Arne van der Meerthree times nothing | camera failure. (2017)

I love so much about these: the way those striations along the right most edge of each are not consistent across all three frames; the areas in the corners where there’s that light leak like effect that’s half-tin type edging, half inversion of those black spots you get on old mirrors and the way there’s something visible in the frames (almost like a cloudy x-ray or an underexposed document of trees in a forest–if you squint a little and treat it as if you’re laying on your back watching clouds drift in the sky overhead, or some sort of monster in the shadows) on either side but just darkness in the central panel.

….

In the process of packing up my life and moving away from the city where I’ve lived for ~ 15 years, there’s been a lot of soul searching.

A couple months ago, I had a dream which I haven’t been able to completely shake: I was walking through an old neighborhood, an autumnal chill in the night air. I smelled the skunk weed before I saw another person approaching me.

He was tall with long hair and a thick bristle of a goatee. He seemed oblivious to me–except for the fact that he was holding his left hand at his side and slightly behind him as we neared each other in an effort to shield it from view with his body.

With a start, I recognized where I was and who I was seeing. It was November 22nd, 2001: Thanksgiving–and the person I was seeing was me at the age of 24. Faced with the prospect of eating Thanksgiving dinner with both my mother and younger brother, I’d rolled a joint and informed everyone I was going for a walk and then proceeded to bogart it in an effort to get stoned to a level that involved at least some degree of dissociation.

I remembered the walk, remembered hiding the joint as I was watching myself doing but I didn’t remember the person I’d encountered.

As I drew closer, I realized that this was just such an opportunity as the ones I always create for myself as thought exercises: if you could give advice to your younger self, what would you tell them? (Of course, bearing in mind that them listening to you is one thing but them believing you enough to actually put stock in what you were telling them? Rather another entirely…)

I said: In 2018, you’ll be living in Brooklyn in a beautiful apartment with fantastic light, blond wood floors and lots of plants. Also: you’re a woman–the sooner you get a handle on that the easier your life will be.

He looked at me and sort of recoiled.

I woke up with the feeling that it was less dream and more of a evanescent memory.

Ludwig Wittgenstein held that understanding was impossible without the equal and opposite possibility of being misunderstood.

The advice I gave myself in my dream wasn’t actually the advice I’ve always thought to give my younger self. It’s always been some admonishment along the lines of Wittgenstein: don’t be afraid to fail because failure is the necessary first step in the quest to master anything worthy of mastering. (And for fuck’s sake: the cost of those three Polaroids with nothing on them was at least $2.50 a frame.)

It’s common sense such that pointing it out seems cliche–and cliches are easily dismissed.

For some reason all of this lead me to make an effort to empathize with myself at previous points in my life. The sort of see if I could with what I knew at any one point, have had any sort of clue where I would end up.

What I realized is not that my faculty for logic is too bereft to predict where I was heading but that frequently my expectations have a tendency to suffer from a disconcerting impoverishment of imagination–and by that I mean that where I have ended up has always been nothing like I expected but better for that fact.

Which leads me to think that the only way to really fail is through a refusal of doing.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I’m not entirely sure if this is an actual instant photograph or if it’s one of those Photoshop jobs where someone takes a Polaroid mask and overlays it against another image.

The reason I’m not entirely sure is because this acts like a Polaroid–the compressed tonal range (essentially slight overexposure on the model’s stomach, the rest of the skin tone is more mid-tone and then everything falls off to black except for the back of the couch in the upper left third of the frame and the edge of the couch on the lower right), slight chromatic aberrations at the left and right edges as well as the almost selenium-ish tone.

I’m generally not fond of work that decapitates and amputates limbs but with this there is a sense that less was intended as more. (I’m not sure it completely works from the standpoint of eschewing the problematics of depicting women nude as a coding for presenting them as sexually available but the composition is self-consciously voyeuristic enough that I suspect this was made in such a fashion to at least implicitly complicate notions of sexual availability as necessarily passive.

Genesis Breyer P-OrridgeTitle unknown (19XX)

As far as outsider art goes, it’s very difficult out outre P-Orridge.

I am hardly an expert on their (they identify as third gender and use them/their pronouns) life and work.

What I know is that if you haven’t you should absolutely know Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats. (I can’t stomach much else TG did & Psychic TV totters on the brink of intolerable.)

All that being said: they were hugely influential to artists who have had a lasting impact on me.

I am not familiar enough with all the ins and outs of their life to really comment with any kind of definite hot take. They were impossibly controversial–in word, deed and thought.

At present they are being treated for Leukemia–it’s not looking good the last I heard. (Cancer fucking sucks.) If their work meant anything to you, you might want to consider support their GoFundMe for treatment. (How in the fuck did we get to this place in history where people have to crowd source their medical treatment…)

AdeYdependency (2015)

I think it was in third grade where we learned about the five questions a good reporter always answers when relaying a story: Who? What? Where? When? And How?

This isn’t exactly a shabby mode of approaching art, come to think of it. Except, there’s perhaps a proscribed order (at least as far as visual art goes).

I suggest you start by asking: what is this, what am I looking at?

In this case, it’s a stereotypical locker room–rows of lockers on either side of a central bench running along an aisle. A woman (nude) is standing on top of the bench leaning backwards in a manner that has to be both uncomfortable and precarious as far as balance goes. A male arm extends into the frame from the lower right corner; its hand holding her face not unlike a basketball superstar slam dunking.

The lighting in the locker room indicates that it is currently unoccupied and the lighting on the interaction in the foreground has a sort of cinematic flare that is suggestive of a nightmare tableau or horror film. (I can’t look at this and not think of the penultimate scene in It Follows–where they fight the monster at an indoor pool.)

What is seen speaks to viscerality/physicality but in a fashion that is unsettling/menacing/sinister.

Now–if this we’re in hanging in a gallery–there would be some placard someone explaining that the artist’s name, the title of the piece (if there is one) when it was made, where the nationality of the artist, perhaps (I’m pretty sure he hails from Sweden). Astute galleries will address the how with notes on media (in this case medium format Polaroid), the size of the work, provenance and ownership/bibliographical information).

And here’s what I think people who think art is dumb mean when they criticize it. If you’re going to understand what you’re looking at, you often have to conduct the same operation multiple times. In this case, when you get to the title, i.e. ‘dependency’, you are forced to ask yourself what that means in the context of what you’ve already figured you’d gotten super clear about.

The first thing I think of is that dependency can indicate something suspended–like a pendulum or the Sword of Damocles hanging by a single hair from a horses tail. (The position of her head to his hand is in keeping with this reading and it further strengthens my original notion that there’s something malevolent happening here.)

The second thing that pops into my head is this woman I walked by two mornings ago. She was speaking loudly on her phone to someone and I heard her say: I’m not going to waste my time on you, ‘cause I can’t depend on your ass for nuthin’.

I think there’s a tendency to view dependence as a bad thing. But I’m a dependent upon food, water, shelter and clothing (alas, we have not yet returned to the naked idyll of Eden). I depend on my job to pay me for the work that I do so that I can trade the money I earn in order to survive and exist in the world. I–personally–am also dependent upon a steady stream of illicit substances to counter the stress of functioning somewhat normally in this completely fucked world.

In other words, there are degrees of dependency and degrees of acceptability of various forms of dependency which general relate to whether they serve society or the individual.

Yet, my gut is that the sinister tone is a projection I’m placing onto the image–and it’s a strange feeling. I’m not used to it. And when I poke at it a bit more things shift for me.

My BFF and I have been talking recently about how depression–despite being awful and numbing–is actually sometimes beneficial.  When you’re numb the generally awful stuff has a muted effect and things need to be really horrendous to register. That’s a defense mechanism, of sorts. I think this photo functions similarly.

For me it’s about the fact that her face isn’t so much held as covered–the proceedings the viewer witnesses here are reasonably anonymous. And anonymity is a concept without a point unless the one who wishes to be anonymous is likely to be seen.

It feels to me like this is–in a fumbling way–trying to get at the dichotomy wherein the voyeur watches in order to see/understand and the subject wishes to both be seen and unseen at once.

And if this is more than just pedestrian hearsay, which equivocation muddles meaning more–that of the voyeur or that of the subject?

Marcel van der VlugtPassion Flower 4 from The Women series (1999)

There are so many things I dig about this that I kind of don’t even know where to begin…

I guess since it was made using analogy processes, it’s an actual instance of photography–so maybe let’s start with light.

When you’re Dutch–and van der Vlugt is ostensibly a Dutch surname–and as such, you hail from the same rich environment that produced Rembrandt and Vermeer, then there’s a decision to make: whether you continue the tradition of illuminating your scene with light traveling from left to right (the same way the eye is inclined to move over items that are intended to be ‘read’) or whether you try a different tact.

That’s why the layout of this is so intriguing. The light and the position of the model all push left. Look at the above image. Now I want you to close your eyes but before you close them I want you to remind yourself that you’re going to pay extra close attention to the details that jump out to you based on how your eyes scan the photo. Go for it.

Now: I want you to do the same thing only with this variation of the image.

To my way of seeing, this variation is nowhere near as effective as the original. The light and push of the pose in combination with the natural inclination to read images from left to right, makes the variation very much right side dominant. You notice the sublime lighting on the back of her head, the crown of flowers, the silhouette of her lips (which is my favorite part about this) but you lose the holistic totality of the photo that the original offers. (Like in the variation, I don’t notice the is it carpet covering the top of a table or is this something that was taken in a carpeted stairwell where the model is leaning against those intolerable Dutch staircases? I like to think it’s the latter; also, the light on her back and the tonal nuance in the soft gradient of the key light on the wall behind her.)

Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)

There’s a very fine line between simplicity and knee-jerkiness.

This is a square frame. (Judging by the color and insinuation of texture in the border, I’d wager it’s Polaroid 600.)

The act of penetration is just ever so slightly above and right of center. And given most Polaroid cameras are technically TLRs.

It’s a good bet that whomever framed the image, intended to have the explicit action dead center. The discrepancy between the viewfinder and the taking lens due to parallax saves it.

Er… perhaps it doesn’t.

See: initially, I thought I liked the way that the frame is divided into implicit quarters by the L form of her legs. With more careful consideration, I’m not sure it’s such a great idea.

HOWEVER, it does work here–although it is less about the implicit parsing of the frame and more to do with the way the parsing flattens the frame.

Normally, I’m not someone for flattening the frame. But it’s interesting to note that the fellow here is almost entirely parallel to the focal plane. She’s actually every so slightly foreshortened. (It’s not obvious when you look at her abdomen but consider how her leg is straddling the crook of his hip and then trailing back away from the camera.

There are a couple of reasons this ambiguity aides the photograph. First, it draws in more context. There’s not a lot to take in and while I’m not all that big a fan of close-ups, this has the feel of a hotel room to it. But not in a way that makes you think… oh, hotel room. It’s not something you’d necessarily think of unless someone asked you directly where this scene was shot.

Also, while the subject is pornographic, there’s enough of an auspice of formality that renders the whole thing somewhat understated and demure even. (I’m thinking here of how you cannot photograph water. But you can make images of water when it is contained–in a cup, or a stream bed; or in motion, rain and you don’t show the essence of water so much as you can draw attention to certain characteristic attributes.)

The foreshortening also suggests overlap with the paintings of Caravaggio–in color and mood. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how much the remind of Gauguin’s work from Tahiti. (I can’t explain why…just look at it and I think it’ll be plain as day… I just don’t know how to say it.)

Arseni KhamzinUntitled (2013)

…holy shit: this. is. FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC!

It’s a compositional marvel, really–the interplay between line, texture and shadow vs. light is exemplary.

The subject is slightly off-center to the right of the frame; allowing the top and right of frame to be counter-balanced by the much darker shadows cast by the subject and chimney.

There’s an intoxicating variety of sumptuous texture–poured concrete, mortar, corrugated metal, skin, hair and fabric. (It’s an especially inspired touch that the lines on the tartan print blanket reiterate the two point perspective of the composition, but in their slightly imperfect alignment, they server to further direct attention toward the subject.

Why does it all work so well? Two years ago I would’ve just offered the cop out of attention to detail regarding texture and balance but actually, the frame works off a simple 45 degree clockwise re-orientation of the rule of thirds.

And I’m not even to the best part–this is a Pietà! Yes, it’s oriented differently. Traditionally, Pietà present Jesus from head to toe starting with his head at frame left and his feet towards frame right. [Can someone with a little bit more comprehensive of an Art History background explain the relevance of such positioning? I suspect there’s something to it (sacred vs profane, which would be interesting given the fundamentally humanist trappings underlying the codification of the trope)–not unlike the direction Ganesh’s trunk curls having distinctly different meanings.]

Yes, it’s also short a figure and the genders are swapped–or so it seems to me. But there’s really some fascinating reinterpretation going on surrounding the trope. I can’t help but think the point of this variation has something to do with the loneliness of existence and a sort of embodiment of that notorious line from Donnie Darko: every living creature on earth dies alone.

Lastly, this was made on Impossible Instant Black and White Film with Hard Color Frame–which in my experience is not the easiest film to use if you want to produce a thoroughly luminous result such as the above.

Stunning and exceptional.

Robert MapplethorpeSelf-portrait 1973

The Perfect Medium is a two-venue Robert Mapplethorpe ‘retrospective’ ongoing until July 31st in Los Angeles, CA.

It’s been on my radar since mid-march when I happened to read The Guardian’s review.

Admittedly, I’m kind of terrible at keeping up with all the various photography exhibitions and happenings. Yet, I’m not dense enough to miss something that makes this big of a splash.

Through a total fluke involving a rare alignment of planets in my favor I ended up in L.A. last weekend after a brutal multi-leg travel itinerary. Going off The Guardian’s advice, I wanted to make sure to catch the part of the show at LACMA.

And through circumstances completely beyond my control, I ended up seeing both exhibits.

There’s a lot that’s interesting about how that came to pass. But what’s most relevant is a conversation I had over drinks in a totally sketchy bar in Culver City the night before I saw the show at the Getty. An acquaintance of my friend in L.A. was explaining that what she–an NYC transplant–was how Mapplethorpe played the uptown art snobs off against the downtown transgressives. I got a little tetchy because one of the things I dislike about Mapplethorpe is that I feel his work steals the spotlight that I would prefer shining on folks like Peter Hujar, Arthur Tress and Stanley Stellar.

As it turns out the uptown/downtown dichotomy is actually integral to the show. The Getty half focuses on how the uptown/downtown preoccupations of Mapplethorpe shaped his artistic practice. Whereas–to me–the half of the show at LACMA seemed more interested in the broader art historical context of the endless battle between the sacred and the profane as motifs for artistic consideration.

My friend accompanied me to both parts and admitted a strong preference for the exhibit at the Getty. To her, it offered a clearer picture of Mapplethorpe–which is maybe the reason that I didn’t like it. It all seemed curated in such a fashion as to appeal to all the hipsters who read Just Kids because it was the cool thing to read.

Whereas the show at LACMA offers a more circumspect reading. You’re treated to some of Mapplethorpe’s early colleges, doodles and sculptural experiments. You get to see him struggle and not quite achieve the desired results and that’s contrasted against a preternatural ability to use photography with grace, control and a sort of aloof clarity of form that transforms photography into something that manages to be painterly only in so far it uses time, light and form in the same way a painter would use light, layered paint and brushstrokes.

Further: the show at LACMA paid special attention to Mapplethorpes obsession with perfection but also tied this in brilliant with a cross section of his high-minded as well as crass and prurient interests perhaps presented in too compartmentalized a fashion to be entirely conceptually appropriate but still interesting, nonetheless.

I was particular taken with two things. Included in one of the long text bits describing currents and movements within the work, there’s a quote about how Mapplethorpe wanted his work to be seen:

I’d like the work to be seen more in the context of all mediums of art and not just photography. I don’t like that isolation.

The other thing that impressed me was the sort of addendum added to balance out the awkwardness of the inclusion of an entire wall of Mapplethorpe’s large color floral prints–and really it’s worth the ghastly $25 entry fee just for those prints–but the final room of the exhibit contextualizes what you’ve already seen in the work of photographers who were Mapplethorpe contemporaries and shared similar considerations. It included images by Larry Clark, Nan Goldin (who as a head’s up: MoMA will be exhibiting her The Ballad of Sexual Dependency starting June 11), Arthur Tress, Peter Hujar, Kiki Smith and stunning excerpt from Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Hustlers.

photominimal:

There and Back. With Suspended in Light: Montreal / Polaroid Automatic 100 / Fuji FP3000b

I am absolutely dead-to-rights, head-over-heals for this ‘Polaroid’.

Yes, the tonal variations are effing exquisite. Note the gradual grade from right to left–reversing the convention set by Dutch Golden Age (that’s been more or less continued uninterrupted ever since).

And the light slides into the frame in such a way as to imply a right triangle. There are so many grace notes: the way the sunlight accentuates the curve of the bottle like a hand that can’t quite decide whether to lift the object or merely luxuriate in the cool press against its palm. The two plants–how they are just illuminated enough to separate them from the background, rendering them legible. The way the brightest point in the image is the echoing right angle formed by Suspended In Light’s left forearm the sink edge and the side of her top.

Oh, and the way the light from her left thigh pops against the gloaming darkness. And the second bottle to the left of the mirror with the sprig of something standing at attention. And the light on her reflected face…

Instant film stocks tend to provide an unpredictable softness of focus. It is used to masterful effect here were the paneling, sink pedastal and skin all appear to have visual texture that almost seems as if were you to touch it, it would feel like wood, porcelain and flesh.

But I think what I love most is the washing machine and dryer nudging in along the lower left edge of the frame. Not only does it balance out what would have otherwise between a frame leaning decidedly off balance to the right, the inclusion renders a greater degree of interest in the frame as a whole. There is a timelessness feel to the image but it is clearly anchored in the present.

I especially admire this image because in my own work, I am generally loathe to work indoors. I always tell myself that one day I’ll be able to afford to live in a place like the apartment in Mirror. This image serves as a reminder that even if I had that apartment, I’d still struggle to shoot in it because when you’re working in close confines, at a certain point you have to play it as it lays. I’m too much of a control freak to do that–and I think my work suffers as a result.