Sebastián GherrëBare, Love your-self tattoo (2018)

I really like Gherrë‘s work.

And while I love the closeness and intimacy this exudes… it’s technically a mess.

Whatever he used to edit the scan of this image is incompatible with any photo editing software I have–and I’m running at least three different ones–as far as that goes.

Interestingly: downloading the image and opening it in Photoshop results in an incompatibility error and it tells you it’ll open the file but using existing settings. The result is actually a much less muddy or murky image–but one that is admittedly flatter.

I decided to evaluate it against the zone system and illustrate that with a .gif (I’ve selected all pixels in a given zone and deleted them):

image

There’s essentially no additional detail after Zone VII.

Thus we’re left with extremely compressed shadow tonalities and mid-tones are hanging out where we’d generally still expect to be dealing with shaded tones.

The walls are effectively where we’d expect skin tones and there’s no highlight detail to speak of.

The original negative is doubtlessly underexposed. But the subsequent editing is actually an especially ill-advised strategy given that analog has greater headroom when it comes to overexposure than digital does. Digital, on the other hand, doesn’t have a true black and is better handling low light situations as a result.

From the standpoint of maximizing output results it would be advisable to compress the highlights here and try to give the shadows a little bit more breathing room.

Still… it’s an intriguing image from someone who is clearly very good at what he does.

Eikoh HosoeEmbrace#47 (1970)

Dreams, memories, the sacred–they are all alike in that they are beyond
our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can
touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the
unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has
this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How
strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of
miracles.
Yukio MishimaSpring Snow (1968)

Joan E. Biren AKA JEBMy Lover, My Feet (1978)

At first glance, this appears to be a symmetrical, center-weighted composition. However, as you look closer you begin to see that although the moulding is used as a frame within a frame device that there’s a larger margin between the right moulding and frame edge than there is on the left.

Additionally, the focal plane is closer to the wall on the left than it is on the right–indicated by the encroachment of the seam joining the wall to the ceiling that juts obliquely into the frame a third of the way from left to right. (This makes the mirror appears centered in the frame, even though it is not actually so if you take the time to measure it.)

But notice the positioning of the photographers feet as well as her lover’s body–not the angle of view puts the toes of her left foot closer to the body and the toes of her right foot (in addition to the angle of her instep being more open; also the body laying on the floor echoes that openness) conveys an awareness of the relationship between representation of space via reflection and 2D rendering.

It’s freaking ingenious. Every time I encounter a new photo JEB made I’m floored by how amazing her eye is.

Brittney MarketPrey (2017)

I have mixed feelings about Market’s work. It’s not that I don’t appreciate her erotic preoccupations and preference for analog processes frequently wed to a permeating sense of Gothic dread; it’s more that her brand is more or less Francesca Woodman 2.0.

The above is almost certainly equal parts reference/homage to this photo of Woodman’s mixed with this one and subsequently upgraded with a contemporary edge sharpened by feminist ethos.

She even prints overly dark–just like Francesca preferred.

What I didn’t realize–until this photo prompted me to dig a little–is that Market sells traditional dark room prints and they are really impressive.

As best I can tell this is from this print–the composition is off (the camera is listing 7 or 8 degrees starboard and is bowed down towards the ground, creating a sense in conjunction with the not quite symmetrical pose that the floor is tilted slightly); however by keeping the reflection of the curtains so white that the disappear against the dodged white tiles at the right frame edge and then burning in the tiles on the bottom and right so that you can see the texture in them, there’s a sense that this is a still frame from a Lynchian nightmare.

Also, I’m fairly certain that the shadows around Shelbie’s legs have been further burned in for stylistic purposes.

Saul LeiterThe Young Violinist {Young nude on bed, reflected in mirrors} (195X)

If Leiter came up in conversation, I would probably think: Leiter? Leiter… mid-century American photographer, maybe?

In other words: I know little about him or his work. So little, in fact, that I don’t know whether the photo above is more authentic than the one I first encountered:

The landscape orientation is more even handed. (There’s a better exposure balance across the frame–pay close attention to the reflection of the bedside table and the detail in the subject’s coiffure; also: the sepia-like toning contributes a nostalgic softness that resonates with the content in a flattering fashion.)

The horizontal frame is noticeably less contrast-y, however; this additional contrast contributes to the skinny frame both a sense of solidity and dramatic immediacy.

Which variation is more effective?–Well, I’m going to surprise myself by bucking my own generaized antipathy towards #skinnyframebullshit and side with the the vertical orientation.

Why?

I think it’s better to start off with the fact that we are accustomed to conceptualizing the orientation of a frame in terms of portrait (vertical) vs landscape (horizontal). Usually, one of my objections to this is that it suggests too much of a paint by numbers approach to composition. What is the photographer/image maker trying to depict? Grace Hartzel? Portrait orientation. A scene in nature? Landscape.

It’s not that it’s bad advice, necessarily. It’s that it begins from an unconsidered assumption–and thus the basis of the composition is taken as given. (Also: considering that as far as I can tell the portrait vs. landscape dichotomy is largely a function of standardizing output that is then retroactively applied to the creation of the photo or image.

I think it’s better to make a decision with regard to orientation based organically on the scene at hand and what of it you want the viewer to see (and subsequently how you want an audience to see what you are showing them).

A vertical or portrait orientation is naturally predisposed to drawing the eye of the viewer up and down over the frame; whereas, a landscape or horizontal framing creates a side to side visual flow. (I haven’t actually tested this theory but I suspect that if you were to divide art history into works that are explicitly spiritual vs work that is secular. The former would favor vertical orientation and the latter would favor horizontal orientation by–I would guess–at least a 3:1 ratio (e.g. if x is the number of spiritual works that are vertical and y is the number of spiritual works that are horizontal, then X:Y).

In this case the sepia horizontal frame does a better job of moving the eye over the work. Unfortunately–and this is another of the issues I normally associate with #skinnyframebullshit: there’s a self-consciousness with regard to the composition. Like, yes–the eye does move over it better but in scanning it you are faced with questions of what sort of gravity is acting on this scene? Oh, wait: the photographer is fucking with perspective. OK, but to what end? And that’s where a common sense question begins to lead you down a path away from anything suggested by the work itself.

Additionally, the less-contrast-y sepia version doesn’t clarify anything pertaining to what is too close in the foreground to be in sharp focus. My eye tracks right and gets trapped in the mirror frame in the horizontal version.

The vertical version opens that up a bit and because my eye enters the frame from left to right and then drops, I find myself scanning the image up and down across the entirety of the composition instead of getting stuck on one facet.

Lastly, I feel it’s relevant to add–I am more than passingly irked by the use of ‘young’ in the title. I get that it’s a clever way of echoing the two reflections in the frame–reflections which are in themselves already doublings. It reminds me of the way that men tend to refer to women they find attractive as ‘girls’. I’m of a mind that when men do this it is always a red flag. But I’m especially attuned to this because I watched Hannah Gadby’s Nanette last week and it shook me. I suspect if you were to watch it and come back to this photo, you’d have a pretty good idea what I’m trying to get at. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to articulate it yet so you’ll have to accept my inarticulate pointing for now.

Jane ChardietPharmakon’s Contact album cover art (2017)

The most successful photos–at least for me–are ones that inspire questions which photo refuses to answer.

Before seeing this, I had no idea who/what Pharmakon was. As it turns out it’s Margaret Chardiet’s NYC based harsh noise act. (I have heard of Chardiet’s Red Light District art collective, however.)

Margaret is the face in the middle of a sea of hands above.

The photo was taken by her sister Jane. In fact, all the Pharmakon albums feature Jane’s cover art. (I dig them all but Abandon is beyond exceptional.)

I am not sure I’ve ever divulged this before on here but music may be the single most important aspect in my life. I’ve gotten higher off music than I have off of any drug I’ve ever taken–and I’ve done a goddamn fucking shit tonne of drugs.

Of course, I popped over to Pharmakon’s Bandcamp page. (Cannabis edibles and Bandcamp are respectively first and second as far as things that have demonstrably improved my life.)

Contact is reminiscent of a lot of the uniformly exceptional work The Body has been releasing.  (It’s also similar in concept to one of last year’s best metal offerings: Ragana’s You Take Nothing.)

Joel-Peter Witkin – [↑] Poussin in Hell (1999); [←] Anna Akmatova (1998); [+] Nude with a Mask, LA (1988); [→] Still Life, Marseilles (1992) [↙] Glassman (1994); [↘] Naked Follow the Naked Christ, NYC (2006); [↓] Arm Fuck, NYC (1982)

I was in my final year as an undergraduate in an advanced philosophy course when I made a terrible mistake. I used the word ‘tautology’ in the context of something that was axiomatic instead of something that was redundant. Folks looked at me strangely and finally another classmate asked rhetorically whether or not I was aware that I had clearly no idea what a tautology was.

Joel-Peter Witkin is similar. For whatever reason: I’ve always associated him with Jerry Uelsmann’s seamless multiple negative fantasy landscapes.

But Witkin doesn’t really have anything in common with Uelsmann. He works with a single frame–frequently scratching the emulsion, obscuring his negatives with tissue paper when printing, defacing the film and smearing chemicals and lord knows what all else everywhere. He’s a bit like Bosch with a camera. He has a ridiculous familiarity with art history. (The proper way to introduce his work to me would’ve been to say: you know how much you love Mark Romanek’s work on // | /’s Closer video? Well, Romanek stole whole cloth, half of the visuals in that video from Witkin.)

Once I realized my mistake I dug into his work. There’s a lot of fine lines in his work–not just scratched into the negatives but conceptually. He’s a devout Catholic; also: a left-of-center Democrat. There’s a lot going on in the majority of his frames. Personally, I think that 65% of his stuff is overwrought to the point of sensory overload. When it works it’s unrivaled–a la Poussin in Hell. Mostly I prefer his less busy, more balanced compositions.

35% of his work is either too masterful or too audacious to ignore. (I’m not exactly on board with his politics and he’s not done a very good job of being sensitive to the marginalized communities he likes to depict.) And really there’s a lot of shit with his work that is not easily defensible. He’s borrowed Rhesus monkeys from animal testing labs to feature in questionable contexts within his work. (One of his most notorious photos straight up implies bestiality.)

Feeling stifled by the rules in the US against such thing, he spent time in Mexico during the early 90s photographing corpses. His exquisite Glassman was the pinnacle of that work. (I read this story before I ever say the photo, so I was never even a little put off by the work. I just think it’s brilliant.)

He’s certainly not the first artist to fixate upon cadavers. da Vinci gained a great deal of his anatomical acumen by dissecting human corpses. Then there’s Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes–which has always struck me as antipathic through and through. As well as the work Sally Mann did on her Body Farm series.

There are oodles of problematics and objections that can be pointed at Witkin’s work. I think a lot of that has been overlooked because the work has been seen as too irrevocably unpleasant. (A lot of the criticism of his work during the late 80s and early 90s involved objections along the lines that Art is meant to instruct and edify, whereas Witkin’s work vacillates between fomenting revulsion and focusing on visions of disquiet, alienation and brutality.

Perhaps he was merely 25 years ahead of the curve because this stuff feels of a piece with a lot of edgy, emerging internet art. I’m really sort of hoping this post will take off–in spite of my heavy handed prose.

Douglas D. PrinceAdel and the Lightning from Multi-Negative Silver Prints series (1972)

I’ve featured a .gif made from Prince’s photos of Francesca Woodman in her studio on here several years ago. (At the time, I did not know that it was his work.)

The photo above is from a series produced by way of compositing multiple frames into a single, seamless print–not unlike the M.O. of Jerry Uelsmann.

However, where Uelsmann works in a vein to create an immersive sci-fi/fantasy surreal vision, Prince is much more interested in creating work that is surreal only in it’s clarity, in it’s this-could-be-something-that-happened-in-the-world-under-exactly-these-circumstances-except-those-circumstances-weren’t-ready-to-hand-so-the-liberty-was-taken-of-creating-the-envisioned-scenario-via-photomontage. (In that way, Prince is actually closer to Minkkinen than Uelsmann.)

Also, there are at least two other famous photographs that seem to refer back to Prince’s multiple negative series. The lightning in the above is more than a little reminiscent of this photo by Mark Steinmetz. Also, another of the photos in the multiple negative series seems like a harbinger for Jeff Wall‘s The Flooded Grave.