31 March 2012

FotoFest 2012 | Chapter I: Saturday Morning

The toothy ones

  • Sonya Naumann - www.thousanddollardress.com - come to Minneapolis, Sonya! Bring the dress!
  • Jeff Burk - subtle, astute work about the built environment - Quiet Places Blurb book
  • Erika Diettes - chronicler of Columbian atrocity and witness, carrying the messages of the disappeared to the world at large - installations utilizing images on large-scale transparencies and printed on translucent fabric - saw her work Drifting Away here in Houston during FF08 Meeting Place - most recent work-in-progress encasing artifacts of the disappeared in clear, flesh-like rectangles - haunting and emotionally wrenching link
  • Blake Gordon - urban nomad, exploring spaces at night with an animal sense of exposure and survival - panoramas that are about finding safe paths through the city (Austin, in this case) and thereby seeing a city from new perspectives link
  • Ferit Kuyas - visual diarist - Swiss Turk, forming a reflexive five-part artist book addressing degrees of presence, from classic b+w landscape to scanned objects  link images from his Archetypes series form the first book of the series

Labors of love: Books by Gretchen Garner and Filipe Casaca

a minha casa e onde estas | Filipe Casaca

A Certain Curve | Gretchen Garner

Certain books just have to be done. With or without financing, reason, or likelihood of success. Nothing more, or less, than the realization of images and words in a sequence of printed pages, bound together and available to hold in one's hands, will suffice.

These two self-published titles fit the bill. Self-publishing enabled these books to come to fruition. Although they are both compelling and marvelous in their own terms, neither would swell a conventional publisher's coffers. Their physical modesty, however, should not be taken for a lack of content.

Both books address personal passion, which, for better or worse, is a compelling force. In Garner's case, a lifetime of looking and appreciating art as an expression of life. Garner staked her claim as an editor and curator during the 1970s and 1980s; A Certain Curve reflects work that she admired, collected, and was given during those years and later. There are about 90 pieces reproduced in the book, including photographs, prints, paintings, textiles, and sculpture; Garner gives each piece a brief note, indicating her connections to the artist and the work. Some artists are familiar, others relatively obscure. Nearly two-thirds of the artists present are women. The great gift of this book is the presence of an informed narrator who assumes roles as curator, historian, memoirist, and advocate, without ever giving up her innate fascination for the work she finds attractive. Such honesty is becoming, and rare.

Portuguese photographer Filipe Casaca's book is also a loving tribute, in the form of a set of photographs of Teresa, the artist's wife. There are innumerable precedents for such projects--Edward/Charis, Emmet/Edith, Alfred/Georgia, etc. But while the set-up is simple, the results vary from couple to couple. In the best case scenarios, the photographs are more than the sum of man and woman. One plus one should equal at least three--there is the viewer, the viewed, and the view in every case. Casaca's photographs are dark, shadowy things, but the female energy radiates within each. These are somber, thoughtful, and beautiful pictures, precious in that they conceal more than they reveal. Teresa, naked, never becomes a generic, objectified "nude"; we see her face, and we know that she is relating to the photographer, reflecting their relationship. The photographs manifest the nuances of a dialogue, an exchange in glances.

I am grateful to both Garner and Casaca for their labors, for ignoring the obstacles posed by reason, and for making the results available.


29 March 2012

From the Bottom of a Well | Shawn Records

Some photographers fit the age in which they come to maturity. The times, that is, and the conditions of those times, seem ideally suited to the even progress of their work. Something about their modus operandi, their attitudes, the choices they make, and their spirit is congruent with the world around them. This is not something I know the moment I see a particular set of works; it becomes apparent after a while that photographer X seems especially well-tuned to the setting in which s/he is evolving. At the same time, photographer Y may be making more provocative work, but in a way that does not seem sustainable. Often it seems wedged into the image bank, a bull in the frame shop with no sense of swing or pace, while X keeps plugging along, working the main line with economy, insight, and minimal fanfare.

I've known Shawn Records for a few years, since the mid-aughts if I remember correctly, and have admired the steps his work has taken. (I also admire the time he has given to the community of photographers, especially those working in the Pacific Northwest and specifically involved in Photolucida; this isn't necessarily germane to his photography, but it helps explain to me why his accomplishments have a deeper resonance.) Shawn photographs from the heart, as much if not more than from his head. His new book is about China, a place that has entranced scores of photographers over the past decade. I sense the fondness he has for the cultural, topographical, historical, and material idiosyncrasies he saw during what one must assume was a whirlwind tour of the massive social phenomenon that is modern China.

Many of these photographs could have been taken with a cynical eye, and the image might not have been terribly different. But the net product of Records' book is not cynicism or critique. The photographic sequence is odd, enigmatic, and clearly seen; there is a cumulative accomplishment that bears attention. The book is modest, produced in soft cover with a misty landscape printed across front and back. Hovering in mid-space on the front cover is a dragonfly (no, it's not a smudge). That simple insect presence grounds us. This is no dream, no Shangri-La utopia. It is a framed piece of reality, and the land, throughout the book, functions as both backdrop and ideal.

And the dragonfly isn't the only insect to make an appearance. If the book had a soundtrack, it might well be a cicada chorus.

I would like to make a bigger case for Shawn Records as photographer X, but I need a bigger space in which to do so. Until then, I keep watching.

Shawn Records
From the Bottom of a Well