Friday, March 25, 2016

Roberto M. Tondopó - Casita de Turrón, a strange and wonderful book


When recently in Wellington for the Photobook Festival I came across Roberto M. Tondopó's amazing book Casita de Turrón or Gingerbread House. Tondopó is a Mexican photographer and not surprisingly the pictures in this book are saturated with the hues of dusty turquoise, faded pinks and acid yellows. Underlying these bright and cheerful colors there is something sinister going on. The book is like a Pedro Almodóvar movie on speed. 
Each chaotic frame has a complex narrative that draws the reader in, you are left wanting to work out what really is going on. The layered pictures surprise with small details that once observed add a malevolent twist, a sort of "stone in the shoe" that makes one question what seems to be the obvious. For example the boy in the oven with the broken egg shells on the floor. The boy in the bed with a hand at the window. This is a strange, complex and compelling book, hard to work out and hard to put down.

Roberto Tondopó talks about Casita de Turrón: It is a book about the transition between childhood and adolescence of my nephews, Andrea and Angel. Although settled in reality, it is a fictional narrative evoking the transition period in the development of our sexuality.  My interest is to detonate those parts of the repressed unconscious... touching aspects of the sinister, to open the threshold of representation of the image that alludes all interpretation.  My work revolves around... a need to restore those deep connections between past and present, fantasy and memory.

Here are some photographs from Casita de Turrón. You can see the book in its entirety on a vimeo video HERE.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Photography is easy, photography is difficult

A good example of a bad photograph!

Making photographs is deceptively easy. That's what makes it so difficult. After all anybody can do it and everybody is. The truth is to make a good photograph, one that works, is incredibly hard. This probably has a something to do with seductive pull of making the pictures, After all there is nothing quite like the pleasure of being in the world, looking at it and shooting. This can be somewhat aimless, with no direction home.

For me, I need to know what I'm shooting for. What's the idea? With a good idea in mind I think you can make better pictures. My ideas are abstract intangible creatures, I don't photograph coal miners, or water towers. A recent book-work of mine was titled NOT FOOD OR SEX. As soon as I came up with that title I could look at a picture and know immediately if it fitted the idea. This meant I could go into my archive and find images that worked and I could shoot with that idea as an objective. This doesn't rule our shooting intuitively, Winogrand's maxim, that he shot so see what things looked like on film (read pixels) still holds.

In March 2012 I made a blog post, Some Thought on Editing and Sequencing, you can go to it HERE.  Jörg Colberg, founder and editor of the well known and influential blog Conscientious wrote to me... he made the point that whatever you do, wherever you want to head with your work you need good photographs. So obvious, so true.  

Well, first of all you have to have good photos to make a good photobook. Without good photos, it's an uphill struggle (some books don't need good photos, but they rely on a great concept). And then the concept of the book just has to work. There's a lot of gimmicky work out there, where people are trying too hard to be cool. So making a really good book is very hard, much harder than most people think. And people don't realize that the only thing that will make books stand out is the quality of the whole package, not your elaborate shrink-wrap or whatever you come up with. So yeah, substance it is.

Then this morning I read the following quote from American writer Jim Harrison - “You have to follow the affections of your heart, and the truth of your imagination. Otherwise, you will feel badly.”

Not a bad starting point. Go well... go out and make photographs, good photographs...

Post Script: A reader reminded me of Paul Graham's 2009 piece, of the same name -  Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult - you can read that on ASX HERE.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

John Baldessari at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles

John Baldessari - Maybe the Simplest Way..., 2015

Over the past 50 years, no one has come to epitomise the visual arts in Los Angeles more than John Baldessari. With his vibrant wit and his vast and un-classifiable oeuvre, which includes painting, photography, sculpture and video, he has become a hugely influential artist, while his generosity and brilliance as a teacher has made him a beloved figure among generations of students. 
John Baldessari has always reveled in the playful dislocation between text and image. His most recent body of work, a series of paintings made over the past year, further expands this distinct Baldessari mode. Featuring banal found photographs, altered with his trademark blocks of rich colour, accompanied by equally banal snippets of text that appear like captions beneath the images, the new paintings present the viewer with a pleasing conundrum. The arresting disjunction between text and image opens up an enormous gulf for the viewer’s imagination. The resulting combination of word and image generates a radically anarchic pictorial space. Baldessari's formal daring and ingenious wit, that has made Baldessari such a vital figure in contemporary art. 
John Baldessari John Baldessari (1931, National City, California) lives and works in Santa Monica, California. His works were part of the 47th (1997) and 53rd (2009) Venice Biennials, the Carnegie International (1985-86), the Whitney Biennial (1983), as well as documenta V (1972) and VII (1982). In 2005, an extensive, two-part retrospective was dedicated to the artist at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien and at the Kunsthaus Graz. His large retrospective Pure Beauty opened 2009 at the Tate Modern in London, and subsequently was on view at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2010), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2010/2011). Recently the artist has presented his works in solo exhibitions at the Fondazione Prada, Milan (2010) the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2011) and the Städel Museum, Frankfurt (2015/16). In June 2009, John Baldessari was awarded the Golden Lion at the 53rd Venice Biennial and 2012 the Kaiserring of the city of Goslar for his lifetime achievement. In 2015, he was awarded The National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts. 
The exhibition at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles opens February 24 and runs until April 9.
John Baldessari - It's Possible, Although..., 2015

Friday, March 18, 2016

Photographers whose work I like - No30/ Gordon Reynolds


American Gordon Reynolds is a former web developer who lives in Sacramento and increasingly spends time in San Francisco. I kept seeing Gordon's work on Instagram and liked what I saw. Perhaps that's because he's looking at the same sort of things that I look at. Whatever the case Gordon Reynolds has a sharp eye for the ordinary and the unusual transforming what he sees into perfect visual Koans. Any attempt to find Gordon's work on-line failed as I later discovered that his only cyber presence is in fact on Instagram.

Gordon says this about his work - I wander, usually in an urban setting, waiting to see what catches my eye. Something almost always does. I don't work on projects but do tend to walk over the same terrain for a long span of time looking for what's changed. Most of my time recently has been spent in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.Because it's densely populated things tend to change there daily. I am fascinated by what humans do to
the city-scape, especially those things they do offhand, things discarded, or put aside, those temporary alterations they make that will disappear shortly. The evanescence of those changes makes for poignant photographs.

Here is a selection of Gordon's photographs....

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Making Art - follow your Heart or the Money?


Recovering from two full on weekends, first working with Roger Ballen in a 2 day workshop and then this last weekend in Wellington at the NZ Photobook Festival. The subject of making work and getting it out there cropped up on both occasions. Roger Ballen is firmly of the view that the best work comes from a place deep inside the artist where issues of ones place in the world are examined, mulled over and work follows. I share that view. My talk in Wellington about international exposure touched on the need for authenticity and avoiding chasing fame. Just doing the work. From a Zen perspective, just getting up each day and chopping wood.

Gerry Badger in his essay on John Gosssge from his book The Pleasure of Good Photographs puts it like this. Great artists, great photographers... do not follow the norm, they follow their instincts and convictions, not the herd and the smart money... style and individuality emanates from deep within them, and is not... something grafted on from the outside. 

Joerg Colberg tweeted a piece from ArtNews which picked up the theme.
Product-based art isn’t specific to abstraction or figuration (as an even more recent market shift may be demonstrating) but is the result of dealers and collectors encouraging artists to create more of the same kind of popular work. All too often, museum curators cave to these pressures, too, validating the trend by staging exhibitions of market-darling artists collected by their trustees with a lack of scruples that gives the worst insider traders a run for their money. The path of commercial success may be increasingly easy, but it narrows what could otherwise be probing, expansive, and serendipitous careers. This results-oriented focus can be contrasted to the idea that an artist should be allowed to follow a sustained project of creating art in a passionate and independent way, regardless of market feedback. That might mean changing styles over the years and being less commercially viable at points, but this long-term project will have a notable through-line of a consistent set of questions and issues. The project and its many manifestations are best identified retrospectively, but wandering and doubt are a generative part of it. With some notable exceptions (like Warhol and Courbet, who churned out work like machines), the most fascinating and important artists in history exemplify this approach by remaining true to what drove them to create, rather than caving to external responses. We should all be worried if these artists start disappearing. You can read the complete ArtNews piece written by Daniel S. Palmer. HERE.

It seems to me that if the best work out there comes from probing, questioning and a process of self examination the flip side to that, a practice based on surface considerations produces art that is just about surface. Perhaps that explains why there is so much superficial decorative rubbish out there masquerading as art.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Photographs in Wellington - a PSYCHO moment


Last weekend in Wellington for PHOTOBOOK NEW ZEALAND. A juggling act, dealing with Fridays bitter southerly driving in direct from Antarctica, looking at photobooks and listening to presentations, meeting friends, and rummaging through op shops and book shops. And not to forget hanging out with dear daughter Zoë.

To prove that I could chew gum and photograph at the same time, I attempted to squeeze in and squeeze off a few photographs.
Edit today, and OMG it looks as if I was having a PSYCHO moment. I mean the Comfort Hotel in Cuba Street and Bates Motel are on different planets...

Don't be put off, Wellington is great -  quirky, idiosyncratic, lovable, where if you half close your eyes you'd swear it was still 1972. Oh, and not an Auckland Trophy Wife in sight... Here are some pictures:

The Photobook - how to get your work out there...


It was a pleasure to be in Wellington last weekend to participate in PHOTOBOOK NEW ZEALAND in its inaugural edition where Kiwi (and some Aussie) practitioners took a hard look at the current state of the world of photobooks.
It was particularly pleasant to participate, along with acknowledged experts Anita Totha and Bruce Connew, in a panel discussion investigating ways to get your work out into the global market place.

Seeking a little inspiration I resorted to a few pointers, scribbled on the back of an envelope from my friend and colleague Antoine D'Agata. It seemed to me if you could follow these points you could do no wrong.

1. 90% of life is showing up (Woody Allen)
2. Take the long view - 30 to 50 years
3. Make your work authentic
4. Don't try and be famous
5. Don't show dodgy work to everybody who has ever drawn breath
6. People work with people they like
7. Luck has a lot to do with it
8. Get naked, make porn

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Eve de Castro-Robinson and Harvey Benge collaboration now on CD


The contemporary music and image collaboration that was released by RATTLE RECORDS last November as a limited vinyl production is now available as CD. The CD release includes the same 30 page bookwork that I devised to support Eve's compelling and layered compositions. The CD is available from the RATTLE RECORDS website HERE.

There are just a few remaining copies of the collectors edition vinyl production, numbered and signed by the artists. These are also available from RATTLE at the link above.

Stan Douglas 2016 Hasselblad Award Winner

Stan Douglas - Mise en scène
The Hasselblad Foundation has announced that Canadian artist Stan Douglas is the recipient of the 2016 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography for the sum of SEK 1,000,000 (approx. EUR 110,000). The award ceremony takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden on October 17, 2016. The day after, on October 18, an exhibition of Douglas’s work will open at the Hasselblad Center. On the same day, the Hasselblad Foundation will host a symposium with the award winner, and a new book about Stan Douglas will be published by MACK.

The Foundation’s citation regarding the 2016 Hasselblad Award Winner Stan Douglas:
An artist of outstanding significance, Stan Douglas has received international recognition for his powerful photographic art, as well as his work with video and film. His practice reflects carefully and poignantly on the history of photography and film, offering new understandings of the cultural and technological developments of both media. Furthermore, Stan Douglas has an open and highly innovative approach to both analogue and new digital formats. At the heart of his work lies a strong interest and commitment to social issues of race, gender, identity and post-colonial politics, whilst maintaining a valuable self-critical perspective on the role of the artist in contemporary culture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Roger Ballen, Auckland workshop, it's a wrap!


A small but dedicated group of photographers from as far afield as Singapore and Christchurch met this last weekend at my home studio to take part in a workshop with photographer Roger Ballen. Roger talked about the philosophy underpinning his practice and showed work from series made in South Africa since the 1970's.

Roger talked about the increasing importance of video productions to compliment his bookworks. The group viewed videos from the series: OUTLAND, Asylum of the Birds and the super strange I FINK U FREEKY by DIE ANTWOOD which has had nearly 78 million hits on YouTube.

Sydney's College of the Arts will be showing Roger Ballen's Theatre of the Mind which opens next week.