Friday, November 21, 2008

William Eggleston

Eggleston has a unique ability to find beauty, and striking displays of color, in ordinary scenes. A dog trotting toward the camera; a Moose lodge; a woman standing by a rural road; a row of country mailboxes; a convenience store; the lobby of a Krystal fast-food restaurant -- all of these ordinary scenes take on new significance in the rich colors of Eggleston's photographs. Eudora Welty suggests that Eggleston sees the complexity and beauty of the mundane world: "The extraordinary, compelling, honest, beautiful and unsparing photographs all have to do with the quality of our lives in the ongoing world: they succeed in showing us the grain of the present, like the cross-section of a tree.... They focus on the mundane world. But no subject is fuller of implications than the mundane world!"

Mark Holborn, in his introduction to Ancient and Modern writes about the dark undercurrent of these mundane scenes as viewed through Eggleston's lens: "[Eggleston's] subjects are, on the surface, the ordinary inhabitants and environs of suburban Memphis and Mississippi--friends, family, barbecues, back yards, a tricycle and the clutter of the mundane. The normality of these subjects is deceptive, for behind the images there is a sense of lurking danger." American artist Edward Ruscha said of Eggleston's work, "When you see a picture he’s taken, you’re stepping into some kind of jagged world that seems like Eggleston World.”

John Szarkowski's introduction to William Eggleston's Guide 1976.

The Getty Museum;

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tableau Vivant

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) is French for "living picture." The term describes a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist's models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The approach thus marries the art forms of the stage with those of painting/photography, and as such it has been of interest to modern photographers. The most recent hey-day of the tableau vivant was the 19th century with virtually nude tableau vivants or "poses plastiques" providing a form of erotic entertainment.

Acting the Part: Photography As Theatre

Marta Weiss

In 'staged' photography the artist takes on the role of a director, creating or staging an image. He or she uses models, props, costumes or lighting, often creating a theatrical quality. This beautifully produced book traces the history of the staged photograph, focusing on such key themes as the artist as actor, art historical imagery, and narratives and allegories. It includes engaging essays on Victorian tableaux vivants, Surrealism, and iconic photographs from the 1930s and 1940s previously thought to be documentary images but that were in fact staged.

This art form, considered a marriage between photography and theater, seems an appropriate influence to cite for anyone working in a staged mode of photography. I think it opens and interesting conversation with the photographic works of Gregory Crewdson who has gone so far as to use Hollywood actors and actresses to heighten the 'film still' aesthetic of his work. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when photography was more of a marvel in and of itself, artists went out of their way to stage live compositions, and hold them, to heighten the 'still film' aesthetic of their performance.

Monday, November 17, 2008

VMFA Submission

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Paul Thulin has read your blog up to this point/entry. Your blog is currently up to date and complete.

Mitch Epstein

"America's best working novelist is not a writer but a photographer. Mitch Epstein's Family Business, a combination of still images, video excerpts, interview texts, and his own commentary, sees the history and destiny of America inscribed upon the circumstances of a single family. And the artist, who is also an ambivalent member of that family, stands in as witness for his particular generation.
Faced with overwhelming reality, Epstein often retreats to an uncharacteristic formalism, turning suitcases, lamps, and filing cabinets into totemic objects. But that only heightens the poignancy of his struggle to pay respect and tell the truth."

The New York Times, March 30, 2007

Mitch Epstein: American Power
Martha Schwendener

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Decisive Moment

"The decisive moment, it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression." - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson Reinterprets his Career, by Claude Cookman

History of Photography, Spring 2008

Between 1952 and 1974, Henri Cartier-Bresson significantly revised his understanding of himself as a photojournalist. This article analyses that change and argues that what appears from a superficial reading of interviews and his book The Decisive Moment (1952) to be a rejection of photography and photojournalism was in fact Cartier-Bresson's first public expression of a long-simmering opposition to the consumer society - which he as an ecologist strongly opposed - and to fashion and advertising photography, which he believed promoted unnecessary consumption. It concludes that Cartier-Bresson reinterpreted his past by seeing himself as a surrealist to the denial of having done photojournalism. The article is predicated on the belief that understanding the change in Cartier-Bresson's own conception of his work is essential to a full understanding of it.

I am interested in a sort of new "decisive moment" in photography that moves beyond pure aesthetics. The best expression I have come to for the imagery I would like to work towards is that it is capturing (or in my case creating) the decisive moment when the mundane is suddenly presented with the possibility of transformation into something more; whether it be the external transformation of a run-down alley way into a secret garden utopia, or something that moves internally within the subject.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Larry Sultan

"Some artists have confronted the role photography itself has played in creating and complicating our sense of domestic life. Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements. This was the Reagan era which preached the values of family life, a version Sultan didn't recognise.

"Photography is there to construct the idea of us as a great family and we go on vacations and take these pictures and then we look at them later and we say, 'Isn't this a great family?' So photography is instrumental in creating family not only as a memento, a souvenir, but also a kind of mythology" (Larry Sultan)."

Review of "Pictures from Home" by Larry Sultan

Bill Charles Gallery

Thursday, November 6, 2008


"I felt that I could use [the computer's] ability to erase the suturing of the [photomontage] elements to reconstitute, synthetically, a traditional pictorial space. That is an unusual use of montage, at least in the context of modernist art. Montage has been a technique fundamentally devoted to the breaking up of traditional pictorial space, and the sense of unity of an image based on that space. Outside of modernism, of course, the montage has been used to continue the traditional idea of spatial illusionism..."

Wall's Tableau Mort, Oxford Art Journal

A conference of papers dedicated to the analysis of individual works, considered necessary, and in praise of the individuation of art work (the kind of systematicity or wholeness demanded by the tableau) which encourages this kind of sustained academic attention.

I am intrigued by Wall's approach, thought not necessarily personally influenced, to creating traditional pictorial spaces. I can't help but draw conclusions between his work and that of Simon Johan, whose seamless composite images are much more visually striking, but have inspired little in the way of academic discussion; both have taken a post-production approach to creating compositions that make reference to the icons of Art History 101. My Photoshop skills are nowhere near the realm of creation (I'm still at base-camp making image corrections), so I will continue to look for compositions in my viewfinder, keeping in mind the classical figurations that have come before me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hannah Starkey

"Hannah Starkey’s filmic tableaux recall the dramatic yet measured tensions of Alfred Hitchcock or Edward Hopper. Working between reality and fiction with the mise-en-scène, Starkey reconstructs real people and observed situations using a vocabulary of codes and signs culled from contemporary urban culture. The everyday locations are fragments of a generic urban environment, while the fictional characters in Starkey’s pictures oscillate between collective (social, political, economic, cultural or geographic) signifiers and stereotypes of individual personalities. These figures are more often than not women – although there is a sense that, as Starkey says, you can make a picture of women that is not necessarily about women.

The figures in her photographs don’t do much; they wait in cafés, linger in a video rental store, stare out of windows on the bus. Isolated by their own thoughts, these figures are intermittently present and remote from their immediate surroundings, caught up by dramas taking place elsewhere. Starkey’s instinct for narrative animates the non-events she depicts"

Bishop, Claire, “Hannah Starkey, Quietly Loaded Moments,” Flash Art v.32 no.207 (Summer 1999): 124-25