Monday, December 31, 2007


the people in Eva Lauterlein's project Chimères don't look so unusual at first glance. but if you look longer, there is something disturbing about them. and if you look at a lot of them, that unsettling feeling accumulates.

Lauterlein is interested in the function of the face as a marker of identity in portraiture. each of these portraits have been built up out of multiple images of the same subject. she photographs them from different angles and then digitally morphs them together to create the final image.

her work was featured in the book reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow (now yesterday), where the editors assert: "The portraits are so heavily reworked that the models' identities are lost. The chimera is created by reconstruction: the identity becomes a face nonetheless, a face with a form and solidity of its own, yet which at the same time is unable to give any information about the personality of the model who was originally photographed."

perhaps their take on the project reflects Lauterlein's thesis, but i wonder about this. the process definitely explores interesting ideas about subverting identity, but i wonder if the identities of the "models" are truly lost. i think that the work could definitely still be infused with information about the personality of the subject... although, by applying the obvious, visible hand of the photographer and the computer to shape the image, that information can no longer be construed simply as an objective representation: the subjects are revealed as chimeras—like the rest of us.

(to read Lauterlein's project statement, brush up your French skills and head over here)

Friday, December 28, 2007

birds of passage

Ingar Krauss is showing his photographs of Eastern European migrant farm workers working in Germany at Marvelli Gallery, through Jan 5th. his work has been compared to August Sander's, and i see the connection: black and white tradesman portraits from a German photographer... but i wonder if the intention is the same, or how the goals and intentions of such typological work have evolved in the past century. both men do seem to approach their projects fairly anthropologically. and Marvelli's press release for the show quotes James Agee's 1939 text from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: "It is speechless, silent, serious, ceaseless and lonely work along the great silence of the unshaded land.”

on the flipside of all this photographic heritage, i see that Krauss's work was featured in a group show called "The Death of the Portrait," which is interesting given how classic his portraits seem.

and speaking of show titles, Time Out has decided that the gallery show is called "Birds of Paradise" instead of "Birds of Passage." slightly different intention there...

(seen in the New Yorker)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

wild honey collectors and hyena & other men

South African photographer Pieter Hugo's portraits are so great. after seeing him featured in aperture, i looked up his website and was excited to see how comprehensive it is, with so many projects on it.

the first image above is "Paul Ankomah, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District" from a series on honey collectors in Ghana, and the second is "Umoru Murtala with School Boy, Asaba, Nigeria 2007" from the series "Hyena and Other Men."

of his project on the Nigerian animal wranglers known as the Hyena Men, Hugo writes: "I look back at the notebooks I had kept while with them. The words 'dominance', 'codependence' and 'submission' kept appearing. These pictures depict much more than an exotic group of travelling performers in West Africa. The motifs that linger are the fraught relationships we have with ourselves, with animals and with nature."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

happy holidays

i was trying to think of a christmas-themed portrait and my thoughts naturally turned to jesus, and later, to Piss Christ. it's pretty amazing, if you think about it, that the phrase "Piss Christ" can instantly bring Andres Serrano's 1987 photo to the mind of those who have seen it or heard about it. especially since i'm interested in subjects and titles in portraiture...and i think few photographs are really well known by their titles. i don't think the reaction to this particular photograph would have been quite as intense if it had been titled"Pee-pee Christ" or "Urine Messiah" or somesuch. (especially interesting because I recently read a neat article about how most of our current swear phrases are substitutions for older religious oaths that have been rendered less naughty/powerful with increased cultural secularization.)

i'm not sure how much of a portrait Piss Christ is, but, well, it's definitely a representation of a very famous subject in addition to being sort of a self-portrait of bodily fluids... the image above is of different representations of Piss Christ found on Google Images. one thing that's always interesting to me about looking at photos on the internet is that the various jpegs of an image often look slightly different from each other—different color tones, contrast, clarity, cropping, etc. Google Images can be pretty fun for tracking the variations, and this one is no exception. (but in this case, it's variations in urine color.)

(how many photographs, by name, have their own Wikipedia entries?)

Monday, December 24, 2007

doride, speaking heart and doride, reading nature

it seems like everyone's been writing about Howard Schatz's new book H20 lately, but i thought i would feature some different underwater portraiture. these are by Italian artist Maura Biava, as part of a joint project with Dutch photographer Elspeth Diederix. they're from the series Doride/Ultramarine in which both artists pursued underwater photography projects together from 2000 - 2005.

Doride is a fictional character created by Biava; the photos above are from a series about language. Underwater, "words change into forms, objects; they appear as an enigmatic code. Doride’s words function as symbols. The meaning of the spoken word can only be interpreted by means of visual substantiation." interesting! i tried to read more about it, but mostly it's in Dutch. i recommend checking out Diederix's newer work too.

(found via FFFFOUND!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

portraits of amelia

Robin Schwartz takes photographs of her young daughter Amelia, which sounds perhaps a little sentimental—and the resulting project definitely does play on the idea of sentimentality—but the ultimate effect is: wow. i recommend checking out the whole project. one by one, the images of Amelia and her animal friends definitely build up to an effect that's greater than any of them on their own. many of them are composed like classical paintings, and they play with a lot of ideas about the idealization of children and nature.

but also, this kid is just an amazing subject; the connections she makes with her fellow little subjects, with her mom behind the lens, and with the viewer are undeniable. (the monkey is no slouch either.)

(seen via TinyVices)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"there's this new subjectivity"

i've noticed that a lot of the portraits i have been posting up here are by lady photographers. i do not doubt that this is a mix of personal aesthetic preferences and also availability. statistically, women are not overrepresented in the world of professional photography. but are they more likely to focus on portraiture?

while searching for an image by a specific photographer, i came across an interesting article from the New York Times Magazine on 9/9/01. it was a Deborah Solomon-penned introduction to a "very special issue" of the Times Magazine in which ::gasp:: all the photographs were taken by women. okay, i have a knee-jerk cynicism about such a project. a cynicism which is not dampened by prose like this, from Solomon: "Susan Sontag insists, 'There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera,' but perhaps her dictum should be looked at again in a softer light. Every photograph is an act of seduction. In some ways, photography has been the most womanly of art forms all along." the italics are mine, because this writing is such very gross, sexist and non-rigorous fluff.

still, there are interesting questions here. later in the article, photographer Malerie Marder poses some of them in her own way:

"'Women photographers,' she noted, 'are more interested in fantasy than men. There's this new subjectivity. Larry Fink, one of my professors at Bard, used to say, 'I am what I behold.' You never hear women talking that way. We never say we went out and captured it, like a god taking his moments out of life.'"


(self-portrait of Nan Goldin found on Modern Art Obsession)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

cruz and claire

i first saw Molly Landreth's project, Embodiment, on Hey, Hot Shot! last winter. she describes Embodiment as being "an archive and a journey through a rapidly changing community and the lives of people who bravely offer new visions of what it means to be young and queer today."

it's a great collection, with some really memorable images. though i think it is becoming more rare for young photographers to admit to such earnest or conventional reasons for their photography projects. approaching a project as an ethnography of a community seems to have fallen out of favor a bit, at least in some discussions. in favor of...the idea? part of me thinks there is more pressure than ever to come up with more & more postmodern, obscure & ironic project concepts.

questions of ethnography aside (or not), the two subjects above
Cruz and Clairegrabbed me especially because i wanted to know more about them... i guess it's all about stories after all.

(See more at Humble Arts Foundation, where Landreth is their Fall 07 grant recipient.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the pine float

"The Pine Float" is the title of Miranda Lehman's website, and I'm not totally sure why. but i like the sound of it (no wonder—it's also the name of a song on the Twin Peaks soundtrack...). the images above are from Set 1 on her site and there's something about their storytelling that caught my eye. i wanted to post all four of this small set because together they seem to form a sketch of a short story to me in just a few images. they're definitely fashioning fiction in some way, with their own language and symbols—and sense of a strange, dreamlike, twilight adventure. (another set has some great tropical foreboding stuff.)

i found Miranda's work while looking through the portfolios of the young artists who make up Fjord, a new collective dreamed up by Grant Willing and Alana Celii. Fjord's raison d'être is to showcase the portfolios of emerging photographers working in the internet idiom (if you will) and ultimately publish a book of their work. it's a fairly large group of photographers under 30, lots of them in their teens and early twenties. and it makes for an interesting survey of the some of the dominant themes, trends, concerns and visions of a new generation of image-makers. (i was interested to see the play between the people in the deadpan-style camp vs. the Ryan McGinley-esque youthful highjinx camp.) i imagine i'll probably be coming back to these folks again as i think about new ideas in portraiture.

Monday, December 17, 2007

dancing in the desert to 'you are so damn hot' by OK Go

i am a fan of long, ridiculous, amazing titles in all forms of media. the title of this photo by Dutch photographer Katja Mater leads me to see it as a portrait where i might not otherwise. as such, i read it as a portrait in motion: fleeting, prismatic, fun, irreverent, postmodern, thought-provoking. the setting almost makes you see the dancing figure(s) as some sort of natural phenomenon, like a form of mystical desert lights or effluvia.

it's also a very beautiful piece. it would be cool to see a jumbo Art Star sized print of it (on my wall). i first saw Katja Mater's work on iheartphotograph happy birthday iheart.

(you can see more of Mater's work at her site or at Higher Pictures Gallery)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"i kind of follow the sun, wherever it goes"

a lot of portrait photographers shoot with natural light, but all the photos in Dorothy Hong's portfolio take this even farther—they seem like they are about the use of natural light, as much as they are about people.

it looks like Hong does a lot of editorial work; it's cool to see her apply her aesthetic in such a variety of settings and have it remain so consistent.

(see more of her work in PDN's 30 2007)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

face to face

photography is just one tool for artist Ann Hamilton, but I really like her ongoing series "face to face" for what it has to say about the interaction between the artist and the subject. she takes these photographs not with her eyes, but with her mouth, inside which she holds a pinhole camera. she is interested in the mouth as the site of the gaze,the slippage that is created as one sense is dislocated to another part of the body. in the resulting prints, she says, the shape of the open mouth mimics the shape of the eye in the photographs: "the figure becomes the pupil of the eye shape created by my mouth, much the same way as one sees a tiny image of oneself in the reflection of another person's pupil. The word pupil comes from the Latin pupilla, which means little doll or puppet."

(of course, the title "face to face" also makes me think of the quote from Paul's letter to the Corinthians "
For now we see as through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." hmm. when was the last time i quoted the bible to illustrate a point?)

to me, this process also create a slippage between the power dynamics of the role of the photographer and the role of the subject. mouth wide open for minutes as a time, using her lips as a shutter, Hamilton places herself in a vulnerable position before her sitter. the idea of photographer's gaze, control, and ability to objectify the subject (er, subjectify!) are all called into question. the artist shall know only as she is also known.

no "decisive moment" here...

(seen via PBS's Art 21, check it out for a great introduction to her work)

Friday, December 14, 2007

domestic stages

i saw Domestic Stages by Carrie Levy a few years ago at Daniel Cooney Gallery and a few of the photos stuck with me. well, literally. the gallery had printed the top image, above, as 5 x 7 promotional postcard. i grabbed it and for some reason stuck it on the wall over my computer at home. a lot of people come over and wonder why there is a photograph of a random naked guy on my wall and i have no good explanation.

Carrie Levy describes the project, which she started after finishing an emotional personal project, as "anti-portraiture." a lot of portraits these days play with the idea of anti-portraiture... and i've seen a lot of portraits that hide the face in various ways, but these seem to me to also be adding in an idea of shame. i don't think it's just the nudity and facelessness that adds that in—it's the turning to the wall but also the studio lighting, the exaggeration of the pose, and the choice of color film. Levy also says the project was about investigating "how we deal with identity when you are not exposed to facial details and how the body becomes a gaze which does not see."

do the subjects gaze at us? whose shame am i detecting? Levy's, the subjects', yours, or my own?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

out of print

i was surprised to read that Hellen van Meene has called the adolescents she photographs "objects to direct and guide," and "simply material for me." i like the juxtaposition of her nonchalant-sounding attitude and the care, trust, and exactness that comes across in the relationship between the photographer and the subjects in her images.

i saw a single, damaged copy of Portraits by Hellen van Meene at Aperture, and asked if they had any undamaged books in stock. they checked and said no, but I that could order one online. oops—their website says "Temporarily Out of Stock," but Photo-Eye and others say "Out of Print." i hope they are reprinting. i don't know too much about the photography book publishing business, but it is always disheartening to realize that great monographs often have initial print runs of 2,500 - 5,000 copies. photographs and images seem so universal to our lives today, but obviously the market for art photography in book or print form is infinitesimally small.

it reminds me of poetry (which i think might have more in common with photography than photography has with other visual arts, but that's another topic). poetry is a familiar form to most folks, we read it in school, but most contemporary poets would be happy to sell 1,000 copies of their book.

still, when i see books like Hellen van Meene's and Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi drift out of print, i do hope that second printings or paperback editions are on the horizon.

(update: a very nice person found me a copy of van Meene's monograph. :-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

underwater photographer and neil young, neil young

i saw that Melanie Schiff is going to be in the 2008 Whitney Biennial. i'm interested in how artists become Art Stars. and when i say "interested," i mean "skeptical," and when i say—aw just kidding. i love that stuff actually.

and i have to admit, i love Melanie Schiff's stuff that i've seen so far—including the striking canoe photos in installation view that the Year In Pictures posted from the NADA Art Fair in Miami.

i think that Melanie is the subject in both of these photographs (which have great titles), and i think she has friends release the shutter for her, which adds some interesting and complicated layers of photographer/artist/subject. (/Art Star?)

(see more at Kavi Gupta Gallery)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

tp and untitled (grace)

these two images are by different photographers; i found both of them on Flickr. the photo of TP is from a project called Traceurs by Ben Anderson, about British Parkour groups. the untitled photo of Grace is by "sweet distin" on Flickr.

i love the way both of these portraits capture something about young adolescence; be it a tense impishness or more of a pained unimpressedness (or bershon?). they both hit it for me.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

my boyfriend is only interested in his wheels (more than in me)

Linda-Maria Birbeck has said of her subjects: "What is the difference between them and me and why do people (including myself) constantly take the same decisions even though the consequences of them are long known?"

her series, Hot Wheels, shows girlfriends left sitting in their boyfriends' cars during American car shows in the Netherlands... what is the difference between them and me? i don't know.

(seen at Witzenhausen Gallery)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

brontez and precenia

the photos above are Brontez / San Francisco, California, and Precenia / Pensacola, Florida, by Mike Brodie, a.k.a. the Polaroid Kidd.

when I first saw Mike Brodie's polaroids in SeeSaw Magazine, i emailed them to a couple of my friends that i thought would like them. one responded that he knew Mike Brodie and several of his subjects from the Miss Rockaway Armada (which rafted down the Mississippi), and my other friend emailed back to say that he knew Brontez (above), from his days as a DJ in San Francisco.

i'm interested in exploring the interaction between the subject, the photographer, and the viewer, so my experience of this project definitely captured me from that perspective...

(see more at M + B Gallery)


i thought i would start this blog on contemporary portraiture off with a self-portrait by Erica Lord. i first saw this image a few months ago and it stuck with me. it is so beautiful and dark. i would have loved to see the 40 x 32 print of this at the Museum of the North in Alaska.

Lord's work includes several projects that explore Native American identity. in her own words "I want to raise questions as well as declare convictions; challenge, deconstruct, and influence a new way of thinking about contemporary Native people, our life, and our art."

(first seen via huffphoto.)