Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Moksha by Fazal Sheikh

This book is a perfection, found it in the library today and must order one at once from amazon as I will come back to it time and time again. It is tender, insightful, moving, exquisitely photographed without shying away from the difficult and accompanied by wonderfully written text. It succeeds also in being a document of important sociological value. Here is the official description of the book....

"For 500 years the holy city of Vrindavan in northern India has been a haven for India's dispossessed widows. Cast out by their families and condemned by strict marital laws that deny them legal, economic, and, in extreme cases, even human rights, they have made their way to the city to worship at its temples and live in its ashrams, surviving on charitable handouts or begging on the streets. In Vrindavan they worship the young god Krishna, who invades their dreams, helping them to cast off memories from their past lives and prepare for new and better lives are to come. Their ultimate dream is to reach Moksha--heaven--where they will find freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and live surrounded by their gods forever. Fazal Sheikh's photographs capture the meditative mood of the city and his portraits of the widows convey their sense of acceptance of life's nearing its end and a longing for what is to come. As in his previous books he spent time with his subjects, listening to their stories, many of which reveal the suffering caused by traditions that still govern Indian society. Through his depiction of the city and its inhabitants, Fazal Sheikh once again contributes to our knowledge and understanding of a community whose existence, to those who live outside it, remains closed."

The Medium Is Not The Message

Been thinking about things from a slightly different angle, maybe 10 degrees further north than usual. Conversations, talks, reading in the past few days have had multiple strands attached but one theme has really stood in sharp relief for me; and it's a very simple thing. "What am I interested in"???

So many of the writers, directors, photographers that I have heard about in the past week can be characterised around this one question. The work itself is infinitely varied, in many cases, but the same underlying questions appear again and again. It sounds so obvious as to be almost overlooked but I believe it is an important thing to establish. It is easy in this environment, surrounded by so many varied ideas and new concepts and with people engaged in such a vast spectrum of inquiry to lose sight of this fundamental question. It is a matter of roots, not the geographical kind but the root of each of our individual curiosity about the world.

I have spent some time thinking about project two; approaching it from, I suspect, rather a cart before the horse perspective. Fluctuating from projections to portraiture, portraiture to dance, maybe documentary and perhaps also slow motion video and back again full circle the effect is informative, as I have found many new artists I admire, but also somewhat dizzying. These are mediums, not the message, and I do not agree with McLuhan's postulations on this topic so this literally will not do!!!

So now I am asking the question, what is the message or really what am I interested in, what questions do I want to ask that I might find answers in through photography? I don't want to start with a probable answer, or with a strong set of assumptions, but I guess with more of an open mind. Otherwise perhaps it is just a form of lip service. Then choose the medium, within photography, to explore this. The nature of deadlines attached to something like an MA project means a fine line will need to be tread in order to get a cohesive body of work finished in the time allotted but for now I will attempt to embrace 'not really knowing' and go in the direction of that which I want to find out more about!

I am very clear what key questions in life preoccupy me; People, psychology, consciousness, awareness, perception, the unconscious mind, ritual, meaning or specifically what gives life meaning to people, the relational field, numinosity. It feels a bit like maths really, come back to first principles and start again from there. As usual there is something to be said for simplicity!

Extract fom Jeanette Winterson: Written on the Body

‎"Skin is waterproof but my skin was not waterproof against Louise. She flooded me and she has not drained away. I am still wading through her, she beats upon my doors and threatens my innermost safety. I have no gondola at the gate and the tide is still rising.
Swim for it, don't be afraid. I am afraid.
Is this her revenge? 'I will never let you go.' "

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The search for Pan

I can't stop thinking about the pictures below. I am driven to distraction by the mans entire portfolio. Then i remembered that a few weeks ago I saw a guy who was LITERALLY THE IMAGE OF PAN (yes the mythic one .......seriously!!) in Lincoln. Have never seen such a face on a human being and I look at faces a lot! I must make it a priority to find him again once I have begun to learn how to get this lighting in the studio and convince him to let me take his portrait. That is actually quite a terrifying prospect (what if it is Pan??) but it would be AMAZING!!!


OH WOW!! - Pierre Gonnord

I actually cannot express how much I adore these images, there is the painterly quality of Hendrik Kerstens and yet they are rawer, depicting subjects who do not possess conventional aesthetics. As the photographer himself says; he photographs the people we do not usually look at, often people living on the margins of society. His subjects include gypsy matriarchs, victims of abuse, addicts and so forth, who maintain a dignity and a strength of character that comes across to the camera. I think they are extraordinary.

How do you get light to look like this, is this large format portraiture, is it post-processing. I really want to know. Seriously!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Anais Nin

"We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are"

Nicholas Laclair - Large format Portraiture

This guy is an incredible portrait photographer, 5x4 voigtlander Heliar apparently is his weapon of choice and his website should be checked out, as it's hard to find images of his elsewhere online that I can post to support my claims about his brilliance. Here are two that I could nab of google image search though. He does things with depth of field in portraiture I have never seen with normal digital photography and it makes me want to throw flowers at him, perhaps orchids.

Thoughts on a Sunday Morning...

Thinking about portraiture a great deal at the minute and was reminded by John (thanks Mr Husdon) about the work of Chuck Close and the fantastic daguerrotypes he did a few years ago.. Was looking through his work this morning and found myself struck by the irony of the current situation; enrol on a digital imaging and photography MA which sets it's territory firmly (at least in it's sales propaganda) in the terrain of the contemporary, eschewing traditional methods of presentation and the like in favour of new avenues where technology is used instead of the traditional print!! This appealed to me at the beginning, I had some vague ideas about what I would consider doing and yet a trajectory is occurring which seems to see me heading in quite the opposite direction.

First medium format film; and this again I find hilarious. I never understood the whole thing with film, the endless rhetoric about the quality not being the same as digital, some mysterious quality being lost and so on. If I am honest I thought it was a sort of begrudging resistance by aficionados of the medium, who resented the ease with which digital technology usurped their hard won finesse and therefore dug their heels in and cried 'we shall not be moved'. But I take it back, I was wrong! Apologies to all aforementioned patrons. The external examiner suggested at the beginning of summer that I "beg, borrow or steal a Hasselblad" and shoot medium format. I like squares, they are a pleasing shape, and on the basis of that alone agreed. It is a delightful machine to use with a nice clunky shutter click but problems with light leaks and the general inconvenience of film, the dust, the margins for error, the things that just go plain wrong, saw me scanning the transparencies on Friday thinking......hhhmmm....is this really worth it? And then the prints changed everything. They DO have some quality that digital simply doesn't, a lightness of being, a subtlety perhaps, I don't really have the words yet to describe it. It is quite inconvenient really, but there we are!!!

Now in thinking about portraiture I was talking the other day to Mike about Avedon. Large format, he tells me, is the way to go!! In looking at daguerrotypes I expect the people to start talking to me from within the frame, like some of their spirit has actually been captured because the likeness, the life-like-ness is too great! This too, is bloody inconvenient. I don't know how to do either one and it is not really anything to do with digital imaging. So thoughts in my head this sunday morning are, should I actually just bite the bullet and try a bit of large format portrait photography. Would it be insane to continue spending all of my money on photography and just go to London and take a class in daguerrotypes (will I ever own any shoes again?). It would be comforting to begin at least one project on this MA in terrain I actually know something about but maybe that defeats the point of an MA? And if I add some kind of laser show or something would that sufficiently fit the remit of the course if I go all last millenium on the actual content. Answers on a postcard please.....

O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Happiness by Raymond Carver

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.

One of the things in life that most inspires me is poetry and I have had one of those delightful saturdays with lots of time to read today. I spoke to a friend earlier who was talking about E.E Cummings and this inspired me to return to and read some of his gorgeous poetry, something i had not done in over a year. My favourite poem by him is the one below; evocative, beautiful and haunting and with recurring themes of nature, love, death. If you wish to read it, then read it aloud as usually with his writing it doesn't make sense unless you do this...something about the rhythm!!

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Contact Sheet for Exhibition

Botton left image needs to be rescanned as has come out strangely and not as it is on the transparency at all. Need to buy mounts as using square format so might edit the final number down due to cost.

Bill Viola

So word on the street is that Bill Viola might be coming to Lincoln!!!!! This would be a dream come true for me as I am a massive fan of his work. Until this is verified there is a great talk i found online some time ago, which he gave accepting an award at MIT. It outlines many of the themes he contemplates on in his work as well as the intentions he has in creating it and some of his philosophical underpinnings. It also shows some of his work and it's a lovely chance to hear him talk about it.

Here it is, it's very long but very inspiring and well worth a watch.


Friday, 10 September 2010

Contemporary Portraiture

In my further thinking about project two over the summer I kept trying to return to basic principles. What is it that I love in photography, what gets me most excited, what do I find most inspiring and moving. The answer always includes an element of portraiture, I love people, their stories, their faces, their uniqueness. When I think of the photographers I admire the most they are usually invariably the stand out portrait photographers.

I recently returned to the work of Hendrik Kerstens who won one of the taylor Wessing photographic prozes in 2007 for his piece entitled 'bag' and I remember the impact when I saw that incredible photograph in the flesh 'literally' at the final exhibition for the prize, which was frozen dumbstruck awe at what he had managed to create, an almost hyperreal portrait which captured the light and style of Dutch painters such as Vermeer.

Before the summer I also acquired a book of Avedon images.......seriously....how the hell does he do that? And I think that is my motivating question in all this.....

I am pretty sure then that portraiture is going to be the basic idea, the concept has yet to be refined, I have a few ideas and will try to get a tutorial and some advice on these before I make any final decisions.

Ikebana Dance Sculptures

so...project two......??

lots of ideas been running through my head about this. inspiration recently struck for a great project which combines a lot of the things I love, dance, contemplative art and mindfulness practices. The plan is to create human scuptures using the principles of Ikebana, the japanese contemplative art tradition of flower arranging. Originating from the Shinto tradition, where flower arrangements were made as offerings, it seeks to combine heaven, earth and humanity through dealing with space and form and three main elements, which can be arranged in eight different fundamental variations. It is considered an appreciation of the sacredness of the world, arising from non-aggression and appreciation with a large emphasis placed on mindfulness and meditation practices in creating the work.

I love the idea of working with dancers to create body sculptures based on these principles, working with the eight key variations and using different colour schemes in each one. One organisation who trains people in traditional Ikebana is Shambhala and I have already studied contemplative art courses with them, which I think will be an invaluable starting point.

This is going to happen but the more I think about it not for project two, as I think the time scale involved is too small for such an ambitious undertaking. However it might be a possibility for project three. this is a big collaborative project, working with dancers and ideally a choreographer and super ideally an Ikebana expert and am in the process of putting feelers out to see if i can get moving on it. Most of the people I know who would be suitable for this are in the south west which obviously makes logistics tricky. Even if it does not ever get finished within the confines of the MA I love the idea and feel realy inspired by it. lois greenfield is a great place to look for beautiful dance photography and I guess I will just go from there.