[↑] Rikki Kasso – Untitled from Trouble in Paradise series (201X); [↓] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)
Harry Callahan – Eleanor (1948)
There are only a handful of photographers in the history of the medium with as roundly as exquisite a body of work over their lifetime. Callahan is absolutely one such photographer.
(In fact: if I was asked to name one photographer who one might through an especially thorough study of their work, glean the most extensive picture of photography as an art form, I’d probably insist that Callahan was the only consideration.)
My favorites are the photos he made with Eleanor and subsequently Eleanor and his daughter. But even with his minimalist landscapes and plants in the landscape–he is always magnificently attuned to nuance of light, tone and dimensionality.
I love everything about this photo. (I’ve somehow never seen it before encountering it here.) But what’s particularly revelatory about it is that silhouettes usual appear completely flat–as if someone cut out a shape in heavy cardboard and placed them between the camera and the light. (If you’re thinking of the scene in Home Alone with the cardboard Micheal Jordan cut-out… good call.)
The reason for that you’re dealing with something that is brightly backlit–thus, the object is blocking the light. The point at which the object blocking the light is the widest only has one dimension and there’s light that is blocked and light that is not blocked on either side of that object.
When I teach three point lighting to undergrads, we talk about the key light, the fill light and the back (or rim) light. The reason it has become customary to use this setup is because it a standardized approach to the stylized representation of natural lighting.
If you’re standing in the middle of a field on a sunny day–unless you’re facing into the sun (which doesn’t make for the most aesthetically appealing imagery–the sun is going to be bright on one side of you than the other. This is because the sun hits one side of you and by hitting that one side of you, it’s blocked from hitting the other side of you. (Unless you’re a ghost and then my apologies.)
The ground around you actually reflects light to a certain degree. So while one side of your face is brighter than the other, the ground helps fill it in so it’s still slightly darker but naturally and flatteringly so. (The key light is usually to left and the fill light to the right of the scene–you can do it however but as the convention is borrowed from Dutch Baroque painting, where the light almost categorically falls left to right.)
It’s the light behind you that actually gives you dimensionality. (A key light and a fill light will make the objects illuminated appear flat in exactly the same way a silhouette makes the subject presented in silhouette appear two dimensional.)
Notice how just the faintest of fills on the fingers of Eleanor’s right hand on her left arm–I’m reasonably certain that she’s is standing with her back to the camera–have dimensionality; and therefore create this strange since that she is and is not actually flat.
Tono Stano – Right-angle Flight (1985-6)
If I had to guess I’d say this frame has been inverted from its original orientation.
In other words: whereas the image appears as if the model’s legs are hanging off of something, more likely she’s laying on her back on the edge of a table with her legs in the air.
Not how the little dark edge of the table you can see in silhouette in the top left corner echoes the angle of the seem betwen the wall and the ceiling in the background behind her right foot.
Also: smart money would theorize that this filtered through a jugendstil funhouse mirror served as the impetus for the frankly ridiculous scenes from LvT’s Nymphomaniac where Seligman imagines Joe’s sexual education.
Stano would’ve been 25 when he made this. LvT was in his late 50s when making Nymphomaniac. (And that’s why everyone believes Bjork and no one believes LvT–plus if you’ve seen his films you’re automatically predisposed to believing Bjork.)
wonderlust photoworks – [top to bottom; left to right] Mx Incohate (2014); Homesick for the Distances (2015); 29:18 collaboration with Anonymous (2010); Map in the Maze collaboration with @camdamage (2015); A Dark Chant collaboration with @marissalynnla (2016); Baba Yaga collaboration with @suspendedinlight (2017); Hasp collaboration with @kyotocat (2016); Svartifoss (2015); Echo (2019); Woodland Cathedral collaboration with @marissalynnla (2016); Wombs + Tombs collaboration with @kyotocat (2016); Hold Me Now or Hold Me Never (2017); A Piece of the Sky collaboration with @suspendedinlight (2016); Coney Island, October (2016); Two Red Plastic Bags (2015); Samson’s Riddle collaboration with Kelsey Dylan (2016); Moxie (2016); Hold Me Like the Landscape Holds the Light (2017); Heart-Shaped Sunglasses + Helianthuses collaboration with Jacs Fishburne (2016); Emma collaboration with @kyotocat (2016)
Since I’ve been yammering on about it, it seemed only fair to share with the rest of the class. Above is the work I am submitting to MFA programs. (Apologies for some of the early formatting awkwardness…I had to trick Tumblr into letting me upload everything to a single post.)
The accompanying statement reads as follows:
I grew up in a Christian doomsday cult—an experience which forged a lifelong
preoccupation with the conceptual interpenetration of sin/transgression + salvation/
Storytelling figured prominently in this milieu—scads of Trojan horse fables secreting ideological payloads—but, also: beautiful, expansive conversations which were
less dialogue + more interactive sharing of stories not unlike a carefully curated anthology places various parts in implicit dialogue across the whole.
This effusive sharing sparked a strong sensitivity for wonderment which drew me
to music (something that saved me, continues to save me) + lead in turn to Johannes
Vermeer’s paintings, Andrei Tarkovsky’s oneiric long takes, William Eggleston’s impeccable dye transfers + Francesca Woodman gothic self-portraiture.
The enormity of experiencing beauty has always seemed a profound responsibility—as if in seeing there is a duty to labor in whatever way one is able to give something
back for what one have so undeservingly received.
My own art making process begins with the identification of a “visual problem” +
fits the form of a question*—e.g. How might a single, static frame imply a narrative
arc? (This question maneuvered me from cinematography to fine art photography.)
Any rendering of a person in an environment suggests narrative potential insofar
as the viewer asks who the figure is (characterization) + how she came to be in this particular scene (causation) + what she is doing there (context).
This introduces a second, more complicated conceptual problem. Given that photographing people is a minefield of political + ethical quandaries, how does one depict
identity, gender + sexuality while actively thwarting the art historical, dominant (hetero-partiarchal) gaze?
The only means I have found to ameliorate this is to conceptualize my photography as collaborative . I seek out + work with artists—sharing my questions with
them, asking each to bring their ideas + personal sensibilities to the proceedings.
When I am behind the camera, I refuse to allow myself to fixate on conceptual
considerations. Instead, I trust the preparation + planning that has led to the point of
making something. I proceed instinctively, acting less as author + more as a steward/midwife; the camera serves as a means of extending my capacity to feel outward—both
from the standpoint of sensory stimulus but also with regard to emotional resonance.
When what I see through the viewfinder feels like a response to the visual problem(s), I
snap the shutter.
My strategy for editing retraces the above steps from conceptualization to execution except in reverse order + with one notable exception: my collaborators receive “first
edit”, i.e. if they are uncomfortable with any aspect of their depiction they can opt to exclude any image(s) from further consideration—allowing for the exercise of personal
agency in expressing identity within the context of visual representation.
From what remains, I review the work with special attention to frames which
exhibit ‘good’ composition in tandem with unity between form + visual grammar. Work
which surprises me hints at subsequent avenues of exploration (whether by expanding
my understanding of one or more problems or suggesting more effective ways of addressing those problem). Time has taught me the photos which evoke a feeling similar to
what I felt when the shutter clicked are the ones that matter.
I am at a point in my life where it feels as if I am on the cusp of making a leap
forward in my work—the work is asking me to commit to it. The [REDACTED] program would allow me to dedicate myself to my work for two years—allowing me to take risks + experiment, e.g. I am fascinated by the ways my process
overlaps with conceptual + performance based modalities of art making; also: how might it possible to convey visually something of the feeling of gender dysphoria?
The [REDACTED] MFA would not only foster a richer understanding of art history,
it would also provide a in-depth interdisciplinary insight into the working practice of
cohorts + faculty in an edgy, forward thinking creative community
*Trial + error have shown me that a good question anticipates less an answer and instead suggests a better/more focused question.
Nobuyoshi Araki – Untitled (1995)
I’ve also mentioned that I think Bellmer is really kind of an important figure given our current globalized socio-political shitstorm. I suggested that it might be a good exhibition notion to do a joint retrospective of his work alongside Ana Mendieta.
The plan is–knock on wood–to dedicate two weeks of posts to using this blog to stage such an exhibition. I can’t say when just yet. It’s slow going as much of the scholarship is heavily coded in Freud’s BS. But I’m about a 1/3 of the way through preliminary research on Bellmer. And then it’ll be on to Mendieta–on whom there is far less scholarly material.
Anyway–something to keep an eye out for down the line.
Duane Michals – Take One and See Mt. Fujiyama (1976)
It’s a bit difficult to read the text giving the low-res nature of this assemblage. And since it’s a bit of a challenge to find all the individual photos (presented legibly) in one place, I went ahead and transcribed everything:
- It was a hot day. The book was dull. He was bored.
- Someone slipped an envelope under the door.
- There was something peculiar written on it. (Take one and see Mt. Fujiyama)
- Inside were some green pills. Without any hesitation he gulped down a pill.
- He felt like a balloon with it’s air being let out. Instantly he became six inches tall.
- The door squeaked behind him, as the largest woman he had ever seen entered the room.
- She grew larger as she approached his chair and began to tower over him.
- She did not to see him. He was excited by her size.
- His excitement turned to terror, when he realized that she was going to sit on his chair and on him.
- As her colossal ass descended upon him, he tried to run but was paralyzed. His tiny legs refused to move.
- He stood frozen with excitement, as the big behind settled down, closer and closer.
- She sat on him.
- Miraculously, in the darkness, he began to see the snow covered peaks of Mt. Fujiyama.
- [No text]
- [No text]
I had never seen this until this morning–it’s superbly Lynchian (even if David Lynch would’ve been in the process of struggling to get Eraserhead made at the time Michals unleased this on the world.)
I actually think that v2 is probably better because the way it reads above, the frame 6 functions like an insert shot whereas and with v2 there’s a sense that the whole thing is covered in a single master shot.