The PhotoBook

March 23, 2010

Benoit Grimalt – Do You Know Syd Barrett?

Copyright Benoit Grimalt 2009, courtesy Les Editons Poursuite

How do you try to connect with someone whom you have never met, only recently learned about and who is already deceased. This is a person with whom you will never meet and subsequently not have a personal relationship with? Yet your curiosity is whetted enough that you reach out to a place in which they lived, and by chance of close approximation, attempt to see their environment through your eyes. Maybe you will see something that they saw; would that create enough of a bond with this elusive person?

 Syd (Roger Keith) Barrett, is a musical riddle cloaked in mystery, who after co-founding the band Pink Flyod, subsequently at age 29 left the musical industry to live in self-recluse at his mother’s home in Cambridge, England. There he tended to his gardens, walked about the village and sometimes rode his bicycle until his passing at age 60 in 2006.

Reading Do you know Syd Barrett?, we will learn nothing more about the musician than what we already know. Benoit Grimalt’s photographs are not meant to investigate further into Barrett’s life and work, but they draw a romantic vision of Cambridge and of England, in tribute to the artist.

 Had Syd Barrett noticed these things about his environment, the street crossing, the nearby café, the cross over bridge, the sidewalks that butted up to the adjacent homes, the trees blooming in the Spring, the verdundent and soft grass, the aging infrastructure, perhaps the place that might be his last resting place at St Margaret as his illness continued during his decline. The color photographs, some in sharp detail, others with a translucent glaze over them, evokes a latent vision, of memories and mysteries.

 This is a small perfect bound book with stiff covers, with the text handwritten in French but accompanied by an English translation insert of the four principal pages. Even if you are unable to read French, you have more than enough clues to take this wonderful journey around Cambridge with the ever small side trip to London, perhaps much like Barrett did.

By Douglas Stockdale

March 18, 2010

Greg Friedler – Naked Las Vegas

Copyright Greg Friedler, 2008 courtesy W.W. Norton & Co.

Friedler’s fourth book in his Naked series is Naked Las Vegas. Earlier Friedler has published Naked New York, Naked Los Angeles, Naked London. His three preceding books are photographed in black and white, while Friedler thought that color was very apropos for the glitz and neon of Las Vegas, his recent book.

 This book, like his previous, is a series of side by side photographs, one photograph per page, with the clothed individual facing their “naked” self across the spread. The portraits are made straight on, with the individuals directly facing the camera providing a frontal view, with the lighting almost flat and all of the person’s features in sharp detail. Stylisticlly it resembles the dressed/undressed photographs of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders XXX – 30 Porn-Star Portraits.

 The use of the word Naked versus Nude in the book’s title is a subtle indication as to the enclosed photographs. Where as nude is a nice sounding word, smooth and almost sensual with aesthetic implications, e.g. the nudes of Edward Weston, suitable for a gallery exhibition. On the other hand, the pronunciation of the word naked sounds course, matter-of-fact and rough, such that the naked photos of Charis Wilson by her husband Edward might be better found tacked up on the back room wall.

 Although implied, this is by no means a representation of the population of Las Vegas, as it is self-selecting process, first one has to be asked to pose “naked” by the photographer, and then the person has to be enough of an exhibitionist to agree to be photographed “naked”. Friedler states that while his subjects are being photographed by him, concurrently there is a filming by another motion picture crew, adding to the social and cultural complexity of accepting his offer to “get naked”. This also generates a question as to what else is occurring outside the picture frame and may be influencing the subject’s photographed response.

 As to framing, we are left with more ambiguity about his subjects, as they are presented filling the picture’s frame equally, without an indication as to their relative size; the 6’4” individual appears equal to the 4’6” person. The pictorial framing also excludes the person’s calves, ankles and feet, which raise questions about their shoes, anklets, tattoos, toenail polish and toe rings. We are shown almost all, yet the information is incomplete and that in of itself creates intrigue and mystery. Likewise, this creates more mystery as to what maybe concealed on the backside’s of these persons?

 The dark red curtain is an odd feature, as this hot backdrop provides more of a feeling of a parlor photograph than a straight forward documentary. It is not neutral, such as the whites and blacks of Hiroshi Watanabe or the neutral grays of Irving Penn. This backdrop has folds and shadows creating a vertical pattern and appears to be out of character, as the photographer states he is trying to avoid eroticism, yet this hot liquid backdrop reeks of eroticism.

 Friedler in his introduction states:

This book is not at all about eroticism. It is about identity. The nakedness serves a purpose. When naked we are all equal, on a bizarre, even playing field; stripped of clothing we are stripped of society’s judgments and expectations.

 Okay…. well maybe, perhaps maybe not, as I suspect that Friedler’s photographs refute his own statement, that even naked we are not stripped of society’s judgments and expectations. Especially the expectations.

 We may read the word society and think big and almost all encompassing, such as the United States, Canada, France, Germany or some other large geo-political entity. But that is not normally what we might think of if asked which society are we a member, as it would probably become more localized, to a region (e.g. Southern California), or a city (e.g. Las Vegas) or probably very specific, such as the neighborhood we live or group(s) we hang out with. I think with a little scrutiny it is possible to see the effects of society judgments and expectations reflected by this group of “naked” individuals.

 Even Friedler has noted that this group of individuals reflects some unusual social grooming, that most do not have any pubic hair, even the professed homeless person. There is usually a reason that a group of individuals have common traits, even when “naked” and this is usually related to a social expectation. Is this common for the people that Fridler associates with, feels comfortable requesting that they pose “naked”, or how those who would prose “naked” would want others to see them, or at least Friedler to see them? It could be argued that if you selected a large group of individuals from Iowa City or any part of Kansas, shaving their pubic hair for their “naked” photograph may not have been high on their list of necessary personal preparations.

 Realistically, although they are “naked”, we still do not know who these people are as individuals. We do know more about their parents and grand parents who passed down the genes that provided their basic framework, ethnicity, coloring and surface contours. We can deduct some personal habits, beyond the desire to remove their pubic hair, as to their diets and exercise regime by either the generous belly folds or slender frame bordering on anorexic features. Although Friedler comments on pubic hair, finger nail polish and breast augmentations, he does not seem to consider the quantity of tattooing, body -piecing and full body tanning as being unusual.

 While comparing the dressed and naked pictures, there are subtle differences in the subject’s facial changes, eyes, tilt of the head, smiling or features going flat, standing, holding them selves, the different position of their hands, and choosing to continue wearing jewelry, make-up, or nail polish.

 Which job classification or career the subject’s identify with varies, but has a strong Las Vegas influence; Showgirls, teamster, accountant, showboy, exhibitionist, architect, waitress, drummer, artist, sales clerk, retiree, musician, art model, unemployed, social worker, teacher, student, tattoo artist, ex-stripper, mother, engineer, hussla’, stripper, escort, practicing nudist, homeless, adult entertainer, fetish model, aspiring adult actor, comedian, housewife, cosmetologist, female impersonator, office manager, transsexual, porn star, nude photographer, CEO, taxi driver, nurse, plumber, cashier, cafeteria lady, kitchen cleaner, banker, and of course in Las Vegas, an Elvis emulator. The ages of the subjects vary from 19 to 67.

 The perfect bound and stiff cover book includes a forward by Greg Fridler. Each set of photographs has a caption to identify the person’s profession and age.

by Douglas Stockdale

March 4, 2010

Daniel Gordon – Flying Pictures

From Flying Pictures by Daniel Gordon, 2009 published by powerHouse Books

Daedalus with his son Icarus had to flee Crete and the solution to their problem was the wings that Daedalus fashioned to allow them to safely fly to freedom. Nevertheless, Daedalus had to admonish his son Icarus to not fly too close to the sun, else the wax will melt, the feathers would fall away and he would surly fall to his death. That man should fly has been a preoccupation for mankind since the early telling of this Greek mythological poem. Flight is also a fascination for Daniel Gordon, who has flown unaided, much like Icarus, ever it be so briefly, as told in his own mythological tale, Flying Pictures.

Gordon’s ephemeral performances are captured with mythical imagination at a brief moment near the apex of his wingless flight. He is seen suspended in the air, in a prone position, arms and legs extended outward. He appears, sans cape, much like the fictional character Superman in flight, performing a similar super feat. We quickly learn that Gordon is actually more like Icarus, although he does not come in close proximity to the sun; he nevertheless quickly experiences earth’s strong gravitational pull and as abruptly plummets back to terra firma.

Gordon has envisioned a life of flight, be it ever so brief, which he documents with a large format camera in partnership with his assistant. He initially pre-visualizes the photograph, setting up the camera and focus, and then positions himself for his “flight”. His assistant times the exposure to coincide with the height and position that has Gordon envisioned creating the planned illusion. Gordon has also chosen to capture his feats within the context of the rural landscape, as though his flight of fancy was a natural as a bird’s flight.

This body of work is a combination of color and black & white photographs. The images are sharp, with an extended depth of field and the color photographs are vibrant. In each of these photographs, Gordon features are sharply delineated, without any blur or appearance of movement. He shares with us that what we see is 1/125th of a second of the duration of his experience, a brief enough exposure to give the impression that he is indeed hovering in the air.  Somewhat like Icarus, Gordon has bare arms as well as shirtless, clad in tights and occasionally shoes, expressing a vulnerability.

I surmise that the black and white photographs were developed during the early phases of this project, as I sense an apparent awkwardness of Gordon’s gestures, both his arms and legs appear to be flailing, grasping in the thin air. In the color work, he appears to be more confident, reflecting a more self-assured prone position. In the few pictures in which we can see his facial features, his expression appears determined, neither smiling nor frowning, as though accomplishing what he has set out to do.

We do not see how he gains his flying height, whether it is from a firm leap off a rock, outcropping, and spring-board or bounce trampoline. Neither do we see his resulting fall, a sudden belly flop impact of or a graceful tuck and roll. By not revealing the ending of the flight, Gordon avoids the metaphoric implications of falling from grace or failure from having aspirations which are too high. Nevertheless, the photographs do hint at a catastrophic fall, perhaps none more so than a black and white photograph with a rock strewn and perilous appearing foreground.

His compositions and low camera placement further enhances the illusionary effect, with Gordon appearing to hover over grass, plants, even trees. In one black and white photograph, he appears to be flying over a number of airplanes, which paradoxically are grounded, while he is not. In another, he is suspended over a wispy cloud, as thought that is all that keeps him afloat, much like in a dream within a dreamlike state.

Gregory Crewdson in his foreword, writes;

“The medium of photograph has always had a direct relationship with truth and the representation of facts. These pictures present an intersection between Daniel’s compulsive desire to fly and photography’s capacity to capture the moment….On a fundamental level, the art of photography is about the miracle, and how to make the ordinary, extraordinary. These pictures do that in it’s purist forms. They capture suspended moments, perfectly situated between transcendence and doom.”

Like the poetic Icarus and Daedalus, Gordon’s act is very metaphoric, as an attempt to escape something that resides here on earth, be it relationships, responsibilities, cultural and society’s rules, or personal demons. It is not evident what he wishes to escape from, but he tries repeatable. It does appear that he has momentarily escaped the rigors of earth’s confines and obtained a fleeting and momentary freedom. But yet this is an unattainable quest, to escape the confines of earth’s pull and loosen the cultural ties that bind him.

When comparing the Fall of Icarus to the re-imagining of technology, Wolhee Choe compares the narrative flight of Icarus to a Freudian death wish, stating:

“…the foreground of imaginative action and the background of quotidian life…the imaginative act is initiated by dreams…through the principal of opposition and through the recorded imagination of our own mortality, our mind is activated, oscillating between life and death, construction and destruction. If an ordinary mode of experiencing the world is habitual, ideological and willful, an esthetic mode of experiencing the world is critical, formal and vitally transforming. This is a simultaneously rational and inspirational experience that allows a new perspective. Aesthetical pleasure is linked, as poets have described it, to this vital transformation of one form to another…to expand the self’s boundaries.”

Another analogical reading of Gordon’s photographs is that his flights are representational of all artists, that Gordon has become the “Artistic Everyman”. That an artist and their creative spirit will attempt to soar, a father (parental) figure may provide caution about the risks involved, that eventually there is an artistic flight that may require taking huge risks; financial, spiritually and personal. An artist will lay it all out on the line, taking a “leap of faith” and expose their artistic soul, to fly near the limits of the sun and damn the consequences. Essentially the artist is alone and exposed, who may momentary be levitated, with spirits high, regenerated and not fully cognizant of the all the risks that are lurking ahead. What we don’t see is that what remains at the end of the artistic flight, a hard and sudden impact, with nasty thump or a soft harmless roll in the fragrant flowers and plush grass. There is the aura of rich mystery as to what becomes of the Artistic Everyman.

The hardcover book has a linen text wrap cover with a photographic inlay. It was printed and bound in China. Photographs are all horizontal, maximizing the space on the page, with the plates surrounded by narrow white margins. The plates are printed one per page, one page per spread

by Douglas Stockdale

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