Apr 15, 2009

I want it...

I am always vaguely browsing for books which manage to combine a) photography and b) Italy, and today I found two. One in the flesh, and one on the world wide web. Can I have them both? Probably not. One? Maybe. Do they both make me feel like I really ought to stop window shopping and do something creative with my own photos of Italy? Absolutely.

Booklove number one, found at Greville St bookstore:

Andiamo: Capturing My Italy - Kelly Barber

This is a newly published, hardcover photoessay in the same vein as Carla Coulson's Italian Joy, which I have loved for a long time, and someday soon will finally bite the bullet and buy. Barber's photos are not quite as amazing and creative as Coulson's, but then again, Italy makes for some fine material, and I do have a bit of a thing for the word 'andiamo' (it means, roughly, "off we go!" and the story as to why I like it is too long and silly even for this blog).

Booklove number two, found on the world wide web:

The Doorbells of Florence: Fictional Stories and Photographs - Andrew Lowosky

This guy loves a story. There is even a story to the book itself (Losowsky has an author's blog on Amazon, and it's well worth a read) . And I like that its entirely amateur, unprompted, spontaneously inspired. Ahhhh Italy, and the fascinating details of everyday life. And photos. It's pretty much everything I like, wrapped up in a book, and though I really need to stop buying books, I may not be able to resist this one for long.

Apr 12, 2009

Today's theme: colour/カラー/farbe/couleur/цвет/

Jacques Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784

Henri Matisse, Le Bonheur de Vivre, 1905-6

The origin of colour as an independent aspect of art really begins in the late nineteenth century, with artists beginning to revolt against the rule-based art of the Academy. To understand this change, look at the differing ways colour is used in Jacques Louis David's Oath of the Horatii and Henri Matisse's Le Bonheur de Vivre. This is a radically simplified version of the transition, and there are twenty years between th paintings, but even with this gap taken into consideration, the artist's conception of colour has nonetheless changed significantly. For David, colour is simply a means to an end, a building block which comes a distant second to the main player, which is of course, the narrative. Colour works to balance the composition and direct the viewer's eye, but this is all. It is certainly not appreciated on pure aesthetic terms the way it is in Matisse's work. Here there is an almost joyous revelry in colour, the narrative is no longer the most important aspect. Can we know the specifics of what is happening in Le Bonheur de Vivre? Not really. Do we care? Very little, it is enjoyable without any need for a structuring narrative.

In addition to Matisse's exploration of the emotive qualities of colour, scientific discoveries in the field of optics prompt his contemporaries to realise that the way in which we see things in the world is far more complex than the assumption that "red item -> looks red -> paint it red." Shadows didn't neccesarily need to be a darker tone of the object, but could instead be blue, purple, brown. And rather than flat colour, a multitide of different coloured brush strokes could be used to better convey the way colour is perceived by our eyes.

Anyway, I have got somewhat carried away here. What got me on this train of thought to begin with? Well, I discovered a couple of interesting links dealing with colour, and it got me thinking about why colour is important, and it also made me realise that it is very much something we take for granted. We are surrouded by colours, often we'll encounter an intense variety before we even reach the front gate in the morning. It is only when, due to circumstances, weather or otherwise, the range of colours in our existence is cut short, that we begin to appreciate this variety. We also are usually unaware of the extent to which colour effects us psychologically. We make connections between colours and various states of being, yet colour associations are socialised rather than innate. This notion of the crossroads between colour and emotions is explored in a study entitled "Emotionally Vague." Actually, more broadly speaking it is a study of the ways in which we articulate our emotions, but I find the colour aspect interesting in that it highlights my point that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to colour associations.

The second link is to the online content for MOMA's 2008 exhibition, Colour Chart: Reinventing Colour from 1950 to Today (credit for both this and the Emotionally Vague link goes to elemele). The site charts artists' explorations of colour throughout the twentieth century, taking as its point of departure Marcel Duchamp's Tu M' (1918). It also features videos of the major installations which took place for the exhibition, most notably one by Jim Lambie, in which the gallery floor is covered by multicoloured tape. Lambie is a Turner Prize winner, whose large scale installations usually revolve around redefining space through the use of coloured tape. Sounds simple, but the results are quite extraordinary, and six months later, I'm still a bit sad that I managed to miss his show at ACCA.

Jim Lambie at MOMA, image credit: www.apartmenttherapy.com
The last bit of colour I feel the need to share is far from informative, or intellectual, but it IS arty and inspiring. After months and months of window shopping and dreaming and carrying on, I have finally got myself a Holga. No, that's not the name of a chair from Ikea, it's a low-tech Lomographic camera, designed to give my photos an unexpected touch of colourful low-fi magic. Its all a bit experimental, but hopefully with copious amounts of time and patience, I should be able to produce images along these lines. I will also spend copious amounts of money on film and developing along the way, but hey, what's a little cash in the pursuit of photographic magic? Holgas come in basic black, but as soon as I set eyes on the fire-engine red version, I knew I had to have it. So, without further ado, colour-love #3:

Apr 3, 2009

Meels' Year of the Photo part two: Eeerie urban goodness

Ever since discovering him at the NGV's Guggenheim exhibition in 2007, I've been fascinated by Gregory Crewdson's photography. Crewdson's working method is closer to that of a film director to that of a photographer, and rather than taking spontaneous snapshots, he sets up elaborate scenes, often in a sound room, and often utilising multiple artificial light sources. One shot is the result of several hours of setup work, and furthermore, a final image often combines several of these shots. No detail is left to chance: at a shoot in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, different aspects of the scene are lit independantly by spotlights installed on cranes, and the street is hosed down beforehand so that it will have a sheen in the final photo.

Images from www.jpgmag.com
For an indication of the amount of work that goes into one shoot, check out this Aperture.org behind-the-scenes feature and JPG Mag's article describing the "$1 million photoshoot" in Pittsfield in further detail. The video is from another elaborate shoot, again in Massachusetts.

Suffice to say, a Gregory Crewdson photograph does not come cheap. And what, pray tell, are these intricately constructed images about? In a nutshell, suburbia, isolation, decay, with a dash of the American Dream. For Crewdson, small-town American life functions as a means to explore deeper emotional and psychological issues in a way reminiscent of David Lynch - here I am thinking particularly of 1986's Blue Velvet, of which I am particularly enamoured. However where Lynch gives us both the bright, shiny, nostalgic veneer of fifties-era America, Crewdson's scenes of life are quiet, melancholy, and almost aching in the sense of isolation they deliver. There is light and luminosity, but there is certainly no bright and shiny.

The National Public Radio's article on Crewdson describes his works particularly poignantly: in one, "a man sits in a garage, the door gaping open to a dark and rainy sky. A car is parked haphazardly in the rain, its headlights focused on the man. He is surrounded by lawn turf, rolls and mounds of it. Half-buried in the turf is a rake. His face is weary, a little sad, maybe even disconsolate." We have no knowledge of who the man is or just what he is doing in the garage, yet he functions as a type, and compels us to imagine a surrounding narrative. Sometimes, images are strangely inexplicable, and through this jarring inexplicability they encapsulate a certain sense of foreboding. By elaborately staging the shot Crewdson is able to capture a moment precisely as he has envisaged it, freezing the narrative at its most suggestive point.

I guess I have always had a thing for photography which is a) eerie and b) shows the inherent beauty in ordinary and everyday things, and Crewdson ticks both those boxes for me. At the moment, I don't have a camera with enough bells and whistles to handle the low lighting that eerie urban goodness photos require, so for now I'm going to have to photo vicariously through Crewdson and a bunch of other photographers I've discovered who are working along the same lines. Number one is LA based Zach Schrock. His Daily Imagery Goodness blog features new and interesting photos every day or so, or for impatient types like myself, his entire portfolio is also online and neatly categorised. I of course made a beeline for the category labelled "Eerie Neighbourhood Night" but there is goodness to be found throughout the portfolio. Witness:

Number two is Will Govus, who I stumbled across via Internetjogging.com. Govus is 17, lives in rural Georgia and uses an analogue camera to take some pretty incredible long exposure night shots. There are plenty of other, daytime shoots on Will's flickr stream, but I think I like the night shots best. They have that eerie, luminous quality that I do so love, and they make really interesting use of available light.
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