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Houston Center for Photography
HCP’s 2012-2013 Supporters Fall 2012
Editor Bevin Bering Dubrowski Managing Editor Susie Kalil Copy Editor Tanita Gumney Founding Editor Emeritus David Crossley HCP Publications Committee Jeff DeBevec, Chair, Poppi Massey, Ed Osowski, Madeline Yale Design Antonio Manega, Gazer Design Printing Masterpiece Litho spot Web Design SINAPPS spot is published twice yearly, in conjunction with the fiscal year of Houston Center for Photography. Subscriptions are $13 per year (two issues). Subscriptions are free to HCP members. spot is a journal of independent opinions published by Houston Center for Photography as one of its many services to the photographic community. The ideas expressed do not represent positions of Houston Center for Photography’s administration or membership and are solely the opinions of the writers and contributors. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. No portion of spot may be reproduced without the permission of Houston Center for Photography. Captions are based upon known information of the photograph. In cases where print type and medium are not listed, the image provider has noted these as variable. Houston Center for Photography’s mission is to increase society’s understanding and appreciation of photography and its evolving role in contemporary culture. Houston Center for Photography strives to encourage artists, build audiences, stimulate dialogue and promote inquiry about photography and related media through education, exhibitions, publications, fellowship programs and community collaboration. For details about membership or advertising, contact Houston Center for Photography: Houston Center for Photography 1441 West Alabama, Houston, Texas 77006 Telephone: 713.529.4755 Fax: 713.529.9248 E-mail: email@example.com Visit us online: www.hcponline.org Executive Director Bevin Bering Dubrowski Director of Education Juliana Forero Curator Libbie J. Masterson Programs Assistant Caroline Docwra Membership and Administrative Coordinator Rebecca Rossmann Lead Workshop Instructor Theresa Escobedo Finance Administrator Sean Yarborough Education Assistant Theresa Escobedo Learning Center Associate Galina Kurlat Outreach Associate Felisa Prieto Gallery Associates Bradon Dimit, Felisa Prieto Amanda Shackleford Interns Julia Davila, Brandon Dimit, Os Galindo, Arielle Gutierrez, Eric Holst, Irina Lingard, Madison McBurney, Analissa Moreno, Rena Suzuki
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From Darkroom to Street Kitchen Sophy Rickett catches up with David Robinson
The Love Doll Nels Highberg meets with Laurie Simmons
Banta Cliffs + Gama Caves Natalie Zelt and Osamu James Nakagawa
Compulsion and La Petite Mort Amanda Maddox speaks with Alex Prager about her new series
On Photographic Manipulators and Techno-gadgetry April Rapier and Roy Flukinger chat about a medium in constant transition
spotlight Christopher Rauschenberg writes about David Politzer and Isa Leshko
opposite: Laurie Simmons The Love Doll/ Day 25 (The Jump), The Love Doll 2010. Fuji Matte print 70 x 52.5 inches. Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY cover: Alex Prager Eye #9 (Passenger Casualties), 2012 (detail) 20 x 23 inches - Ed. of 6. © Alex Prager 2012, Courtesy of the artist and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles
CALL FOR ENTRIES HOUSTON CENTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
2013 FELLOWSHIPS Juried by W.M. Hunt
Collector, Curator and Consultant (New York, NY)
Deadline for submissions: November 5, 2012 at Midnight For information visit www.hcponline.org 2
IMAGE: David Politzer (Houston, TX), 2012 Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship Recipient, Ranger Station, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, 2011. From the series When Youâ€™re Out There. Chromogenic print, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
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P H OTOGRA P H Y
Save t h e Dat e !
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Print Auction Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 6pm at The Junior League of Houston Nici Jost (Zurich, Switzerland), Peter Pan Against Pinocchio, 2012 From the series Pink Project, Lamda print on Aluminum, 19.6 x 29.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Balzer Art Projects (Basel, Switzerland) www.nicijost.com, www.balzer-art-projects.ch. Retail Value: $2,000 spot |
From the Editors Photography – as it is to many of you – is a source of joy for me. Through photography I am able to see places, people, cultures, and creations that I will never be able to experience in person, or that could not exist without the medium itself. I tend to look at the positive aspects of photography – it can engage, transform, disturb, educate. It enables us to turn inward to explore ourselves and also connects us to each other. However, a Houston criminal case involving photography recently made my heart sink. A high school coach was arrested for saving over a thousand photographs and videos of child pornography on his home computer. It hit close to home because I know the alleged criminal. I went to high school with him, and we became friends through our mutual interest in sports and music. Photography can be shared more rapidly than ever before—and this is something I tend to celebrate and encourage. Hearing how this quick dissemination can be used for such a dark purpose is a hard subject to cope with. It has urged me to think about the choices we make when we take photographs. Clearly, the case above is one of the worst examples of misuse of photography, but other minor infractions exist all around us. The thoughtful photographer recognizes this, and is sensitive as to when to photograph, and when it’s time to put down the camera to help, listen, or just be. One such thoughtful photographer is Isa Leshko. She’s HCP’s Fellowship winner this year, and during her artist talk, Leshko spoke about her decision to make the series Elderly Animals. She was caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and the topic of aging was constantly on her mind. Her ethics were holding her back though—how could Leshko photograph her mother when she could not clearly grant permission to document the disease? Leshko decided she could not, and chose to tell the story of aging with dignity through her compassionate studies of animals. You can see one of Leshko’s images and read Christopher Rauschenberg’s words about her work on page thirty-seven. The fact that HCP’s mission was written in 1981 regularly intrigues me – it’s remarkable that a group of people sat down thirty years ago and decided that Houston needs an organization that will increase society’s understanding and appreciation of photography and its evolving role in contemporary culture. That mission has never been more important than it is today. Millions of photographs are created each day. Photographic education and debate over its future is absolutely crucial right now. Right before our eyes photography is undergoing a revolution that may have a larger impact than we can imagine. Digital technology is transforming how we look at images and also opens the door for new ways of creation and publishing. We have to address the issues that will arise from this, and how we as a society will act responsibly. How do we deal with images right now and how is our perception of photography changing? How will this impact the future mission of HCP? We are responding every day in the best way we know possible – through education, dialogue, and support of thoughtful actions. –Bevin Bering Dubrowski HCP Executive Director and spot Editor
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The varied techniques and backgrounds of the four artists and curator interviewed for this issue represent the diversity of photography today. Each parses urgent questions about representation, propaganda, truth and reality. All of them recognize photography as something fluid, producing works that draw connections between how we interpret imagery in the digital realm, where visual information is in a constant state of growth and evolution. Artists are recasting photography as a trans-disciplinary phenomenon encompassing painting, sculpture, performance, film and even the culinary realm. It’s an exciting time to be in the field. Roy Flukinger’s discussion of a rich array of photographers reaffirms that there is no simple way to sum up the medium. His vast experience provides valuable insights regarding “where we’ve been and where we’re going.” Osamu James Nakagawa’s digitally manipulated, hyper-real visions of precipitous Banta cliffs and Gama caves serve as a metaphor for Okinawa’s traumatic history. David Robinson’s recent series of luminograms combines a long-standing interest in the alchemic mysteries of the photographic process, a thriving mushroom business and street kitchen. Alex Prager’s intentionally loaded narratives expose the inner lives of the images of women that bombard and shape us at every turn. Her photographs and films upend the way men see women, the way women see themselves, the way we all see ourselves. Laurie Simmons’ riveting images of a life-size sex doll underscore female attractiveness as pure commodity. For her, the question of desire is bound up with that of identity: who, how and what we desire determines who, how and what we are. That tantalizing sense of mystery and uneasiness are similar emotions readers may feel when they examine the images included in this issue. These photographers aren’t afraid to push us out of our comfort zones, searing images into our minds with unusual power. –Susie Kalil spot Managing Editor
Natalie Zelt was the curatorial assistant for photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from 2009-2012. While there, she cocurated and co-authored WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, with Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will Michels and curated collections exhibitions including Public Dress. She began the Ph.D program in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin this fall 2012.
© Geoff Moore 2012
Christopher Rauschenberg has photographed in nearly every corner of the planet. His work has been the subject of nearly 100 exhibitions throughout the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Untied States and Yugoslavia. He is the co-founder, co-curator and board chairman of Blue Sky Gallery, where for more than 34 years he has co-curated and co-produced 650 solo exhibitions and 45 group shows. Chris is also the co-founder and past president of Photolucida, as well as co-founder and member of the co-op Nine Gallery. He has edited and produced some 60 art and photography publications.
Osamu James Nakagawa was born in New York City, raised in Tokyo, Japan and returned to Houston, Texas at the age of 15. He received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Houston. His photographs are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. Nakagawa lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is an associate professor of photography at the Henry Radford Hope School of Art at Indiana University.
Roy Flukinger is the Senior Research Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. He publishes, lectures, produces exhibitions and serves as the chief resource individual for the Photography Department, which holds some five million images, including the famous Gernsheim Collection. He also teaches, serves on numerous boards and serves as a juror, consultant and reviewer for many art and photography institutions. April Rapier received a Master of Fine Art, Photography from Rhode Island School of Design in 1979. She is a founding member of HCP.
Alex Prager is a self-taught photographer who lives and works in Los Angeles. Featured in MoMA’s. New Photography 2010, Prager’s work has been exhibited at institutions worldwide. Additionally, her photographs are in the permanent collection of several major museums, including MoMA, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, among others. Amanda Maddox is assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Sophy Rickett is an artist working mainly with photography and video installation. Solo exhibitions include Arnolfini, Bristol, UK; De La War Pavilion, Bexhill, UK; Nichido Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. In 2005, a monograph documenting ten years of her photographic work was published by Steidl/Photoworks. Rickett is represented by Brancolini Grimaldi, London. David Robinson is a Northern Irish artist based in London. Formerly production manager at Magnum Photos, London, his work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, PDN, Photo-Eye and Creative Review. He is also co-founder of Sporeboys, a celebrated mushroom street-food kitchen.
Nels Highberg is an associate professor and chair of Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Hartford where he also serves as interim chair of Cinema. Since the mid 70s, Laurie Simmons has staged scenes for her camera with dolls, ventriloquist dummies, mannequins and occasionally people, to create images with intensely psychological subtexts. Her photographic-based works are collected by many museums internationally. She is represented by Salon 94 in New York. Simmons lives and works in New York City and Cornwall, Connecticut with her husband, the painter Carroll Dunham.
From darkroom to street kitchen
David Robinson’s new series of luminograms furthers his long-standing interest in the alchemic mysteries of the photographic process. These beautifully intricate, playful and at times surreal works evoke other worlds, full of magic, menace and a mischievous sense of humour. We met in his London studio, to discuss how he developed this innovative process and the new lease of life it has breathed into his practice.
David Robinson’s breakthrough series began by chopping mushrooms Sophy Rickett: This is an unusual process, but one that you have committed to and that’s clear not least in that you have become very accomplished at it, developing your technique and varying your strategy, depending on the image in hand – I wondered how it came about. David Robinson: My background is in graphic design, photography and also printing – I worked for several years with Magnum photographers, printing their work and also making my own photographic projects, often in a documentary style, but other work, for example my series Wonderland was much more planned. There’s so much I love about photography, about making pictures. I especially like the printing side of it; spending time in the darkroom was always an important part of my process, but I’d been working in the same way for years and things had become too formulaic. Basically I felt stuck. I’d lost my enthusiasm for photography, probably because I’d become afraid of doing something different, of breaking out of the corner I’d painted myself into. Partly out of frustration and also from a straightforward need to shake things up a bit and do something different, I started a mushroom business. That took me away from the darkroom and threw me into a completely different world – of early morning markets, street food stalls, music festivals, 6
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etc. It was exhausting, but in retrospect amazing because it gave me a break from actively thinking about photography. Before, I’d often think how great it would be to start afresh, but nothing ever felt quite right – and then slowly, in this really natural way and almost unconsciously, I started making links between this new way of life and all those years I’d spent with my photography. SR: It sounds like on some level you were looking for a way of reconciling these two aspects of your life – the pragmatics of your mushroom day job with an instinct to make things or respond creatively… DR: In the early days of the business, I’d have to get up ridiculously early and would be by myself, outside in my makeshift street kitchen, chopping mushrooms at 5am or something. Maybe it would be dark, I’d have a lot of time to think… it was like a dream space, very quiet and intimate. My mind would wander. And in a kind of lucid, spontaneous way, I’d make little designs. I’d chop a mushroom that looked interesting in some way and I’d keep it to one side and then later maybe see a story in the news and make a connection between the two. I found myself experimenting more and more – not with any clear sense of where it was going or what the outcome would be, just really enjoying the feeling of being creative again, with no sense of it being judged – no sense of an audience – just making things for making things sake…
â€œSo the act of making the prints causes the destruction of the original.â€? previous page: David Robinson Fungi Luminogram #12 From the series Fungi Luminograms 2011, C-Type 7.5 x 10 inches Unique image Courtesy of the artist
below: David Robinson Fungi Luminogram #10 From the series Fungi Luminograms 2010, C-Type 7.5 x 7.5 inches Unique image Courtesy of the artist
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of stories from all these different sources. The continuity for me is to revisit these very disparate stories – to create a visual representation, using this very specific palette of colours, shapes and textures – which of course I’m developing all the time. SR: There’s a lightness in the way you speak about it, which is very refreshing… DR: Yes! And the process itself means I have to work quickly – not because I have a deadline, but because the technicalities of making the images, by which I mean cutting the mushrooms and then shining a bright light through them to make the exposure is the thing that’s responsible for their destruction. So the act of making the prints causes the destruction of the original. It gives a kind of urgency and also means I can only make one or two prints – so each print is almost like an original. It’s as if the inspiration for the work (the news) and the materials I use (mushrooms) are as fleeting, ephemeral and transient as each other. SR: It sounds like a great contrast with the series of photographs you made for Wonderland where for each image you’d have to get on a plane and fly to a specific place, maybe a theme park in Florida or a golf course in Cape Town or somewhere – all that effort for just one picture. This new process allows you to respond in a more immediate way. DR: Yes, each day there is something new – my whole engagement with it is different – it’s spontaneous and much freer, so quite liberating.
SR: So stories you encountered in the news functioned as starting points for some of the images – that’s an interesting take on the documentary form. DR: I know. On one level there’s an absurdity to it – but at the same time I like how that context gives me a kind of loose framework, yet also allows the work to be spontaneous. I think being on the street, on the mushroom stall, has made me engage with life in a much more open and impulsive way – something about the ebb and flow of it, the busy times and the quiet times – the familiar faces and the strangers – it’s so vibrant and of course is firmly based in a particular locality – but I think there’s something bigger about it, something more universal. I found myself becoming more interested in news events. My iPad lets me access these different news sites that I would never have thought of buying from the newsagent. I’d pick up stories from places other than the BBC or The Guardian – CNN maybe or Aljazera and then I’d follow them through the day as they developed. If a story resonated for whatever reason, I’d save it – and then realized I was building up a kind of archive
The photogram/luminogram process itself is of course not a new one and for some time I have admired other work made using these techniques. In 2007 some of my images from Wonderland were included in the group show Picturing Eden at George Eastman House, alongside works by Adam Fuss and Susan Derges. More recently the 2010 Victoria and Albert exhibition Shadow Catchers celebrated the importance of camera-less processes. It was around this time that I began to experiment with my mushrooms in this way. SR: Some of them are incredibly intricate – the X-ray of the hand seems uncannily real. DR: I produced that one by carving each bone out of a separate mushroom stem. It was based on an X-ray my wife had of her hand – I faithfully reproduced it – bone by bone – and it became the Mushroom Picker’s hand. And that has since become the cover of my children’s book, The Mushroom Picker.
above, top: David Robinson Fungi Luminogram #7 From the series Fungi Luminograms 2011, C-Type 10 x 7.5 inches Unique image Courtesy of the artist
above, bottom: David Robinson Fungi Luminogram #6 From the series Fungi Luminograms 2011, C-Type 9.5 x 7.5 inches Unique image Courtesy of the artist and a private collection
SR: How did the book come about?
SR: Apart from the book, what are your plans?
DR: I guess I just let my mind wander…. I’ve combined what I’ve learnt about mushrooms along the way – their names, how to cook them and where to find them, with something completely made up, so it’s ended up as this very surreal mixture of fantasy and reality. I imagined a story, where a mushroom princess, Penny Bun and her friends conspire to escape the evil mushroom picker’s grasp (that’s me!) by building a rocket and flying to outer space. So there’s an adventure story for the kids, but also some “science bits” at the end – so in time honoured fashion, I have tried to make it appeal to adults and children alike!
DR: I’ve been experimenting with working at a larger scale. Recently I made a picture that looks like a wave at night. It’s quite abstract, but at the same time has an amazing level of detail and texture. Overall I have really enjoyed developing this process – I like the feeling of becoming more and more familiar with it, but also continually being surprised by the results I get – and while that element of surprise keeps grabbing me, I’m going to keep going and see where it takes me…
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The Mushroom Picker by David Robinson will be published in the UK by Violette Editions in Fall 2012.
David Robinson Fungi Luminogram #32 From the series Fungi Luminograms 2010, C-Type 11 x 4.5 inches Unique image Courtesy of the artist
David Robinson is a Northern Irish artist based in London. Formerly production manager at Magnum Photos, London, he continues to create analogue hand prints for a variety of artists from his studio darkroom in East London. Over the past decade, his photographic work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, PDN, Photo-Eye and Creative Review. His previous publications include Golfers (Glass, 2000), Wonderland (GenerationYacht, 2003) and Lee Valley Leisure (GenerationYacht, 2005). His work was selected for inclusion in Picturing Eden (Steidl/George Eastman House, 2007) and he co-created The Official Extreme Golf Manual (Barrons, 2007). He has had solo shows in London and Belfast and work included in various touring group exhibitions. Passionate about food, especially fungi, he is also co-founder of Sporeboys, a celebrated mushroom street-food kitchen.
Sophy Rickett is an artist working mainly with photography and video installation. More recently she has begun to use text as part of her practice. Solo exhibitions include Arnolfini, Bristol, UK; De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, UK; Nichido Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. Group exhibitions include 54th Venice Biennale, Italy; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Centre Rhenan dâ€™Art Contemporain, Alsace, France; Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Il Museo di Trento, Italy. In 2005 a monograph documenting 10 years of her photographic work was published by Steidl/ Photoworks. She is currently working on an associateship at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK. Rickett is represented by Brancolini Grimaldi, London.
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Laurie Simmons' Role Plays: Love, Sex, Desire
Since the 1970s, Laurie Simmons’ photographic eye has focused on the manufactured bodies of dolls and ventriloquist dummies in a range of domestic settings from dollhouses to actual rooms in her home. She has recently completed The Love Doll, a series of photographs featuring a life-sized sex doll from Japan sitting, standing and even swimming at the Cornwall, Connecticut, home she shares with her husband, the painter Carroll Dunham.
Nels P. Highberg: Where did The Love Doll originate? Laurie Simmons: I’ve been dealing with photographing dolls, surrogates, mannequins and paper cutouts for my entire photographic career. In 2006, I had finished a movie called The Music of Regret, which left me very unsettled and wishing for a fresh start. After I shot the movie, I started downloading free porn from the Internet because I wanted to start all over and the way to start over is with girls without clothes without evidence of a time frame, just absolutely like a re-birth with girls in their “birthday suits,” nakedness in its purist form. In a sense, I was starting over. I found a place where I had been when I had started my work in the mid-70s, only now I had the Internet. I had these girls. I had newer dollhouses with empty rooms. It felt like a way to include something I hadn’t included before. This was around 2007. I see them now almost as premonitions, these drawings in preparation for going to Japan and finding this love doll. Maybe my antennae were up when I got to Japan in 2009. I was in a Manga bookstore with one of my daughters looking at comic books and she found a tiny little poster of a doll in a schoolgirl dress and said, “Look, look at this.” We went back to the hotel room and did some research, some Googling and found a showroom in Tokyo that was actually selling these life-sized sex dolls. That’s how I found them.
Laurie Simmons The Love Doll/Day 11 (Yellow), The Love Doll 2010, Fuji Matte print 70 x 47 inches. Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY
NPH: It definitely seems you like to deal with contradictions. You talk about starting with images in pornography but putting them in dollhouse rooms. And we’re sitting here in what many would call a quintessential New England home, yet you take photos of Japanese sex dolls here. How conscious were you of these contradictions when you were putting it together? Or have they grown over time? LS: It’s such a great question because what you’re calling the contradictions are the inherent limitations with the way I work. When I started to work, there was no digital world. There was only putting a doll in a dollhouse or pairing a figure with furniture. Things didn’t necessarily match scale-wise. Things didn’t necessarily match light-wise because I was dealing with studio light and natural light. In order to make myself have a strong belief in what I was doing, I had to ignore what you’re calling the contradictions and decide that this was a reality I could convince others to believe. I think what you’re calling the contradictions and what I’m referring to as the inherent limitations are actually, in the end, what make my work my own work. Maybe the fact that I had a blind eye to that is what gives my work its edge, its dark underside. spot
To catch up to the present: by the time the Asian love doll, which is basically a very, very beautifully-articulated masturbation tool, arrives at my new house – which I’ve waited my entire life to own or afford – I am completely oblivious to the contradictions and it all seems absolutely fine. NPH: You call what you were doing with the Internet after the film a “re-birth.” Do you think it was you starting to deal with the digital? Even though the digital has been around, was it you starting to work with this proliferation of images? LS: Again it’s a great question because I hadn’t thought about that. Usually, I use as few tools as I can to help me because I am afraid of compromising what I intend to do. There was a point when I realized I could download any image I wanted from the Internet and also download any pair of woman’s legs I wanted and combine anything I wanted. I realized I couldn’t go there, that it would end up being some kind of collage that looked like it came out of the world of illustration or commercial art. Even though I am digitally savvy, digitally aware and have no resistance to what the Internet has brought us, I knew I couldn’t go there in my work. In terms of this kind of re-birth, I think the most important thing to me was closing the door on thirty years of work. I felt that the movie had engaged every series I had ever done in a certain way. It almost was like a musical revue that said goodbye. Everybody came out and waved goodbye.
“ Even though I am digitally savvy, digitally aware, and have no resistance to what the Internet has brought us, I knew, I couldn’t go there in my work.” 14
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NPH: And these are large images.
below: Laurie Simmons The Love Doll/Day 24 (Diving), The Love Doll 2010, Fuji Matte print 51 x 70 inches Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY
NPH: Where are you with the love dolls now? LS: We’re publishing a book in the fall called The Love Doll. In a sense, the series is over, which is really exciting. I’m starting to work again this summer and I really have a strong desire to bring the male figure into the work with the love doll. One of the great things about being an artist is that you can make all these strict, rigid rules and turn them around and break them all. I’m telling you the series is over, but I’m also saying I could pull them out again. NPH: As you’re finishing the book and thinking about the next project, when did you feel the series was done, at least in its current state? LS: I’ve always worked in series and because a series has a general idea or one group of figures, I’ve always relied on intuition to tell me when the beginning is and when I’m flying along in the middle and it seems like the end kind of comes and slaps me in the face. I knew I wanted to make a book. Even though I shot for days and days, I numbered each day I shot, so I knew I wanted to have around a month’s worth of pictures. Maybe I shot ninety days and discarded sixty of them, but I wanted to make a book that shows the beginning, middle and end. I sometimes have this nagging feeling that I’ve got these love dolls in the house and they may have to come out again. It’s a funny feeling. But, generally, it’s hard to describe how to know when a series is finished. Maybe it’s characterized by restlessness? A little boredom? A sense that there’s something else to explore? Or perhaps it’s just prop fatigue. When I hung the show at the Gothenburg Museum, I looked at these pictures and thought, “Wow, I made those? They look so effortless.” 16
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LS: They are seventy-two inches by fiftysomething, life-size. They’re big. Because of the way I use natural light, they have a relaxed, dreamy quality. And I have to say, making them was just miserable. Just moving that heavy thing around, getting it into position, having someone sit down so I could copy their position. I’ve said it before, but God knows how people have sex with these things. They are very, very awkward. NPH: It’s one of those contradictions we were talking about because the dolls do look delicate, but they are these lifesized things made out of plastic. LS: And they’re dead weight. It’s one thing to pick up a forty-pound child who will kind of help you carry them, but this was like lugging two sacks of potatoes around. NPH: You seem to be someone who works on projects and who focuses. You don’t have five things going on at once. Is that pretty typical for you? LS: Yes. If I have other things going on, it would be like a writing project and something I’m shooting for a magazine, but usually when I’m working it’s one thing at a time. That question makes me wonder why, why I don’t have three series going on at once? I’ll have to think about that.
opposite, top left: Laurie Simmons The Love Doll / Day 27/Day 1 (New in Box), The Love Doll 2010, Fuji Matte print 70 x 52.5 inches Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY opposite, top right: Laurie Simmons The Love Doll/Day 8 (Lying on Bed), The Love Doll 2010, Fuji Matte print 70 x 47 inches Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY opposite, bottom: Laurie Simmons The Love Doll/Day 29 (Nude with Dog), The Love Doll 2011, Fuji Matte print 70 x 47 inches Edition of 5 with 2 APs Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York, NY
“ In terms of this kind of re-birth, I think the most important thing to me was closing the door on thirty years of work.”
Since the mid-70s, Laurie Simmons has staged scenes for her camera with dolls, ventriloquist dummies, mannequins and occasionally people, to create images with intensely psychological subtexts. Her photographic based works are collected by many museums, including in New York: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Hara Museum, Tokyo. In 2006, she produced and directed her first film titled The Music of Regret, starring Meryl Streep, Adam Guettel and the Alvin Ailey 2 Dancers with cinematography by Ed Lachman. Simmons was featured in Season 4 of the PBS series Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century. Her most recent exhibitions were at Salon 94 Bowery, NYC, with Wilkinson Gallery both at Art Basel and in London, at Baldwin Gallery, Aspen and at The Gothenburg Museum, Sweden. She has an upcoming solo show at Koyama Gallery, Tokyo and a forthcoming book titled The Love Doll. Simmons lives and works in New York City and Cornwall, Connecticut with her husband, the painter Carroll Dunham. Nels Highberg is an associate professor and chair of Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Hartford where he also serves as interim chair of Cinema. In the early 90s, he worked at HCP as the curatorial assistant while attending the University of Houston as an undergraduate. spot
Natalie Zelt and Osamu James Nakagawa I was first introduced to the cliffs and caves of Okinawa on the floor. In 2010 Osamu James Nakagawa brought prints of Banta Cliffs and Gama Caves to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. As he unrolled what appeared to me to be massive textured abstractions he started to tell the story of the cliffs, his experiences photographing and the palpable weight of the island’s history. It was jarring to look down on these prints, knowing that among other things, this was the site where a large number of Okinawans committed suicide amidst the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Nakagawa’s images deliberately tilt his viewer’s perspective, instilling each image as radical composition combined with a lush detail that cause the viewer to second guess their position in relation to the rock. In one image the viewer is gazing down a precipice, a slice of roaring sea just visible. Another pulls the viewer face to face with the sharp crags and pocks of the rock, as if standing above the ocean floor. In his newer series Gama Caves, Nakagawa draws his viewers into the earth, illuminating dark caverns that are both sacred sites for the island’s shamans and sites of violence and death during the WWII. Visitors to Poissant Gallery during Fotofest 2012 had the opportunity to encounter Nakagawa’s photographic renderings of both Banta Cliffs and Gama Caves along with a video installation. Through this exhibition, Nakagawa delivered an experiential excavation of the Okinawa and its history. This interview addresses the work made in the caves. 18
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Osamu James Nakagawa Gama 009, from the series Gama Caves, 2010 Pigment inkjet print, 40 x 60 inches Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, NYC; Photo Gallery International, Tokyo; Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN
protected and then she gave me the history of the caves prior to WWII. They’ve existed for thousands of years as very sacred places. She led me to 20 different sacred caves. Yes, in WWII people fled to the caves to seek shelter from the bombing and the caves were used as field hospitals, but before that they functioned as graves as well as ritual sites. This older history is yet another reason why I think Okinawans don’t want to go in there. NZ: So are the cave images similar to cliffs in terms of process? With many images stitched together digitally?
Natalie Zelt: Was there a clean transition between Banta Cliffs and Gama Caves or was there a period where you were thinking about caves and cliffs at the same time?
Osamu James Nakagawa: Um, I think there was a small overlap. When I was making Banta Cliffs the New York Times published an article about how the Japanese government, in editing new textbooks, was cutting out the fact that the Japanese military forced thousands of innocent Okinawans to commit suicide in these caves at the end of the war. And all of a sudden I realized.“I must do this.” What happened in these caves was important. So I wrote up the proposal to Indiana University and applied for Guggenheim Fellowship to do Gama Caves and luckily, I received both of them to explore my project. I was scared shitless to go into those caves for the first time because so many people died there in gruesome ways. And then all the books I read about the caves – it’s a mad house. Plus technically I needed to figure out how I was going to photograph in the dark. I needed the highest resolution medium format digital camera with long exposure capabilities. I researched and got the most powerful car headlight flashlight I could find so I could create an image with the greatest depth of field possible inside the cave.
OJN: This one is different, it is more like being in a darkroom making prints, burning and dodging or painting with light. In the total darkness of the cave I opened the shutter and walked around with the flashlight, exploring and illuminating the space a little bit at a time. I am not interested in simply documenting the cave – I don’t consider them documentary photographs – once I had the images captured I altered the color to make it more real, the way I remembered the colors from the darkness of the caves. All the Gama Caves images are layers of single exposures drawn out with Photoshop, only four of the larger images are stitched. NZ: So it is more of an experiential project, more than documentary?
OJN: Yes, it’s about experiencing and contemplating in the caves, in their darkness and the fullness of their history. NZ: But not just your viewer, the process of you, going in there, in that space.
OJN: Yes. Sometimes I spent 8 hours at a stretch in the caves shooting. It was completely dark and I was constantly straining to see something, anything, really. This act of searching for something that you cannot see became a metaphor for the entire project that played out in the capturing of the images in the caves, in their rendering and in the viewer’s experience of them.
NZ: How did you get in the caves then? NZ: And then you transitioned to the video?
OJN: I went to Okinawa during Christmas break just to see if all this was possible or not. My wife’s family (she’s from Okinawa) told me not to go into the caves. Historically the caves are considered sacred places, but their more recent history is very loaded and dark for Okinawans. My wife’s cousin eventually arranged for me to meet this high-ranking shaman, Ms. Miyagi. Okinawan shamans like Ms. Miyagi have long used the caves for sacred rituals. NZ: What did she do?
OJN: She took one look at me and said, “You’re not from Okinawa!” and then followed up with, “…but you’re not from Japan either.” I was shocked because I was speaking fluent Japanese. “No, no my wife is from Okinawa.” I explained. My cousin added, “He lives in US, he’s a photographer.” She asked, “When were you born?” I said “1962,” and she responded, “The Year of Tiger. Tiger people are destined to release spirits. You know why you’re coming to Okinawa? Those spirits are calling you.” NZ: Well that’s another reason to be frightened to go into those caves.
OJN: She asked if I planned to exhibit my photographs and I said yes – in the US and Paris and she said, “See, that’s why they are calling you. They want you to release their spirit outward.” She said I was 20
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OJN: Yes, it’s from last summer. I went back to the caves just to shoot video. Using a fisheye lens I shot a good amount of footage. I think that video gets at the metaphor of experience more directly – you feel the process, the journey of me going through the caves with flash light in my hand. Like my use of painting in the still images to recreate my memory of the experience of being in the caves, Gama video is a collaboration with videographer Arthur Liou layering lots of different footage together and masking it with texture to evoke the visceral qualities of the caves. We collaborated on the sound with composer Melody Eötvös.
opposite, left: Osamu James Nakagawa Saipan 002, from the series Banta Cliffs, 2008 Pigment inkjet print, 20 x 60 inches Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, NYC; Photo Gallery International, Tokyo; Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN opposite, right: Osamu James Nakagawa Okinawa 017, from the series Banta Cliffs, 2008 Pigment inkjet print, 20 x 60 inches Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, NYC; Photo Gallery International, Tokyo; Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN
NZ: It is so abstracted, it transforms.
OJN: Yes – like the core of the earth turning and churning. Faces appear and disappear. But at the same time reality is there in things like the bats you see flying by. NZ: I didn’t even think of that, of you being in those caves with something else alive.
OJN: Oh yes, the photos probably have thousands of bats in them, flying, but you just can’t see them, in the video you can. NZ: So what’s next?
OJN: It’s still sketching stage at this point. I started experimenting with frottage, using ink to do a rubbing of the cave wall, just to try and it didn’t really work so I tried on a WWII memorial that listed the names of schools, the number of deaths and so on. I started doing these rubbings on Okinawan paper and then I began to single out the words and fragmentize the sentences, so certain words and names are floating on the paper – a deconstructing both of history and memorialization. NZ: Or what is represented?
OJN: Yes, so I started doing rubbings in other places to see. Then I was thinking about how I can I transform this image to photographic material such as cyanotype with reference to Okinawan blue sky and ocean … at this point this is still experimentation stage but… NZ: That would be a pretty nice way for all these projects to round out. If the initial catalyst for all these projects was the official way that history has been recorded, to actually use memorials or markers or records of history to make work.
OJN: Yes, I’d like to deconstruct the political agenda imbedded in the war memorials’ text by combining that text with Okinawa’s sun and color. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the US returning Okinawa to Japan. It is a strange coincidence that my daughter was born on the anniversary of this event, May 15. Many exhibitions are organized for this occasion in Okinawa and I am glad I can talk about the issues of Okinawa here, in Houston and at the Les Rencontres d’Arles in France in July with my upcoming exhibition. This is my way of paying respect to Okinawans and the conflict associated with the 40th anniversary. NZ: Releasing those spirits. 22
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above: Osamu James Nakagawa Gama 021, from the series Gama Caves, 2011 Pigment inkjet print, 40 x 80 inches Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, NYC; Photo Gallery International, Tokyo; Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN left: Osamu James Nakagawa Gama 001, from the series Gama Caves, 2010 Pigment inkjet print, 40 x 60 inches Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, NYC; Photo Gallery International, Tokyo; Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN
Osamu James Nakagawa was born in New York City, raised in Tokyo, Japan and returned to Houston, Texas at the age of 15. He received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Houston. His photographs are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. In 2009, Nakagawa received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his project in Okinawa and in 2010 the Higashikawa Photo Festa’s New Photographer of the Year Award in Japan. Recently he was nominated and mounted a solo exhibition for the 2012 Les Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award in France. Nakagawa lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is an associate professor of photography at the Henry Radford Hope School of Art at Indiana University. Natalie Zelt was the curatorial assistant for photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from 2009 to 2012. While there she co-curated and co-authored WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath with Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will Michels and curated collections exhibitions including Public Dress. She is a co-founder of Gift of Gift of, a nonprofit art collective that supports emerging photographers. She served on HCP’s education subcommittee from 2010-2012 and will curate 2013 exhibition on photography and contemporary food culture. Zelt began the Ph.D. program in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin this fall.
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Alex Prager 7:12pm, Redcliff Ave, 2012 48 x 32.6 inches - Ed. of 6 Eye #10 (Telephone Wires), 2012 20 x 23 inches - Ed. of 6 © Alex Prager 2012, Courtesy of the artist and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles
Alex Prager’s subversive narratives In April 2012, Alex Prager presented her newest series, Compulsion, as well as her most recent film, La Petite Mort, at galleries in Los Angeles, New York and London. On the occasion of that show, Prager spoke at her studio about her native Los Angeles, her thoughts concerning the women in her photographs, and the personal experiences that inform her work with Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Amanda Maddox: How would you describe your relationship with Los Angeles? Alex Prager: I think I don’t really think about it that much. Not that I don’t think about LA that much, just that I don’t think about how it relates to my work that much. But I can tell that whenever I’ve tried to shoot other places, I always try to make it look like southern California. AM: Because of the colors? AP: I don’t know. Because of everything. The space, the colors, the mood that the weather brings, the stillness and monotony that the same weather can lay on someone. There’s something really strange about this city that no other place has and it’s not just about the way it looks, it’s how it feels. I think that’s a lot of what my pictures are about.... Right now in my life I wouldn’t choose to shoot somewhere else for my series... I’ll have a location in my head – I’ve never seen it before, it’s totally made up – but I can always find it in LA because we have such diverse architecture and streets.
AM: But that said there is an LA quality to your work... AP: Most of the pictures I take are shot within a ten block radius of where I live. Call it lazy. Call it whatever you want [laughs]. AM: Do you find that you’re becoming identified with this place? And is that okay? AP: I never meant for that to happen, but it’s happening because it is that way. I love this city so much and I also hate it. Because I have that mixed emotion towards it, I can stay interested. If it was just pure love, like I have with Paris or London or even New York – I really love those cities, but I don’t feel that [tension]. AM: When did staging models become part of your work? AP: From the very beginning. I was messing around with dressing up my friends. I was living at the Asbury at the time, in Koreatown and it had this huge lobby with a courtyard, very 1920s art deco style. I’d spot
have my friends come over at midnight. We’d drink wine and I’d take pictures of them doing whatever… and then I’d develop the pictures later on that night. AM: The women in your pictures tend to represent a certain generation and often include your friends. Is that intentional? AP: I’m trying to create a world that I know, so… I noticed that when I was 25, taking pictures… the people that I’d want to use were 25. Now that I’m 32, I’m interested in taking pictures of 32-year-olds. Definitely the people I’m interested in taking pictures of have gotten older with me. I think it has to do with wanting to relate to the character that I’m trying to mock up so that it can feel real to me. 26
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Alex Prager 3:14pm, Pacific Ocean, 2012 59 x 55.4 inches - Ed. of 6 Eye #9 (Passenger Casualties), 2012 20 x 23 inches - Ed. of 6 © Alex Prager 2012, Courtesy of the artist and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles
AM: They always say “write what you know.” AP: Exactly, which is I think why men haven’t worked out as well as I wished they would have. AM: Why do you think that is? AP: When you know something really well, it comes out naturally. When I photograph a woman I really understand the emotions a woman is capable of expressing in certain situations, at least that I’m capable of expressing. I can at least have that that I know really well. Whereas with men, they always end up in the background. AM: Is there ever a power dynamic involved when it comes to directing men? AP: No, it’s not like that at all.... You know, I guess I just really like the pictures where I’m telling a story with the woman as a main character. There’s that vulnerable aspect, especially when men are kind of looking on. Men are very strong and they represent a certain power that women don’t have and will never have because we’re women. I really like that… there’s a certain story that comes with that.
AM: Do you think about the woman as heroine of the story you create [in your photographs] or has having a role in the picture? AP: I don’t think much about them to be honest. Thinking about all of the analytical specifics of the character while shooting has never gotten me very far, even in film. It’s nice to have some sort of make believe story to go off of. And yes, generally when I’m shooting if I need to give direction then I will exaggerate the character’s old-school femininity: “You’re the vulnerable housewife whose husband is cheating on you and you’re sad every night....” Because these are classic portrayals of women that people can instantly grab onto. It seems very familiar. And it gets me a range of emotions in a certain band that I’m looking for. Getting into what it all means isn’t that important for me because what I’m looking for is [that] it’s communicating something [but] that’s not really telling you everything... AM: Would you say that you’re not trying to build a narrative in your pictures? AP: I’m trying to build up enough of a narrative to spark imagination full-on. I use myself and my experiences and my friends’ experiences to inspire these little adventures. I’m absolutely a strong woman. I have very specific ideas about what I think is right and wrong. But I’m also very weak at times and very vulnerable. I think these are things that all women can relate to. Men can probably relate to them too but they would probably express it in a different way. I can just talk about what I know and I know all of that really well… I’m trying to get the full spectrum of all the lower ways you can feel. I’m not too interested in enthusiasm and cheerfulness right now. AM: There is a dark element in your work, particularly in the new series Compulsion.
“When I photograph a woman I really understand the emotions a woman is capable of expressing in certain situations, at least that I’m capable of expressing.”
AP: I’m interested in the dramatic part of life. I think it’s really an easy field for me to play in as an artist because I think other people are generally interested in that, too. It’s just fun, there’s something about it that’s really playful... but it’s all inspired by the real world... [what’s] going on in our world that nobody really feels comfortable talking about on a daily basis. If I were to actually show you our world and what I’m unhappy with or disappointed by, the way it looks, it would probably have a lot of similarities with what I’m showing in my bright poppy-colored pictures but it just wouldn’t be as fun to look at and probably no one would really want to look at it because it’s too heavy. Who wants to look at really sad stuff all day? AM: In Compulsion, the titles are locations in LA. Were those real-life crime scenes? spot
AP: No, [the photographs] were inspired by events that have taken place throughout history, but more recently as well. All of the talk [in 2012]… was apocalyptic. Then weird stuff was happening in the news… there were the birds falling from the sky… in Alabama or somewhere in the South, all of sudden, hundreds of thousands of birds. All of the flooding, earthquakes, Mother Nature. AM: How did you select the titles? AP: I wanted the titles for the scenes to feel kind of clinical. Just like a reporter would do. So no emotional attachment to anything that was happening. Erin [Erin Thompson, Alex’s studio manager] helped me. We had a map of Los Angeles out, we’d pick different times, looking at the photos, what the sun was doing at the time. Just made it all up. AM: How did you determine the eyes would serve as a device in the series? AP: I wanted to do a side series [related to Compulsion]... trying to figure out how much emotion I could capture in body parts, close-ups of body parts... so I started shooting eyes and hands and ears, seeing how expressive they could become... I don’t remember exactly how I ended up putting [the disaster scenes and eyes] together as diptychs, but I knew
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“That’s what I am exploring, because it’s me. That’s what I’m interested in. It’s one story, one person’s life.” my scenes were missing something on purpose [that] the eyes kind of gave them, which was the emotional aspect of a human being. I thought that was important for this particular series. I wanted that to be part of the conversation in what I was doing with those scenes, otherwise it felt too detached for me, which isn’t how I felt about the situations that [Compulsion] was inspired by. AM: And the eyes remind you that you’re an onlooker and that you have no information about what’s happening... AP: Which is a lot of times how I felt when I’d be reading the news, about these situations and scenes that were being shown to me in photographs, really well shot photographs of real life tragedies and most of the time I’d just be glancing at it and I’d see the headline, where it happened or when. It did feel kind of detached in that way, where I did feel like I was a spectator looking at this scene that I wasn’t actually at.
AM: Has it ever happened that you’ve been driving in Los Angeles and you’ve seen something and just kept driving? AP: While I was shooting this, actually at the very beginning, before I even shot anything and I was still coming up with ideas, I was on the 105, I think and I was going to pick someone up at the airport and there was a huge white van completely on fire. I drove right past it. There were people standing there, kind of in shock, but it looked like a perfect photograph. But it was actually happening and I drove right by it. Of course I thought, “should I stop and help these people?” But I didn’t, because of course the next thought was, “what if the van blows up?” This is really not a good situation. But I think everyone has those moments… AM: Where did the idea for your newest film, La Petite Mort, come from? AP: It was random. I saw one picture. I think it was the Enrique Metinides picture of the guy drowning and the reflection of all of the people looking at the guy. I thought it would be cool, since I’ve seen a lot of Jean Cocteau movies, if that guy was coming out of the water but in the Jean Cocteau reverse kind of way. AM: In La Petite Mort, like your previous film Despair, the subject is a woman who stands out or appears singled out. I’m curious about the aspect of being singled out, or misunderstood, or lost. Is that aspect something you’re exploring in your work?
AP: That’s what I am exploring, because it’s me. That’s what I’m interested in. It’s one story, one person’s life. The fact that it’s a woman makes it complicated and beautiful. There are a lot of different things that go along with following one woman’s tragic life. AM: How much of yourself do you put into the work? AP: All of myself. I’m exhausted afterwards. But I have every range of emotion. I’ve been close to death many times… I’m just trying to show the whole range of what that one woman might be going through at that moment. I’ve felt all kinds of different ways, so I can put what I’ve felt into that to some degree.
Born in 1979, Alex Prager is a self-taught American photographer and filmmaker who lives and works in Los Angeles. Featured in MoMA’s New Photography 2010, Prager’s work has been exhibited at institutions worldwide. Characterized by deeply saturated colors, heightened drama and dark humor, Prager’s film noir inspired photographs hint at narrative subtexts while maintaining a sense of ambiguity and self-contained emotional intensity. Her work draws from a diverse group of influences, including pulp fiction, the cinematic style of David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel, as well as contemporary artists such as William Eggleston, Cindy Sherman and Enrique Metinides. Prager’s work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times Magazine, American Vogue, W Magazine and Art in America. Additionally, her photographs are in the permanent collection of several major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kunsthaus Zurich and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, among others. Amanda Maddox is assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She is currently assisting with the exhibition Japan’s Modern Divide – The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from March 26-August 25, 2013. She received a BA from Brown University and an MPhil in the History of Photography from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Alex Prager 4:01pm, Sun Valley, 2012 - 59 x 73.8 inches - Ed. of 6 Eye #3 (House Fire), 2012 - 20 x 23 inches - Ed. of 6 © Alex Prager 2012, Courtesy of the artist and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles
On photographic manipulators, techno-gadgetry and endless choices â€“ April Rapier and Roy Flukinger discuss a medium in constant transition 30
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Roy and I met in 1984 at a regional Society for Photographic Education conference in Amarillo; I pushed my way to his highly sought-after review table and we’ve been artistic co-dependents and friends ever since and continue to co-author (from exhibition catalogs to fiction) and co-curate. For almost thirty years, our ideas and words have ignored territorial boundaries, collaboration trumping the vanity of singularity.
pril Rapier: In this interview, we’ll discuss the porous borders of photography and core issues surrounding the medium – truth, irony, narrative power. Contemplating photography from its inception, how did the urge to alter come about?
Roy Flukinger: I often wonder if the photography gods intended it to be sacred and immutable or porous in the most inevitable sense. It has been in transition since the first photograph was made, ca. 1826, by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (the piece de resistance of the Gernsheim Collection). Niépce experimented with original processes, decided upon heliography and by factoring in technical considerations, brought to life the one best image representing nature. This has been the model/conundrum ever since. From birth, photography in the abstract intended to be purely representational, but when humans entered the equation, reality became once-removed. As processes and techniques pile up, endless choices offer vastly different approaches, purposes and challenges; results remain fundamentally the same. Experimentation and a wealth of technological variables distinguish one artist from another; the obstacle seems to be knowing when to stop. Despite intent, distinctions are all but meaningless... AR: What good can come from manipulation for manipulation’s sake? RF: If one considers where photography has been and where it’s headed, one must acknowledge all that has rubbed against it historically. As a medium in constant transition amid techno-gadgetry shifts, it must be witnessed as a continuum. Prior to the digital age, “serious” photographers immersed in one or another school of photographic thought; secondary considerations – surfaces, chemical alterations, vintage processes, emulsions – even teachers became as important as subject matter. Photographers were philosophically manipulated into manipulating. AR: We’ve anointed Niépce “first manipulator.” Who has followed most honorably? RF: Bart Parker and Rita DeWitt collaborate in every conceivable manner, manipulating each other’s physicality as much as any process. They fully recognize the significance of our vast technological arsenal, as well as maximize the impact of the written word in league with imagery. Dan Burkholder Flatiron in Spring, New York II, 2005 Pigment over platinum print. 12 x 23 inches Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin © Dan Burkholder, 2005
Parker insinuates himself within the image so that it becomes his history. He overlays text onto image, exclusively in-camera and in the darkroom, often consigning little lifetimes to grid or diptych. The resulting narrative is anything but an improvement on his experiences, for Parker is his own most elegant, mournful critic. spot
DeWitt, a true hoarder of visions and materials alike, uses photographs as a springboard. Drawing from a tremendous palette of technologies – wondrous color combinations – and an army of difficult and peculiar emotional back-stories, she neutralizes her topics by subliminally editorializing and inserting hidden meanings here and there. She dislikes secrets, yet knows their worth. One must interpret silence in order to mine and fathom Parker’s work. DeWitt’s, on the other hand, speaks loudly and steps on your foot. AR: How about emotional manipulation? RF: Barbara Crane remains, after a lifetime as educator and artist, more mystic visionary than anything else, so I’d nominate her. From arcane to ordinary, her prolific and diverse subject matter is brought to life and transformed by extraordinary vision. From the small-scale series Tar Findings to her confounding, exquisite large or small versions of leaves, whether using the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera or making small ink jet prints, there exists within delightful multiplicity, the mark of a mad scientist who cannot be wrangled by mechanical constraints. Sequentially or alone, intimate or monument-scaled, her 32
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images are supremely musical, experientially and visually. AR: It may be kerosene on fire to add intellectual manipulation to a convoluted tangent, but do you know the work of Robert Rodeck? RF: Sure. He makes the ordinary beautiful by recreating reality to suit his surrealist ways. His seemingly innocent yet subversive eye recruits alt-media to all but obscure origins. For example, the Quintana Roo series (late 1970s) broke serious mixed media ground… AR (interrupting as usual): Yes, photographs on watercolor paper that he marked with pastels and other media, rendering them infinitely removed from their origins. It’s fascinating to see how veracity exists within, a photograph buried beneath and recognizing the “thingness of the things” (Rodeck’s term) – the beautiful essence – is the end run. RF: At first glance, his glow-in-the-dark photographs pose more questions than answers – methodology in perfect union with desire. Dark-hearted and disquieting, implications are dire, so why are they so
magnificent? Run one into a dark room and watch it come alive – you’re instantly filled with wonder, curiosity, terror and a strong desire to dive in and exist, if only for a moment, within. AR: And his self-portraits? RF: They are by far some of the most intriguing to date. Bearing in mind that if technique isn’t interesting to him, the medium holds little interest, he tied a camera with flash to the end of a long, heavy rope, somehow got it circling overhead in great tornadoing arcs, shutter randomly triggering – an inverse Bauhaus pendulum experiment. Something was risked in taking that picture...
above: Bart Parker He Stands..., 1986 Color coupler darkroom collage with text two adjacent 20 x 16 inches sheets 20 x 32 inches Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin © Bart Parker, 1986
right: Barbara Crane Visions of Enarc, 1983-1987 Polaroid ER print, 30.25 x 22 inches Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin © Barbara Crane, 1987
â€œ As processes and techniques pile up, endless choices offer vastly different approaches, purposes and challenges; results remain fundamentally the same.â€?
AR: The most compelling images, while appearing photographic, could no more be real than photos of total darkness. Who’s a reigning king of tech-essence? RF: Dan Burkholder plays such an important role in inventing cutting-edge technology and application. He embeds possibilities inherent to the electronic palette in his art; in doing so, he offers myriad possibilities to others. AR: Contemporary photographers seem to value uniqueness at the expense of truth; work becomes more technique, less vision. RF: While it seems that digital-age imagemakers crave challenge more than their historical counterparts, rarely does art as significant as Burkholder’s result. From iPhone photographs to hard-core esoteric platinum on gold leaf prints, Burkholder documents without blinking, perhaps because he allows technology to lead and inspire, not overshadow him. 34
Houston Center for Photography
AR: You’ve been at this for a while. What part of your day is spent looking? What else occupies you? RF: I mine the riches contained within the Harry Ransom Center. Other tasks: seeing to the perpetuation and growth of the Photography Department, maintaining standards of collection development and research services and continuing to aid in publications, programming, exhibitions, fund-raising, acquisitions, teaching, lecturing and academic excellence. Just finished an Arnold Newman book and I’m now immersed in our big Magnum show for next year. And you and I are working on a book and exhibition about Bart Parker. Regarding discovery, there is no shortage of photographers finding their way to my door. I am intrigued and excited by work we add to the collection. Finding photographs and funds with which to collect and preserve them is both prime directive and challenge. I’m looking ahead with an eye to collect for
the HRC: Abelardo Morell, Cori Pepelnjak, Ansen Seale, Carl Chiarenza, Shawn Records, Robert Rodeck, Pedro Meyer, Dave Anderson, Julie Blackmon, Eileen Kennedy, Susan Burnstine and Christine Laptuta. When time comes to build upon a collection as historically and aesthetically significant as Gernsheim’s one must consider the artists and critical factors that have shaped and transformed the discipline. And, we should heed what Asimov warned: “we must now take into account not only the world as it was but also the world as it will be.”
left: Rita DeWitt Detail of Pretty Miss Smiles, 1984 Xerox 6500 images on Stonehenge paper, three typewriter texts in color, portfolio of 16 plates 22.25 inches x 19.5 feet, Edition of 3 Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin © Rita DeWitt, 1984
above: Robert Rodeck Untitled [styrofoam marker, Quintana Roo, Mexico], 1978-1979 Applied photographic emulsion and pastel on drawing paper 15 x 20 inches. Edition of 1. Courtesy of the artist ©Robert Rodeck, 1979
Roy Flukinger is Senior Research Curator of Photography and former Department Head and Senior Curator of Photography and Film and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, where
below: Robert Rodeck Untitled [irrigation marker, sugarcane field, Hawaii], 1979 Applied photographic emulsion and conte crayon on drawing paper 22 x 26 inches, Edition of 1. Courtesy of the artist ©Robert Rodeck, 1979
he has served as.a curator since 1977. He holds degrees from Tulane University and the University of Texas at Austin and has taught as Adjunct Lecturer or Assistant Professor at UT and other institutions. He has published and lectured extensively and has produced nearly 80 exhibitions. He serves on numerous professional boards, consults with a variety of institutions, serves as juror and conducts peer reviews and evaluations for a number of professional and developmental organizations. In 2012, Flukinger was awarded the CAA Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Award for Smaller Museums, Libraries, Collections and Exhibitions for the book The Gernsheim Collection (The University of Texas Press & Ransom Center, 2012). Upon receiving an MFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design in 1979, April Rapier embarked on an adventurous if non-conventional career. Rather than choose one discipline, she decided to combine sources of inspiration, including photography (and its permutations), writing, music and teaching, each informing the other. As a founding member of Houston Center for Photography, Rapier had the honor of introducing Flukinger to HCP. Through the years, they have taken great delight in discovering emerging and working artists as a result of a strong connection to this stellar institution.
2012 HCP Fellowship Juror
“It’s as if the elevator Muzak has been turned up to 90 decibels so slowly that no one but David has noticed.”
left: David Politzer (Houston, TX) American Bald Eagle, Russellville, 2011 From the series When You're Out There Chromogenic print, 30 x 30 inches Courtesy of the artist www.davideology.com
David Politzer David Politzer’s photographs look at nature with a sense of humor but with a sense of longing too. It’s not a longing for nature itself as much as it’s a longing for nature to have a more profound meaning to us. There’s nothing “red of tooth and claw” here for us anymore, just pleasant decoration that we are so used to that we don’t see it any longer. David does see it, though. In his photographs, this simulacrum of nature is rising in intensity, moving from the background to the center stage. It’s as if the elevator Muzak has been turned up to 90 decibels so slowly that no one but David has noticed. 36
Houston Center for Photography
2012 Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship Winner
As the human-built environment encroaches on and shrinks wildlife habitat, animals have had to learn how to go about their business, adapt and live in our landscape. In these photos of David’s, they are on our walls, on our chests and looming over our parking meters, but the bald eagle doesn’t care about our national anthem, the cardinal doesn’t care about our sports teams and the sunflower pays no attention to the phone mounted on it. In these photos of David’s, the illusory depicted nature overwhelms the mundane reality of these offices and parking lots with a delicious combination of Magritte and Rousseau.
This exhibition at HCP was a subset of David’s project, When You’re Out There. The other half of the project consists of videos and photographs that explore what it means for us to go out into the natural world (maintaining our consciousness), whereas this exhibition looked at what it means for nature to manifest in our world (maintaining its consciousness).
The Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship is generously supported by friends and family of Carol Crow
“Isa has indeed found something powerful and invisible here.”
right: Isa Leshko (Philadelphia, PA) Ash, Domestic White Turkey, Age 8 II, 2008 From the series Elderly Animals Archival pigment print, 9 x 9 inches Courtesy of the artist and Corden|Potts Gallery (San Francisco, CA) www.isaleshko.com
Isa Leshko When a photographer picks up a camera, he or she is surrounded by an entire world to point her camera at. She will pick a small rectangle out of all of this possible everything and say “this is what I’m paying attention to – this is what’s on my mind – this is what’s in my heart.” Artists understand the world by creating metaphors, the same way that scientists understand the world by creating scientific models. The strongest and most soulful art is achieved by using a balance of intellect and intuition. An artist will be drawn to something without knowing why, then she will bring her intellect to those first images and the resulting insight will enable her go back out and take images that are more profound. Each round of photographing and listening to the images takes her deeper into the heart of the issues and questions that haunt her.
2012 HCP Fellowship Winner In Isa Leshko’s case she explains, “I began this series shortly after I had spent a year in New Jersey helping my sister care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. When my mother got ill, I made a conscious decision to not photograph her. However, caring for her had a profound impact on me and I knew the experience would influence my photography. Shortly after I had returned from New Jersey, I encountered a blind elderly horse that was living on a relative’s property. I was mesmerized by this animal and spent the afternoon photographing him. After reviewing my film, I realized I had found a project that would enable me to sift through my feelings around my mother’s illness.”
to say to us if we stop to look and think about them and with them. One can use a geiger counter to find concentrations of something powerful and invisible, but the best photographers, like Isa, use a camera the same way. Isa has indeed found something powerful and invisible here. I find myself in deep conversation with these (self) portraits of elderly animals, looking in from an unexpected new vantage point at complex issues of mortality and what it means to be human.
The HCP Fellowship is generously supported by the Joan Hohlt and Roger Wich Foundation
We are surrounded at all times by “unimportant things” that have a lot of important things spot
Houston Center for Photography
Introducing a new Curriculum! HCP offers over 300 workshops and classes a year ranging in skill level and medium This Fall, the Learning Center is proud to launch a new curriculum that is centered around providing a better student experience in photographic education and exploration. The new curriculum guides students through the workflow of the creative photographic process, teaching students how to acquire, edit, process, and present their photographs. The new curriculum will take students beyond snapping a photo, thus enabling them to realize their vision.
Brandon Merz (Houston, TX), Reflection, 2012 Inkjet print, 12 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist
Visit for more information and to register
Do your friends get annoyed because you stop every two minutes to take a picture? Love taking pictures, but need some motivation to actually get out there and shoot? Just want to make friends and maybe learn a thing a two about photography along the way? Join HCP’s new shooting group. This members only social group is designed to get people with a passion for photography out and about in the city of Houston to meet new people and improve their photographic skills. Every month a new destination around the Houston area will be chosen for HCP members to meet up and take pictures. Cameras of all kind welcome! Upcoming destinations: Dates and times TBD Glennwood Cemetery | Lights in the Heights Old Fourth Ward | High school football game Orange Show | Smither Park | Bayou Bend Montrose and Westheimer
Not an HCP member: Join
visit www.hcponline.com or call/email Membership and Administrative Coordinator Rebecca Rossmann for more information at 713-529-4755 x 17, firstname.lastname@example.org Photo credit: Meliha Eras, Loaded Pistols, 2012 from the July 2012 Capture Crawl on Washington Avenue
Houston Center for Photography
Each year HCP offers workshops taught by leading photographers that are available to HCP members. Master Class: Vision with Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee January 4, 6 and 6, 2013 Lance Keimig and Scott Martin (TBC) February 2013 Ferit Kuyas April 2013 (TBD) Kelli Connell Spring 2013 (TBD) Jean Miele Spring 2013 (TBD) Dornith Doherty Summer 2013 (TBD)
Visit www.hcponline.org for more information and to register
Houston Center for Photography