Tamara LichtensteinUntitled (2018)

I’m not sure the composition completely works in this photo–there’s a simultaneous sense of space being flattened (the photographer is almost certainly as far back as she can be against the railing and the model appears to be right up against the plant) but also there’s an insistence on contextualizing the location as being on the water front.

What saves it is the mood or tone–the pose is melancholy, contemplative and sensual all at once. Yet, what really keeps me coming back is the texture. The vertical lines where she’s holding the diaphanous material taut against her throat, the horizontal lines of the roof overhanging the deck, the vertical moire interference of the screen and the radial extrusions from the plant.

Against, all logic, I think this might be an exception to the rule of #skinnyframebullshit; in that I think if you’d taken the camera where it is when this photo was snapped and rotated it 90° counterclockwise, I think this photo could’ve taken on the same sort of ephemeral tactility that enlivens so much of the best of Jeff Wall’s work.

As it is, it’s still head and shoulders above the rest of most of the glut of work released by internet famous photographers.

Thy Tran – [↖] Untitled from Cacher series (2016); [↗] Untitled from Cacher series (2016) ; [↙] Untitled from Cacher series (2016); [↘] Untitled from Cacher series (2016)

When I saw Tran’s work, my first thought was: wow, there’s A LOT of overlap with Kim-Ngân Ao (aka yatender). Both filter elements from Lina Scheynius and Ren Hang through a stubbornly lo-fi analog aesthetic.

However, after sitting here suffering from that oft reported feeling in police procedurals where the unorthodox detective feels like she’s missing a piece of the puzzle that’s right there staring her in the face, I figured it out: Tran and Ao almost certainly know each other.

Consider: this self-portrait from Tran’s Flickr account and this photo made by yatender–the tattoos are the same.

Initially, my thought was that I favored yatender’s work but I’m not so sure that’s the case any longer. Yes, both are working in very similar veins but I think yatender is more audacious in the risks she takes as well as being decidedly on the take photos vs make photos end of the spectrum; Tran is more reserved and contemplative as well as being decidedly on the making end of the aforementioned spectrum.

Also, being that Tran’s Cacher series is focused on interrogating her identity as a lesbian and the visibility vs invisibility that comes part and parcel with that–her work resonates more with me as a fellow queer person.

Lúa OcañaUntitled selections from Don’t break series (2011)

One of Nietzsche’s most oft quoted aphorisms comes from Beyond Good and Evil:

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum
Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der
Abgrund auch in dich hinein. [He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does
not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss
also gazes into you.]

It’s the second bit about gazing into the abyss which seems to me to be applicable to Ocaña’s photos.

This was the first image of hers I stumbled upon.

The photo on the left reminds me of the stuff Sally Mann was doing between Deep South and Proud Flesh–too dark to determine whether its twilight pastoral or turgid nightmare.

Yet paired with the second photo of a bloody finger–which might have been taken by any number of internet famous photographers–any sense of sinister menace resolves into something closer to the slow ache of an unrequited longing; as if the beauty as well as desperation of existing in a desolate space transform one into something that mirrors similar beauty entwined with desperation.

Ocaña is doing revelatory work in exploring the interplay of images. (I especially admire the way she’s employing text, mixing B&W and color–something I’ve struggled with how to pull off in my own work–and so openly demonstrating her process.

But here we should return to the images with which this post opens from the series Don’t break.

My Spanish is godawful but here’s what I’ve got as far as an ultra literal translation of the artist statement:

This project is about delicate-ness; where absence, the unattainable and loneliness form the central conceptions. Nudity is de-emphasized and employed as a means of establishing an intimate, relateable frame for the work.

Each photo/diptch presents an anonymous protagonist. The relationship between photos morphs across the series and establishes a larger context given the work taken as a whole.

Assuming I got even a fraction of that right, I would deem the work highly successful.

However, heading back now in the direction of the quote with which I opened this post: I read this article recently in the NYTimes about a newly discovered ‘music center’ in the brain. I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure.

See: I’m a disciple of Wittgenstein. And one of the most salient facets of Wittgenstein’s work is the notion that contrary to the accepted Cartesian model, meaning does not derive from internal mental processes. As W. puts it: if every time I understand how to solve a problem I experience a white flash as if a light bulb is suddenly illuminated above my own head, the white flash is not ‘understanding’. I am justified in saying I understand only when I am able to correctly solve the problem.

Thus, if we say that music activates a certain area of the brain that language and aleatoric sound do not–how much further is it to test if something is music or not by strapping someone into an MRI and playing them a sample and then judging by how they react deeming music or not?

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I possess no talent for playing music–although I am more sensitive to music than any other form of art. (I’ve gotten higher off songs than I’ve ever managed with any illicit substance.) To me there’s something musical about walking through a snowy forest with no one around for miles and you can actually hear real silence for once or the way the calack-calack of trains always ends with a half-measure rest instead of the expected completion of the rhythmic expectation. Hell, right now I’m listening to Tim Hecker

Is what Ocaña does photography or collage. I’d argue it’s both. And to me that both is incredibly important.

Imagine I’m standing listening to you tell a story. You’re back is to the ocean and I’m facing you. We’re standing on a hill and the sun falling toward the ocean. And then something between your story and the orange-mauve color of the sky sets my brain on fire. I point and you turn and look. Either you’ll see it or you won’t. By the time I find the words to indicate that to which I am pointing, it’s spell on me will have ended. But by pointing there is a chance that you might catch the tail end of the same spell. That I might share it with you. That you might know too.

thebodyasconduit [Traci Matlock‘s Tumblr] – Ruby Slipper (2015)

As much as I carry on about composition as a facet of qualitatively ‘good’ photography and image making, truth told: I always favor work which presents the singular immediacy of The Moment.

For example: this depiction of a threesome is indelibly imprinted on my psyche. Is it a qualitatively good image? I’d argue it’s no more and no less important than a broad swatch of Nan Goldin’s photos. The difference is the former is fixated on the immediacy of documenting a moment, whereas Goldin is more interested in photography as an act of memorializing.

Admittedly, both are two shadows cast by the same motivation; but, in Goldin’s case there’s an implicit questioning of how perception works. Given that it’s a hop skip and a jump to an assumption that the work must function as some sort of implicit eye training–exists at least in some part as a means of instruction in or illumination of How We See ™.

And to bring it back to the actual image I’m posting: Traci has been posting a lot of work she made last month with Ruby Slipper. Really, their recent collaboration is just the cat’s fucking meow–you really should check it out.

In looking at this work, I am starting to notice the ways Matlock has matured as a photographer. As long as I’ve known of her work, she’s been better than just about anyone at tapping into the objectless transcendence of The Moment. Her compositions have similarly always been on point. Yet, what is emerging in her work is a sort of hybrid between Stephen Shore’s ability to compose a perfectly balanced frame that appears as if he snapped it off hand as a casual afterthought; or, Garry Winogrand‘s seeming accidental–but in truth, anything but–perspectives.

The work also has something to say about the role color should play in photography. I think I’ve always seen Matlock as a follower of Eggleston; this making it even more clear–afterall, Eggleston pretty much single-handedly legitimated the Art value of color.

But seeing that it makes me question such an assumption. There’s really something here interrogating the boundaries between pigment on canvas and painting with light itself. The above image reminds me of a painting–which, of course, since I’m hung over as the queen in Maida Vale, I can’t recall the painter but it’s like van Gogh and Klimt collaborated.

I’ve put this all badly but my point is simply this: good work shows you something new; great work shows you something you’ve already seen in a new and different light.

Given that metric: Matlock’s work is probably whatever comes after good merges with great.

Tomi KnoxBaby, that’s not where that goes feat. Odette Delacroix (2014)

Even if I don’t always feel Mr. Knox work, I have an affinity for his art porn with a kink-positive perspective along with a healthy leavening of BDSM. (Also the fact that he is stridently committed to analog technologies earns him mad fucking respect in my book.)

With this photo, I like the subject matter but I just don’t understand–beyond the obvious that it’s about what she’s doing with the toothbrush (which by the way, I have on good authority feels freaking amazing)–why her head needed to be decapitated by the top frame edge.

The thing I will say–to keep myself honest–is that it doesn’t bother me as much here as it typical does. And I don’t know if it’s that during the back and forth interviewing Lady Sensuality commented that Knox is one of the most kind-hearted people she’s ever met but despite the extremity of some of the things his work depicts and as much as I feel in the depth of my soul that such work needs to clearly evidence the negotiation of the performers with regards to consent and personal boundaries, looking back through Knox’s archives I’m struck by just how–and it’s dumb to say that an image feels consent-y (that’s not how consent works)–but there always seems to be a (for lack of a better word) joy imbuing the proceedings he documents.

I’d have liked this image more in a wider framing but I think it works as is. I just don’t understand why the negative seems to have been flipped. If you study other pictures of Odette Delacroix, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. 🙂

Mario ZanariaAlessia from Pianosequenza series (2011)

When I see this I think immediately of Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip(Also, his use of contact sheets.)

There’s also something maybe vaguely Cubist about it, too.

Regarding the work, Mr. Zanaria offers the following statement:

The Pianosequenza (“long take”) project came about through a reflection upon a tool that is closely associated with analog photography, something that has been almost totally forgotten, despite its crucial role in defining the history of photography as we know it.

Usually, contact sheets are used as a working tool. They are utensils needed to make an initial selection from the images captured on film, destined to be forgotten once they have fulfilled this transitory function. Although, when viewed as a whole, they narrate much broader and more complex stories than those visible in the few images chosen, these tales are known only to the photographer and to the few people involved in viewing the “contacts”.

In this sense, it could be said that they have a dual identity: they are fundamental for the photographer in choosing which images will come to life through being printed and made public. However, for those who later view those photographs, which have been selected precisely thanks to the contacts, they remain a complete mystery, or at best, an amusing curiosity.

In Pianosequenza, the roles are inverted: the individual photographs lose their original function as stand alone images, and become the building blocks of a greater whole, making them barely significant (if not indeed pointless) without each other. At the same time, the contact sheet goes from being mere container of frames to be selected, to being the central character, the essential element required for the final image to be revealed.

The end of this project is symbolically represented by portraits of some of the Masters of photography, who have grappled with this tool in the course of their careers. Here, the technique used not only refers to the sitters own work, but also highlights the complexity and wealth found in the setting of the portrait. The individual shots thus become clues, traces of a world that can only be reconstructed by viewing the contact sheet in it’s entirety.

Lastly, the title, which was inspired by the cinematographic technique of filming a scene without interruptions, editing it directly from a camera during a take. As in the cinema, here too the image is edited at the moment in which it is captured, with the frames shot according to a sequence based on the way in which the film will be cut during printing. The final image will only be successful if each single element is functional to the overall view, thus creating a sort of “Pianosequenza”.

Le sigh.

Pianosequenza translates as: ‘sequence plan.’ Due to the pre-planning and necessarily painstaking execution, the title isn’t incorrect in any denotative sense.

The connotation, however, is steeped in cinematographic tradition: Welles Touch of Evil opening, the oeuvre of Andrei Tarkovsky, Chantal Akerman, Theo Angelopolous and Bela Tarr; more recently and sadly plagued by verging-on (if-not-full-on) racist tropes: Cary Joji Fukunaga’s True Detective six-minute nail bitter.

Allowing Zanaria leeway and as far as pianosequenza go, I can’t exactly argue with the assertion that a single frame will be rendered meaningless when divorced from sequential context.

But strictly speaking it’s the replacement of one single, flickering still image with another–the illusion of seamless fluid motion that distinguishes cinema from photography.

In this work, the viewer sees everything at once. Zanaria argues that the presentation de-emphasizes the individual frames in favor of the larger context of the contact sheet whole. I can’t accept that because individual images are not as insignificant–to my eye–as insisted upon by their creator. If nothing else the overarching plan lends an artfulness to them, suggests a seeing of the foreign in the familiar.

One must also bear in mind the conceptual disconnect: pianosequenza are predicated upon a lack of interruption/absence of montage. The work is fundamentally built on montage–smaller pieces strung together to create a broader whole. Further a true pianosequenza would dictate an uncut strip of cinema film; while, the 35mm contact sheet involves at least five cuts.

Ignoring the statement, I am pretty into this work. The trouble is the statement is so overwrought, logically flawed and at a remove from how the work reads that I have to admit I am rather put off by it in the final analysis.