Tag, portrait
06.03.–30.04.2017
2. Refugee

The first keyword of this series – refugee – pervades the global discourse on migration, and yet its meaning is not always understood. So let us begin with a definition. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which supports displaced people: A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. more

Published: 15.03.2017
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5. Beyond Paul Strand: What Can Radical Photography Be?

I started this blog by posing some questions about the arbitrariness of dividing Paul Strand’s career into a late period of political subject matter and activism and an early period that seemed devoted primarily to formal concerns. Certainly, this is something of a straw man, because most of us would agree that the visual arts are inherently about shaping matter, with all its inherent recalcitrance, into form, regardless of the desired or received “meaning” of that shaped form. The other problem is, of course, what we intend by the terms, “political subjects” or “political art.” The gathering together of any people into a governing unit begins to constitute the body politic, so that virtually all social life in some sense can be read as “political.” However, historically we distinguish “political art”—art that is intentionally made to express a political party line or promote a particular government or policy position—from art that can be read as confirming a location within conflicting ideologies (which may cut across formal party platforms or regimes).  This latter sense of art as functioning politically and representing certain values that can be decoded has driven much of the social history of art in the past fifty years and is what I was striving to uncover in Strand’s enigmatic urban views. more

Published: 10.03.2015
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3. Excursus: Politics of the Victim

I mentioned in my first post that the rise of documentary discourses between the World Wars resulted from the political need to visibilize the working class in the new media culture corresponding to the era of mass democracy. Both in its “from above” (state/liberal/Griersonian/FSA) and in its “from below” (social movements/revolutionary/worker-photography) versions, documentary rhetoric contributed to this political need, in part through the dissemination of an iconography of a victimized working class.

The production of a poetics of dispossession is a key contribution from documentary methods emerging from the 1930s to social struggles for justice and democracy. Beyond the specific historical prewar context, I think this poetics was a central contribution to the 20th century universal citizenship democratic imaginary, which finds precisely a key historical iconic source in the worker-photography documentary project. I mean, the iconography of a fragile and precarious life is constitutive not only of the project of proletarian documentary, but is in the root of the poetic construction of democracy and justice. more

Published: 19.06.2014
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16.04.–31.05.2014
3. A Tale of Two Mapplethorpes

A large retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work has just opened at the Grand Palais in Paris. It is coupled with another Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Musée Rodin where Mapplethorpe’s photographs—I am not joking—are displayed with various sculptures by Rodin.

Mapplethorpe-Rodin, exposition at Musée Rodin, Paris, from April 8 to September 21, 2014 (installation view by Abigail Solomon Godeau).

As it happens, Mapplethorpe did photograph sculptures (torsos, heads, and backs) in ways not so different from those he used to photograph living bodies, although it seems not to have mattered if the sculptures were authentic, copies, classical, neoclassical, or kitsch. Somewhat perversely (I use the term advisedly), the photographs of sculpture are in the Grand Palais show, whereas the pictures in the Musée Rodin are mostly of living bodies (or body parts) as well as the miscellaneous self-portrait or still life. More to the point, what the exhibition really demonstrates is that for good or ill, Rodin’s sculptures, plasters, or small studies have nothing whatsoever to do with Mapplethorpe’s work and vice versa. Why would they? more

Published: 30.04.2014
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15.01.–28.02.2014
3. Meet Billy the Kid (On Portraiture, Two)

In my previous post I raised the question, “why is it that commercial portraiture, which in the 19th century and into the 20th made up an overwhelming majority of all photographs taken, has received comparatively so little attention in the more established histories of photography?” Maybe the “What if God Was One of Us” video, with its weirdly mixed “message,” does not go far enough to answer this question, except to suggest, subliminally or subconsciously, that commercial portraiture is a game of masks, or fools, and an outdated one at that, perhaps even only appealing today to ethnic minorities and punk heads.

One simple answer is that in most portraits encountered in old albums or today in picture-sharing facilities, there is generally nothing to like or to learn—except perhaps numbers, formats, archival procedures—unless the viewer is related to the subject and in a position to reconstruct stories involving the image. Portraits are usually private. Their merits—the knowledge and care that pertain to them, the aspirations of the sitters through their representations—are private, and often ephemeral; memories attached to them fade fast. In portraits, then, there is nothing to learn or to like, unless some significant context or discourse can be recovered or imagined about them. more

Published: 04.02.2014
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2. “What if God Was One of Us?” (On portraiture, One)

My daughter, 14, had a school assignment about finding and analyzing a song “with a message.” She is very musical, and good in school, but she sometimes seeks our advice. After discussing the notion of “with a message” and searching for possible songs (Dylan, Springsteen, Leforestier, etc.) we thought about a more recent song that she liked quite a bit, “One of Us” or “What if God Was One of Us?” I had heard it sung first by Sheryl Crow but the song, written by Eric Bazilian, was recorded originally by Joan Osborne. The “message,” contained in the title, becomes very explicit in the chorus: “What if God was one of us / Just a slob like one of us / Just a stranger on the bus”. This is not necessarily a religious song, I mean a proselytizing song (Brazilian is quoted saying that he wrote that song in one night “to impress a girl”), but it does talk about faith. more

Published: 24.01.2014
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01.11.–15.12.2013
4. Here's Looking at Me

In a defining moment of Nan Goldin’s 1980s slideshow, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, the lyrics to the Velvet Underground’s classic 1967 song—I’ll be your mirror/Reflect what you are, in case you don't know…'Cause I see you—are heard as slides of women looking at their reflections in mirrors are projected, one after another, every four seconds. Mirrors, a much-used device in Goldin’s magnum opus, serve as constant reminders of our attempts to see ourselves clearly in reflective surfaces, through the eyes of others and, of course, through photography.

Nan Goldin, Self-Portrait with Milagro, The Lodge, Belmont, MA 1988, 1988. Silver dye bleach print, 69.5 × 101.6 cm. © Nan Goldin/Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

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Published: 13.11.2013
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3. Posing as What?

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Published: 09.11.2013
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15.09.–31.10.2013
2. Monumental Bling

It feels like a million new shows have just opened in Chelsea for the new season, and several of them chime perfectly with my theme for this blog: the retrospectivity of contemporary art, particularly the current fascination/obsession with Modernist art, architecture and design. In this post I’m going to focus on David Maljkovic at Metro Pictures, but also The Propeller Group at Lombard Fried; there are other shows too, but I’m going to save them for next week’s blog. more

Published: 24.09.2013
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01.06.–15.07.2013
5. Image Couple

Of all the arcana produced by our collective obsession with Roland Barthes’ theory of photography in the book Camera Lucida, by the endless exegesis and investigation this text on photography seems to inspire, I find the following the most impressive. Buried in a footnote two-thirds of the way to the end of Eduardo Cadava and Paola Cortés-Rocca’s essay “Notes on Love and Photography,” a text first published in October magazine a few years ago, we read: more

Published: 16.07.2013
1 comments
3. Blind Spot

Not too long ago, I was combing through an antique store in a California town populated today mostly by the remnants of the counter-culture. There was a large selection of used books. To my surprise, I came across a copy of a monograph I had long wanted for my library, Mary Ann Caw’s volume on the photographer Dora Maar. Hippie villages, even post-hippie villages, always have the best bookstores. more

Published: 20.06.2013
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5. Popular, not Populist

My apologies for the extended silence. I have been putting the finishing touches to a book about the relation between popular culture, art and photography, which will also be the subject of this blog entry.

It seems generally accepted now that photography became a modern medium of art in the 1920s. This was when it gave up its resistance to the widespread industrial basis of photography (Pictorialism is thought to have typified that resistance) and came into a close or parallel relation to the medium’s various social functions. Photography triumphed artistically by remaking, diverting, re-presenting or otherwise contemplating its ‘applied’ forms such as the document, the film still, the advertisement, the commercial portrait and the archival image. more

Published: 27.05.2013
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4. Another Threshold

Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Emile Zola, from 1868, currently on view at the Royal Academy in London in the Manet: Portraying Life exhibition is usually interpreted as a testimony of the friendship between the artist and a writer who was one of his strongest supporters in those years. The painting shows Zola seated sideways at his work table, surrounded by papers, objects, and pictures that point to this relationship, and, it has been noted, to Manet’s own tastes: a decorated screen on the left, a pamphlet bearing Manet’s name on the desk, and above, in the top right corner of the picture, a Japanese print and a lithograph of Velasquez partly concealed by a reproduction of Manet’s own Olympia. It is to these last three objects I would like to direct my attention, in order to think about a technological and aesthetic threshold a century-and-a-half back that may or may not serve as a model for the relationship between analogue and digital photography today. more

Published: 28.03.2013
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15.09.–31.10.2012
5. A Subject for, a History about, Photography

My previous posts have explored the various ramifications of photography’s reproducibility, pursuing the way this attribute disseminates the photograph, securing, dispersing and dissipating its identity in about equal measure. I have suggested that this pursuit considerably complicates the traditional representation of photography’s history, undermining any narrative based on single artists or single prints or indeed on chronology or purity of medium—undermining, in other words, much of the traditional infrastructure of published histories of photography. more

Published: 17.10.2012
6 comments
1. Dissemination

The theme of my contribution to Still Searching is inspired by Walter Benjamin’s famous essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’ (1935-36). Or, rather, it is inspired by the striking absence of discussions of reproduction and its effects in the literature about photography since this essay first appeared. So I guess I am searching, in the first instance, for the reasons for this absence, given that Benjamin’s essay has been made compulsory reading for a generation of students and is one of the most cited in serious texts about the photographic experience. more

Published: 15.09.2012
10 comments