31 March 2010

News about "new" Amy Eckert

Karen Irvine, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, has singled out Amy Eckert from the applicants for the just-juried Animalia competition at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. Way to go, Amy!

See my earlier post on Amy here.

20 March 2010

fictographica004: Carter Cox

Hearing the Borkhardt Group's account director clear her throat for the third time, you sigh and select a ring-flash to gently flood the girl's upturned face with what you consider to be a softer, more glamorous light. You recall from almost three decades ago your mother's sage advice: "If you pictures aren't interesting enough, honey, then chances are you're not close enough." You raise high the ring-flash and lean forward. But your move leads to louder throat-clearing. You lower the Hasselblad, pinch your nose, and for several seconds pretend to examine the dead grass. The skin of your cheekbones tightens as you feel yourself teeter between embarrassment and anger. Still kneeling, your hooded sweater damp with sweat, you swivel your head and lock eyes with the Borkhardt woman, who stares back at you with a mirthless smile, unblinking, her hands clasped just below her vested bosom, as if entranced by your ineptitude. "More sheen," she commands, albeit quietly, in a raspy voice, directing your yawning assistant to spritz the model's face and shoulders with a plastic water-bottle that appears out of nowhere. "More sheen, less sweetness. This isn't a portrait--it's an attitude. And do you mind if we kill the Caruso?"
--Hungry Ghost

16 March 2010

Pieter Hugo, Nollywood

Click above to read my review in photo-eye's online magazine.

13 March 2010

fictographica003: Wilfred Eng

A certain parity was at work in the world. Disappointment, disguised by years of routine humility, was bound to yield singular, penetrating fantasies: the iris dilated, the raw world flooded back in. For just a moment these were not portraits but self-portraits, and a palpitating certainty would not breathe denial or allow that they had been made by anyone by Wilfred Eng.

Eng, the great landscape photographer.

Then, the moment passed. I let out a breath and thought, No way. Fantasies turned into torture if we took them too seriously. I'd seen later portraits of Eng, and the likeness to the face in this close-up was striking. But the idea was ludicrous. It was true that Eng had lived in Seattle for brief periods, but he hadn't made his first trip here until 1881. By then he was using smaller, 3x5 plates. Most of his larger, older negatives had been destroyed in the 1906 quake and fire in San Francisco, Eng's nominal home. San Francisco was my hometown as well. There, and throughout the world, Eng was revered as one of the the fathers of American photography. Biographies had probed his towering dichotomies. No less a figure than Alfred Stieglitz had called him a genius. Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro--the list of his artistic heirs was endless. Even painters such as Thomas Hart Benton acknowledged a debt to Eng. It was crazy to think that the work of this giant might end up where I could find it.
--Thomas Orton, The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng (1999)

06 March 2010

New: Amy Eckert

Amy Eckert moved to Minneapolis about eight months ago. Amy had several loyal clients for her freelance work and a teaching gig at the School of Visual Arts, plus family ties and a strong sense of belonging in New York. But her husband got a job here, and they shared a sense of doing something adventurous by relocating. Freelancers don't necessarily have to abandon clients, as long as there are airplanes and other modern devices to remain connected. Nonetheless, she was happy to find, through a contact, an assignment before they'd even opened the moving boxes in their apartment. That first assignment was shooting a calendar for "Minnesota Cooks," a project for the Minnesota Farmers Union and Food Alliance Midwest; the agencies liked her work so much they hired her again for next year's calendar.

Thus, she found herself auspiciously situated within the locavorian heart of Minnesota--no doubt many of us would like to be assisting her on these jobs--and she's off and running. Ask her for dining recommendations. And check out her (soon to be updated) web site. She's done some fine commercial work, and is what I'd call solidly early-mid-career as a photographic artist.

But I realized that the work she showed me during our conversation had a lot to do with domesticity, with having your feet on the ground in the place you've chosen. And, with the problems and issues connected to those choices. Relocating from New York to Minnesota is one type of choice, full of issues, that Amy is in the midst of exploring.

One residence-related project, called Manufacturing Home, is ready for publication. Amy's going to FotoFest this month, and she asked me to give her some advice about bringing portfolios there. Is one better, or two? Or more? Old work, or new? She'd taken the book project to the Meeting Place before, and gotten some interest in the early iteration of the sequence. Now, it's much more advanced, and Amy wants to get it situated and show her newer work, entitled Follies

I'm showing examples of Follies here, because I was greatly intrigued by them. They're wry, smart, and very hand-made. They play with scale and detail. They add humor and texture to some of the very austere, Germanic interiors that have flowed across the screens of late. 

They reference works seen before (by Wendel A. White, who I wrote about earlier on this blog, for one; Beate Gutschow, John Baldessari, and Jayna Conkey are others) but strike out in their own direction as statements about figure and ground, landscape, symbolic notions of home as castle, and home as personal space. Click on these reproductions to get them as large as possible; look at the seams, which are actual cuts creating windows or layers in collages that aren't much larger (or smaller, depending) than the screen you're viewing them on.

Here's Amy's statement about the new work:
If houses can be said to have personalities, who’s to say they don’t have longings, imaginations, inner lives? In architecture, a folly is an extravagant, useless, or fanciful building, or one that appears to be something other than what it is. In their book Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings, Headley & Meulenkamp define a folly as a “misunderstood building."

In this collage series I combine my own images with pictures from architecture books and manufacturers' catalogues. By removing the house from a picture, I get  to fill up that void with my own extravagant, useless, or fanciful ideas. I like to play around with the reliable stability of architectural space and confuse inside with outside, shelter with storm.
Having just written about Jenny Jenkins, an old acquaintance, I thought it'd be good to write about a new one. Welcome to Minnesota, Amy. I hope the midwestern adventure is rewarding.

04 March 2010

fictographica002: Maude Coffin Pratt

The trouble with cameras is that people see them a mile away and they get self-conscious and sneeze out their souls and put on that numbed guilty expression and act as if you are going to shoot them dead. Or worse, they pose like dummies and show their teeth: even your bare-assed savage knows how to say cheese. As a photographer I was embarrassed to be caught with that contraption in my mitts, like an elderly pervert, a distinguished old lady with my skirt around my neck frightening children at play. Later, I was proud of the way I could conceal my intention and, long before the Japanese produced their tiny instruments, I could disguise my camera--as a shoe box or a handbag or as a ridiculous hat that people gaped at, not knowing that I was recording their curious squints. Orthodox Jewish Boys, a small group of dark-eyed youngsters with beanies and sidecurls--some critics found them a bizarre evocation of alienated Americans ignoring the squalor of downtown Brooklyn and looking skyward toward Jehovah--are just some curious kids looking at my hat.
--Paul Theroux, Picture Palace (1978)

03 March 2010

An old friend's work on display

I happened to drive by the Shoebox Gallery Tuesday morning, and in passing my eye landed on the window-filling installation there of Jenny Jenkins' typology of announcement signs lacking announcements. I knew, from Jenny's emails, that the show was being dismantled soon, and I hadn't taken the time to look at it.

The venue is unusual; two adjoining display windows on the corner of Lake and Chicago in Minneapolis. Local impresario and visual artist Sean Smuda curates the space on what must only be described as a shoestring budget (my kids are groaning now). Sean lives upstairs from Robert's Shoes ("Not a foot we can't fit"), the gallery's host. The late winter snowbanks (more concentrated dirt and gritty ice crystals now than snow) along the curb were coughing up all manner of detritus, including scores of little plastic booze bottles and hundreds of cryogenically-preserved cigarette butts. I was the only person there, at roughly nine a.m., and I was nervous enough to consider leaving my engine running while I got out to look at and document the public display. (I really don't live in NYC any more.)

Jenny showed up, and was as startled to imagine some stranger taking a liking to her installed picture scroll-grids as I was to be accosted standing there snapping phone pics. She was there to make her own documentation of the very fine installation. I've known Jenny for over fifteen years; she was one of the small group of people who worked with me on the pARTs Journal, published in four volumes from 1995 to 1998, with a final issue trailing in 1999 or 2000, by pARTs Photographic Arts (the precursor to Minnesota Center for Photography).

I've always enjoyed Jenny's spirited approach to life, and she's always had a fondness for celebrating and photographing New Orleans, which endears her to me and which prompted me to include her in a 2007 show, Downriver, at MCP, with Dan Beers, Xavier Tavera, Stuart Klipper, and Alec Soth, four other Minnesotans who had captured NOLA's unique blend of civilization, creativity, culture, and chaos in the time prior to Katrina's waves.

Though Jenny may never become an international sensation, she's an example of a working artist who is diligent, resourceful, good-humored, and pragmatic. Communities populated with good souls like Jenny and Sean are well-equipped to thrive. It was my good fortune to coincide with her that morning. And, looking at Shoebox's calendar, I note that the next exhibitor is Vance Gellert, Jenny's and my former colleague at pARTs/MCP. The wheel just keeps turning 'round.

01 March 2010

fictographica001: Carter Cox

You glance across the den at the twin-lens Rolleiflex, your very first camera, given to you as a birthday present by your mother twenty-seven years ago today, collecting dust on the bookshelf next to the unopened UPS package containing an unneeded CD-ROM drive for your new laptop computer. "Don't just capture the thing itself," your mother--an ambitious amateur photographer--had said in a calm, soothing voice, when you showed her your earliest efforts. "Look and find the thing's sum and substance. And be more gentle with natural light," she would encourage, "but more ruthless with your framing. Make art, Carter. You have it in you."

As a young man you aspired to do that--to capture a subject's spirit, its very essence, with the in-breath of a shutter: to wield your camera like a magician's wand. Poof! Another ghost would mysteriously appear in the developer. How marvelous the process seemed to you! You felt like a sorcerer. Your favorite place in the world was in the red-lit stuffiness of a darkroom, with the delicious stink of all those exotic chemicals and the sight of your wet 5" x 7" prints dripping from wooden clothespins above the sink. At first you did portraits, and your best pictures captured, as if with divine help, the pure joy animating your three sisters as they glanced up, giggling, one ofter the other, from their row of coloring books. These early images could hint at the sad narrative of a widower neighbor's alcoholic stare. They gave life to the complicated history behind your father's forlorn smile as he watched, barefoot and alone, those beautiful California sunsets every evening on the back porch. The opening-night reception for your debut show at UCLA--an undergraduate group exhibit in the Union Cafe, earnestly titled "Visions of Time"--is to date perhaps the most glorious three hours of your life. Initially you did make art, you tell yourself. You truly did. And even after your move to New York, your best commercial work (at least in the beginning, you'd like to think), still had some spirit. But $1,800-a-month rent and print-lab fees and health insurance and the computer upgrades and the twice-weekly dinner dates soon transformed your magic wand, by financial necessity, into a cold, gray gun for hire.
--Keith Kachtick, Hungry Ghost (2003)