P magazine with kara neko : ph erica shires
styling : heather newberger
h/m : amanda wilson

Pushed with enough force, out of all the photographers who consistently blow me the hell away with their vision and craft, I’d name Erica Shires the most consistent and thoroughly exceptional contemporary photographer.

On some level it’s a result of her technical chops–from wet plates to digital she knows various processes fluently enough to use each to pristine effect.

Yet, underlying even that is the interplay between her use of color and her incisive eye for photographing women.

It’s a fact you can take to the bank: no one in the world shoots Johanna Stickland anything like Shires. There’s an unfeigned stillness, an objectless/subjectless presence in the moment–like the pause in the storm where for a split second the surface of the water appears as a darkened windowpane.

It’s taken me a while to pick up on it but virtually everyone Shires chooses to shoot, the resulting images present something entirely distinct.

Kara has commented repeatedly that no one has ever understood her quite like photographer Jonathan Waiter. (And really, you need look no further than those images to be certain of the accuracy of the statement.) Yet, in the above images there is something uncharacteristically light about Kara’s mein. Something allowing her to walk effortlessly on the tightrope between her intensely focused, fiercely sophisticated and confident modeling persona and something uncomplicated, skirting joyfulness and abutting playfulness.

I’m abstracting. Let me attempt to be concrete. Kara is elegant, statuesque and grave in so much of her work. Yet, she also clearly enjoys herself (consider this image of her with rapper El-P). In these there seems less opposition between her ‘modeling persona’ and her unselfconscious performance of identity.

There’s more I could say but I feel like I’m rambling a little like an idiot. So moving right along: there  another reason I posted this.

You know how I’m always talking about editing? Well, I wanted to illustrate what I mean.

First, given only this contact sheet which images do you think are the most effective?

Now, the answer is going to depend on a host of things. This appears to have been for an editorial. So, you’d need to consider the taste/aesthetic of the publication. I’m not privy to any of those things–I’m just going by things like composition, context and the dynamics of what the frame conveys.

The benefit here is that from the standpoint of exposure–the images are crazy uniform. (Like, seriously: my own shit is nowhere close to this consistent…) Thus you can pretty much choose to use any of the shoots.

My edit would be: Column 1 Row 4, Column 2 Row 1 & Column 3 Row 4.

Why? Well, Column 1 Row 1, Column 4 Row 3 & 4 are vertically oriented. This is one of the reasons I’m always screaming about #skinnyframebullshit–not how on the contact sheet given the orientation with which the contact sheet is presented, these shots are actually impossible to read without flipping the sheet so that it matches their orientation. (For the record I did flip them and I just don’t find these images as compelling. In the last two, it’s difficult to understand why anyone in that level of undress or not would be bending over the fence in that manner; it just seems awkward to me & while Column 1 Row 1 is a good image, it lacks the dynamism of other shots.)

Column 1 Row 2 and Column 1 Row 3 would have worked if you split the difference. The position of Kara’s arms is better in the C1R3, the position of her head is better in C1R2.

C2R2-4 increasingly diminish context and position Kara an increasingly abstracted landscape. The sense of audacity and spectacle is lessened.

C3R2 would’ve been the second best of the bunch but the hilltop house directly behind Kara’s head and the fact that even though it’s out of focus in the distance her eye line leads right into it and my eye sort of gets stuck there as a result. C3R1 and C3R3 have the same problems as C2R2-4.

C4R1 has something similar in mind to C3R2 but the less steep angle of the hillside is nowhere near as compelling. (This is the rare time I’d ever say closer is better but in this case it would’ve also blocked out that little bit of the house you can see in the background.)

C4R2 might’ve worked wider but as it is I’m not really sure what the hell is going on.

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.