Sunday, February 10, 2008

Foto En Copyright by G. P. Fieret

"Photography in and of itself is, of course, a rather chilly business: camera lenses, power to absorb the image, refractions. Chemistry- strict rules of the game, no? But soon you discover that you really can bend it as you wish, like bamboo, and then it turns out to be supple as water, and you can find and recognize all sorts of graphic gradations in the image. I’m thinking now of Daumier or Rembrandt, for instance - every "ism" can be realized in photography." - Gerard Petrus Fieret

This was how G. P. Fieret described his craft while photographing in his home city of The Hague. Photographing a mix of street scenes caught on the fly and intimate encounters within his dark studio bedroom, women are the subject and near constant presence in his imagery. The book Foto En Copyright from the publisher Uitgeverij Voetnoot and the Fotomuseum Den Haag is an offering of 150 of Fieret’s photos that add up to a 40 year impressionistic and autobiographical romp with the opposite sex.

Fieret’s technique is one of anything goes. He discovered the freedom to explore and stumble upon those “graphic gradations” he speaks of by making unique prints that are cropped, solarized, fogged, filthy with dust and printed with extreme contrast. They sit unevenly on the paper keeping you aware the surface as much as they draw you into the image. Applying these techniques in the darkroom, he heightens the ambiance of his encounters with women until they may remind us of our own trysts - our own moments of titillation and erotic encounter. Somewhat rough and lacking detail like our memories, Fieret’s chiaroscuro reduces the subject to direct and bold gesture and form.

Some of the women begin to strike poses that reflect their education from glamour magazines but Fieret catches them in mid-attempt - creating a sense of awkward sexuality. It is that quality that makes them more erotic and charged because the photo is taken within the moment when the models are consciously creating an image of themselves and emphasizing their seductiveness. To be photographed seems to be an act of flirtation and the subjects gaze back well aware of the implications.

Almost like a paranoid afraid of theft, the prints are then “finished” with copyright stamps and Fieret’s flowing signature applied anywhere on the print where it may seem appropriate. Like a painter who signs their work within the image, Fieret makes even grander claims of authorship which border on the obsessive. Again reminding us that the image, or the intimate encounters he reveals in the image, is his. It is not enough to just photograph something to claim it as his own; he adds the unmistakable legal mark as well.

This is a contradiction at work. On one hand, the subject in the photo often radiates an intimacy and warmth (most of the work is entirely life affirming) yet he stamps the surfaces with a cold legal mark meant as a preventative measure. A warning of sorts.

The stamps also bring to mind a professionalism to the work as if these images flowed daily from a gun-for-hire studio photographer. However, his loose technique, devoid of traditional photographic “rules” would hardly have been looked upon by the average man in the street as results worthy of payment except for their erotic value.

This is another curious contradiction on my part but perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree by overlooking one important aspect. Fieret was also a designer and designers work with words and image and perceptions of dimensionality on the paper surface. Perhaps it was simply a love of seeing an imperfectly inked stamp merge with disparate subject and create a new formal design. Seemingly random at first glance, they do have a way of balancing out the frame.

In one of my favorites, a woman proudly displays her derriere and Fieret finds it an inviting spot on the print to apply one of his copyright stamps like an inked hand slap across her ass. His humor and self portraits continuously remind us that he is the intermediary, present and participating. We may look and enjoy our vicarious position of voyeur but Fieret is the actual beneficiary of the flirtations.

This photo described above reminds me of the wonderful scene in Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains where the train dispatcher on the night shift chases his flirtatious young female assistant around the station office until he catches her and applies ink stamps up the back of her legs, each time drawing her skirt higher and higher.

Fieret’s work is gritty and pleasure seeking and this book captures that essence perfectly with its choice of paper and raw magazine style presentation. This has quickly become one of my favorite recent additions.

Deborah Bell gallery and Paul Hertzmann, Inc have co-published two elegant catalogs on Fieret and one that I own is called Gerard Pertus Fieret: Photographs. At 24 pages and very nicely printed by Meridian in Rhode Island, it presents 37 images made in the 1960’s. Richer in tonalities than the Foto En Copyright due to the differences of paper, this represents the work in a manner closer to the quality of Fieret’s actual prints. Though only a catalog and thus short in length, this is also a fine introduction to his work if you can track down a copy. If you can’t find a copy, Deborah has generously created PDF documents of each that can be downloaded from her gallery’s website.

Book Available Here (Foto En Copyright)

Deborah Bell Gallery