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C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Maurizio Anzeri Viktoria Binschtok Melissa Catanese Daniel Gordon Maurizio Anzeri

Erik Kessels Viktoria Binschtok Melissa Catanese

Matt Lipps Daniel Gordon

Erik Kessels Matt Lipps Rashid Rana Mike Mandel Rashid Rana Joachim Schmid Joachim Schmid Hank Willis Thomas

Mike Mandel

Hank Willis Thomas


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

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MAURIZIO ANZERI How did you first become interested in

What kinds of things appeal to you in the

embroidery?

photographs you select?

I come from three generations of fishermen,

When I go hunting for images at flea markets

and I have seen men using threads and

or garage sales, I never know what I’m looking

needles all my life. As a kid, I used to spend

for until I find it. When the right image is in my

so much time looking at them, repairing and

hands, I know straightaway that it will become

fixing fishing nets along the shore. Those

part of one of my artworks.

rituals and meticulous gestures are deeply ingrained in my mind and imagination.

Sometimes it is the expression of a face that intrigues me; other times it is the quality of

I find it amusing that my embroidery has

the paper, and so on. However, faces are

often been understood as an appropriation

one of my key obsessions. Portraits are so

of techniques traditionally associated with

charged—both emotionally and narratively.

feminine labor. That is fine by me. I don’t have

They are meant to reveal and represent our

any problem with this reading of my work. But

essence for posterity. Yet all of the subjects

my first experience of embroidery actually

of portrait photographs are posing. Their

comes from a world of tough men doing a

expressions and gestures are perfectly

very masculine activity. I like the paradox and

staged. I like to work with these ambiguities,

ambiguity this brings to my use of embroidery.

with the artful “honesty” of the photographic portrait.

For me, embroidery represents a different way of drawing—with threads rather than

In many of your works, embroidery is used to

pencils. Like a fisherman who uses a net to

both obscure and highlight certain features

catch his prey, I use needles and thread to

of the face. How do you decide which parts of

capture images.

the original photograph will be concealed and which will remain visible?

What are you looking for when you purchase vernacular images for use in your work?

I start with an eye: one eye will always be left 3


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

untouched. Even if I end up covering the rest

and the feeling transmitted by the image

of the face, I like the idea of leaving an opening

in front of me. I am influenced by whatever

through which the portrait’s subject can look

is around me: it could be the colors of a

back at the viewer. The patterns you develop on the surfaces of these photographs are extremely intricate. What dictates the kinds of forms you will use on a given photograph? Is the process carefully planned in advance or is it something intuitive that develops as you are working? It

is

both

carefully

flower or a beautiful

For me, embroidery represents a different way of drawing—with threads rather than pencils. Like a fisherman who uses a net to catch his prey, I use needles and thread to capture images.

dress

seen

on

a

woman passing by. My sketchbooks are full of possible tonal options. Some portraits speak to me immediately: I know that I want to do them in gold, or another p a r t i c u l a r r a n g e of colors. For others, the choice is slower and emerges as the result of hours of tests. The titles of your works are often names—for

planned and intuitive. It is carefully planned in that I draw many

instance, Bianca, Karl, Margherita. What

different layouts with tracing paper before

inspires your choice of titles?

starting to embroider. Intuitive because among all of those patterns, I end up choosing

Spending time in the studio and working with

the one that respects or violates the image

all those faces is a very intimate experience,

in the way that most satisfies me. It is an

one which allows me to get “close” to the

alchemic process of obscuring and revealing,

photographic subjects. By the time a piece

erasing and enhancing.

is finished a very profound relationship has developed with the image. I feel that it is

Your color palette is often very vibrant and

necessary to give a name to my work as a final

colorful. How do you decide which colors

mark of my appropriation of the found image,

to use? Is there a relationship between

and as a way of announcing its new presence

the colors in a given work and the way you

in the world. Its new life as my own artwork

embroider it?

truly begins the moment I choose a new name for it.

The choice of colors is dictated by my moods 4


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

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C O N V E R S AT I O N S

40


MATT LIPPS After making your own images in high school

convincingly confusing for my professor and

and as an undergraduate, what triggered

peers, and it sparked a pretty good debate

your move to incorporate appropriated im-

about truth and photography. But this was

ages in your photography practice?

a flippant gesture—I had just wanted to see if I could get away with it. It wasn’t until my

My move toward appropriation was

graduate work at UC Irvine and after reading

twofold—at first it was a reaction to being

Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida that I began

introduced to Photoshop during my

to understand my embodied relationship

undergraduate studies, and later it became

to different kinds of photographs; through

a critical maneuver that enabled me to speak

the process of cutting pictures out of

about my relationship to certain kinds of

one context and rephotographing them

photographs. In 1995 I enrolled in my first

in another, personalized situation, I was

digital photography course, and we had to

developing a language that would serve my

make collages in Photoshop 3.0 (twenty

practice over the years.

years and twelve software versions ago). I found myself frustrated by the process and

How did you come across Ansel Adams’s

outcome. I had been making paper dolls since

Storeroom, de Young Museum, San Francisco

I was in my teens, and I knew I could hand-

(1933)? And how did this picture inspire your

cut a figure with more precision and “fake” a

approach in HORIZON/S?

better photographic collage with my analog approach than with my limited ability to make

When I was first learning photography, I

selections in Photoshop. So I took a figure

thought being Ansel Adams was the goal of

from my collection of cutout models and

any “fine art photographer.” I learned the

placed it on the grass in my front yard in Long

Zone System and absolutely worshipped

Beach, California. I made several photographs

his prints and images; mostly, his more

of this scene and presented them for critique

popular landscape photographs. I found

by my analog black-and-white class without

that image coincidentally in 2008, while

explaining the process. As I recall, it was

working on a series of photographs called 41


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Home that revisited my family history and my

photographs depict a wide range of types

highly romanticized beliefs about Adams’s

of the same thing. All of the women and

heroic role as the ultimate “father” of

sculptures are frozen in their own moments

photographic practice. I was particularly

and have unique stories and expressions

struck by this image because it was so unlike

that appear entirely indifferent to the

the photographs I knew and because it told

figures surrounding them. So while they are

such an unusual story about the history

related as a collection, they are all unique,

of sculpture. It’s a story you don’t usually

and the viewer can project relationships and

get from archives, museums, or the canon

comparisons quickly and intuitively. These

of art history, which organizes objects

images inspired me to play with the images I’d

chronologically or geographically so they

culled from Horizon magazine. The idea was

can be understood by an audience. This

to reorganize the archive, again and again,

moment at the de Young shows sculpture in

into different categories of my choosing,

a functional light that crosses continents and

just to see what other kinds of knowledge

centuries and allows for connections to be

production could be initiated by viewers.

made in a different way than an institutional voice might generally allow.

As you spent more and more time with Horizon, what trends did you notice in their

It reminded me of another famous photograph

use of images? What kinds of embedded

that brought me a lot of inspiration, Irving

hierarchies became apparent to you?

Penn’s Twelve of the Most Photographed Models of the Period (1947). Both of these 42

It seems strange saying this, but I never really


M AT T L I P P S

considered documentation of a work of art

to the smaller, black-and-white halftones

as a photographic event in itself. I gradually

of architectural renderings and actor por-

became aware of the decisions surrounding

traits. This comparison was the impetus for

the making of a photograph of an artwork.

my six-panel photograph Untitled (Archive),

This was especially true of the photographs

which shows this relationship as it transi-

of sculptural works, where lighting and point-

tions from left to right, black-and-white pho-

of-view are so critical to the integrity of the

tographs to full color. I created an inverted

images; the reception of the work could be

hierarchy, with smaller images up front and

drastically altered as a result of those choices.

larger images in the back.

For many people, the depictions would be the only version of the actual objects they would

You have explained that magazines played

feel like they know.

a significant role in how you learned to relate to and understand images. Why did

The photographers’ choices are layered with

this particular format for pictures appeal

the choices made by the editors and graphic

to you? What is it about a magazine’s unique

artists at Horizon, who produced layouts of

sensibility and approach that influenced how

full-page, half-page, and quarter-page re-

you consume and consider photographs?

productions in both color and black and white. There is an unspoken hierarchy found on the

I could be wrong about this, but I feel like

pages of the magazine when considering

my generation was possibly the last to truly

the large, full-color reproductions of classi-

feel the impact of magazine culture. When we

cal Greek and Roman antiquities in contrast

came of age it was pre-Internet, and popular 43


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

culture was mass-distributed in magazines.

public to join them on a journey toward a

I had subscriptions to many! I pored over

virtual horizon of high art and culture. Under

them, mostly fashion—searching in the eyes

the premise of education, they wanted to

of models to try and figure out the lighting

help readers cultivate “good taste.” It’s odd

systems used to make the photographs.

only in that it’s so clearly pronounced and not

It was an escape for me into a seductive,

cloaked in obscure institutional language like

glamorous lifestyle with high production

that which hides the very same ideas that give

values that I knew nothing about. There was

value and context to an exhibition and argue

something about the intimacy of holding your

for its validity and inclusion in the canon

own paper magazine and flipping through the

proper. It was partly because of this overlap

pages, lingering in the spaces that catch your

that I sought to play so liberally with the

attention, spending time with the models

categories I selected for my photographs.

on the pages. Since I couldn’t cut and paste

I was imagining an explosion in the archive

myself into the magazine, I brought the

that liberated all of the images (in fragments)

models to my bedroom and they gathered

to be freely associated with anything they

around me, standing paper dolls on shelves

landed near. Not in an attempt to devalue

and bookcases. It’s within this sense of play

the works, but as a means of finding new

and imagination that I still try to find my work.

connections and hopefully producing new

For the first issue (September 1958) of

kinds of relationships and knowledge.

Horizon, the editors invited the American 44


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

60


RASHID RANA You trained as a painter at the National

MassArt that I faced challenges in making my

College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, and then

teachers believe in my work, as most of them

went on to graduate school in the United

were still under the influence of modernism

States at MassArt—Massachusetts College

and perceived my “seemingly abstract” grid

of Art and Design. How did your experience

paintings (derived from barcodes) as deriva-

at these two different institutions influence

tive of earlier Western art. I struggled to ex-

your approach and interests as a developing

plain to them how an artist from one part of

artist?

the world could independently create work similar to that of an artist from another place

I think it is interesting that you ask this

and time; for me, it is the trajectory an artist

question because I believe that despite being

takes to arrive at a particular visual language

extremely different in terms of geography,

that makes his or her work different.

these schools share similar histories; they were both founded under the aegis of British

How would you describe your relationship to

influence, and in the beginning they had

art history?

similar curricula. I like to consider myself a student of art hisWhile I was in Pakistan—a country whose po-

tory, but I do have a very strange relationship

rous boundaries allowed in all kinds of con-

to the subject. When we say “art history” we

temporary foreign influences—my curiosity

are mostly talking about Western art history,

ensured that I was up to date on the global

which is what has been researched and writ-

art world’s most recent developments. This

ten about the most. In coming from a region

information shaped my practice and ideas,

that is less developed in many ways, includ-

despite the expectation held by many at

ing within the arts, you develop this unusual

home that artists should reference the

relationship to the canon. But at the same

stylistic conventions of the past and make

time, I believe that everything produced

so-called Pakistani work—a kind of work

through visual language becomes universal

selling one’s otherness. Ironically, it was at

collective knowledge. 61


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

We currently have two works from Language Series on view at Pier 24 Photography. I know that Language Series V references Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (1784). Does Language Series IX refer to a specific painting as well? Unlike Language Series V, Language Series IX does not refer to a specific painting. It does, however, offer a kind of collage of three images: a seemingly abstract expressionist work by a well-known contemporary painter, a mass-media image of bloody parts of a dead body, and a pornographic image. The work is even more layered and complicated due to the constituent parts making up this collage; images of texts seen around the city of Lahore—political banners, wall chalking, names of businesses, etc.—collected in 2010 and 2011. So although all the works in Language Series are made from these images of texts from Lahore, it sounds like they draw on many different sources of inspiration. How did the works in this series evolve as you continued

background. I abstracted the entire upper

to work on the project?

portion of the painting, leaving just a small stripe at the bottom, which shows water and

Language Series I looks very similar to the

hints toward representation. After Language

upper, abstract part of Language Series V.

Series IV, I decided to move beyond con-

So that is an entirely nonrepresentational

fronting non-objectivity and abstraction. I

image. But this was the only work in the

widened the scope of the series by bringing

series that was like this. In Language Series

in different kinds of representation; I con-

III I was looking at Monet’s The Church at

sider abstraction just one way of looking

Vetheuil (1880), a painting with water in the

at the world, so I thought I should bring in

foreground and buildings and sky in the

other modes of representation as well.

62


RASHID RANA

With various references collaged together,

Language (text) is deeply embedded with

Language Series IX is a grand finale of sorts,

cultural, social, and political histories. Texts

a culmination for this series. Combined, the

can be decoded to understand our sense

various sources are at first unreadable. But

of place and identity, and, in turn, who we

if you pay attention, you may be able to rec-

are and where we are headed. For instance,

ognize parts of the underlying references.

what appears to be Urdu script is a group of mostly English words transliterated in

What do you think these pictures of texts

Urdu, which itself is derived from Arabic

throughout Lahore convey about the culture

and Persian scripts. This blending reveals so

of this city at this particular moment in time?

much about our colonial past.

63


C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Overall, the images and their content are

and 2010, I think it would have taken me forty

diverse: wall posters and chalking of all

years! Once I received their photographs,

kinds, commercial signage, political banners,

I would either determine the pictures were

advertisements,

these

u s able or I would g i ve th em a dd i tion al

images of texts convey ideas about time and

direction to try and get a different set of

place, effectively creating an archive. For

images. And sometimes I would see new pos-

example, a political slogan may be juxtaposed

sibilities in the mistakes they made when they

with a sales advertisement. Together, these

misunderstood what I was asking for. I went

texts illustrate multiple political and social

through each and every picture, selecting

contexts that coexist at a given time. The

what I did and didn’t need in order to create

work itself becomes a methodical mapping

a library of images to use for this project.

and

graffiti.

All

of the images of texts that existed in Lahore at a given time.

I wo u l d n ot l i ke to re g a rd m y s e l f a s a p h o t o g r a p h e r b e c a u s e I ’m n o t a

Where did the photographs used in Language

photographer, per se. Rather than believing

Series come from?

in absolute originality and trying to create something from scratch, I sort of went

I hired art students and amateur photog-

in the opposite direction. In this age of

raphers to make these pictures; if I had to

overabundant imagery, I think it is my role as

collect or take all the pictures I have used

a maker of images to be an editor of images.

in just the works produced between 2001

I hope that images take on new meanings

64


CONVERSATIONS

Published by Pier 24 Photography

Interviewer & Editor: Allie Haeusslein

Editorial Associate: Mari Iki

Design: Ed Panar

Director: Christopher McCall

Associate Directors: Seth Curcio Allie Haeusslein

ISBN: 978-0-9839917-7-9 Printed in the United States © 2015 Pier 24 Photography. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher and copyright holders.

Photography and Reproduction Credits: Maurizio Anzeri: © Maurizio Anzeri, courtesy of the artist / Viktoria Binschtok: © Viktoria Binschtok, courtesy KLEMM’S, Berlin / Melissa Catanese: © Melissa Catanese, courtesy Peter J. Cohen / Daniel Gordon: © Daniel Gordon, courtesy of the artist and WALLSPACE, New York / Erik Kessels: © Erik Kessels, courtesy of the artist / Matt Lipps: © Matt Lipps, courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco / Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan: © Mike Mandel and the Estate of Larry Sultan, courtesy of Mike Mandel and the Estate of Larry Sultan / Rashid Rana: © Rashid Rana, courtesy of the artist / Joachim Schmid: © Joachim Schmid, courtesy of the artist / Hank Willis Thomas: courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York / Lewis Hine: courtesy of The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, LC-DIG-nclc-01915 / Gordon Parks: Gordon Parks, photographer, courtesy of The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8b14845

CONVERSATIONS  

CONVERSATIONS 86 pages | 60 images | 40 artwork reproductions | 7 x 9 in. | Paperback | Perfect bound Published by Pier 24 Photography, 201...

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