I was given a ticket to Paris Photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard. Below is my visual diary from the day.
Martin Schoeller is a German photographer who is best known for extreme close-up portraits that are hyper-detailed.
– (Martinschoeller.com, 2017)
Schoeller’s portraits are of the famous and non-famous. Each one is photographed in exactly the same way. The catchlights in the eyes show that his lighting and shoot angle are the same for each subject. It is evident from the images that none of the images are retouched, everyone is presented exactly as they really are.
In addition, the consistent composition ensures that the image is not affected by the location the shot is taken. Reducing the portraits to just head shots removes any potential for distraction from the background. The subject’s clothes also do not impact on the shot. Without having to allow for changes of clothes, the amount of time needed for each shoot is reduced.
The treatment of each image in exactly the same way is Schoeller’s signature. By ensuring consistency, he is trying to find truth in the images. With the proliferation of selfies and other portraits on social media, many with filters applied, we do not always see a truthful image.
His recent campaign for Pernod Ricard featured 18 images of their employees. I was given a ticket to Paris Photo by Pernod Ricard so that I could view the work in the exhibition in person.
The exhibition catalogue (below) goes into some detail about the campaign and features full page portraits. The publication, like the exhibition, is glorious. The portaits are stunning in their clarity and imapct. The things that stands out the most to me in all of them is the eyes. I was mesmerised by them in the exhibition and continued to be so in the catalogue.
Figure 1: Images taken from exhibit catalogue
The portraits raise questions about the intimate nature of getting this close to someone else’s face. The photographs are about the face and nothing else. The range of portraits taken celebrate the diversity of the Pernod Ricard worldwide workforce. Seeing them printed and displayed on a large scale is simply remarkable and was my highlight of Paris Photo.
Presented in large white frames on a dark blue background enhances the portraits even more (not that they need it). The viewer is drawn to the work like a moth to a lamp. Standing in front of the images, I was drawn in. The scale makes the subjects feel more powerful than I did. I felt small in comparison and was questioning my place alongside these images. I could have spent all day looking at them, interogating them in an attempt to know the person further. The intimacy of the experience made me feel like I knew them personally.
Figure 2: Images from the ‘Inspiring Action’ Exhibition
Also on display were 3 images from Schoeller’s stunning ‘Transgender’ project. The work features trans people during transition. The stunning portraits bring a voice and visibility to the transgender community.
Figure 3: Images from ‘Transgender’ Exhibition
CNN Style. (2017). ‘Honest’ photos of world’s most famous faces. [online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/style/article/martin-schoeller-celebrity-photos/index.html [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].
Martinschoeller.com. (2017). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: https://martinschoeller.com/ABOUT/1 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].
An inspiring photographer whose work I experienced at Unseen, Amsterdam is Sylvie Bonnot.
Bonnot uses multiple techniques and materials in her work. These include drawing, 3D elements, painting, etching and working with cellulose and gelatin layers. In each image, her starting point is the photograph.
Her images caught my eye. Bonnot was explaining her work to other viewers and I was able to discuss her work with curators from the gallery where her work is currently on display – The Merchant House.
It is evident from many of her images, that Bonnot is attracted to images that depict extremes of weather. She uses a process she calls “the mue”. What she does is take the exposed gelatin layer off the photographic paper and then fixes this to another medium. This produces images that have creases and imperfections in the surface. The results are stunning. The image becomes distorted and deformed.
As well as landscapes and cityscapes, she has also included the image below, which is absolutely stunning and caught my eye from across the space.
As she has developed and perfected this technique, Bonnot’s work has increased in size and this was ecident in the exhibition.
cThe other works that attracted my attention were her arved drawings over the top of photographic paper. Bonnot uses a hot needle to draw the lines onto the images.
I was fortunate that the gallery staff also showed me a carved drawing that had been drawn onto a photograph printed onto an alumininum surface. The result is that the lines are much finer.
Bonnot’s work is really inspiring to me as she constantly appears to push the boundaries of photography.
– Bonnot (Sylviebonnot.com, 2017)
It was explained to me that once Bonnot has taken the photograph she then analyses the image in terms of how a walker interacts with the landscape and her own reaction to it. From there she superimposes linear structures on to the images. To my eyes, the lines give a sense of movement through the image and whilst they may appear random, there is a sense that the ‘route’ of the lines obeys some form of logic internal to the image. I feel the movement.
– Bonnot (Sylviebonnot.com, 2017)
I understand her work. I hear and feel the dialogue she has created between the landscape and the inner voice of the place. The inner qualities and nature of the places she has visited are expressed clearly and vividly with her interventions. The journey her work takes me on is somewhat dreamlike; lines and image intertwine; the images become the voice of the earth and our interaction with it. I am excited for my own journey through pbotographic exploration and experimentation.
Sylviebonnot.com. (2017). sylvie bonnot. [online] Available at: http://www.sylviebonnot.com/textes.asp?id=2&num=2&lg=gb [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017].
During my visit to Unseen, I attended a talk by Susan Bright and Simindokht Dehghani. Bright is a British writer and photography curator. Dehghani is the owner and director of Ag Galerie, Tehran.
Bright spoke about the work of five emerging photographers, whilst Dehghani spoke about influential photographers in Iranian photography.
Bright explained that she selects works based on whether or not it excites and thrills her. She expressed her like for photographers that sit outside the traditional genres and types. The work she presented in this talk was by the following photographers:-
Dehghani spoke eloquently about the war and violent images that have shaped the face of Iranian photography. Covering images that depict public hanging, execution of serial murderers and beheaded bodies, the talk offered a fascinating insight into an area of photography that I hadn’t really given much thought to previously.
After each had spoken, a discussion forum was opened. Both Bright and Dehghani expressed a preference for portfolios to be emailed to them by photographers looking for representation. A physical portfolio requires more time and effort to view. They both also explained that they look at Instagram for potential photographers. But whatever the method of getting your portfolio in front of a curator, the key factor (which was expressed very clearly by Bright) is that the work must speak to the viewer. Work that evokes an emotion or reaction is more likely to be picked up by a curaotr or agency. Sound advice for the future. I found the talk incredibly informative and engaging.
A sample of the discussion (apologies for the poor sound – the huge room made it tricky to record this well).
The venue for the talks was stunning and the images below give some indication of the beautiful light and shadows that added to the atmosphere of the discussions.
The Photo Pleasure Palace at Unseen was an installation/exhibition curated by Erik Kessels and Thomas Mailaender. The aim was to actively engage and encourage the viewer to interact with photography in a playful and completely different way. Both of these artists are known for the re-appropriation of images. Their work leans towards the absurd and the Photo Pleasure Palace reflects this style. It has the feel of a carnival. Even the catalogue for the exhibition was presented in a fun way via a dispensing machine.
The installation has a ‘Photo Fortune Teller’ and a ‘Giant Peephole’. Other activities included the ‘Smash Gallery’, ‘Toilet Obscura’ and ‘Jump Trump”.
This activity encourages visitors to jump or fall onto a picture of Trump’s face.
This activity invited visitors to throw 3 pieces of wood at an expansive gallery wall with photographs placed randomly on it. The idea was that the wood should smash the glass on the image. If that happened, you ‘won’ the image and it was sealed in it’s broken frame in a vacuum pack ready to take home.
I have never been very good at throwing or aiming at things but decided to have a go. A peer gave me his blocks too. I was aiming for a photograph that looked very much like him. To my surprise, I smashed the glass on that image with the second shot and then smashed the glass on another with the fourth shot. I gave the image that looked like my friend to him. It was such a high to smash the glass on images in front of a huge crowd.
My visit to the Photo Pleasure Palace did indeed get me excited and involved with photography in a different way. I take my hat off to the curators and salute their vision and execution of such a fun and interesting way of experiencing photography.
Unseen was the perfect place to view and appreciate the diversity in mediums used to produce and display photographs.
Stanislaw Lewkowicz’s ‘Greetings from Calcutta’ consisted of 27 pieces. The work is presented on silk pieces which have been lithographically and digitally printed on before being embroidered. The work was pinned to the display wall.
The display was visually stunning and as the pieces were the only pinned at the top, as viewers walked past the work it moved like flags in the wind.
I discussed the work with the gallery representative and was able to find out more about the work. Lewkowicz is a traveler. The work was produced in West Bengal, with the help of women in the rural areas. The women interpreted his images and text and then embroidered the images in the Kantha style of embroidery which is typical of the region.
I was informed that the work is an exploration of telling a story based on intimate subjects that Lewkowicz encountered when he was traveling. The work is presented as a diary of how he was feeling during his travels. It is deeply personal, yet reflects the universal feelings surrounding both sociability and loneliness.
I am particularly drawn to the tactile nature of the work. The unique hybrid pieces are packed with emotion and narrative. In moving my practice further, this is a medium that I would like to explore.
Other works were presented on fabric. In particular, the cyanotype below was produced on linen and is a fine example of the use of fabric. My only criticism is that the image has been framed and so we lose some of the effect of the fabric moving as viewers walk past it.
The use of tracing paper to cover Lara Gasparotto’s work can be considered as an attempt to maintain the privacy of her images. These private flashes of her life and subjects make the viewer feel like an intruder or voyeur. I do like how she has used the tracing paper to overlay her images. The label and commentary can be read before you pull the tracing paper back to reveal the images. This experience encourages you to touch the work (something that is often frowned upon in gallery displays).
I was drawn to this work as I have been considering how I could use tracing paper to conceal part of the images, so that I can keep elements of the image hidden.
I was interested in the use of cut aluminum frames used by Dutch photographer Bert Teunissen. He has used vintage photographic paper acquired on his travels to print the images. The prints are then mounted in the aluminum frames. This makes for a visually pleasing and striking display.
Throughout the exhibition, there were many examples of physically manipulated images. A visual record of some of the work is presented below for future reference.
I have included embroidery on some of my images in the past (previous blog post). I was interested to view the different ways in which contemporary artists are combning embroidery onto photograph prints.
One of the highlights of Unseen for me was to see Roger Ballen’s new work ‘Polaroids’.
The new images on display are not in his characteristic monochrome.
An artist and photographer, in his instantly recognisable work, Ballen blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. This is still true in the Polaroid collection.
His unique style of combining drawings, paintings and sculptural aspects in his photographs is also still evident.
However, his normal style of square format black and white aesthetic is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we are presented with intimate, colour images. This presents his work and aesthetic in a new light.
The subject matter is the same. His work is still strange and extreme. As mentioned in my previous blog post, Ballen’s work confronts the viewer and challenges us to go with him on his journey. Where are we going? As previously explored, Ballen is taking us on a journey into the deepest recesses of our minds as he explores his.
His images, whether colour or monochrome are surreal, making statements that are absurd and challenging. He has not lost this from his work by moving to the colour Polaroids.
Ballen chose Unseen to be the venue for his premiere of the Polaroid photos. The Reflex Gallery have exclusive access to the work. His exhibition is due to be accompanied by a book of the images (yet to be published).
I was lucky enough to have the gallery show me other images in the body of work. These were kept in a folder under the display. Looking through the other images, I was able to fully appreciate the skill and vision that Ballen has. The images are sharp and the colour palette enhances the overall narrative and aesthetic. I felt quite privileged to have had this opportunity.
But Ballen is not the only photographer who had displays at Unseen of Polaroids. The same gallery had a display by Miles Aldridge, ‘Please return Polaroid’.
In the display, it is evident that many of the Polaroids on display have been damaged. The damage in some cases is intentional, in others it is accidental. The images have been trimmed, marked, cut and pasted into new contexts. Parts of the images are modified, enhanced, rearranged or removed through this process. The images now have more of a narrative. The display and the images themselves reminded me of a storyboard that might be prepared before a shoot.
What I particularly like about the images is that they are playful and celebrate the imperfections and flaws in the finished images. Too often digital images are manipulated to produce the perfect image. Photoshop is used to create the images of the type that Aldridge is producing in the physical form.
The resurgence in Polaroid popularity is really interesting. In an age where people constantly take images purely to post them to various social media sites, Polaroids are pretty amazing. They exist in a physical form, whereas many digital images are destined to remain unseen on a hard drive of a computer. There is something special about being able to touch and hold an image. There is a fascination with watching the image develop in front of your eyes, even after all these years it seems like magic.
Polaroids are distinctive. The aesthetically distinctive iconic white borders have been replicated in filters on mobile phones and computers. The size of the images makes them intimate and engaging.
I am excited to see new work produced by photographers using Polaroids in the future.
During my visit to Unseen, various displays stood out to me. For future reference, I have included a visual record of these below.
The various methods of displaying work demonstrate the uniqueness of each gallery and artist/photographer. Seeing the effectiveness encourages me to try out different methods and layouts when presenting my work in future exhibitions.
I was also fascinated and intrigued by the different methods of labeling and identifying work. Some appeared to be professionally printed whilst others were handwritten or painted onto the display boards. Again a visual record has been included for future reference. Seeing the different methods, I can appreciate that not all labels need to be printed; handwritten labels are very effective. The red dots on the labels indicate that the photograph has been sold.
As part of the MA Photography Face-to-Face event, I had the opportunity to visit the photography-focused art fair ‘Unseen Amsterdam’. In its sixth year, 53 galleries from 14 countries displayed work from established as well as up-and-coming artists and photographers.
Presented in Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek, the venue is quite spectacular. The park is beautiful and contains many historic factory buildings.
The Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory) ceased production of gas in 1967 leaving behind a polluted site that could not be used for housing. In 1992, the site started to be used on a temporary basis for many creative and cultural activities. In 2003 the site was cleaned up and reopened. A new kind of energy was felt on the site – the energy of creative and artist exploration and expression.
The main exhibition of Unseen was held in the Gashouder (Gasholder). This iconic building is the centrepiece of the park. It is a large circular space with an impressive cast-iron ceiling. There are no pillars in the space (only on the edges), which makes it ideal for a photographic exhibition.
The scale of the space is impressive to say the least. As an engineer, I spent some time just looking and admiring the interior. The ceiling structure is spectacular.
A huge marquee next to the main exhibition housed a photobook sale on a huge scale. I could have spent hours in there too.
The images below are my visual record of the venue. Further blog posts will consider some of the work on display.