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.

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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.

 

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Bizarre Capa statue

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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.

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The sculptor Hervé Loránth Ervin

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Hommage to a Guy

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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.

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“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

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Guy Bourdin, December 1976

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Freeman, Gries and Lambert

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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!

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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.

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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.

Scenario

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)

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See video of Scenario here.

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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

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

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