Jack WelpottSherry (1980)

I featured a couple of interesting photos from Welpott a little more than a year ago.

The way his focal plane tilts ever so slightly forward–not sure if this is to emphasize the floor or was an effort to subconscious facilitate a behavior in the viewer or to convey a sense of psychological superiority to what he was depicting but I can’t say I’m fond of this unconscious tick.

Still: there’s no arguing that he was a master at presenting space as if it pre-ordered by some cosmic pattern instead of carefully constructed by the artist.

There’s something about scale with this image. Sherry looks improbably large in that bench. At first glance it seems like she might be floating because the bench is so deeply set into the shadows.

Also, this sort of lighting situation is realy difficult to handle. Stop down too much and you lose any of the interior details, open up and you get wicked over exposure. (Metering your highlight and then your shadow and splitting the difference usually works OK for exterior stuff. And admittedly B&W gives you even greater over to under range. This was carefully finessed. I’m not sure whether there was some sort of additional light source–whether some sort of flash unit filtering in just a touch of spill, or if there’s some sort of reflector out side the house bouncing light in, if things were shot with heavy bracketing–it’s  a real pain in the arse to do but you’ll never regret having done it when you’re editing; or, if it’s split graded when it was printed. (Although I was pretty great at split grading and this looks a little too seamless.)

It also reminds me of something I was asked for when I tried to apply to a filmmaking program after finishing my undergrad stint. They wanted my reel to contain at least one instance where I had an interior shot with a window and you could see through the window in such a way that you could make out both what was outside and what was inside. (It’s actually a fun little challenge, if you’re ever bored.)

Mariela AngelaPear Tarts, Melbourne, Australia (2014)

I have this irritating habit of becoming obsessed to the point of hysteria with certain photos/image and/or photographers/image makers. Above is the latest in a long line.

It started off with Kim Eliot Fung. Continued when I stumbled onto Lynn Kazstanovics’ brillaint work. Again, same with Mathilda Eberhard– seriously tho, if any of you knows Mathilda or could pass a message to her from me, please get in touch. See also: k.flight, Alison Barnes and Sannah Kvist. (I have reason to believe that Mathilda and Sannah are acquainted. But again, I’ve contacted Sannah twice with no response and so anything further seems a bit too close to harassment.)

Anyway, I’ve actually interacted with half of these people. Lynn and I are friends. Kim and k.flight were much more cagey. I both cases part of my interest in them was the way their work seemed to spring fully formed from an internet persona that was almost wraith like in it’s enigmatic as it’s presence as an exercise in absence. Like I still don’t have the first fucking clue who either Kim or k.flight are and I’ve met Kim in person once and k.flight and I were planning to collaborate on something.

The point of all the preamble is that I know absolutely nothing about Mariela Angela except that the above image was made with the camera on a mobile phone. (I know. I’m with you but it’s legit.)

She won an award the previous year for a photo called The Waitress Viola. Again, made with a mobile device and staggeringly well thought out and executed.

She has an Instagram, but it’s private. (Also: fuck Instagram.) Still, if anyone knows more about her and her work, I’d be over-the-moon for more info. The two images I’ve seen of hers are fucking exceptional.

Erwin OlafReclining Nude No. 6 from Skin Deep series (2015)

By all accounts, Olaf shouldn’t be someone I dig as much as I do. He works primarily in fashion & commercial photography–not typically my thing.

His sense of lighting, however, is always so damn inspired and well-executed.

But the Skin Deep series appeals to me more than his other work. First off, because I’ve found that there is something deeply satisfying about any work of art that is so pared down to its most essential elements, that you look at it and think: this is simple enough that this really could’ve been made by an especially studious begging photography student–which is not the same thing as saying it looks like student work. (For example: I’ll watch anything Kelly Reichardt puts her name on. And while I certainly can’t say I’m in love with all of her films, I do adore Wendy and Lucy and of her film it is absolutely one that any student with access to equipment could have made themselves.)

Yes, with Skin Deep, Olaf most likely had a crew of designers and set decorators and assistants. People to do the heavy lifting for him so he can focus on the nitty gritty details of getting the shot.

But this shot in particular is something just about anyone could have made. Yes, Olaf likely hand picked the floor, the paneling and the wall paper. But if you break it down to it’s component parts, it’s an interestingly textured floor, two boxes, crates and a single over head light up and over (giving the sense of a circular pool of light) but angled slightly to provide separation between the left edge of the model’s body at the darking background. (There’s almost certainly a flag blocking spill to her immediate left, too.)

The exposure is perfectly suited to accentuating even skin tone and to make the bra pop.

But there’s something else about Skin Deep that is v. very on-point: Olaf is gay. The project includes both male nudes and female nudes–in equal measure. And it’s clear from not only the rest of his body of work but these works that he’s more enticed by the physical embodiment by his male models. But fucking-A, he’s the only one I can think of who makes an effort to provide a cross section of variously gendered attractive bodies in his work.

And really, I can only think of a few photographers that routinely make work that is this sexy about folks they aren’t attracted to personally.

Donatas ZazirskasUntitled (2016)

It occurs to me that one of the things which hinders the teaching/creation of art is placing too much of an emphasis on originality.

I am honestly not sure where I personally fall on the whole spectrum of innovation is still possible vs it’s all already been done; however, I do know that focusing on whether or not something is original is just about the quickest death that the momentum of doing can die.

Consider Zazirskas–who favors either highly, manicured, even lighting design which restricts most of the tonal range in his scenes to Zones IV through X (a la this, also this) or a darker, moodier chiaroscuro where there’s very bright light, truncated mid-tones and very dark portions of the frame (as above).

Unfortunately, his work rarely fires on all cylinders. (And I do not mean for that to be a dismissal; I think he just needs to keep working, pick one tendencies and explore it instead of trying to embrace and enact three very different approaches to scene setting.

I don’t think this is an especially original picture. It trades in the same fierce backlighting that folks like Paul Barbera have expanded into a wistfully sensual, visual nostalgia kick-to-the-head. There’s also similarities to Hannes Caspar and STOTYM–less stylistic more in tone and content, respectively.

Point is: what interests me about this is the equivocation in Zazirskas’ handling of poses and gesture. His most technically astute image (here) is too tied to a rigidity of conceptualization, i.e. the subject’s reflect vs her poses that the rest of the image–no matter how interesting the setting, details or color (I mean god that eggshell blue is to die for)–the frame hanges loosely around the insistence on a pose that doesn’t work.

Yet, with the image above all the elements–the composition, the lighting, the floor, chair and board behind the chair with faces cut from magazines and glued to it presumably, all gathers to suggest a fluid unity of concept and execution.

Back to my point about originality, though: all the photographers/image makers I’ve linked with Zazirskas are all folks whose work I think is more prescient and refined. The thing that distinguishes Zazirskas, however, is the fact that he is very much not doing fly-on-the-wall work like the others.

The angle of the model’s left leg in this is actually both demurely shielding while also being a provocation–exercising agency over what is seen and what remains discreet while complimenting the lighting (the darker portions of the outside of her left leg contrasting with the hot spots on the outside of her right thigh).

For as much as I like the other work, I feel like this is at least more honest with itself about what it’s essential nature is. That’s rather something, actually.

Laurent BenaimTitle unknown (2015)

I do not believe home
is where we’re born, or the place we grew up, not a birthright or an
inheritance, not a name, or blood or country. It is not even the soft
part that hurts when touched, that defines our loneliness the way a bowl
defines water. It will not be located in a smell or taste or talisman
or a word…

Home is our first real mistake. It is the one error that changes
everything, the one lesson you could let destroy you. It is from this
moment that we begin to build our home in the world. It is this place
that we furnish with smell, taste, a talisman, a name.

                   —Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault

AJ MokshaRainy days featuring Kyotocat (2015)

The shadow-light interplay in this is masterful. Mid-tones appear compressed (the hallway wall in the left foreground is separated from the mid-ground wall behind it more by softening of focus than tonal variation) allowing for a great range of detail in the highlight areas. Alternatively, there’s little variation in shadow tones–used to staggering effect to separate Kyotocat’s silhouette from the mid-ground wall.

Unfortunately, the air return vent is an eyesore and detracts measurably from the image.

The dangling bulbs are a strange addition. Are they ornaments or are they those new fangled things with succulents growing in them. (Given the dim illumination, I can’t tell.)

I am torn between thinking their inclusion adds an unpleasant touch of kitchy contrivance–I mean they wouldn’t be hanging at that level in a hallway or whomever passed them would knock their head against them; thus they appear to be dangled like a puppet into the frame for the sake of the picture.

It reminds me of Jeff Wall’s After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue–which was quoted nearly verbatim by the production designers for HBO’s terribly uneven but dumbfoundingly ambitious series The Leftovers.

Or–since these bulbs are not illuminated–it could be a reference to Amir Naderi’s Davandeh (one of my top five all-time favorite films). In it, the young protagonist lives on an abandoned ship, the roof of which is covered with hanging bulbs.

There’s also the matter of the image being some pretty flagrant #skinnyframebullshit. The vertical frame renders the proportions of the wall in the left foreground, the wall in the mid-ground and the pitch dark hallway at the right of frame. A horizontal frame would have required a definitive decision on how to use the size or each plan relative to the others as a means of unifying the composition. With the vertical orientation, the obviousness of the arbitrary way in which they are used is diminished–the to detriment of the work, sadly.