Category Archives: Exhibitions & Books

Tillmans and Moriyama

Two exhibitions at the Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans’s exhibition at the Tate Modern is vast, consisting of 14 rooms which have ‘been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment’ (booklet accompanying the exhibition). It shows a range of images from all his work since 2003.  The Tate says in describing it ‘This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style.’ (Tate, 2017) and “He’s not a prophet, but he sees where things might go because he has an eye for the world,” said Chris Dercon, director of the Volksbuhne Berlin and co-curator of Tate Modern’s Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 show (Smyth, 2017).

I found it overwhelming in the number of images shown and oddly underwhelming in my emotional response to them. My thoughts could be summed up as interesting but cold. Some of the individual images were compelling such as the image of his studio with a portrait of a man hung above all the chaos. An image made by ‘passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper though a dirty photo-developing machine’ (Tate Modern, 2017) was surprisingly reminiscent of an EEG (a tracing of brain waves) – an odd conjunction of patterns, the EEG describing life and thought while the image by Tillmans showing ‘the potential of the photographic processes……to be used as a form of self-expression’ (Tate Modern, 2017).  Other images I found fascinating were some of the portraits such as ‘Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2005’ and the images of a curled piece of photographic paper ‘paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse 2014’. The final room dealt with borders and their fluidity, especially the contrast between the simple border between sea and sky versus the shipwreck caused by refugees. In the present moment of shifting borders with Brexit and hardening borders in the USA this is an important political statement, and, of course, much of Tillmans’s work should be looked at in a political context.

In a review for The Guardian Laura Cumming says ‘Tillmans’s eye is empathetic, pensive and patient, but always determinedly indeterminate. He is as far from Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment as can be. He doesn’t go in for metaphor or simile; he doesn’t try to sum anything up, nail it down or catch it by the tail. He wonders at the beauty of a pear glowing in late afternoon sun as much as viscosity of the plastic bag from which it came. He homes in on the inner seams of discarded jeans. Even when photographing a momentous starry night he can’t help noticing the camera’s own distortions. Not every star in that sky is natural………. The inconsequential is made tangible, permanent.’ (Cumming, 2017) and in a further review by O’Hagen, Tillmans says “For a long time in Britain, “there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness” O’Hagen says ’his photography has been marked by its shifts in style and by his determination to avoid the traditional. His exhibitions can appear wilfully haphazard both in terms of their seemingly unrelated subject matter – portrait next to still life next to abstraction next to landscape – and his eschewal of the accepted norms of the gallery show’ (O’Hagen, 2017).

On Tillmans website http://tillmans.co.uk/book-downloads you can access several catalogues and books of his work that are less expansive and more focused, I found these more accessible, possibly I was suffering from overload in the exhibition.

Daido Moriyama

Moriyama’s images are on show at the Tate Modern as one of the Artists Room Collections, which are travelling collections jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. There are a relatively small number of images on display which concentrate on his monochrome photographs of the intense life occurring in cities shown as large panels.

Moriyama (born 1938) is famous for his street photography, which show bold and gritty details, often close-up. He has published many photobooks which are very detailed and intense, usually with full-bleed images, these are mainly monochrome however there are several colour images, tending to be cleaner, which punctuate the intensity of the flow. ‘Daido Moriyama’s art is a far, far cry from any formal academic quality…. blurred, blotched and saturated…. his photography becomes an autobiography, a means of expressing personal experiences’ (Remy and Moriyama, 2012). A recent one ‘Daido Tokyo’ focuses on Shinjuku. He says, ‘many pose the question “Why Shinjuku?” ….. I answered on impulse …… the truth is “because it was there” ….. light and shade, obverse and reverse, truth and falsehood: each accompanies the other’ (Moriyama, 2016).

Moriyama explained how he used photography to convey his subjective experience: “By taking photo after photo, I come closer to … the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time” ………. Moriyama’s approach included re-photographing images, working without a viewfinder and embracing printing errors. The resulting photographs are blurred, scratched and grainy. By pushing the medium to the limits of legibility Moriyama attempted to go “to the end of photography”. (Moriyama, 2012).

Phaidon’s publication Daido Moriyama gives a series of his images with accompanying explanatory text by Nishii. He quotes Moriyama as saying ‘one of photography’s essential qualities is its amateurism, and another its anonymity’ (Nishii, 2012). The text about each image describes where and when it was taken, and gives some thoughts about what might have been going though Moriyama’s mind, and how the image links in to the style of photography prevalent at the time the image was taken. While these side-notes are fascinating I found that they detracted from the impact of the images as I ended up looking at them from a technical and historical point of view rather than an emotional or aesthetic one. The mass effect of looking at the original photobooks is lost.

I was fascinated by this exhibition as I am interested in Japanese photographers and the marked differences in style from European and American photography although I suspect this is an over-generalisation. Unlike the Tillmans exhibition I found the images full of emotion, warm and sometimes amusing. It felt as though Moriyama was really engaged with his subject, involved rather than simply observing, that he knew the people, in reality as this is street photography, it is likely that many of the images were of strangers.

 

Comparing the work of two photographers there are multiple similarities: both have a huge oeuvre, both take images of almost anything, from close details of parts of people (I noted very similar images of the back of a man’s neck in the Tillmans exhibition and in Moriyama’s Remix) via more formal portraits to pictures of street rubbish and both produce photobooks as a primary way of showing their work. Tillmans concentrates mainly on colour and Moriyama on monochrome. However, when looking at the images on the same day, and then exploring a wider number of images several days afterward there is a very different feel. Tillmans images seem to be making ‘a point’, often political and usually fascinating while Moriyama’s are simply what he sees, telling an intimate story about a place.

References

Cumming, L. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017; Eduardo Paolozzi –  review from the chaos of time. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/19/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-review-tate-modern-eduardo-paolozzi-whitechapel-gallery [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama. [online] Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/media-networks/daido-moriyama [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2016). Daido Tokyo. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Nishii,K. (2012). Daido Moriyama. New York: Phaidon

O’Hagan, S. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation  – all I believed in was threatened’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/13/wolfgang-tillmans-photographer-interview-tate-modern [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Remy, P. and Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama – remix.: Edition Mennour.

Smyth, D. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 opens at London’s Tate Modern. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/02/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-opens-at-londons-tate-modern/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tate Modern (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans, 2017.

Tate. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/wolfgang-tillmans-2017 [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tillmans, W. (2017). home. [online] Tillmans.co.uk. Available at: http://tillmans.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

 

Coming Clean

Graham MacIndoe

An Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Scotland

The exhibition ‘Coming Clean’ (Nationalgalleries.org,2017) by Graham MacIndoe is showing at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. It consists of 25 photographs taken by MacIndoe when he was suffering from drug addiction in the USA. MacIndoe was born in Scotland and moved to the USA and then became a much admired fashion and portrait photographer, however he developed a drug addiction, initially to crack cocaine and then to heroin. He said in an interview “I’ve gotta be honest and say I wasn’t concerned, because I was so far down that path with crack cocaine at that point that it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference to me. It was just throwing something else into the mix that I thought could enhance it and make the experience better — which is a crazy way of thinking about it. But I thought, I’m keeping myself level. It’s like people who drink and get all slurry and do a line of coke to straighten themselves up. It was a counter of that. I needed something to level me out, and alcohol is never going to do that because you’d have to drink too much. Heroin did that efficiently, but it leads to heroin addiction — or it leads to a duel addiction, crack and heroin.” (Stellin, 2014). While he was an addict and no longer able to work, he decided to take photographs of his daily routine of drug use age and it is some of these images that are on show together with a brief video describing his thought processes.

JS91596634

From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

A more detailed story of his life while a drug addict and afterwards when he ended up in prison, is in a book by MacIndoe and his partner Susan Stellin, Chancers (Stellin and MacIndoe, 2016. In the book, Stellin describes how she discovered the MacIndoe was an addict and also how she found a collection of these images on-line ‘Every photo is tinged with despair. Hopelessness. Waste. Maybe the point is, “So you wanted to see? Here it all is.” And then we’re supposed to feel sick over our voyeurism, because maybe we didn’t need to see that after all’.

MacIndoe talks about his life in Riker’s Island prison and says ‘I’d love to be able to photograph what it’s like in here. Not just the shitty parts about being locked up, but there are times when you can still appreciate the way flashes of lightning illuminate the dorm or the sun comes through the slats of the windows. Like tonight—the sunset is casting these bands of orange and yellow light across the walls and the shadows of people passing by make it look almost like a painting.’ He also talks about being an addict ‘Coz to be honest, I’m tired of being an addict. It’s not something I ever thought I would be & it surprises, angers & saddens me to see how it got me and where it took me. I had no idea that it was so powerful.’

MacIndoe ‘describes the presence of an “innate, built-in thing that you have to record stuff and see stuff, I still saw and visualised like a photographer or artist. I saw light, environment, what I was going through in the abstract, sometimes in the third person. A lot of the pictures involve looking through mirrors or me in a non-direct manner. To me, it was totally instinctive. I was looking through things on computer screens, and really looking at myself. There’s a picture in the National Portrait Gallery, that’s actually a desk with an old, crummy laptop on it. So I’ve taken a picture of me on an old laptop in the apartment I was staying in.”’(Benmakhlouf, 2017) and in an interview in the Scotsman “I think it’s really important for me that it’s this body of work. The pictures always resonate with people, and people always come away changed in some way. I think that’s what art and image-making is really about. It’s been a long, long time in the making, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge.” (Mansfield, 2017).

131904

From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

This a stunning exhibition in many ways, the images are raw and shocking, surprisingly powerful. While I was there a group of teenagers were also there, clearly horrified and covering it up by giggling among themselves. It makes one think of the impact of drug addiction on the user, rather than the more usual response which is to think of the impact on society.

In the book, Chancers, MacIndoe carries on to tell how, on his ‘release’ from Riker’s Island he was immediately picked up by the American Immigration Authorities and re-imprisoned, while being threatened with deportation back to Britain as he was living in the USA on a green card, and had committed a crime. During that second prison stay he underwent an intensive programme of drug rehabilitation and ended up clean.

He has gone on to do a body of work related to this experience, ‘American Exile’ where he photographs and tells the stories of other families who are being deported, often for minimal reasons.

IMG_1576-2

American Exile © Graham MacIndoe

This interested me for personal reasons as, in a little-known piece of USA history, (Nolte, 1979), during the 2nd World War many Germans and Japanese were interned and then deported together with their whole families. My grandfather was one of these Germans.

History 1

Images posted with permission of, and thanks to Graham MacIndoe

References

Benmakhlouf, A. (2017). Graham MacIndoe on his new Edinburgh exhibition: The Skinny. [online] Theskinny.co.uk. Available at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/art/interviews/coming-clean-graham-macindoe [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Grahammacindoe.com. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.grahammacindoe.com/ [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Mansfield, S. (2017). Interview: Photographer Graham MacIndoe. [online] Scotsman.com. Available at: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/art/interview-photographer-graham-macindoe-1-4406856 [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nationalgalleries.org. (2017). Graham MacIndoe | Coming Clean. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/graham-macindoe-coming-clean?destination=exhibitions/current [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nolte, H. (1979). The Rejection of German Ethnocentrism in the United States. Thesis, Princeton University

Stellin, S. (2014). My Addiction, Through My Eyes. [online] NYMag.com. Available at: http://nymag.com/news/features/heroin-graham-macindoe-2014-2/index1.html [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Stellin, S. and MacIndoe, G. (2016). Chancers.

 

There is a Grandeur in This View of Life

American Photographs

Walker Evans

One of the most well-known photographic exhibitions and subsequent book is American Photographs by Walker Evans. The original exhibition was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1938 and the book (Evans, Kirstein and Meister, 2012) is now on its fifth edition which was produced for the seventy -fifth anniversary of the exhibition in 2012.

In the accompanying essay by Lincoln Kirsten (Kirstein, 1938) Evans’ work is described as ‘straight photography… in the rigorous directness of its way of looking’ and ‘Evans work has…. intention, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection’.

The book consists of 87 images divided into two sections. The images are presented without titles, other than lists at the end of each section. There is no obvious order to the images but the original 1938 edition contained the statement – The reproductions presented in this book are intended to be looked at in their given sequence. The images do not show famous buildings, although those that still exist may well now be described as ‘this is the house, church, or view that Evans shot’. The people are also not famous, no actors or film stars, no politicians but are now some very recognisable, such as Image 14 – Alabama Cotton Tennant Farmer Wife. When you look at the images, slowly, in order, the overwhelming thought is ‘this is (was) America, this is (was) the depression, these are the American people’.

Meister (Meister, 2012) discusses the difficulties inherent in making new prints for the book, sourcing appropriate starting images and the use of modern duotone techniques to produce an accurate reflection of the original exhibition. Marth, who notes ‘The book, unlike an exhibition, can become a permanent venue for the photograph.’ (Marth, 2015) takes a more detailed look at this, comparing the technologies involved in all the editions. Evans was heavily involved in the design of the original book, which was then printed using the letterpress halftone process which limits the amount of detail available in the print. Some of the images for the initial edition were reworked by hand to improve the details visible. The present, fifth, edition is very similar to the first edition in size, design and sequencing, and uses a variety of sources including original prints and scanned negatives however the reproductions are ‘far superior in their beauty…. suggests Evans’s original silver prints better than ever before’. (Marth, 2015)

A recent lecture by Zoe Druik (Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity, 2016) talks about the beginning of the documentary movement and its description by Grierson (1892-1972) as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’ and places the work of Walker Evans in this context. She compares his work with the work of photographers and filmmakers of the Mass Observation Group in the United Kingdom who also looked at how ordinary people lived and what their problems were. She also looked at the influence of the work of August Sander and the similarities of his series ‘People of the 20th Century’ with Walkers portraiture, including the use of generic titles and little sentimentality or pathos rather factual representations.

If you consider the role of documentary photography and the present perceived need for objectivity, which was not necessarily originally thought of as important, for example in the film Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922), this  leads to the present practice of non-alteration of images to show the ‘truth’. This concept is interesting as there is always a choice of which images to show, what is documentation and what is propaganda. This is dependent on the control of the images – state or private, and the historical status- winners or losers. At the beginning of the book American Photographs there is a disclaimer ‘The responsibility for the selection of the pictures used in this book has rested with the author, and the choice has been determined by his opinion:  therefore they are presented without sponsorship or connection with the policies, aesthetic or political, of any of the institutions, publications or government agencies for which some of this work has been done’ (Evans, Kirstein and Meister,2012) so Evans was clearly very aware of these issues and the possible readings of his work by a public with a varying degree of photographic literacy.

Overall the book is a fascinating record of America in the Depression, which reminded me that ‘there is a grandeur in this view of life’ (Darwin, 1859).

References

Darwin, C. (1925). The origin of species.

Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity. (2016). [Online video] Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery (vanartgallery.bc.ca/videos).

Evans, W. and Kirstein, L. (2012). American photographs. New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp.191 – 200.

Evans, W., Kirstein, L. and Meister, S. (2012). American photographs. New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp.201 -204.

Marth, E. (2015). Eric Marth – Printing American Photographs – Walker Evans. [online] Ahornmagazine.com. Available at: http://www.ahornmagazine.com/issue_9/essay_evans_marth/essay_evans_marth.html [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].

Nanook of the North. (1922). Flaherty.