Jordi Gual – Untitled (200X)

I have posted one of Gual’s photos before. I’d link to it except after Tumblr’s NSFW schism, Google searches are no help in tracking down previous comment anymore. (And they were never exactly steller, if we’re honest.)

It doesn’t much matter. The post–as I recall–was not able to provide attribution for this photo. At the time, I posted it because I admired the subject’s fashion sense (being similar to my own with an emphasis on comfort and sumptuously soft textures).

I still love the photo. In fact, it’s grown on me since I last saw it.

Now, as I’m re-encountering it in the context of proper attribution I’m a little unnerved at how prescient my reaction was to the work.

See: Jordi Gual is an analog photographer born, raised and residing in Spain. His work focuses on his family–his wife and his two daughters, predominantly.

His oldest daughter, Natalia, was born blind. She is the subject of the photo I posted previously and it appears to be she who is the focus of the upper five photos here.

Beyond traces of his work work that are still floating around the digital aether, he doesn’t seem to have an online presence. That’s unfortunate. He’s not as technically accomplished as someone like say Patricio Suraez; and he’s no more effective at creating moody portraits than some pretentious jack ass hipster shooting in B&W because it’s ‘artsier’; however, what he does have in goddamn spades is a preternatural knack for facilitating unsettled tension.

What little is left of his work on-line sports all sorts of folks imposing their reactions to the work as it’s impetus–oh, it’s ‘sinister’, ‘disturbing’ or ‘sad’. I–for one–reject such facile efforts to pin the work under the viewers finger.

Even I referred to the work as ‘unsettled’ but that was an effort not to project my own view onto the work merely point to the thing about it which I think is crucial and absolutely vital in a way that few things being made these days have even the vaguest ability to imagine in their wildest dreamings: Gual feels like a madman architect who builds ornate structures on shifting sands. He’s studied the sands enough to know that what he builds will stand the test of time but acknowledges that the shape can be–ultimately–maleable beyond his control. In effect, he is walling off an sort of dialogue the viewer can have with any sort of notion of the image being a decisive moment; instead, the viewer is given a moment that is unknowable with regards to any definitive resolution.

I don’t know really know how to say it any better than that but if you understand what I’m pointing toward and squint a bit, you’ll likely start to discern the outline. Even if you don’t, this is some extremely next level shit right here. I hope this guy is still shooting because the B&W stuff of his that you can still find is exquisite and his color work (1 & 2) is also fucking stunning.

Berlin Rain – [↖] L1001433 (2016); [↗] a berlin portrait (2016); [↙] L1010211 (2016); [↘] L1001387 (2016)

Garry Winogrand famously claimed that the reason he was a photographer was that he “[had] a burning desire to see what things look like photographed by [him].”

Regardless of what you think of Winogrand–I’m on the record as holding a dim view of his work–it was (if nothing else) distinctive.

I sometimes wonder if Winogrand was the last person who could get away with making such a claim. I mean during the prime of his career, everyone was/everywhere was inundated with lens based visual media. Even if everyone didn’t necessarily have a camera, they were familiar enough with them that if push came to shove they could be handed a camera and have a notion of how to use it–if only in the most most rudimentary fashion.

And while I absolutely agree with the notion that the way visual space is parsed through composing a frame might as well be as distinctive as a thumb print, I don’t think anyone is invested in knowing what a picture looks like that they’ve taken.

It occurs to me that instead, folks have an idea in mind of what they want a picture to look like and image making is the process of squaring what’s in one’s head with what the emulsion/pixels show.

I think it’s rather obvious that the image maker who calls himself Berlin Rain is heavily indebted to both Alexander Bergström and @mrchill; he borrows Bergström‘s diffuse lighting and watery color and the tone with which those he captures make eye contact with the lens is v. much in keeping with Chill’s more straight portraiture stuff.

But what I find interesting about the Berlin Rain is the way the work feels almost self-consciously photographic. Like I think, generally speaking, that most people today embrace photography/image making as a means to an end. Like there’s a pathological drive to document, to remember, to use the visual as a means of interrogating the conceptual/philosophical, as a means of bearing witness, etc.

Berlin Rain seems to have his finger on the pulse of the notion of what it means to see in images. To reintroduce the previous notion of making images as a means of bridging the distance between the vision in someone’s head and the light that reaches the emulsion/is translated into pixels, Berlin Rain strikes me as someone who is interested in what makes an image read as self-consciously aware of it’s position as an image.

Now, although he’s clearly a good editor, not all the work is good. He tends to work in a very circumscribed space. But the results are surprisingly well realized. Definitely worth spending some time exploring in depth.

Anna CladoniaVarious Portraits* (2010-2015)

I’ve been thinking about Emily Dickinson a lot lately.

Not due to any connection between It Sifts From Leaden Sieves and the fact it’s snowing balls outside right now. (Although I am hardly oblivious to the synchronicity.)

But, on that note, why do we teach Dickinson to middle schoolers by introducing them to the myriad complexities and nearly infinite scope of her work via the aforementioned poem and A Narrow Fellow in the Grass? It’s no wonder I hated her work until I revisited it in my twenties and immediately fell in love with the work and the incredible woman who made it. (Seriously: the think-question you tend to get asked on first dates about what person living or dead you’d most want to have dinner with, yeah… Emily Dickinson all the way. Even if I have grown to strongly prefer Bishop’s body of work.)

I promise… this seemingly self-indulgent ramble does relate to Cladonia’s devastating photographs–bear with me a bit longer.

My objection to the way Dickinson tends to be taught is that it tends to emphasize the allegorical (nature imagery) over the more metaphorical work. You’d do much better to start with the exquisite, goth-before-goth-was-a-scene I Felt a Funeral in my Brain… Couple that with the fact that the window to Dickinson’s bedroom overlooked a cemetery and even twelve year-old’s can easily grasp the incisive eye which uses words to describe the landscape of a morbid imagination.

However, once you dig into Dickinson–I mean really dig in–one line of hers takes on profound resonance: “my business is circumference.”

It’s an odd claim–especially from a woman who never traveled further than a day away from the house in which she was born. Yet, the acuity of her perception and her openness to the world and experiences in her immediate surroundings taught her in a fashion not unlike that of a storied traveler.

Cladonia exhibits a similarly circumscribed scope. Her photos are ostensibly portraits–largely shot in ramshackle Moscow apartments. But within those narrow parameters there’s evidence of an encyclopedic familiarity with the history of photography.

Beyond the essential Russian-ness of her work, the astute viewer can easily recognize winking references to virtually every Russian image maker I’ve ever posted on this blog–but especially to Igor Mukhin and Evgeny Mokhorev.

But there’s also grace notes from David Hamilton and Duane Michals.

Having and wearing your influences on your shirt sleeve doesn’t necessarily make for good work, unfortunately. But what Cladonia manages is less homage than a point of loving departure–she takes a great idea that resonates strongly with her and makes it her own.

In and of itself–that’s the mark of a truly great photographer. But there’s also the way she embraces and eschews obtrusive image grain, her spare and gorgeous use of autochrome-esque color (I + II). And that’s not even getting into her revelatorily explicit handling of masturbation and sexual expression.