Archive for Tate Modern

More Surveillance

Posted in Other Photographers, Personal with tags , , , on July 16, 2010 by brettvanort

Another artist’s work I came across at the Tate Surveillance show was that of Oliver Lutz.  Lutz, like Pechlan, calls himself an artist rather than a photographer.  He works in several media, from drawing to installation to photography.

Detail of CCTV image of The Lynching of Leo Frank © Oliver Lutz 2009

His work is participatory though.  And I thought it was absolutely brilliant.  When you walk into Room 10 of the exhibition, you are overwhelmed by a gigantic black shining flat piece on the wall.  Whoa!  I thought.  I had to back up and see what I could see…nothing.  Wait…it has to be something!

Then as you turn around, away from the black canvas, err, painting based on a photograph, you realize the entirety of the work.

Now I met Sandra Phillips, the curator of the show that is at the Tate, and lead curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  I met her in Madrid at PhotoEspana.  I showed her my work, including the miniature version of the opening frame revealing the landmine underneath.  Her impression of the work, to me, was that she didn’t quite get it.  Maybe it was jet lag or maybe she needed to see a full scale version instead of the miniature (15″ x 12″) version I brought with me.  At any rate I got an impression from her that she didn’t think of it as photography.  She claimed it was participatory, which, yes, it is, and that it was performance art, therefore not photography.  “But these are photographs?!?!”  She then asked if I came from a theater background.  Huh?  Then my 20 minutes were up.  Great.

That led me to think, why the label?  Why must photography have to consist of a picture hanging on a wall and that’s it?  Obviously she felt that Lutz’s work, however participatory it is, was photographic enough (even though on the surface it’s a black shining surface, and the actual seen image is a painting that is based on a photograph) to be in the same exhibition as photographs from more traditional artists that click a shutter, develop an image (whether it be digitally or analog), and hang that image on a wall.

And this brings me back to what Lutz and Paglen say about themselves.  That they are “artists” first and photographs are the medium they are using in this instance.  Great.  I get it and I think that’s fantastic but I felt from speaking with Sandra that because I have yet to be accepted as an artist I have to declare myself a photographer first?  Isn’t this backwards?  It is only until the public accepts your work as “art” that you have the ability to transcend the medium, photography, and be an artist?  And that, makes my head hurt thinking of things in that regard.  Aren’t we all artists first and foremost and photography is the medium we use?  Many of my friends will use other medium to portray their thoughts.  I already know plenty of writers that play music, photographers who write and photographers who paint and painters that sculpt.  So why the label dammit?



Tate Show

Posted in Other Photographers with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2010 by brettvanort

I went to the Tate Modern recently to see the new photography based show there: Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveilance and the Camera. While I felt not all the work leant itself to this idea of surveilance, that we as photographers are the vouyers into the world that is our pray, there was a wide array of work there.  Some that I had read about or seen in magazines or in book form but had yet to see prints on display in person.  There were a few pieces there that really blew me away.  I’ll look at one of those today:

Trevor Paglen‘s work.

© Trevor Paglen, "Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground, Dugway UT", Distance 42 miles, 10:51 a.m. (Source: Trevor Paglen)

The above photograph hangs in the exhibit at the Tate.  It’s an interesting abstract at face value.  But once you get inside of it, the meaning of the photograph gets clear”er”.

Paglen uses super telephoto lenses, anywhere from 1300mm to 7000mm in order to make his work.  The above photograph, I imagine is on the longer end of the scale when you take into account he is 43 miles away from his subject.  Basically, Paglen has adapted telescopes and placed a camera on the back end of it.

Paglen in front of the monster lens.

Instead of pointing this extremely long lens into the night sky, like many normal astronomy buffs would with a telescope, Paglen points his telescopic array along the surface of the earth.  This allows for atmospheric abstraction.  Instead of the lens penetrating the dense nitrogen/oxygen based atmosphere of approximately 5 miles straight up, we see the result of Paglen’s lens murkily finding it’s way through 43 miles of a dense, dusty, hot atmosphere.  The result is the abstraction of heat waves coming up from a desert floor and all sorts of smog and thick gas that, when compressed by this monster lens, blurs the view of what we look at.

It is in this aspect that his subjects, classifies U.S. military bases and installations, are presented.  The haze that shrouds these views that are normally not available to the public makes the work feel rather unsettling.  When I saw this in person I was struck by how little information is actually present on the photograph.  In many ways, it resembles a Rothko.  A swath of grain, texture and color that represents a mood or feeling.  However, the subtext beneath reveals the hidden layers, that which we can’t see, which solidifies the initial feeling of unease that comes about from trying to make something out of the abstraction presented to us.

Paglen just recently released a book of his work on this subject, titled Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes.  I came away from the exhibit with a new found respect for his work and it was solely because I viewed the actual print face to face.  What I found so interesting about the exhibit was here is a wide swath of material I have read about but rarely seen in the actual photographic sense of a true print.  When I came away from the exhibit it wasn’t just Paglen’s work I had a new respect for, it was several of the artists.  This left me thinking that no matter how much we look at a selection of work in the context of a book or online, it isn’t until we see the real thing hanging on the wall or in a print box that we receive and are able to interpret the full impact of the work.  So in this context is a digital photograph, making itself up of purely ones and zeros even relevant?  A discussion for another day I think.

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