The Dream Collector

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.

There is a very large book available in book shops near you and if it isn’t then it is well worth your while to order it. Here is the good news, its discounted for us in India and makes a, must buy.

 At any price Jeanloup Sieff is well worth the money, when its a retrospective of a 40 year backward glance, in large format, beautifully produced, thick, and ‘on special’ then you have no excuse.

 Jeanloupe Sieff is an icon born of Polish parents in Paris. But Sieff is timeless and a cosmic being, like a quasar or white giant, you can claim to belong to him and simultaneously he IS, unique, by himself, enigmatic and elusive.

 

Sieff’s work in the 50s looks fresh and contemporary even today, there is no patina, it seems to have slid off his Rolliflex this morning, he is not an imitator and simply follows the dictates of his own aesthetic which is always 10 steps ahead of the rest of the world. He is known to be a fashion photographer even when he is not shooting women and clothes. His work is fashion, and fashionable, eminently copy able. He creates style that people follow.

 

When you read the forward, and you must read the forward always in a retrospective, looking back, you get the feeling that this is a man with enormous life experience, a man who has travelled within and without, a man who has tasted and a man who has loved. What is most endearing is his literary je ne sais quoi. An easy walk down the Seine and insane, a glimpse into the artists mind and really his heart.  There is a wonderful humour, self deprecating at times. The captions to the photographs are like haiku, pithily joining the visual with the verbal. Sieff has considerable verbal agility, an ability to make simple the profound. He claims that there is no art only artists and their work.

 

Even when he was hired by Elle and was riding in fast cars with beautiful women he began to tire of what he calls ‘the frills and furbelows of fashion and that trilogy of the superficial: models, couturiers and hairdressers’, so he ‘took the holy orders of photojournalism and joined Magnum which was austere and photographically and politically committed, presided over by the Cartier Bresson and Marc Riboud, Ernst Hass and other warrior-monks’.

 

Jeanloup Sieff is deep. You can’t help but be affected by his work, which he tries hard to distill from the ‘oeuvre’ and edifice. His images have a direct quality that communicate swiftly. However there is always something to return to, a nuance, a twitch, a premonition. You have no choice but to own this book, possess it and let it possess you. It can’t but affect the way you breathe like an asana that gives your lungs more capacity to find oxygen in a polluted world. His images can be caressed visually and for the visually impaired no doubt running your finger tips along the bromide must set you tingling.

 

He pioneered the use of extreme wide angle lenses for fashion and used it with such elan making the distortion work for him. Sieff likes to send no silver into the hypo, all his prints are heavily burnt it, his skies in grey Europe all have a halo, much of his work has a thick, rich quality. All his images look like they have been shot in available light, there is a wonderful juxtapositioning of elements in his photographs. His images have strong graphic quality even in crowded scenarios.

 

‘A Portrait is normally made by representing a face or a bust. The face is the most exposed, visible part of the body, the part most used in social life. It has become a hypocritical mask which can be made to express whatever one wishes; it can laugh in sadness, seem interested when frightfully bored and remain impassive while one seethes with passion.’ This is the reason why Sieff has a fascination for bums, he wishes to one day make a book called ‘Homage to a hundred and twenty seven bottoms, chosen for their plastic, intellectual and moral qualities. He even finds bums that are contemplative’. The french have such a wonderful word for the tush, derrie´re,it is as sophisticated as de´colletage. He thinks that ‘bottoms for the most part are covered and protected, it retains its childish innocence, it faces the past whereas we advance inexorably into the future, it looks back over the way we have come. Some are strictly functional, for sitting or crapping, they represent little interest to Sieff who finds them resembling the faces of their owners. Others seem neutral or neuter and therefore boring. Finally there are the rare, elegant and aristocratic bottoms that transcend their function, become works of art, masterpieces, miracles of nature. They are Romanesque vaults of corporeal architecture. He feels that so unique are these bottoms that they almost deserve to have no arsehole.’

 

The book is wonderfully and intelligently laid out in four sections representing the four decades. The facing pages work fabulously, images are chosen with thought. If you are a budding fashion photographer or a full blown one, if you are a landscape photographer or just a photographer, then you need to study the likes of JeanLoup Sieff and see where the energy, intelligence, creativity and wit come from.

 

Coaxed Basalt.

October 26, 2012

Discovering Andreas Bitesnich has been a reward in itself. A tiny photograph by him in a publisher’s catalogue set up the scent. The world wide web never ceases to amaze, the most democratic invention since Plato and Aristotle, no middle man, no guru, no wise man who will part with wisdom for a fee. Information unplugged and now with the 500 bandwidth all of you reading this can go whoopie!

 

Though in the business of photographing for only 10 years now, Andreas has not been to photo school nor assisted any photographer, his art is intuitive and self learnt. His work has the maturity and skill of a longer practitioner. His website : http://www.bitesnich.com is a work of beauty in itself and indicative of his dark style not as in gothic but as in minimal light. The wall paper is a somber slate with graphic patches of a lighter grey on which reside his thumbnails. The site is easy to navigate and has plenty of images to stun and admire.

 

He is a native of Vienna and consequently not know of in India as much as American photographers are. He is essentially an advertising photographer but that might in some ways be a derogatory term for Bitesnich’s work is beyond that, it slips carefully into the world of sculpture in two dimensions. If one were to look at the bit depth of his negatives, you’d be sure to find bas relief.

 

The site has photographs on the left which open into their own windows. On the right you can navigate over the links that go : Nudes, Bio, Advertising, Editorial, Travel, Links, Contact and Home. Most visitors will ipso facto click on nudes because this is where Bitesnich’s true passion is. He is almost summoning you to see his soul laid bare, and be in awe at the bodies and the geometry. It is claimed by National Geographic in a recent issue that the human form has never been in better shape, Bitesnich endorses this. Seeing these perfect shapes male and female makes one guilty of eating that extra laddu, it might have quite the opposite effect actually, it could induce bulimia by giving all that peruse a complex, what is that extra gulab jamun going to do?

 

If you dial in Andreas Bitesnich into any search engine, you will be surprised to find the thousands of references the web comes up with, indicating that this man has a following.

Andreas is not without his detractors, his work though fantastic is not that far a departure from Herb Ritts and Schatz and Albert Watson and Helmut Newton, unfortunately that is the shadow he will always risk being under, however there is plenty of emulsion left in this fine art photographer and he should be the guy to watch out for. Like the above mentioned he does travel and his works in Kenya and Cambodia are again congruent with the kind of studio controlled lighting he is famous for. His portraits seem to be urged non invasively out of black basalt rock, though there is no soft focus (thank god) the images are powdery have almost a charcoal quality. One is struck more by the absence of light as made famous by Albert Watson. His nudes dripping in oil could well be an ad for Servo, every intercostal rib is there in anatomical detail glistening like granite.

 

His first book called predictably Nudes and at $ 52 is well worth owning. He has several books out now several of them in colour.

Fetishes

October 23, 2012

Perhaps the most haunting book in recent times would be Cyclops, by Albert Watson.

 

How do you define a trend setter? By definition it is beyond definition.

 

Watson’s book is like the Ten Commandments. Thou shall not… It is easier to state what it isn’t and hope that the negative in your carrier burns a positive, dense, deep, provocative, intense, inspiring, bromide.

 

This is not a review of a book of Photographs, but a rounded book of ideas, of travel, of anthropology, portraits of celebrities and of common people. It is about fashion as in the verb. It is about documentation and photoessay. It is about presentation and excellence and most importantly it is about passion and fetishes in the non-pejorative sense.

 

Albert Watson makes distinctive images.

He is beyond being a magazine photographer despite being commissioned by Life, Condo Naste´, Time, Italian Vogue, Stern, Newsweek and Rolling Stone. He is an artist with a camera.

 

Every Watson images is an erosion of the darkness, where the subject just peeps through, all the rules of back light and butterfly light and Rembrandt light all vanish, there is darkness and there is the subject. To say that this is a book of black and white images would perhaps be perjury. This is a book of non colour images. Even the printing goes through it’s gamut to come up with a process of CrystalRaster to render the platinum originals as faithfully as possible. 5 layers of dots, two different blacks, two greys and a varnish make the experience dazzling. Gone is the screen and mesh and the dot size, here all the dots are equal but closer or further apart bringing the tonality of the final print close to continuous tone and silver bromide

 

The book originally should have been called Fetishes because that is what it is about. They are all talisman which when rubbed produces genies, rewind experiences and most magically can translate fast forward some of their potency on to others a world and millennia away. There is from Tutankhamen’s Tomb a golden thumb stall, his carbonised glove circa 1323 BC and an Apollo Astronaut’s glove handshake across time and space.  Chairman Mao’s limousine and a crushed frog share space with Christie Turlington, Jonny Depp, Queen Latifah, Uma Thurman, Bobby Brown, Mike Tyson, Clint Eastwood and a whole bunch of ferocious characters from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the comment is provocative. The seductive, sensuous nude, faces off with a poisonous snake from Marrakesh. The thin line dividing the schizoid self is under the microscope.

The book however is called Cyclops, a veiled hint at the little known fact that Albert Watson has sight in only one eye, it however is single minded and focussed on the job in hand. In the land of the two eyed sighted, the one eyed is king. Watson’s brand new book called Morooc is a continuation of his affair with Morocco and its land and people. He has a home in Marrakesh and spends a great deal of time there.

 

The book has a most revolutionary layout and design. There is no grid lock mercifully and all the books on usage of single major font have been re written. 38 fonts make their way here and used with such great panache and wit. David Carson is a genius, he can make Fuckedskinny (the font, lest you think this is abusive to the anorexic) look sublime, There is no pagination either.

 

This is a book for those wanting or claiming ‘specialisation’, the only specialisation should be left for brain surgeons. For photographers the name of the game should be exploration, discovery, cross pollination.

 

Albert Watson where will you take us next?

Not too many people nor indeed photographers in India have heard of Joel Peter Witkin, but he is celebrated in certain circles in the west for his controversial images.

His eponymous catalogue titled simply Witkin is a treasure , it coincides with a huge retrospective on at the Guggenheim museum NY. 

When you look at a Joel Peter Witkin image you are overcome by its technical uniqueness, especially these days when its all instantaneous and digital, Witkin is peerless when it comes to creating a Daguerrotype style image. It is said that he dips his negatives in coffee and then scratches them with a finger nail, makes his own prints, coats them in beeswax, warms and then burnishes them.

 

Whether what Witkin does is art or not will forever be debated, depending on your own sensibilities and aversions of things ‘grotesque’, weird, or ghoulish. In the same tradition of Arbus, Witkin thrives on  transsexuals, or people with deformities. Many of his images are distortions or alternative views of classical paintings and have mythological undertones. While Leonardo’s visits to the morgues might have resulted in anatomically perfect figures, Witkins visits to the morgues in New Mexico results more in a meat shop placement of amputated heads, limbs there by design that challenge notions of beauty and ugliness.

 

Witkin says of his own work that they are spiritual, each like prayers.

I’ve received Bone House recently and shall add  a much large commentary when I’ve formulated some thoughts on this wonderful book.

http://www.zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/witkin/jpwdefault.html

Indeterminate

October 20, 2012

The space between the progressive and regressive, the modern and the ancient are the subjects of Bharat Sikka’s debutant fine art photography show on at the C&L gallery in Colaba. This is an interesting counterpoint to his otherwise well known fashion, commercial photography. There is no doubt that Sikka has a fine eye and technique, his images  here are shot in urban areas where there is large scale development but as most know in this country there is very little finish, conduits, and debris, unpainted new structures and piles of rubble left un cleared all sit around some how becoming the rhinoceros  in the visual ointment.

 

The images are almost without any colour and they are not monochromatic, they come from an unsaturated, smoggy, archipelago that could be a gulag. These are mostly urban landscapes of stadia, power plant sites, fly-overs and movie studios. There are two images that are particularly interesting, most for where the camera has been positioned. There is some precision to the symmetry where parallel lines meet at a vanishing point, forming a triangulation that is beguiling. The other image is shot from the outskirts of a power plant grid, a patch of red earth looks suspiciously, beautifully out of  place. This is not about a decisive moment but a decisive place that is remarkably familiar. There are people but most are unrecognisable, there is life, but just barely, leaving only the vestiges of a lit bulb or an errant street light. A skeletal tree drops onto a playground that seems joyless. 

 

Bharat Sikkas images have been part of a widely travelled show, many of his images are familiar. While one has waited expectantly for a show that would have taken indian photography to another level, a young observer’s comment sort of summarises the exhibition well, underwhelming. Andreas Gursky , Stephen Shore,  Hiroshi Sugimoto and other conceptual fine art photographers like Gregory Crewdson have done this sort of work some time ago. Many indian photographers are exploring this unglamorous urban space but that is telling in its own way.

Is The Space in Between Love and Hate, Indifference?

Banish the viewfinder

July 20, 2010

Prabuddha Das Gupta is probably Indias most versatile photographer and has straddled the dichotomous twain of the commercial/editorial and fine art worlds with ease and authority, creating a precedent where for some odd reason in this country fine-art almost by definition cant show a beautiful woman or a Manish Arora product. In the west, Penn, Avedon, Netwon, Bailey, Araki and Lachapelle have no such compartmentalization, free flowing like iodized salt, from one to the other elastically.

Beginning with his last exhibition in mumbai, ‘The Edge of Faith’ had Das Gupta make a leap of faith himself, plunging into hitherto unchartered territories, abjuring the hip, white cubes of south mumbai, preferring a derelict, decrepit  warehouse in a non fashionable, mill hunky district. The exhibition space had a blown away roof, open to sky, it took its Goan inmates to a new metaphoric level. It created easily, a Goan vibe in mumbai and that was no mean feat considering the monolithic abutment of the grotesque Godrej highrise that blocks out the sun at 4 pm.

The photographs of a sort of sad Goa, where das Gupta spends a lot of time, in themselves were typical in their melancholy. You had to peer through fig trees that had, Angor Wat like grown out of the cracks in the concrete to get a glimpse. Friends were messaging each other to visit the exhibition with detailed google map locations and directions, as the warehouse had only a number on a black gate and no other landmarks around. The magic hour (and how photographers love those) started at 6.30pm where there was just a hint of blue in the sky and the incandescent warmth of very simple lighting made the photographs acquire a new and domestic quality. But more crucial to the show was das Gupta thumbing his nose at hoity toity photographers who make a big deal about humidity and temperature control, diva like requirements more suited to growing exotic orchids than for photos to be exhibited. And in one fell swoop rather than making external demands that your work be respected, the courage and conviction of this move made you respectful. To move off the beaten track is the destiny of an artist, to have the testosterone to show in a place that might not get the ‘foot fall’ is a terrific statement that should empower photographers who are tentative.

Das Gupta’s aesthetic can be traced back to European sensibilities, which is probably why his work looks so at home in Vogue. Jeanloupe Sieff is an obvious influence. The ipso facto abstraction of black and white sometimes in this country looks forced and unnecessary. But most photographers succumb, gallerists love it. It is harder to work with colour meaningfully, and in this country especially, colour has its own semiotics and is meaning-full.

His first book ‘Women’ published in 1996 was again a watershed in depicting nudes in what has become a very Bowdlerized India. But the book even then looked immature and naive, a hurried attempt at getting it to market.

‘Ladakh’ his second book in 2000 showed Das Gupta’s other interests, it can loosely be called a Travel book. The photos are all in black and white again and while it is beautiful, it does not engage you with a new perspective or an insight; and yes it does show wrinkled faces and black polarized sky with contrasty white clouds somewhat clichéistically.

‘Edge of Faith’ 2009, far from a ‘tribute’ to Goa, is an edited vision, a narrow, fashionably dystopic prism at decrepitude and de-generation. Its not how the other half lives necessarily but how some people live anonymously; in quiet desperation away from the tourist noise. The works have mood and ambience and disturbingly you want to return to them.

Das Gupta is best know for his editorial work in fashion magazines, and here is the conundrum. Most fashion magazines are ‘brands’ and like all brands you cant tamper with that image, so if you are going to conform to make your photos fit the brand, can it then be fashion? One suspects that Das Gupta struggles with these issues.

If Das Gupta can be guilty of a borrowed aesthetic the only person who can show him an alternative is Laxmi Menon, his muse. Prabuddha’s best work is when he is photographing Menon who can do no wrong, she is the quintessential, modern, languid, strong, dusky, elegant, indian woman and in photographing her comes a new syntax that is perhaps unique, subject and predicate, viewer and the viewed, banishing the viewfinder.