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Martin Parr and his 12,000 Books

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Collecting with the FT: Martin Parr

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March 14, 2014 1:23 pm

By Liz Jobey

“Just look a little bit . . . happier.” It’s hard not to be amused by the hopeful upturn at the end of the sentence. Eva Vermandel is trying to take a portrait of Martin Parr, at home in Bristol, surrounded by his book collection. It’s not easy: partly because he looks so sceptical; partly because he keeps opening books up on the floor to show us, and so she has to keep asking him to stand up. After David Bailey, Parr is probably the best-known living photographer in Britain. His reputation derives from his candid pictures of others but he is also a dedicated exponent of the selfie – he may even have invented the term. His collection of self-portraits, taken in photo booths and studios all around the world, began long before the mobile phone camera was invented.

“You probably have to be an obsessive person to collect,” he concedes, “if you are going to do it seriously and thoroughly, which I attempt to do.”

We are here to talk about his books but Parr collects pretty much everything, from Chinese Mao-era tea caddies to miniature televisions, commemorative plates to cigarette cases decorated with Soviet space-dogs: “Yes, Laika, Strelka and Belka, they’re the three most famous . . .” That’s before you get to his print collection, some of which is in evidence on the walls as he leads us downstairs to the basement.

“China and Latin America down here,” he says, “well, some of China . . .” We go into a small room stacked with boxes and lined with shelves of books. “There’s Japan, but just propaganda, here . . . and Latin America overspill.” It’s too tight for three, so we go next door, where a cabinet holds some of his novelty watch collection. He points to a watch-face decorated with portraits of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his father Hafez. “Very rare, the Assad material.”

“Where did you get it?”

“eBay.”

Parr is in his early sixties and, alongside his reputation as a photographer, his most enduring legacy is likely to be the 12,000 photography books he has collected over the past 35 years. What began as a hobby has developed into a mission to change the way the history of photography is defined and understood.

Parr began collecting photobooks as a student at Manchester Polytechnic. As a collector, he has discovered, documented and promoted previously unknown areas of photographic bookmaking. Japan is a good example: until the 1980s, the Japanese photobook was a specialist area, reserved for a few maverick enthusiasts, historians and collectors. Parr is quick to acknowledge them but, once he discovered what was there, it was his own proseletysing that brought the Japanese books to the fore. “The main thing I’ve learnt,” he says, “is how lazy and narrow-minded our histories of photography have been, and how, with some investment and some application, there is so much to discover.”

His collection is not comprehensive. “I get sent a lot of books – I get sent a lot of bad books,” he says. “If I don’t want a book, I’ll give it away. But I also get sent some fantastic things.”

He has bought books ever since he was a student at Manchester Polytechnic in the early 1970s but he dates the beginning of his serious collecting to the late 1980s, “when I bought the original Robert Frank Les Américains, and The English at Home by Bill Brandt – some of the classics. As I started to earn more money, I got more hooked and, having cash from my relatively successful magazine and commercial career . . . You know, this is an expensive business.” A look on AbeBooks.com gives an idea of current prices: Les Américains (1958) at between $3,000 and $5,000 – a signed copy is $10,000. A first edition of The English at Home (1936) is around £300 to £400.

When I ask if he has estimated the value of the collection, he says, “I haven’t. But I know it would be substantial.” His critics are quick to point out that, in being one of its generators, he has also been one of the chief beneficiaries of the growing interest in photography books and the steep rise in prices. Isn’t he now competing in a bull market he has helped to create?

“Yes,” he says, “but, remember, I’m looking for things before anyone else is looking for them. That’s what’s happened in China. When people see what we’ve dug up from China, they are absolutely bog-eyed.”

In 2004, he published the first of two, soon to be three, volumes of The Photobook: A History, an edited selection of his collection, illustrated with layouts from each volume, written by his friend and collaborator, the photo-historian Gerry Badger. Initially pored over by photography fans, dealers and collectors, the volumes quickly became the handbook for auction houses, which often had little else to quote by way of provenance for a photographer’s work. Since then, the selective listing by Parr and Badger has encouraged an insider market among collectors, publishers and photographers, since inclusion in the history brings kudos to both publisher and photographer’s reputation and almost guarantees an eventual hike in the resale value.

In his study, a large print by his friend Chris Killip hangs over his desk. This is where he keeps his most recent acquisitions. He has “correspondents” in various countries who help find books, and a range of dealers who offer him things he might want. He believes that China is the last country with a true hidden history of photographic publishing. “The other candidate in Europe is Italy. I’ve just come back from a trip and I’ve got many books from the Italian fascist period.

“Now, let me show you . . .” He hands me a stapled pamphlet, badly printed in black and white. “Emmett Till – this is the first civil rights book ever . . . look, price $1, the first, and a factual photo story.” It covers the trial of two white racists from Mississippi who murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black boy from Chicago, for flirting with a white girl. “Took me a long time to find that,” he says. “I had to spend £7,000 on it. And I’ve never seen one since.”

What does he want to happen to the collection? Where does he want it to end up? “Eventually I want it to go into a public collection, to be looked after and be used as a research tool. That’s the whole point really. There is no particularly good photographic book collection in the public domain in the UK.”

So if a private individual were to offer you a great deal of money? “I would decline,” he says immediately. “It’s not about the money.”

Of the possible venues – the V&A, the British Library, the Tate – he nods at the last one. “Well yes, it’s my preferred venue,” he says. “I’m in discussion with them, but nothing has been determined.”

Simon Baker, the Tate’s curator of photography, says: “Clearly, Tate is supportive. The photobook is absolutely at the heart of the history of photography. In our exhibitions, we place books in the gallery alongside prints. We’ve already put our marker down.” And anyway, he adds: “Whichever institution gets it, they will have the greatest photobook collection in the world.”

“The Photobook: A History Volume III” by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger is published by Phaidon on March 17. The authors will be speaking at Photobook Bristol, June 6-8. www.photobookbristol.com

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Wayne Lawrence Selected in Best of Miami by V Magazine

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We are proud to share that V Magazine has selected Wayne Lawrence's Cinnamon, on view at the ROSEGALLERY booth at PULSE Miami, as a fair highlight in their latest Miami dispatch.

To read the article, please click here.

William Eggleston 'At Zenith' in Musee Magazine

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Eggleston is a big deal in the photography world. He is credited with the invention, or at least the dispersions of the idea of color photography. His work is legendary. Through the 60s and 70s he took America in it’s bleakest condition and added a splash of color.

Sometime in the mid 90s, Eggleston started taking pictures of clouds from his car window. From there he naturally progressed to taking pictures of clouds as an art form, focusing his lens skyward and capturing what’s above.

At first view, someone unfamiliar with Eggleston’s work would perhaps say, “These are just pictures of clouds.” The word ‘just’ is very important. Employing a time tested method, I made my way to the gallery with someone completely ignorant of not only Eggleston, but of artistic photography in general.

“These are just pictures of clouds.”

“Not just”

“Fine, these are pictures of clouds.”

“They are a Rorschach test. You can see anything in them.”

“I see clouds.”

What my friend lacked was a reference point. The clouds are clouds and our brains perceive the images. Young children lay in the grass looking up at the clouds and see rabbits, dragons, faces – but ultimately, they see clouds.

The Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto takes pictures of the sea. His pictures, black and white, all look fairly similar. They look like the sea. Black and white, with a flat clear sky of gray separated by the horizon from a darker ruffled mass. So why is Sugimoto lauded for his seascapes, while I poke fun at Eggleston?

The Japanese are known for their minimalist approach to art. There is a history that welcomes Sugimoto into their ranks. We go to an Eggleston show expecting the same thing he was doing 10, 20 years ago. The artist must move forward, and the pictures should be scrutinized as new work.

The cloudscapes are innocent. The sky is blue and I see a Rhino in the white curls.

Review by John Hutt

Photo Credit:

WILLIAM EGGLESTON At Zenith I, 1979-2013 (C) Eggleston Artistic Trust.  Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

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.

Wayne Lawrence at the 5th Annual FLAG Group Exhibition

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ROSEGALLERY is pleased to be working with photographer Wayne Lawrence, who is part of the 5th Annual FLAG Art Fair in Brooklyn, NY. Lawrence's work will be on view from October 5 through December 14. Lawrence, who is included in the 'emerging artists' group show, has a dedicated floor of his work curated by Awol FLAG Art Foundation celebrates its 5th anniversary this fall with two exhibitions Cecily Brown, Untitled (Blood Thicker than Mud), 2012. Oil on linen, 109 x 171 inches. Photo ©Cecily Brown. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Robert McKeever. Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email Share on print Share on gmail More Sharing Services 4 NEW YORK, NY.- The FLAG Art Foundation celebrates its 5th anniversary this fall. To commemorate this milestone, the 9th floor features a 5th Anniversary Group Exhibition and on the 10th floor, Images of Venus from Wayne Lawrence’s Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera curated by Awol Erizku. Both exhibitions are on view October 5 through December 14. FLAG has organized 30 exhibitions since it opened to the public in 2008. FLAG would like to thank the curators and artists for their participation. Their vision and talent have been invaluable and has impacted thousands of viewers. FLAG remains committed to its mission to encourage the appreciation of contemporary art among a diverse audience. Through the duration of the exhibitions, FLAG will host a series of salon events to thank FLAG's supporters and welcome new viewers. In the spirit of FLAG’s focus on collaboration, the events will intersect art with performance, fashion, food, and more. 9th floor The 5th Anniversary Group Exhibition includes 15 emerging and established artists, the majority of whom have previously shown at FLAG. Cecily Brown • Marc Dennis • Ellen Gallagher • Jane Hammond • Nir Hod • Jim Hodges • Wayne Lawrence • Josephine Meckseper • Julie Mehretu • Chris Ofili • Ged Quinn • Charles Ray • Gerhard Richter • Jeff Sonhouse • Mathew Weir 10th floor Identifying and promoting emerging talent is core to FLAG's program.

FLAG presents Images of Venus from Wayne Lawrence's Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera curated by artist Awol Erizku. Awol exhibited in FLAG's 2011 Art² and 2013 personal, political, mysterious exhibitions. The Orchard Beach series resonates with Awol's approach to portraiture. When discussing Wayne's work, Awol notes it quotes both photography and painting and that it both engages and leaves the spectator wanting to see more. The images are subtle yet confrontational; this aspect of the artist's image making enables him to navigate two complementary axes-as a form of documentation and as a reference to classical portraiture.

"Originally from St. Kitts, West Indies, I immigrated to the United States almost 20 years ago, settling in Los Angeles, California, where I worked as a commercial carpenter for five years. In my mid-twenties, while searching for new direction in my life, I discovered the autobiography of Gordon Parks, A Choice of Weapons, along with the work of Richard Avedon and Eli Reed at the local library. As an immigrant searching for my place within American society, I immediately identified parallels within Parks' life story and my own journey. The inherent emotion in Reed and Avedon's work was palpable, and I felt immediately that I, too, could master this new language of photography. For the first time I was faced with imagery that dealt with the human condition, and I committed to use photography as a tool for my own personal education and to confront long-standing ideas about race and class. In 2002, while continuing my pursuit of photographic education in California, I received news that my older brother, David, had been murdered back home in St. Kitts. This tragedy marked a major turning point in my journey, and photography became an integral part of my healing process. With the realization that my life's work, my survival, would require a heightened level of personal engagement, I gave up the isolation I had always felt in Los Angeles and relocated to the bustling streets and diverse culture of New York City. With a new sense of purpose, over the next six years I began focusing my lens on the only beach in New York's Bronx, Orchard Beach. Although the Bronx is considered one of the most diverse communities in America, its image has been largely defined by the urban blight that the city endured during the late 1960's through the 1980's when arson, drug addiction, and social neglect decimated many of its neighborhoods. Built in the 1930's, Orchard Beach, or 'Chocha Beach' as it is commonly known, remains an oasis for generations of Bronx families but is stigmatized as one of the worst beaches in New York. My personal experience of Orchard Beach, however, has been one of the most fulfilling of my life, and I have strived over many years to create an honorable representation of the community there. Orchard Beach consists of portraits of proud men and women with audacious attitude, loving couples, and families at play. In this work I am interested in challenging the stereotypes associated with working-class people by highlighting themes of community, cultural pride and the individuals' quest for identity." - Wayne Lawrence

More Information: http://artdaily.com/news/65560/FLAG-Art-Foundation-celebrates-its-5th-anniversary-this-fall-with-two-exhibitions#.Ul7VPmRMUhp[/url] Copyright © artdaily.org

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

Announcing William Eggleston's New Steidl Title 'At Zenith'

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At Zenith. Photographs by William Eggleston. Steidl, 2014. 88 pp., 40 color illustrations, 13½x10¼".

Publisher's Description In April 1979, a book of fifteen colour photographs by William Eggleston was published in a limited edition of twenty. The photographs were taken from the second chapter of an unpublished larger work entitled Wedgewood Blue. Amidst his publications Chromes (2011), Los Alamos Revisited (2012), and the upcoming Democratic Forest (2014) and Election Eve (2016), all documenting his lifetime work, At Zenith constitutes a calm and experimental intermezzo from Eggleston's familiar loudness and intensity of colours. The photographer pointed his camera at the sky to focus on the clouds rolling by.

The book is scheduled for release on March 2014. It can be pre-ordered here.

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(© Asako Narahashi, courtesy Rose Gallery, Los Angeles)

Once again from the Pier 24 photography space in San Francisco, this is a view of Mount Fuji from the surface of Lake Kawaguchiko, taken in 2003 by Asako Narahashi. Of course, the true subject of the work is its world-famous doppelganger, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, woodblock printed by Katsushika Hokusai in about 1831. The differences matter as much as any likenesses. Hokusai shows us the disembodied view of a kind of omniscient narrator – an “omniscient looker”, you could say – who seems to glimpse the struggling sailors almost by accident as he takes in distant Mount Fuji. (Shades of W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”). Whereas with Narahashi, we see the mountain through modern eyes immersed in the water but made impervious to it by technology. Water splashes onto the glass of the floating photographer’s lens but has no effect; the sun’s flare off the surface of the lake is forced to take on the hexagonal shape of the camera’s aperture. Narahashi reflects on her culture’s past, from its present.

-Blake Gopnik