it invited users to become ever more inventive. Artists like Lucas Samaras and Bruce Charlesworth manipulated or separated the emulsion or used repeated exposures. David Hockey used multiple images overlaid or arranged in grids to increase dimensions. Other painted, drew or scratched on and around the developed image.
Andy Warhol took all his portraits with a Polaroid and incessantly snapped his way around New York, Others like Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close often used it, whilst film makers, commercial, advertising and fashion photographers found the instant images essential for planning their shots.
It’s colour initially put off many art photographers, black and white being up to then the choice for ‘serious’ practitioners. This however was the era of ever more portable 35mm cameras and also of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and Polaroid were in a perfect position to tap in to the wider acceptance of their casual colour snap-shot aesthetics.
The Polaroid Project leads us through this story via a series of essays that look for example at Polaroid’s foundation and history, the development of the technology, artistic developments and its relation to social networks and the selfie. They are interspersed with an impressive array of widely varied imagery with plenty of ‘how on earth did they do that?’ moments.
The book is subtitled ‘At the intersection of Art and Technology’ and it is published to accompany a major touring exhibition, so it is not surprising to see that text and illustrations are geared towards the artistic. Perhaps a future show and accompanying volume can show what the public, as well as industry and business, created with the technology – but that’s yet another story.
There is a frequent lament here to the death of Polaroid, tied to the winding up of the company and closure of the factories, but, as with vinyl, this seems hugely premature. Instant film lives on in Fuji and Impossible, as does the use of Land’s cameras. The Polaroid Project itself shows us that interest in this technology and its uniquely ‘authentic’ aesthetic is increasing, whilst here at CELLOPHANELAND* we even have a couple of cameras of our own and Polaroids pinned on the wall. The king is dead – long live the king!
The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock, published by Thames & Hudson. To purchase (currently at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
A touring exhibition organised by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography opens at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas June 3 to 3 September 2017 then travels to Europe. fep-photo.org/exhibition/polaroid/
1 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
Any history of photography would be incomplete without substantial mention of the famed photographic agency Magnum, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Within its 1947 origins are both the reasons for its success and for its often rocky journey: the diverse founding group included both Robert Capa who represented the ultimate in involved photo-journalism and, at the opposite end of the spectrum Henri Cartier-Bresson whose imagery was detached and artistic. This stylistic inclusivity both made it important but at the same time ensured that members would rarely see eye to eye.
What they had in common however was a desire to break the traditional model of the photographic business – a system where the publishers had total control. Magnum Photos Inc sought to break this with a disruptive model worthy of Uber. The photographers would take control of their images, owning their rights, dictating editing and presentation and even creating content and photo-essays.
Despite the canny catch-all basis of the business – which included not only photographs but for example printing, cameras, moving images, design, studios, materials and equipment – image quality always remained high in the agenda. Magnum would always stand for intelligence in combining both reporter and artist in the photographer’s role.
The story to be told in the Magnum Manifesto therefore is formidably complex. It is one that includes the Magnum’s founding, its ever-changing membership, the business models, the personal relationships and the artistic and cultural events that shaped the whole. In an often uneasy amalgam, its constituent photographers were often in conflict and a steady intake of new members, carefully screened and slowly inducted, meant an organisation in continuous flux.
Over and above this are of course the photographs from a roll call of the best in the world in all fields – Capa, Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Alec Both, Alex Webb, Eve Arnold and so on. Their archive is represented by a steady stream iconic and event-defining images. These not only represented what was happening in the world but often shaped public opinion and by doing so could be argued to have moulded future events.
A deep look into the organisation is therefore so much more than a book of photographs and in fact the anniversary is being marked not just by this hugely impressive book, but by a global programme of events and exhibitions.
The title Magnum Manifesto makes it clear that this is not just a photo book featuring their ‘greatest hits’ but a deeper look in to everything that it represents. The book infact takes the opportunity to display plenty of lesser known, but still impressive, works. After some introductory essays, the preface looks at the four founders at the time that they created the organisation – all working busily around the globe in a rapidly changing post war world – before dividing Magnum’s story in to three key periods.
Human Rights and Wrongs represents the period from its founding until 1968. A time of widespread unrest it was also the time of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – a proclamation with the same values of liberty, equality and dignity espoused by the agency. We see representative images of hunger, postwar Soviet Union, black power, strikes and student riots before a series of longer photo essays that look at universality – a theme that at least partly inspired Edward Steichen’s landmark ‘Family of Man’ exhibition at MoMA in 1955, where nearly a fifth of the images were supplied by Magnum.
An Inventory of Differences describes the subsequent period, from 1969 to ’89, where the focus became more on differences and otherness. We find the unemployed, deformed, immigrant, minority and marginalised of the world and memorable images like Steve McCurry’s Afghan Refugee. Portfolios include Inge Morath’s Masquerade, Philip Jones Griffiths Immigrants and Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies.
Finally Stories About Endings shows the postmodern era up to the present day. Cultural expansion led to greater ‘artistic’ output and a flowering of methods of distribution of the imagery – books, exhibitions, gallery displays and the internet. Photographers looked at what was disappearing. We see Martin Parr’s Still Lives and Colonial lives, Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban and Donovan Wylie’s The Maze.
That the Magnum Manifesto succeeds in its task is great credit to the editor Clément Chéroux who must be commended in producing something that has combined all these aspects in to a cohesive whole. We get a compelling story that draws us through the ups and downs of the organisation even whilst great historic events unfold. We also get enough stunning imagery from the great photographers to realise why Magnum is something unique and special.
An absolutely essential book on the most important photographers collective the world has ever seen.
Magnum Photos’ 70th anniversary will be celebrated with a global programme of events throughout 2017. For more information visit www.magnumphotos.com
To purchase Magnum Manifesto (at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
The first accompanying exhibition is at the International Center for Photography NY until 3 September 2017 and will then tour internationally.
4 March 2017 § Leave a comment
This review also appears on CELLOPHANELAND* along with many other interesting Arts, Culture and Travel features.
This is photography Jim, but not as we know it. Visiting the latest Tate exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans 2017 many unfamiliar with his work are likely to come away with a whole new feelings about contemporary photography, how it is presented and what it means. They may also question the nature of photography.
Although we may consider Tillmans a photographer – indeed the first one to win the Turner Prize, in 2000, his practice has steadily expanded from images of everyday life and contemporary culture and in this exhibition we see that his broad range of activity now includes installation, music, sculpture, video and performance.
Despite all this variety photography still lies at the core of his practice. The images however may be analogue, digital or even cameraless – Tillmans restlessly experimenting with every aspect of the photographic process. Once the images are produced, he then plays with their presentation. Prints will never be evenly sized, neatly framed and lined up around the walls but are wilfully distributed in almost every available space – small monochrome images high on walls almost impossible to view, giant colour prints that dominate a room, others assembled in groups or single works hung alone in a corner.
They may be framed or mounted on aluminium, pinned up, hung on bulldog clips, taped to the wall or laid flat in cabinets. For Tillmans every rule of production and presentation is is there to be broken, played with or experimented upon.
This attack of the traditions of the genre are strongly hinted at right at the start of the exhibition where we see photographs of his messy working space – few would recognise it as anything close to a conventional photographic studio. Nearby is an image of his office photocopier that has been carefully dismantled and spread over the floor – dissected in to its constituent parts. Tillman perhaps signals that he is breaking conventional image making in to its constituent parts to be re-examined and questioned.
This Tate exhibition presents works since 2003, when he had a solo show at Tate Britain, with unconventional presentation in rooms that are configured by Tillmans as ‘a personal response to the present moment.’ You will see no chronology or overriding theme, works from different periods are often juxtaposed. Social comment may move quickly in to formal comparison.
We know Tillmans has a great eye for colour and style – he was after all a fashion photographer – but he also is a great editor of images. We see works from the Neue Welt series, where he travelled to five continents and impulsively recorded his immediate feelings with a slice of a car headlight, a waterfall and a the remnants of a lobster meal – a fat fly included.
In two rooms of he returns to a favourite theme of abstract images. Enjoying the addition of the element of chance he creates beautiful works by manipulation of the chemical process in his ongoing Blushes series. By apparently removing the artists hand the resulting images seem more magical and perhaps record some scientific process rather than the work of a person.
Other abstractions are simply pictures of folded or crumpled paper. One can only admire the simple beauty of the Paper Drop images created from a folded sheet of photographic paper – in the end the very material upon which the images are to be eventually printed.
The variety and virtuosity on display is breathtaking. We move from experiencing the emotional impact of a documentary image to the virtuosity of a colour print or the beauty of an abstraction. We are caught off guard by imaginative presentation, arresting images or thought provoking juxtapositions.
Its not all totally positive – the ‘Truth Study Center’ installations – glazed table-top presentations of photographs, newspaper clippings and objects are rather obvious and uninteresting and some works with political comment miss the mark. A sound room presenting recordings looks to make us question how music is presented and received, but is rather banal. Nevertheless this is a show that anyone with any interest in photography would be foolish to miss.
Wolfgang Tillmans 2017 runs until 11 June 2017
For more information visit Tate Modern
See also our review of his 2016 exhibition at Maureen Paley
14 November 2016 § Leave a comment
Any passing thought that David Bowie was a casual or poorly informed collector of art disappears within moments of viewing his remarkable collection, shortly to be sold at a special three-part sale in Sotheby’s London.
In his own words David Bowie was an an ‘addictive and obsessive’ collector observing that it can “change the way I feel in the morning.” It inspired him and influenced his work, about Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm he for example commented “I can look at it and say: My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks.”
The Sotheby’s sale consists of some 350 lots which, we are told, represents about half of his collection. Unfortunately we don’t know what has been saved – presumably the most personal and best pieces – but this is a tantalising look at the taste of one of the most remarkably creative artists of our times.
What is missing tells us almost as much as what is there. There is almost no photography or American art, no installations or performance artworks and little after the 1990’s
What we mostly find is a truly varied and comprehensive roll call of Modernist British art from the likes of influential painters like David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossof and Peter Lanyon. Alongside are modernist sculptors like Kenneth Armitage, Henry Moore and William Turnbull.
Bowie was also happy to put his time and money in to the lesser known – if he liked them – British artists like Alexander Mackenzie and Maurice Cockerell. He also bought outsider artists and invested in South African art.
There are other gems too. A pretty good Basquiat or Damien Hirst spin painting? A Tintoretto anyone? German expressionist etchings? There is also a small, but important selection of early conceptual and surrealist artists like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Meret Oppenheim.
And then there is the furniture and design. Memphis burst out of Milan in the 1980’s with Ettore Sottsass revolutionised cutting-edge design, introducing fun, humour and strikingly bold colour combinations into functional pieces. The ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, from 1981, is considered a defining work of postmodern design as was the Olivetti Typewriter upon which Bowie typed his lyrics and that directly led him on to a love of Memphis and this broad and impressive collection.
Estimates are often very reasonable and at first glance it looks like it is possible to pick up some small works in the mid hundreds. There are other items like the 1966 Castiglione radio-phonograph at £800-1200 and a Brionvega cube radio estimated at £150-250, both tantalisingly priced. Sadly however these are all at fantasy prices to draw in the eager; you can probably add a nought to each before you even start. Good luck!
For more information visit www.sothebys.com
Part I: Modern & Contemporary Art, Evening Auction, 10 November 2016
Part II: Modern & Contemporary Art, Day Auction, 11 November 2016
Part III: Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group, 11 November 2016
Postscript: I should have said ‘add two noughts’. The Valentine typewriter sold at £45,000, The Castiglione Radio-Phonograph £257,000, the Brionvega Radio £30,000 amongst many other items that sailed way above estimate. All the low lots estimated in the tens & hundreds went for £4k upwards as everyone wanted a small piece of Bowie memorabilia and the overall estimates on all sales were at least doubled. Basquiat ‘Air Power’ went for a record £7.1m. See BBC feature here.
This post also featured on CELLOPHANELAND*
9 October 2016 § Leave a comment
Having had the recent pleasure of a wonderful short break at the Goodwood Hotel nearby we took the opportunity to revisit the CASS Foundation (see post from previous visit). Actually located within the Goodwood Estate it displays large scale sculpture in a beautiful woodland location. The works are distributed along woodland trails, whilst a small hall and the main building house further displays of smaller work.
It’s easy to be a little wary of anything to do with sculpture located in rural locations, where it is rather too easy to end up at a depressing collection of derivative organic forms or animal carvings. This however is certainly not the case here where the work is very much contemporary in style and of the highest level. A run through of some of the names featured is a sculptural who’s who: Tony Cragg, Bill Woodrow, Eduardo Paolozzi and Sean Henry for example amongst very many more.
The current exhibition is A Beautiful Disorder, the first major exhibition of newly commissioned outdoor sculpture by contemporary Greater Chinese artists to be shown in the UK. It comprises sixteen monumental outdoor sculptures. These are shown around the grounds where the some very impressive pieces mix seamlessly with other permanent works.
The historical relationship between English and Chinese landscape aesthetics is the starting point and inspiration with the title of the exhibition, A Beautiful Disorder, a quote from an influential letter written by the Jesuit missionary and artist Jean-Denis Attiret in 1743 that had a tremendous effect on English garden culture.
Attiret used the term to describe the ability of the Chinese garden to provoke violent and often opposing sensations in the viewer through a series of theatrical framing devices.
The exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on China’s past, present and future relationship with the world at large, and provides valuable insight into the state of Chinese culture, politics and society today from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists.
CASS is a charitable foundation in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass dedicated to commissioning new work from emerging and established artists. The Foundation’s 26 acre grounds are home to an ever-changing display of 80 monumental sculptures, many of which are available for sale with the proceeds going directly to artists.
A Beautiful Disorder runs until 6 November 2016
For more information visit CASS Sculpture Foundation
6 October 2016 § Leave a comment
Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in the work of Edward Burtynsky. He searches for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning: recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries. These are all places that outside of our normal experience and are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear.
Essential Elements comprises of a selection of photographs weaving an evocative journey through Burtynsky’s past projects, China, Manufactured Landscapes, Quarries, Oil and Water, drawing together the visual and thematic threads that connect throughout his oeuvre.
Burtynsky revealed in his recent conversation with us (The Edward Burtynsky Conversation) that William Ewing spent months assiduously sifting through Burtynsky’s whole back catalogue. He has wisely avoided publishing an obvious chronological trawl through the seemingly discrete projects that comprise Burtynsky’s past works and instead has got with an approach that looked at the juxtapositions as they made sense conceptually, aesthetically or visually.
This absence of chronology allowed him to juxtapose images that were unrelated by subject or era – the deep quarrying of Highland Valley #8 2008 faces Oxford Tire Pile #4 1999 and China Recycling #10 2004 sits opposite Car Terminal 2011.
We see plenty of iconic works but remarkably over 50% have never been published before and many never seen before.
Taking a free-flowing approach across geographical borders and over an extended period of time, the exhibition reveals the development of an expansive formal language, from early examples of his disorienting manipulation of perspective and scale in Railcuts (1985), to the rich organic patterns of Burtynsky’s first major aerial photography project, Silver Lake Operations in Australia (2007).
Mapping the human transformation of the landscape, and documenting the residual destruction stemming from industrial processes and manufacturing, Burtynsky’s photographs present a contradiction of aesthetic seduction and ecological concerns, functioning, as he sees it, as “reflecting pools of our times”.
Amongst the photographs Ewing has selected clips of text from multiple sources, including the artist that provide further insight. This is an excellent book, visually gripping and nicely insightful providing a useful additional angle on the work of an important contemporary photographer.
This feature is also posted in CELLOPHANELAND arts & culture magazine
All images are © Edward Burtynsky 2016. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.
Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements, edited and curated by William A. Ewing is published by Thames & Hudson, 15 September 2016, £45.00 hardback (www.thamesandhudson.com)