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2018 Contest Photos: Vintage Images
Black & White FOR COLLECTORS OF FINE PHOTOGRAPHY
Roman Loranc: A Meditative View Randal Levenson: One of Us
Merg Ross: A Tradition of Seeing
Issue 126 April 2018 US $7.95 Can $9.95
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“There are special moments when I know that I have connected with something bigger than myself, when I have focused the camera on the essence of my subject.” – Roman Loranc
38 2017 Contest: Looking Back– Looking Forward: ROMAN LORANC: A MEDITATIVE VIEW — 38
MERG ROSS: A TRADITION OF SEEING — 58
“Light is a messenger, revealing the world at every instant,” says Roman Loranc, whose photographs of landscapes and cityscapes across Europe, China, the American Southwest and Pacific Northwest resonate with luminous, mysterious beauty.
To give you an idea of Merg Ross’ talent, he was photographing side-by-side with his father, Donald Ross, and Brett Weston at the tender age of 13—and making images of comparable quality. A lifelong adherent of the Group f.64 aesthetic, his photographs explore with remarkable fluidity the elusive terrain between abstraction and reality.
YAIR AGMON: DISSIDENT IMAGES — 48 The American Colony’s Matson Collection photo archive of non-violent Palestinian protests, and images of Jews and Palestinians working together peacefully during the first half of the 20th century, runs counter to current institutional and political narratives, inspiring this Israeli photographer, filmmaker and educator in his quest to help open eyes and change attitudes.
RANDAL LEVENSON: ONE OF US — 68 Randall Levenson has always been drawn to marginalized subcultures, notably the carnival sideshow freaks he memorably photographed in the 1970s. There was nothing exploitative in his approach. He simply and respectfully depicted his subjects as what they were: regular people whose appearance was both their livelihood and, sometimes, their curse.
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“I’ve always been interested in how people solve life’s problems. My camera is a means to poke my nose into people’s lives, to where I get some insights.” – Randal Levenson
78 Vintage Images — 18 MICHAEL WILSON: THE GIFT OF TRUST — 78 A successful record industry photographer, Cincinnati native Michael Wilson is also known for remarkable street portraits that result from a confluence of chance, openness and trust between photographer and subject. The story that each image evokes is a gift both given and received.
A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY MARKET — 86 Contributor Lorraine Anne Davis traces the fascinating chronology of the art photography market from Stieglitz’s 291 gallery through seminal figures like Julien Levy, Beaumont Newhall, Helen Gee, Lee Witkin Sam Wagstaff and others, along with the impact of AIPAD, auction houses, photo fairs, and, of course, the Internet.
OLIVER STEGMAN — 102 URSULA LELEN — 106 TED ANDERSON — 110 ERIC DELLENBERGER — 114 MIKAEL CARSTANJEN — 118 JOSÉ AZCUTIA — 122
SINGLE IMAGE SPOTLIGHTS
CHRYSTINA GEAGAN PARKS — 34 JAN BELL — 35 EMANUEL DALE — 36 BARBARA HAZEN — 37
BOOK REVIEW — 6 NEWS —10 WHAT’S IT WORTH — 12 POP QUIZ — 14 EXPOSURE SECTION — 126
Cover image: Roman Loranc, Storm Clouds Over Dubrovnik
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MUSEUMS Annenberg Space for Photography (Los Angeles) Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library (Through Sept. 9, 2018) In what must qualify as the most idiosyncratic exhibition title of recent years, the Annenberg presents nearly 500 photographs culled from the Library of Congress’ permanent collection of 14 million images—an obsessive labor of love performed by noted photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker. The exhibit encompasses the entire span of photography to explore how our nation’s shared history is bound up in our visual heritage, from both collective and selective perspectives. Viewers will be treated to numerous rare images, many of them never before seen— Daguerreotypes and selfies; 19th and 20th century handcolored prints from the Detroit Photographic Company; portraits of the famous, including Abraham Lincoln, Cesar Chavez and John and Yoko. Also included are such unusual and offbeat photographs as Stanley Kubrick’s “Strong Man’s Wife and 11-Month-Old Son” (1947), Susana Raab’s “Chicken in Love, Athens, OH” (2004-9) and, yes, an image actually titled “Not an Ostrich.” A documentary film produced by the Annenberg Foundation will also be featured. (annenbergphotospace.org)
This time-honored genre is particularly wellsuited to exploring conceptions of self, identity, roleplaying and countless other thematic avenues.
SFMOMA Selves and Others (Through Sept. 23, 2018) It’s probably not a stretch to claim that the portrait remains by far the most popular type of photograph throughout the world, not only those we take of others but also those we take of ourselves. This time-honored genre is particularly well suited to exploring conceptions of self, identity, role-playing
Dora Maar, Double Portrait, 1930s. Collection SFMOMA, gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris and countless other thematic avenues. Hence this SFMOMA celebration of the portrait, an exhibition wholly relevant in this Age of Selfie. The photographs are drawn from gifts made to the museum since the late 1990s by the collectors/philanthropists Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. The images are organized chronologically (19th century to the present) as well as thematically (portraits of the self, of personas
or avatars, of family members, of lovers, friends, strangers). The iconic photographers represented include Julia Margaret Cameron, Rineke Dijkstra, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, and many others. The museum’s website offers several tantalizing previews, including Surrealist photographer Dora Maar’s enigmatic “Double Portrait” from the 1930s, a richly textured image that speaks to the dual side of human nature. (sfmoma.org) The Getty (Los Angeles) Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography (Through May 27, 2018) Photographers have long explored the creative possibilities of combining paper and photography, and this Getty exhibition looks at the ways contemporary photographers are extending this path. Visitors will be treated to a variety of approaches: some of the artists represented create paper models from print and online media with the object of photographing them; others cut, fold, layer and/or assemble representational photographs, introducing tactile or narrative elements to the final image. The exhibition will include works by Christiane Feser, Soo Kim, Christopher Russell, Matt Lipps, Daniel Gordon and Thomas Demand. (getty.edu) SELFIE CHRONICLES It may not be the most
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“Great God! This is an awful place.”
famous selfie ever taken, but Scott noted in his diary: “The this group portrait of Captain worst has happened”; “All Robert Scott and the four members of his ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole might be the most ironic. It’s certainly the most haunting. The image was taken when they reached the pole on January 17, 1912 using a string to trip the shutter. But any From left: Lawrence Oates (standing), elation they may have Henry Bowers (sitting), Captain Robert felt on arrival vanScott (standing), Edward Wilson (sitished when the saw ting), Edgar Evans (standing). the tent and the note left to them by Roald day the dreams must go”; Amundsen’s Norwegian “Great God! This is an awful expedition, which reached place.” Things went from the pole 34 days earlier. bad to worse: Two months Bitter disappointment as well later all five men died in -40˚C as exhaustion is etched on weather on their way back their faces. A devastated from the Antarctic.
The Faroe Islands
The photograph made history again in November of last year when it was sold at auction at Sotheby’s in London for £12,500, nearly 15 times its estimated selling price. Other items from the expedition sold at the auction included a silver spoon and fork (which sold for £2,750) as well as the newspaper printed in Scott’s hut, The South Polar Times (which netted £17,500). A photograph of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led three successful Antarctic expeditions, sold for £6,875. Cecilie Gasselholm, a specialist in Sotheby's books department, said the “phenomenal results” of the auction have created a surge of new interest in Antarctic exploration.
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10 Questions with: Lois Conner
Russell, Colorado, 1990
“With the confluence of light, circumstance, chance and a dozen other factors I attempt to conjure up a world, one seemingly halfimagined and breathing with the life of histories.”
The American artist Lois Conner (born 1951) is among the great contemporary photographers utilizing large-format negatives. Conner earned degrees in photography at Pratt Institute (BFA, 1975) and Yale University (MFA, 1981). A 1979 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship was the first of many awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984 and an Anonymous Was a Woman Fellowship in 2007. In 2010 and 2011 she was an artist-in-residence in the Sol LeWitt Studio in Praiano, Italy. Her work has been published in numerous monographs and solo exhibition catalogues. Exhibitions of her photographs have been held in the United States, Switzerland, China, England and Canada. She has held teaching and research positions at Stanford University, Yale, Sarah Lawrence College (NY), Princeton University, University of Hartford (CT) and the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou. You have made a particular format your trademark.
Tell me about it. In 1982, I switched from the classical shape of the 8x10-inch view camera to the elongated rectangle of the 7x17-inch banquet camera. This allowed for a different narrative framework. The horizon it permitted stretched out as though encompassing the curvature of the earth. What attracted you to this kind of photography? Large-format cameras allow for an extraordinary level of description. The platinum printing process can render these negatives with an incredible subtlety of the tonal scale, describing a three-dimensional space like no other medium. How do you find and pursue your subject matter? What initially sends me out into the world is often a story, photograph or painting; some aspect of the world that haunts me because of its absolute unfamiliarity, its beauty or incomprehensible existence. Trying to render a visual encounter through photography is nearly impossible. Bending and twisting what
the camera faithfully describes into something of fiction in order to give form and meaning to what exists in front of you. With the confluence of light, circumstance, chance and a dozen other factors I attempt to conjure up a world, one seemingly half-imagined and breathing with the life of histories. Each project informs and challenges the next one. Some projects last decades. Others are for weeks. No rules were drawn up. I didn’t know the years would pass by so quickly. You have photographed extensively in China. How did your interest in working there evolve? China has 5,000 years of history, and poses different challenges and questions that need to be explored and answered visually. My interest in the extended frame of the panorama was one of my original interests in traveling to China, as the elongated form for Chinese painting originated in scrolls. I couldn’t have known that there would be such dramatic changes over the decades. I couldn’t
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Pop Quiz Continued...
have gone there so often to make work if I hadn’t also been working on other projects here in New York, the American West and different cities across the country, and in Europe and Asia.
“Alan Newman taught me how to use the view camera, which changed my life, as it gave me a reason to pause.”
You have dedicated a significant amount of time to teaching photography. Would you expound a bit on the role of teachers and teaching? My teachers and mentors have been integral in helping me find my way, my voice. Philippe Halsman encouraged me to become a photographer when I was taking his portraiture class at the New School. At Pratt, Alan Newman taught me how to use the view camera, which changed my life, as it gave me a reason to pause. He and I also collaborated on a grant to research platinum printing my last year there. Philip Perkis, also at Pratt, was a visionary critic and teacher. His words still run through my mind. The photography program at Yale has been central to your professional life. Tell me about your teachers—later, colleagues—there. Tod Papageorge was an uncompromising yet poetic critic, whose respect and expectations for the medium were the foundation for the Department at Yale. Under his tutelage my years there as a student and as a teacher were critical to my voice as an artist. Who else at Yale played a role? Richard Benson (born 1943, died 2017) was a big part of my artistic life. I want-
ed to meet him because of the incredible platinum prints he made for a 1977 exhibition of Tina Modotti’s work at the Museum of Modern Art. Later he became my professor, my friend, my colleague and, as Dean of the Yale School of Art, my boss. In each of these roles, he was encouraging, yet not overly so. He left a lot of space open for criticism and humor, looking at photographs and embracing the world as a miraculous place. What made Benson so special as a photographic artist? He was always reassessing, inventing, figuring out new ways to print and to better render what the camera makes. He was a master printer in many processes (from dry plate to digital) and an inventor of several exacting, time- and labor-intensive ones. He was always looking forward to finding another way to lay down the camera’s rendering, what one saw in the negative, and later in the digital file. His last pictures were exhibited on special monitors whose rendering of the tonal scale of color digital files was definitive. During your residencies in Sol LeWitt’s studio you took an interesting turn in your work and began making double exposures in color. How did that come about? Living for months with Sol LeWitt’s fresco paintings and drawings made me reconsider particular details in the landscape—jet trails, webs, nests, fences, stones, water drops, roads, walls, walk-
ways, tiling and mesh—as part of an organizing system that could be imposed on the landscape. In my first weeks in Praiano I collected flowers that had dropped along the paths, bits and pieces of old discarded tiles from the olive groves that I photographed and odd, twisted pieces of wood and wire from the garden outside. I thought comparing the scale of LeWitt’s paintings with these small objects could complicate our conversation. This work called for a different kind of transparency in which color was essential, a layering that would both separate and unite the images. You also put work on Instagram, which is clearly a change of pace from the banquet camera and the gorgeous platinum prints. Technology marches on. How are you coping with the changing availability of supplies for your signature, wide-format images? The materials are easily acquired for platinum printing, much more so now than when I began in 1974. Buying 7x17 film has sometimes been a challenge. I switched to Ilford about eight years ago when Kodak began scaling down, and I order film once a year as before. Color film has become very expensive, like the black and white. I’ve always used film, but now digital is also in the mix, with the iPhone, the Nikon and, more recently, the Hasselblad. They don’t replace film, they just add other possibilities and challenges. (To see more, visit loisconner.net.
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Roman Loranc: A Meditative View David Best
Roman Loranc, one of the few holdouts among fine art photographers still shooting 4x5 sheet film with his Linhof view camera, loves telling this story: “I was photographing in the Ukraine several years ago, and had decided one morning to shoot some pictures in an old train station. I didn’t know that photography was not permitted there; that it was actually illegal to do so. After I’d set up the 4x5 and had exposed a few sheets of film, a police officer asked what I was doing, and then arrested me when I told him. He quickly inspected my camera and then called his supervisor over, and they began talking rapidly in Russian.
“Fortunately for me, I’d grown up in Communist Poland, and speak Russian fluently. The gist of their conversation concerned my camera, because when they inspected the ground glass there were no images there. They had a problem in arresting me since there was no evidence that I had shot any pictures. They had no idea I was shooting film! So they gave me a very stern warning and I departed as quickly as I could, my camera and film holders intact.”
Roman Loranc (photo by Reinhold Kager)
Loranc began his first photographic journey quite modestly. His first camera, given to him as a communion present by his godparents, was a small medium-format [6x6] Druh, made in Poland. This broke almost immediately. Years later he was traveling in Russia and saw a sexy East German-made Pentacon Praktica LTL, which was a copy of a Nikon. It came in a little suitcase that contained an enlarger and trays and safelight and even chemicals— everything necessary to make and print photographs. Camera equipment was very difficult to come by in Eastern Bloc countries, and Loranc wanted this camera desperately. But it was incredibly expensive, way out of his budget. However, he was wearing a pair of the latest Levi jeans, which were highly desirable back then. “People don’t realize that having Levis in the Eastern Bloc was like having a Mercedes Benz here. I left that store with my first decent camera and a pair of polyester pants that were so short I looked like an idiot the rest of my trip.” Loranc’s formative years in Poland played out amidst centuries of architectural splendor. Even everyday functional objects were often crafted by artisans who added a certain expres-
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“A painter interprets his subject before it is painted, filtering the scene using his skill and artistic sensibility. This is something I try to do with my photography.”
sive flair or embellishment to the items they made. He grew up surrounded by things that felt special to him in an artistic way, and this has informed his personal aesthetic ever since. “My first inspiration as a visual artist came from the paintings of [Józef] Chelmonski, [Jan] Stanislawski and [Józef] Pankiewiz. I’m drawn to the richness of their work, their sense of drama and use of light and dark. The darker color palette sets a darker mood, which I find appealing. A painter interprets his subject before it is painted, filtering the scene using his skill and artistic sensibility. This is something I try to do with my photography.” In Communist Poland there was no easy access to fine art photographic books, let alone original prints by master photographers. Loranc remembers the prints he did see as having an overall dullness and lackluster quality. So when he arrived in California in 1985, and saw original work by Ansel Adams, the Westons and Morley Baer, he was in awe of the richness of tone, the depth of the blacks and the glowing light that emanated from their prints. He knew immediately that this was the look he wanted to emulate in his own work.
“For some time I had a print by Morley Baer which I kept in my darkroom to use as a comparison,” he says. “When I was able to achieve the kind of richness in my prints that I saw in Morley’s, I knew that my skills were advancing in the right direction.” Loranc enjoys photographing meditative things, like tule reeds, when the light is soft and just right for such photography. Such smaller intimate subjects, which are often overlooked because of their commonplace nature, he finds to be quietly expressive. He believes that minimizing what is included in the frame not only helps focus the viewer’s attention, but more clearly conveys the message of the photograph. “I appreciate that light is a messenger,” he says, “revealing the world at every instant. The magic of photography is its ability to slice a moment out of time, which you can later hold as a print in your hands. When I’m in the outdoors photographing I feel my existence intensely. My camera becomes my voice as I participate in the conversation I am having with the world. There are special moments
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Paris at Night
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“I try to make images that say everything without saying more than is necessary.”
when I know that I have connected with something bigger than myself, when I have focused the camera on the essence of my subject. At that moment I feel a fullness that I cannot describe in words. It is a visual experience, and I can only refer you to my finished print to explain the fascination and connection I feel for the place I have photographed.” Loranc first began photographing river tules at the Nature Conservancy (aka Consumnes River Preserve) in Galt, part of the Great Central Valley of California. His aim is to show the subtle beauty of the disappearing wetlands. Many people overlook this beauty because it is not easily accessible. Loranc likes the idea that this area is being preserved more for wildlife than for people. He hopes that when people see his photographs they will want to help protect and preserve these fragile lands. This is a crucial impetus behind his efforts. “I am working on a book that will feature my photographs of tules with poems by Robert Lax and a summary essay by Dr. Anthony Bannon, the former Executive Director of George Eastman House,” he notes. “The book has been in production for over a year as we developed a special printing process to reproduce my work as authentically as possible, and we hope to have a small edition with silver-gelatin prints available for collectors
next year. One of the poems we are including is called ‘A Thing That Is.‘ I feel that title neatly sums up much of my photographic philosophy. I try to make images that say everything without saying more than is necessary.” Loranc makes lengthy annual pilgrimages to his native Eastern Europe, drawn back by the allure of his childhood memories. He now owns a house in Galadus, Poland, which he uses as a base for summer-long photographic expeditions. There is a large part of him that misses the cultural patina that permeates the older villages and historic districts of the cities of Poland and Lithuania. He finds evocative images in cobbled nighttime streets and the decaying facades of ruined medieval churches. Through long exposures and mysterious tonal rendering he captures a unique expression of these venerable places and structures. “I’ve always believed your strongest work comes from exploring your surroundings and the places which feel most familiar to you. I have deep roots in Poland, and also Lithuania through my grandfather. I’m always longing to visit these pastoral areas and photograph them, which I wasn’t allowed to do during communist rule. Going back is a very powerful experience, like recovering a little of my childhood. We all come from somewhere. Exploring this region
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“Photography is a very powerful tool. It captures a moment in time, saving that instant for longer than it existed.”
now with my understanding of who I’ve become gives me a great perspective.” These can be challenging trips, however, because Loranc doesn’t really like traveling all that much. He doesn’t like the pressure of feeling that he must produce something new and exciting for the galleries that represent his work. It can also be challenging technically and logistically, because he is carrying film through so many airports, and traveling with a 4x5 camera and tripod and all the other necessary gear. He might be in Eastern Europe for one month, and sometimes the weather will be completely uninteresting. At these times he shoots no photographs, knowing he could be taking beautiful photos of Mt. Shasta, right outside his home’s front door. But there is something pushing Loranc to travel, especially when he receives moving emails from other people with similar backgrounds in Poland and Lithuania. They see his photographs and want to make their own pilgrimages to explore their roots. He finds such messages very rewarding. “Photography is a very powerful tool,” he says. “It captures a moment in time, saving
that instant for longer than it existed. I love being able to express something that captivated me. When I am out shooting I am unaware of the passing of time. I am completely absorbed by the subject I’m trying to capture. Hours can go by without my realization that they have passed as I concentrate on seeing what is before me. Then being able to examine and interpret that segment of time and space later is an amazing thing. And to share this moment in time, which I’ve captured on a piece of paper, with other people when they look at my work—that is truly the best feeling in the world.” Addendum You can see much more of Loranc’s work at romanloranc.com. His books include Absolution (Photography West Graphics, 2013), Fractal Dreams (Photography West Graphics, 2010) and Two-Hearted Oak (Heyday Books, 2003). He is represented by galleries in the U.S. and Asia, and his work is held in numerous museums and institutions, including the Nature Conservancy of California, San Francisco.
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Storm Clouds Over Dubrovnik
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City of Angels
Tule and Mount Shasta
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Merg Ross: A Tradition of Seeing Dennis Reed
Before World War II, if you wished to be an art photographer you generally had two options for training: apprentice to a commercial photographer or join a camera club. There were few schools devoted to art photography. In the years following the war, this situation changed dramatically. To meet the needs of the returning soldiers and their baby boom children, new college and university programs were founded that included photographic education, both technical and aesthetic.
But few people were blessed with the exceptional opportunity enjoyed by Merg Ross. He was mentored by his father, a veteran photographer, and he also benefited from the attention of several of the best-known photographers in the world. Merg’s father, Donald Ross, worked as a
Merg Ross, Berkeley, California, 1954 (photo by Donald Ross)
commercial photographer for J. Walter Thompson, a premier advertising firm, before giving it up for art photography. While designing and building houses to support his family, he became an important part of the photographic art community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Among his closest friends were three of the founding members of Group f.64—Henry Swift, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. Donald Ross met Weston at a lecture in Oakland, and beginning in 1949, he took his family on many trips to visit Weston at Wildcat Hill in the Carmel Highlands. In Weston’s simple, austere shack, they ate together, talked photography and looked at Weston’s prints. Merg was a mere lad of eight years old at the time of that first trip, but he soaked it all up. Increasingly aware of Merg’s growing interest, his father gave him a 4x5 view camera, along with the usual accoutrements, and he included basic lessons on exposure, developing and contact printing. Merg was hooked. During one of the many family trips to Carmel, Edward’s son Brett showed up. He and the elder Ross hit it off immediately and spent the next four decades traveling together on photographic excursions to Europe, Mexico and the western United States. In 1953, Merg accompanied them on the first of many outings, this one to Mono Lake. While
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Broken Window #3, California, 2008
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Industrial Perspective, California, 2005
While not yet in high school, he was photographing sideby-side with two of the best photographers in the country.
not yet in high school, he was photographing side-by-side with two of the best photographers in the country. Donald Ross, Brett Weston and Merg followed the tradition of straight photography as exemplified in the work of Edward Weston and the other members of Group f.64, a loose affiliation of photographers whose first exhibition was held at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1932. It hardly seems necessary to enumerate the characteristics of straight photography for readers of this magazine, but for the benefit of the first-time reader, straight photographers sought to employ photography in its most direct and purest form. They encouraged pre-visualizing subjects, composing the image full-frame without resulting to cropping, and printing without tricks or manipulations, nearly always on gelatin silver paper. While some members occasionally wavered from these “rules,” the point was “truth to the medium” by using photography’s inherent characteristics and nothing else. The approach was fundamentally humanist in nature, an attempt to define human experience by capturing the photographer’s feelings in response to each subject or scene. It was an art of observation, and the ability to spot a worthy subject and compose it in the camera was referred to as being able “to see,” which
required “an eye.” Those who practiced this approach were frequently referred to as the West Coast School, particularly in the pages of U.S. Camera. Such was the prevailing attitude and approach of many photographers active in mid-century San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, the location where Merg grew up. It was an exceptional community of photographic artists. Beyond those already mentioned, Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Minor White, Wayne Miller and Dorothea Lange were living and working in the area. It became apparent that an exhibition to survey this community was overdue. Two area photographers, Dody Warren (who was married to Brett Weston) and Nata Piaskowski, asked Donald Ross to help them organize a show entitled Perceptions: A Photographic Showing from San Francisco, 1954. Ross was asked to design the show’s layout, and the Ross home was selected to be the meeting location for gathering, sorting and selecting the prints, all under the curious and watchful eye of Merg. The resulting exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art was a massive presentation of 234 prints representing 46 photographers. Famous images by Adams,
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Torn Fabric, California, 2006
Steps in Snow, NYC, 1964
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His images often teetered precariously, and wonderfully, between abstraction and reality.
Bullock, Cunningham, Lange, White and Edward Weston were hung alongside works by lesser-known photographers. One of those photographers was Merg Ross, who was just 13 years old at the time. Could anyone have desired a more auspicious beginning? Merg’s work at the time was not juvenile; it was surprisingly sophisticated. Precocious might be the best word, as he seems to have found his fundamental photographic style astoundingly early: a predilection for patterns, high contrast and subjects depicted, sometimes close-up, on the verge of abstraction. That is to say, his images often teetered precariously, and wonderfully, between abstraction and reality. This balance can be seen in some of his most popular images, such as Steps in Snow, NYC, 1964. In the photograph, the physical forms of the steps were rendered as a flat, graphic pattern, yet we still recognize them as steps. It is a bit like viewing a psychological perception test that somehow manages to be both intriguing and beautiful. Merg’s approach to seeing and recording the world has been remarkably consistent over the course of his career. Compare Broken Window #2, California,1953 to Broken Window #3, California, 2008, or Cracked Linoleum, Nevada, 1954 to Building and Shad-
Tin Roofs, Silver City, Nevada, 1962
ow, 2012. In these works, and others, he established a figure/ground relationship. The central shapes, usually dark, float on a white field, as in Apostrophe, Pennsylvania, 1966. In most of these works it is even harder, or nearly impossible, to determine the actual subject. Without the title, would one really know what the subject is in Cracked Linoleum? This same visual dilemma is true of works where no figure/ground is established. In fact, the nature of the original subject is subverted partly because there is no figure/ground positions to help us orient ourselves. In Steps, Alameda, California, 2007 and Building and Shadow, shadows are rendered airless as dense, flat shapes against textured grays or flat whites. Again, only the title reveals the mystery. Texture itself is a subtle and enriching element in Merg’s work, one that he has employed his entire career. This is seen in Building Wall, San Francisco, 1967 [not reproduced here], Baseball Scoreboard, California, 2005 and Torn Fabric, California, 2006. Merg’s repeated emphasis on the same visual elements (high contrast, figure/ground relationships, abstraction and texture) year after year, is convincing in its dedication to a thoughtfully selected vocabulary. It represents a consistency and constancy of vision. Merg has also photographed his share of rustic buildings, sand dunes and rock formations, all staples of Group f.64. These stand as respectful homages to those who influenced him. Tin Roofs, Silver City, Nevada, 1962, serves as a tribute to Edward Weston’s Plasterworks, Los Angeles, 1925 (though the deep grays are very different from the high-key Weston piece). Torn Fabric honors Minor White’s spiritual/symbolic version of straight photography. Wynn Bullock’s penchant for contrasting human form against areas of texture, natural or manmade, is seen in the face that unexpectedly peers at us from the concrete forms of Freeway Portrait, Oakland, 1967. In the decades immediately following WWII, Merg was not the only young photographer of note in the Bay Area. Of particular interest are those who joined him as exhibitors in the Perceptions show. Most of the exhibition consisted of work by students, or former students, in a new photography program established in 1945/1946 at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Ansel Adams was the founding director, with Minor White
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Cracked Linoleum, Nevada, 1954
Apostrophe, Pennsylvania, 1966
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Baseball Scoreboard, California, 2005
Merg's repeated emphasis on the same visual elements...year after year, is convincing in its dedication to a thoughtfully selected vocabulary.
taking over after the first year. Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and Homer Page were among those who taught classes or provided guest lectures. Pirkle Jones, Rose Mandel and Charles Wong were among the many outstanding students whose works were included in the Perceptions exhibition. Needless to say, the dictums of straight photography were fundamental to the photographic training at CSFA, and the work that these students produced was a credit to the legacy of Group f.64. By the middle to late 1960s, programs at various California colleges and universities, both private and public, offered training to future photographers, but not in the traditional manner. Many students in these programs degreed in fine art, and they had no interest in pursuing the tenets of Group f.64. The most progressive teachers and students took photography in new directions: Appropriationism, New Topographics and Conceptualism, to name three. Robert Heinecken called himself a “para-photographer” and challenged the tenets of Group f.64 by appropriating sources from popular culture, manipulating images and employing unconventional processes. Lewis Baltz replaced the sweeping vistas of the grand California landscape with examinations of sterile built environments. John Baldessari humorously subverted conceptions of art and photography in conceptual
“jokes” and appropriated film stills to make “no more boring art.” The tradition of straight photography was supplanted by these movements. Unswayed by shifting winds, Merg pursued the artistic heritage into which he was born. Today, he is among the few surviving photographers who worked with, and knew personally, the founders of California’s straight photography. Merg remains a man of tradition, gentle by nature, humanist in attitude, who continues to produce tasteful, elegant photographs. As I wrote in my foreword to his recently published memoir, Beyond Casual Vision, “He is a man of restraint and discipline. His life in photography, some 60 years of it, is a study in thoughtful and sensitive observation. His [memoir] recalls his journey as a photographer, and the many interesting people whom he has met. The telling of the tale is warm, human and tender, like the man himself.” Addendum All images copyright Merg Ross. His book, Beyond Casual Vision (LensWork Publishing, 2017), can be purchased directly at www.mergross.com/book.html. His work is included in numerous private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and George Eastman House.
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Broken Window #2, California, 1953
Freeway Portrait, California, 1967
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Fractured Lampshade, Canada, 1980
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Steps, Alameda, California, 2007
Building and Shadow, 2012
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Randal Levenson: One of Us Jim Schmaltz
They are the discarded, the exploited—children of cruel gods cast out into the world to be pitied and feared. They are the sideshow freaks; men and women with physical deformities, rounded up and displayed to paying audiences who gawk at them with wonder and revulsion. You may know them by their generic stage names: the bearded lady, the four-legged girl, the living torso, lobster boy, pinhead. The attractions changed over the years, replaced by other unfortunate beings, some artificially constructed (via prosthetics and makeup), but mostly they were authentic—genetically anomalous men and women simply called freaks.
One man’s sideshow freak is another man’s friend. Ask Randal Levenson. The photographer entered the world of the traveling carnival in the 1970s, embedding himself like a member of the crew, assisting roustabouts in staking tents and unloading trucks. Raised in New England, Levenson combines a natural wanderlust with boundless curiosity, and when he got an opportunity to join this insular subculture, he settled in for the long haul. He made it just in time. In a series of images collected in the 1982 book In Search
Randal Levenson, self-portrait with Spalding Grey
of the Monkey Girl, (most recently on view at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, Calif.), Levenson captured a vanishing way of life on its final journeys through America’s small towns and state fairs. Exhibits promising freakish humans and beasts; fire eaters and sword swallowers; games and carnival rides manned by hard-bitten transients—here was an alien world constructed on the spot, appearing like a fever dream of guilty pleasures and forbidden desires. Levenson ignores the cotton candy and calliope jingles. His focus is on the poignant desolate American spirit, where the lost and restless are bound together in a makeshift community apart from the normies and their nine-to-five preoccupations. His association with traveling carnivals began in 1971. Levenson was teaching at the University of Ottawa when a friend invited him to Fryeburg, Maine, for a county fair. Fascinated by the experience, Levenson decided to delve deeper. He quickly learned that to penetrate the protective barriers of this fiercely protective community, he had to be more than a drop-in voyeur. Backed by a couple of grants, Levenson spent much of 1974-78 in various carnivals with
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Fred Luccino, “Mephisto,” Winter Quarters, Gibsonton, Florida, 1975
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Mark of the Beast, c. 1975
“They were freaks, but I photographed them as regular people. Most of them were pretty noble human beings in my experience.”
a pickup truck and “a big camera on a tripod under a dark cloth” as his only possessions. Most of the Monkey Girl collection comes from this period, save for a few shots from later years, including a collaboration with the late writer and monologist Spalding Gray, titled Stories from the 1981 Tennessee State Fair. Levenson speaks in a no-nonsense, rambling style that’s like a distillation of the American picaresque. Listening to him is like sitting next to the most interesting guy at a dive bar—unpretentious and sincere, with the rough-hewn wisdom of the well-traveled. It’s easy to see how he was able to enmesh himself into a world sealed off from most. “I’ve always been interested in how people solve life’s problems,” he says. “My camera is a means to poke my nose into people’s lives, to where I get some insights.” A Vanishing World Part of a traveling carnival is usually divided into “working acts” and “human oddities.” The former category is populated by fireeaters and strong men; the other is filled with exhibits promising flesh-and-blood monstrosities. It’s the latter group that holds the prime fascination for many fans of Levenson’s collection, but even with the human element offstage, his lens finds the aching isolation and
disconnect of carnival life. “All of my pictures have the hand of man in them,” says Levenson. In “Mark of the Beast, c. 1975” you can almost hear the voice of the barker promising a glimpse of the taboo. Much of the appeal of these exhibits is in escaping the repression demanded by restrictive American Protestantism. To enter these attractions makes you complicit in the transgression, satisfying the pent-up urge to release submerged desires. The repressed get their kicks elsewhere these days. Even the big boys of the business have ended their run. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed on May 21, 2017, no longer a draw for families mired in digital distractions and concerns over mistreatment of animals forced to cower under the trainer’s whip. Now, the circus brand is limited to multimedia productions of acrobats, clowns and mimes, performing sanitized set pieces for Las Vegas crowds. The freak show has vanished, supplanted by the Internet, where every day is a freak show, though the grotesqueries are measured more in reprehensible ideologies than physical deformities. What seemed fantastical in decades past now appears commonplace. “Fat doesn’t sell anymore,” says Levenson about the days you’d pay to look at the mor-
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Willie “Popeye” Ingram, c. 1970s
Go-Go Coaster, Inland Empire, Shelby, Montana, 1976
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bidly obese. “Now you can just see it for free at Wal-Mart.”
“The tragedy in some of their lives is that dominant gene passed on to their children who suffered from the same conditions, like Grady Stiles the Lobster Man, whose greatgrandfather had the same condition.”
Cultural Distortions Like so much else, cultural perceptions of carnival freaks were burned into the general consciousness through cinema. Freaks, filmmaker Tod Browning’s chilling 1932 horror masterpiece, cast actual sideshow performers and placed them in a twisted revenge fantasy, transforming them into beings of occult malevolence. The film endured as a cult sensation, referenced in a song by the Ramones and in episodes of The Simpsons. The chant “one of us, one of us,” an affirmation of murderous collusion, has become a hipster callback to the film’s dark undercurrent. Levenson’s portraits restore the humanity to these sideshow performers, casting them as the everyday people he came to know. His images don’t solicit pity; they avoid the cheap pathos of nature’s random carnage. “I’m taking pictures of people that I was working with, that I knew. Maybe I had played some chess with a couple of them,” he says. “They were freaks, but I photographed them as regular people. Most of them were pretty noble human beings in my experience.” He speaks of the Lobster Man and also of Popeye, the man who could push out his eyeballs at will, like everyday coworkers. Still, it took time to gain their trust. In the end, his work became a collaboration, where subjects
coveted the image almost as much as the artist. The process itself sounds like a complicated dance. “It took time to take a picture,” explains Levenson. “I needed cooperation, and if they moved half a foot one way or the other they’d be out of focus or out of the frame and I’d have to pick up and move the tripod camera and refocus.” Levenson is mostly self-taught, save for a course or two he took at the Rhode Island School of Design while at Brown University. He learned some technical aspects from Ansel Adams’ books, but his aesthetic is guided by other masters. “Walker Evans is a strong influence. I was really moved by an early show that influenced me quite a bit. He was a large-format shooter too. And Robert Frank, who I did some specialized printing for and knew from Canada and then in New York. He was a 35 millimeter guy, but I got some stuff from him.” For his Monkey Girl photos, Levenson relied on a setup almost as old as carnivals themselves. “I worked fairly deliberately with a view camera on a tripod under a dark cloth. You visualize your picture before you set the tripod down, put the camera on top of it, and set up to take a picture. It was a fairly formal, old-fashioned, 19th century getup. It served me well for black-and-white work.” All in the Family “Sometimes a certain self-consciousness would start to creep into the pictures,” says Levenson of his subjects. “As some weeks went along, and you’re talking to the acts, you learn they’re selling something, be it a little tiny Bible with some verse in it, or a picture of themselves, or a coin that’s been squeezed into a machine with an image on them. Sometimes, you were also making money for them. There’s a symbiosis in it.” These aren’t the faces of the haunted or aggrieved. These are people who have laid claim to their own personhood, who have made difficult calculations to make peace with their fate. In the end, they are like the rest of us, just trying to get along, make a buck. In the ‘80s novel Geek Love, author Katherine Dunn wrote of a family of sideshow freaks who intentionally drank poisons to create deformed children to sustain the family business. While this extended metaphor made for compelling fiction, Levenson learned that
Rum & Coke, c. 1970s
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Anna “Artoria” Gibbons, Hall and Christ Sideshow, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1976
Pete Turhune, Columbus, Ohio, 1979
Bruce Snowden, Columbus, Ohio, 1977
“World's Smallest Mother” with Ed Bennett, Ohio, 1976
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World's Largest Steer, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1974
“The real old-timey sideshows with the freaks, they don’t exist anymore. I miss it, but the road is still in front of me.”
passing on birth defects was a source of great pain for many of the subjects he photographed. “The tragedy in some of their lives is that dominant gene passed on to their children who suffered from the same conditions, like Grady Stiles the Lobster Man, whose greatgrandfather had the same condition. His young daughter and son also had the same condition. They’ve had operations to try to provide means for them to walk and have a more normal life. That was a tragic element they were dealing with.” Browning’s Freaks has an unforgettable scene where an armless, legless man named the “human torso” slithers on his stomach with a dagger in his mouth toward his victim. The slithering torso was played by Prince Randian, a real-life sideshow performer, who spoke several languages, was happily married and fathered four children. The “human cigar,” as he was sometimes called, was a devoted family man. You see a family ethos in “World’s Smallest Mother and Ed Bennett, Ohio, 1976” and “Bob and Virginia Melvin, Fargo, North Dakota, 1976.” These are moments of warmth,
acceptance, kinship. Freaks: they’re just like us. And sometimes yesterday’s freaks are today’s Instagram sensations. “One exhibit promised a woman so marked and maimed by a jealous husband, no other man would ever want to see her,” remembers Levenson. What were her injuries? Tattoos. “At the time, under New York State law, tattooing was defined as marking and maiming, so what they were selling was the truth, but not quite what people had in mind in the picture that was being drawn in their heads. That was all part of the carnival.” Ride Jocks, Carnies and Lost Souls The everyday laborers of the traveling carnival were a varied bunch, occupying their own social strata. You had carnies, roustabouts, 40 milers and ride jocks. “Rides and games are different from sideshows,” says Levenson. “That’s a different culture within the carnival itself. I found the carnies to be really intelligent people, especially in regards to human psychology, some of the sharpest people I’ve encountered in my life.
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Alice Kendrick and Blade Box, Murphy Brothers Shows, Nashville, Tennessee, 1981
Stripper, Fargo, North Dakota, 1976
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“The ride jocks, they were different. They were living hard, probably using speed and whatnot. That was a different crew altogether. Some were the younger ones who ran away from home. They were more like lost souls. I didn’t hang with the ride jocks.” One senses more alienation in Levenson’s photos of the standard carnival attractions than in the portraits of the sideshow performers. In “Go-Go Coaster, Inland Empire, Shelby Montana, 1976,” an attendant with a thousand-mile stare stands in wait, radiating the cuddly approachability of Cerberus guarding the Underworld. A young boy sits in a cart looking out at the ride through the bars of the gate. The ride is stopped dead. The sky emits a soft glow as a darkening gloom invades like a warning. Levenson guesses that the ride attendant was a temporary worker. “He was probably more of a 40 miler than a regular carny,” says Levenson. He explains the difference between a 40 miler and a ride jock. “A 40 miler’s somebody that is new that season, been down the road only 40 miles.” He points to his photo “Rum & Coke” as an example of a ride jock. “A wiry guy with his shirt off and over one nipple it says rum and over the other nipple it says coke,” says Levenson describing the photo, as if still marveling at the existence of the man. “I like that picture. That was for me a Walker Evans kind of picture.” Moving On These days Levenson is working on a
Roughie on Merry-Go-Round, King’s Shadows, Woodbridge, Ontario, 1974
series he did along the Tennessee River where Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama come together. This new project concerns a subculture just as forbidding as that of the traveling carnival. “I’m working with the people who live along the river and up in the hills,” says Levenson. “Loggers, moonshiners, snake-handling ministers and whatnot.” He misses the sideshow, and has stayed in touch with some of the performers over the years. Occasionally he would visit them at their homes, including Pete Moore, World’s Smallest Man. “He had a place in Wetumpka, Alabama, and also had an Amoco Station on the interstate,” says Levenson, fondly. With every death comes a more permanent erasure. The circus, the carnival, the sideshow attractions— they are lost to the past, like rotary phones and hassle-free air travel. “The real old-timey sideshows with the freaks, they don’t exist anymore,” says Levenson. “I miss it, but the road is still in front of me. I’m still out there, still working on a tripod, using more 21st century technology, but still working on a tripod. It’s been an interesting journey so far. It’s not over yet.” Addendum All photographs copyright Randal Levenson. Visit www.randallevenson.com to explore his other projects. Special thanks to the Joseph Bellows Gallery (www.josephbellows.com) for kindly providing images for this feature.
Bob and Virginia Melvin, Fargo, North Dakota, 1976
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Morris, Hawkesbury, Ontario, 1977
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“The not-so-obvious, not-so-clear pictures are the most interesting ones to me.”
Fact File Oliver Stegmann Bachenbülach, Switzerland oliverstegmann.com email@example.com Prints on Crane Museo Silver Rag fine art paper are available at 13 x 19 inches for $300, and 17 x 22 inches for $400.
Oliver Stegmann Portfolio Contest Winner
No matter where his travels take him— India, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil—Oliver Stegmann has a knack for fitting into disparate environments, earning the trust of his subjects and capturing images of uncommon depth, insight and empathy. Influenced initially by classic documentary photographers, he started to develop his own visual imprint when he realized that it wasn’t enough to just create a series of images to describe a place or event. Each photograph had to be strong and interesting enough to stand on its own. “I asked myself why I liked particular images and what they have in common,” he explains. “I figured out that it always came down to a surprise, a question, an uncertainty. It can be a look, a single element, a subject that doesn’t fit its surroundings. The not-soobvious, not-so-clear pictures are the most interesting ones to me.” While this ambiguity manifests in many of Stegmann’s photographs, that’s not to say that they don’t tell stories, merely that they tend to be open-ended narratives that can go in multivalent directions. What’s unmistakable is the strong sense of community and commonality Stegmann evokes in his work, which is one reason he likes to photograph rituals. “Although you can find rituals all over the world and they have certain aspects in common—they usually follow strict rules and processes—they are a good representation of the culture of a particular place and its people. Rituals ask and symbolize the basic questions of human existence. Rituals help people handle complex life situations. Rituals are very exciting and have become a thread connecting much of my work.” Stegmann possessed a keen sense of curiosity as a child and developed a love of travel from an early age. He feels it is important to have some sort of connection to the places and people he photographs; he always arrives in a different country with some idea of what he wants to document based on research into events, ceremonies and other types of social gatherings. Although he’s an obvious outsider in some countries, he finds ways to allay potential mistrust.
“It depends on the situation,” he says. “Often there is the language barrier. If you cannot communicate verbally, the time spent with people is automatically reduced. However, establishing trust so that you can take pictures does not always require verbal communication. A smile or a look or sign language can do the job. The longer you stay and the more interest you show, the more access you get. Good pictures happen when people no longer pay attention to you. In most cases, it’s a kind of collaboration between the subjects and me.” Stegmann is thus able to capture interpersonal drama (“O Capitão”), complex social groupings (“Keep on Watching”), private reverie (“Swirling”) and unusual visual perspectives (“Candles”)—the latter taken in Bahia during the festivities for Yemanja, the goddess of the sea. “Before sunrise, worshippers pay homage to her by lighting candles at the beach. When the sun is out, they throw flowers and other gifts into the sea and pray for her. I liked the naked feet, the white dresses and the candles—they almost form an entity. This particular framing makes the photo more mysterious than if I had also included their faces.” Born in Basel, Switzerland, Stegmann took what he calls his first “serious pictures” at the age of 18. Although he graduated college with an economics degree and works in the upper levels of the automotive industry, he has dedicated himself to documentary and street photography in his spare time. He continually strives to improve his skills, and has participated in workshops by the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, Ernesto Bazan and Anders Petersen. He found the latter to be particularly inspirational. “I met Anders in 2009 and took a workshop with him in 2016. It’s very interesting to learn how he makes contact with his subjects. In his workshops, he challenges you to break out of your comfort zone and enter ‘new doors.’ It’s about being in touching distance with your subjects when you photograph them and being able to reveal what’s behind the mask.” — Dean Brierly
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Candles, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
Swirling, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
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Getting Prepared, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
O CapitaĚƒo, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
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Candomble Dance, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
Keep on Watching, Bahia, Brazil, 2015
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“Going back to photography’s roots, to the darkroom and alternative techniques, has been the most inspiring.”
Fact File Ursula Lelen Des Plaines, Illinois ursulalelen.com ursula@ursulalelen. com Original cyanotypes in color, limited edition 14 x 20 inches, Arches paper 300 gsm: $690. Digital prints: color or b&w printed on Hannemuhle Photo Rag paper, 13 x 19 inches: $350
Ursula Lelen Portfolio Contest Winner
One can usually spot a trained painterturned-photographer by the methods she employs to alter a photographic image. Instead of hidebound obedience to the triumvirate of camera, negative and unmanipulated print, the process of making a photograph becomes merely a starting point for her concept. Such is the case of Ursula Lelen, whose interest in art began early and flourished in high school and university by gaining fluency in the language of drawing, sculpting, ceramics, graphics and her mainstay, painting. Some years after graduation Lelen took a summer workshop and discovered that photography would fulfill an unrealized aspect of her creative drive. “What started out as a trivial pursuit had soon grown into my number one priority,” she says. “Not a day went by without me grabbing my camera and snapping away. I was fascinated by nature, by seasons, people, everyday life and everything else that surrounded me. A summer class had become a mere prelude to what was about to happen. Going back to photography’s roots, to the darkroom and alternative techniques, has been the most inspiring.” Lelen’s embrace of the medium’s roots became the basis for images that have been rendered with a painter’s hand and sensibility. It was in these two bodies of work, depicted here, Upside Down—Two Poles and Right Side Up—Infinity that she found the alternative process of cyanotyping to be a good technical and expressive fit. “I initially planned to use the Van Dyke process, but I soon learned that I was allergic to some of the chemical ingredients it required. Cyanotype is a gentle method, and it also allows me to combine elements of painting and photography. Each sheet of paper is first brushed by hand with a light-sensitive photo emulsion. It creates beautiful brush strokes that make each photo look like a painting, adding uniqueness and softness to the final effect. In addition, cyanotypes allow for bleaching and color change, which add an element of randomness and unpredictability because it is a fully manual process.”
Both bodies of works are a meditation on the mercurial nature of human relationships: Upside Down addresses the most challenging aspects of marriage, while Right Side Up expresses the joys of togetherness. Upside Down was exclusively derived using a digital camera, while Right Side Up employed digital camera imagery combined, at times, with scanned Holga camera negatives. Both series act as poetic and surreal metaphors for the various aspects of bonding and separateness. When one sees these two bodies of work it becomes instantly apparent that they, like lovers, are inextricably bound together. This happens through the use of brush strokes, uneven boarders and the toned Cyanotype coloration. (They have been converted to black and white for this article.) And although each series uses male and female models as standins for Lelen’s concepts, their use in the two series is decidedly different. The photographs that constitute Right Side Up utilize the human form to express harmony and tenderness, as seen in the images “Sun-Moon” and “Tree.” The figures entwine, becoming one, yet still retain their separate identities. This series is romantic in tone and in image, calming and steadfast in its depiction of love. Upside Down uses truncation and unexpected overlays in the visual use of the body. The images are mysterious, unsettling and confrontational. We see this in the two images “Updraft” and “Emptiness.” It’s interesting to note that while Right Side Up portrays restful and harmonious interactions, the more compelling imagery is reflected by Upside Down’s more disturbing images. This is due no doubt to the upsetting emotions they depict. However, it also seems to be a comment on our need to sometimes subvert or even undo a relationship that is working or seems “too good to be true.” It takes the subtle hand of an artist like Lelen to remind us of the highs and lows that inevitably dog even the most solid-seeming relationships. — Larry Lytle
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Upside Down, Emptiness, Des Plaines, IL, 2015
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Upside Down, Updraft, Des Plaines, IL, 2015
Right Side Up, Tree, Des Plaines, IL, 2015
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Right Side Up, Roots, Des Plaines, IL, 2015
Right Side Up, Sun-Moon, Des Plaines, IL, 2015
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“I was intrigued by the way commercial fashion advertising was integrated into the city environment.”
Fact File Eric Dellenberger Klamath Falls, Oregon fotojolt.com firstname.lastname@example.org Please contact the photographer for print size and price information.
Eric Dellenberger Portfolio Contest Winner
Although Eric Dellenberger explores an eclectic array of genres and themes, he doesn’t seem interested in using photography to express a message. His images, though, do tend to provoke thought. One of the salient characteristics of his work is his ability to see, and deftly record, things that appear not to belong in a particular setting. Like, for instance, sex. Well, not the physical act, but in the photographs presented here, Dellenberger has captured the incongruity of highly sexualized advertising imagery on city streets throughout Italy, Spain and Portugal. We’re accustomed to seeing such visuals in magazines and on television, to the oversaturated point where the sexual iconography barely registers, but it’s a different matter to engage with them in the outdoor urban settings Dellenberger has captured. You can always turn the page of a magazine or switch to another TV channel, but when you’re confronted with a life-size or larger ad—like the notorious Calvin Klein billboards of the early 1990s—it’s a different matter. The public nature of such content makes it more provocative, challenging and harder to avoid. And yet, Dellenberger in this series isn’t necessarily alluding to the cultural commodification of women. “It’s more about the prevalence of advertising in today’s world,” he insists. “In this case, mainly fashion advertising. They may use pictures of women, but they are also selling to women. Whether advertising in public places is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the viewer.” While to some people these types of ads merely confirm the objectification of women, the strength and independence—not to mention the sexual assertiveness—of the female models in the advertisements can also be read in terms of empowerment and emancipation. There’s humor in this series as well, as in the image that surreally juxtaposes statues at the base of the Column of the Immaculate Conception in Rome with a huge Fendi poster of a sexually liberated young couple, who seem to gently mock the religious icons without being profane.
Dellenberger’s nuanced perspective—aided by his spontaneous, nonjudgmental visualization of these posters—forces us to look beyond the easy stereotypes and dig deeper into what these images are saying and how they fit or or don’t fit into the public sphere. “While traveling in these countries I was intrigued by the way commercial fashion advertising was integrated into the city environment—whether juxtaposed with ancient monuments or with more contemporary settings. Like McDonald’s, advertising certainly seems to be everywhere. Is this devolution? Is it another form of public art? Side by side you can see old and new, commercial and historical, but also ephemerality and permanence. Ads come and go, while buildings endure.” Dellenberger became interested in photography while attending UC Berkeley School of Design. He delved deep into the technical aspects of the medium (high contrast, push development, reticulation, etc.) while pulling all-nighters shooting on the streets of San Francisco. He maintained a black-and-white darkroom for many years while working in the manufacturing industry. The advent of digital inspired him to work mainly, but not exclusively, in color. “Black and white establishes a certain mood in a photograph. It can be somber, eerie, stark in a way that color cannot, more a reflection than a documentation.” Dellenberger, who has lived for past 30 years in Oregon with his wife, Tess (also an artist), believes that art is created by man and nature, by birth, death and decay. “What makes one image great and another uninteresting? It’s in the eye of the beholder. I like the feel of certain scenes, so I capture them with my own sense of composition. Some subjects, like graffiti and mural art and even advertising, which are relatively shortlived, I feel compelled to document. I always shoot what I like and rarely shoot images that I could find on a postcard.” — Dean Brierly
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Parma, Italy, 2014
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Rome, Italy, 2004
Evora, Portugal, 2016
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Turin, Italy, 2014
The Book, Detroit, 2016
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Jan Bell Single Image Winner LANDSCAPE/NATURE
Jan Bell Bowling Green, OH bellimages.com email@example.com
Balance Rock, 2017
My photography reveals an intimate view of the natural world, reaching into the subtle beauty within a form. A love of the wilderness has been a constant throughout my life. This love of the land, coupled with a love of fine art photography, came together when I ran across this balanced rock. The harsh land00
scape of Joshua Tree National Park is dotted with jumbles of large rocks and many individual Joshua Trees. â€œBalance Rockâ€? presents two unrelated objects, distinct from their surroundings, seemingly supporting one another. It was this juxtaposition that drew my eye to this symbiotic composition.
Some heavy hitters in this one: Roman Loranc, Merg Ross, Randal Levenson, Yair Agmon, Michael Wilson featured. See their work and be enthral...
Published on Jul 21, 2018
Some heavy hitters in this one: Roman Loranc, Merg Ross, Randal Levenson, Yair Agmon, Michael Wilson featured. See their work and be enthral...