Page 1

2016 Contest Photos: Looking Back Vintage Images


Roger Vail: Nocturnal Meditations

Dennis Feldman: Hollywood Boulevard David Douglas Duncan: Making of a Master

Issue 114 April 2016 US $7.95 Can $9.95



“When you take a picture you can look right into someone’s eyes and you can almost see yourself reflected there.” — Mike Garlington

38 2016 Contest: Looking Back– Looking Forward: DAVID DOUGLAS DUNCAN: 100 YEARS OF MEMORIES — 38


We spoke to the legendary LIFE photographer prior to the January 23 publication of his latest monograph and his 100th birthday. Touching on some of the less well-known aspects of his career, Duncan remains as colorful, direct and insightful as the indelible images that have made him an icon of 20th century photography.

Rock and roll. Vietnam. Student protests. Sexual liberation. Man on the moon. In the midst of that era’s political-social-cultural zeitgeist, photographer Dennis Feldman began photographing strangers on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, capturing the dreamers, schemers, tourists and fantasists—a microcosm of America on the cusp of a new decade.

RUPERT VANDERVELL: SURVEILLING THE METROPOLIS — 50 The physical characteristics of our cities reveal a lot about who we are, how we think, where we’re going. In Rupert Vandervell’s noirish, minimalist version of contemporary London, the ordered geometry of public space is presented as both visually seductive and slightly sinister.


CHARLES SWEDLUND: DEDICATED MODERNIST — 72 Throughout decades of innovative imagemaking, Charles Swedlund has lived up to the modernist precepts of Chicago’s Institute of Design. His wide-ranging body of work includes in-camera multiple exposures, motion studies, layered cityscapes, abstract





“Preconceived notions of what I am about to do have never worked for me.” —Roger Vail

72 Vintage Images — 18 nudes, photograms, high-contrast imagery, and much, much more.

ROGER VAIL: NOCTURNAL POET — 82 Roger Vail is inspired by the night and the intriguing, sometimes abstract and always beautiful forms and spatial relationships he finds there. His images would doubtless find favor with Nyx, the Greek goddess of the night. We like them too.





Mike Garlington is something of a contemporary Fellini. His photographs exude a carnivalesque lyricism redolent of the Italian director’s filmography and boast a kindred cast of characters—unconventional, uninhibited, flamboyant, yet oddly relatable and undeniably engaging.


Cover image: Santa Cruz, 1981 by Roger Vail




Sublime, Spirited and Silly

Dean Brierly

IN THE MUSEUMS Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago Burnt Generation (Apr 21, 2016–Jul 10, 2016) The Burnt Generation refers to the photographers who came of age during Iran’s 1979 revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Although the names of Azadeh Akhlagi, Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian, Babek Kazemi, Abbas Kowsari, Ali and Raymar and Newsha Tavakolian are doubtless unfamiliar to the West, they are responsible for some of the most creative and challenging photography being done anywhere in the world. Employing a variety of genres (documentary, portraiture, fine art, conceptual) and locations (urban and rural) their work transcends headlines and rejects stereotypes to reveal nuanced perspectives on the myriad challenges that continue to impact the lives of ordinary Iranians. Burnt Generation is produced by the cultural consultancy Candlestar, and is curated by its director, Fariba Farshad. On her choice of photographers, she said, “They were selected on the basis that their work in one way or another conveys a sense of being trapped, either literally (in their own home or country) or psychologically.... The show also offers glimpses of escape— of the inner dream worlds that some of the artists fashion from their contemporary reality.”(

The Burnt Generation refers to the photographers who came of age during Iran’s 1979 revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war of 19801988.


Harold Feinstein. Screaming on the Cyclone, Coney Island, 1955. © Harold Feinstein/ IN MEMORIAM Harold Feinstein (1931-2015) The documentary photographer Harold Feinstein, known for his vibrant, humanistic images of Coney Island, Harlem, Times Square and beyond, died June 20, 2015 in his home in Merrimac, Massachusetts at the age of 84. Born on Coney Island, he felt a special affinity for the area, once joking, “I feel like I fell out of my mother’s womb onto the beach at Coney Island with a Nathan’s hot dog in my hand.” Feinstein was a precocious talent. At 15, he began taking photographs with a borrowed Rolleiflex. At 17, he was invited to join the famed Photo League. At 19, several of his photographs were purchased by Edward Steichen for the permanent collection

of the Museum of Modern Art. In his early twenties, he began a long and influential career teaching in colleges and private workshops. Best known for his blackand-white documentary work, Feinstein also did nudes, landscapes and still lifes, and worked as a designer for Blue Note Records. Later in life, he did innovative color work and was one of the first photographers to make images with a scanner. But Coney Island remained his favorite subject matter—as his 1990 exhibit at the International Center for Photography, “A Coney Island of the Heart: Five Decades of Photographs” attests. A SELFIE TOO FAR File this one under: “It Had to Happen But We Wish it Hadn’t.” A Japanese man who calls himself Mansun, claiming to be too embarrassed to use selfie sticks in public, invented something even more ridiculous: a pair of freakishly long “selfie arms.” They’re still just selfie sticks, only with plastic hands affixed to their ends— one with a phone attached to the palm—and covered by a shirt with extra, extra, extra-long sleeves. We’d like to think it’s just a brilliant piece of performance art, one that satirizes the narcissistic (and sadly ubiquitous) practice of taking selfies, but if Mansun has his tongue in his cheek, he’s hiding it well. It’s a dubious honor in any event, as his invention is perhaps even more absurd than Google Glass.


Book Reviews

Lives Made Visible and Invisible

Dean Brierly, George Slade

Lives of the Great Photogaphers by Juliet Hacking Thames & Hudson 304 pp / HC / $50

Through the book’s photographic sequence, Matar assembles a collective portrait of the man and the conflict-laden environment that gave rise to and also eliminated him.

Is it imperative to be conversant with the biographical and personal details of the photographers we admire in order to appreciate and understand their work? Not necessarily. A great image can take your breath away even if you don’t know the name of the person who snapped the shutter. Having said that, knowing something of the attitudes, beliefs, motivations and even idiosyncrasies of individuals like Margaret Bourke-White, Bill Brandt and Roy DeCarava can afford one a deeper, broader perspective on their technical and aesthetic approach to the medium. That’s the premise behind this new book, for which Juliet Hacking has written mini-biographies-cum-essays on 38 seminal photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries, a time span in which photographic genres were established, elevated, experi-


mented with and, often, subverted. What’s interesting are the characteristics common to the photographers Hacking has included. Many lived in an era when a clear distinction was made between commercial and fine art production, and Hacking deftly illustrates the strategies employed by Robert Doisneau, Man Ray, Andre Kertesz and others to satisfy their creative impulses while managing to sustain themselves financially. —Dean Brierly Evidence Photographs by Diana Matar Schilt Publishing 104 pp / HC / $50

In her project to address the disappearance of her father-in-law, Diana Matar performs one of the most complex tasks in photography—describing absence. Her performance is nuanced and intriguing, deeply moving in unconscious ways and ultimately unsuccessful. This is not a condemnation of Matar’s visual artistry or skills at assembling a photobook. Rather, the emptiness at the end of the search is an

acknowledgment that those who have been disappeared tend to stay that way. While Matar effectively compiles the evidence of where his traces may be found, she poses a paradoxical mystery; if we can sense the man in the images, he is absent, but if we can’t, then the project has failed to fulfill that goal. Through the book’s photographic sequence, Matar assembles a collective portrait of the man and the conflict-laden environment that gave rise to and also eliminated him; the last hard piece of evidence the family had of Jaballa Matar, a Libyan political dissident, was a letter smuggled out of prison in 1995. The ensuing narrative utilizes short, impressionistic journal entries, some historical television footage of the hardcore Gaddafi regime and photographs made in what was clearly bound to be a futile effort to retrieve a phantom from purgatory. Images of birds, water, empty rooms, barred windows and nighttime landscapes face off against a small handful of brilliantly sunlit, full-color images that may suggest a happier point in a past time. The black-andwhite photographs that constitute the majority of Evidence are fleetingly symbolic, heavy with shadow and portent. The color images, by contrast, are brittle and painful, too harsh for eyes accustomed to looking into the dark, and into the darkness of souls. —George Slade



Monkey Selfies

Lorraine Anne Davis

A lawyer for Peta states, “Copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.”

Naruto, selfie, 2014 In 1964, in Sweden, a group exhibition of avant-garde work made headlines when one of the painters, Pierre Brassau, received high critical praise for his work. One reviewer among a number of enthusiastic critics wrote, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with


the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” Another critic, less enamored of the painter, noted, “Only an ape could have done this.” Ouch. However, he turned out to be right. The paintings were done by a chimpanzee named Peter and exhibited alongside the work of human artists as a hoax, to test the abilities of art critics. But who owned the paintings?

Presumably the zoo owned the works. However, the idea and the materials were supplied by the tabloid journalist who perpetrated the hoax, so perhaps the journalist owned the paintings, at least in part. Several of the paintings sold, although it wasn’t revealed who received the money. More recently, in 2005 three paintings by the chimpanzee Congo (1954-1964)— who claimed Picasso as a fan—sold at Bonham’s for $26,000. Can an animal actually own something? Apparently not, according to law. “A dog, [or a chimp] for all its admirable and unique qualities, is not a human being and is not treated in the law as such. A dog is personal property, ownership of which is recognized under the law as stated in the 1980 court conclusion of Arrington v. Arrington, a divorce wherein the parties were fighting over visiting rights of their dog. “You cannot leave money or other kinds of property to your [pet]. And it’s not just because (it) can’t see over the bank counter to open an account. The law says animals are property, and one piece of property simply cannot own another piece.” ( If an animal cannot own property, then it seems that it cannot own a copyright, which is Intellectual Property. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),


Copyright Continued...

What makes the image interesting is the fact that it is a selfie. Otherwise it’s just another picture of a macaque made by a professional photographer.

Intellectual Property “refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” WIPO further states that “copyright” as an Intellectual Property describes the “rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works.” The word “intellectual” means: “requiring the use of the mind or, involving intelligence rather than emotions or instinct.” ( One could argue that animals can be intelligent, but they probably aren’t intellectuals. It would be reasonable to conclude that animals therefore are not capable of creating an “Intellectual Property” that they can claim copyright ownership of. Peta does not agree, claiming that the Copyright Law does not specifically limit copyright to humans. A lawyer for Peta states, “Copyright law is clear: it’s not the person who owns the camera, it’s the being who took the photograph.” With this in mind, Peta is now pursuing copyright infringement on behalf of a six-year-old macaque named Naruto living in a reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, who snatched a camera away from nature photographer David Slater and took a series of nowfamous selfies that went viral. Wikimedia Commons has posted the images on its website to download for free, and Slater, who has been trying to regain control of the image to which he


claims he owns the copyright, has sent a number of unheeded demands to the organization. According to a 2014 article in The New Yorker, Wikimedia states below the image: “This file is in the public domain because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.” (It should be noted that Wikimedia is not saying that the monkey owns the copyright, as others have reported, but simply that Slater does not.) Slater copyrights all of his photographs as a professional, for his company Wildife Personalities, Ltd. He was specifically photographing the macaques as a professional photographer, and while he struggles to pull the image out of the public domain, Peta is trying to make its own claim against him. “Citing Slater’s own written accounts of his encounter with the macaques, the lawsuit asserts that Naruto ‘authored the monkey selfies by his own independent, autonomous actions in examining and manipulating Slater’s unattended camera.’” Slater stated: “The facts are that I was the intellect behind the photos, I set the whole thing up,” he said in an email to the British national daily The Guardian. “A monkey only pressed a button of a camera set up on a tripod—a tripod I positioned and held throughout the shoot.” The Guardian writes that “David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who often writes about

animal rights, said by email that the copyright issue raised by Peta ‘is a cuttingedge legal question,’ and ‘They have a fair argument,’ he wrote, ‘but I would have to say it is an uphill battle.’ “Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor who supports animal rights, expressed misgivings about the litigation,” the article continued. “‘It trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much energy and ingenuity on whether monkeys own the copyright in selfies taken under these contrived circumstances,’ he said.” On one hand, what makes the image interesting is the fact that it is a selfie. Otherwise it’s just another picture of a macaque made by a professional photographer. If the image is pulled from public domain, who will be able to claim the licensing revenue? The photographer who organized the shot, or the reserve where Naruto lives? Peta may have a point. The Egyptian god Thoth was a baboon who, according to myth, invented the alphabet, reading and writing. It was claimed that Thoth (and therefore all baboons) was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, both human and divine. So the question of who holds the scepter of copyright might be decided in a zoo, rather than in a court of law. Or perhaps Shakespeare had it better: “What fools these mortals be.”


Rearview Mirror

Dennis Feldman: Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972 Steven A. Heller

Around the same time that photographer Dennis Feldman completed a portfolio of portraits entitled “Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972,” Ray Davies, lead singer for the English rock band The Kinks, wrote the song “Celluloid Heroes.” The two artists certainly had nothing to do with each other; complete strangers separated by a continent and an ocean. Yet here is an eloquent, almost operatic example of the collective consciousness of the concluding years of the sixties—via the visual and auditory worlds—revealing the raw nerve endings erupting through the surface of the cultural psyche and unknowingly echoing one another.

“Celluloid Heroes” is a powerful song with the kind of meaningful, story-driven lyrics that Davies had been honing since the mid1960s. It was a narrative musical approach much different than the more typical lyrics that accompanied the dance, R&B and pounding songs of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other British Invasion bands. “Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star • And everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are • There are stars in every city • In every house and on every street • And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard • Their names are written in concrete.”

Dennis Feldman, self-portrait, 1974


In the larger world, Richard Nixon was in the White House and Americans watched televised images of the horrendous flood of dead and injured returning from Vietnam. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin OD’d and were buried. Students rioted nationwide in a sometimes peaceful and sometimes painful (Kent State) antiwar movement. Gay liberation emerged from the Stonewall Riots. The voting age was lowered to 18. And Woodstock rocked everyone’s sensibilities forever apart. “We want the world, and we want it…now!” It was as if the CERN Hadron Particle Collider had been built in 1969 to pit the baby boomers against the establishment in a battle of social, political, military, religious, moral, music, spiritual and artistic values to see who might come out on top. But before joining Feldman at that heady moment, it’s instructive to flash back five years, when he began his undergraduate program at Harvard in English Literature. He loved the work of “big writers” like Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dickens and Balzac. Psychology fascinated him, and he loved to write. It was a period of self-exploration. And it was at Harvard that he first picked up a camera and learned how to make a photograph. “I had no experience whatsoever, but took my first class in


Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972



Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Feldman clearly understood what fame, celebrity and the quest for stardom meant.

1966, and for the next two years photographed intensely until I graduated.” He would take the subway out to a local neighborhood and found some children and kept photographing them “doing whatever they did” for the next six months. He learned how to use the 4x5 camera, process film, print in the darkroom. “I even experimented with making photograms and did some filming with a Super 8mm camera. I was printing and shooting compulsively.” A childhood medical condition prevented him from being drafted upon graduating from Harvard in 1968. “I was very well-behaved. I went right through high school and then right through college. And then I hit a roadblock. I didn’t know what I should do. Besides read a book and write a paper, the only thing I knew I could actually make was a photograph.” While he considered his next decision, he bought a car and started the drive back home to Los Angeles. All the while he kept thinking that he really liked making street photographs. “I figured, what would a documentary photographer do—drive around, find a small town and document it? I thought, this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.”


Feldman found a place to live in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and every day drove to an even smaller town called Cuchillo (pop. 30), while living a scratch existence. There he photographed the mostly Native American and Mexican residents. For three months he documented the people of Cuchillo and at night developed the film in a makeshift darkroom in the bathroom. The experience was his baptism in the world of photojournalism. “Though I never published the work, the portfolio got me into Yale.” By the time Feldman reached Hollywood, he knew the documentary style would inform the direction for his photography career. He was no stranger to Los Angeles; his father was the producer of the 1969 epic western The Wild Bunch. Feldman clearly understood what fame, celebrity and the quest for stardom meant. He also saw firsthand the failure, collapse and disappointment of not finding those dreams fulfilled. He’d seen the tourists along Hollywood Boulevard hoping for a glimpse of a movie star, as well as folks kneeling down to have their picture taken with a five-pointed star of their favorite celebrity on the concrete beneath their knees. For Feldman, it was all so surreal, yet all so very real and never-ending. “I had no career concept at that point, and there was no way to make a living. I was struggling to become something.” With that honest self-assessment, Feldman began photographing strangers along a ragged stretch of Hollywood Boulevard in 1969 in what was to become an almost masochistic journey of self-discovery. During those years it was not unlike Times Square in New York, where sleaze, drugs and hustlers ruled the roost. “I walked up and down that street and asked total strangers, ‘Would it be all right if I took your picture?’ I did that every day. Some people were incredibly flattered. And some people didn’t want to have themselves reflected.” But in reality, the message Feldman was really telling every single one of these people was: “You’re important; you’re worth having your picture taken; I want you.” It was a humanistic and democratic vision that he felt worth the effort, and although there were times that it felt threatening, he persevered. “In retrospect, I have to admit, I was the oddest fish in the barrel walking along that boulevard taking pictures.”


Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972



Feldman began photographing strangers along a ragged stretch of Hollywood Boulevard in 1969 in what was to become an almost masochistic journey of selfdiscovery.

Feldman’s photograph of a mother and daughter holding hands is that vision of humanity—tender and honest. The pair offer welcoming smiles against a cacophony of reflections and textures; the symbolism of their relationship rushes forward as their fingers meet. Closer inspection reveals they’ve been photographed outside the window of perhaps the most notorious store along the boulevard, Frederick’s of Hollywood. Frederick’s was “the” store for gaudy, racy, saucy lingerie popular with prostitutes, transvestites and showgirls. It was not the store where “respectable” women went to buy lingerie if they could find it in upscale retail stores. As in many of Feldman’s images, there is plenty of subtext for the discerning viewer to dig into. Feldman’s subjects are primarily Hollywood residents—there are few tourists among his subjects, so his pictures provide a rare insight into the city during that era. We can appreciate Hollywood’s persona, architecture, wardrobe, lifestyle, posture and nuance. Feldman is a purist and a typologist. In this pursuit he follows a pedigree in photography’s history

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972


as a categorizer very much in the tradition of August Sander, who photographed the tradesmen of the Weimar Republic; Bernd and Hilla Becher, who cataloged the industrial factories of Europe; or Karl Blossfeldt, who created a visual library of botanical forms. Beginning in the summer of 1969, almost every day he could psychologically manage it, Feldman walked up and down the Avenue of the Stars in search of pictures. Back then, the Walk of Fame consisted of approximately 1,600 pink-and-charcoal terrazzo five-pointed stars embedded in cement over a stretch of about a mile and half. Feldman crisscrossed his way between Highland Avenue and Vine Street, observing all those “looking to be somebody—not an anybody and certainly not a nobody—somebody important, somebody successful, somebody who was loved or feared, somebody rich and respected, glamorous and desirable. I’m driven to photograph places where, as they say, the veil between the seen and the unseen is thinnest. Hollywood Boulevard is one of those places.” Today, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proudly proclaims that the mission of the current stars (nearly 2,500) is to maintain the glory of a community whose name represents “glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” But Feldman’s documentary street portraiture illustrates a world far different than that lofty ambition. Feldman’s formality is emboldened by the square format and the subject (or subjects) occupying the center third of each composition. The flamboyant gentleman in what might be titled “Thirties Film Director in Pith Helmet” is debonair, clean-shaven and perfectly appointed down to his cigarette holder, gold watch, scarf and pencil-thin mustache. His poise is evident in every nuance of his body language. The mannequins in the storefront window behind him evoke an imaginary cast and crew that has just been given a fiveminute break. As in many of these images, Feldman employs a firm verticality on one side of the composition that serves as a border within the framework of the storefront. The vertical echoes the standing posture of each subject and provides a strong organization to the edge of the composition, reinforcing Feldman’s sense of categorization, formality and alignment. Extreme depth of detail also informs Feld-


Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972



Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

“I’m driven to photograph places where, as they say, the veil between the seen and the unseen is thinnest.”

man’s image of the quintessential sixties rocker. Here’s “Jim Morrison” waiting to be discovered on the street. He’s got the hair, the cigarette smoked to just the right inch, the gritty guitar case, the strands of love beads and the sculpted goatee—all testifying to his sexual potency. Once again, Feldman has perfected the compositional elements of reflection, verticality and space. “I’m a categorizer,” Feldman admits. “It suits my need to understand the struggle not to be chaotic in how I organize my compositions, especially when I only have a chance to shoot a couple of frames before the person might walk away.” This particular time capsule isolates the subject amidst the fragments of the storefront and the vestiges of reflections that Feldman keeps to a bare minimum. Feldman photographed this project at a feverish pitch through the summer of 1969 and then decided to apply to the Yale School of Art and Architecture. He was accepted into the first graduate photography class of six students. There, Walker Evans was not only one of his professors but also became a close friend. “I’d pick him up at the train station and


we’d have dinner together, talk about photography and sometimes I’d even stay the night at his home,” Feldman recalls. “It was an amazing experience getting to know him on this level. Walker would always tell me that I’m a writer. That I do it with photography, but that I’m a writer. He liked to say that. I just say it’s another form of stating what I think or feel.” During Feldman’s first year Evans asked him who should be invited to Yale to give a presentation to the photography students, review portfolios and hold informal meetings. Feldman immediately suggested Robert Frank. “Walker knew Robert very well and called him, and he came. So I got to meet Robert.” But his enthusiasm was crushed when Feldman realized that Frank, undoubtedly the 20th century’s iconic documentary photographer, was virtually dismissed by Feldman’s classmates and many of the other photography instructors, who were more interested in large-format, formal landscape imagery. So Feldman packed up his belongings, withdrew from the program and again headed west. “I had no idea what a career could be, but I knew this (Yale) wasn’t it.” He returned to Los Angeles to continue work— this time uninterrupted—on the Hollywood Boulevard project. “The reason that I walked that street collecting peoples’ photographs, I understood even then, in my 23-year-old state, was not in the hope of being a great success, but because nothing terrified me more than being a failure. We each need to be a somebody, even if only in our own imagination.” “I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show • A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes • Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain • And celluloid heroes never really die.” Fact File All photographs © Dennis Feldman. His book Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972 was published by Circle of Fire in the fall of 2015. His book, American Images was published in 1977. He is currently at work on a new book.


Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972



Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972

Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972



Untitled from the series Hollywood Boulevard 1969-1972


114B&WMarinaBlack(4)V1:BWM 33 DeDienes-Pg-


“You need to feel yourself outside of time.”

Fact File Marina Black Toronto, Ontario, Canada Limited-edition prints are available at 10 x 10 inches for $575.


3:00 PM

Page 1

Marina Black Portfolio Contest Winner

“I remember the doorknobs more than anything. The nurse would enter and exit the Room and take the doorknob with her. I have replayed this scene hundreds of times.” So begins Marina Black’s accompanying poem to her series, When the Room Becomes Water. Her visual poetry, which expresses the grief caused by the death of two close friends, perfectly complements her unsettling, dream-set artist statement. It’s a dicey gambit to link a poem, written by the artist, as an explanation for a painting, drawing or photograph. It takes talent and a keen ability to conflate visual with literary metaphor, with neither element swamping the other. Black is at home in both worlds. “I like to write and, in fact, write poetry too, although I haven’t written much, and never assumed it as a profession,” she says. “But these two mediums [photography and writing] feed into one another, at times intentionally and at times not. “There’s also a way to think of it as a continuance. It’s all one poem, essentially. If I am lucky, there’s some sense at the end that both are an example of a life lived and reimagined in a search for music through contemplative experience. I’d like to think that my artist statements are somewhat a byproduct of that relationship.” Black began her early art training learning to paint and draw, later turning to photography as her main source of visual expression. However, she often revisits the fountainhead of her artistic expression. “I was playing with clunky, old Soviet-era cameras that due to their age and overuse gave me little control over the production. The cameras often created blurry, grainy images that seemed on the edge of disappearance. I began to thematize the ‘imperfection’ by adding drawing elements: childlike scribblings and scratches. Now, with photography increasingly existing in a digital realm, I also feel a great need to continue working with my hands. Drawing, collage and photography only recently have started to work together for me.” In When the Room Becomes Water Black skillfully merges her love of drawing and col-


lage with photography. The damaged negatives create a patched-together surface, epitomizing a psyche reassembled after experiencing the trauma of a death that came too soon. Unexposed negatives are torn, cut and stapled together, then digitally overlaid onto the photographic image—the reworked surface enhancing the emotional quality of the grieving body below. Black’s reaction to her sorrow doesn’t exhibit the cool distance that many artists might use to express their feelings. She places herself at the center of every aspect of the photograph in its taking, its making and as its subject. She says, “You need to feel yourself outside of time. This is also where the theatrical aspect of photography comes in. Because people often are captivated by the drama of artists’ lives, they read the pictures as literal reflections of them. But photography, like theatre, essentially is a performance. It doesn’t make it less true. I don’t look like my pictures. I feel like them sometimes, but that’s different.” Even though photographs may not constitute an actual reflection of a life, the photographer as a physical and visual presence gives us unique and intimate insights. “To me, photography should offer enough diversity to create an echoing system from the sum of things that have made me: ideas, the books I’ve read, the things I’ve seen, people I’ve known, motives, emotions.... It’s some type of threshold of a presence, like breath on a mirror. It seems real because we see it. However, it’s also an apparition.” Apparition it may be, but infused with the self-reflective sensitivity of an artist and poet; Marina Black’s photographs have become an undeniable exemplar of the jagged pain of loss. —Larry Lytle

114B&WMarinaBlack(4)V1:BWM 33 DeDienes-Pg-


3:00 PM

Page 2

Split, Toronto, 2014


114B&WMarinaBlack(4)V1:BWM 33 DeDienes-Pg-


3:01 PM

Page 3

Fusion, Toronto, 2014

To lay beside you, Toronto, 2014


114B&WMarinaBlack(4)V1:BWM 33 DeDienes-Pg-


3:01 PM

Page 4

Mending, Toronto, 2014

Nox, Toronto, 2014


Black & White April 2016  

Our April issue is packed with great departments, features, Spotlights and winners from our new Vintage Images contest. Pick up a copy to en...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you