ISO FALL 2010
EDITOR’S LETTER A professor once told me, “If the only person you get to know in this life is yourself, then you’re off to a good start.” When we take pictures, whether of family, friends, foreign nations, or reflections in the mirror, there’s one thing we can’t escape – our eye. It’s the thing that makes our images ours. “I like your eye” is the best compliment we can receive as photographers. But it can take years for a photographer to see his or her own eye, just as it takes us years to learn ‘who we are.’ Curiously, the best way to find ourselves is often to look at those whom we surround ourselves with. We discover our eye by looking into the eyes of others. No matter our expertise – photojournalism, landscape, or editorial – we all take photographs of the people we are closest to. These snapshots are then tucked away in our drawers, stacked up in our closets, or stored on our Facebook pages. Our lenses turn to familiar faces. After all, they are what we recognize most easily. For this reason people are at the heart of this issue. We examine the portrait’s ability to place people in both time and space, to acknowledge presence and to mourn absence. Portraits are powerful reference points, and
we repeatedly look to them as markers of change. They capture age, haircuts, and clothing styles. They chronicle the birth and death of relationships and archive our development as human beings. As you flip through the following pages, you will see many different faces, but what you should also look for is the deeper vision of the contributing photographers. The diverse faces are only as diverse as the styles that have captured them. As for the projects not directly focused on people, such as Simon Pinter’s enigmatic exploration into the depths of our oceans, examine the photographer’s eye. ISO is proud to showcase submissions from a wide range of talented students within our university. If you find yourself inspired, please show us your eye and submit to upcoming issues, give us your voice and apply to our writing staff, or lend us your ear and subscribe to receive daily updates from our blog team. MICHAEL GEORGE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
ISO STAFF AND CONTRIBUTORS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Michael George ART DIRECTOR
Danlly Domingo PHOTO EDITORS
Sasha Arutyunova Jenna Spitz EDITOR-AT-LARGE
Corinne Rapone DEPUTY EDITORS
Aaron Krol Shalla Yudelevich BLOG EDITOR
Julia Pugachevsky Jonno Rattman Sam Reiss Pey Chuan Tan Katie Vogel Alison Wynn BLOG WRITERS
Nicole Cobb Vladimir Gintoff Irene Hartmann Kris Nolte Julia Pugachevsky Madeline Ricchiuto Katie Vogel
Eugene Atget Sasha Arutyunova Alexander Brown Claude Cahun Peter Curtis Lianna Del Pizzo Danlly Domingo Andrew Ellis Jason Eskenazi Bradley Farwell Michael George Lauren J. Greenberg Chad Griffith Kristina K. Knipe Richard Learoyd Dennis Nazarov Yair Oelbaum Simon Pinter Gina Pollack Jonno Rattman Carlos Rojas Meredith Rom Cole Saladino Marissa Singer Jenna Spitz Adam Uhl Michelle Watt
Shivam Mathura EVENTS DIRECTOR / COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
Jenny Eom COMMUNICATIONS TEAM
Francis Poon Laura Stephenson FACULTY ADVISOR
Editha Mesina SPECIAL THANKS Wafaa Bilal Irene Cho Yolanda Cuomo Dean’s Profunds Department of Photography & Imaging Thomas Drysdale Jason Eskenazi Richard Learoyd Megan Mannato Michael Messina New York University Tisch School of the Arts Tisch Undergraduate Student Council Deborah Willis
BY AARON KROL
BY JONNO RATTMAN
THE BACKDROP CAMERA (NOT SO) OBSCURA
BY ALISON WYNN
BY JULIA PUGACHEVSKY
OUR MANIFEST DESTINY
BY SHALLA YUDELEVICH
PORTRAITS OF NOTHING
BY SAM REISS
BY PEY CHUAN TAN
WAFAA BILAL: ...AND COUNTING ALEX BROWN: SPACE LINE PLANE
SIMON PINTER: ON DEPTH AND EXISTENCE
BY KATIE VOGEL
DANLLY DOMINGO: TK
BY JENNA SPITZ
BY MICHAEL GEORGE
JASON ESKENAZI: WONDERLAND THE GALLERY
INTRODUCTION BY SASHA AURTYUNOVA & JENNA SPITZ
HOW TO SUBMIT
89 Cover: Line and Form, ALEX BROWN Inside front cover: Untitled (t28f29a), SIMON PINTER Inside back cover: Untitled (t11f6a), SIMON PINTER Back cover: Peter, MICHAEL GEORGE
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by Aaron Krol
afterthoughts. This is not necessarily a bad thing: if the backdrop were too prominent, the subject would be slighted, or the photograph would cease to be a portrait altogether and become, for instance, a landscape with a person in it. Still, even afterthoughts are thoughts, and no portrait photographer can afford to neglect the environment in which he places his subjects. In other words, if you’re going to stick a tuxedoed teen in front of Roman pillars and psychedelic marble, you’d better be consciously aiming for “time-traveling James Bond, Jr.”
I have always photographed poorly. Something about the instruction to “smile” instantly causes my mouth to contort into a rictus of alarm and dismay. You could hand me a hundred dollars and a kitten, but if a camera were pointed in my direction, I still wouldn’t manage a convincing grin. Then as is typical among America’s youth, I have never photographed so poorly as in my senior-year high school portrait. The worst part is not my expression, although that is pretty awful: think “bemused indifference” meets “six shots of tequila.” Neither is it the ludicrous outfit: the administration thoughtfully provided us with the front half of a tuxedo secured around the neck with Velcro. No, the real issue is the backdrop: A mottled slate pattern – in our choice of exactly the wrong shades of blue, pink or green – was plastered behind us, presumably because this was marginally less depressing than the gymnasium where the photos were being taken. And
strategically placed in front of this were several five-foot-high Corinthian columns made of Styrofoam, presumably because what every mother wants is for her child to grow up to be a consul in the Roman senate. There is a delicate art to selecting backdrops in portrait photography. The right backdrop feels like a natural extension of the subject, a miniature kingdom inhabited by a single monarch whose mood and personality make the sun rise and fall, colors filter through the sky, and cities, forests and mountains shoot out of the ground or crumble into empty space. Our high school portraits, on the other hand, made us look like uncooperative marionettes suspended in someone else’s pretentious fantasy – which, I suppose, was at least a truthful portrayal of our condition. Perhaps because the focus of portraiture is by definition a person, backdrops (even the best of them) often seem like
In the early days of photography, the portrait was seen less as its own unique genre and more as a democratizing alternative to the painted portraits commissioned by the aristocracy. Photographs were cheaper and easier to sit for than paintings, and by the turn of the 20th century, the burgeoning middle classes were buying cartes de visite and cabinet cards (two types of photographic calling cards) by the thousands. However, while the market for portraiture was rapidly shifting, the purpose and aesthetic were not. Portraits were demonstrations of wealth and status, and backdrops were meant to communicate both with extravagant furniture and sophisticated props like books, globes or vases of flowers, all generally provided by the studio. The size restriction also sharply limited the degree of emphasis that could be placed on the backdrop. Because the cards were no larger than 4½” by 6½”, subjects were made to fill the frame they occupied, and backdrops had to be tightly constructed scenes that did not take up undue space: a tidy desk, a chair by a window, a bench in the garden.
UNKNOWN, General Franz Sigel (left); CHAD GRIFFITH, Amy Poehler (right)
Still, even in this period, the importance of an appropriate setting to highlight the subject’s character was certainly appreciated – as, indeed, it had been for hundreds of years before the first photograph. When Dowager Empress Cixi of China consented to have her portrait taken in 1904, the new court photographer Xunling informed her that he would need natural outdoor light for the picture. Such was the importance to Cixi of a traditional, regal backdrop that she ordered her entire throne room dismantled and reassembled outside. And the effect is quite harmonious: surviving photographs of Cixi show a woman coolly accustomed to power. Her serene but uncompromising authority soaks in the magnificence of her furnishings. Gradually, backdrops have become more than accessories to the individuals they surround. Backdrops can define the mood of their portraits, aiming not for status but for personality. The effect can be very subtle, as in Arnold Newman’s images of cultural and political icons, in many of which the expansive settings take up far more space than the subjects. From Pablo Picasso isolated in one corner of a grandiose studio, to the urban planner Robert Moses posed on a steel beam in front of the sprawling Manhattan skyline, to Ronald Reagan perched in the center of the oval office with the Presidential desk pocketed neatly in the distance, Newman has a way of making his subjects exude superhuman achievement. Although the principle of placing individuals in scenes appropriate to their positions is highly traditional, by simply expanding our frame of view Newman makes his
subjects’ accomplishments appear far larger than the subjects themselves. Paradoxically, the individuals in these portraits seem bigger because they are dwarfed by their surroundings: the backdrops, reflections of their colossal achievements, feel as though they have sprung fully-formed from the minds of the people inside them. Newman’s subtlety and careful tweaking of tradition is deeply satisfying, but far bolder strides have also been taken to explore the potential of the backdrop. In Philip Kwame Apagya’s remarkable portraits, the backdrops are the most striking and obvious features. Apagya positions his subjects – at times it feels more like he is pasting them in place – in front of colorful paintings of modern life: airplanes, televisions, cityscapes. The scenes are simple without appearing amateurish or sparing detail and have a cartoonish exuberance that is positively infectious. Apagya’s subjects all wear enormous smiles and adopt comfortable but energetic postures, so that they are completely a part of their surroundings even as they prominently stand out against their whimsical world. The appearance is of a children’s book about the middle-class dream. The obvious delight of Apagya and his Ghanaian subjects in this surreally commercial fantasy presents us with an extraordinary collision of the first and third worlds. Even the flat colors and patterns that are such a scourge of high school yearbooks can bring something fresh and exciting to a photograph if carefully tailored to a portrait’s mood and character. Chad Griffith’s celebrity portraits celebrate such triumphant simplicity, matching
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vibrant colors to equally vibrant personalities: gossip columnist Michael Musto doing an impression of Susan Boyle with a yellow halo like his own personal sun; Olympic basketball player Chris Paul burning like a blowtorch under a smoldering blue spotlight. A picture of Amy Poehler blowing bubblegum against a peppy pink seamless is particularly satisfying. A major transformation has occurred in backdrops since the days of cartes de visite, as the sheer diversity of striking, creative and characterful scenes constructed over the years attests. At its best, the art of choosing a backdrop is no longer a matter of accentuating the subject’s mood, but of redefining it. While in real life a backdrop may just be what someone is standing in front of, in the frame of a photograph the backdrop is the entire world, and the most exciting of these worlds would ache with personality even if they were empty of people. The best backdrops, in short, have their own individuality, independent of the temperament and character of anyone who may stumble inside – and the key is not building a home for the subject’s mood, but finding a mood where the subject will feel at home. It also helps, where possible, to avoid pseudo-Roman black tie kitsch. ■
ISO FALL 2010
CAMERA (NOT SO) OBSCURA
RICHARD LEAROYD, Maeke 2007 (left) and Anne 2007 (right)
by Jonno Rattman
Alone in a gallery but surrounded by photographs, we may not feel the solitude we expect. There is sometimes a sense of another’s presence; we may even feel empathetic attachment. But how is it that we establish a connection with the portrait framed on the adjacent wall? The portrait offers an opportunity for us to engage an image on a fundamental level, encouraging a dialogical relationship between spectator and sitter. Through the portrait we may posit insights into the subject’s past; recognize their present, immobile temporality; and speculate about their
future. A recent series of portraits made by British photographer Richard Learoyd invokes each of these feelings at once while also extending an invitation for intimacy and introspection. Learoyd’s colossal camera obscura portraits – some as large as fourby-six feet – may appear to be a contemporary, color interpretation of the historical processes that rendered mammoth glass plates and lilliputian daguerreotypes, but they are more an attempt to reduce the intermediate steps that ultimately culminate in printmaking. His process fits into a long history of alternative practices, but it
is a modern relative of its nineteenthcentury predecessors. In recent decades, artists such as photorealist painter Chuck Close have applied a mixture of historical and modern techniques to create new, though distant feeling photographs. In 1999 Close began a series of shortexposure daguerreotypes using modern lighting. These beautiful, brutally honest portraits describe the facial landscapes of various artists including composer Philip Glass, photographer Cindy Sherman, and painter Elizabeth Peyton. Though the black and white silvery tones of the daguerreotypes describe contemporary subjects,
11 they cannot help but resonate with history. “What do you make into a daguerreotype to bring it back into 2010?” Learoyd asked in a March telephone interview. Rather than attempting to use a historical process in a modern way, Learoyd modernizes the historical process to work with contemporary modes of production. His approach requires two rooms with a wallmounted lens between them. In one room his subject is lit by a sophisticated Swiss lighting system, while the other is essentially the film-back of an enormous camera. Inside this camera, Learoyd makes an exposure onto a large sheet of direct-positive paper. The paper is then fed through a color-processing machine to produce the final print. Each photograph is unique: an edition of one. There is no negative; no enlargement; no reproduction. Because there is no enlargement, there is no discernible grain – even under a magnifying glass. This gives Learoyd’s photographs a hyper-real quality, something akin to seeing highdefinition television. But his images stand in contrast to what he termed the digital era’s “disposable image culture.” Seven or eight years ago he began experimenting with his process in an attempt to make “images with power and authority – not necessarily through scale, but through a sort of presence.” The images capture our attention; they loom over viewers both because of their size and because of the way they appear to live within our reality. Composition is, in large part, dictated by a seven millimeter depth-of-field. Describing the process, Learoyd said, “You have to push and pull people; maneuver them into the right position so their hands are aligned
with their eye or their shoulders aren’t interfering with the focal plane.” Once his subjects settle into place, they must maintain their position for an extended period of time while he prepares to make the photograph. As a result, Learoyd’s sitters show discernible outward and inward toil. “People project what they are because of their physical traits, but the aspects of their person come through in a different way,” said Learoyd. This emanating emotion, coupled with the incredible detail of the areas that fall into focus, allows the viewer to engage in a conceptual relationship that induces introspective thought, arousing our deepest memories and emotions. The intimate connection between the viewer and Learoyd’s subjects is also the result of the laws of optical physics. “The pictures have no traits of a wide-angle image, except for the viewpoint,” said Learoyd. “There’s no barreling, there’s no stretching or distortion, but you do have the wide view of the person; so you look up their noses, and look down on their knees.” As a result, we sense an impossible, but physical proximity to the portraits. We are able to pay close attention to every detail of their being. We see their scars; we see their wrinkles; we see the nuanced tonality of their skin. We may even count their eyelashes. As a result, we become enraptured with the personal history that we project into each of the photographs and that the photographs project into us. We are engrossed by the power of the portrait. It tricks us into accepting the paradoxical relationship between its existence as a physical, two-dimensional object and as an emotional catalyst. Learoyd describes this as “the severity of the photographic illusion.” It is precisely this illusion that allows us to form a
connection with the subject of the photograph, for a moment forgetting that it is just a photograph rather than a mirror that reflects the specters of inner thought. We look through the shiny surface of the image and realize the deeper, personal meaning of the portrait. If we look at his portrait of Maeke, we are drawn into tormented eyes that communicate tense, liminal apprehension. The hues of her silky mauve blouse are echoed across blemished cheeks – their roughness contrasts the softness of the skin around her neck. Below, a hand at once tense with veins and tender with recline drifts into focus, cradling an arm that falls out of the frame. We may feel intimately close to her, as if we have known her for a long time, as if we can, just from her expression, know where her thoughts drift. Each of us experiences the worlds she inhabits with a different reaction, a different emotion, and a different memory. The memories she evokes, no matter their course or origin, are the residue of our experience. Maeke speaks to each of us personally, subliminally, so that we question the connection between the real that is the residue of memory and the real of the actual photograph. The amalgamation of past and present, two-dimensional picture and real life, pushes us to find personal meaning in photographs. “People see themselves in the context of this other person that they feel like they know,” said Learoyd. “I think that mirrors people’s everyday experiences of wanting to be close to people and then feeling alone. Maybe that is a reflection of their own version of their own mortality. Maybe those bigger questions are things that nag away at people.” ■
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ISO FALL 2010
PORTRAITS OF NOTHING by Alison Wynn
Yet some artists use photography, which traditionally replicated reality, to illustrate what we cannot see: to take pictures of absence. Since the conventional photographic process also tends to be dualistic, two strategies readily present themselves – the photographer can record a scene in which the subject is missing, emphasizing the void left behind, or he can capture such an abundance of photographic information that a full scene appears empty. Eugène Atget’s nostalgic images of Paris and Ed Ruscha’s Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles series belong to the former tradition, while works of Atta Kim and Hiroshi Sugimoto represent the latter.
Traditional photography is a delicately paradoxical process. In order to obtain a conventional photographic image, one must record light as chemical information on film, producing a negative – the visual manifestation of the inverse of reality. However, capturing too much light results in a black space on the negative, translated into an empty white area on the print: too much information becomes the
materialization of absence. Oddly enough, this convoluted procedure produced what we used to consider “evidence”; in fact, Edward Weston once said, “Only with effort can the camera be forced to lie: basically it is an honest medium.” Of course, to maintain a similar point of view today would be more than naïve, considering the prevalence of digital technologies for photographic manipulation.
Photographing an empty scene is a straightforward approach to depicting absence: the human subjects that one would normally see in a given situation are not present within the space of the picture. Eugène Atget and Ed Ruscha both employed this traditional strategy of using spatial absence to emphasize human presence. Atget photographed Paris from 1897 to 1927, working to preserve the spirit and aesthetic of the “old Paris,” which was rapidly disappearing due to Napoleon III’s relentless modernization campaign. Just as his images opposed the changing nature of his city, Ruscha’s 1967 series Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles has been described by the writer Richard Kostelanetz as a “reiterated, scathing critique of Los Angeles
EUGENE ATGET, Maison 5 quai Malaquais (hôtel de Châteauneuf) from Art dans le vieux Paris
Nevertheless, photography still originates in reality, although it has become more akin to its shadow than its reflection; more of a trace left behind than a replica.
urban design and its bondage to the automobile.” Both photographers worked early in the morning in order to depict barren city landscapes, emphasizing human presence by showing its negative: absence. This absence, in turn, was used to throw into sharp relief the effects the missing subjects had on their environments. Because the beings that normally inhabited the streets and parking lots were elsewhere while the photographs were taken, we are left to consider the magnified impact of their traces. However, the traces themselves can be used to erase the very creatures that made them. Contemporary photographers Atta Kim and Hiroshi Sugimoto make use of temporal absence, or the disappearance of the subject in time, to produce bodies of work dealing with emptiness as a result of plentitude – absence because of presence. In Atta Kim’s photographs of Times Square, human presence is dematerialized by long exposures: given enough time, the traces of so many people erase one another and disappear. An image that captures eight hours in one of the busiest intersections in the world is rendered strangely silent, depicting only faint ghosts of the thousands of people that passed before the camera. Similarly, Sugimoto’s Theaters series, comprised of photographs of entire movies captured in a single exposure, illustrates the nothingness generated by abundance. The glowing white screens simultaneously show the whole film and its absence: the very light that made the film visible in real time renders it imperceptible in a photograph.
It is worth noting that the use of spatial absence in photography was more prevalent in the past, while contemporary photographers tend to favor temporal representations of the idea. During Eugène Atget’s lifetime, humans were just beginning to conquer space: train travel was becoming more and more common, and the infrastructure of Paris was changing to accommodate the rise in the population of the city, brought on by new technologies and new modes of transportation. By the time Ed Ruscha began working in the United States some fifty years later, cars and highways allowed for individuals to travel vast spaces independently of public transportation. But humanity had not yet mastered spatial displacement: in places like California, it still took hours to get from city to city, since airplane travel was still fairly uncommon. Now, not only can we fly around the world, we don’t even need to: talking to someone on the other side of the globe is made instantly possible via video chat. Our constant connectivity to cell phones, computers, and the internet allows us to bridge spatial boundaries, at least in two dimensions. But we have yet to conquer time: the facility of communication brought about by new technologies seems to have also created an exponential increase in what is expected of us during any given day. Convenience has become obligation, leaving us struggling to respond to cascades of emails and phone calls. These conflicts with space and time are reflected in photographs – human
spatial and temporal frustrations are visually examined using absence as a strategy. In Atget and Ruscha’s images, people are absent from their environments, seemingly overpowered by the spaces they normally inhabit. Similarly, human beings in the city and on the screen are effaced by the relentless procession of time in Kim and Sugimoto’s photographs. Now that time, not space, seems to be our final frontier, contemporary photographers are visually grappling with it, just as their predecessors fought for control over spatial dimensions. Yet thus far their techniques have remained rooted in the analog traditions of the past. However, digital manipulation allows for a simple fabrication of absence: the restructuring of the pixels in a photographic image in order to “erase” what is depicted. This is essentially a reshuffling of pixels, the ever-malleable parade of zeroes and ones that constitute what we now call photographs. In this sense, each pixel has the potential to represent either absence or presence, or even both at the same time. Absence produced using digital technology seems neither spatial nor temporal. Like light, which is at once a wave and a particle, the digital image is capable of simultaneous multiple states of being – the zeroes and ones can be interpreted as image, or sound, or nothing at all. Perhaps this virtual potential for simultaneity and multiple states of existence can even allow us to break from our temporal restraints, finally conquering time just as we have mastered space. ■
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ISO FALL 2010
For the longest time, I’ve had certain expectations of a good portrait. To me, a portrait would have clearlydefined emotions. Its subject would have piercing eyes and a memorable facial expression. I wanted to feel the emotion instantly and be blown away by its power. However, over the years of seeing all these expressions, all these unsuppressed emotions bursting through the eyes and lips of the countless number of people photographed, the feelings I experienced began to run together. I could not remember the individual, only the things they were meant to represent. When I first saw the work of photographer Claude Cahun, I didn’t know what to feel right away. The things I did feel, I could not adequately identify in words. Born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, Cahun produced her surrealist portraits from 1912 well
into the 1930’s. Under the androgynous pseudonym Claude Cahun, she set out to challenge gender roles in her work, and her artistic rebellion did not go unnoticed. Cahun was known to dress up as a man and to dye her short hair bright colors – something quite unimaginable for someone living in the early 1900s. Cahun’s models are often hairless, dressed in unisex clothing, or cut off at the neck, making the gender of the subject indecipherable. Many of her subjects have strikingly androgynous facial features, and even in the most masculine or feminine outfits it is difficult to tell whether a given person is male or female. Even in her own self-portrait, Cahun wears exaggerated makeup accompanied by the hairstyle typically worn by men at the time. The result is a mix-up of elements: men no longer have their brooding stances and women are robbed of their fragility. It’s as if they are transformed into different
by Julia Pugachevsky
beings entirely, with no background stories or clues as to how the viewers should feel about them. All this reminds me that what makes surrealism remarkable is its ability to make you feel something without telling you what it is. It leaves you there, entranced, with a feeling that lingers simply because it cannot be defined. I could not tell if Cahun’s self-portrait brought me joy, or if the bald subjects of her work were tragic or indifferent, but I could tell that I was intrigued – that something inside me was magnetized to the ambiguous stares of the people that dwell in Cahun’s mysterious world. I felt a very similar vibe when viewing the films of director David Lynch, particularly his 1977 masterpiece Eraserhead. The film, set in an industrial wasteland, tells the story of a quiet young man named Henry Spencer
CLAUDE CAHUN, Que me veux-tu?
whose girlfriend has left him to take care of their grotesquely deformed infant. The film is composed of surrealistic images, from that of the baby, which resembles a small and slimy reptile, to a love scene between Henry and his neighbor kissing in a pool of water in the middle of his bed. Little dialogue is exchanged, and the overall style of the film is much like a dream, perhaps even a nightmare. As a result, the main idea of the film is never directly stated; there are shades of loneliness, of lust, of longing, but not one clear, definable idea. David Lynch considers it his most spiritual film, and said that it was derived from his experiences living in Philadelphia, that “this feeling left its traces deep down inside me. And when it came out again, it became Eraserhead.” Looking back at Cahun’s work, her photographs have an analogous effect.
Little is given away in her work – the costumes and props of the photos never really resemble anything seen in real life, so the emotions of the subjects, consequently, have nothing to be compared to. Cahun’s characters, furthermore, show little emotion in their facial expressions, and every part of their essence conveys something deep and difficult to unearth. These aren’t easy portraits to digest; the subjects’ faces provide little guidance in understanding the intended message or thoughts of the character or artist. The detachment of the subject prevents the viewer from using the subject’s emotions to understand the meaning of the photograph. Instead, the viewer must look beyond what is obvious and try to piece together the message of the work. The viewer identifies elements in the background, posture, costuming and so forth, and assigns meaning to them
based on his or her own experiences. There is no right or wrong message or moral: each person’s experience with the work truly comes from within, as the feelings evoked by the surrealistic elements of the portraits come from each person’s individual experiences and associations. Cahun was, undoubtedly, a rebel of her time. Her aversion to conformity seeped into her work, as she refused to tell us what to think or what to feel. In her work, we are all lost. And in our confusion, we are all liberated as we depend only on ourselves to find the meaning in the work. ■
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OUR MANIFEST DESTINY by Shalla Yudelevich
effects of photography. We have the option to carry the world in a GPS device, and thus it is tamed – pocketsized, interactive, and manageable. This gradual conquest of the globe is different from the physical ownership of colonial map makers. With a census of the ground and a sense of entitlement to the land, the area examined became theirs. Today, however, we use technology to eliminate the mystery of the unseen. When we navigate digital maps, we lay claim to the land. We are no longer limited by borders, space, or time.
I am afraid of outer space. It is frightening because of my mind’s inability to wrap itself around such massive concepts of the unknown. Though Google Earth now offers us the opportunity to examine the world from above, it brings us no closer to understanding our solar system and the great beyond. But pointing our eyes downwards and away from the mysterious, we can focus on our own Earth – that familiar orb in the solar system that is becoming more and more exposed through photography and digital imaging. The Earth is not infinite. Even if we can’t see inside the depths of the Mariana Trench or much of the abyssal plains of the ocean floor, we know that it ends somewhere. This makes
it possible to document the world as something finite – something we are able to understand visually – to alleviate the ambiguity that exists without photographic evidence. The finite is comfortable, categorized, exposed, and in being so becomes digestible, understandable, labeled, and owned. Photography allows an image to travel across the world and through decades. We can hold it and attempt to understand it as if we were in the presence of the subject. Digital mapping through satellite photographs of the Earth’s surface achieves the same effect: we are visually transported over impossible terrain, daunting oceans, and lands that have lost any sense of border through the democratizing
Our increasing ownership of the world is not physical – I do not have a deed to land in Abu Dhabi – but at any time, I can see every street, building, and landmark in the city. With access to the image, I gain an understanding of the place. So although we might not own the actual land we see, we each have a share of stock in its visual representation. Nowhere is this attitude of ownership more obvious than in Google’s placement of copyright symbols on every few square inches of its satellite maps. Furthermore, with new projects developing in the world of digital mapping, we are not only able to obtain a present image of our globe, but the past and the future are open to us as well. We have traveled through space, zooming in and out through the cloudless sky above the Earth. We can do the same through time, using Sepia Town and the Mannahatta Project as guides. Sepia Town uses a Google map of one of six cities currently
available and places a collection of old photographs from different databases into the appropriate geographic locations. Visitors are invited to click on an image on a certain street to learn more about its history and the database from which it came. The Mannahatta Project takes a wellresearched look inside the New York City of four centuries ago. Divided into grids according to city blocks, the maps allow us to enter these spaces and discover the natural habitat of Manhattan’s flora, fauna, and native peoples, as well as historic water levels and climate. Though we cannot walk through these areas anymore, we have as much access to them visually as we do to the most frigid parts of Siberia or the most dangerous war zones. The documentation of space is the democratization of space, and it is available to all. By manipulating interactive mapping in the past and present, we are able to understand and own the locations on a map in the future. In both Google Earth and user-run programs such as WikiMapia users are encouraged to add their own layers of information along with comments on pre-existing locations. Another project called Photo City, a game from the makers of Photo Tourism, allows the users to make images themselves. Photo Tourism is a system that collects images of a specific location and combines them by calculating view points to create an interactive three-dimensional space or building. Photo City was created
as a game in order to promote the uploading of these photos. An image of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for instance, is labeled with flags. These flags are gradually removed as users take more detailed photographs to replace them. Once the flag is caught, the user can take credit for contributing that piece of the puzzle. This user-oriented program hopes to facilitate a greater interaction with maps and map-making in order to create a three-dimensional experience. Combine Photo City with Google Street View and there may be little, save for the action of walking, that separates the resulting digital experience from a physical one (with apologies to Walter Benjamin). Having explored in great detail the past and present, we are now beginning to map the future. On March 24, 2010, The Museum of Modern Art opened an exhibition called Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, which will run through October 11, 2010. This group project brings together architects, engineers, and urban designers who are working toward making New York City more sustainable in the changing climate.
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Examining databases of the present permits us to imagine what might be, just as looking at maps of the past clarifies how far we’ve come. Remembering the torn and now rarely used Missouri road map in the backseat of my parents’ car, it seems that the simple image of an area from above no longer suffices for the modern map user. Using interactive mapping we are able to control the understanding of a location by including highlights, useful tips like traffic and weather, and more interactive experiences for the user who only has to turn on a device to travel great distances through space and time. Photography allows us to categorize space. Through these projects, digital imaging both breaks up the world into digestible pieces, and gives us a much larger context in which to understand it. Maybe if there existed a finite corner of outer space that could be made into a comfortable, compartmentalized scene, it would be less petrifying. But for now I’ll stick to maps of the world down here, where – though my feet are not on the ground – I can walk through it as if it were my own. ■
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ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
...AND COUNTING WAFAA BILAL by Sam Reiss
The award-winning artist Wafaa Bilal has created a piece that asks for the acknowledgment of the 100,000 losses that have occurred over the duration of the Iraq war. Using his body as a medium and tattoo art as a vehicle, Wafaa has created an important, thought-provoking piece that is inextricably tied to loss, vulnerability and a call for engagement. In the following interview, Bilal discusses his work from a deeply personal perspective. SR: What led you to begin the project? WB: I was concerned with how Iraqis spent their lives in this war: invisible. I was contemplating doing a project on remembering, at least acknowledging their names. Then the Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts asked me to do a project about the Iraq War. I really wondered how it was possible to create a monument for 100,000 people without having a concrete object somewhere bearing their names. And what I wanted to create more than anything else was a platform that would enable people to contemplate the idea of all these deaths and at least acknowledge them. So it’s not just an object, it’s an encounter or an engagement, a platform that people participate in. SR: How did you feel about the reaction to the live performance?
WB: Let’s backtrack a little bit to describe what the project entailed. The project was to develop a physical platform, which in this case, is the gallery where the performance would take place for 24 hours, streamed live over the internet. The project had three stages. The first was to map out the cities, the Iraqi cities on my back with visible tattoo ink. Stage 2, the 24-hour portion, was to tattoo 100,000 dots, one dot for each Iraqi confirmed dead in this war – and this would be in invisible ink, that would be visible only if you view it under UV light, which is black light. Stage 3 was to tattoo on my back the 5,000 dots for the 5,000 Americans killed. I thought the engagement and reaction was successful, especially because one component of that 24 hours in the gallery space was that people could pick up a list of Iraqi names and American soldiers’ names and read them. And I think that simple act itself – to me it was very successful because it allowed others to put the names on these numbers. And also, using the body as a medium because the pain that is inflicted on the body is somehow reflected in a different way: it’s not speaking to the viewers’ minds, but it’s speaking straight to their bodies. So the pain I put myself through transferred directly to their bodies. This enabled them to connect to the project and to question what would drive somebody to go through this painful process.
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
BRAD FARWELLL, documentation of ...And Counting
ISO FALL 2010
SR: Can you elaborate on the reason behind your decision to use ultraviolet light and the effect it had? WB: Well, I think it kind of came from a concept I’ve been playing with of the visible-invisible, of the comfort zone versus conflict zone, and when you look at my back you won’t see the dots that represent 100,000 people visibly unless you subject it to a certain condition, and to me that reflects the idea of engagement. When we live in a comfort zone, we are really not engaged in anything that is taking place in the conflict zone. It has a lot to do with geographical location, which allows us to be comfortable in our places even though, at the same time, it can’t always protect us from what is happening in the conflict zone. To me this is a call for active engagement. If we don’t see these things happening, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. So we need to ask you to engage, and that is the point of the dots, which mirror the call for active engagement in a political dialogue. As Americans, if we care about our place in the future we have to participate, engage in, or have a larger role in what government and corporations are doing in our names. SR: During the live aspect of the piece, I remember reading how you had the names of the lives lost read out loud. How did that relate to this concept of seeking active engagement? WB: Well, I think it has to do with active and passive engagement. Art is not an object. It is the value we embody or assign to an object. In this case, the value is assigned to the event itself. By encountering this event, the body is impacted; it becomes much more than viewing something that happened in the past. I’m not calling it performance art because to me the ideas behind it are way bigger than an art piece. The idea is to remember or at least acknowledge these 100,000 people, and I think the intensity of the encounter kind of mirrors the intensity of the subject matter. To me I don’t want to create another art piece. I
really want to engage the viewer in the subject matter. It becomes the vehicle that carries this engagement or allows this engagement or gives this engagement a platform. SR: Tell us about the borderless map – in the pictures of your tattoo it appears that only the names of the various Iraqi cities are visible. WB: They are the names of the dominant Iraqi cities, not all of them, there are so many. The idea of “borderless” is that the body is the border, but the concept is really about artficial borders imposed on the region by dominant powers. Iraq and the rest of the Middle East did not have borders until World War when the Allies divided areas to be under their control. And I think that mirrors the idea of dividing Iraq into three regions based on ethnicities: the Kurds, the Shi’ah, the Sunni. To begin with I think the borders were created in order to control. Iraq was already divided into so many different states so the dominant powers could have control over oil or other natural resources. So to me the borderless map is acknowledgment of this fact or at least a statement that I don’t acknowledge these artificial borders. SR: When you were describing the physical pain in your use of the body – what was the relationship between the body and the actual tattoos? (I’m asking because in my loose interpretation of the work I feel that there are the permanent marks that are being put on the body, and at the same time, the body is carrying all of this weight, so I was wondering where…?) WB: I am not just carrying names of cities, of people – I am carrying Iraq’s history with me all the time, just because I was one of the people affected by the current war firsthand, by losing my brother and father within two months. So I do carry that with me, but at this time, I am making it more visible to others, to acknowledge these losses. SR: Can you describe the experience of going through this physical process?
WB: To be honest it was really painful to say the least. I kept thinking, “Why did you do this?” because the pain went on for 24 hours, just like this stabbing physically, it was not just a machine tattooing, it was stabbing one dot at a time while the tattoo artist was counting these dots. But at the same time, it’s about vulnerability. Making ourselves vulnerable is a way to allow others to share pain, our pain. And I think whenever we drop these emotional barriers and become vulnerable, most likely we will be able to deal with our losses rather than keeping them inside. The feelings have to come out in some way. Either you intentionally set up an encounter and make yourself vulnerable in order to expose these issues. Or somehow, the body and the mind rebel against you, and it comes out in a different form. So to me the entire process, even though it is very painful, is constructive on a personal level – just acknowledging the losses themselves, it’s a big step for me to take. SR: Do you have any thoughts now that the live aspect is complete? WB: Yes, one. Sometimes, I forget I have these cities until somehow I kind of see them in a mirror. So I haven’t really processed it yet because sometimes I see these marks as beautiful and sometimes I am questioning why they are on my body. That is the debate, and the debate is still going on between me and myself. SR: In terms of your past photographic work, does any of it relate? WB: Most likely with the photographic work, I think if you look at my body of work from 2005, it shows one of my first steps in seeking an active engagement, and that is the work The Human Condition. After that, it led to Domestic Tension, which was on a bigger scale – not just a photograph, it was a very active encounter and engagement. I always say an idea is nothing if you don’t realize it. When you realize it there are so many things born from the process itself. That’s why I always tell my students, “An idea will be nothing if you don’t go and actively just go and make it.” And then that process doesn’t
become about the idea itself but how far we can stretch it. SR: In the development of this idea, was there an catalyst that led to its creation? How did you end up piecing together the different aspects? WB: I don’t know if there was any particular idea other than playing with ideas from the past: aesthetic pleasure versus aesthetic pain, how the body has its own language, comfort zone versus conflict zone; and these ideas led to engaging the body, engaging the viewers in a platform – the virtual platform versus the physical platform. And then again, the project itself only became a trigger for a dialogue. I don’t know if there was any specific thing that gave birth to this idea. It’s very humbling to receive emails from anonymous people saying “thank you for doing this” or in some cases saying “I didn’t know the number, now I know the number.” And I think to me, that is what the reward is, just engaging people who are not aware of what is going on. And it kind of moves it away from the artistic field of the gallery and the privileged access to it, and puts it in a context of real life and art that reflects real people. SR: In terms of the event itself, with the audience present, was there anything, any particular moment that stood out over that 24 hour period of time? WB: Yeah, I think it was the quietness of the event. Even though a lot of people were there, it was very quiet and I think it had a lot to do with the respect people paid for the names that were read aloud or for the body that the pain was being afflicted on. It is unlike other openings of performances where people are very cheerful, celebrating. I think this was celebrating in a different way, a celebration of acknowledgment. Celebrating, just acknowledging the losses – I felt that is where the quietness came from. ■
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
SPACE LINE PLANE
“I was more interested in studying how you look at something, rather than what you’re seeing.”
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
by Pey Chuan Tan
ALEX BROWN It’s understood that photography is a great medium for capturing details and nuances, from the mundane to the arcane, and sometimes even the mark of a lifetime, but the manner in which we process photographs is often overlooked. Alexander Brown’s series Space Line Plane is the visual inquiry of a young artist who is focused on the basic elements of a picture and the physical power that they hold. Brown’s collages are a joyful record of his personal discoveries in visual art. The series as a whole is a playful juxtaposition of black and white, shapes and lines that form statements about perception. By focusing on the fundamental aspects of a picture, he shows us how visual elements are brought together to express thoughts and emotions that may be outrageously simple or extremely complex. Throughout the work, Brown invites us to dig deeper into the ways in which we consider the composition of an image, starting from square one.
PCT: Your work isn’t exactly straight photography; it’s more like mixed media. How did your work evolve to this point? AB: Conceptually, I’ve always had an interest in how people relate to the things they’re looking at. But I think once I got into the study of art history and the scientific, psychological aspects of viewing a work of art, things kind of branched off into a different place. I also got to a point where I was just sick of taking photographs, and I was getting bored of making twodimensional images and hanging them up on the wall. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough at pulling emotions out of a picture. But like I said, I was more interested in studying how you look at something, rather than what you’re seeing. Working with collage allowed me to experiment more with the basic elements of graphic art, such as forms and lines.
It is Brown’s belief that artists should have an understanding of the history and theory of Western art in order to situate themselves within the current artistic dialogue. As he says, “It’s the basics that will give us a chance to understand the constant evolution of art in our digital world.”
When I thought about what I wanted to do for my senior thesis, I knew that I wanted it to be as basic as possible. I see this as a basis for my work in the future, because I can always use it as a point of reference, to consider space, form, line, and how to build up elements on a piece of paper to make something that you can call art.
PCT: Tell me about your work.
PCT: Who or what are your artistic influences?
AB: The way I work is a lot about how I relate to art and how the viewer perceives it. My senior thesis is particularly about visual perception and how images say something to the brain. It’s like a language, almost.
AB: My greatest influences for this project are Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan. Just looking at that stuff made me want to go out and take pictures. I’m also an art history major, so I study a lot of paintings and artistic philosophies. One of my courses, Cubism to Abstract Expressionism, really pushed me to think about my working processes. I really liked art from that time period because that’s when artists became more self-aware and dissected the physical and philosophical aspects of their work. And so a lot of this stuff was moved by this early 20th-century aesthetic, which I saw in the works of Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Josef Albers, to name just a few.
PCT: Does this mean you’re more interested in the technical aspects of looking at a picture than, say, the emotional response that it elicits? AB: I wouldn’t say that. It’s more like this is the first step in understanding how the viewer responds to art on an emotional level. This project serves as a very basic explanation for that. The pictures still provoke feeling when you look at them.
PCT: Klee, Mondrian, and Albers. These artists not only painted in color, but they were well known for their visual theories regarding color. Did you consider doing this project in color? AB: I didn’t go into color studies because I was thinking on a much more basic level than that. And I didn’t really get any visual cues from the paintings done by these artists. Most of the influence came from their writing and philosophies. The idea for this project came from a treatise by Paul Klee. And that’s how he defined the basic elements of art: space, line, and plane. And then my professor also gave me a book by Rudolph Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception, which really changed the way I see things. That kind of turned me on to the very technical ways in which we perceive art. PCT: How did you incorporate the theories of Klee and Arnheim into your work? AB: The influences I received from Klee and Arnheim are both similar and very different. I think both writers were focusing on what constitutes a piece of art – in terms of physical attributes, not artistic merit – and then exploring how we interact with it.
In Klee’s Creative Credo, he’s focused on his own artistic style, and ultimately what was most valuable for me was the simple statement, “The basic elements of graphic art are space, line, plane, and dot.” This one sentence made very clear what I already knew, but to have it laid out before me really clicked in my head and informed my work from then on. Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception explains the function of those basic elements laid out with scientific precision. It was exciting to learn about how an image is read from a biological perspective, because I’ve never been very good at expressing myself through photography. With Arnheim, I discovered why we’re affected by images in certain ways, and it helped me to construct more effective images. This whole idea is kind of tricky because it seems very clinical, and maybe it is. But Arnheim made me feel like I knew how to read visuals and, more importantly, how to create a visual that said something. PCT: So knowledge of Art History is very important to your work. AB: When I started studying Art History I was very moved to just go out and make stuff. That bond between historical-theoretical studies and
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
PCT: You mentioned that you are very much inspired by the work of Harry Callahan. While his work studied the contrasts between light and dark, line and form, it was also very personal because he documented the life of his family. What does this series mean to you, on a personal level? AB: I really love that you ask this question, because it may seem that the only thing in my work that’s influenced by Callahan is the aesthetic. This is something I love about his work, but it’s definitely not the only quality. I love looking at Callahan’s work because I get a real sense of the artist enjoying himself and exploring the visual world with his camera. He worked very closely with his wife, and having had experiences working with friends and family on photo shoots myself, I can relate to that.
my actual artistic practice hasn’t changed. I don’t think what I’m doing is incredibly innovative, but I enjoy taking the theory and practice of artists that I respect and reinterpreting it in the present, in a way that is distinctly modern and represents my style. The history of art is an endless source of inspiration because there are always visuals and ideas, be they from ten years ago or 10,000 years ago, that I can work with. PCT: In your collages, how do you decide which images to put together? AB: Trial and error, coupled with hours of sitting down. I’ll get an idea, then I’ll try it out on paper. After cutting a sheet of paper into different shapes, I start to fit the pieces in various configurations, and see what I get. Some things work and some things don’t. So I guess on that level, it’s much more about aesthetic than about concept. Then some of it just happens. There was a drawing that I had on my wall for a while, next to a photo I had taken. Those two came together serendipitously, and everyone in my class agreed. I think the happenstance of it makes sense because the premise of this project is so simple. Basically, what happens when you put two things together? How do you perceive the relationship between the two?
I don’t think that there’s a clear sense of the personal in my work, but the personal aspect of Callahan’s images definitely influences the way I work. I always want to stay lighthearted and excited about what I’m doing. The models for this project were my best friend and myself, so when I shot my images it was always experimentation, a fun project. To be honest, I was never exactly sure of what I was working towards, but just having an idea that led to another idea was enough to fuel this project. My collages and drawings were the same way, just starting with an idea, putting it on a piece of paper and seeing how it looked. PCT: What do you hope people will get out of your pictures? AB: People tell me, “I really like it, but I don’t really get it.” I’ve gotten this reaction a lot, especially when I was working on the project in my senior thesis class. That to me is in a way the crux of my work. I want the pictures to be so basic that it’s hard to make assumptions, but easy to form multiple interpretations based on form and line. PCT: You want to jolt our senses. AB: Yeah, kind of. This project is way more visual than most of my other projects have been. It’s about seeing something and giving a clear response to it. And this just makes you conscious of the fact that you’re looking at a picture and what goes into that process. How the mind constructs space, constructs line, constructs plane. How you really look at something. ■
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
ON DEPTH AND EXISTENCE
“When I have this piece of glass blocking my eye, I begin to forget that I’m in the most alien place left on the planet.”
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
by Katie Vogel
SIMON PINTER For his series On Depth and Existence, Simon Pinter made fifty-six dives to the bottom of the sea in West Palm Beach and Key Largo, Florida. Before he started scuba diving, he was terrified of the water and what was lurking in its depths – but now that is precisely what lures him in, what keeps him diving and capturing life in this environment with his camera. His photographs reflect the abstract and unsettled life under the surface of the water, and yet they are extremely meticulous in their depiction. He has worked as a print and drum-scan service manager at the Advanced Media Studio at NYU for the past three years, and was able to use all the equipment to print his photos. He feels extremely fortunate to have had this job because, as he says, “I can visualize something, and then, I’m the person who has to translate that vision into the final product.” KV: When I first saw your photographs, I was fascinated because I had never seen underwater photographs like these before. The graininess is beautiful. How did you do this? What kind of camera did you use?
SP: I shoot with a Nikonos 5. It’s a 35 mm rangefinder film camera. It’s designed as a water-proof camera. KV: Do you usually or exclusively shoot in black and white or are you also attracted to color? SP: I’m definitely attracted to color. A lot of the aesthetics of my work are dictated by technical necessities. I couldn’t afford a digital underwater camera for this project, so I bought the Nikonos 5 because if you want to buy a comparable digital camera, you’re talking ten times the cost. So I knew I had to shoot film. When you shoot with color film or with a digital camera in color, you get down to a certain depth, and all you begin to see is blue. Which some people like; I had a problem having just a blue project. Many underwater photographs appear to have “natural” coloration because they are lit using electronic flash or continuous lighting. I don’t like the aesthetic of flash or lights; it looks artificial. So, knowing that I didn’t want blue pictures and I didn’t want artificial lights, the only logical way to go was to remove the color altogether. That put me using black and white film, which is something I really ended up loving. So that’s the technical and logistical reason why my images look the way they look. That being said, it worked for me on a conceptual level because I’m going into this area where seeing isn’t exactly as clear as it is when you’re on land. You’re dealing
OPENER: untitled (t11f21a), 2009, archival pigment print; THIS PAGE: untitled (t8f20), 2009, archival pigment print
untitled (t2f19a), 2009, archival pigment print
with the murkiness of the water; you’re dealing with the surface wave conditions – the choppier the water is, the less light is reaching the bottom. And when I’m diving, I’m constantly aware of shapes coming from the distance and then materializing as they get closer. And when people see the prints it’s a very similar kind of experience – as you get closer, things become abstract; the grain resembles the murkiness. It’s a very viewer-involved experience. KV: What camera do you usually work with if you’re just shooting casually? Film or digital?
SP: Absolutely not. I grew up in Michigan. All of my friends growing up had boats and they lived on lakes. But from a very early age, I had an aversion to going in the water. I was afraid for many reasons. Every time I got into the swimming pool, I knew that there was a shark in the pool waiting for me. So literally, I didn’t get in a body of water from probably second or third grade until probably my senior year of high school. It must have just been a situation where I grew out of it. All of a sudden, I started getting comfortable going in the water. KV: So far as to learn how to scuba dive!
SP: I have photographic obsessions... I have a collection of cameras. My very first SLR was a Minolta Maxxum 5, and I shot with that for quite some time. I haven’t bought a digital camera yet, I don’t own one, but I’m going to buy one when I graduate. I promise. I’m going to have to if I want to do freelance stuff on the side. I own two 4x5 cameras – one of them I bought, and one of them I built. I own a Bronica ETR 645 medium format camera. And a pinhole camera.
SP: Well, that was still to come. That didn’t happen until college. A buddy of mine had been scuba diving since he was twelve... it must have been sophomore year of college, he finally got certified as a scuba instructor, and he called me up – he has a vacation home in Florida, in West Palm Beach – and he said, “Simon, I want to certify you as a scuba diver.” I was his first student. KV: Were you still nervous about going in the water?
KV: Have you had a life-long fascination with the sea?
SP: No. No, the fear disappeared almost instantly. After that trip, I went home, and really reflecting on
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the experience, loved it, and knew that I wanted to do it again. So I put some money together and I went back down there that December, and I took the department’s underwater camera with me. And I took some pictures, probably four rolls of film. I processed them, and I fell in love with it. And at that point I decided, I need to make a thesis out of this. I spent from January until August thinking about nothing but this thesis. During that period of time, I put together a budget, I planned to go back to West Palm Beach and Key Largo in August for about two weeks, and I planned another trip for December of ‘09 for two more weeks. And I bought my own equipment, bought the camera. KV: Which was probably the cheapest thing you had to buy, right? SP: You’re absolutely right about that! That was probably the cheapest thing I had to pay for, because not only did I have to get to Florida, but when you dive, you have to pay a charter boat every day you want to go out. And I did fifty-six dives for this project; fifty-six times to the bottom of the ocean. KV: I love the slow-motion feeling of your photographs. Is that how the pace of the ocean really feels? SP: There’s certainly a slower pace when you’re down there. Sometimes you’ll have schools of fish that shoot past you, but you are subject to the water resistance, so even if you wanted to move fast, there’s a limit to how fast you can move your arms. When you are underwater there are a few things that you use as reference points for space and time. One reference point is your breathing, the loudest thing that you hear. I find diving very calming, so I don’t breathe very fast, so one of the things that relates to time is the pace of my breathing.
untitled (t8f19), 2009, archival pigment print
KV: What does it feel like to be in a school of fish? That’s something most people never get to experience. SP: I think for me as a photographer, it’s a different experience than somebody who’s just diving to see with their eyes. For example, I went on a dive with just me, my friend, and the boat captain, who happens to be an avid spearfisherman. And he knew that I was doing a thesis, and he said, “Do you guys want to go on a shark dive?” We said, “Sure!”... So we get down there, and the first thing he does is shoots a fish with his spear gun, and he pulls it in on the line... and within just a few seconds we probably had three or four bull sharks circling around us. We’ll call that a small school. What I guess I think about most is what I need to do to stay alive... and getting the pictures. So, let’s go to a more docile situation where I’m just in a huge school of fish. All I’m thinking about is making sure I record it the way I’m seeing it. KV: You don’t let your emotions take over? SP: This is one of the things, I would say, I don’t so much like about shooting underwater... sometimes you forget how incredible an experience you’re in the middle of. When I have this piece of glass blocking my eye, I begin to forget that I’m in the most alien place left on the planet. KV: A few of your photos have humans and sea creatures in the same frame. What do you think is man’s role in the sea and, specifically, your own role as well?
SP: Humans, in general, have no role in the sea; we are a completely terrestrial species. We are at a point in technology and in history where the fate of the ocean is literally in our hands. It has a lot to do with pollution; it has a lot to do with overfishing. My work is about nature adapting to what we have done to it. When I’m shooting people, it’s important to me not that I point out specifically what we’re doing, but that I point out how nature is reacting to what we’re doing. I don’t want to go underwater and focus on garbage; I don’t want to take pictures of carcasses of sea turtles that have been caught in nets. My focus is what nature can do to save itself, and maybe somebody looking at that can be inspired to not participate in throwing garbage down a storm drain that will ultimately be carried out into New York Harbor, or not going to some fancy restaurant in the city and ordering Bluefin Tuna, which is on the brink of extinction. So photographing humans wasn’t necessarily important to me, as much as how they are interacting with the ocean in those specific images. KV: Are you particularly drawn to photographing the sea or are there subjects you are equally or more drawn to, especially before you started this project?
untitled (t33f9a), 2010, archival pigment print
SP: I love being outside. I love nature. I love everything that is the opposite of New York City. I think I have the most fun photographing underwater. When I’m underwater, all my equipment is being supported by the water, and if I’m photographing on land, I probably have a big camera to carry around. When I’m experiencing nature, I like the feeling that I’m not carrying anything. If I could go on a month-long hiking trip with nothing except for a pair of pants and a shirt and shoes, I would do
it because to me that is the ultimate in being one with the environment. KV: Do you have any specific influences? SP: One of the first underwater photographers that I ever started looking at was David Doubilet. He’s famous for the over/under shot... he was really the pioneer of that technique. I don’t care so much for that work. But there’s one image that he has from his book Water, Light, Time that is one of my all time favorites. His black and white work, specifically his earlier stuff, is what first got me really excited about shipwrecks and about being able to look at them in a very subjective way instead of as technical photographs, like something out of a textbook. Also, the work of Gustave Doré – some of the images are very satanic and apocalyptic, and, although my work is not actually about that kind of subject, one way I would describe many of my images is this scary environment. We’re dealing with very primal elements of the Earth. I think about the creation of the Earth, and the destruction of the Earth, and fire and brimstone, and all these things. ■
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
“Essentially, I wanted to emphasize that the magazine has formal qualities – as painting, drawing, photography do – that the artist manipulates to create the experience, so it is no less a work of art.”
ISO ISSUE NO. 4
ISO FALL 2010
by Jenna Spitz
DANLLY DOMINGO Danlly Domingo is a connoisseur of magazines. At a recent ISO staff meeting, he pushed a Sarah Jessica Parker-featured issue of Vogue across the table, and in a breathy voice said, “Smell.” In addition to subtle fragrance samples, print magazines have a number of alluring qualities – portability, tactility, and command over insider opinion on art, fashion, and culture. Danlly describes, “It’s a work of art that I can hold in my hand, experience anywhere from the bathroom to the subway, archive on my shelf or cut up (for elementary school projects and ransom notes alike) then throw away. I can adhere to the editors’ prescribed sequence or I can flip through at the will of my ADD.” While working as the Art Director for ISO Magazine the past two years, Danlly has worked as a photography intern at Vanity Fair, Details, and Vogue. He witnessed the manifold layoffs and bankruptcies in 2009, the heated debates between print and online investment, and the steady transition towards digital media as a faster, cheaper, more versatile medium for the future of magazines. For his senior thesis show, Danlly produced a project that is provocative, both visually and conceptually.
In three (anything but simple) steps: he produced and printed a magazine focused on digital media’s impact on fashion and culture. He documented the only printed copy in two high-definition videos. In the first he turned the pages sequentially, methodically, allowing the viewer time to experience each page; in the second, he flipped the pages randomly, erratically out of order. Finally, Danlly destroyed the printed magazine, leaving only the videos as the evidence and final work. The project, entitled TK (publishingspeak for “to come” to signify content that has yet to be placed), is a conceptual response to the digital revolution’s transformation of print media. It is, at once, an act of creation, documentation, and destruction, or as Danlly simply says, “It’s an exploration of form.” JS: Can you talk a little about TK? How did the project come about? DD: TK is primarily the product of anxiety, or rather, multiple anxieties converging. I was anxious that my career path, the one that I had always dreamt about and had assumed was already set in stone, was in a drastically transforming field, which at its worst could become obsolete. And then I was anxious about creating, for my thesis project, a substantial work that would appeal to a fine art sensibility – a project that not only would showcase my skills to prospective employers and clients but could also be shown in a gallery space as the culmination of my fine arts education. This was, after all, my first opportunity to show at such a grand scale. JS: How did you use those anxieties for good?
DD: In the fall, I was taking Fred Ritchin’s class on the Future of Imaging, which forced me to confront many of today’s issues regarding how rapidly imaging is changing. It made me eager – but again, anxious – to create something relevant to now. Fortunately, all of my anxieties were tied to one thing: the magazine and its form. It’s where my career hopefully lies. It’s where my skills lie. And it’s where some of today’s contemporary imaging issues lie. So the magazine is what inspired the whole project. JS: What was your artistic intention for TK? DD: The way I designed the magazine itself, I wanted to emphasize formal characteristics that are unique to a magazine and do not necessarily apply to comparable digital media – namely, the fixed edges, the gutter, the sequence of pages, etc. I had headlines going off the page. I had copy repeating where the run-over text continues to emphasize the continuation. I laid out images with the corresponding copy deliberately on another page so that the viewer would have to flip back and forth. And so on. Essentially, I wanted to emphasize that the magazine has formal qualities – as painting, drawing, photography do – that the artist
manipulates to create the experience, so it is no less a work of art. And then the videos took it further. JS: Each video installation puts a certain constraint on the viewer. How are you manipulating or taking creative control of our experience of TK? DD: By presenting the magazine as a video installation, I am stripping it of its tactile, portable, mass-media qualities, hopefully as a means to emphasize them. You can’t look at the pages you want to look at, in the order that you want to look at them, or at the place that you want to look at them. You cannot take it with you to the bathroom, on the subway, into the waiting room. It’s a fine art piece in a gallery, rather than a mass-produced commodity. Essentially, I’m projecting what may happen if digital media should render the printed magazine obsolete. JS: The strangest thing to me about the video installation is its silence. There is no rustle of the turning pages, no satisfying flop when the magazine is flipped back over. You know that quivering sound that’s made when your fingers slide to pinch a page? There’s none of that. What, in your opinion, will be lost if print media is laid to rest?
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ISO FALL 2010
DD: A distinguishing characteristic of digital media is the instantaneity of it. From websites to blogs to tweets, information once conveyed by print media travels that much faster with the digital. But in that rush to keep the information flowing, to stay competitive by prioritizing immediacy, what’s lost is the time and care (and money) spent to nurture the creative, to develop the ideas, to execute the production, to edit – a process that print media embraces in its editorial features, photo essays, portfolios, etc. The beautiful, glossy, creatively developed images of a fashion story don’t really have a place anywhere else other than print media, and it’d be a shame to lose that. And not to sound like a broken record, but I believe images in a tactile form have incomparable impact, different from the fleeting digital imagery that saturates our lives only ephemerally. That impact comes from being able to possess and to protect the printed image. To have it in one’s hand, printed on paper of a certain weight, with the capacity to be archived with arguably more security than bytes and pixels, gives it greater value than a digital image that is so easily duplicated, shared, transferred, manipulated, lost, deleted – an image that is a dime-a-dozen in this info-saturation era and can disappear from virtual space as quickly as it appears. JS: You collaborated with many different artists, writers and designers on this project. Tell us about “Functions and Form,” one of the features in the magazine. How did you meet and collaborate with designer Saba Juneja? DD: Saba has been a friend of mine for a couple years now. When I was in the process of shooting her thesis collection from when she studied fashion design at Parsons, I came across her renderings for a collection she had conceptualized using mathematical formulas. I was inspired by the concept – the idea that creativity can be harnessed by technology and that fashion could possibly be a simple output from a computer, essentially displacing the artist. I was further inspired by the fact that the designs only existed in digital renderings. Any student attempting a fashion photography portfolio knows the trouble of trying to obtain clothing samples to shoot. With the digital, however, I could bypass that and create images with clothes I don’t have, or in this case, that don’t actually exist.
JS: Are these bloodless models a reflection of where fashion is going? In your experience working at the Condé Nast empire, what impression has fashion made? DD: The bloodless aliens sort of just came out of the concept. To showcase the idea that these are computer-generated garments, I wanted to create computer-generated people wearing them. I think the reference image in my head was the robot girl in Svedka ads. Unfortunately – or fortunately, I haven’t decided – these aren’t the future faces of fashion, which seems to be stuck in a self-referential cycle. My experience with fashion is that it too often pulls from its own history, simply reviving and re-contextualizing, then calling itself “forward.” I mean, for example, right now, it seems to be on the verge of reviving 90s fashion, not too long after reviving 80s fashion, not too long after the actual 90s themselves. It’s been a while since something actually revolutionary has happened
to the process. That said, with the digital infiltrating all areas of culture, we’ll see how fashion tries to adjust to the image saturation and to the wider public’s access to what was once an elitist culture. Fashion design is in the midst of transformation itself. JS: In “Streetview Fashion,” you seamlessly composite your own studio-shot model into images you found on Google Maps via street-view. The results are so real, it’s scary. What was this process like for you? DD: I had known about the street-view function for a while, but its formerly low-tech quality initially led me to dismiss the street images of any aesthetic value. Then, early last fall when I was planning a trip to Europe in November, curiosity led me to the streets of Paris – via Google Maps – only to discover that the quality of the images had significantly improved. I was blown away by the realism – the color, the detail (actual people!) – of clicking through those streets as though I was exploring on foot. I had access to an experience that would later require hundreds of dollars and time off from school, to an experience that costs magazines thousands of dollars to produce in editorial images. This reminded me of a question posed in the aforementioned Future of Imaging class: Given a database of high-resolution location images, why travel? Thus, the concept of “Streetview Fashion” was born. JS: In addition to your photographic work, graphic design, video and installation art, as well as directorial and editorial duties in this project, it sounds like by destroying the print copy of TK, you’re dabbling a bit in performance art. Are you inspired at all by performance art? DD: I am indeed inspired by performance art, but I’m not sure I’m able to speak of its relevance (or of its influence) to this project articulately. I can only venture to guess it has something to do with artistic control. I feel that in performance art, more so than in visual art, the artist controls the experience. Although many variables are left open (especially when the performance is interactive), the artist must be conscious and aware of these variables – of all the elements of the piece, really. Typically, the artist is present (I love Marina Abramovic) physically in the work, whereas in visual art, once the image is exhibited or published, the artist’s role for the most part is over,
and so much control is left with the viewer. Well, TK has a lot to do with my taking control of the medium. JS: So I’m dying to know, how did you destroy it after all? Did you burn it in effigy? Or did it meet its end in the paper shredder, perhaps? DD: I’m keeping that secret. Perhaps someone can discover it and publish it in an exposé someday. JS: Always a man of mystery. You’ve stretched the limitations of multiple mediums and, I suspect, the limitations of your own time and energy. How many late nights did you devote to your thesis? DD: Counting the consecutive nights curled up in the corner trying to manage my anxiety attacks? About six months’ worth. Don’t make me relive it. JS: Do you have advice for someone interested in carrying out a multimedia thesis project? DD: Curb your ambition! Kidding. You should actually do the complete opposite and try ignoring your limits. You might discover that they don’t actually exist (yet another lesson from Ms. Abramovic). ■
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“You know loss happens to everybody. It happens to empires and it happens to individuals and that’s so much of who we are as human beings.” JASON ESKENAZI
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by Michael George
JASON ESKENAZI When we reflect on the past it can often feel like a dream. The joy and pain of nostalgia is many times what drives us to photograph in the first place. Somehow, Eskenazi’s Wonderland series crafts a visual nostalgia for an entire nation. Over the course of a decade, Eskenazi traveled through Russia developing a vision of life after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This collection of his images now lives in a small-format book that was recently reprinted. In the following interview, Eskenazi divulges the rewards and hardships of becoming an international photographer. He also reminds us that you can’t escape the autobiographical nature of the medium, even while shooting a foreign nation. Wonderland is whimsical in a way that captures your senses. Pay close attention to Eskenazi’s words but also do yourself the biggest favor by picking up a copy of the book before it’s too late. MG: Can you tell me a little bit about this project? JE: When I first went to Moscow to photograph in 1991, I had not yet conceived of Wonderland as a project. That trip, and the one before when I went to Germany and Romania, was basically my first international travel. During that time I was just taking
pictures and learning how to shoot. I never went to photo school but in the mid ‘80s I was working in darkrooms and assisting photographers. I was a photographer myself but I wanted to be a globetrotting photographer, so I got on an airplane. My desire to be an international photographer coincided nicely with the fall of the Berlin Wall and so that was where I went. After Germany and Romania, a few months later, I went to Moscow when it was still the Soviet Union in June of 1991. I didn’t have any big plans of doing a book. I was just honing my craft by shooting what interested me, learning from colleagues, and trying to find my own voice. Only years later after I accumulated many photographs did I try to think about how I could put them in a collection. MG: It’s pretty romantic to just hop on a plane and travel internationally thinking ‘this is what I want to do so this is what I’m going to do.’ Were you working for any news wires along the way or did you just save money? How did that process work? JE: While assisting photographers I did save money to go out and I was connected to some news agencies but I didn’t work for any really. I certainly sought out, sometimes, an assignment for the New York Times. I was connected. I knew and was getting to know the whole photo community where everyone is connected: the photographers, the photo editors, everybody. It was just getting in there... It’s like going to a party where you know one or two people and by the time you leave the party you know everybody. When I left I brought with me my own
OPENER: Army Base, Karagandar, Kazakhstan; THIS PAGE: Wedding, Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine
Pagan Holiday, Georgia
romantic notions of life but also was empathetic enough to feel what Russians felt about the collapse of their empire. For me, Wonderland became a very personal book. I lived most of my 30s in and around Moscow and traveled from there. Of course you can’t separate your personal life from your professional life. I think journalists try to do that. As I started out and got on an airplane for the first time I was nervous and didn’t know what I was doing but, you know, that’s in the great tradition of traveling. I wanted to hop on that train and be where the action was– to see things for myself that I was reading in the newspapers. MG: What about access? Was it easy to acquire? JE: Maybe I went in a little naïve but as time passed I go to know everybody in Moscow. All the foreign journalists, everyone who worked for the New York Times and TIME Magazine, we were all friends and if I needed access I could get a letter from someone. That was not such a big problem. Being in on the fall of the Soviet Union and those first few years, they were not used to journalistic practices and so they did not fear journalists. Back then, in the early 90s, you could get access to places that you couldn’t get access to now because they’re too savvy to journalistic investigation and the general negative outcome of it. It was easier back then but in Russia I always said, “Nothing is allowed but everything is possible.” On the surface you can’t do anything– you can’t go into a prison, you can’t photograph this, you can’t photograph that, but there are ways around it. Knowing the culture I found those ways and so did my colleagues. MG: Do you think the path you took is possible today for a young photographer? JE: The path is always open to anybody at any time. It just depends on how brave you want to be, not knowing
how you’re going to pay your rent or things like that. Not to go on as Thoreau said, about listening to a different drummer, but if you want to go out on your own, there’s always a way to find the means to support yourself. As a photographer you’re signing a contract for a certain type of life. If you think you want to be a photographer because you want to make big bucks, as a documentary photographer you can forget about that. If you love photography because you love fashion or commercial photography then yes, you can have the great success story of Annie Leibovitz… and her downfall as well. It all depends. I live in Red Hook with a bunch of photographers and I pay $500 a month rent. It’s nearly nothing but of course I wouldn’t mind having a nice brownstone. But I chose this life a long time ago and I live with it and I am happy with it. There are ups and downs but I get to do what I want. For the most part I get to express my own emotions and what is inside me. That gives me a satisfaction no other job ever could. Again, you still need to be a talented photographer so you need to have some sort of vision. You need to develop it over a few years. Most good projects or first projects by these great wonderful photographers, our friends, our colleagues, and people we admire, took a good ten years to develop. MG: I’m curious. When you first left did you feel like you were leaving people behind? Did you not have a solid base you were abandoning? I feel like that life lends itself
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to a certain type of person who is able to jump from place to place without feeling lonely or disconnected. JE: Well it all depends. If you are a family person and thinking by the time you’re thirty you want to have a kid already, then you’re choosing a different lifestyle altogether. I know people who do both things but there’s different emphasis on what’s important in their lives. You know initially when you go out on this journey that you are leaving people behind, but you’re going to come back. It’s not a oneway journey. You’re going to return so it enlivens you. New York is going to be here when you get back and nothing much will change. There will still be the same parties and same people and you’ll come back into their lives. But on the other side of the ocean you then connect to other people and you become friends with them as well, and if you are in the photographic community everyone is traveling anyway. So if I don’t see my friend in New York or here in Brooklyn, I’ll see him in Istanbul. It’s like this incredible web is created by all of these photographers, and you could say lonely people as well, so that’s why they keep this web going– that connection– because it is difficult to be out on your own and stick it out but it depends on what you want out of life. If you want to win spiritually as a human being you have to take a chance and do what’s in your heart. You can’t put that away in a box because it will creep up on you years later that you never did this and never did that. To be a human being is to be creative and if you have this ability and vision to create things then you will go after it no matter what happens. MG: You said you went to Berlin and a few other places but ended up in Russia. Did you only stop to focus there because it seemed to be where things were happening or was there another draw? JE: During my first trip, from June to August in 1991, that was when the coup happened so certainly that was a historical moment. I thought after the coup, when things quieted down, it would be a democratic country and I would probably go to another place. I went back to New York for some months but decided to go back to Moscow because
there was all of this stuff happening, caucuses and conflicts. The more I lived and worked in Russia and the former Soviet Union, all of the satellite countries, the more I saw it was becoming my story as well. I gradually hooked into their nostalgia for their country, their overnight loss of something. You know loss happens to everybody. It happens to empires and it happens to individuals and that’s so much of who we are as human beings. It’s our conscious and unconscious ability to process loss. I was getting attached to Russia. For a photographer it was a bit of a Disneyland because it was like all of those photos you looked at when you were going to school. It had a very retrograde feeling, like fifty years in the past. There was less advertising on the streets and it was sort of a way to go back in time– the dream of every photographer. When I first arrived I was fifty years back in time, and then forty years, and then twenty-five years. As the years rolled by their past sort of became concurrent with the reality of the world. Now Moscow looks like any other country. Moscow itself is the most expensive European city. There’s tons of advertising everywhere and it’s just like going anywhere else. Before though, when I was there, it was a window to the past, which I think is difficult to achieve now because the whole communist world was what kept that landscape in check. MG: Outside of Wonderland you also have a project called Vanishing Points that focuses on Ground Zero. It seems you have an attraction to events that trigger massive changes in cultural thought. JE: As a photographer or journalist you want to be where stuff is happening. If some major event occurs you always take that moment to think ‘should I go or shouldn’t I go.’ Of course, you always want to go but you have to tell yourself you can’t because you can’t afford it or have other obligations. But deep down that instinct to be some place is a visual instinct. As a writer you can write about something 10,000 miles away but as a photographer you need to be always on the ground five feet away from whatever is happening in order to get into that zeitgeist of the time.
Religious Procession, Azarmas
Heroin Addicts, Lvov, Ukraine
You know, photographers, the best ones, are empathetic to situations. It’s not sympathy…sympathy is a different thing. It’s empathy, a very Greek notion. At one time I worked as a security guard at the Met. for twenty months. I worked a lot in the Greek section. When you pass by those statues you see that the Greeks caught something that was not there before, especially not in the Egyptian art that preceded it. There is an introspection when you see those statues. The sculptor had an empathy to try to understand what was going on inside these pieces of stone. As a photographer you’re also working like that. In some ways it’s a very sculptural medium. Even though you’re working with a flat surface you’re working with dimension all the time. You find dimension through the use of light and planes and distances inside the photograph that make up a foreground or a background. You’re recreating a threedimensional space two-dimensionally but also you are trying to populate your photos with individuals who have thoughts. You could be photographing a wet dog crossing the street and you will anthropomorphize him to look really miserable even if he is pretty happy. I think the photographer is a very empathetic and patient animal working to create interesting frames. MG: Wonderland took you ten years to produce. How did you keep track of what you were shooting? Do you have a final roll count? JE: That’s something I’m confronting now. How many rolls I actually shot, I don’t know. I’m pretty organized– I have everything in boxes and glassine envelopes and they’re all numbered, but as I had money and didn’t have money over the years I developed my film or gave it to someone else to develop and they put their own numbers on it. I recently decided it’s about time to go back and see how much film I shot. I would love to have a count and in complete order. I was a bit inspired by my last weeks working at the Met. Every single day I was in the Robert Frank show living in that maze of photos and I knew that he shot 767 rolls of film for that project. Frank took a year or two years to photograph The Americans and I was in and out of Russia for a good ten years. I wouldn’t call myself trigger-happy – I am fairly conservative compared to some of my colleagues, but there’s certainly thousands of rolls of film.
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I didn’t use any vertical photos in the book because of the format. There are definitely things I left out or kept in just to keep a loose narrative. The book is influenced by 19th century novels and I think I was more influenced by those things than actual other photographs. For the story factor I always felt that a lot of photo books, though there could be great photos in them, left me feeling sort of like I didn’t understand anything deeply about the subject matter because it didn’t go to a place where it would create a story dimension. Even though there are photo essays and world press, they’re only called photo essays because you have twelve or twenty photos that try and tell a story. I feel there’s something missing in that and it’s why I feel that the format of my work is extremely important. It shouldn’t overtake the subject but it needs to find a good balance. What do you put it in? Between what covers are you putting your work? And I think that comes naturally if you let it and think about what the photos need. Just like a record album, how do you want people to feel when they pick up your book and you bring them into a world? I think, like any novel you read, you’re introduced to characters slowly and then by the time you’re forty pages in you’re in that world. You read it on the subway, you read it everywhere, and you really are in two places at once. You’re in your own shoes walking down Broadway and you’re also in some other place. I wanted my book to open some world that is both real and imaginary. That’s also a reason why the book is so small. I wanted people to take it on the subway. MG: After you realized Wonderland was a project did you also have other smaller projects that were not fully developed during that time period or did you know this was it and now it’s time to move on? JE: Doing your first big project there’s not much room to think about other things. Those ideas certainly come when you’re influenced by other art forms, movies, and things that you see that would make a good project. I was in some conversation with a photographer, I can’t remember, it might
have been Larry Towell, and this was a good ten to fifteen years ago, but the notion of boxes came up. Whether you actually keep physical boxes, or they are boxes in your head, or you can imagine that you have folders as boxes on your computer on your desktop and you open a box and you throw something in it. You might throw a piece of paper in there, an idea saying, “I want to shoot this!” And you close that box and you put a label on it and you create another box and you might throw a photo in it and you might think, “Oh, that’s interesting. I like the color red. I’m gonna just collect all photos that have red in them,” like a friend of mine Thomas Dworzak did many years ago. I definitely have many boxes on my shelf with labels and various amounts of material in them of different projects I’ve either begun or have actually done some work on or projects that I’ve done nothing on but, yes, they’re all building little by little. You add a little to it each few months and eventually when that box is full it’s a book. I’m definitely working on a lot of little projects, some will be published, some won’t be. But yes, you’re not like a horse with blinders, you can’t only think of one thing and not see the others. MG: A lot of your images are made up of varied compositions created within a wider angle. Is that your signature, to be able to see that way? Were you shooting with a 35mm lens the whole time? JE: I think photographers have their comfort zones. Most of my pictures are shot at the same distance and I use the same lens. For 98% of those pictures I used a 35mm lens. Maybe one or two was a 28mm and there’s actually no 50mm. I always use a 35mm and I tend to step back. It’s almost like it is a 28mm but if you had a 28mm you would take a step closer and then the background would fall too far behind too quickly and I don’t like that. I felt more comfortable shooting with a 35mm and stepping back to include more. I’m always very conscious of the different layers of foreground, middleground, and background. For me I’m always looking for that balance of geometry and emotions. I think I stole
that from Larry Towell as well. It’s basically the composition and the emotional component of what is happening in the frame. Basically it’s like rote, all you do all day is take your camera, you take that rectangle, and you just frame things all the time. Does it look good? Does it not look good? If it looks good then it is good. You’re just trying things and shooting to get that composition where it seems natural. It almost seems like you just picked up the camera and took a picture. It’s not forced. I always try to find naturalism even though the photos are as complex as possible. MG: Now that Wonderland is published do you see something on the horizon? Do you plan to just shoot and eventually make something of it all or do you have a more concentrated idea this time around? JE: The next project certainly won’t take ten years. I won’t be around to complete many of them that way. Although, I am working in two different ways, one way with shorter, more conceptual projects, the things that I think about. I have also determined that I will make a series of three books where Wonderland is the first book. It’s a trilogy of black and white books similar to Wonderland but in different geographical locations investigating different things. That’s not a good word– things. I’m hopefully going to live in Istanbul for a while and produce a project called The Black Garden which is really an investigation into duality and East/ West and things like that I think about all the time. It’s not a journalistic project, I just want to go there and take pictures and try to formulate another book that looks like Wonderland but takes the thread from those photos and moves it further. I am trying to make some kind of autobiography. These three books are my autobiography seen through or helped with the metaphors that I find in the world. I’m trying to find these metaphors and work with them and see how they connect to me because, in the end, everything everywhere is connected. MG: But what is your specific process for taking what you want to do and deciding how it’s going to come to fruition? JE: If you have an idea, you find a way to pay for it. If you’re going to wait around for people to give you money or to get
Mountain Village Wedding, Dagestan
49 a grant, forget about it. Grants will come to the people who take chances on something come hell or high water. You took this great chance and you made these photos. If you have a vision to do something, you just go out and do it and see what happens later. MG: I have yet to see a project shot with a digital camera that is as coherent and honest as Wonderland. It’s a classic contemporary conversation, but what do you think we are losing in the digital age?
Bus, Menage Square, Moscow
JE: I already feel like a dinosaur shooting black and white film, but people always say they wish they had more time to shoot it. This is a conversation we have in Red Hook all the time with my colleagues who come over. The only thing I can think of to say is that people who have been weaned on digital, it’s natural for them so there’s not a problem with it. They don’t see what people see who learned photography in the ‘70s or ‘80s when there was no digital photography and they saw the negative as the Rosetta Stone. A digital chip is also a Rosetta Stone for some other language of digits and numbers. I can only imagine what it was like in the 19th century when people were running around with 8x10 view cameras and after forty years, say the 1920s, you have the 35mm camera come along and you have Kertesz in the ‘30s running around with that thing and those people shooting with glass plates must have thought, ‘Oh, these are amateurs, they don’t even use a tripod. How could we take them seriously?’ There’s another revolution happening now which is unstoppable and which is fine. I think digital photographers will see and record things differently. For them to take a step back is problematic, especially if they turn digital images into black and white simply for a stylistic thing. I think it’s just another language and if you learn it then you can make great images. For me it’s problematic because I can’t wrap my head around where the image exists. At least I know that I have thousands of rolls of negatives that are tangible things. When I see, like one of my roommates, Christian Hansen, shooting mostly digital, there’s just stacks and stacks of hard drives and I don’t know where those images really exist. You have them stored and
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backed up and then backed up again but I would be afraid of that. I’m happy to be stuck where I am. I don’t feel left out. I’m just continuing to use the language that I learned when I was in my twenties. MG: Now that Wonderland has completed its first printing do you think you’ve reached your intended audience? JE: You know I assume every household has photo books but they might be of a more calendar-sort. Just like in any household you will find popular novels. I don’t even know their names, Michael Crichton? You’re going to find these books but you sometimes might like to be in a library that has other more profound books. In that same way you can have photo books that are a bit superficial or you can have photo books that look deeper into the content of things. Of course other photographers see those things that are dear to them, so they want to have books that encourage their vision. It all depends on the appeal of the subject matter. You really want to appeal to the NPR listening audience – NPR is the voice of our life. We find out so many cultural things, new books to read, new music, while listening to Lenny Lopate and Studio 360. You want to appeal to this cultured intelligent audience but you also need a subject that appeals to a lot of people. Russia is one of those subjects. Not only do a large percentage of people have Russian roots, but if you’re interested in history as well, I think the fall of the Soviet Union was arguably the story of the past century. This whole seventy years or so of Communism was an experiment and that is the story of the 20th century. You have history and photography buffs interested and so if you hit upon a good story or subject matter you’ll get that cross-pollination of interested people. If you use photography as a means to express yourself and not just your subject matter, you create something that appeals to people other than photographers. That’s what I want to do. I want to use the subject matter to find out deeper truths about myself. ■
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face to face
What makes a good portrait so good? Often, the real magic is in the photographic encounter itself, in the moment the image was taken. The act of taking a portrait can at once be daunting and meditative, transactional and collaborative. The image stands as proof and product, sealed with the power to solidify some small existence. Two portraits face-to-face on the page are like two strangers set in a room to see if they will get along. Images inform or access a common thread of subtle to intense (or humorous) proportions. A crease of the brow or a blink of the eye reads in a universal language that we all know without having to think of it. The gaze, whether inviting, arresting or unsettling, clings to a place in our imaginations. These portraits mesmerized us, struck us dumb, made us laugh, made us hot and made us think hard about what makes us incredibly human. We invite you to look, encounter and engage. Let your mind wander through these silent interactions. SASHA ARUTYUNOVA JENNA SPITZ
Addison MICHAEL GEORGE
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NYC, 2009 DENNIS NAZAROV
Previous: La Grande Odalisque MEREDITH ROM
Tony, 2009 JONNO RATTMAN
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Daniella, 2009 LIANNA DEL PIZZO
Kristiansand, 2009 DENNIS NAZAROV
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First-Generation Caucasian No. 1 DANLLY DOMINGO
First-Generation Caucasian No. 2 DANLLY DOMINGO
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Paul, 2009 LIANNA DEL PIZZO
Christian, 2009 LIANNA DEL PIZZO
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Untitled KRISTINA K. KNIPE
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Untitled KRISTINA K. KNIPE
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Side-Look, 2009 CARLOS ROJAS
Taylor MICHAEL GEORGE
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Courbet JENNA SPITZ
Opposite: Brooks MICHELLE WATT
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Self-Portrait as Semite YAIR OELBAUM
Mark PETER CURTIS
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NYC, 2009 DENNIS NAZAROV
Anne MARISSA SINGER
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Andrea JENNA SPITZ
Previous: Edith MARISSA SINGER
Moscow, 2009 DENNIS NAZAROV
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Nate COLE SALADINO
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Elope LAUREN J. GREENBERG
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Tavo, 2009 ADAM UHL
John, 2010 ADAM UHL
Dionyssio, Goat Shepherd ANDREW ELLIS
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Will M. SASHA ARUTYUNOVA
Previous: Manny GINA POLLACK
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WE ENGLISH Simon Roberts travelled throughout England in a motorhome between August 2007 and September 2008, for this portfolio of large-format tableaux photographs of the English at leisure.
CORMAC HANLEY Clean. Conceptual. Cormac.
MATT EICH You may have seen his piece “Love in the First Person” on MediaStorm, but there are other reasons Eich was chosen as “College Photographer of the Year” a few years back. Peruse his site and see for yourself.
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KEVIN VAN AELST Sometimes all it takes is a really genius idea. Aelst is full of them.
Simon Hogsberg http://www.simonhoegsberg.com Look around but be sure to check out “We’re All Gonna Die – 100 meters of existence” ... Oh, digital.
Betsy Schneider http://www.betsyschneider.com See the “Scenes” series
Eamon Macmahon http://www.eamonmacmahon.com Eamon, featured in PDN’s 30 2008, has a knack for visions in the wilderness.
The Photography Post http://thephotographypost.com A “visual aggregate” of photography blogs from around the web that is updated every 15 minutes. Essentially a one-stop eyecandy shop for photoblog hounds.
Donald Weber http://donaldweber.com/wp Another Russian explorer – the site is super smooth
Jay B. Sauceda http://www.jaybsauceda.com A prolific portraitist: “My mission is to share the stories and experiences of those people. To help spark the interest in these stories and grease the wheels of their propagation is my purpose.”
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A GOOD PORTRAIT March 1st, 2010 by Kris Nolte § 0 http://isozine.com/blog/?p=481
ANNA DUENSING February 20th, 2010 by Katie Vogel § 0 Anna Duensing is a freshman at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, concentrating in Storytelling and Historiography. For Anna, photography is one way of storytelling. “I love portraits; I LOVE people; I think faces are the most interesting thing in the world.” Anna went on to describe how she especially likes to shoot portraits of people with whom she is intimate because she already knows their story, and wants to be able to share it with others through photographs. Anna has been involved in quite a few photography exhibitions in her hometown, Charlottesville, VA, and although she plans to continue pursuing photography, she is currently taking a hiatus from seriously shooting and printing due to limited time and resources for non-photo majors. Currently, she is studying photography and filmmaking from a more theoretical perspective–especially, how photography and filmmaking play a role in telling stories about and preserving the atrocities of war.
I recently discovered Gisèle Freund at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Her photos breathe with the unique life and character of each subject, and resist any undue drama or stylization from her side of the camera. I admire her decidedly selfless approach towards portrait-taking. Her words on the subject: “The human face, the common gestures of each individual have always fascinated me. A good portrait is that which reveals the personality of the subject and not that of the photographer. What is important, in my opinion, is that when looking at a photograph one says: ‘It is André Malraux or Virginia Woolf’ and not ‘It is a photo by Gisèle Freund’.”
STEALING BEAUTY March 16th, 2010 by Julia Pugachevsky § 0 Recently, I was assigned in my Writing the Essay class a paper about an artist and his or her work. I picked director Bernardo Bertolucci, because I’d have an excuse to laze around and become enveloped in unsuppressed beauty as I watched all his films. What amazes me about all his films is that every shot seems to evoke some sort of emotion. Nothing is unintentional or careless, yet the films alway flow as events unfold in some secluded and exotic setting, my personal favorite being Besieged.
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THE IMPOSSIBLE PROJECT March 22nd, 2010 § 1
VIRTUAL PAGES ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO POST: EXCERPTS FROM THE BLOG @ ISOZINE.COM
“PX 100 Instant Film – Available 25 March 2010” Polaroid film will be available again starting Thursday! The following from WWD: “Fans of Polaroid instant film will soon have a substitute – new analog instant film for traditional Polaroid cameras has been made through The Impossible Project. The 17-month research and development initiative started last fall when the last remaining Polaroid factory, a location in The Netherlands, was spared the wrecking ball by Austrian entrepreneur Florian Kaps. Fashion photographer Jeremy Kost will be among the supporters on hand when the PX 100 and PX600 Silver Shade instant film is unveiled in New York. It will be available at the-impossible-project.com starting Thursday and at select stores down-the-road. The film is meant to be compatible with the analog instant camera Polaroid plans to unveil with Lady Gaga’s help. An Impossible Project store and gallery will bow at 425 Broadway April 30, and champions of the cause are also in the midst of buying the International Polaroid Collection.” On The Impossible Project website there is a short video about the new PX film and the company’s new space on Broadway in New York. Each box will come with eight sheets of film and retail for approximately 20 dollars. The images, once developed, reveal a blue color that will transform into a monochromatic image. Samples can be viewed at the company website. The films are being developed in 100 and 600 speed for use with SX-70 and One Series Polaroid cameras.
DIRECTORY ARUTYUNOVA, Sasha firstname.lastname@example.org www.ispoketoosoon.com 954.822.3243 BROWN, Alex email@example.com www.abbimages.com 203.247.9012 COBB, Nicole firstname.lastname@example.org CURTIS, Peter email@example.com www.petercurtis.net DEL PIZZO, Lianna firstname.lastname@example.org DOMINGO, Danlly email@example.com www.danllydomingo.com ELLIS, Andrew firstname.lastname@example.org www.andrewmichaelellis.com 818.601.5541 EOM, Jenny email@example.com 818.279.5874 GEORGE, Michael firstname.lastname@example.org www.michaelgeorgephoto.com GINTOFF, Vladimir email@example.com GREENBERG, Lauren firstname.lastname@example.org HARTMANN, Irene email@example.com KNIPE, Kristina K. firstname.lastname@example.org 610.442.6211 KROL, Aaron email@example.com
MATHURA, Shivam firstname.lastname@example.org NAZAROV, Dennis email@example.com NOLTE, Kris firstname.lastname@example.org 484.431.0555 OELBAUM, Yair email@example.com manicstaticpie.blogspot.com 516.993.3251 PINTER, Simon firstname.lastname@example.org www.simonpinter.com 248.613.1201 POLLACK, Gina email@example.com POON, Francis firstname.lastname@example.org 626.780.2192 PUGACHEVSKY, Julia email@example.com 908.907.3452 RAPONE, Corinne firstname.lastname@example.org RATTMAN, Jonno email@example.com 570.460.5455 REISS, Sam firstname.lastname@example.org RICCHIUTO, Madeline email@example.com ROJAS, Carlos firstname.lastname@example.org 718.366.2749 ROM, Meredith email@example.com www.meredithrom.com
SALADINO, Cole firstname.lastname@example.org 949.683.8549 SINGER, Marissa email@example.com www.marissasinger.com 201.240.8296 SPITZ, Jenna firstname.lastname@example.org 215.360.1277 STEPHENSON, Laura email@example.com TAN, Pey Chuan firstname.lastname@example.org 718.708.0551 UHL, Adam email@example.com adamuhlphotography.com 507.250.4069 VOGEL, Katie firstname.lastname@example.org 434.665.6482 WATT, Michelle email@example.com www.michelle-watt.com WYNN, Alison firstname.lastname@example.org 203.912.3786 YUDELEVICH, Shalla email@example.com 314.807.7255
This project was initiated by students in the Department of Photography & Imaging and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and funded by The Tisch Undergraduate Student Council, the Department of Photography & Imaging, and various individual donors. All NYU students are invited to contribute.
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