October 26, 2012
A long time ago in 1979 I got really lucky. In those years you were more likely to get serendipitous when browsing the book stands near Flora Fountain. There were some genuine beauties you could buy easily on a collegian’s pocket money, that is if you saved up instead of the wada pavs and movies. I was obsessed with books and still am but it gets harder each year with the devaluation of the rupee and printing costs and things going through the roof. Also work is getting slicker and more finished, wonderful print values and superlative form but don’t you get the feeling that ‘content’ is sorely lacking. Everything looks like a mass make over. So Arthur Tress comes across even today as enriched uranium.
His early book called The Dream Collector is a documentary, social commentary and artistic rendition of the subliminal, the unconscious, the REM and the John Fowles of the visual world.
The most wonderful part about Tress and all subsequent work that he has produced is his effortlessness. The Dream Collector is all about children enacting their fantasies, making real the virtual, making surreal the obscure.
Tress goes (because ‘went’ is so past tense and ‘done’) about recording on a tape machine, children’s dreams, believing that dreams are telling us about ourselves, that they are an indicator of what we are concealing, putting aside, not dealing with, in other words dreams are playing out for us a script for action to be taken, the past, present and future becoming one homogenous continuum.
Arthur Tress ‘renders several dominant themes in his photographs, the child’s expression of fear combined with intuitive curiosity his hands reaching, exploring shape and texture; and the emergence from darkness and light’. He gets on amazingly well with children which may account for the ease with which they can relate to him. He has a child like quality that they intuitively understand as genuine.
The foreword talks about the easy conversational, non threatening style that Arthur Tress has that children trust, that he takes them seriously must throw them off. He is never disparaging or dismissive or patronising. He shows them respect and in return they give him a dream for his collection. He then plays the dream back for them and initiates an enactment in a setting and backdrop that will lend itself to the mood and the sentiment. Then he waits patiently for that flash of inspiration when the child does something spontaneous and beguiling and then he knows he’s collected the rare species in a jam jar.
The photographs are rich in photographic skill and temperament. The images are disturbing in large part due to the illusion becoming tonal and bromide. Like Fowles it is unnerving to see dreams like butterflies in a display case impaled on a pin. The ambience is largely desolate and lonely. There are monsters looming out of children’s heads. He employs the diptych in many frame, the top half revealing one reality, the lower half another. If one becomes introspective which is what the book is ultimately seeking, you begin to see yourself as a child might see you, it can be ugly and cause you to stop, think and feel. Each image is a surprise as dreams are generally. Each dream is visually explicit and in black and white. The dreams connect literary to the audio which is connected to the smell to the texture and the sensation, the emotion and the intellect. What dreams are saying are seldom the obvious.
Tress is a versatile photographer a couple of his other books are available with homoerotic overtones and generally the macabre. His exhibition called Fantastic Voyage ran at the Piramal gallery for photography in 1995 and was a treat to behold, there was humour and exquisitely crafted prints. Tress is not as well known as he should be. But look out for his work which is loaded always with surprise and adventure.
October 23, 2012
You do not review Ralph Gibson but let him let you into his view and re spect. The word itself means re-view, to re-examine.
If you have the good fortune to meet Ralph Gibson you will know immediately that you are meeting a creative mind, an arrogant, intellectual man and you will come back entertained and enlightened. Here is Ralph Gibson on Ralph Gibson.
‘Context is everything, take the Venus de Milo, a beautiful nude, but if I were to say, there is still no cure for cancer, you would look at it differently.’
‘A missionary threw head shots of himself before he landed on an island, he then landed and the tribe promptly ate him. Either they thought he was throwing them the menu or they had difficulty reading the photograph. I’m interested in how different cultures see.’
‘I went to Egypt, I went up the Nile one man and came down the Nile another.’
…. man …. woman, rest room symbols, and it is replicated again and again on the dummies in the show room. That forms recur is no mistake. A culture is a sum total of its shapes. Photographers have to see shapes. I believe that there is a primal set of shapes, organic shapes are continuous, shapes of people, leaves, a smile considerably extend our boundaries, penetrate as an atom, go deep down to come up with a homunculus. We are seeing human, am I seeing English?’
Ralph Gibson loves books and his latest called Ex Libris, is a book about books. He visited several Libraries, saw the Polyglot Bible in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. His fascination for words and what they mean and what feelings they evoke is only secondary to the way they look. Typography is the pre cursor of photography and its use is tactical. The filigree of Gothic and the rectangularity of Hebrew is for him a ‘departure point’. He is fascinated with shapes. He would do the diptych put two images together, a hand holding a gun, and a woman at the side of another picture, he called the picture the Perfect Future.
Much of the book Ex Libris is about placement of two images that are unrelated which when put alongside seem to carry on a spirited argument sometimes or a resplendent laidback smoke. The images themselves form part of the Generative System Theory where to start with there may be a painting, then a poster of the painting and then a photograph of the poster of the painting, each time the meaning changes.
He likes the idea of being incredibly arbitrary of where to put the focus, out of focus, or in focus, just to see where it will take him. On the other hand it would seem contrary that he will stick with one lens and shoot everything at a 3 foot distance till he has understood the language of that particular lens. If he signs a print he takes total responsibility for everything. No happy accidents in the background, he takes all the credit or all the blame. His morality is entirely reflected in his work, not in the amount of money he puts in the ‘poor box’ in church.
He decided early on that his life-time tool would be a Leica and he goes on to say that more great photographs have been made with a Leica and a 50mm lens than any other camera. He says that camera handling is crucial to the process, that it should be second nature and that if you shoot 10 rolls a day for the next 4 months you will automatically become a better photographer. He practices to stay warmed up, just moves film through his camera and if he doesn’t he fears he may lose his camera handling skills.
In his book Ich Bin Nacht (I am the Night) he worked by night in Berlin where he believes the night begins. He still functions as a street photographer after having dropped out of Magnum where he started out as a reporter, except now he does not want to report anything. He feels no great compunction to portray the whole Brandenburg gate, the bridge where they exchanged spies, the night is just a point of departure, it abstracts things and gets rid of a lot of information and it is a higher form of information.
‘I studied photography, learnt it, then serving it you become Photography, can you deny that Cartier Bresson is not photography? The photograph is always more intelligent than the photographer. The medium is always larger. We realise that the photographer is not the photograph, nor the radio, music. The photographer speaks through the photograph.’
His mission is that nothing comes between him and his work, he thought it was a sacrifice, to give up on time with the family, now he thinks to have done anything else would have been a sacrifice.
There are lots of reasons for making a photograph. Take a nude, you can work on minimal flatness, or as erotica, or to experience tonality, or to explore north window light in your studio, it is just an excuse to know more about photography. He says I want to make a Photography, all my points of departure make a sub text. His father is a diplomat his mother an eccentric who thought all her relatives were on the walls of Pompeii. He wants to look as far back as he can as a contemporary living today. Jews carry that around in them, they are Antiquity.
‘When I make a book, I show how I think about my work and photographs, no one will know more about my work than I. Photographs are objects that lie suspended between the present and the past. Mao brought the watch to China and forced it to measure Time, better than burning candles. Photographers have gone one better in ending time.’ A book publisher wanted to cut one of his images in half for the cover. “We will double your money” they said, when he objected. “Ok double it” I said, otherwise it will be bad for my work, but no cutting the image in half. That is staying pure, I am not going to cut my nose to spite my face’.
‘How you feel is how you determine reality, the only thing real is how you feel’ ‘So long as you want to say something, photography will be around to record it’
Even if you are not a photographer you get the goose bumps listening to Ralph Gibson, there is an insouciance, a take it or leave it style, a panache for articulation and you are touched by the wisdom.
October 23, 2012
Can a piece of work be described as Erotic and Devotional simultaneously? The question itself suggests dichotomy. Maybe our perceptions come from contemporary established behavior within temples and cathedrals. That these places are supposed to elevate, to be inspiring, to take us to a higher plane while eros and the desires out of sexual love keep us rooted to our humanity. Duality
Can Karl Blossfeldt’s book on botanica ever be termed erotic? Can it be called Devotional?
The book simply called Karl Blossfeldt is the work of an artist, botanist, lover, high priest. The book incorporates most of his previously published work ( Art forms in Nature 1928, magic Garden of Nature 1932, Magic in Nature 1942) and some hitherto unpublished photographs.
Though Blossfledt died in 1932 all his work here is quite simply extraordinary by contemporary standards. He once remarked any verbose explanation would only detract from the plants themselves. Blossfeldt never had any aspirations of becoming a photographer, his passion was botany and the miniature and what the camera lucida helped him do was show magnified sometimes 45 times, the overlooked, the underfoot and unrecognised. His camera is almost a microscope in unusual formats. The bane of his life was sharpness. Anyone who uses a large format camera with larger bellows extension will know how difficult it is to keep the camera steady let alone prevent your tiny plant specimen from blowing away with the gentlest breeze. He built simple and crude devices to sandwich the plant within two sheets of glass keeping a space between them to keep the plant from getting pressed. This would help his depth of field issues but long exposures would mean that even creaking floors could cause shake.
The photographs have no complicated positions, Missionary top down and standard side ways. Backgrounds are either black or white. These were going to be standard teaching aids while he lectured botany. Blossfeldt almost becomes accidental, faceless, voiceless, inconsequential. The plants have strong personalities, they have ways of behaving and misbehaving, they have voluptuous lower lips and sex organs. They can remind you of a ‘septre’ only because we are arrogant to think we invented the shape. They look like wrought iron railings. They can be sensuous and emotionally charged.
They can be architectural forms, cupolas and pillars. They can have the delicacy of a Rococo ornament or display Gothic flamboyance. They develop Baroque lungs and sing antiphons, they are Gregorian chants, and can be the Vienna boys choir. Then flip the page and the sound they start making are Theravada and grown up and visceral. The plants talk and sing its an audio visual experience. The whole orchestra is there from the snares to the tinkling triangles, from the double bass to the violin, from the kettle drum to the dumroo.
Darwin would suggest that all of nature has only one function to perform, SEX, all beauty all shape is there because it helps survival better. Then could it be that this cosmic conjugating unfolding on the lawn and in your backyard, is a puja to the Lord?Can Karl Blossfeldt’s book on botanica ever be termed erotic? Can it be called Devotio
March 26, 2010
March 19, 2010
It might be easy to quickly dismiss India Poems, an exhibition of photographs and a simultaneous book release by Waswo x Waswo as pictorial, post colonial romantic imagery but the question that might stimulate the viewer of these photographs is about Reality, deception, falsity, illusion and the relationship all these have with perspective, the photographer’s, and yours, the viewer’s.
Photographs have the immediacy of telling you about the subject being portrayed, the portrayer, and then ultimately about you, across time, culture, and all those classic ethnographic divides. These images all made within the last six years depict the Indian world that we think we know. The world of Waswo, the Verrier Elvin with a camera, looks very familiar, it deals selectively with a bucolic India, all traces of globalization are framed out, modernity is edited, excluded from a sepia toned, 10” square bromide. The works in that sense are elegiac, wistfully pining, lamenting pace and progress. It would be curious to wonder about who and what is stuck in a pre-industrialised world.
Waswo in his introductory remarks at the exhibition commented on uniqueness and the connection with the exotic (a term that he cringes against) and then in the same breath continued on to say that he is looking to distill that special-ness in his subjects. It comes as a bit of a contradiction. There is an endearing, mundane, ordinariness in the work; most of the posed subjects are smack in the centre of the Rolliflex square, that has reverberations with so many photographers of the 60s, Arbus and Penn being the most noteworthy. While this is only a construct, a decision to shoot square, or horizontal, chemical analog as opposed to digital, the medium and the message come in intimate prints that draw you in rather than distance you. The images even at this size are not sharp; most are set in a diffused light. Are all of these conscious elements to induce a sense of retarded time, backwardness, a sense of contemporary history? Whose time, whose history? After intentions, authorship, will and desire, ultimately the photographs stand before you defenseless, they lack the energy to jump past the 2mm protective glass and touch you meaningfully.
What distinguishes the Poem from the Prose?