Hart+LëshkinaCommand to Look for Near East (2015)

Such thoughts/feels about HART+LËSHKINA;  I am at a loss as to how to even begin addressing their work.

I guess as good a starting point as any is their compelling compositions. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m hardly a proponent of vertically oriented photographs/digital images. In fact, I’m rather inclined to dismiss the vast majority of such work as #skinnyframebullshit.

HART+LËSHKINA‘s are a sterling exemplar of how to do vertically oriented framing masterfully–emphasizing an up + down over the left + right image reading default. (Also: while their vertical images absolutely stand on their own, they tend–at least with this editorial–to pair two vertical compositions as diptychs. This is a prescient strategy as far as balancing between orientation shifts but it also works to create a flow not only between images but also across the entire body of work.)

They do an insane amount with very few elements. (If you’ve ever worked in an essentially empty houses like this, you’ll know setting up rigorously staged images like these borders on impossibility.)

There’s a studied patience to everything–the way the pattern of the light passing through the windows is broken by the kneeling figure and broken again by the reflection off the open window we can’t see that is echoed by the open window we can see.

But the thing I like most is that instead of falling into the dichotomy of nudity as signifier for sexual subtext vs nudity as a natural extension of self (and when intersecting with visual representation, a means of expression thereof), this duo takes what I always feel to be the far more interesting route of poo-pooing the dichotomy and presenting it as if it’s simultaneously both and neither.

I also can’t help but think about another conversation I had recently about the pros and cons of the mass proliferation of digital. On the one hand, yes, there is absolutely merit to the notion that digital is a democratizing force. These days the obstacles to accessing a decent camera are fewer than they’ve ever been–and that’s not to discount folks the world over who are still struggling to find clean water and enough to eat. (In other words, it isn’t all about who has a camera and who doesn’t, there are ultimately other more pressing considerations.)

Yet, I don’t believe that this democratization has led to the sort of expansion in vital, important work. In fact, I think that the only real expansion is in half-assed, arrogant or just straight up bad work. And one of the fall outs from this is the expansion of a curatorial class.

As a curator (ostensibly), I have pervasive concerns about curation due to the fact that a curator’s purpose is to sift through impossibly large information reserves and then pass along the best and brightest bits. No matter how much careful consideration on the part of the curator, the resulting decisions are informed by personal bias, prejudice, etc.

On it’s own, that’s a huge problem. But then consider the fact that it’s impossible to sift through all the information and therefore every curator has enormous blind spots. For example: how long have HART+LËSHKINA been around and despite the massive overlap in what their doing and my own personal photographic preoccupations and I’m only now learning about them. (I mean: yes, they work primarily in fashion/editorial, which is decidedly not my bag, baby; still, it makes me wonder sometimes if maybe curators create more problems than they resolve.

Agnieszka Sosnowska – Nowell, Massachusetts (1991)

If you follow this blog for the artier stuff, then you are probably already familiar with Lens Culture.

They do some rad stuff: serving as the impetus for posts featuring the work of Anna Grzelewska and Kumi Oguro.

Honestly, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by their presentation of Sosnowska. By focusing solely on her work’s ‘coming to terms’ with her families immigration to Iceland, there’s this sort of O Pioneers! vibe to it that registers as coy, sentimental and over-precious.

While I was in Iceland, the boastfully named Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur, or Reykjavík Museum of Photography, had a show up called Traces of Life featuring a smattering of Sosnowska’s work.

I can’t speak to the quality of curation of the show–it seemed to lack an overarching cohesion and although explicitly preoccupied with self-portraiture, a great deal of the work was abstract in a way that beggars the question: how is this self-portraiture? (Not that most of the work on display offered much guidance on how to address such questions.)

Still, I have to qualify it as a success because I walked away with a respect for Sosnowska, I would have otherwise missed. Part of it was realizing that her work is fundamentally rooted in self-portraiture. Second, nothing available online does her images justice. She makes rich, contrasty, 3D baryta prints that are small, make stubborn demands for intimate observation and seethe with the ambiguous intention of a stumbled upon coiled serpent.

Pola Esther – Untitled Diptych from Mutual Attraction series (2012)

I saved this to my drafts a few weeks back with the intention of pulling together a short piece comparing it with the Sheer Delight editorial Robbie Fimmano shot for Interview Magazine back in March–specifically the variation circulating with the effing brilliant addition of a corresponding color palates.

Only at the moment I’m following a different thread–so I’m calling an audible and running a different direction with this.

For the last month or so, I’ve been working on a piece of fiction. I’m still unsure what form it’s going to wind up taking on but for now, let’s say it’s novel-esque.

The impetus for writing it emerged from two things:

  1. I am extremely alarmed by the increasing prevalence of the notion among many (but especially Evangelical Xtians) that despite being a decisive majority, American freedoms are under attack–you know the type of people who think unironically that being correctly labeled a bigot is somehow more damaging that you know centuries of institutional prejudice;
  2. While I try to live my life in a fashion which minimizes (if not eliminates) regret, there are times when I wonder to myself how my life might be different if I could go back and pass on a little wisdom to my younger self.

The tricky part with that second thing is I usually think I’d want to go back to myself at 19; Yet, lately I’ve realized that I was already too beaten down and cynical then. In reality, I’d probably need to go back 6 years further.

As far as the first thing goes: one of the reasons such bullshit persecution complexes rile me so easily comes as a result of having–much to my then and continued chagrin–attended a parochial high school.

Any attempt to bridge the gap between your adult self and the thirteen year-old precursor is a bizarre experience. What’s a little unnerving to me  is how much this character resembles a girl I actually knew in high school.

Her name was Beckie and she was the closest my school had to the central casting I-don’t-care-what-anyone-says-punk-rock-is-alive-and-kicking teen angst soap opera trope.

She was generally exuberant. Socially awkward but in a charming way that constantly pointed to an individual who was both extravagantly kind and shamelessly wore her heart on her sleeve.

While she wasn’t physically bullied, she was heinously body shamed. Like looking back on it now, it upsets me. She was extremely tall. If memory serves she was the tallest person in her class from 7th to 9th grade.

At my school, you had to walk between classes in a single file line. Thus frequently, you’d end up waiting in the hallway while other people emptied out of a classroom. I remember a boy walking up to Beckie, grabbing the squared neckline of her dress, pulling it out and looking down the front of her shirt and telling her that she should think about putting some band-aids on those mosquito bites. Carpenter’s dream and Pirate’s dream jokes chorused after her wherever she went. (I don’t think she actually owned a bra until 11th grade and then it was a sports bra for the sake of propriety.)

But still, she was kind to everyone.

As I’ve worked on this story, I’m actually finding that I full-blown regret that I never go to know Beckie better. I see how much we had in common then–but I had my head up my ass then. Was focused on the wrong things; things that ended up inflicting woulds that would take years to heal, if they ever did.

I see how much we have in common now: she’s a studio photographer and as much as I’m not fond of studio photography, she’s got some tight chops.

It occurs to me that even though there has always been a part of me not-so-secretly twitterpated by her, I think she’d maybe have been a better person to know than any of the people I associated with then–all of whom are decades gone at this point.

And as I’m banging my head against a wall trying to find someone to collaborate with on a photography project in Iceland this September, I realize that as strange and probably slightly creepy as it seems, the people I’ve been approaching and have largely ignored me–all have something in their work or personality that reminds me of Beckie.

That’s why I’m mentioning this here. I feel like you can look at just about any single image Esther makes and be hypnotized by it. But her diptychs have a way of returning your eye to the image with more attention and greater insight.

Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass…

Nagib El DesoukyUntitled (2014)

I don’t think those who follows this blog suffer from any sort of illusion when it comes to this author’s infallibility. Between lapses in grammar, sensibility and taste, I fuck up more often than not.

One of those fuck ups was ignoring El Desouky when he submitted several of images to me roughly two years ago.

The mistake I made–unfortunately, one I make with alarming frequency–was to judge the work based solely upon whether or not it engaged me.

That’s not put as clearly as I’d prefer. Let me employ a metaphor: craft–being a strictly mechanical process–is something anyone can be taught in such a way as to eventually allow them to achieve mastery. Passion, however, is a different story.

I’m not someone who believes that passion is something either inborn with or you’re shit out of luck. But I object to the notion of passion be something–like craft–that can be taught. It doesn’t work like that. Perhaps a better metaphor is either that of the heroes quest, or what shimmers between this wonderful list of rules for education penned by John Cage that’s making the rounds lately.

Or, to put it another way: I don’t think art teachers owe their pupils only constructive criticism. Much the way a Buddhist novice must wait outside the monastery for three days without food, water or encouragement, if one or several instances of brutal criticism are enough to cause you to foreswear a creative pursuit, then don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

All this is to say that although I still find myself put off by most of El Desouky’s B&W work (this incredible photograph being a notable exception), his tentative forays into color are fucking stunning.

I regret that I didn’t recognize El Desouky’s intense and unflagging passion sooner. And I’m calling myself out on it in a very public way, in the hopes that I learn from the mistake instead of continuing to perpetuate it.

Jakub KarwowskiUntitled from Private Maps series (2010)

It’s not obvious–at least it wasn’t to me, initially–that this is a diptych. In fact, my first thought was fuck me! what camera has that wide of an aspect ratio and how much does it cost?

Despite the A.) discrepancy in scale between left and right frame, B.) same chair in both frames and C.) the fact that the angle of the light is reversed between frames, the reason I see this as a single, extended frame is for the simple facts that 1.) light falls rapidly towards darkness as one moves away from the source and 2.) the angle of light is virtually identical between the frames.

Even looking at it now, except for the repeated chair I’m not entirely sure but what the presumably male figure in the left frame is merely standing nearer to the camera and the what is probably the same male figure–but who due to scale appears perhaps ambiguously female–in the right frame is standing at a greater remove.

It’s a damn clever trick and among an otherwise cluttered and lifeless body of work, it absolutely stands out.

[←] Source unknown – Maximiliano Patane (2013); [→] Source unknown – Title unknown (2014)

The original post features these two images (without attribution) and this accompanying quote:

“The vulgar man is always the most distinguished, for the very desire to be distinguished is vulgar.”

Gilbert K. Chesterton

Before I spent this two hours searching for the sources, I thought these were a breathtakingly fucking gorgeous (and I don’t mind admitting: arousing) photographic diptych.

Alas… although it demonstrates an image sommelier’s sense of pairing, it’s little more than an admittedly most adept effort at accomplishing the same end as a horny teenage boy ‘Photoshopping’ Emma Watson’s head onto Stoya’s body.

I’m hardly saying there’s no place for image mash-ups, adapto’s #comparative tag–for example–frequently spills over into staggering, full-in-the-face brilliance.

The difference is that adapto painstakingly cites his source material. The above can’t be bothered with such concerns, implying a rather disconcerting lack of respect.

A shame really, for–as the saying goes–what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?