Kate SmuragaUntitled from nobody important, no one else series (2016)

Three hundred seventy-one days ago, I featured Smuraga’s work.

The photograph didn’t exactly fit the format of this project. But it felt important to include at the time.

I now feel vindicated in my insistence upon including it–and not merely due to the fact that she seems to have recently earned a LensCulture showcase.

In the intervening year and change, her work has continued to mature. I’d have guessed her trajectory would’ve involved gaining a bit of confidence and then mining her work for a more audacious/confrontational tone but she appears to have leapfrogged that phase and doubled down on a more intricately layered and increasingly contemplative approach to creation.

Yet, for all the additional complexity and nuance, the work is simpler and more welcoming while also simultaneously and seemingly improbable: discomfiting.

I’m hesitant to delve into any sort of at all involved exegesis as the recent work feels like a bit like a clever quip or joke which once explained any trace of wit is leeched out. (& since I’m sitting here accusing myself of copping out as a result of not really having anything to insightful to contribute: wave-particle duality and the almost ironic interpenetration of imperfection with the concept of beauty. All of that fits hand in glove with her overarching examination of femininity and the politics of representation, but there’s also some very meta-commentary on process that is unnervingly precocious.)

The other thing I wanted to point to is to illustrate how fundamentally important attribution/credits are for this kind of work. It’s sort of like John Berger’s famous example from Ways of Seeing about how Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows is one context, whereas labeling it as the last picture Van Gogh painted before committing suicide, is another.

The same absolutely applies here. The credits are integral to this piece for a bazillion reasons but the most salient of those are: authorship matters, if you didn’t make something and you like it there’s a duty to due diligence to try to find out who made it (anything short of that involves a level of flagrant disrespect which is rude at best and more than likely marks the credit stripping poster as a real piece of shite); in this case knowing that the author is female absolutely shifts the context of the image–what (with attribution) reads as meditation on the agency that physical embodiment allows women and how that cuts both ways in the current grossly sexist af culture shifts not only if say a cishet man made the image (regardless of authorial intention, a completely BS parameter for any sort of critical consideration, actually since communication has meaning not because words/actions/ideas point to something internally but because they occur in the stream of life and culture and as such occur in context and derive meaning from their positioning within that context), but if attribution is missing there’s not really enough context for the image to really signify anything beyond what it simply depicts. And not that it isn’t rich however you encounter it, but a lot of the things that are wonderful about it have to do with notions of gender and representation, I mean I’m pretty sure this is a self-portrait, too… Suffice it to say that without attribution, the water becomes very muddy, very quickly.

(Also as an aside: I adore those knickers. Does anyone know where I might be able to acquire ta similar pair? Thanx in advance.)

Rosie Brock – [↖] Untitled from Lily series (2015); [↗] Untitled from Bone, Flesh, Memory series (2015); [↙] Untitled from Lily series (2015); [↘] Untitled from Lily series (2015)

Two days ago, Canon released the results of a survey where 1004 people were asked about their image making. A preposterous 80% graded their skills as excellent.

There are a veritable litany of problems with the methodology of this survey. The most pertinent is asking people whose only training to be an image maker is likely owning a camera to self-critique is a little like administering a multiple choice test and instead of checking it against an answer key, instead grading the test take on how they feel they did.

Really, it’s great that we can talk about the democratization of image making. I mean these days virtually any cell phone comes with a built-in camera that is superior to any standalone device under $1000.

Further, anyone coming of age from the 70s onward, grew up immersed in a culture steeped in a preternatural awareness of the impact of lens based visual media.

If anything, one would expect given the wide availability of quality equipment and an awareness of form and function that might as well be ingrained at a cellular level, you’d expect more and better work.

The truth of the matter is: you’ve got more people with better equipment making far less inspired, interesting and urgent work now than at any time in the history of the medium.

What does this have to do with Brock? Well, their are scads of young women making work with similar, perhaps over-earnest examinations of what it is to be young, female and visible in a culture dominated by notions of male entitlement and rote sexualization of women and women’s bodies.

Some of it is very good but by and large the majority of it is poorly conceptualized, executed and presented.

Not so with Brock. Part of it, I suspect, is that she’s shooting on film–specifically with a Hasselblad 500CM. It’s not just that with the ubiquity of digital, she’s willing to blaze a more solitary trail, it’s also that there seems to be an awareness that the square format is particularly well suited to portraiture.

And that’s the other fascinating thing about the work–it borrows tropes and traditions from portraiture–but it’s as if her images manages this delicate mobile-esque structure where each part exists able to be examined both as a part and as a part of the whole; everything is in balance and the balance is what activates the photograph.

For example, Brock has a patience with light that I haven’t seen many photographers bother with. She favors illumination just slightly beyond the confines of golden hour. At 19 she possesses an impressive familiarity with both form and composition, shaming the majority of folks who’ve been doing this half their lifetimes.

She’s presenting singular, indelible images with a seeming effortlessness that I know from experience takes endless work and fearless dedication. If she continues on her current trajectory, she will almost certain be a force of goddamn nature within the next decade. Thoroughly excellent and exceptionally noteworthy.


Untitled (2012)

This image doesn’t quite work. The swath of light falling across the back and the hard shadow cast by his hair, shoulder and arched back is freaking gorgeous.

This is digital, so assuming a RAW file (which if you are shooting digital and not shooting RAW, then like why bother), there’s definitely going to be enough detail of the reflection in that globe to pull out details in order to evoke a better picture of the room (a la Escher’s famous self-portrait).

And the lighting is weird. The highlight by his left hip is probably, what 5 stops over. The pool over his right shoulder 3 stops. You’re getting bounce back from that pool onto the surface of the desk and light ostensibly reflecting off the floor is spilling around under the desk.

Further, I really don’t understand the two objects choice–compositionally an odd # of things is almost always preferable; I think the left hand that you can see curled under the right side is supposed to balance this. It doesn’t and wouldn’t even if it was more apparent. It would need to be holding something.

Thus, there either needed to be a third object, the plant needs to move from his left side to his right or that black drape behind the globe light needs to be removed. Actually, any way you slice it that black drape–although it does extend the dynamic range of the image–adds zilch to the proceedings.

Igor PjörrtDying Star (2015)

My first thought is how this is riffing on Lina Scheynius.

And I say riffing on as opposed to ripping off with intent–the distinction is the same as the difference between stealing like an artist and mere mimicry.

Where Scheynius is interested in documenting light specifically and this frequently manifests as attention to the relationship of light to her body, self-portraiture is less destination than familiar landmark along the pathway.

Pjörrt, on the other hand, seems from the outset more interested in portraiture. Light, or more correctly low-light, does figure prominently in his work–and you should seriously browse his archive because the way he uses minimal ambient light is exquisitely masterful.

The only criticism I have is the erotic works tends to diminish the formal considerations of the more cinematic images by adopting awkwardly, contrived poses. Consider this self-conscious tangle of bodies vs a more legible and evocative image which retains a sense of oddity about the mechanics of how the body’s relate to one another.

k.flightbrobdingnagian penumbra (2009)

As much as I have a preference for work where the craft is beyond on fleek, I will ALWAYS have a bias for outsider art.

Of course, it’s a very real question as to what that word even means when it pertains to image making–with all the rampant pretense, ego and misdirection that entails.

For the sake of the point I’m trying to make here: I’ll take Lynn Kasztanovics over Stephen Shore any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The thing that makes k.flight’s images so haunting and yes, wonderful, is that any ambiguities or equivocations/quibbles are removed from the proceedings. It’s clear to the viewer what the images concern–more often than not a sort of sultry sexuality as ontology of existence.

The image maker and I have spoken on several occasions and what I feel is relevant to communicate to you is that for all her seeming assurance in the work, she admits to rarely being certain what to make of any of it.

As lame and knee jerk of a connection as it is to suggest: k.flight’s work reminds me of this commercial I saw back in the late 80s. I think it was for Chevy and it was this skater looking kid walking along a beach maybe talking to the camera about how punk rock functioned as a wake up call to rock and roll, reminded it what had original made it so vital and important.

Not all her work is great, but it is all good–even when it falls flat. I can name hundreds of image makers whose work I rabidly support, but there’s only a few that excites me to the marrow of my bones–k.flight is very near the top of that list. And I sincerely hope that I’m able to collaborate with her at some future point in time.

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.