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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.

Mark Cohen Featured in Republican Herald

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Wilkes-Barre Photographer Has Gained International Recognition

By Nancy Honicker

When I was a kid living on Greenwood Hill in Pottsville, we staged a Tom Thumb wedding at the local playground. Everyone got involved, even the bullies, decked out in their Sunday best. We girls wore frilly dresses and plastic hair bands with veils attached. In the empty lot that was our playground, we lined up for photographs and a few days later, there we were, on display in The Pottsville Republican.

I still have that photo, I can still name the kids huddled around the bride, and, what strikes me is how dusty we were. Despite our finery, despite our efforts to look our best, our patent leather Mary Janes had lost their sheen and the boys' oxfords looked shabby and gray. It wasn't our fault. We had done our best, but the playground was no more than coal dirt and every step we took stirred up a cloud of dust.

Playing baseball, when we slid into base, we blackened our pants and sneakers. Wearing shorts, we darkened our bare knees. Blackened sneakers, dark knees, the stuff of summers spent on coal banks and coal dirt lots.

I've just been to a photography exhibit in Paris bearing that name - "Dark Knees." The photographer, a pioneer of street photography with an international reputation, is from Wilkes-Barre. His name is Mark Cohen and for more than 50 years, night after night, after days spent in a commercial photography studio, he has tracked pictures, an affair of choice and chance, in the streets of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and towns in between.

I did not know Mark Cohen's work and I discovered him listening to the radio, listening to an announcer struggle in French with the pronunciation of "Wilkes-Barre," as I asked myself if he was really talking about the Wilkes-Barre I know.

Listening more closely, I learned that a photographer from that town was showing his work at "Le Bal," an exhibition space in Paris devoted to photography. Checking out the information on the web, I promptly got on the metro and went to see the show.

There, against blood-red walls, I discovered a continuous line of 16-by-20 photographs, mostly black and white, traveling across the four walls of a large underground exhibition space. I did not discover Wilkes-Barre or the coal region: no breakers, no strip mines, no deserted downtown that had once seen better days. There was nothing that deliberately drew attention to a specific time or place. There weren't even people, at least not people posing, composed faces, bodies shot from head to toe.

From Dark Knees

Instead, there are fragments: a coat collar, a pearled eyeglass chain, a chin, a brooch, two calves wrapped in rayon knee socks, two feet wearing leather buckle shoes. Sometimes there is only a forehead, a hairline, bodies without head or feet, hands folded in the lap of a girl wearing cut-off jeans, a bare bony torso, dark knees against a background of vacant lots and clapboard houses, with a stairway leading to paradise…

There are also still lifes: the tops of unlaced boots, a string of outdoor lights, tomatoes ripening on an old wooden table in somebody's backyard.

These fragments, these photos, often beautiful and shot through with a disturbing grace, are not restful. Cohen's exhibition is not restful. Truncated bodies, defiant or frightened eyes, a fist slammed against a car window with the photographer inside, connote aggression and this notion is inherent to his technique and work.

Cohen has defined himself as a "trigger-happy gunslinger" and he has called his way of taking photos "grab shots."

Working for 35 years as a commercial photographer, when he closed shop each day, he began a second life, becoming a different person from the man "doing" weddings or annual reports.

At nightfall, he set out, a stalker of sorts, with three rolls of film, a lightweight camera and a flash, entering a world filled with pictures, out there waiting for him. What was necessary, as much as style and technique, was the courage to make the "grab."

Walking through the streets of Wilkes-Barre, Cohen, like a gunslinger, shot from the hip, camera in one hand, flash in the other. Constantly on the move but using a wide-angle lens, he had to get close to people, dangerously close at times, confronting raised fists, threats, insults and run-ins with the police. Approaching his subjects, according himself "artistic license" to burst into their lives, Cohen "flashed" them, grabbing the picture and then, just as quickly, merging back into the flow of street life.

Returning to his studio after having shot more than 100 photos, he might make no more than eight prints. In many of the shots, choice and accident did not mesh-or the picture he envisioned did not take off once he captured it within the rectangle that is his signature format, one he never crops.

The next night, he was back in the street, following instinct, believing chance, luck, fate, call it what you will, would deliver new treasures, fragments of himself as much as of the place where he anchored his work.

Night after night, Cohen forayed into the streets of Wilkes-Barre, fueled by a shot of adrenaline and the desire to delve deeper into himself.

Recognition and critical acclaim came early and in 1973, at age 30, the photographer had a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Had he settled in the city, he might have become a star of the New York photography world. Instead, after a quick visit, Cohen got back in his car and drove home to Wilkes-Barre because he "felt like he wasn't done there."

Forty years later, the photographer moved to Philadelphia. It took a long time to wrap things up.

Cohen claims he could have just as well taken his photos in Elmira, N.Y., as in Wilkes-Barre. I'm not so sure. Too much coal dust, too much darkness, too much grace born of a violent, mystical marriage between a man and a place: the coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania, an intrinsic part of that self he mined for nearly 50 years.

Some readers may already know Cohen's work. Some may have seen his 2010 exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There is also a book, "Grim Streets," published in 2005. But, except for a college show in the early '60s, there has never been an exhibit of his work on his home turf. Too close for comfort? I wish we could have a chance to tell.

To read the article in the Republican Herald, please click here.

PAC/LA Thursday Night with Tomoko Sawada

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THURSDAY NIGHT AT ROSEGALLERY WITH TOMOKO SAWADA

Join us at the opening of Tomoko Sawada's latest works SIGN and SKIN at ROSEGALLERY. The gallery has arranged a meeting with the artist for PAC/LA members. September 26, 6-8 PM.

Not a member of PAC/LA? To participate in events like Thursday Night with Tomoko Sawada, click here.

PAC/LA is an independent, non-profit organization fostering individual and community-wide appreciation of the photographic arts.

Throughout the year, PAC/LA offers:

  • Artist Talks
  • Studio Visits
  • Educational Programming
  • Gallery Visits
  • Private Collection Tours
  • Curator-led Walkthroughs of Museum Exhibitions
  • Travel Opportunities beyond 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)

Paris Photo 2013 Agenda: Bruce Davidson Los Angeles 1964/2012

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Bruce Davidson first came to Los Angeles in 1964 on assignment for Esquire magazine. As a young New Yorker in LA, he found himself at odds with what he described as a “cultural desert with acrid air, bumper-to-bumper traffic, tall palms, and seedy Hollywood types.” Davidson approached this foreign landscape with the sardonic eye of an outsider looking in. The resulting images, shot with a 35mm camera, play with archetypes and stereotypes of the city with a quick and clever irony: bodybuilders and starlets; sunbathers and signwavers; the similarly glimmering cars and glistening surf of a beach parking lot; desperate hopefuls walking the streets in search of something more.

Nearly 45 years after Davidson first visited Los Angeles, he returned to the city with a vastly different shooting agenda. The crowded and buzzing social landscape of 1964 now serves as a distant backdrop for the quiet integrity of Davidson’s clawed up yuccas, attenuated palms, and parched hillsides. The Nature of LA looks at plant life and the politics of water in Los Angeles with a newfound compassion and patience. Using a 4x5 view camera on a tripod slows his photographic process and allows these contemplative images to take shape. The word nature’s dual meaning— both flora and fauna, and character or temperament—situates the work within a broader scope than straight photographic representation. The series speaks to man’s impact on the land and nature’s prevailing will. He writes, “hundreds of towering palm trees reach to the sky and give poetic posture to concrete freeways, tacky strip malls, and the endless grid of local streets.” No longer at odds with a foreign landscape, Davidson lets the “pockets of beauty” emerge from the so-called “cultural desert” of his youth.

In the intervening years between these bodies of work, the culture of Los Angeles has not changed significantly, but rather the artist’s experience of it. This exhibition marries the two series, the wry and the romantic, to present a multifaceted portrait of our city.

To view the Paris Photo Agenda post and see what other participants are up to, click here.