Obscure Camera exhibition

Obscure-Camera-1Obscure Camera, the new show at Tacit gallery, features artists working at the border of photographic practice. Each work tests the normal definition of photography with sculptures, digital renderings and found images.

My images (above) were  made from students’ discarded mistakes recovered from darkroom rubbish bins. The artist was the chemical action of developer, silver and oxygen except that I found them and transformed the raw images into art prints.


Paul Garrick has created two handsome sculptures that reference landscape photographs of the Ansel Adams tradition. The cloud suspended in a steel frame resembles an Adams red-filtered sky trapped in a three-dimensional Magritte painting.

Bunder-1    Rikki-Paul Bunder works in abstracted landscapes but his beautiful Tacit prints go all the way, with a fine mist of granulated pigment forming mysterious shapes from water and light.

The other artists are TJ Bateson and Garry Moore. Obscures Camera continues at Tacit Contemporary Art until Sunday June 19.


Bizarre Capa statue


Hungarian artist Hervé Loránth Ervin has created a bizarre sculpture based on Robert Capa’s photograph of the falling soldier. The famous image was taken during the Spanish Civil War and supposedly shows a Loyalist soldier felled by a sniper’s bullet. It was taken in 1936.

Robert Capa was born in Budapest in 1913 and the sculpture is displayed in a park there as part of the Budapest Art Market. Mercifully it will come down later in the year.

Despite its clumsiness as a reproduction of the photograph, it is still an interesting example of what I call Photography by Other Means. This is where photography is engaged through means other than photography itself, in this case through sculpture.

The essence of Capa’s photograph, an instantaneous capture of a fleeting moment in time is usually presented in a two-dimensional sheet of silvered paper, a darkroom print. Here it has morphed into a 7.5 metre tall, four ton, three-dimensional object. Without Capa’s photograph the statue would not exist – it can only be understood in reference to the photograph, so in a sense it is a photograph, but one that was not achieved using photography.

On another level it can be viewed as a Surrealist sculpture, an absurd reversal of the intrinsic qualities of a photograph. Capa’s image was taken in a fraction of a second but the sculpture took much longer to craft. The photograph shows the soldier shot in Spain but the sculpture has him falling in Hungary. The microscopic particles of silver that make up the Spanish soldier weigh almost nothing, but the Hungarian soldiers weighs tons. It is a series of paradoxes that might interest Rene Magritte.

All this ignores the bad taste of exploiting a man’s death in this way, but that’s another matter.







The sculptor Hervé Loránth Ervin


Hommage to a Guy


Here is a unique hommage to an artist. The promotion describes it as…

One Night Stand: a limited-edition cheek palette featuring iconic Orgasm Blush and Laguna Bronzing Powder. Plus four additional shades inspired by legendary fashion photographer Guy Bourdin.

What? A line of makeup inspired by a photographer’s images? This is surely a first in the history of photography: photographs from the past come back to life on the faces of women in the future.

Guy Bourdin’s color-saturated photography insinuated a high-fashion world of dangerous women and intriguing sensual decadence. Nars pays homage to Bourdin’s seductive, suspenseful images with cheek palette of signature shades and dramatic blushes and highlighters.


“I was such a fan when I was a kid,” recalls the makeup artist and photographer François Nars who has produced this unique line. “I woke up to the fashion world through his images.” Nars has honoured the late photographer with a holiday collection inspired by some of his favourite shots. “I was really inspired directly by the makeup in those photographs,” says Nars, who translated it into intensely pigmented lipsticks, nail polishes and eyeshadows.

The original makeup artist who created Bourdin’s signature look in the 1970s is Heidi Morawetz whose work is described as “preternatural cheekbone blush, hues of blue and purple highlighting powdery-pink body makeup… lips dripping with gloss, a beauty mark on the cheek, dusty charcoal eyeshadow, furry fake lashes, accentuated features.”

You can see from this that the genius of Bourdin’s work in those years was the product of collaboration. The surrealism of Bourdin’s visual ideas was matched by the originality of Morawetz’ makeup. The performer in the photographs was a third collaborator, often the model Nicolle Meyer who even wrote a book about the experience: Guy Bourdin – A Message for You.

You can read more about this at Fashionmagazine.com and if you’re still looking for an orgasm after that, you can find one by clicking here: www.narscosmetics.com


Guy Bourdin, December 1976


Freeman, Gries and Lambert


Kyle Lambert, portrait of Morgan Freeman

Here’s one of those cases which challenge definitions. Is it painting, is it illustration, is it digital media or is it photography?

An artist has created a portrait of actor Morgan Freeman – an extremely lifelike and detailed portrait – using his fingers. Kyle Lambert is a UK illustrator who makes realistic art on an iPad using one of those finger-painting apps; this app cost him all of $6. The image is both a technical marvel and an endurance feat: 200 hours of work and 285,000 finger moves.

Obviously Morgan Freeman did not sit for the artist (although it would be interesting to speculate on what an A-list Hollywood actor would charge for 200 hours of sitting!) No, Lambert copied a photograph by Scott Gries, a US commercial photographer who photographs celebrities. I don’t know what Gries thinks about this, is he insulted? Does it break copyright law? But maybe he should be flattered that someone would spend 200 hours looking at one his photos. I once timed visitors looking at an exhibition of Magnum photographs and the average per photo was four seconds!


Scott Gries, portrait of Morgan Freeman

So, if a finger-painting is an exact replica of a photograph, is it in fact a photograph? Where do definitions begin and end?

You can click here to see the stages in constructing the illustration/painting/photograph/media art/copy. Then decide for yourself.


Lawrence and Freddie

When you see the film Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen you realize how great its Director of Photography Freddie Young was. He won an Oscar for it.

But I’m not just talking about Young as a cinematographer, I’m referring to the composed shots that appear on the screen as beautiful still images, as photographs.

One of the greatest single shots in cinema, the three-minute mirage sequence in which a figure slowly emerges from the desert haze, is a wonderful three part composition – see that tiny speck on the horizon in the image above? It’s a great suspenseful moment in the film, but visually it also functions as an elegant still photograph. There are many throughout the film. As well as being a great movie, Lawrence is also a great portfolio of landscape photographs.

The desert is a character in Lawrence and you often gaze at it as if at a star. The film immerses you in it, it paints the desert across the screen. There are points in the film where it is such an astonishing sight the filmmakers just leave it there on the screen so you to take it in.

This seems close to the indexical nature of still photography, its role of pointing, as if it’s saying “look at that.” You could argue that there is a distinct genre of ‘still’ photography contained within movies, images that have some DNA of the still within them and could be lifted out and printed. Despite plot, character, sound and movement there is also that purely optical component, subordinated to story but staying in the mind anyway. It must leave some residue in photographic culture.


Francisco Tropa, Scenario

Portugese artist Francisco Tropa is representing his country at the Venice Biennale with an installation called Scenario. This is a series of projections of mundane objects and simple processes. At first sight it looks like a room of handsome black & white photographs, but they are projected from small magic lanterns. The banal subjects, a fly, an hourglass, slow-dripping water, are transformed by their new scale, from object to image, from ephemeral to monumental. The intense scrutiny the magic lanterns perform is akin to scientific method, like the examination of specimens in a microscope; but it is equally the experience of childlike wonder we can have at the ordinary world around us.

“The overall ambience is mysterious and enigmatic, a timeless place in which objects and images have a heuristic quality beyond their specific value; the search for another understanding of the nature of things.” (from e-flux.com)



See video of Scenario here.


The Innocents Abroad

Elisabetta Benassi, The Innocents Abroad 2011

Venice Biennale: Nine microfiche machines in a darkened room. The machines are automated and retrieve hundreds of press photographs from the 20th century. The screens displays a photograph for a moment before moving on to the next retrieval. The busy machines clatter in their work.

When they stop you see a photograph of some topical moment from the 20th century. But you see the back of the photograph, not the image itself. You see the press agency’s description of the photograph on the other side, the caption, the copyright data, the credit. You read, you don’t look.

It’s history through captions, the victory of text over image. The captions attempt to explain the missing images, and you try to imagine what they might look like. Photography is dependent on the written word in a ways that painting or drawing is not. It’s almost always accompanied by text of some sort, titles, descriptions, critiques, as if the purely visual is unreliable.

The project is about photography, even though no photographs are directly seen. For a start, the backs of these photographs are now photographs themselves and they have their own beauty: the old typewriter fonts, the mysterious scribbles, the fading paper.

It’s also about photography’s relation to the archive, the record of history and knowledge stored in countless photographs in museums, libraries, government departments. The room of microfiche machines is like a busy office, searching relentlessly through the files, it’s a parody of the bureaucratic process.

Look at these still shots below and see if you can imagine the picture on the other side:

DIRECTS ADVANCED STUDY Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. the new director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J., is shown here in front of a blackboard full of mathematical formulas at the institute. Dr. Oppenheimer, a professor of mathematical physics, served as wartime director of the Los Alamos laboratories of the Manhattan Project when it developed and produced the first atomic bomb.

CLEVELAND TRACK STAR BREAKS WORLD SPEED MARK. Cleveland, Ohio – Jesse Owens, Cleveland High School student, ran the 100-meters in 10.3 seconds Saturday afternoon, one tenth of a second faster than the world record …

RAISING OF THE USS OKLAHAMA  With the stricken battleship Oklahoma almost half-righted, the work of cutting away loose gear begins. Cables stretched over wooden A-frames to Ford Island were used to right the ship which was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, December 7, 1941


Click here to see Elisabetta Benassi at the Biennale, with her installation: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ8cem-CX_Q


The Iwo Jima photograph 3

The 5×4 inch sheet of film that photographer Joe Rosenthal exposed on Mount Suribachi during World War II was transformed in 1954 into a 60 foot high bronze sculpture. This is a unique metamorphosis: from film to bronze, from 2D to 3D, from small to large.

The sculptor of the Iwo Jima monument was Felix de Weldon, a Vienna-born artist who achieved fame as a sculptor in Britain before arriving in the US. He can be seen in these photographs of the making of the Marine Corps monument. These strange images record his transformation of the photograph into a giant sculpture.


De Weldon refines the soldier’s boots that have been attached to the steel framework.

Each figure was designed without clothing in order to duplicate the muscle tone of the stretched and straining bodies.

De Weldon views the figures of Harlan Block and Rene Gagnon.

De Weldon refines the figure of John Bradley.

Bronze figure of Harlan Block being moved to the base of the memorial in Arlington.

The final result is the Iwo Jima memorial at the Arlington National Cemetry, opened in 1954.

See my other posts on this: Iwa Jima photograph 1 and  Iwa Jima photograph 2,


The Iwo Jima photograph 2

The Iwo Jima photograph is unique in the history of photography for its amazing transformation into other art forms. This simple two dimensional black & white print metamorphosed into a 3D clay model, then into a 32 foot foot high bronze sculpture. It was transformed from a photograph into an engraving on a postage stamp. And its stillness was brought to animate life in two Hollywood movies. Surely no other single photograph has changed form so much, spread so widely, and made so much money? Here is a timeline of its various afterlives.

February 1945: Upon seeing the photograph for the first time, sculptor Felix de Weldon transforms it into a clay model.


April 1945: De Weldon (centre) is photographed with his model, alongside the photographer Joe Rosenthal (right), and President Truman.


July 1945: A US postage stamp showing the Rosenthal photograph is released. 137,000 stamps are issued.


Spring 1945: De Weldon makes a series of life size sculptures which are paraded around the US, in a campaign that helped to raise over $20 billion for the war effort. The last surviving model is now on display on the USS Intrepid in New York harbour.


1945: Joe Rosenthal wins the Pulitzer Prize for Photography.


December 1949: The Sands of Iwo Jima premieres, a movie starring John Wayne, about the invasion of the island of Iwo Jima.


It includes a reenactment of the raising of the flag. The movie is a hit.


1951: De Weldon is commissioned to build a memorial to the Marine Corps. He begins work on converting the smaller sculpture into a 32 foot high monument.


November 1954: The massive bronze sculpture, 78 foot high on its pedestal and weighing 100 tons, is dedicated by President Eisenhower at Arlington National Cemetry, in front of a large crowd.


1954 to today: Numerous souvenir models of the statue are sold, as well as various other kinds of merchandise.



2006: Clint Eastwood’s film Flags of our Fathers is released, covering many of the events of 1945 relating to Iwo Jima and the mythical photograph.


2006: The film features a detailed reconstruction of the raising of the flag, and shows Sgt. Genaust and Joe Rosenthal photographing the event.


See my other posts on this subject: Iwa Jima photograph 1 and Iwa Jima photograph 3.



Grail and Wail

Susan Fereday, Grail

Sherry glasses hanging by thread.  A spotlight casts their shadows onto the wall behind. Each glass casts a shadow of its form, like a negative. Each shadow sparkles from within: the refracted light from the lens of the glass stem. These are the elements of Susan Fereday‘s Grail, part of her PhD exhibition, Light Out of Darkness, at Monash University in late 2009.

The exhibition explored two of the foundation artefacts of photography, Joseph Niepce’s Point de Vue de Gras of 1826 and Henry Fox Talbot’s Latticed Window of 1835. These were probably the first photographs ever made, photo-chemical experiments that initiated the revolutionary new medium. They are mythical objects.


Henry Fox Talbot, negative and positive of Latticed Window, 1835


Fereday’s approach is what I call “photography by other means”, creating photographs which are not photographs, making images or objects that are about photography, but are not made by photography. Gerhard Richter is someone to look at in this regard, making paintings that investigate the condition of photography. Fereday’s work has often been about de-mythologizing (there’s a 1980s word) photography, deconstructing its supposed transparency and truth-telling capacity. In a 2006 conference paper, (I am) the Ghost in the Image: Photograph as Mirror, Window, Veil, she responded to John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows thesis by proposing that photography should be considered, metaphorically, as a veil: “…what appears in the photographic image is a ghostly trace. The photographic surface is implicitly a Veil, a screen for the real, at once covering, and calling attention to – the absence of the Subject.”

In Grail, the pattern of Talbot’s window is suggested in the arrangement of sherry glasses, an emblem of the Victorian social sensibilities which he embodied. Photography is founded on the transparent medium of glass in the lens which lets light into the camera and focuses it on the film. It is a sort of window. At the back of a camera, the image is composed on another piece of glass, the viewfinder – another sort of window. Thus the notions of windows and transparency are the essence of photography. But a window is also a barrier, and it is a framing device, and it has its own materiality. And so, by analogy, is photography itself: a medium that promises transparency (“the camera never lies”) but brings its own kinds of deceits and obfuscations.

Talbot’s invention is founded on a paradox. When his camera captured light it turned it into darkness. The silver nitrate in his film blackened upon exposure to light: day became night, white became black  – it is a negative of reality. The process has to be repeated to turn the world back again and make it positive. There is a Manichean element to photography that troubled some god-fearing people in the early years. Fereday’s sherry glasses enact this light-in-darkness scenario, casting shadows of their form but focussing highlights within them.

The title of the exhibition refers to the search for Christ’s cup, suggested by the form of the sherry glass. The clarity, purity and transparancy of glass is the metaphorical grail, the impossible, unattainable quest for the same qualities in photography. The slowly turning glasses cast moving images, the lights sparkle and the forms change. “The images they produce are unstable and shifting, as impermanent as they are fascinating. Photography is an elusive as well as illusive medium, latent with meaning, leaking code.”


Susan Fereday, Grail (detail)


Fereday’s Wail, which accompanied Grail, is a screen of small paper balls, hanging in a pattern that also resembles Talbot’s Latticed Window. The screen is lit by a spotlight which projects its shadow onto the wall behind. This time the objects are opaque, the pattern of the window can be made out in the dyed paper but the shadow behind is just rows of dots, like code. The image of the window is the negative version, where the clear glass and sky is represented in solid black. The paper balls are doubly opaque because they are the shredded remnants of Fereday’s client notes, gathered in her work as a counsellor. They presumably contain the records of shared secrets, but give nothing away even under the spotlight.


.Susan Fereday, Wail

Wail’s opacity answers Grail’s transparency, but both use Talbot’s momentous photograph to say something about his invention. One work points to the faulty notion of its semantic clarity, the other to its obscurity. “Against photography’s identity as a medium of instantaneity, precision and stability, I argue that photography has a powerful capacity to encode multiple, latent, and occult meanings.”



Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper has died today at the age of 74.

A Dennis Hopper exhibition showed at Melbourne’s ACMI during 2010 and some of the work was related to the big Hopper exhibition at New York’s Tony Shafrazi Gallery I saw in 2009. Hopper is more of an artist that I thought, more of a creative individual involved in being creative on a wide front as a life’s endeavour.

I was intrigued by his paintings and their curious relationship to photography. Hopper photographed actively from the 1960s, recording his work and social life in L.A. His photographs, shown seperately at Shafrazi, were lively, interesting records of a certain milieu – intelligent celebrities, if that’s not an oxymoron.

The paintings are the photographs scaled up, big and so accurately rendered in paint that you have to look twice to see that they are not large photographs. Paintings that are 2 x 2.5 metres in size are derived from 40 x 60cm photographs. It’s like the scale propositions of Roy Liechtenstein’s giant comic strip panels. Something changes in the enlargement, but what is it?

Hopper’s paintings have the same monochrome tonality, accidental background details and lens characteristics as the original photographs, but they are not photographs. They pay homage to photography but don’t quite live without the referent of the original photograph. As paintings they are curiously dead, like billboard paintings. Being copies of photographs, they lack the spirit of painting, the painter’s gestures, the hints of colour, the plasticity – Painting’s independence as a medium. They are signs representing Photography.

Call this subject “photography by other means”.



Which one is the painting?




Photographs from tonyshafrazigallery.com