Saturday, February 16, 2008

Conversations with Photographers from La Fabrica

This may be a very odd thing for a man who writes 500 words a night about photobooks to admit but words often sit in such close proximity to images that it makes me nervous. Reading artist statements or listening to someone speak about their work has been known to induced the strong desire in me to slap the artist in question across the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

I have a theory that artists who express themselves verbally and without airs are comfortable with themselves, the validity of their work and their position as artists. Others indulge in what I perceive to be a pseudo-intellectualism meant to elevate their perceived importance through obscurantism. This critique isn’t meant to be anti-intellectual, just if - as Jasper Johns says of artists - “We are the elite of the working class,” then I think “we” should be understood by Joe New York Post (Oh…you elitist bastard) otherwise our “art” is in a ghetto; albeit one with really nice architecture.

I bring this up because I have been reading through the boxed series of books Conversations with Photographers published from La Fabrica and I see clear distinctions from artist to artist. Most of these interviews are easily understood without risking having your head split open while performing unnecessary mental gymnastics but there are a couple that sent me reeling.

Here is a little test. See if you can guess which of the passages below almost put me in the hospital.

Paul Graham: With the new pictures I am making at the moment, I have this great feeling of moving away from making photographs, and trying instead to move closer to the flow of life and reflect the way that everything, the most simple daily parts of our lives, has meaning and an inevitability and conclusiveness within its parts. It’s a process that is much less led by a sense of visual traditions in photography - seizing a defining moment for all eternity - but rather just relaxing into accepting the flow of it all, the river of life, of time gently rolling by. It’s like standing in a stream and seeing the water flowing up to you, move gently around your sides and reform like you simply were never there. Can you photograph that?

Candida Hofer: …it is not the visual replica of beauty or prominence I am looking for, to catch that beauty and importance exactly, whatever may be regarded as such anyway. What I behold as beauty for example may not match with what others regard as beauty. I have no intention to be faithful to that kind of beauty. When I am working in a space, I am, as I have said before, working with the elements of the space, perspectives, angles, planes and countering planes, colors, light, room with light on, room with light off, or just natural light, or both the artificial and the natural light, never a flash. From these elements I recreate my own image of the room when the prints are being made. This is where my understanding of beauty may come in.

Vik Muniz: As a concept, I have always used the idea of images of images, of working with the intermediary state of the image, with its ambiguities. Once something is very definite and clear you immediately lose interest, you absorb it and take it for granted. If something is ambiguous, sort of in between, it immediately forces you to establish a more analytical relationship with it, which goes beyond just looking at the image. For me, this is what ultimately differentiates an image from art. Images are something that just comes to you, whereas art is something that at some point you feel compelled to move towards.

Bleda and Rosa: …the truth is that Land Art artists have always been a reference for us and I think that from our first works through the most recent, they have had a lot to do with what we were talking about before: experiential time. It is the first manifestation of being in places, of being aware of what has happened there and of course there is also a definite reference to these artists in the texts. What happens is that we are closer to European artists like Hamish Fulton or Richard Long, because we don’t transform space, we don’t try to generate a change. Our artistic act is not to produce a transformation of the landscape, but rather to be in a place and have an experience that we later transfer to an image.

Jurgen Klauke: …For my entire doing I can do something with what you say there. We can also call it “general friction,” which occurs also detached by the body. My decadence data can be read from it at best. Through something I came to think about the unexplainable which led to the creation of always new image moments or image fragments that can be understood as approximations to the fiction of our life. In the long run this is actually a friction on itself like on more or less objective circumstances. As long as that functions halfway, it lives on high level. The relevant congestion is redundant, and the longer it lasts, as it seems so, as if one is non existent any longer. Knowing well that the congestions or blockades emerge over and again, one cannot escape from the associated emptiness, where I would not like to miss the gained realization that is very close to nil.

Some of this series was published in Conversations with Contemporary Photographers from Umbrage Editions which I wrote about within the first few months of 5B4. This set, directly from La Fabrica, is made up of are charming little candy-colored booklets that come in a slipcase. Several typos aside, these 4.25 by 5.75 inch booklets are well designed and mostly enjoyable. According to the La Fabrica website, the first boxed set contained conversations with Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andres Serrano, Perejaume, Stan Douglas, Zhang Huan and Allan Sekula. Individual booklets are also available which include all of the participants of the Umbrage Conversations with Contemporary Photographers edition and a few others including one with William Klein.

Words and photographs. Words and art. I read them and I try to write them. They seem to be necessary companions until you see the clarity in the resistance to them below.

I don’t theorize. In actual fact I think it diminishes all that I feel. If I were a writer I would be able to do with words the good things I do with visual arts, so I always think I fail when I speak. - Helena Almeida

I do my work. My work is my statement. Generally, I think, there is too much interest in what an artist has to say. Or what she or he looks like, instead of what she or he does. - Candida Hofer

It’s very difficult, because I’m having to explain these aspects in words and you’d hope that they were subtly in the experience of looking at the work. It feels like a tragedy that you have to explain everything and ruin the work. - Paul Graham

Buy online at La Fabrica

Book Available Here (Conversations with Contemporary Photographers)


Anonymous said...

Perhaps....'decadence data'?

Anonymous said...

thank you! articulating what i've felt but haven't been able to write . . . also a favorite quote from the photog william greiner "It doesn't matter what i say, all that matters is what you see." I repeated this at an SPE conference once and was met with the blank stares of a thousand people who are being taught/or teach the pertinence of critical deconstruction in vocalizing the photographic medium.

Anonymous said...

From Agee's essay in A Way of Seeing: "Goethe wrote that it is good to think, better to look and think, best to look without thinking" nuff said!

Anonymous said...

"For my entire doing..."

Maybe it was just poorly translated? (This could also explain the bizarre fiction/friction bit.)

Anonymous said...

I too suspect a bad translation might excuse some of that mind-bender, but not all.

its dreadful how photographers are forced into explaining themselves in words. Even the greats suffer and squirm under these expectations. Eggleston does a good job of deflecting questions he doesn't care for. Freidlander tries same, but sometimes comes across as plain obstructive. Winogrand had a very decent open approach, and I would love to have heard him in person.

The series is ok - I have some - a little patchy in the choices, and the Bechers one seems o/p in English, + a few of the interviews are getting older now. Graham's seems to have been done whilst he was making 'a shimmer of possibility' which is interesting. Hofer is more lucid than I expected, though her images still do little for me.

Mr. Whiskets said...

There are some typos and some poor translation but not all can be dismissed on those grounds.

The Jurgen Klauke "conversation" is interesting because the interviewer doesn't do much following up on his answers which might also give the sense that they couldn't quite follow as well.

Stan B. said...

What's even more frighteningly obtuse and overbearing is what other people sometimes write about a particular artist's work in the foreword of their monograph...

Skippy Sanchez said...

I once read that Robert Frost, when asked during an interview to explain one of his poems, replied, "What, you want me to say it BETTER?"