Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #3: Tilby Vattard

Tilby was one of those chancers who come up at the end of the four hours, when all you fancy is a cold beer, and ask you if you could quickly see their work. He was so charming I couldn't say no, and I'm very pleased I didn't. I even arranged to meet him the next day in order to talk more about his work.

Mountains, again. But different. Tilby takes these shots with either a Holga or a Hasselblad, and then works on them digitally, adding glimmers of light, planets and inscriptions. The effect is very retro, and a little bit kitsch, but he succeeds in making sure it's not cheesy. Instead, the landscapes he creates are the landscapes of fairytales, where the paranormal come out to play.

Tilby Vattard is based in Montpelier, and seems to make a succesful living as a graphic designer, using his signature style in posters for festivals and theatre productions amoungst other things. His site has a comprehensive view of his work, which can also be bought via the site... enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #2: Heather McDonough

Heather McDonough was my first victim. And her images stayed with me 23 portfolios later... a sure testament to some strong work!

She showed me two projects. The first, September Song, is a very tender study of her mother's battle with ovarian cancer. Heather has made it into a book, perhaps purely for the benefit of showing it to people, but it also works very well in this way. Intimate portraits are mingled in with still lives, of windows, doors... and observations around the home. The contrast between light and dark are ever present, a constant reminder of the fragility of life.

The second project, entitled Doris, is also a little bit about death. Doris was Heather's elderly neighbour, and after she passed away the photographer gained access to her house. Here she found a decor that had not been updated for many years... and pointed the camera at this marvellous aray of wallpapers. Again compiled into a book, the images are interspersed with old photographs of Doris herself... and the result is an intimate portrait of a very private woman.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #1: Michael Schnabel

Arles already seems a long time ago... so I am going to spend this week re-living it a little. For two of the afternoons there, I offered my services as a reviewer at the Voies Off. This is a fringe festival which is run in conjunction with the main Rencontres, and organises exhibitions, screenings and projections throughout the town. The portfolio reviews they organise are much cheaper for photographers than the main ones, as it costs 6 euros to see two reviewers; this is mainly achieved as the reviewers are offering their services for free.

Throughout the two afternoons, I saw a total of 24 people. That's a lot of work, and I was reviewing a lot in French which was very good practice for me but quite exhausting! I met some very interesting photographers, and each day this week I will showcase the photographers I saw whose work I liked best.

First up is Michael Schnabel, from Germany. Michael uses the method of painting with light to photograph darkness. His main series, Stille Berge (Silent Mountains) is a series of photographs of mountains taken in the dead of night... no moon, no stars, no light. I like the thought of him trudging up the mountainside in the dead of night with his 5x4 camera, setting up the exposure for an hour, an hour and a half, and him just waiting there for his picture to expose. To me, the resulting photographs are a reminder of the world before the presence of man; they show the beauty of nature without any human intervention. They are quite primitive, primordial, and very, very beautiful.

On the back of this series, Michael was commissioned to make work for museums in Germany, using the same principle of photographing in the pitch black. These too, make for interesting images, showing us what we don't normally see.


If you're reading this blog on one of the shiney new Mac screens (as I am), I'm afraid you are not seeing the work in the best light, as the reflections are too much. Do keep a lookout for a chance to see the work in the flesh... he prints them at over 2m wide, and I imagine they are quite awe-inspiring at that size.

Stille Berge has been produced as a book, published by Edition Braus, and available on Amazon. It is a beautiful volume, I only wish my German was up to scratch so that I could read the text! If you happen to be in Germany in the Autumn, Michael Schnabel will be exhibiting in a solo show in Osthaus Museum, Hagen, from 11 September to 6 November. He will also be exhibiting a new series, called Weisses Land (White Land) which I am excited to see.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Another year, Another Arles; Part 2

Right, so I got the rant over... now to what I liked best this year!

The exhibition I found the most exciting as a whole was that of French Collective Tendance Floue. Here was good quality work which was topical and innovatively put together. Tendance Floue is a collective of 13 photographers, who have been working together for twenty years. Surely a sign of a successful collective! What I appreciated about this show was that all the work was shown in equality; there were no captions near any of the photographs, so it really was a collective consciousness of work. The group jet off to China or India, for example, where they give themselves two weeks to produce a one-off magazine. The resulting imagery is a fresh look at documentary photography. The exhibition comprised of projections, photographs stuck flush on walls, printed on cushions... there was video footage of the collective working together on the edit, and snippets of text from their notebooks.

Installation views of the Tendance Floue exhibition (apologies for poor quality - taken on iphone!)

In addition to the collective show, was a small exhibition showcasing each individual photographer's personal work. It is true that they are a bunch of very talented photographers, even in their own right. You can browse their work on the Tendance Floue site; I especially recommend looking at the following projects; Grins, by Gilles Coulon, Watching TV by Olivier Culmann, and Tu es l'air by Meyer.

Next on my highlights list was the winner of the 2010 Portfolio Award, Swiss artist Augustin Rebetez. I'm a little surprised if he won just on the strength of his single images, as it was the stop motion which caught my attention. A little reminiscent of the Clangers, in a good way, he creates these wonderful narratives, which are sometimes sad, sometimes scary, sometimes humourous. My favourite is Dinner of a Lonely Man;

The annual New Discovery Award was had some interesting work in this year, too... a new discovery for me was Joachim Mogarra, who takes photographs of everyday objects and draws over them to create something different, often with a fantastical narrative. The work reminds me a little of Keith Arnatt in its simplicity and playfulness.

©Joachim Mogarra

I also enjoyed seeing the work of Yann Gross, a Swiss photographer who has documented the (apparently large) "mid-West" scene in the Rhone valley. The work is quite straight documentary photography, but the pictures are well taken and tell an interesting story; one that I find very amusing and quite unlikely, with my knowledge of the Swiss...

©Yann Gross

Other highlights were; the 42m large print by the Chinese artist Wang Qingsong and the New York Times archive, featuring work from Gregory Crewdson, Ryan McGinley and others... this show did make me think that work in magazines is often of a better standard than work on the walls of galleries, but perhaps more of that in another post.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Another year, Another Arles; Part 1

I have just got back from Les Rencontres d'Arles. Many of you will remember how blown away I was when I first went last year; I fear it will have to be a regular stint on my holiday schedule, as this year certainly didn't disappoint. Knowing what to expect meant that I could concentrate a little more on the photography; last year I was so bowled over by the locations of the exhibitions and how they were hung, I think it didn't bother me that perhaps not many of the exhibitions were my cup of tea. This year the hanging was equally as inspiring, but also there were many very interesting exhibitions, which introduced new ideas and ways of thinking, and provoked certain questions in my mind about the future of photography as a medium.

This was a theme that ran throughout the festival, particularly as one of the major shows was entitled From Here On, and was based on a manifesto created by Martin Parr, Erik Kessels, Clement Cheroux, Joan Fontcuberta and Joachim Schmid. Their manifesto suggests that, as there is so much visual material in the world now, we have become a series of editors, taking "work that has a past but feels absolutely present". An interesting precept, and actually, an enjoyable exhibition to visit, but completely vacuous. I realised a few hours after I had seen it that I could barely remember any of the exhibits; proof, surely, that the show didn't provide me with any food for thought, let alone educate me in anything of substance.

The exhibition essentially comprised of artists who used the Internet as a source of visual information. Many of them were fun and made me giggle... a video piece comprising of a collection of youtube videos of young girls shaking their arses to the camera, and a series of photographs of Kim Jong Il looking at things, which has been a very popular tumblr site, updated everyday. But then there was also a collection of sunsets from flickr, a selection of photos of penises on keyboards (yes, really), a cat-cam, web cam pics with insects obscuring the view, old photographs re-photographed with lego people (never got to the bottom of that one!) amoungst other vernacular. I was left wondering what all the fuss was about here... artists such as Joachim Schmid and Gerhard Richter have been working with vernacular photography for decades, and I struggle to see how this is different, apart from the source of imagery.

Mischka Henner: From the series Dutch Landscapes
It was the artists which directly comment on the effect of this abundance of images caused by the Internet which I found the most successful. Mishka Henner uses Google streetview as his inspiration, and his Dutch Landscapes are carefully selected streetview images of certain sites which the Dutch were concerned would be identifiable with the sudden visibility of political, economic and military locations. Instead of just blanking them out as other countries have done, however, the Dutch have used a type of blocky pixelation which provides a contrasting aesthetic to the surrounding views. Henner has also trawled streetview looking for images of girls who are prostituting themselves on the street; this work, entitled No Man's Land, can be seen at the Hotshoe Gallery in London until 26 July. Corinne Vionnet takes photographs of famous landmarks and layers them over one another, creating ethereal, painterly images which reflect mass tourism, and the quest to record our every move.

Corinne Vionnet: from the series Photo Opportunities
Perhaps it's telling that one of the most successful uses of this digital media was not by an artist, but an indie band based in Manchester, called The Get Out Clause. In order to keep costs down, they made a music video for one of their songs using CCTV. Taking full advantage of the Freedom of Information act, they recorded themselves on various cameras around the city, and then asked for the footage, creating a free and very clever music video, which you can see here. This, to me, is more a comment on how society has changed over the last ten years or so then many of the artworks in the show.

The curators of this exhibition seem to think that things will be different "from here on...". Well, this didn't seem to me to be all that different, and I certainly hope this is not the future of photography. A friend remarked that it was like watching a B movie... and it's true. It showcased the lowest of the low as far as photography is concerned. Perhaps it was because it was in an exhibition setting that it seemed so out of place. Perhaps it is an interesting collection of works, but should be shown in a way which reflects them; on screens, or as an online exhibition... maybe.

Coincidentally perhaps, FOAM magazine had created an exhibition entitled What's Next?, which accompanies a website of the same name. The most interesting thing in this exhibition was the quotes from people industry people, and their ideas of how photography can progress from here. Many can be seen on the website, which is well worth looking at, if you can fathom the navigation...

More from Arles coming soon! Next post will focus on my highlights.
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