wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @kattruffautPersonae obscura (2017)

The process for this was: It was the strangest week in L.A. it rained every day I was there. It had cleared up a bit but not enough to keep us from losing the light early.

I love working with Kathleen, so we kept things going trying to do the best we could with truly deplorable lighting.

This was the last thing we did. It was just an notion: a figure behind the glass casting a shadow–I’d been thinking about the opening to the Pang Brothers’ The Eye (it’s extremely well done).

My film was massively underexposed. You could only see the vaguest hint of separation between three frames. I thought about just using the one with Kathleen pushing against the glass but it seemed underwhelming being just a minimal element amidst a sea of inky black.

The inspiration for these shots had been something moving–so I thought maybe that’s what I’m missing. (Also, I’m interested in a lot of what

I’m really piss poor when it comes to Photoshop. @jacsfishburne pointed me in the right direction and I was able to put this together. It’s the best I can do right now. And that’s probably a good thing because I see it as sort of in the same vein as Inside Flesh; I wanted it to appear interlaced and glowy. But that’s a couple instances of glitching pretty much an exact quote from them, and why would I do that. This can be better. It was an exercise. Still kinda better than I thought I’d be able to do–and that’s the secret (the longer you do it the better you get at it.)

Ken SchlesUntitled from Night Walk series (198X)

This is a fan-fucking-tastic photo for dozen of reasons.The eye scans the frame left to right, following the crossbar over the stall doors. The stall divider plunges sharply, emphasizing the door as obstruction–this is actually crucial to the legibility of the scene (for example: if the door was open a bit wider it would seem that the woman was looking either at the back of the door or along the back of the door toward the camera, drawing attention away from her and towards the scene space between her and the camera; any less of the stall door and it wouldn’t read as easily as a stall door, just as some sort of shadowy occlusions).

The Dutch tilt imposes a dimensionality that a perfectly level and balanced frame wouldn’t have permitted. Also, it forces the viewer to do some of the work w/r/t organizing shapes. Note: how the stall divider, out of focus stall door edge in the foreground and the back corner divide up the picture plane; how this is also echoed with the horizontals, the upper stall cross bar and the top corner of the door.

All that is further augmented by the use of light. There’s a truncation of mid-tones… perhaps two zones mostly centered on the walls, her arm hooked over the cross bar and her left breast. The nuance in tone in the highlights and shadows is crazy. A less talented photographer would’ve taken a stylistic approach, much how a painter layers on paint to create the illusion of three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional representation.

Schles goes a different route. light falling like a drape over the scene. It’s not just more realistic, it adds a numinous immediacy to the scene.

The balance between light and dark is extremely astute, also. I can’t think of another image maker–okay, maybe Uta Barth… but I digress who could so aggressively chop of their frame up into three distinct sectors, while keeping everything organically interrelated and holistic. In the parlance of the Corleone’s: the composition is the offer and the lighting is what renders the offer impossible to refuse.

Not white of the toilet paper, adjacent to the darkest portion of the frame, the porcelain white of the left side of the woman’s face and how despite how the rivulet of deep black that is the door edge in the foreground, the blur caused by it being too close to the lens to allow for sharp focus, creates a similar burnt in sort of hazing similar to the transition from the toilet paper to the aforementioned lower shadowed blot. The way the shadow from her hand over the upper crossbar bleeds outward, not merely in how it would be case but also tying the triangle in the upper right corner seamlessly back into the whole.

Then there’s her inscrutable expression, and why the fuck is she naked and drenched–is her hair wet and dripping, is she sweating? The answer remains eternally unclear.

Karel Temny**** (2015)

There is something curious about Temny’s work.

Skimming through it’s easy to latch onto an essential Russian-ness to his aesthetic; from there, to pick apart various apparent influences, & etc.

Such actions ultimately impune the images as both derivative and internally redundant.

However, there are some interesting things to be gleaned if you squint a bit and think outside the box. In other words: Temny does literally thousands of things wrong but at the very least he does them consistently–and in that consistency there is something not unlike a recalcitrant artfulness.

To start with: the above is a shining example of #skinnyframebullshit. The vertical orientation serves no other purpose other than to–given a tight space–include as much of the young woman’s body as possible; even though the frame runs contrary to the logic of the lines of the door and oblique angle of the light which push the eye leftward. (The way the lower frame edge amputates the bottom third of her right food and her left leg mid-calf is also unappealing. Also, a wider frame would’ve diminished the distraction of light falling from a window onto the floor that can be seen in the background between her face and the edge of the door.)

Yet, in this botching of composition, there is something instinctive that should be celebrated. Given this scene the light is hardly ideal. Given the bright spot on the door and the reflected spill onto the floor, this image was made at or very near to mid-day.

A ‘better’ image maker would’ve waited for more diffuse illumination but there is something to be said for the way the light accentuates the texture of the flaking paint on the door, the pattern of tile floor (further enhanced by the fact that the hyper focal point of the image is actually mid-way between the model and the floor), and the arabesques of her sandals.

Also, the pose doesn’t work. Her upper body seems transfixed on something playing out just beyond the edge of the frame; whereas her knees press together in a slightly demure self-consciousness. (Contrast with these MetArt images of Brionie W or this still of Laney from an Abby Winters masturbation video; both are made with a voyeur clearly in mind but although stylized they present a realistic unself-consciousness that is designed to de-emphasize the voyeuristic imperative.)

There is at least one other thing of interest to note–despite the inherent Russian-ness of the image, there’s also a way in which the muddy mid-tones invoke a Francesca Woodman-esque tone; a tone that neither exactly fits nor doesn’t fit the image but strikes me as intentional. If so, whether or not it work, it’s an audacious inclusion and I hope Temny is better able to address the extensive technical flaws with his work because I get the feeling he’s got some truly bad ass ideas he just hasn’t quite figured out how to accomplish yet.

Loreal PrystajUntitled from Byrdcliffe series (2014)

There’s a fucking shit ton of image makers producing work with a sort of super high contrast, post-urban decay nightmarish feel.

Unfortunately, as appealing as any one of those facets are in and of themselves, taken together they almost always signify shitty work attempting to glorify style over content.

Prystaj appears to have discovered a means of making what should be an archetypal aesthetic and fuses it with a rigorously formal approach to composition.

Consider the above: the position of the subject is utterly perfect–curves balanced against the rectilinearity of the room and an awareness of the weight and ghost-like forms of shadow and light.

Normally, I’d be inclined to dock points for the 2-3 degree up tilt of the camera. A lesser image maker would’ve down this as a new jerk way of goosing the viewer into attributing a greater dynamic fluidity to the upward stretch/downward pull of the model. However, note how the tilt actually pulls additional angular symmetry between the light pouring into the room via the doorway and windows, the angle of the open door and most importantly the way the spill bouncing off the curtains and rising up towards the unseen ceiling echoes the angle of the falling direct light.

Hisaji HaraA Study of The Room (2009)

In 1949, Albert Camus provided an introductory essay for an exhibition of paintings by his friend, enigmatic Polish-French artist Balthus. “We do not know how to see reality,” wrote Camus of Balthus’s strange and sometimes sexually suggestive paintings of adolescent girls, “and all the disturbing things our apartments, our loved ones and our streets conceal.”

Balthus, who died in 2001, aged 92, made paintings that managed to be both naive and slightly sinister, and his precise figurative style only emphasises the general air of dark fairytale mystery in his paintings, the hidden disturbing things that Camus picked up on. Balthus said that he painted little girls because “women, even my own daughter, belong to the present world, to fashion”. He was aiming, he said, for the timeless quality that Poussin’s paintings possessed.

Balthus’s studies of girls in often stilted poses are certainly timeless in their strangeness, their evocation of a pre-adult world of dark childhood reverie. Now, Japanese photographer Hisaji Hara has made a series of images that meticulously recreate some of Balthus’s most famous paintings. Made between 2006 and 2011, they are beautiful in a quiet way, and give off not so much a sense of timelessness as of time stilled. Interestingly, given that they are photographs of a real young girl, they do not exude the same sinister suggestiveness of the originals. (Hara has, perhaps wisely, chosen not to recreate Balthus’s most wilfully shocking painting, The Guitar Lesson, in which an older woman seems to be playing a young girl, who is naked below the waist, like an instrument.)

Hara, like Balthus, would seem to be an obsessive, so familiar and painstakingly composed are his photographs. On closer inspection, though, all is not what it seems. Shooting in black and white, Hara has created a world that nods to Balthus, but does not attempt to recreate the slightly surreal oddness of the originals. Instead, the photographs often look like stills from a lost Japanese formalist film in which the characters exist in a netherworld between waking and dreaming.

The actual setting for the interiors is a Japanese medical clinic Hara discovered. It had been built in 1912, but had remained unused and untouched since its closure in 1960. The furniture and found props all suggest an earlier time in Japan’s history, and the recreated tableaux a harking back to childhood, or, more precisely, to the period between childhood and adulthood.

In one photograph, “A Study of ‘The Passage du Commerce-Saint-André’”, the girl stands in a leafy garden lost in thought, while a young man, possibly in uniform, strides purposefully away. Everything about the photograph is painterly, from its composition to the soft light and shadows and the blurry leafiness of the trees. There is a strangeness here, too, but it is not the strangeness of a Balthus painting, rather the heightened formality and unrealness of a staged photograph. And even in the most instantly recognisable compositions – the young woman at her most languorously suggestive, gazing into a mirror or draped on a chair before a window – the dark suggestiveness of the paintings is replaced by something else, a mood that is altogether less provocative and, at times, almost serene in its calmness.

Part of this is undoubtedly to do with Hara’s technique, his craft and patience as a photographer of staged tableaux. In an age of digital post-production manipulation, he prefers to use more old-fashioned, labour-intensive methods, including multiple exposures and the use of a huge smoke machine to create the opaque quality that many of his prints possess. In some photographs you can see the slight blurring between one exposure and the next, usually when he has placed the girl in two different positions in the photograph. The blur, like the opaqueness, only adds to the otherworldly atmosphere of the prints.

For the technically minded, Hara made a huge box to surround his large-format camera so that he could mask part of the picture, then shot multiple exposures while shifting the focus. He also built the table that appears in the pictures and hand-painted the tablecloth to achieve an unreal perspective in which the lines and squares do not converge as they recede into the background. One photograph, simply called “A Study of Oil On Canvas”, even replicates the yellowish tone of the original half-finished work. As I say, this is a distinctly obsessive imagination at work.

What, though, does it all add up to? These photographs work for me not because they are postmodern nods to Balthus but because they relocate his world to a Japanese setting and, in doing so, reimagine the atmosphere of his paintings. They are also beautiful photographs in and of themselves. In one entitled “A Study of ‘The King of Cats’”, which is based on a Balthus self-portrait, Hisaji Hara stares calmly and enigmatically out at the viewer from his own photograph. He is wearing a suit that looks like a uniform and a hat that could belong to a train driver or a soldier. His expression is blank, unreadable. The pose and the props are all Balthus, but the photograph has a life all its own. This is Hara’s great gift: to imbue the familiar with new meaning, new mystery and a new form of strange beauty. Balthus, one suspects, would have approved.

(via Sean O’Hagan/theguardian)