Category Archives: Artists & Photographers

Tacita Dean

Tacita Dean , British b1965

Floh (German for flea)

Dean studied at Falmouth University and after her Artists Residency in Berlin finished in 2001 she continued to live there.

‘Her long-time preoccupation with serendipity , coincidence and unforeseen outcomes as a leitmotif for her artistic method , governed her wanderings through the street markets of Berlin and elsewhere , which produced a harvest of visual materials. These served as the basis of several works consisting of found images’ ( Rainbird ,p.9 )

Floh consists of informal snapshots found in flea markets by Dean that she then organised and curated into a book. It contains a mix of 48 colour and 109 b&w unrelated images .

Additionally limited edition digital prints from the book were available at an exhibition held in 2001at the Frith Street Gallery in London. The prints , like the photographs in the book , are ambiguous and open to interpretation. No text accompanies the unidentified photographs hence the original context remains unknown leaving the viewer free to conceptualise their own narrative.

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Photographs are not only physical objects they also prompt speech but Dean states she wanted “to keep the silence of the flea market ; the silence they had when I found them;the silence of the lost object” . It is rather sad to contemplate who were the original owners of the abandoned photographs and why have they been discarded ? Imagine the stories they could they tell , which is precisely what the viewer is left free to do.

This is interesting essay —Mark Godfrey Photography Found and Lost :On Tacita Dean’s Floh HERE

References / Bibliography

Rainbird, S. (2005) Tacita dean: Berlin works: [published to accompany the exhibition Tacita dean: Berlin works, 8 October 2005 – 15 January 2006, Tate, st. Ives]. United Kingdom: Tate Gallery Publish.

K.K DePaul

I came across her work as I was looking for ideas on Pinterest and think it is really fascinating. She describes herself as a teller of tales , “my themes are memory and secrets . I have always been fascinated by multiple interpretations …double exposures and ambiguity

The images she creates are intriguing and capable of evoking a multitude of emotions. She describes “the layering of paper and photographic imagery as being similar to the way our mind organises memory…at different depths…one over another…constantly shifting.” Like Christian Boltanski , Joachim Schmid and Erik Kessels she searches flea markets looking for old books , maps and photographs to use in her collages . Similar to memories some parts are well defined whilst others more insubstantial , there is a surreal quality to the pieces .

Between the Lines
Collage work exploring family secrets which DePaul talks about HERE
Her grandfather was hanged for murder in 1929 , never spoken about by the family . DePaul inherited a box containing his private possessions following her grandmothers death. She came to the conclusion her grandfather had been guilty , something she feels her grandmother knew and wanted her to understand but had been unable to share in her lifetime. The work explores how women use deception , not in an malicious capacity , but as a safeguard for themselves and their relationship with others.

Only Child
Mixed media exploring the ambivalent nature of the daughter / father relationship.
DePaul’s project started following the death of her father , the son of her grandfather hanged for murder. Her father’s dysfunctional upbringing led him to attempt suicide twice , her relationship shifted as he became the one who needed to be cared for , a reversal of roles.

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Joan Fontcuberta : Stranger Than Fiction

Joan Fontcuberta b1955

Stranger Than Fiction , a retrospective of three decades and six bodies of Fontcuberta’s documentary work , opened at the London Science Museum in 2014.

Images are just constructions ” Joan Fontcuberta

Joan Fontcuberta Fontcuberta’s art questions the trustworthiness of imagery and he warns of the need to be sceptical of the perceived function of photography as a conveyer of truth, always question , never presume. Propaganda , censorship and suspicion were commonplace in Catalonia where he was brought up during General Franco’s regime. Fontcuberta says he “ like all my generation suffered from the lack of transparency and the doctoring of documents to re-construct history” (Guardian 2014) .

He disputes the validity , influence and accuracy of photography hence everything you see is not quite what it seems , yet because the various works are so realistic it is easy to believe them to be truthful despite the somewhat fantastical subject matter. Fontcuberta aims “to challenge disciplines that claim authority to represent the real-botany , topology , any scientific discourse , the media , even religion . I chose photography because it was a metaphor of power” (Guardian , 2014) . His methodology may be humorous but is also certainly thought provoking

Herbarium , 1984
Black and white images of outlandish rare plants which are all the more convincing with their Latin sounding names and photographed in a traditional documentary style. In actuality the exotic plants were created by Fontcuberta using waste animal and plant material.

Fauna 1987
Supposedly made in collaboration with a fictional writer / photographer Pere Formiguera the installation included field notes , X-rays , recordings and stuffed specimens. The work was based on the alleged discovery of archives belonging to a certain German zoologist , Dr Ameisenhaufen , who we are told vanished in 1955. Viewing the work within a museum environment adds to it’s authenticity making it appear totally truthful and believable.

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When I presented Fauna at the Museum of Natural Science in Barcelona , I saw a family looking at the pictures of these fantasy animals . The father said , ‘ It’s so great we came here. I had no idea these animals existed. They’re amazing.’ The son looked at him and said , ‘But they’re not real , dad. They’re fake!.’ The father got angry , slapped him on the back of the head and told him that because they are in a museum they must be true. It was interesting to me that the child wasn’t educated in the truth of the museum:he wasn’t perverted by culture. This is a very important political concern” Joan Fontcuberta

Constellations , 1993
Far from seeing distant stars in outer space these are in fact photograms of the detritus on Fontcuberta’s car windscreen .

Sirens , 2000
Fake mermaid fossils were placed in rocks by Fontcuberta at the Réserve de Haute-Provence , South of France. Linked to a subsequent documentary about their discovery by French priest Father Jean Fontana , who incidentally bore a striking resemblance to Fontcuberta , the hoax has all the qualities of an authentic scientific investigation.

Orogenesis , 2002
Landscapes created using military cartographical software that turns maps into 3D images of the territory. However Fontcuberta fed misleading information into the programme . Rendered more like traditional paintings or photographs , he both misinterprets and determines the resulting image.

Karelia , Miracles & Co , 2012
I particularly like these see HERE , a sublime narrative about Fontcuberta’s journey to a Finnish monastery.

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Joachim Schmid

For over 30 years Joachim Schmid has collected and created new art work from discarded photographs. His earlier finds were from flea markets and photographs found in public places. His collection was vastly augmented when he advertising a fictitious ‘institute’ , The Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs , that warned of the ecological hazard caused by superfluous photographs and negatives. He was flooded with parcels of photographs and negatives that people required the ‘institute’ to get rid of safely.

Once such package contained medium format negatives from a professional photography studio. However every negative had been cut into two but because each image had been shot under exactly the same conditions Schmid was able to create some really intriguing composite images by matching two disparate halves , see here.

Very Miscellaneous (1996)

The Country Life , a series curated by Val Williams , includes work by Schmid . Each commissioned artist was invited to form a response to an archived collection of photographs , all taken by George Garland and known as the George Garland Collection. The archive , held at the West Sussex County Records Office , documents a way of life rapidly vanishing, see here . The archive itself is rather fabulous to look through but Schmid’s reaction to the brief allowed him to create something quite profound.

Consisting of 70 b&w photographs portraits are combined with snippets of news reports from the era. The newspaper text is brief and only certain words can be read clearly see here and here , alluding I feel fading memory and loss. I really like this work , viewed out of context the ambiguity of the old photographs and incorporated text makes them especially poignant, see here . Each individual viewer is able to imagine and form an alternative , and more personal , narrative.

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Erik Kessels

Erik Kessels is the Dutch co-founder and creative director of KesslesKramer.

He is also a collector of non-professional photography and a curator who describes himself as “not a specialist” but one who works in varied disciplines. I have enjoyed looking at his various enterprises as he clearly has a great sense of humour which is evident throughout much of the work .Yet despite the sometimes comical slant of the books and magazines their documentary value surpasses this aspect of the projects.

Kessels collects images that have been thrown away because they are imperfect and like Christian Boltanski he searches for old and abandoned photographs + photo albums in flea markets and junk stores . The vernacular images are recycled to be featured in books or magazines created by Kessels and his associates . Unfortunately with the advent of digital photography and on-line sites traditional printed family albums are fast becoming obsolete and harder to find. Less than perfect images are immediately deleted , photographs are no longer printed and preserved in personal albums but kept on hard-drives or publicly shared via social media.

It is extraordinary to think that photo albums have only been in existence for roughly one hundred years , and now they are virtually dead” . Erik Kessels.

Useful Photography
A magazine co-edited by Kessels with four other editors.

Each issue consists solely of unsophisticated amateur photography, precisely the sort of images that are not usually seen in photography magazines. The title of the magazine is a clever and funny pun , do a quick google search of ‘useful photography’ and you will find all manner of sites to help improve your photography (amongst other things) .

Issue 2 of the magazine is complied entirely of pictures of goods being sold on e-bay whilst issue 3 is dedicated to cow photography ! A war special contains images of camouflage uniforms , a film was made too. Seen out of context the artless images are juxtaposed against each other and are described by Kessels as “naive but useful” .

Kessels believes people like his books because they see themselves and might see the same mistakes they make. This is very true , in my collection I have lots of photographs that in all probability would have been immediately deleted in a digital era. It’s such a shame I don’t have the ‘pictures’ of my mum on her 50th birthday taken by my dad with his Polaroid camera : they were all black !

In almost every picture
(All the books have the same title)
Photographs are reappropriated and the resulting books are fascinating. Once personal images and collections are used to tell stories , yet the original photographs were never taken with that intention in mind.

The books we publish contain images never intended to be arranged as a narrative and bound
Erik Kessels ( Dazed digital.com)

In almost every picture # 1
The photographs taken by a husband of his wife seen in this book were discovered in a flea market.

In almost every picture # 4
Sisters are seen growing up in Barcelona , always together until the sudden and unexplained disappearance of one sometime during the 2nd World War. There is no explanation for why one sister has vanished , yet because of the uncertainty of the era it seems to suggest a tragedy of some sort , death , exile , extinction.

In almost every picture # 7
This looks a really interesting book , a documentary of one woman’s life . I priced it on Amazon but at £999.00 will not be treating myself ! The book contains images of Ria van Dijk who visited shooting galleries throughout her life. The book is a chronological narrative of her life from her teenage years through to her late eighties. Her prize for hitting the target was a photograph of herself as she took aim ( a camera was triggered each time the bullseye was hit) . The first photograph was taken in 1936 when she was aged just 16 and at each subsequent visit the photograph records the change in both herself and her immediate surroundings.

The book not only traces her ageing process but social change is evident too. Holland was occupied during the war and there are no photographs between 1939 -1945. I wonder what happened to her during those years , where was she? Fashions change as the decades pass we see Ria’s hair change from dark to grey, from a fresh faced teenager she becomes an old woman . In 2006 her walking stick appears , lay in front of her as she takes aim. I wonder who the people are alongside her in each frame ? Changing technology in photography is evident too , the prize image is printed in colour by 1975.

Unfinished Father is a much more personal and serious project.
Prior to his serious stroke Kessels father had worked on and restored four Fiat 500 cars. However his fifth project remained abandoned and incomplete when the formerly energetic man was incapacitated by the stroke. The Fiat was transferred to Italy by Kessels, the shell “came to represent his unfinished father”. Broken and in pieces Kessels exhibited the remains of the Fiat alongside photographs previously taken by his father , a work that alludes to the inescapable transient and frequently chaotic nature of life , and of his father’s shattered life.

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Research : Christian Boltanski

Christian Boltanski b1944 France

I never take photographs myself . I don’t feel like a photographer , more like a recycler . When we look at a photo we always believe that it’s real ; its not real but it has a close connection with reality. If you paint a portrait , that connection is not so close. With a photo you really feel the people were ‘there‘ .
Christian Boltanski
( Semin et al ,1997, p.g 25).

Boltanski was born after the Holocaust and his work explores the gap between memory and postmemory. His mother was a Catholic and his father a Jew , who despite converting to Catholicism was kept hidden under the floorboards of his Paris home during the occupation . He left school at 11 and began to paint , he describes his childhood self as “a little crazy” and “strange” . He never left the family home on his own until aged 18. His work explores loss and death , Marianne Hirsch suggests ‘his paternal history has no doubt determined the shape of his avant-garde photographic career’ (Hirsch, 2012, p.g257) . Yet Boltanski states “there is nothing personal in my work. Ever.” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 27) and maintains his art says something about life , but nothing about himself , his personal life an enigma.

Boltanski searches flea markets and lost property offices for small objects , clothing , magazines , letters , albums and photographs. He re-photographs and deconstructs found images to create new works. The context of the original photographs remain unknown, there is an ambiguity in his instillations and his work demonstrates the disconnection between ‘truth’ and photography. In an interview with Boltanski Rose Jennings of Frieze.com Magazine conjectures his instillations are about the absence of memory.

Martha Langford describes the instillations as ‘fictional biographical reconstructions based on the artist’s hypotheses and deductions from the images’ ( Langford , p.g 32 ,2008). The instillations are frangible , Boltanski states “around half the work I do is destroyed after each show , but the show can always be done again” (Semin et al , 1997, p.g 17) . He believes we forget why monuments have been initially erected if they are permanent . In order to keep remembering they need to be constantly re-constucted.

In Boltanski’s early work he says he “pretended to speak about his childhood , yet my real childhood had disappeared . I have lied about it so often that I no longer have a real memory of this time , and my childhood has become , for me some kind of universal childhood , not a real one” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 8 ) . This ‘early work …..is devoted to uncoupling any uncomplicated connection between photography and “truth” ‘ (Hirsch , 2012 ,p.g 257) .

10 Photographic Portraits of Christian Boltanski , 1946-1964

The 10 images , all taken under similar circumstances, are purportedly of Boltanski growing up but not all , if any , are of him , we can only surmise . They are intentionally ambiguous and re-invent his childhood as each is captioned with false information altering the context . His work challenges the notion of truth because ‘none of the 10 Photographic Portraits of Christian Boltanski , 1946-1964 is , strictly speaking , falsified :it is the caption that brings it into the field of a lie’ (Semin et al 1997, p.g 86) .

Album de photos de la famille D, 1939-64

Using photographs from the personal albums of Michel Durand-Dessert Boltanski created a new instillation consisting of 150 black and white photographs dating from 1939 to 1964 . Re-shooting the images and arranging them in what he considered a chronological order ‘using what he called an ethnological approach’ ( Perloff , 2003,p.g 32) Boltanski’s work forms a 25 year study of a ‘family’ , albeit a subverted family album.

The re-constructed album cannot tell us anything about the Duand-Dessert family yet despite being viewed out of context Boltanski believes because we can identify with the notion of the family album , it is a ‘collective ritual’ (Perloff , p.g 32) we understand , we are able to “return to our own memories” . Questions may then be formed about the images themselves , what happened to these people? Marianne Hirsch suggests they form ‘a communal memorial layer , unconscious reminiscences and archetypes through which viewers can supply their own stories as they look at his images’ ( Hirsch , p.g 258) .

Sans-Souci

Using photographs found in Berlin flea markets Boltanski formed a book consisting of 56 black & white photographs . It was designed to look like a normal family photo album yet the ‘family’ members of this constructed album were strangers challenging traditional perception of family photography , ‘Boltanski’s interest in the material resides in its cultural codes’ (Langford , 2008 ,p.g 33) .

In a later instillation , Archives , he mixed images of Jews and Nazi’s , making it impossible to differentiate between victim and perpetrator suggesting the ambivalent nature of what it means to be human , that we are all capable of criminal behaviour. It is possible to be both nice and a monster. What does this suggest about the ‘truth’ of photographs?

Discussing the work Boltanski says “it’s a book with no text , but if you ‘read it’ , it leaves you with a question. Perhaps this is the question about whether one is guilty or not. About being a victim or criminal –or both. But not necessarily about the Holocaust” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 23) .

Hirsch comments ‘in Boltanski’s work the indexical nature of the photograph is in itself a trace as he succeeds in disguising the arbitrary connection between image and referent . Many of his images are , in fact, icons masquerading as indices , or more radically symbols masquerading as icons and indices’ (Hirsch, 2012, p.g 257 )

Menschlich (Humans)

His 1995 instillation parodied The Family of Man

The instillation consisted of 1300 photographs previously used by Boltanski in earlier work which he says includes ” Nazis , Spanish Killers , French victims, Jewish people , etc. I mixed all of them : they no longer had identities. The show was called Menschlich (Humanity) , because the only thing we can say about these people is that they were human. But we can’t judge whether they were good or bad” ( Semin et al , 1997, p.g 26) .

The images were unaesthetic , printed on cheap paper and Boltanski frequently made use of ‘ identity and newspaper photographs that frustrate the viewer’s desire for recognition’ ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 71) .
The instillation challenges the notion that photographs alone can ‘make for us the discriminations we might like to make’ (Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 71) .

A series of instillations entitled
Lessons of Darkness
Included
Altar to Chases High School

Boltanski created an instillation from a 1931 class picture of Jewish children at their Viennese high school . Knowing the probable inevitable fate of these children makes this is a particularly poignant instillation yet Boltanski maintains ” my work is about the fact of dying , but it’s not about the Holocaust itself” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 22) . However ‘taken two years before Hitler came to power , we are left to speculate what became of the young men and women shown in this ghostly out-of-focus manner , in a profound demonstration of photography’s elegiac qualities’ ( Badger , 2001, p.g 169)

Re-photographing the children’s faces Boltanski enlarged each individual image , making them unrecognisable , he positioned the new image ‘on top of tin biscuit boxes or mounted them on the wall , illuminating each with a black desk lamp creating a large circle of light at the centre of each picture’ ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 260) .The enlarged images look skeletal , Boltanski describes them to Melvyn Bragg in a South Bank Show interview as being “happy faces but inside skeleton” , their fate already written in their youthful faces , to demonstrate how “photography can deceive , manipulate” .

The biscuit tins intrigued me , in an interview with Tamar Garb Boltanski explains “I always try to use forms that people recognise . Take the biscuit tins for example. I use them because I know that people of my generation can recognise them . We have all kept our small treasures in biscuit tins. It also reminds some people of the metal urns where ashes are kept. I suppose I want my art to be more about recognition than discovery” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 24) .

Another fascinating bit of information about the biscuit tins made me smile:
I’ve used a lot of biscuit tins in my work , and in the beginning they were more personal somehow because I peed on them to make them rust. But I was using so many boxes that I couldn’t do this any more , so I started using Coca Cola to rust them. They were easily replaceable and easily rustable. I remember I exhibited them in Hamburg and in Oslo . The piece was sent there , each box wrapped in tissue paper , and when they arrived the curator demanded that all the workers wear white gloves. It was ridiculous because of course the gloves became red in minutes . And the biscuit tins aren’t precious
Christian Boltanski
(Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 17) .

Boltanski explores the tenuous link between truth , memory and photography.
I have enjoyed researching his artwork very much and there much more that I have not had time to follow up and write about . I believe there are elements of his practice that I might be able to draw on for my 5th assignment so will continue with my research into his work—I will not be peeing on biscuit tins though !

References / Bibliography
Badger, G. (2001) The genius of photography: How photography has changed our lives. London: Quadrille Publishing.
Hirsch, M. (2012) Family frames: Photography, narrative, and postmemory. Cambridge, MA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Langford, M. (2008) Suspended conversations: The afterlife of memory in photographic albums. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Perloff , M. What has occurred only once. (2003) In Wells, L. (ed.) The photography reader. New York: London Routledge, 2003.
Semin, D., Garb, T., Kuspit, D. and Boltanski, C. (1997) Christian Boltanski. London: Phaidon Press.
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Laia Abril

I was initially only really interested in an article I had read recently about the book she made for her project The Epilogue but feel how her work evolved is something worth making a note of.

Abril’s project on eating disorders developed from documenting the day to day life of a sufferer of bulimia to exploring the online pro-anorexia community and finally producing a project of those indirectly afflicted by the illnesses she was investigating.

A Bad Day
Images of a young female with bulimia recording her daily routine . Some of the images allude to her condition yet without understanding the context of Abril’s work the fact the young woman suffers from bulimia would be concealed , a condition she tries to hide.

Thinspiration
The growth of social media has created a whole new way of disseminating information and of sharing images. Abril created thought provoking , and at times quite shocking , images which were published as a fanzine. Her manipulated images , using photographs from the online pro-anorexia community , expose “disease’s new risk factors:social networks and photography” ( Abril 2013 ) .

The Epilogue
Abril’s reconstructed story is a really emotional piece of documentary work . A multi-media project she re-tells the story of a family and of the aftermath of their daughters death due to bulimia. The project articulates the family’s suffering in a sensitive way. The book contains images , letters , legal documents , family photographs and oral histories , it’s “meticulous design is crucial to the slowly unfolding narrative” ( O’Hagan ,the Guardian , 2014) .

http://www.laiaabril.com
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O’Hagan , S . The Guardian online. 26/8/2014
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/photography-blog/2014/aug/26/laia-abril-epilogue-photobook-eating-disorders-cammy-robinson-bulimia
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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/the-best-photography-books-out-now/
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