Camera Abstractions: Keld Helmer-Petersen

Camera Abstractions: Keld Helmer-Petersen

Thinking about the fathers of artistic color photography it’s easy to recall great names such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore who throughout the seventies, also thanks to great exhibitions (such as the one that Eggleston had in 1976 at the MoMA), have helped to impose this medium which, at the time, was still labeled by the critics as “vulgar and banal” because it was usually linked to commercial and amateur photography. But those aren’t truly the first great results obtained with the use of color film since, already in the forties, in Denmark Keld Helmer-Petersen had already showed its artistic potentialities and today he is regarded as the father of Danish modernist photography. Isolating the details and giving them a new meaning, Petersen’s aim is to catch the essence of modern life sublimating color and form (as Paul Cézanne did in his paintings) and deleting the depth of field thanks to the constant use of small apertures: the world therefore appears as a flat surface full of interesting geometrical patterns useful for stressing the importance of color. Inspired mainly by American and German photographers and architects (one above all Mies van der Rohe) he shares the ideas of Staatliches Bauhaus, a German school which is all about simplicity, abstraction emphasis and erasing of unnecessary details.

Helmer-Petersen gets his first camera in 1938, a Leica IIIc, as a gift from his mother for his graduation. With that and the 35mm, 50mm and 90mm Elmar lenses he will create all the pictures of his debuts. His first experiments are made with black and white films but, because of the Nazi occupation, they become hard to find so Keld turns to Agfacolor, a German film, with wich in 1948 he creates the work that will impress his name in photography’s history forever: 122 farve fotografier (122 color photographs). At that time the artist is 28-years-old and works in a library, after showing to the owner a selection of his photographs taken between 1941 and 1947 and getting a positive feedback he decides to invest his father’s inheritance in the production of the book, printing 1.500 copies. The value of the work is understood overseas too and so on November the 29th of 1949 the magazine Life dedicates to Helmer-Petersen a 7-page article entitled “Camera Abstractions”. In 1950 he travels to the United States to settle in New York first and then in Chicago to study at the Art Institute (where, among many others, the great photographer Harry Callahan was teaching) and to work for Life. In 1953 one of his photographs is displayed at the MoMA in the collective exhibition “Post-War European Photography” but, unsatisfied with the American lifestyle, Keld decides to go back to Denmark and propose himself as an architectural and design photographer opening his own studio in Copenhagen (1956), later becoming the photography teacher in the architecture school at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (1964-1990).

Keld Helmer-Petersen photo Björn Dawidsson

Inspired by his stay in Chicago “Fragments of a city”, his second book, is released in 1960; here he experiments in the darkroom pushing black and white contrasts to the limit, celebrating surfaces, structures, fragments and spaces found between the huge constructions of the metropolis. In the mid-Fifties he shows his new works in a series of exhibitions in Denmark and Sweden curated by the designer Poul Kjaerholm and based on the contrast between image and background, opposing to a bright picture a dark panel and vice-versa. During the seventies the Danish artist will eventually start to work “cameraless”, creating the images directly in the darkroom thanks to the sole chemical reagents and looking for the ultimate minimalism; that spirit, in addiction to the discovery of computer graphics, will escort him until the end of his life. He dies in 2013 at the age of 93. Black and white represents for Helmer-Petersen both the Alpha and the Omega of his career: the 122 color photographs, so paramount for the history of photography, are to him nothing but an exception, a confirmation to the rule that will make remember him forever.

Luca Torelli

Many thanks to Jan Helmer-Petersen for the permission to publish his father’s pictures and to Dawid (Björn Dawidsson) for his wonderful portrait of the photographer.

Heavenly innocence: Ruud Van Empel and the portraits from the other world.

Heavenly innocence: Ruud Van Empel and the portraits from the other world.

Their eyes appear almost veiled, hiding behind a mask of innocence which conceals them almost too well. They’re the protagonists of the works of Ruud Van Empel, visual artist and photographer of Dutch origin. Brought up during the sixties, when photography experimentation went along with the questioning of the social status-quo, Van Empel found in photography a tool useful to investigate and express the vivid reality. From the psychedelic geometries of The Office (1995-2001) to the innocent faces of World-Moon-Venus (2006) which look into the viewer’s soul. Candidness is a defining feature of his portraits which is captured on the film while the subjects stare at the lens of the camera without hiding anything. The collection World-Moon-Venus is what gave Van Empel a place among the most recognized portraitists of the real world. The images are hyperbolic but at the same time in the look of the protagonists one can see a profound message which goes beyond the environment in which they’re photographed. Among the luxurious, almost heavenly, vegetation, children pose laying like sculptures recalling the mannerisms of the classic art.

In the meantime their gaze is so direct and sincere that is able to show through their eyes every aspect of their humanity. Another way of representing reality, through the use of a metaphor, is creating a new tailored world on canvas. This is how Van Empel decided to create, between 1999 and 2002, a new controversial collection, Study for Women, depicting a “constructed” portrayal of women where defects are softened or even removed in order to show what’s the perceived ideal imagery of society. Looking at this forged hyper-reality in which the women, subjects of the works, are placed, and thinking about the mere brutality with which they want to portray the present, one cannot help feeling fascinated by the technique used by the artist in every single piece. The women’s eyes seem to tell countless stories and the environment surrounding them adds a great deal of tension. “This generates discomfort” Van Empel says, “it’s a sense of embarrassment which comes from what people used to find shocking at the beginning of the twentieth century”. And that’s what Van Empel wants to tell with his works, seeking for moral, ethic and aesthetic truth, investigating the predicaments in society and in the art of our time. Suffering, pride and curiosity appear among the details of his films, the protagonists enter a visual imagery which stays stuck in the observer’s mind. The research for the true expression of reality is incessant and once again the artist, with the Solo Work collection (2011), puts children at the centre of his artistic investigation. Once more the lush wilderness dominates the background but the attention is immediately caught by the look of the children which become the focus of the work. The collection will be completed in 2019 when new pieces by the artist will be released. For now one can wait and feel overwhelmed by the abundance of the nature and the penetrating but innocent stare of the subjects portrayed, as if one is kept in between the dreamlike reality which is everyday among us.

Martha Pulina

ERWIN OLAF: Aesthetic addiction

ERWIN OLAF: Aesthetic addiction

Even though it is impossible to define Olaf’s style using just one adjective, the Dutch photographer  made the attention to aesthetics one of the most prominent trademarks of his works. Born in 1959 in Hilversum but residing in Amsterdam, Erwin Olaf completed his academic studies at the School of Journalism in Utrecht where he began taking interest in photojournalism. Determined to make an impact in the world of photography he wins in 1988 the Young European Photographer of the Year Award with his series “Chessmen”, to which followed an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Köln.

Erwin Olaf, Self Portrait, Tar & Feathers I & II, 2012

In 1987 he starts using video, a medium that since then became also part as completion of his photographic work. His first works reveal a particular consideration for social issues, he explores the world of people left out of society focusing his attention on racism and homosexuality. The reputation of his aesthetic potential widely grows to the point when he starts being hired by the most important brands in the world and therefore he becomes involved in his commercial production as well as his personal works. The dualism between his socially involved photography and the more frivolous shots he creates for the fashion world comes to a merger, without any kind of hesitation, in his “Fashion Victims” series (2000) where he portrays naked models hiding their faces with bags from iconic luxury brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. The attention to detail is what makes his shots stagings of art where nothing is left to chance and the study of the lighting, especially in the simplicity of his compositions, becomes one of the key points of his modus operandi. 

Erwin Olaf

Erwin Olaf, Berlin Stadtbad Neukölln – 23rd of April, 2012

Erwin Olaf, Mature, 1999 – Cindy C., 78

Erwin Olaf, the gym

Erwin Olaf, The Ice-Cream Parlour 2004

Olaf draws inspiration from the works of Vermeer, from still lives of the dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century and from Caravaggio, as he did for example in his work “Laboral Escena”, a tribute to Merisi’s “Cena in Emmaus” which is part of the collection of the National Gallery in London. Acclaimed as one of the most popular photographers of the contemporary scene he is renowned for his countless collaborations with established institutions of the art world like the George Eastman Museum in New York, the Shanghai Center of Photography, the Museu da Image and the Som in So Paulo, the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, Vogue, Louis Vuitton and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where in 2016 he contributed to the exhibition titled “Catwalk” also with a promotional video and advertising campaign. He was awarded many prizes during his career and in 2013 he won the competition to redesign the new Dutch Euro coins which were put in circulation in 2014. Olaf is a passionate admirer of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons’ mentality, his photographic work, surreal, daring, provocative, dramatic and unsettling, will be celebrated in 2019 for his 60th birthday at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and with the publication of a monograph published by Hannibal, Aperture, Xavier Barral and Prestel.

Dolores Pulella

Analogue contrasts: the art of Jean Paul Bourdier

Analogue contrasts: the art of Jean Paul Bourdier

Jean Paul Bourdier, with his use of analogue photography, appears to be among contemporary photographers one of the most interested in playing with colours and shapes of reality. The colour balance is not digitally manipulated and the strong tones naturally stand out from the landscape. Protagonist of the photographic collection “Bodyscape” is the human body which with its lines blends and is disguised in the surrounding environment. 

Jean Paul Bourdier, the other side

The landscapes chosen for the shots almost resemble a lunar panorama, they appear uninhabited  and distant from the mass of humanity which stops the dialogue between the inner self and the world. From the desert of Arizona to the Pyramids in Egypt, corners of the world look as if they are uncontaminated and ideal locations that bring to life a new artistic dialogue. You and I is one of his most fascinating works and offers a double perspective on the female body, enhancing its delicate traits through the use of shades of lilac. Twice of one self instead highlights the contrast between nature and the body of a girl which graciously lies down immersed in the unreal white. The colour tones of the body become a metaphor of pain and passion while the arm, reaching for the sky, disturbs the linearity of the landscape while at the same time looking for an unknown infinity. What’s left is the essential connection with water, source of life, where she finds a narcissistic relief.

Jean Paul Bourdier

Jean Paul Bourdier, You and I

Jean Paul Bourdier

Jean Paul Bourdier, Twice of one self

Water is also the theme in Couple Mirage, two silver bodies, a man and a woman, unite and at the same time they blend and merge with the precious blue liquid which serves as a prudish censor of their union but at the same time gives privacy to their intimate passion. The colours have a preponderant role, the silver of the bodies reflects in the water, the red of their hair instead interrupts the homogeneity of the scene and the dominant blue of the environment, their eyes locked into each other close the circle of contrasts and sinuosity both tangible and conceivable. “The photographs – Bourdier says –  point to our inner freedom, to the humour hidden behind our life predicaments, to our capacity to embrace the unknown, or the unity between our Mind and Body and between ourselves and the environment”

Jean Paul Bourdier, Couple Mirage

Jean Paul Bourdier, Leap into the blue

Jean Paul Bourdier, Leap into the blue

Jean Paul Bourdier, Leap into the blue

The contrast of the colours as a spiritual and physical union between the bodies and the space surrounding them. In the pictures the horizon is projected towards the undefined infinity avoiding the perception of any set time or space, while the bodies show a complex attitude and a multifaceted personality and they appear as if they want to try, almost subconsciously, to distance and shelter themselves from their destiny. They don’t necessarily represent a fall but a new renaissance of humanity which is expressed through the use of colours and shapes. 

Jean Paul Bourdier, Body of wind

Jean Paul Bourdier, Somnambulists

And this represents the chance to put into effect the human willpower which inevitably tends towards repetitiveness in a temporal loop which is a portrayal of everyday life. The French photographer continues travelling the world in constant search for the perfect stage for his works, so that the “bodyscape” project is always ongoing.

Martha Pulina 

Zdzislaw Beksinski’s photography: a preferential entry to fantastic realism

Zdzislaw Beksinski’s photography: a preferential entry to fantastic realism

Zdzislaw Beksinski wasn’t just an artist but indeed a multifaceted creator in the true sense of the word: the Polish polymath started his artistic career as a photographer but later became interested in painting which will turn into his focal activity from the beginning of the sixties until later during his life, with a brief parenthesis as a sculptor. His first photographic works are shot with an Icorett Zeiss during the communist occupation of Poland and they portray principally subjects that are close to the artist: narrow streets, wooden walls, isolated people overwhelmed by the surrounding architecture. Having finished his studies in Cracovia with a degree in architecture, Beksinski goes back to his native city in Sanok and founds with some friends a photographers’ collective. 

Zdzislaw Beksinski

In 1959 they organize an exhibition in Gliwice which becomes known as “The Anti-Photography” and where Beksinski displays fifteen of his works. Among them one will remain particularly relevant for polish art critics: the “Sadist’s Corset”, a shot where, standing behind a chair, the photographer portrays his wife Zofia’s body wrapped with a string. 

Zdzislaw Beksinski

Inspiration for this picture came from the surrealist photography and from the processing of film negatives invented by Pudvkin, a famous soviet director and film theorist who whas his contemporary; Pudvkin’s ideas inspired Beksinski’s visual narration and his photo sets created with the juxtaposition of newspaper, film negatives and amateur photos. These ideas were in contrast with the ideal of a “pure photography” which was popular at that time, in fact, just a year prior to his exhibition, Beksinski publishes in the polish magazine “Photography”, an essay titled “The Crisis in Photography and the Perspective to Overcome It” where he expressed his disappointment and his negative approach towards the photography of his time and suggests two ways forward: one is the use of the traditional technique in order to create photo sets which resemble those of the film industry; the other is to start considering photography as an abstract art. 

Two years later though Beksinski became disinterested in photography in order to put all his efforts into painting and sculpting, his proposals for a new photography therefore won’t translate into a concrete production; it is only later, in the last part of his life, when he decides to pick up photography again thanks to the availability of computer graphics, a technique which enables him to edit his photos to suit his surrealist vision, in the end the issue comes full circle. It’s 1960 when he decides to focus first on sculpting and then on drawing, he produces heliotypes and montypes in a path that led him finally in 1968 to painting; between this period and the middle of the eighties is when he’s most recognized and what is considered the height of his career, a period that will be defined as “fantastic realism”. This artistic school highlights the same topoi previously seen in the photographs taken at the beginning of his career: a great attention to the human body, transfigured and deformed faces, lack of full bodied figures, gloomy and oppressive atmospheres, an obsessive attention to details. This is exactly why it’s impossible to understand Beksinski’s paintings without studying in depth is photographic production, they are the door that makes us enter his fantastic world where he still takes us even thirteen years after he was brutally murdered.

Luca Torelli

A special thanks to the Historical Museum in Sanok and its director Wieslaw Banach for allowing the use of Beksinski photographs Piotr Dmochowski for sending them and Kamil Sliwinski for the documentation.

The abstract becomes tangible: Wolfgang Tillmans conceptualizes the existent.

The abstract becomes tangible: Wolfgang Tillmans conceptualizes the existent.

Moving with dexterity between the intangible and the perceptible without repeating himself, Wolfgang Tillmans made a breakthrough in the analysis of the concept of movement, so as to reiterate it each time in a new way. Even though he can be considered of pragmatic origin, coming from the rational foundations of the German culture, Tillmans decided from the beginning to release himself from those principles and that rationality, in order to humanize it over time and examine more in depth the existent in all its forms, real or illusory. His shots might look casual, without coherence, but the small portraits he produced during his youth can be considered a direct testimony of the underground gay culture in London.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Dm9r HHuSYA, 1993

Wolfgang Tillmans, wolfsnap, 2002, C-type print © Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

The objects seem minimalist, focused for the most part on the subject which comes into contact and contrasts with the surroundings. Between the colours and the elements portrayed everything is in dissonance with the harmony of the landscape and even more so if there’s a human element involved. From the collection Love Parade in Berlin (1992) to the Europride in London, the fragments of reality captured by the photographer make a cross-section of a society that was in the process of entering a new era. When the world surrounding him ceased to give him inspirational inputs he turned to travelling in order to rediscover new existential frontiers. This is when Tillmans decided to leave behind the certainty of his Germany to investigate and explore the charm of the underground culture in London and the allure of the Big Apple when he moved to New York in the mid nineties. There he took the concept of exposure to the extreme, detaching it from the conventional use of the time and embracing his avant-garde vision.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 25, 2003

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 42, 2004

As his exhibitions increased in frequency so increased the space necessary to display his works, which are not presented in temporal sequence as is traditionally the case, but they expand into the space and they reach onto the whole surfaces of the rooms including unusual locations like the ceilings. This represents the extent of the concept Tillmans gave to his artistic creations which were not limited to the individual shots but embraced the entire exhibition as a whole. What is most astonishing about Tillmans’ visionary perspective is the non-continuity in his stylistic approach, this is also the unique feature allowing him to give back to the world a point of view on what stimulates him everyday which is as realistic as is exaggerated. Among his most notable works it’s certainly worth mentioning the Concorde Grid, a collection made of fifty-six shots taken around the London airport area which focus on the indeed well-known Concorde airplane. Once again what contributed to a landmark exhibit wasn’t just the subject of the anthology but the way it was displayed on a grid of four rows and fourteen columns, the pictures arrange a narration which is half way between the imaginative and the hyper-real. The change from analogic to digital opened for him new possibilities and new cognitive horizons, applicable both to his perception of reality and the adaptation of his works in digital format. “A true change in the way we think about photography”, Tillmans stated, “which inevitably is reflected in all the stages of my creative process”. Nevertheless, this new challenge is taken up voraciously in order to give birth to new forms of expression, always in contrast but still revolutionary.

Martha Pulina

Saul Leiter: The Poetry of colour

Saul Leiter: The Poetry of colour

After World War II the centre of the arts shifted from Paris and Europe to New York and the United States which offered shelter to the artists who fled from the conflict and joined the local ones in order to start a new chapter of contemporary art. Saul Leiter, for example, was very impressed with photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose works were exhibited at MoMA in 1947 after he founded the photography agency Magnum Photos with Robert Capa and David Seymour in New York in the same year. His friendship with photo-journalist Eugene Smith and seeing Cartier-Bresson’s production, inspired the young Leiter to devote himself to photography as well as painting.

Saul Leiter, Newspaper Kiosk, New York City, 1955

Saul Leiter, New York, 1950s

Born in Pittsburgh in 1923, son of an important Rabbi, he started studying theology at the Telshe Yeshiva Tabbinical College in Cleveland but left in 1946 in order to live in the Big Apple and pursue his desire to become a painter. There he came into contact with the Abstract Expressionist movement and joined the New York school which led him to start his photographic works, first in black and white and subsequently in color so much so that he was mentioned as a color photographer in the conference held in MoMa in 1957 by E. Steichen “Experimental Photography in Color” where 20 of his shots were displayed. Leiter was one of the first to experiment and understand the potential of color photography, when black and white was the norm, he tried to push the boundaries without setting limits upon himself, photographing different subjects such as nudes, still lifes, portraits, urban landscapes, and creating well-orchestrated hybrids.

Saul Leiter, model Carol Brown per Harper’s Bazaar, 1958

Saul Leiter, Lily Moore, Harper’s Bazaar, 1963 ca.

Even though he worked in the fashion industry for about twenty years, between the 60s and the 80s and publishing his shots in Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, British Vogue, Queen and Nova, he was rediscovered thanks to his pioneering role in colour Street Photography when his production was exhibited in 2008 at the Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris. Together with H. Levitt, Saul Leiter is considered one of the few who managed to be consistent both shooting in colour and in black and white; in his shots the colour brings to life new meanings and new sensorial perceptions where chromaticism is weakened by a veil made of nostalgia and where New York landscapes appear as they’re seen more through the eye of an european than an american.

Saul Leiter, Foot on El, 1954

Saul Leiter ,Parade,1954

In this sense his works feel like scenic designs with adornments and characters covered in a thin layer of dust which gives the colour lyrical accents, making it historical and evocative of an unspecified time in the past but at the same time contemporary, perhaps a of a time near to Atget or  Brassaï and his collection “Paris de nuit” (1933) from which Leiter seems to have taken inspiration, especially with his use of the soft focus and condensed glass surfaces. Film director Giuseppe Tornatore once said “when one takes a picture of a stranger, in the exact moment the photo is taken that person stops being a stranger because one will keep it with oneself forever”. Could this be also valid for Saul Leiter? It doesn’t look like that’s the case. Human figures are treated like mere shapes, in a mix of voyeurism and indifference which turns pedestrians into anonymous living beings, sometimes pushed to the edge of the composition or cut off from view. Even so in Leiter’s photos there’s still poetry and also poetry that comes from the colors.

Dolores Pulella

Mast Foundation for Photography Grant on Industry and Work 2018

Mast Foundation for Photography Grant on Industry and Work 2018

Sarah Cwynar, Sohei Nishino, Mari Bastashevski, Cristobal Olivares / Curated by Urs Stahel

Photo Gallery Mast foundation Bologna

Sarah Cwynar – Ultra Cosmetics from the series “Colour Factory,” 2017

It’s important to mention how nowadays there’s a discrepancy between the knowledge of the finished product – which is familiar to us to the point of becoming and extension of our body and inducing us to build an image of ourselves through the act of the purchase (a phenomenon which is particularly amplified in the era of social media) – and an almost total lack of involvement and ability to understand the world of industrial production, even though it is the very images of the production process which enables us to understand the evolution of the labour market and how it impacts society and consequently the consumer of the product which looked so familiar. Media, technology and finance have almost implemented a process of abstraction of the world to the point that areas of fundamental importance which govern the transformation – always ongoing – of our daily life, ended up being distant, inaccessible, unintelligible and obscure for most people. Therefore it seems like there’s an impelling need to reduce , or better, to cancel this distance allowing us to visualize the process of production through a perspective which goes beyond what is portrayed for the insiders. The photography can be the vehicle documenting reality and the photographic shots can be the eyes through which one can follow the developments in the world of the industrial production, which involves machines, goods, digitalization etc. Urs Stahel – curator of the photo gallery of the MAST Foundation – raises the question related to the observation of reality by looking at a representation, one of the fundamental problems of photography. Bertolt Brecht in 1931 stressed that in that sense  the reproduction of reality in fact is not able to tell us anything about the objective reality – the mere photographic reproduction of a factory, for example, won’t tell us anything about its history and function – in this regard it’s necessary to produce something even more “artificial” and researched, a system made of interconnections which is able to relate to different elements of reality since the simple observation of it lacks the necessary information to understand it. It is essential to include in the image a connection between the abstract knowledge and the essence of human behavior, a connection between information and emotions. This is should be the target of young photographers and this is what MAST with the award of MAST Foundation for Photography Grant on Industry and Work (won by Sohei Nishino and Sarah Cwynar) – wants to promote and support, encouraging the investigation of themes considered essential in order to understand the reality of our time.

Sarah Cwynar, Tracy Grid (Blue to Pink), from the series “Colour Factory,” 2017

Sarah Cwynar, Tracy Grid (Green to Red), from the series “Colour Factory,” 2017

Sarah Cwynar focuses her works on shades of colors, analyzing color standards through the industrial tintometric systems in relation to beauty, to the models imposed by capitalism and their relationship with feminism, color theory and the features which make color an important part of experiencing human life. Cwynar’s work includes a short film, Colour Factory, and photographic shots through which she analyzes the paths we subconsciously follow and how our behavior is influenced as consumers of both images and commercial products. In the series of shots taken with her muse “Tracy”, she seems to explore the research made by the manufacturers of photographic films and their evaluation standards, looking for the right skin tone and the colors which seems to highlight it. The relationship between color and our personal perception of them is the focal point of Cwynar’s investigation, her short film is like a stream of consciousness, a collection of sensations, personal feelings and universal emotions. She presents iconic images such as wonder woman’s boots, red lipstick and red nail varnish.These are analyzed in relation to our personal perception and memory of the colors. At the end of the film a symbolic sentence states “I will never know how you see Red, and you will never know how I see it”. Our ideal of beauty though could be standardized and mass produced through a red lipstick, for example, and this is due to a collective memory linked to a tradition of images of red lipsticks, from movies to fashion, in the experience of what Lauren Berlant defined as a sort of “public intimacy” , a personal/sentimental network of cultural requirements which convey the goods and the experiences in the world of consumerism and assume the existence of a “common story” where the objects are expression of the story and correspond by convention to the feeling of belonging to it.

Sohei Nishino The Po, 2017

The subject chosen by Sohei Nishino for his project is water. While wandering from place to place, creating his majestic panoramic works composed by using thousands of shots combined – halfway between a map and a diorama – he 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.  He works alone, 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.

Mari Bastashevski , Councilman Erik Mays,
Water conference, City Hall, Flint, Michigan, US, 2017
Access: Permitted with a written authorisation

In Mari Bastashevski’s “Emergency Managers”, water is also used to convey a message, but the young Russian photographer in her work wants to investigate the mechanisms which are at governmental level and the negative impact that the bureaucratic machine can have on part of the society. In her project she addresses the issue of the water crisis which struck the city of Flint (Michigan) in 2014. When the town decided to build its own water source, ending the supply contract with the city of Detroit, the construction of the water supply network was so badly made that as a result residents were exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water and many suffered lead poisoning, especially among the African American population, therefore forcing people to drink only bottled water. In her investigation Bastashevski tries to find out the causes of the crisis and how it was dealt with by the people in charge, focusing her attention onto the people who profited from the crisis, protecting the victims from exposure, refusing to sensationalize their pain as too often happens in these situations. The artist’s focus isn’t on how the incident ended nor is exclusively on those involved but she tries to examine new perspectives and to understand the inter-relation between private and public interests. Bastashevski’s work is of particular interest because it goes beyond the simple representation, becoming “representative”, on one side neutralizing the portrait of the crisis usually made by the media, on the other end emphasizing the documentation of the events and highlighting their informational value. Bastashevski presents a visual composition of images and documents linking them in order to bring to light critical knowledge useful to the civil society, refusing to use the visual element as a weapon of persuasion and as a simplified representation which is what happens in situations that receive extreme media attention.

Cristobal Olivares , J. (38), from the series “The Desert,” 2017

Cristobal Olivares Untitled, from the series “The Desert,” 2017

 “Dominicans are required to have special visas to enter as tourists, which has made them an easy target for smugglers. They are deceived, robbed and abused [..]. Most are intercepted in their own countries where they receive travel offers [..] through the desert on the borders between Perú, Bolivia and Chile where the biggest threats are minefields, heights of more than 3,800 meters above sea level and extreme temperatures during the day and night”. These are the words used by Cristobal Olivares, a young photographer from Valparaiso, to describe the migratory phenomena from the Dominican Republic to Chile and what takes place around the problem of the many people who try to cross the border illegally.  It’s not a metaphor to say Chile is at one of the limits of the world, it’s a difficult place to reach, even in our modern times. It’s a country that it is built in the same way as an island with the Andes mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Its geographical condition puts it almost in between two personalities, the insular one which is reserved and closed in its identity, and the openness to migrants which have crossed it with their cultures and their own identities. After the military dictatorship, Chile opened itself and started promoting its territory becoming a main destination for Latin American migrants. Therefore between interest and negation, new identity challenges arose, though common, they were new to this country, about what is the distance perceived and in what way are the others different. Cristobal Olivares in his project “The Desert” puts himself next to the migrants and their stories and explores the implication of the identity question. Olivares presents shots of enlarged landscapes of the desert, empty, which become background for the portraits of the migrants and for the video installations where they regain their speech. In a process which seems to suggest a loss of identity, the migrants are pictured without showing their faces, but this expedient, even though it exposes their weaknesses and uncertainties, also highlights the fact that they are part of mankind. Olivares reflects upon the distance between oneself and another, fluctuating between reality and fiction, distant from the concept of documentary as a testimony of reality in a possible passage from the story of the individual to a universal feeling between memories and appearances.

Alice Zucca

Neue Sachlichkeit Photography

Neue Sachlichkeit Photography

Neue Sachlichkeit, namely the New Objectivity, was an artistic movement that arose in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1918-1934) which characterized German painting and architecture as well as producing exciting and innovative results in photography. The birth of the movement was incidental with a series of historical events that shocked Germany in the second decade of the twentieth century, in particular the economical and political situation of the country after the first World War and the resulting high unemployment rate which contributed to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power but also the creation of the first great school of architecture, art and design, the Bauhaus, founded by the architect Walter Gropius. One should also take into account the importance of the debate surrounding the role of technology in the arts and the discussion on whether to refuse a priori the sinergy between the machine and the creative force or to allow for it to thrive among the Bauhaus environment. In the early days of the Bauhaus school of art and crafts, when it was still based in Weimar, Gropius invited Hungarian photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who shortly became a prominent member of the photography lab starting his research and experimentation which would lead him to a series of results such as photograms, compositions and still frames recalling the industrial world. Thanks to that environment, to the faith put into the power of the machine, in addition to the thirst for revenge after the failure of the Great War, Germany was the ideal place to elaborate a new concept of photography opposed to the past and to pictorialists’ sensitivity: the Neue Sachlichkeit was born. Its name was coined by art historian Gustav Hartlaub in 1925, in order to describe an art movement with a realistic emphasis, compatible with its era and a type of photography which would become a universal language able to represent rigorously and soberly the different subjects of the empirical world. The New Objectivity found in photography a valuable medium in order to achieve a change in style through the exact representation of the subject, a clear and well defined image construction with particular attention to shapes and structures; these were the guidelines for the new approach in photography which we can find in the works of Albert Renger-Patszch (1897-1966), considered by many the leader of this movement, whose book “Die Welt ist Schön” (The World is Beautiful), published in 1928, was in fact criticized by Walter Benjamin for being overly optimistic, especially in its title, in a country where the working class was devastated by precariousness and uncertainty. 

Albert Renger-Patszch

 

At the start of his career Renger-Patszch focused his lens onto the plants realm, reproducing fragments of nature with as much objectivity and clarity as possible, with close ups on plants and flowers on neutral or dark backgrounds. Another member of the movement who decided to make  nature his only subject was Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), German photographer and sculptor, who for over thirty years concentrated his artistic energy on seeds and flowers, with a self made machine that was able to magnify the subject more than thirty times.

Karl Blossfeldt

 

Edward Weston, Dunes, Oceano, 1936

 

Edward Weston

 

But  Neue Sachlichkeit photographers, apart from the natural world, also investigated the themes of the new industrial era and the architecture of modern metropolis. Simultaneously Edward Weston and Paul Strand were doing the same thing in a similar manner in the United States with their view of the photographic medium, separating themselves from the pictorialist heritage which was frowned upon since the twenties in favour of a new trend which would focus more on the intrinsic qualities of photography.

Paul Strand

 

Going back to László Moholy-Nagy even though he too was conscious of the difference between the camera of a photographer and the human eye one can’t place him among the members of the New Objectivity but rather he was a member of Neues Sehen (New Vision), a different artistic movement, but still not far from the Neue Sachlichkeit, which would also promote photography as a privileged medium for the representation of the modern world; indeed, as Renger-Patszch once said “It is absurd to imagine modern life without photography”.

Dolores Pulella

Karen Knorr: the elegance of humility. Unexpected contrasts between animals and humanity

Karen Knorr: the elegance of humility. Unexpected contrasts between animals and humanity

The Journey, Hie Torii, Tokyo

 

It is definitely not easy to portray another culture going through a deep change. The British class struggle during Thatcher’s government is a great example of a social transformation that the photographer Karen Knorr captured with her camera. Born in Frankfurt am Main, Karen Knorr grew up in San Juan (Puerto Rico) in the 1960s and finished her education between Paris and London, where she lived for most of her life. She immediately begun turning her interest towards the pratices involving the “politics of representation”, while exhibiting her works during the 70s and the 80s. “Gentlemen”, exhibited between 1981 and 1983, perfectly represents the British class system under the patriarchal conservative values during the Falklands war.

The Wedding Guests

 

Her work captures an elegant loneliness in which every subject is left alone amongst luxurious furniture and lights. Karen Knorr pursued her artistic focus on British art heritage, whilst inserting uncommon elements such as wild animals and exotic birds.

Vishnu’s Return to the World, Rani Ki Vav, Patna

 

The Winds of Change, Villa Farnese, Caprarola

 

And so a new wave of artistic production was born, which took the photographer to a long safari among dreamy surroundings. In an empty corridor, a silent cheetah is sitting next to an imperial chair, while two deer are battling vigorously in a museum hall, with all the paintings hanging and quietly staring at them. While her search focused on the elements that lead humanity back to a more humble space than the one it currently is, her career brought her to open a dialogue with future generations. Indeed, she is now Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey.

The Wedding Photographer

 

The Opium Smoker, Chitrasala, Bundi

 

Heaven’s Vault, Villa Farnese, Caprarola

 

Master of Seduction, Amer Fort, Amer

 

This contrast between pure search for conceptual freedom with the challenge of passing it down to future generations lead Karen Knorr to investigate more on the substantial interrelationship between humans and animals. Her photography lead her to explore new worlds and cultures, but the core of the research remained directed to the heritages different cultures keep within modern codes, and her exhibition “Academies” had a great success in the following years. Between 1994 and 2001 Knorr travelled throughout Europe to depict the ongoing culture and its consumptions. The 2000s were years of intense production where the artist mixed analogue and digital photography in order to represent a composition of Ovid, Aesop and La Fontaine’s tales, and the popular culture’s imagery of Disney and Attenborough.

Peers of the Realm

 

Callisto’s Despair, Palazzina Cinese

 

“Tales”, the name of the exposition, was produced between the 2004 and 2008, when the artist often spent time in Paris’ cultural environment. During the years she never stopped travelling and, after the life-changing trip to Rajasthan (India) in 2008, Karen Knorr still continues to investigate the feminine subjectivity and the animal realm. This small change on her path allowed her to depict a new side of human weakness and her journey to Japan in 2012 enriched the long open dialogue about the relationship between humans and other creatures. Whilst still looking for a new point of view on the subject, Knorr is now developing her upcoming works in Italy, India, Japan and USA.

Martha Pulina


PUBLICATION LISTED IN THE ITALIAN PRESS REGISTER BY THE SASSARI COURT OF LAW WITH REGISTRATION NUMBER 447/2017.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: ALICE ZUCCA

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