Tuesday, June 14, 2011

L.A. Women by Joachim Schmid

One of the foundations of Joachim Schmid's work is the thought that there are way too many photographs in the world already so why not put those that exist to some intelligent use. At least, let us look at them a second time and contemplate their existence, or recontextualize them and introduce further questions of what we look at, what we draw in meaning, and what are the lasting values of the images. His latest book L.A. Women has a darker, real life context which is why I have chosen it as a follow up to Watabe Yukichi's A Criminal Investigation.

In December 2010, the Los Angeles Police Department released 180 photographs of women found in the home of a known serial murder suspect. The release of the images was a public appeal for help in identifying the women who might be missing and those still alive as the known victims number only a dozen. The photographs do not tell which are which, they provide only a pool of possibility.

Without the context of sensational serial murder attached, the images appear to be innocuous portraits made with poor quality film, digital and video cameras. All are black women but for two whites. Some would look like pictures that people post to Facebook pages or snapped by friends. Many of the women smile, some appear asleep, many sit in the passenger seats of cars. A few of the images reveal small clues that some of the women might be exposing their breasts to the photographer although none of the croppings reveal any nudity.

With the context of being attached to the suspect, we search for grim clues. Many of which appear to have been taken in the back of a van. We notice that the rear windows have been masked with opaque paper or tinfoil. Some might be prostitutes but as Schmid says in his introduction, "We don't know," not even if the suspect took the images himself. One is snapped standing outside of the vehicle through the open passenger side window. She smiles as if stopping to chat with a neighbor. Does she know the driver or is the smile an automatic instinctual response to the camera? Is she being enticed into the car? offered a ride? In another, the photographer casts a shadow as he(?) frames a vertical but nothing is revealed that might lead the investigation. We feel the pull of information but are left dangling within the eeriness of the images.

We stare into the faces, some blurred by technical imperfections, and are confused by their calm expressions and smiles. We know the potential of the situation they are frozen within and for a moment we connect on a basic human level for survival - to warn and protect. Or, perhaps like viewing an image of a person before execution, we look to feel fear and master death one image at a time.

L.A. Women is available through Blurb. Joachim Schmid is a part of the ABC (Artists' Book Cooperative) which is currently the subject of a show at New York's Printed Matter.


Anonymous said...

"One of the foundations of Joachim Schmid's work is the thought that there are way too many photographs in the world already so why not put those that exist to some intelligent use."

I have always found this to be a strange idea. Too many compared to what? And when was it that it became too many? 1989? 2005? I am all for Schmid's work, I am a fan, but this idea of a excess as motivation for his project is an odd one.

Mr. Whiskets said...

For me the question of "too many" is more way to provoke thinking about how we take, use and or ignore images. One might think there were too many images for digestion back in 1945. I see the contemporary response to anything now-a-days is to raise a mobile phone or camera to record it.

Consider that there are millions of images on Flickr and billions of images made each year by photographers and non-photographers alike. Does an experience always need mediation? How many people go back and reflect on what they took a picture of? Now that digital cameras have proliferated and become the easiest form of picture making, do we treat pictures the same way we might if we had to develop the film and make prints? Is photography progressing as a medium or regressing? I don't know the answers but for me they are interesting questions. For some, what I ask doesn't matter.

Mr. Whiskets said...

I came across this post on Parr's blog. seems like it has something to do with how I feel about current photography and perhaps the bigger question of "too many" images.


Stan B. said...

Very unsettling book, The Killing Fields portraits come to mind. Those photos were more dramatic, more somber, even more "formal" because of the "studio" set up. And strangely enough, "easier to digest" in comparison. Perhaps because their fate was sealed from the start.

These are much simpler snapshots taken in various situations under various circumstances, some (most?) by the killer himself perhaps, but all in a word- creepy. Makes one very uncomfortable to look at- the suspense is palpable. You want to warn everyone to either get out or turn their life around while there still may be a chance... very creepy. And ultimately, very sad.

jamesshashin said...

Unusual - The killer Documenting his crimes photographically, a split in the perpetrator who becomes the detective of his own crimes. It is interesting that Mr Whiskets notes / reads / links the peripheral details which tell us more as a collection or archive of images than the individual faces, each pictures ostensible subject. Henry Bonds Lacan at the Scene (MIT press) is very interesting in relation to crime scene photography and evidence.