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Wayne Lawrence's 'Orchard Beach: Bronx Riviera' Reviewed in ASX

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Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera By Peter Baker, for ASX, November 2013

In Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York (Vintage Books 1974) he describes Orchard Beach, a 1.1 mile stretch of sand that Moses himself had imported to the Bronx from Sandy Hook and Rockaway, as resting “here, in New York’s northeastern corner, so far from any built-up areas in 1934 that visitors could hardly believe they were still within the borders of America’s largest city.” Eighty years later we’ve seen the Bronx built-up, burnt down, abandoned, and later reclaimed, by an array of immigrants and a new generation born in the only borough on the American mainland. And yet, as a native Bronxite myself, I’m willing to bet the vast majority of New Yorkers, certainly those living in Manhattan or Brooklyn today, would have the same reaction as those who visited Orchard Beach in 1934: We’re still in New York City?

Earlier this month, in what was the least suspenseful election in recent memory, Bill de Blasio was named the next mayor of Gotham. Suddenly his campaign slogan, which pleads that this is “A Tale of Two Cities,” the rich and everyone else, has become populist sentiment. Rest assured, the rich are always safe in their unambiguous category. It’s the everyone else that gets complicated, embodying a thousand shades of color and a multiplex of micro economies. As the city changes and gentrification implodes, its no secret that the habitable space of the city is shrinking for average families. One thing is certain for now: The Bronx belongs to the working people of New York. And for the 1.3 million who call the borough home, they take the Bx12 bus across the Pelham Parkway, or drive to the sprawling 8,000 car parking lot, and arrive at their cramped yet beloved Riviera at Orchard Beach.

The Bronx is now considered the most diverse area in the United States and the only borough of the city with a Latino majority. The beach’s popularity should come as no surprise considering the thousands of Bronxites who come from the islands and shores of the Caribbean. In his new book Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera, photographer Wayne Lawrence points his lens toward New Yorkers who flee the grid of sweltering streets for this modest but sacred summer haven on the Long Island Sound. Lawrence, who migrated to New York from the West Indies island of Saint Kitts, was drawn to the underdog status of the Bronx and sees the people at Orchard Beach as “children of survivors who went through that period in the Bronx and somehow made it.” Lawrence’s book serves as a kind of high quality, all-inclusive yearbook, representing the various denizens of Orchard. The subjects participate in the making of the portrait, in a straightforward style that brings to mind Avedon or Arbus. As for the pictures themselves, they succeed or fall flat based on the level of individuality expressed by the particular subject. The inevitable problem with this process of portrait making, i.e. asking a person to stand in front of a large format camera at eye length and stare into the lens, is an apparent passivity from the subject, as a result of simply doing what the photographer has asked them to do, which isn’t much. The hope is that somehow something profound will transmit from this exchange. The least effective pictures, however, merely look like the person is thinking about having their picture taken.

In such projects we hear about the photographer’s desire to convey the dignity of a people, an admirable gesture no doubt, and a familiar note in the history of photography. But, more often than not such amicable attempts wind up being reductive or sentimental. As Geoff Dyer writes of Dorothea Lange “[She] was all the time keen to discover and represent people’s dignity. As became the case with Paul Strand, the danger of this approach is that people can be reduced to their dignity.” In the strongest pictures, and there are many in Lawrence’s book, there is a kind of resistance and attitude from the individual, who while consenting to the photographer, still pushes back with a sense of self that overwhelms the process. In this case the most engaging pictures by far happen to be of women. We see the women of Wayne Lawrence’s Orchard Beach represented with more distinctiveness and intrigue. The beach of course prompts sexuality, but it’s the combination of toughness and vulnerability that makes the pictures of women memorable. Gestures and stances vary, and the viewer is invited to eye the details of the body, the fierce assortment of swimsuits and jewelry, tattoos that read like proverbs, and the multifarious shades of skin basking in the mixed light.

To read the article at ASX, please click here.

Jo Ann Callis: Early Color on ASX

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Although my work outwardly seems to vary over many years, there are certain links running through all of it. I consistently want to make things that satisfy my sense of beauty. I respond to the tactile nature of things. Another element that pervades it is tension or anxiety. These elements always live within me and are present in all my art. -Jo Ann Callis

Callis began her art studies in Ohio in the 1950s, as a high school student in Cincinnati and in college at Ohio State University in Columbus. However, her academic work was interrupted by marriage, a move to Los Angeles, and child rearing.  After the interruption, she returned and studied under Robert Heineken and would emerge, in late 1970s, as one of the first important practitioners of the “fabricated photographs” movement. Callis began teaching at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) in 1976. Callis is represented by ROSEGALLERY in Los Angeles.

Rinko Kawauchi 'Ametsuchi' on ASX

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Review: Rinko Kawauchi Ametsuchi (2013)

By Sören Schuhmacher for ASX, September 2013

Rinko Kawauchi’s new book Ametsuchi (Heaven and Earth) published by Aperture, reads like a Haruki Murakami novel. Kawauchi merges reality with the spiritual world and reveals an invisible but tangent point of connection between apparently unrelated events. Even the concept of Ametsuchioriginates from a dream, Rinko Kawauchi had years ago.

“I was drinking my coffee on a Sunday morning, idly watching TV with my head still half-asleep, I was surprised to suddenly see the image from that dream reappear. It was a scene of many people and horses together in a green meadow before a large mountain – a place called Aso.”

Rinko Kawauchi entered a new territory with Ametsuchi. This time she worked with a 4×5 large format camera instead her Rolleiflex, which led her to break out from the self-imposed pattern of the square format. Also the typical soft tones in her images disappear. They became darker and reveal an almost mystical atmosphere.

Aso, where most of the photographs were taken, is a region famous for it’s 1,300-year-old farming ritual, in which fields are burned on an annual basis in advance of planting new crops. The agricultural burning and the cyclical nature of life, functions as the central theme in the book.

Kawauchi is known for her exceptional editing of her books and the manner to tell a story on a page by juxtaposition of two images. Although her previous books were always pursuing a certain concept, they could be considered more like a collection of short stories than a novel without an ongoing storyline. Ametsuchi on the other side, is sequenced with single images on a double page, which invites the viewer to follow the story through the entire book, from beginning to end.

The book starts with a smoke darkened sky, caused by the flames of the agriculture burning, that turn the dry fields into an apocalyptic landscape. In the further course, burning fields, green meadows and in snow covered landscapes alternate to illustrate a recurring cycle and and the elapse of time.

At about the middle of the book, images of a theatrical Shinto dance ceremony, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the starry sky in a planetarium were interspersed. Different from the agricultural burnings, the images of the Wailing Wall and the Shinto dance ceremony are blurred and overexposed. The sudden appearing and disappearing of these interspersed images, are like zapping through TV channels, where different events, at different locations, take place at the same time.

At first glance this events seem unrelated, but under a closer look, they all representing a certain resistance in a time that rapidly changes. Rituals – Spiritual remains of the beginning of mankind, formed a circle by passing on from generation to generation. Ametsuchi is a veneration of the invisible world that has continued since the distant past. Rinko Kawauchi uses these rituals as a juncture between past and present, spiritual world and reality, heaven and earth.

The award-winning Dutch designer, Hans Gremmen, translated the concept of Ametsuchi into the book design, and managed even to enlarge Kawauchi’s work by pushing the photobook to the next level. Questioning the medium of the book, and how people tend to use them, Ametsuchi is bound in a variation of a Japanese binding. The upper sides of the pages are closed and the bottoms open, which generates a space between the actual pages that can only be seen by lifting the pages bottom corners up. In this almost hidden space, the images are the inverted color version from the outer surface, visualizing a parallel world, where darkness turns into light, fire into water and vice versa. As a nice extra the dust jacket of the book is also a double-sided poster with a inverted image of the cover on the back. Nothing was left to chance and is perfectly integrated into the main concept, from the beginning to the end.

This leads to the last image in the book, which shows the actual scene of people and horses together in a green meadow before a large mountain. The scene, Rinko Kawauchi dreamt about and which later reappeared on television – a recurring cycle.

“On the ground of one of the stars among the immense universe, I think of the beginning, The Earth is a mirror to project heaven. Photography captures the mirror. It connects the Earth and heaven. When the darkness reaches at the bottom, the light will arrive.”

- Rinko Kawauchi

ASX CHANNEL: RINKO KAWAUCHI

(All rights reserved. Text @ Sören Schuhmacher and ASX, Images @ Rinko Kawauchi)