Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Please ‘like’ my article Dreamscapes: The Fantastical Photographs of Lieko Shiga published on TIME Magazine’s LightBox Blog.
David Thomas Smith’s photographic series ‘Anthropocene’ was recently exhibited at The Copper House Gallery in Dublin. The photographs are digitally assembled from a large number of Google Earth images which depict some of the world’s most recognizable manmade structures and urban landscapes. The satellite images are then both vertically and horizontally mirrored to create a visually striking tapestry effect. The similarity to a tapestry is reinforced by the large scale of the work and also by the inherent ‘flatness’ of satellite images of the Earth.
Crucially, each location alludes to specific environmental concerns: ‘Three Mile Island’ relates to the threat of a nuclear meltdown, ‘Beijing’ perhaps points to a rise in pollution while the opulence of ‘Las Vegas’ questions our relationship with consumption. Other images equally refer to social problems specific to a place: the urban displacement caused by the Three Gorges Dam or the exploitation of cheap labour in Dubai. These references are produced not necessarily by the image as such, but by an understanding of the place that these images represent.
The title of the project ‘Anthropocene’ is a geological term that describes how human activities have had a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The images similarly allude to the ecological and social impact of vast manmade structures. As a whole, the project questions man’s ability to create a better and more sustainable world at the cost of dwindling natural resources. Andreas Gursky – in his photograph ‘Beelitz’, 2007 for instance – might be exploring a similar agenda in his vast photographic depictions of landscapes affected by consumption and excess.
Inasmuch as the project relates to ecological and social tensions that rise in parallel to globalization, the mirroring of satellite images also relates to ideological, political and economic power. In the first instance, the project alludes to the power of representation. Satellite imaging and mapping is dominated by Google. To a large extent, our understanding of how the world looks may not be controlled by Google, but it is certainly dominated by the ever-growing economic might by the corporation.
In the second instance, the symmetrical structure of the images divided into quarters also relates to ideological power.
Governments and religious institutions have historically tapped into the persuasive powers of symmetry in their architecture. Churches are usually divided into four distinct parts, while dominant symmetrical structures are used to reinforce the ideological authority of the state. An overhead view of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral recently published in the Guardian vividly illustrates the coming together of visual symmetry and aesthetics, on one hand, with political and religious structures, on the other hand.
This reading of Smith’s work is promoted through images that are neither didactic nor patronizing. The work could be enjoyed for purely aesthetic purposes. Yet it could also be seen to relate to some of he most pressing ecological and social issues of our time. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk
Please ‘like’ my article Dreamscapes: The Fantastical Photographs of Lieko Shiga published on TIME Magazine’s LightBox Blog.
Rachel Cunningham’s photographs interrogate the political, cultural and religious tensions in Israel and Palestine. While representing the remnants of an eternally complex conflict, her work also questions the role of photography within this quickly shifting environment. Unlike photojournalists or photographers looking for ‘action’, Cunningham photographs are characterised by inaction, metaphorical silence, even vacuity.
In the series Quiet Transfer I & II, Cunningham photographed traces of Palestinian homes that were destroyed in the wake of settlement expansions in East Jerusalem. These traces, poignantly represented as individual pieces of debris, allude to a politics of division and separation in the Middle East. In other words, the debris signifies the tragic impossibility of leaving side by side as neighbours. Instead, one home makes space for another.
The debris is purposefully photographed in individual pieces, each piece occupying the centre of the image, and each image representing the destruction of a home. Lit by artificial light and photographed on a plain black or white background, the images evoke comparisons with a display of archaeological findings. Indeed, by applying the visual language of the museum, the format of the photographs also references the historical dimension in this body of work. The homes were not only destroyed to make way for settlements, but they were also destroyed by the heavy burden of conflicting histories.
Despite this formal approach to image-making, which aesthetically has much in common with a photographic typology, the images also refer to the human cost of the demolitions. Some pieces of debris eerily look like body parts: one piece in particular, Demolition 50, conjures an image a spine, painfully fragmented and twisted. The photographs thus not simply represent destruction, but also, they represent the human cost of the conflict. This reading is supported by the captions of the photographs which includes the names of the families who once occupied these homes.
Importantly, the debris was not photographed in situ, but rather, it was sent to the United Kingdom via mail thus further removing the subject from its original context. Here, Cunningham applies the methodology of famous institutions such as the British Museum, documenting, cataloguing and archiving their inventory for future generations. Reminiscent of contentious collections in the British Museum such as the Elgin Marbles, this process complicates the position of the artist who ‘takes’ an object from one cultural context to another.
By physically removing the pieces of debris and sending it to the UK, Cunningham references the fact that the conflicts in the Middle East are not simply a result of two cultures clashing with each other, but rather, they are a result of a series of complex geopolitical events which dates backs centuries and millennia. Indeed, British rule over Palestine for much of the early to mid 20th century, further implicates the West for the political events presently unfolding in the Middle East.
The still life images of debris are interspersed with four landscape photographs taken from the cardinal points of the old city of Jerusalem. With an emphasis on the formal and aesthetic structure of the land below, these photographs are strongly reminiscent of classical landscape painting, or more specifically, 19th century Orientalist painting. Here again, Cunningham incorporates a European gaze into her body of work as a commentary on the complex geopolitical power dynamics unfolding in this small strip of land.
Other landscape photographs are taken from Arab neighbourhoods, from the exact spots where houses have been demolished, looking outside towards the settlements that surround them. These landscape photographs help to delineate the urban developments, the borders and conflicts within the city itself. In other words, rather than becoming abstractions of a localized conflict, the landscape photographs help to contextualize the photographs of debris and rubble.
Considering the heavy weight of historical and political processes in Israel and Palestine, the debris, photographed in painful detail, turns into micro-monuments of an uncertain and unpredictable future.
All images from rachelcunningham.net.
The photographs of William Klein and Daido Moriyama are currently on display at the Tate Modern. It is an enormous exhibition, covering a lot of space in the galleries with several hundred photographs on display. The size of the exhibition is appropriate for two artists who were, and still are, juggernauts of photographic production.
Klein was born in 1928 in New York and spent much of the last 60 years in Paris. Initially practicing as a painter, Klein would start photographing as a way to experiment with optical and visual perception. Moriyama was born ten years later, in 1938 in Osaka, while he turned to photography to deconstruct his perception of the urban landscape. Rather than using photography purely as a method of documentation, Klein and Moriyama used photography as a method of visual interrogation, abstraction and deconstruction. The size and density of the exhibition is an homage to two artists who are intensely dedicated to the medium photography, continuously questioning its properties, and who appear to have so much in common despite their obvious cultural differences.
A huge 1950s style cinema billboard with the artists’ names in punchy red letters hangs above the entrance of the gallery. The association here is clear: ‘Welcome to the Klein + Moriyama show’ – and a show it is indeed. The first seven rooms are dedicated to Klein’s work: gritty black and white photographs, full of energy, skewed angles, high contrast and blurry movement. Klein was renowned for his iconoclastic methodology, making him a celebrity figure in his own right. Vogue magazine, the French film essayist Chris Marker, even Stanley Kubrick: they all admired Klein for his radical approach to image making. Apart from photographs, the exhibition makes a point in showing Klein’s work as a film and printmaker. As a result, the different mediums of cinema, photography, performance and print seemingly blend together in the exhibition space. Part of Klein’s iconoclasticism is that he cannot be pinned down on working in a single artistic medium.
Commencing his career as photographer about a decade after Klein, Moriyama’s eclectic body of work is purposefully presented in the second half of the exhibition. Similar to Klein, Moriyama produced rough, blurry and out-of-focus images – a photographic style which would become known as are, bure, boke in his native Japan. Consistently pushing against the boundaries of photography, Moriyama also experimented by scratching or burning his negatives, accidentally incorporating double exposures or simply re-photographing billboards and posters on the streets of Tokyo. As a result of working in this way, Moriyama’s photographs are rich with metaphors and innuendo: burnt negatives a reference to death, the double exposure a reference to the American occupation in Japan and re-photographed commercial posters a critique of capitalism.
Image Courtesy of Piero Cruciatti
As a way of illustrating the relationship between Klein and Moriyama, the centre room of the exhibition is divided by a half-open wall and vitrine display, showing Klein’s and Moriyama’s work separately though still allowing the viewer to look from one side of the exhibition to the other. This apparent relationship is most ‘visible’ with regards to Klein’s classic photobook Tokyo, photographed in 1961 and printed in 1964. In many ways, Klein’s Tokyo would function as a guide book for Japanese photographers active in the mid to late 1960s, including the then aspiring photographer Moriyama. Indeed, Moriyama himself has recognized Klein’s impact on photographic discourse in Japan on numerous occasions.
Moriyama borrowing or referencing mainly American artists is a reoccurring theme throughout the exhibition. Moriyama’s classic photobook Hunter 1972 was produced in response to Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road 1957. The Accidents series, famously serialized in the photo magazine Asahi Camera in 1969, referenced Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series from 1963. While Moriyama’s photographs of Campbell soup cans in a supermarket for American soldiers in Tokyo is perhaps the most obvious reference to Warhol. Here, the use of photography also underlines a Warholian embrace of art as a form of endless reproduction.
By representing the works of Klein and Moriyama in this order and format, the exhibition appears to promote the classic paradigm of a Japanese avant-garde apparently borrowing from the epicenters of cultural production, New York and Paris. Intriguingly, while Moriyama is the one referencing or borrowing from others, Klein’s work, on the other hand, is the source of cultural products which extends from fashion to cinema. This way of thinking places a lot of emphasis on individuals either being inspired or inspiring others. What appears to be overlooked by this argument is that both Klein and Moriyama are producing works in a very specific political, social and ideological environment that not only accepted their photographs, but also, that actively promoted them.
Daido Moriyama, October 21, 1969. (In the newly published edited collection Theorizing Visual Studies, I relate the dynamics of this image to Karl Marx’s famous quote: ‘All that is solid melts into thin air.’)
It is therefore not simply a matter of Moriyama borrowing from Klein (a mantra Moriyama repeats himself). Rather, both Moriyama and Klein incorporated a photographic methodology that was the visual equivalent to student protests, opposition to the Vietnam war and a society critical of the flaws of its own democratic system. In other words, rather than being connected by a conscious awareness of a similar aesthetic, the Japanese avant-garde is connected to its French and American counterparts by the political transformations that dominated this era. Despite the hundreds of photographs on display, many of which were deemed radical at the time they were produced, the exhibition placed far more emphasis on the relationship between two artists rather than how these artists are connected by the politics and ideology of a generation. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk
After introducing photography maps of New York, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Tokyo and Paris, I am looking for contributors willing to create and maintain a photography map of a major city in the world. Please get in touch!