REN HANG / The art of the past comes to life on film

REN HANG / The art of the past comes to life on film

by Alexandra Gilliams

On the internet and elsewhere in recent years, the late Ren Hang has been on the rise as a photographer blurring the lines of what is acceptable art practice in a conservative China. His photographs evoke a surreal reality in a vein similar to that of Ryan McGinley’s – a sweeping landscape of youth, bodies, and humanity. Even his most unapologetically explicit photographs can be read as a straightforward portrayal of the physical because according to Hang, sex and sexuality are a “part of a normal, healthy life, just like eating and sleeping.”. Vibrant colors seep from images of men and women who have been caught and illuminated by his sharp flash. When Hang allows us to see the faces of his subjects, their gaze locks tightly onto yours, leaving you with hardly any will to look away. 

ren hang

China, 2015
© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and OstLicht Gallery

Bodies lie limp and are piled on top of one another. The models are at ease despite their contorted, often awkward positions. They are frozen but not cold; you can see how they have performed for Hang. He who sculpted them, twisting their limbs and carefully placing each element of the body until the composition revealed itself. Natural elements coalesce: snakes have been wrapped around women’s faces and the reflective patterns of dark water engulf ghostly bodies. In another image, a woman’s turned, elongated back sprouts out of a bed of leaves. 

China, 2015
© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and OstLicht Gallery

Part of Hang’s influence clearly lies in the works of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki’s models often appear to be as absorbed in being photographed by Araki as he is absorbed in being in control of them. His work exudes a sort of calm violence, and Hang’s photographs contain a similar quality. Looking closely at the tangled bodies and heads that are illusively decapitated may make viewers anxious while the models appear entirely unaffected.

China, 2015
© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and OstLicht Gallery

His use of a bright flash and point-and-shoot camera give the impression that his images are personal snapshots. Hang would not take the time meddling with aperture sizes and shutter speeds; the moment, though generally posed, is fleeting. The subjects remain anonymous; they are simply an aspect of the overall image. Their personalities do not show through, apart from playful portraits of his mother. 

40 x 26 cm
© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and Blindspot Gallery

Hang tragically committed suicide in February 2017 at age 29. He wrote numerous journal entries and poems chronicling his experience living with depression. They were available to read under a tab on his website which accompanied his photography. His photographs may emanate youth and even a light humor, but when you look on longer, an underlying tension begins permeating through the surface. From his writing, it could be understood that he hid his turmoil under a lighter exterior. Despite the ease of looking at his images online, it is imperative to see Hang’s photographs in-person. 

Untitled 2016 100 x 67 cm © Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and stieglitz19

It is an entirely different experience, as it is in most cases, to see them as large prints, coupled with other images of similar subject matter. It gives us the opportunity to take a step back and draw connections between the themes of his images, his manipulations of the body and repetition of patterns and colors, and his link between nature and eroticism. Reds and greens are reoccurring tones in Hang’s work, colors in Chinese culture representing good luck, health, and prosperity. Colors, as well, representing nature and life, blood and sexuality. 

© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and OstLicht Gallery

© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and OstLicht Gallery

Despite his troubled thoughts, he still wished to capture an essence of humanity in a pure way. His images break us away from societal taboos about the body, they make us uncomfortable, excited, disturbed – they make us feel something. Even if in Western society we are more accustomed to these taboos, the taboos surrounding the body – bodies of which we all inhabit – exist and are felt in different ways around the world. Hang mentioned in an interview with Purple Magazine that “The way I see it, bodies are pre-existing regardless of whether I photograph them or not. They’re also part of the natural world.” His photographs evoke oppositions, a push and pull between personal and anonymous, lightness and tension, boldness and nonchalance. The photographs induce feelings which fluctuate and are fleeting, reactions that are a part of everyday life. It is true that Hang has successfully captured a beautiful fragment of humanity.

Alexandra Gilliams

Jo Ann Callis / Domestic Imagery – Domestic space

Jo Ann Callis / Domestic Imagery – Domestic space

by Dolores Pulella

When Jo Ann Callis chose to enroll the course of graphic design at the University of California (UCLA) she was a young 30 year old woman that had never handled a camera before. Born in 1940 in Cincinnati (Ohio), young wife and mother of two children, she settles in a California that is turned upside down by the pacifist movements and the sexual revolution. Interested in sculpture and collage, thanks to Robert Heinecken’s classes Callis starts being fascinated by photography that up until then she considered “too technical” for her nature. 

jo ann callis

Black Table Cloth, 1979 Vintage Dye Transfer Print 20 x 24 inches

Encouraged by her teacher she discovers artistic photography and starts experimenting following her own taste and her competence in other fields in order to construct and calibrate her compositions. The artist immediately shows a strong attraction for the mis en scène and the beauty of formal ideas, drawing on the themes of her personal universe comprised by the domestic space, the same space where her marriage was failing and her children were growing up. 

jo ann callis

Untitled, (Woman with Black Line), from Early Color Portfolio, circa 1976 16 x 20 inches:9.75 x 12 inches Archival Pigment Print

Callis says that in almost fifty years of career her ideas remained unchanged an the topics she feels close to herself are still gender identity, sexuality, beauty, power and subjugation, as well as all the feelings related to what’s “home”, including the constant tension that lives in the domestic space; what changed during the years is just the ways of expressing them. 

jo ann callis

Man and Plant, 1985 Vintage Cibachrome Print 24 x 30 inches

Jo Ann Callis, even though she always distanced herself from politics and has always declared that her works is detached from the simplistic interpretation of feminists, has stated that she is aware she is a “product of her time”; it’s not coincidental that the beginning of her involvement in photography corresponded to the rise of the sexual revolution although she always tried to convey a world that belonged to her exclusively.

jo ann callis

Woman Juggling, 1985 Vintage Cibachrome Print 30 x 24 inches

It was by chance that her first exhibition was held at the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, since an artist friend had lent her the space. Nowadays Callis is most known for her color series but at the beginning of her career she worked extensively in black and white until she fortuitously stumbled across the works of Paul Outerbridge, that was rediscovered in the second half of the seventies, and was captivated by the emotion that his shots were able to instill. And it’s no accident that in 1981 in Los Angeles an exhibition featured both works by Callis and Outerbridge together, by paying tribute to the figure that the artists herself had always recognized as a model of inspiration. 

jo ann callis

Untitled, (Nude with String), from Early Color Portfolio, circa 1976 16 x 20 inches:9.75 x 12 inches Archival Pigment Print

jo ann callis

Untitled, (Hand Grabbing Ankles) from Early Color Portfolio, circa 1976 16 x 20 inches Archival Pigment Print

Regarding the models she always chose for her shots we can say she had a preference for androgyny and was always fascinated by sexual ambiguity, a subject that was taboo up until a few decades ago. Looking at her photographic production in its entirety, it is evident that the matrix of her war is surrealist, considering the themes analyzed and the aesthetic choices she made that recall the surrealist photography that inspired her, such as the one of Hans Bellmer and Pierre Molinier.

jo ann callis

Performance, 1985 Vintage Cibachrome Print 40 x 30 inches

Man in Tie, 1976 Vintage Dye Transfer print 24 x 20 inches

jo ann callis

Untitled (from Ballast), 1984 Vintage Cibachrome Print 24 x 30 inches

The domestic drama that is described by her photography is always hovering between different interpretations that intrigue the artist and make her work a catalyst of sociological and cultural discourse of exceptional contemporary value even though five decades have already passed.

jo ann callis

Untitled, (Hand and Honey) from Early Color Portfolio, circa 1976

Dolores Pulella

The irrational rationality in the photography of Philippe Ramette

The irrational rationality in the photography of Philippe Ramette

Parisian but native of Auxerre (1961), Philippe Ramette after finishing his studies at Villa Arson in Nice, stops painting and devotes himself solely to plastic arts, inventing unusual and humorous objects to which later he will accompany his photography. Even though he remains a sculptor, he uses photography to “trace in reality” the sceneries he imagines and which defy the laws of physics and gravity. It’s in 1989 that we have the first photographic work by Ramette, with “Object for seeing the world in detail” the young artist portrays himself with an optical device which he describes as a “point of view on the world”. Ramette will constantly use photography for about twenty years (mostly after the 2000), producing a series of images that try to rationalize the irrational through staging his sceneries which are studied in detail and that take shape in the sketches he immediately crafts as soon as the idea or the “dream” enters his mind. 

Philippe Ramette

Philippe Ramette, Photographie couleur, 150 x 120 cm. © Adagp, Paris 2007 © photo Olivier Antoine

Ramette takes the role of the director but the shots are materially realized by Marc Domage, a photographer who with him concretely creates the sets that were previously conceived. In this case it’s important to stress that the bizarre reality he develops in his shots is not achieved through digital editing but it’s the result of real “missions” sometimes even accomplished in dangerous conditions.

Philippe Ramette, Untitled (Deauville), 2014

It’s 1996 when Philippe Ramette produces his first “zero gravity” photograph with “Balcon 1” where he is looking out of a wooden balcony, where the artist and the balcony in question are in reality are not positioned vertically but they lie horizontally in the middle of a park. The same scene is repeated in “Balcon II (Hong Kong)” made in 2001, where this time the balcony with Ramette is coming out of the water of the Hong Kong bay. This series was then followed by many others, like the “Irrational Contemplations”, the “Irrational Walks”, the “Rational Exploration of Underwater Funds”, the “Pedestals for Reflection”, all collections of images which recall the the characteristic  leitmotifs of the artist, such as the use of what he calls “prosthetics”, that are: the tricks which enable him to hold certain positions during the shots; the self representation, always in a black suit like a man made by Magritte; the idea of defying the laws of physics and the contemplative dimension which is always present in his works. The result is surreal but not at all disturbing, if anything it appears poetic and melancholic like “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich.

Philippe Ramette, Untitled, 2015

Philippe Ramette, Crise de désinvolture, 2003

What is surprising about Ramette’s photographic works is that, even though we are aware of the physical strain the artist underwent during the production of the shots, the results do not suggest any tension but instead it they advocate a sense of calm, as if the scene we are seeing is natural and absolutely rational, permeated by a tranquillity and a “metaphysic suspension” skilfully orchestrated by the mind of an illusionist who is able to translate into images the words of André Breton: “The imaginary is what tends to become real”.

Philippe Ramette Exploration rationnelle des fonds sous-marins, l’arrivée, 2006

Ramette exhibited internationally and his works are in the collection of the Centre G. Pompidou and of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, of the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Marseille, and the MAMCO in Geneva. He is represented by the Xippas Gallery in Paris located in the historical Marais area.

Dolores Pulella

Sohei Nishino: reinventing cartography for the modern world

Sohei Nishino: reinventing cartography for the modern world

by Alice Zucca

“Cities amplify themselves, repeatedly. They emerge and disappear while they continue to integrate themselves”. It’s this consideration that motivated Japanese photographer Sohei Nishino to start his journeys from place to place and create his impressive panoramic series, made of thousands of photographs combined, half way between a map and a diorama. Sohei’s experience is not just a mere transposition of topography into collage, Nishino exacerbates the concept of topographic mapping, extending it to different aspects of the existent, to the experience of men in space and in time, integrating his personal point of view. 

Sohei Nishino, Shangai, 2004

In making his urban panoramas he doesn’t differ much from the modus operandi of ancient cartography – Sohei himself admits being influenced by the observations made at the beginning of the 19th century by Japanese cartographer Inō Tadataka and considers them the frame of reference for the beginning of his artistic research. The rigorous precision of satellite photography was not available to ancient cartographers. Therefore the distorted perception of spaces, derived from an exploration of the territory where the perspective of the observer was inevitably limited at ground level, led to an aleatory reconstruction during the mapping process. The final representation wasn’t truthful to the real proportions of the space analyzed but gave more importance to what was useful for the exploitation of natural resources or for commercial exchanges, more in general, to what served men for their understanding and experiencing of the world around them, consequently enhancing social activity.

Sohei Nishino, Rio de Janeiro, 2011

In the work of Sohei Nishino the planimetric view comes from his interpretation and aims to give an overall view of different levels (geographic, social, and emotional), of what’s visible and not visible that shape, model and animate our cities. The artist elaborates his concepts adding up details constituting a transgression from the exact planimetric rules which need to be scrupulously followed in order to analyze the spaces realistically and transpose them into the language of cartography: it is a conscious disobedience which overturns the functional role of the map.

Sohei Nishino, The Po, 2017 Courtesy MAST Foundation, Bologna

While working on his recent piece The Po”, Sohei claims to have found in the element of water the driving force of the world, something inextricably connected to the human existence. Nishino “flies” over the longest river in Italy, the Po, which being 650 km long, runs through 4 regions of northern Italy, providing water to those lands which helped the industrial fabric of the country to thrive. Sohei’s artistic research is not limited to the mere transposition of geography in the form of collage, it’s much more than that. He started his journey on the mount Monviso, at the border between France and Italy, and travelled for 45 days, from Turin he followed the river towards the Adriatic sea. During his itinerary he was able to experience the cultural and political environment of these places, meeting the locals who live in the area, fishermen, children, woodsmen, mixing with them and creating a portrait of the human presence near the bed of the river in an image which is able to picture the land, time and memories. A combination of 30 thousand photographs reproduces the essence of the river, a result Nishino was able to achieve after a meticulous and very long process.

Sohei Nishino, The Po, 2017 Courtesy MAST Foundation, Bologna

He works alone, in a sort of solitary ritual he develops the films in a darkroom, hundreds and hundreds of rolls which he then places onto contact sheets and subsequently cuts to shape, one by one. It’s an infinite and repetitive action which makes him recall his personal experience through the memory of the places he visited, their history, society, buildings, and the people he met who resurface united in their own uniqueness in the general view of the whole picture. The photographic process for Nishino is the unit of measurement between himself and the world – in the same manner a map fulfills its  purpose – and his practice of reconstruction of reality and memory means that every physical movement – both during the production and the elaboration of the project – is strictly connected to the micro and macro perspectives in the depiction of the existent. The different perceptive qualities of the space in our environment don’t alter the space itself, but they intrude our way of experiencing it, making us feel it, from time to time, as a familiar or an alien place. 

Sohei Nishino, San Francisco, 2016

It seems clear that the geographic transposition, which is the product of the emotive reconstruction of the places analyzed, in the end is realistic in its essence, even with its surreal quality that enables us to have a broader view of the spaces during their transformations, enhancing the connections between the human activity and its surroundings, relations that inevitably get lost in the turmoil of the different points of view which are the cause of individual and deceptive perceptions. We could take as an example the points of reference of a child, forced to experience reality from below, determining a peculiar viewpoint that is incompatible with the angle of view of an adult who observes the same reality from above. This is a very interesting aspect if we consider that our perception is therefore always fundamentally illusory and that photography in itself, as a tool, questions our knowledge of reality.

Sohei Nishino, NYC

Misleading perspectives then, where everything is hiding behind something else, in a stratification of visible and invisible levels of the urban landscape and of the assumptions of the people populating it. The map of a city which exists but it’s invisible, where the speculative imagination has to alleviate the lack of descriptive intents of the conventional means of representation of reality. The I-Land and Yama series well represent this shift of reality to the mnemonic imaginative. 

Sohei Nishino, YAMA

Working on Yama, Sohei climbs a certain mountain for a period of time, studying it and photographing fixed points documenting the change of vegetation over time. The result is the collage of an ideal mountain which exists but at the same time doesn’t exist in reality. Nishino with his shots captures its transformation and eventually its perception during the different time periods, it is always the same mountain but it’s depicted in its life cycle.

Sohei Nishino, YAMA

In I-Land, an evolution of Nishino’s diorama maps, the Japanese artist recreates an ideal city from scratch, using photographic fragments from various urban spaces, it is, in fact, a reconstruction of a particular city of personal memory, obtained through the interaction and the relationship between memory and reality, a series of past experiences that recall sensations which come from experiencing certain places that are still alive in our thoughts and in our memories.

Sohei Nishino, I-LAND

Furthermore every imaginary place on one hand echoes and sublimates our perception of everyday life, on the other hand highlights and keeps track of the multifaceted and varied reality that we pretend to understand and rule but incontrovertibly transcends our comprehension, leaving us often stunned and disoriented. Sohei’s maps, like every map, document information about space, but he travels mainly “through time” in search for an unknown past or a possible future transfigured into somebody else’s present. Moreover every thing that exists intersects the imaginative, influencing the intertwined relationship between reality and subjective perceptions, always misleading and intrinsically unreliable. 

Alice Zucca

Daidō Moriyama, Streets of Japan

Daidō Moriyama, Streets of Japan

By Dolores Pulella

It is thanks to the work of  Daidō Moriyama that we can observe without filters how everyday life has evolved in Japanese society during the last fifty years. Born in 1938 in Ikeda, near Osaka, Moriyama first focuses his interest on painting and then on graphic design until, in 1959, he decides to devote himself fully to photography studying with Takeji Iwamiya. In 1961 he moves permanently to Tokyo where he becomes Elko Hosoe’s assistant and where he produces his first works of street photography which, in the future, will make him known as one of the most influential photographers of our time. He has always had a personal preference for the urban landscape and the city which to him represents an attraction with its many facets that stimulates the practices of accumulation and repetition that Moriyama embraced in his photographic style.

Daidō Moriyama / Akio Nagasawa Gallery, Photo: Dolores Pulella, XIBT Mag

Everything that happens in the city attracts his eye hungry to discover hidden treasures, tragic and happy events, reflections, textures and signs that catch the lens of his endlessly moving camera. It’s interesting to discover how Moriyama has always given priority to the subjects sometimes even to the detriment of quality; the result is a collection of soft shots, grainy, with bent perspectives which do not obey to the stylistic canons of traditional photography, a medium which he always wanted to revolutionize. Quantity is also a key concept for his production, that is why the Japanese photographer openly highlights the importance of digital photography as a tool which enables him to take shots continuously while walking through urban jungles.

Daido Moriyama, Night Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2018

Daido Moriyama. Homecoming, Tachikawa. 1969

He has also worked in New York but Tokyo has a special place in his heart and it is where he explored as a “wandering dog” scenes of ordinary daily life in the Shinjuku special ward, a captivating and stimulating place as often is for locations that have a bad reputation. Even though he has worked for some magazines and on commission, Moriyama finds himself more comfortable with the definition of “amateur” for personal and subjective reasons that have dictated his style and because he has never intended himself as a photo-reporter or his photography as documentary. He is mostly famous for his black and white photography characterized by strong contrasts, a stylistic ideal that defined his works since the beginning of his career, but in his production there are  also some notable shots in color where often he highlights one dominant color, like pink or violet, which according to Moriyama better represent the trivial and vulgar aspects of some scenes. He achieved success immediately after the publication of his first collection Japan a Photo Theater in 1968, followed by 180 more, among them are certainly worth mentionin Farewell Photography (1972), Hunter (1972), Mayfly (1972), Another Country in New York (1974), Light and Shadow (1982), A Journey to Nakaji (1987) and  Lettre à St. Loup (1990). According to the photographer the book is an actual means that enables him to express himself and through which, at the same time, he can share his passion and devotion for the multisensorial universe of the city.

Daido Moriyama, Nagisa

Going through his vast production one can’t help noticing how there are subtle references to other artists, particularly in some of the recurrent themes, like the lips in Untitled (2001), a clear allusion to Warhol from whom he also takes the repetition in series and his passion for shoes. Or as in Tights where we can see Kértesz’s Distorsions. He also relates to surrealist photographers and especially to Man Ray, in his attention for hands, eyes and legs which he incorporates in his stylistic form. Nowadays Moriyama is considered one of the most influential street-photographers in the world; he has been the protagonist of important retrospectives in many of the principal museums, we can mention the exhibition at the MoMA in New York (1974), at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1999), at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain (Paris, 2003 and 2016), and in 2012 the Tate Modern in London featured him in a joint exhibition with William Klein. His works are collected by major institution such as the Getty Museum of Los Angeles, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Recently during the 2018 edition of Paris Photo he was honored by the French Minister of Culture Franck Riester with the Knighthood of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Dolores Pulella

ERNST HAAS: The great pioneer of colour photography

ERNST HAAS: The great pioneer of colour photography

Ernst Haas has been undoubtedly one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century and he’s considered one of the pioneers of colour photography. Born in 1921, he started shooting with a Rolleiflex immediately after the second World War and thanks to a reportage dedicated to the return of Austrian prisoners of war (Haas’ fellow-countrymen as he was born in Vienna) he received a job offer from the American magazine LIFE, which he declined. He joined the Magnum agency in 1949 following an invitation from Robert Capa and, experimenting with Kodachrome colour films and Leica 35mm cameras, he became the leading figure of this movement: before then colour images were judged suitable only for amateur photographers; in this decade he carried out many reportages for LIFE as well as real anthologies: The Creation (1971), In America (1975), In Germany (1976) and Himalayan Pilgrimage (1978). In the year of his death, 1986, he received the Hasselblad Award.

Swimmers, 1984 Olympics, Los Angeles

Fascinated by various disciplines, Haas was also a great thinker and thanks to his writings it is possible to really immerse in the figurative world that he proposed, therefore we can mention three quotations which represent the key concepts of the Austrian photographer’s art: the relationship between time and image, the constant experimentation and the metaphorical weight of colours. There is no formula – only man with his conscience speaking, writing, and singing in the new hieroglyphic language of light and time. Haas sees photography as the perfect medium to transfer his vision through a new language, made only of light and time: the strict necessary for the impression of negatives by the camera. His  use of extended and unconventional shooting times is exemplary, looking for the movement in order to include in the image also a dimension that had not yet been explored: time. Even Picasso was impressed when he saw the shots taken by Haas during a bullfight in Pamplona in 1956. Still, I don’t want to declare there are no highways of fruitful directions. 

Traffic, New York 1963

Regata, California 1957

Pamplona, Spain 1956

“In learning there are. Follow them, use them and forget them. Don’t park. Highways will get you there, but I tell you, don’t ever try to arrive. Arrival is the death of inspiration. […] Refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself”. Experimentation is at the base of the Haas’ imagery, he does not conceive learning as a destination but rather as a path that must never be considered over: once you feel you have “arrived” it’s time to do something different, looking for inspiration also in other Art fields. “Looking back, I think my change into colour came quite psychologically. I will always remember the war years, including at least five bitter post-war years, as the black and white ones, or even better, the grey years. The grey times were over. As at the beginning of a new spring, I wanted to celebrate in colour the new times, filled with new hope”.

Pamplona, Spain 1956

We must remember that the early works of Haas, as was the already mentioned reportage that earned him the attention of LIFE magazine, were based on black and white films and only after his move to the United States in 1951 he started working with colours, a manifestation of optimism that will give him a truly unique place in the history of photography.

Luca Torelli

PARIS PHOTO 2018: the 22nd edition of the International Art Fair of Photography in Paris

PARIS PHOTO 2018: the 22nd edition of the International Art Fair of Photography in Paris


Paris Photo in images and a look at the best galleries selected by XIBT from our correspondent Dolores Pulella

“…and France is historically the country of photography”, said in an interview Florence Bourgeois, director of Paris Photo and head of the event together with the artistic director Christoph Wiesner. And we have to agree with her, considering it was in the “hexagon”  that the medium was officially invented not too long ago, in 1839. Since then photography has evolved greatly and, according to Bourgeois, it’s destined to have an even more prominent role in the art market in the future with its expansion in the far east.

The 2018 edition of Paris Photo is home to 167 galleries and 31 international publishers, introducing a new sector, “Curiosa”, and a new project, “Elles x Paris Photo” which replaces the collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld featured last year. The selected galleries are mainly from France, Britain, USA and Germany but there are also some representing Japan, from Latin America and Africa. Compared to the FIAC the Italian presence is less prominent but there are plenty of Italian artists presented by international galleries. Director Bourgeois would like to emphasize the educational role of the Fair, here galleries become like museums especially thanks to the fact that many of the exhibitors chose to display “solo-show”; this brings a new function to the event, it’s not just a “business machine”, as sometimes it was called  in the past, but also a cultural, informative and didactic route through which the visitors can discover and learn about the history of photography.

Yes, because at Paris Photo one can find every era of photography, sometimes even presented in a “mélange” of artistic styles and periods that are captivating. This was the case for many exhibitors, among them we can mention Richard Saltoun (London) which chose to display Ulay, Gina Pane, Elisabetta Catalano and Eleanor Antin; Peter Fetterman (Santa Monica, USA) with H. Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Sabine Weiss; Fraenkel (San Francisco, USA) among this line exhibits Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Sophie Calle. A unique setup was presented by Gagosian Gallery which chose to develop a narrative theme with Andy Warhol and his Factory as seen through the eyes of Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, Patti Smith and Douglas Gordon. Hans P. Krauss Jr. (New York, USA), as in last year’s edition, remains faithful to his choice of displaying the pioneers of the 19h century, like Nadar, Roger Fenton, Eugène Atget and Julia-Margareth Cameron. A lot of attention is given to the works of female photographers thanks to the project “Ellex x Paris Photo”, created by Fannie Escoulen with the support of the French Ministry of Culture; almost every gallery has one or more photographers on display and, among them, the curator has selected some shots which will be featured in a new publication:  Germaine Krull, Lucia Moholy, Vivian Maier, Sara Facio, Helen Levitt, Martine Franck, Francesca Woodman, Cindy Sherman, Karen Knorr, Agnès Geoffray, Agnès Varda and Lisa Sartorio are only a few of the names which are included in this project which aims to address the need for gender equality.  

Another new element is the “Curiosa” section, which in its first year is devoted to erotic photography and curated by Martha Kirszenbaum. Here the shots of feminist artist Renate Bertlmann (Galerie Steinek, Vienna) stand out, she will also represent Austria at the next Biennale in Venice in 2019. For the organizers Paris Photo 2018 is very much marked by documentary photography; more and more exhibitors display artists who chose to confront themselves with social themes, we can mention for example Guy Martin and Simon Norfolk (Benrubi, New York, USA), Taysir Batniji (Éric Dupont, Paris) and especially the multi award-winning James Nachtwey, featured with a “solo-show” at the Contrasto Galleria (Milano, Italy) where visitors can admire the shots of one of the most famous and celebrated war photojournalist of our era.

Dolores Pulella


Paris Photo 2018, Grand Palais, Paris, CAMERA OBSCURA, Photo Dolores Pulella XIBT Mag

Andreas Gursky: postmodern photography.

Andreas Gursky: postmodern photography.

On November the 8th 2011 Christie’s in New York auctioned what resulted to be the most expensive photo in history selling for $ 4,3 million. Who was it by? The 1955 German born photographer Andreas Gursky. Before earning this accomplishment with Rhein II, the same author achieved the same record in 2007 with his work 99 Cent II Diptych which was sold at Sotheby’s for $ 3.89 million; maybe it was just a coincidence or it was due to the skyrocketing prices in the art market or probably it might have been just caused by some collector’s love for works that represent our time? The latter would have undoubtedly played a role since Gursky’s works do not appeal to the nostalgic types, they catapult the viewer in the postmodern age through their large scale which exaggerates the feeling of impotence towards a representation of reality which appears as if it doesn’t belong to us even though it’s our everyday life.

Andreas Gursky, New York, Merchantile Exchange 1999

Andreas Gursky, Media Markt 2016

Andreas Gursky, Dubai World III 2008

Andreas Gursky, Dubai World I 2007

Andreas Gursky, Review 2015

Being Bernd and Hilla Becher’s pupil, his work continues the legacy of the so called “ Düsseldorf school” and of objective photography which was so dear to the German tradition. The artist does not have any documentary aim but his intents are aesthetic, manipulating and editing the initial shots. At the beginning of the nineties he was one of the first photographers to work with computers contributing to start the debate on how legitimate is to intervene editing photos during the post-production phase. Gursky takes the medium to its extremes, deleting, duplicating, and inserting elements as he pleases, therefore giving birth to traces of reality that didn’t exist before, acting like a painter who already has an idea of the final result in his mind.

Andreas Gursky, Bangkok I 2011

Andreas Gursky, Antarctic 2010

Andreas Gursky, Times Square, New York 1997

Andreas Gursky, Rimini 2003

Even though he has been active in the world of contemporary photography since the eighties, he doesn’t ever produce more than eight works per year, planning every one of them in great detail. His works are sharp and vivid large-scale photographs built on strong and calibrated guiding principles which recall geometric abstraction but also the abstract expressionism of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newmann. The repetitiveness, another of Gursky’s peculiarities, comes from his former teacher Becher and recalls Warhol’s works as do the references to the massification of modern society which he portrays focusing his camera on warehouses, supermarkets, factories, stadiums and parking lots. For some decades already Andreas Gursky has been exhibiting his works all over the world and in the most prestigious institutions of the art world and since 2010 he is a professor at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, a school he attended from 1980 to 1987, teaching to his students the secrets behind the oxymoron at the basis of his photography: making an intangible reality tangible.

Dolores Pulella

Ismo Hölttö: the lost innocence of the Finns.

Ismo Hölttö: the lost innocence of the Finns.

Few photographers are as famous in their home country as is Ismo Hölttö, whose images, captured in a special historical period of Finland, allow the viewer to immerse directly in the time of change lived by the peninsula between the Sixties and the Seventies. Working as a goldsmith, Hölttö shoots in his spare time: at first in the capital city of Helsinki and then in the rural areas of central and northern Finland; when he was only twenty-two years old he decided to exploit his predisposition for the interaction with other people in order to paint a different portrait of his nation, until then considered “beautiful and clean” by the general public, and show its rough, dirty side, full of social injustice and disillusionment with the future. The Sixties are indeed a fundamental decade for the anthropological history of Finland: many people from outlying areas move to Helsinki and neighboring Sweden looking for a job; the air of change is clearly visible in the melancholic expressions of the subjects of Hölttö, still, however, immersed in their own rural innocence. 

Ismo Hölttö, Eno, Finland 1969

Ismo Hölttö,Skibotn, Norway 1967

Ismo Hölttö, Helsinki, Finland 1965

The photographer’s interest is mainly aimed at children, the emblem of purity par excellence, elderly and members of ethnic minorities; this is evident from the titles of his books published in collaboration with Mikko Savolainen: This is Finland too (Suomea tämäkin, 1970), Report on Finnish Gypsies (Raportti Suomen mustalasista, 1972) and Elderly People (Vanhuksia, created in 1974 but published only in 1982). A fourth anthological volume will follow in 1989, People in the lead role (Ihminen pääosassa), in which Hölttö collects an impressive amount of portraits taken in his twenties. Hölttö works primarily with Kodak Tri-X 400 films pushed to 1200 ISO in order to increase the contrast of the images imprinted on the negatives and a medium format Rolleiflex camera: the particular structure of the machine, equipped with a waist-level viewfinder, allows him to be visible to the subject even during the exposure and therefore to remain in contact with it, a fundamental element for the photographer himself. 1967 brought the first recognition of the Finn’s artistic skills, he was awarded by Viikkosanomat magazine, first prize of many that will follow; the fame achieved led him to found his own studio and, paradoxically, abandon portraiture, the genre that made him achieve so many successes, in order to devote himself exclusively to commercial photography.

Ismo Hölttö, Self-portrait, Helsinki, Finland 1965

Ismo Hölttö, Pudasjärvi, Finland 1966

Ismo Hölttö, Laestadian summer service, Oulu, Finland 1966

Ismo Hölttö, Helsinki, Finland 1966

In 2000 the author withdraws from activities at the age of sixty but his works continue to be appreciated by the major museums of Finland and abroad; we can mention as an example the exhibition held in 2015 at the Ateneum Art Museum (Helsinki), which was able to attract over 40,000 visitors. Ismo Hölttö’s legacy is still alive thanks to the monographs published by him during the Seventies and the Eighties and because of them the memory of a now lost Finland will continue to live as long as there will be someone interested in discovering it.

Luca Torelli

Many thanks to Ismo Hölttö, Matti Niemi and Ateneum Art Museum for the precious help.

Letizia Battaglia. Portrait of a revolutionary woman.

Letizia Battaglia. Portrait of a revolutionary woman.

There are people whose destiny hides behind small details, for example a surname which from birth defines a temperament and an attitude in life; this is Letizia Battaglia’s case (and indeed Battaglia means battle in Italian). Hers was, and still today is, an incessant battle in order to affirm her ideals of justice and freedom through her photographic projects and her cultural and political commitment to redeem the city of Palermo and its beauty. After spending in Trieste the first happy part of her life, she moves to Palermo with her family when she was still a child and it is when she was about ten years old that she has her first unpleasant experience, her father decides to limit her freedom, something that she tries to get back by marrying when she was sixteen.

Letizia Battaglia, 1991 Mimmo Ortolano’s daughter Casa professa

Unfortunately things didn’t work out the way she hoped and the young girl finds herself prisoner in a cage that stops her from expressing herself as a woman and not just as a wife. She finally reclaims her freedom when she’s almost forty and decides to end her marriage and to fulfill her needs. This journey of self empowerment coincides with the start of what will be a great career as a photo reporter. At the beginning she starts writing fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a writer but then she was asked to provide photos for her journalistic work and it’s almost by that chance she starts working with the camera.

Letizia Battaglia, 1982 near St. Clare’s Church. The Killer game.

After two years spent in Milan, in 1974, she goes back to her hometown with her new life partner Franco Zecchin with whom she founds her photography agency “Informazione Fotografica” which also involved Josef Koudelka and Ferdinando Scianna. For Letizia these are times of intense work for the Palermitan newspaper “L’Ora”, those are the years when “Palermo suffers immensely”, years when the mafia murdered five or six people every single day. Battaglia was always present on the crime scene, with her Pentax camera, documenting one of the darkest times in Italian recent history: the murder of Piersanti Mattarella, then President of Sicily, which occurred on the 6th of January 1980, and the killing of Cesare Terranova, judge and President of the Antimafia committee in Rome, just to mention some. She was the one who took the pictures of Giulio Andreotti at the Zagarella Hotel while he was meeting with some mafia affiliates, evidence that was after used during the trials against him, or the famous picture of the arrest of mafia boss Leoluca Bagarella. It was an extremely hard period of her life which scarred her to the point of her saying that she would never have the strength to do what she did then again and especially to see what she saw; dead bodies covered in blood that she tried to mentally project on the stage of a theater as if that horror and that blood were just fiction.

Letizia Battaglia, 1980 Piersanti Mattarella is dying while being taken out of the car by his brother and future Head of State of Italy.

Unfortunately they weren’t and, with the murders of the judges Falcone and Borsellino in 1992, Letizia decides to open a new chapter of her life founding the publishing house “Edizioni della Battaglia” never stopping fighting for the redemption of her city, through showing the beauty, culture and history of Palermo, trying to separate it from the infamous image people had of it at that time. Many have tried to put her in a box and consider her “the photographer of the mafia” but this could not be further from the truth. Letizia Battaglia is an all-round photographer but her vast production is still unknown to most people. We can mention her portraits of small girls, around ten years old, who take her back to her childhood and when like them she was full of dreams. Then there are the patients of the Psychiatric hospital in Palermo; the people of the working-class neighborhoods, her favorites, where she likes to spend time talking to the locals; her beautiful dear city Palermo, photographed from every angle and with which she always had a complicated relationship of “anger and sweet desperation”.

Letizia Battaglia, Pindemonte street, Psychiatric Hospital. Palermo 1983

Even though she reached fame, in Italy and abroad, displaying her works in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Eastern Europe, England and Switzerland, and she was awarded the Eugene Smith Prize in 1985, Letizia continued to be involved with projects in Sicily, one among the others the long awaited Inernational Center for Photography in Palermo, which was inaugurated on the 25th of November 2017 inside Pavilion 18 of the Cantieri Culturali at the Zisa which is also the location of the photographic archive of the city. She commented the event with these words: “It’s a collective dream (…), I consider the Center as a small ‘cathedral’ and to know that this ‘cathedral’ is in Palermo makes me happy (…), it might seem exaggerated but this represents the fulfillment of a dream I had during the last forty years”.

Dolores Pulella





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