New image of 9/11

The most photographed event in the Western world, the 9/11 attack on the twin towers, has been given a new perspective. After all the intense and frightening ground level photographs, a shot taken hundreds of miles away gives a different view. Astronaut Frank Culbertson was in the orbiting Space Station as the attacks were taking place on the ground. He was informed about it from Earth just as he was coming overhead.

The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. Read here.

Am I the only person to see a face in this photograph, the evil spirit of that morning?



Concrete Photography

Gottfried Jäger, Foto object 1998I

The Latin origin of the word abstract, “drawing away from”, suggests an art that started in figurative representation but moved away from it into non-representation. The careers of Kandinsky, Mondrian and Pollock all show a gradual development from realistic depiction into pure abstraction.

But there are artists whose work started in non-representation, whose thinking was already based on abstraction. The word used for this is Concrete art (Art Concret), a term first employed in the 1930s and promoted by the Swiss Max Bill. He famously declared that he believed in an art largely derived from mathematics.

Obviously ‘concrete’ doesn’t refer to a building material, but to something real and actual. Concrete artists see a work as existing in its own ontology, without reference to external images, feelings, memories or ideas. They are things that should be taken on their own terms.

In photography this is a difficult idea because the medium is “wedded to the world through the mechanism of recorded light”. Photography captures the world outside of the camera, a “quotation of reality”, as John Berger described it. If a painting is something added to the world, a photograph is something taken from it.

Gottfried Jäger has dedicated his long career to Concrete Photography, and his writings and artworks help to define the movement. The images displayed here are simple pieces of black & white darkroom paper, exposed to light, processed and carefully cut. They are from a series called Fotomaterialarbeiten – Photo material works – a suitably objective title. More can be found by clicking on his name.

In the above image, a sheet of paper has been exposed with an X and an X has been cut into the paper alongside. In the image below, sheets of paper have been exposed and cut to create the impression of a single folded sheet. Look closely.

According to Jäger, they dispense with depicting external objects and posit themselves as the theme. The results are pure images of light, photographs of photography.

A Concrete photograph attains object character. It is not a sign of something, but is itself something. It is not what is represented but what is present. It engenders objects of itself and thus fulfills the central criterion of every concrete art: self-reference.

                                                 Gottfried Jäger, Foto object 1999XV

.The archive of Jäger’s photography can be found by clicking here.


Photographic Abstractions

David Moore, Blue Collage, 1983

Abstract photography is a complicated idea. The medium is so closely identified with visual reality that any attempt to move away from it seems contrary to it’s innate purpose.

It’s featured in the exhibition Photographic Abstractions at the Monash Gallery. Different ways into abstraction are presented, and it’s a useful map of the territory as practiced in Australia.

A dictionary definition describes abstract as “having no reference to material objects or specific examples”. That would seem to make it difficult for photography, but the word’s Latin root means “drawing away from” or “removed”.  Abstract art “drew away” from figurative art in the early 20th century when Kandinsky, Delauney and others painted more and more abstractly, arriving at pure abstraction in 1910. But their abstract art developed out of their figurative art.

On that basis, a lot of photography can be described as abstract because it moves away from straight recording of the visual world, into pattern, line, blur etc. The David Moore collage above is comprised of sliced up colour prints of a road surface and sky, but it’s the elegant geometric composition that you see.

Harry Nankin, Cathexis/Fragments 11, 1993

Harry Nankin and Susan Purdey have photograms on display, but surely this technique is the opposite of abstract? An object makes an image of itself on photographic paper without the mediation of a lens or film. It’s a 1:1 relationship in scale and touch, and that sounds like realism to me. Indeed, Harry once told me the reason he moved away from lens-based photography of nature was to get nature itself to make the pictures. But the images are not realistic in the way a colour photograph is, they are more like charcoal drawings.

Robert Owen‘s Endings are perhaps closer to the abstract ideal as they are pure material with no indexical links to an object. They are Kodachrome film ends enlarged into colour prints that are just fields of colour. One of them was from a roll of film (coincidentally) shot on the day Mark Rothko died, and the image has a distinct resemblance to a Rothko abstract painting.

Perhaps there’s a problem in classing this image as abstract – purely abstract. If it was chosen for its resemblance to a Rothko painting then there is a degree of representation in it after all, even if accidental. It is certainly abstract visually, but in resembling something out in the world doesn’t it fulfill photography’s descriptive purpose?

Left: Robert Owen, Endings (Rothko died today) – Kodachrome 64, No 21. 26/02/1970. 2009

Right: Mark Rothko painting, title & date unknown

Kimber’s Steichen

Mark Kimber, Return to White Cloud Lake, 2012

Adelaide photographer Mark Kimber makes pretty still lifes with a plastic toy camera. He has an exhibition at Sydney’s Stills Gallery called The Pale Mirror: dreamy, soft-focus tabletop miniatures. They have a quaint humour, sometimes a slightly menacing quality.

The benign image above is a take on Edward Steichen’s 1903 Pictorialist landscape, The Big White Cloud, also a dreamy image. Kimber seems to have used cotton wool for the cloud of the title.

Kimber’s is a romantic art saturated with the history of photography. His images are lush, fervent. He looks for “situations where the play of light, form and landscape converge in time and space to create an elusive and ephemeral piece of theatre.” 

You can view the whole exhibition here.

Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, Lake George, 1903