250 Images You Need to See

Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, UK

I can’t say enough good things about the Justine Kurland workshop I was fortunate to attend at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. She was a fantastic workshop leader, full of inspiring and insightful things to say about both photography and making art generally. The book I brought to cut up was Photobox The Essential Collection: 250 Images You Need to See, which exhibited the usual prejudice for male photographers (although, as I scoured it for useful material I found more women in it than I had noticed at first).

Above, the collage I started under her tutelage. I look forward to finishing it. You may recognize bits of some famous images (or their outlines) in the work above. I recommend Girl Pictures and the SCUMB Manifesto highly.

Al Zoe Leonard: Al río

The day after we went to Paris Photo we went to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and got tickets to the Zoe Leonard exhibit, Al río / To the River, recommended by classmates who had seen it the day before. It’s an immense show that goes on and on for rooms and rooms, vast expanses of white space, perhaps conveyed by the images above. We arrived late morning and were, initially, the only ones there, other than the guards. I was almost more impressed at the opportunity to wander through the vast, empty white space of the museum (reminiscent of my trips to NY’s Metropolitan as a kid, when it was often so empty you could go bowling without disturbing anyone) than I was by the photographs.

The images look at the US/Mexico border area, as loosely defined by the Rio Grande/Bravo. On each wall is a series of pictures, looking at a particular scene, over the course of time (seconds, or minutes, I would guess). Some of these are very affecting; cumulatively, they certainly are. But I was unable to guess at the reason for some of them. One entire room was dedicated to pictures of the swirling water taken, perhaps, over the side of a bridge. While they are far from identical, they are all the same. Another follows a man on horse from a distance, behind, as he travels a short way. The final room is a series of color pictures of a laptop showing security footage of people crossing a barbed-wire-surrounded bridge. No indication of whether this is a public website, or if she’d been granted access to a security control room. Beyond the brochure materials about the exhibit (shown at the link above) there are no placards, captions or other text to explain what you’re looking at or why – which is, in itself, a kind of statement, I suppose. I confess, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Of course, the same might be said of my series of images of the exhibit.

As always, click any image to see them all full-size.

William Klein at ICP

Just about a week before he died, I went to see Klein’s retrospective at ICP – an excellent show that gave a great overview of the breadth of his creative vision. Here are some impressions, not so much of his work but of the exhibition itself. (Click any image to see them all enlarged – from the browser – if you’re seeing this in email click through to obBLOGato first.)

Fotografiska, New York

Some years ago, on a vacation in Stockholm, I persuaded my family to accompany me to Fotografiska a vast and excellent photography museum there. For something like a year leading up to its opening, I received regular teaser emails presaging the advent of their New York branch. When it finally arrived last year I was disappointed to learn how high ticket prices were and, in the midst of the pandemic mostly forgot about it. But my wife gave me a couple of tickets and a pandemic appointment for an hour last weekend and down we went. (Click any image above to see them all enlarged.)

I have ambivalent feelings about what we saw. There were 3 featured exhibits and a fourth one dedicated to the winners of the Photography 4 Humanity 2020 contest, photo-journalistic work dedicated to human rights issues. There was some excellent work here, in the traditional documentary photography school, some of it dramatically artistic as well.

Next came a powerful exhibit dedicated to death-row inmates who had been wrongfully accused and had been exonerated by DNA evidence, many after years of incarceration and some just hours or days before being scheduled to be executed. While it was a very powerful and moving exhibit, it was only marginally photographic. Each of the subjects was shown in their own floor-to-ceiling portrait, in a darkened alcove, with their voice describing some element of their experience. However, the portraits weren’t still photographs, they were video portraits of their faces.

Next was Naima Green’s Brief & Drenching. The first part was a series of portraits, seeking to explode traditional binary-gendered portrait styles. These were quite good, and certainly had their own style, although they remained, essentially portrait photographs. The rest of the exhibit was less photographic. there was an installation of objects, a video (snapshot of bloody pearls, evidently being pulled from a vagina, above, is from the video), framed collections of motion-blurred, deliberately “artless” Polaroids, and so on.

This was followed by the gorgeous photo-montages of Cooper and Gorfer’s Between These Folded Walls, Utopia, shown in 2 of the pictures above). These were beautiful, sensuous images. I’m not sure exactly how they were made, but certainly not through straight photographic processes.

Finally, there was Andres Serrano’s Infamous. Serrano, no stranger to controversy (think Piss Christ), collected a number of racist artifacts and then photographed them. Taken at face value, they’re a shocking evocation of the extreme racism that was quotidian in this country’s culture throughout its history, reminding us, in the current climate, how important it is to extirpate this scourge. While the photography is pretty straightforward, still-life product photography and the exhibit is powerful, it strikes me that it’s not so much a photography exhibit as a racist artifact exhibit with photography almost incidentally being the medium of display.

So, I came away from Fotografiska having seen some worthwhile, and even important, exhibits but not a lot of photography. Granted, photography is a broad term and all these works can certainly fit within a catholic definition of photography, but only to the extent that the term ceases to mean much more than ‘images created using technology, with content not necessarily concerned with the medium.’ To some extent I know as a white man of a certain age, I tend to think of photography in increasingly outmoded ways. OTOH, it almost feels as if the medium has been exhausted – all that’s left is tendrils of new forms growing out of the corpse of the now-dead photography I grew up with.