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Artillery Magazine Reviews "Light, Paper, Process"

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Back to the Future
by Colin Westerbeck

The only quibble I might have with the Getty’s excellent show, Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography, would be that its title is too literal-minded. A show as exciting as this one is might have had a more adventurous title – say, Back to the Future, or maybe The Framebreakers. On the other hand, the show’s  curator, Virginia Heckert, might counter that the material in her exhibition is so full of paradoxes you don’t need to add another layer with a quippy title.

My analogy to the 19th-century Luddites in England, who were hand weavers that rebelled against the industrialization of their craft by smashing the mechanical weaving frames newly invented then, occurred to me because digital technology is causing a comparable upheaval in the history of photography today. But the reaction of the seven photographers in the Getty show to the situation now is more complicated — more witty and contrarian. For what these artists are breaking down and breaking up is not the new invention, but the old ways in which photography has been done since the 19th century.

Consider, for example, the work of John Chiara. Californians will recognize in his landscape photographs a nod to the mammoth-plate camera used by fellow San Franciscan Carleton Watkins to make some of the first photographs of Yosemite in 1861. Chiara’s “Big Camera” is gigundous; it’s a room-sized contraption he trailers to the sites he photographs and in which he can make images as big as 50 x 80 inches. He also goes back to the very earliest experiments in which photographers tried to make direct positives, before the advantage of the negative was discovered. Chiara’s are made on glossy color stock that he processes by sealing it, along with his chemistry, inside a six-foot length of PVC pipe. He sloshes the print around in the chemicals by rolling the pipe back and forth on the floor. The result is a print beguiling in its crudeness, its in-and-out-of focus beauty and irregularly cut edges patched together with Scotch tape. 

A comparably primitive homage to photography’s past is apparent in all the work in the exhibition. Photographs made now in the vacuum of cyber space and processed in the sterile nether world of the computer have driven industrial giants like Eastman Kodak out of business. It was a civilization, as lost now as that of the ancient Incas, to which Alison Rossiter pays a kind of archeological tribute by finding and processing photographic papers long expired. In the digital darkroom, nothing needs to be left to chance, whereas in her work, everything is.

Her first experiment was with a box of Kodabromide E3 that had a 1946 expiration date. She took a sheet of that paper straight to the darkroom and processed it, as she would all her finds, without having exposed it in a camera. Processed, that first sheet looked, as she put it, “like a rubbing on a gravestone.” Sometimes her surprising results are “found photograms” (i.e.,camera—less images made by putting a physical object on photographic print paper and exposing it to light). Her photograms were created by “light leaks, oxicidation, and physical damage” or were “etched into the emulsion surface by mold.” 

Alison Rossiter, American, born 1953, Kilbourn Acme Kruxo, exact expiration date unknown, about 1940s, processed 2013, Gelatin silver print

Alison Rossiter, American, born 1953, Kilbourn Acme Kruxo, exact expiration date unknown, about 1940s, processed 2013, Gelatin silver print

Gulf News Reviews "Light, Paper, Process"

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Performances in the Dark
by Gautam Raja

"A contemporary photography exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles pushes the limits of the medium so far, few of the artists use a camera at all."

There’s no film big enough, so Chiara shoots directly on photographic paper up to 50×70 inches. Developing the print involves loading it into PVC sewage pipe section almost as tall and broad as Chiara himself, that he has capped so it’s light tight, and agitated by rolling it up and down the clearly much-abused kitchen floor. (Photographers usually agitate by turning their little film tank over every few seconds.)

The wet darkroom
To best understand what these artists are doing, it’s helpful to quickly review the “normal” manual black-and-white photographic process using film, or analogue, cameras. Or, as they are sometimes called these digital days, “chemical cameras”.

Film is exposed and then developed by washing it in a series of chemicals to form a negative. When prints are needed, this negative is projected in a darkroom onto a sheet of photographic paper (labs would offer the choice of ‘matte’ or ‘glossy’) for a specified amount of time, before that paper is also developed and fixed in a series of chemicals.

The chemistry of this development for film and photographic paper are the same. Both come coated with silver halide crystals, among a host of other chemicals. The silver halide reacts when exposed to light, forming a latent image made from an unstable matrix of silver ions. When the paper is “developed”, this image is set by a liquid reducing agent which converts the silver ions to silver—the darker areas have more silver and the brightest areas have none at all, showing the whiteness of the paper. A stop bath arrests this development as it will eventually work on the unexposed silver halide as well, making the image a uniform black. (This process forms the heart of artist Alison Rossiter’s work, mentioned later.)

A chemical called a fixer washes away all the silver halide, ensuring the paper will no longer react to light, and leaving behind the image, writ, as it were, in silver.

You can see how even a regular photographer has a number of choices in the “wet” darkroom, and anyone who wants to experiment with the process has a huge number of variables, whether chemical choice, dilution and temperature, development times, choice of paper and so on.

It’s photographic paper that’s really the toy at this exhibition. Imagine if your childhood self was given a box of light sensitive paper to play with. What might you try? You might expose it to the light of the moon, or to flames. You might light a fuse on it, or strike a non-safety match against it. You might submerge it in water and maybe expose it to light as water trickles off it. Or maybe you’d take photographs, but instead of dipping it into chemicals, you might stand it up and pour chemicals onto it.

Every one of those options is a technique on display at Light, Paper, Process, but don’t think of the exhbition as merely playful. As Virginia Heckert, curator of the exhibit, says of some of the works, “these photographs are documenting their own making.” And of others, “painterly compositions that happen to be on photographic paper”.


The Guardian Features William Eggleston in Article on Album Art

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by Sean O'Hagan

Man Ray nearly did a Rolling Stones cover, Big Star went for William Eggleston’s most famous ceiling shot, and George Michael lifted a Weegee photograph. A curious new exhibition for nerds and fans alike shows the hits and misses of album artwork – and the covers too rude to use

The greatest record cover that never was? ... Man Ray’s original Rolling Stones cover for Exile on Main Street. All photographs courtesy Les Rencontres d’Arles

The greatest record cover that never was? ... Man Ray’s original Rolling Stones cover for Exile on Main Street. All photographs courtesy Les Rencontres d’Arles

In 1972 Charlie Watts, drummer of the Rolling Stones, met with Man Ray and asked if he would design the cover for the group’s new album, Exile on Main Street. The 82-year-old artist agreed and produced a design in which the faces of the five Rolling Stones appeared inside black circles on a white background. The inspiration, he said, was the song Tumbling Dice, the first single from the album.

Man Ray’s design is one of the great record covers that never happened. The album appeared instead with a sleeve by the great American photographer Robert Frank, whose black-and-white collage of Super 8 images (shot in a tattoo parlour somewhere on Route 66 while he made his groundbreaking book The Americans) is now considered one of the classic rock album sleeves.

Radio City by Big Star, which uses William Eggleston’s classic red ceiling shot

Radio City by Big Star, which uses William Eggleston’s classic red ceiling shot

Man Ray’s proposed cover for the Stones is one of the highlights of a sprawling, but always intriguing, exhibition at Les Rencontres d’Arles called Total Records: The Great Adventure of Album Cover Photography.

It traces pop’s relationship with photography using album sleeves that span the history of vinyl recordings, and includes work by pioneering photographers who were either commissioned by labels to shape the identity of an artist or else allowed existing images to be used, often at the musician’s request. That was how Anders Petersen’s picture of an embracing couple from his gritty series Cafe Lehmitz ended up on the cover of Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, an almost perfect reflection of the melancholic music therein. (Intriguingly, the man in the photograph bears a resemblance to the young Tom Waits, both physically and in terms of the beatnik-barfly image Waits once projected.)

That Beautiful South album also features in a short series on censored covers – the woman with a gun in her mouth was replaced in some countries by teddy bears. Stranger still is the cover for a Mamas and Papas album in which they lounge, fully clothed, in a bath tub. In the censored version, an offending toilet bowl has been removed. One wonders how the Butthole Surfers ever got a record released.

One of the more intriguing mini-narratives is a wall devoted to photographs by Linda McCartney of the shoot for the Beatles’ final album, Abbey Road. Iain Macmillan’s cover shot – which was achieved in a 10-minute shoot from atop a ladder while policemen stopped traffic – has since become one of the most debated record sleeves of all time. A conspiracy theory had it that Paul McCartney was dead because he appeared barefoot. Here, he is pictured in one shot wearing sandals and, in another, chatting to an old lady on the pavement by the famous zebra crossing.

Source: The Guardian

L'Oeil de la Photographie highlights The Dramatic Imagery of Jessica Lange by Ieva Bluma

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written by Ieva Bluma

Jessica Lange © Ieva Bluma

Jessica Lange is a true Hollywood legend and one of the greatest actresses of our time.  She has won two Oscars, three Emmys, five Golden Globes and multiple other awards.  Perhaps many people are unaware of the fact that she is also a very accomplished and talented photographer, winner of the prestigious Lucie Award in 2012.  I spoke to the artist in Barcelona, shortly before the opening of her  exhibition “Unseen,” and the presentation of the accompanying and eponymous book of photographs Unseen.

What are these pictures?, I ask.
Oh, things that I see, she replies.

“I find photography a most mysterious process – capturing that moment in time and space, elusive and fleeting, and crystallising it.” – Jessica Lange 

We have always admired Jessica Lange as an actress.  We recognise her from her memorable roles in King Kong, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tootsie, Frances, Blue Sky, Grey Gardens and dozens of other films.  More recently she has been known for her hugely successful portrayal of four different and powerful characters over the course of four seasons of the hit television series American Horror Story.  So it is interesting to discover the Jessica Lange is also a very talented photographer.

Lange has a fascinating and sharp photographic eye, with a real ability to capture life and turn it into an artistic mystery.  Her sense of composition and framing is very strong, present, balanced and detailed, and yet her images offer space and freedom that allow her to express fragility, vulnerability and loneliness.  The photographs create poetic mysteries that connect to people’s emotions and resonate.  This makes Jessica Lange’s realist images almost abstract, and her work does much to activate human imagination.

I was delighted to visit Ms Lange’s exhibition in Barcelona, “Unseen,” and to meet with her for a personal interview about her art.  As a painter and photographer myself, I found this to be a unique opportunity to engage in a creative conversation with the talented Jessica Lange

Ieva Bluma:  Your images are very artistic and well-composed, and the use of light and shadow is incredible.  There is so much that is going on in our photography, and I feel that it is the same as when you perform as an actress.  There are so many emotions and layers in your acting, even when you are still and don’t talk.  I think it’s the same with your photography – even if there’s a bare space in the image, it is still full of mystery.  Do you create your images by instinct, or do you plan the details ahead of time?

Jessica Lange: I’m always shooting on the street without setting anything up.  I think framing and composition is partly luck, but also there is this split second where you compose your frame and put what you want in it, and this is instinctual.  What appeals to me is the negative space or the centre of focus.  It’s a very personal and emotional reaction to what I'm seeing in the moment.  I take the camera and snap the shutter because there is something in the environment, something in the light, something in a gesture of a person or a moment of connection between people that touches me emotionally.  It comes out of instinctual moments and I think the things which interest me as a photographer are the same things, I find interesting as an actress - observing, watching, looking and being present so you don't miss things. 

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