Thursday, February 24, 2011

Desperate Cars by Sebastien Girard

The invention of automobiles and the invention of photography both promised a new engagement with the larger world. As gasoline powered engines and shutter driven cameras proliferated, the 'far from home' suddenly became visible. Photographers embraced autos and their presence has often become a breeding ground for meaning. From Lartigue's early car pictures which feel futuristic and offer the promise of adventure to Robert Frank's images of the car as rolling isolation booths. Cars have represented a multitude of themes from wealth and elegance to violence and rampant ecological destruction. One of my favorite titles from 2010, Sebastien Girard's Desperate Cars takes a look at the autos around his suburban neighborhood in Toulouse, France.

There is little text at all in Desperate Cars, Girard opens with endpapers which plea 'Save Their Souls' - and follows with a concentration on the small damage and wear. Some have rolled in piss and shit; others have had their rear view mirrors smashed off; one has its bumper held on by bungee cords. It is all pretty minor - smashed windows and such - so one might ask 'who cares?'

Other photographers have done major work on vehicles that have killed their passengers and have been twisted into shapes unrecognizable. My interest in Girard's approach extends to what I see as one of photography's flaws. There is a tendency to look to extremes and I find it a much more interesting problem to look at the subtle and make it hold your attention. I have in the past written about how I perceived Raphel Waldner's work and I do find the descriptions seductive but this work seduces me in a much more nuanced way, for instance, Girard has chosen to describe his subject in the dark and from the same distance. Throughout Desperate Cars, the scale of the objects described are almost all similar. There is no medium shot or master shot etc - they are all close-ups. This unique strategy makes the book fell like you are revolving around the vehicles - navigating not so much a photograph, but navigating around an object. He sequenced these images with a flair for great pairings that complement the content and formal play as well.

As for the chips and bumps versus the great seven car pile-up fatality covered in crash-dust, this work is more about the wear of life rather than the moment of death. It is less common to die in a car crash than to have life simply chip away at you, like water does to stone overtime. These cars wear their damage like we wear our appendix scars.

Desperate Cars was self-published in an edition of 500. The quality is near perfect from the printing to the hand binding done by Van Waarden in the Netherlands. A signed and numbered limited edition with a print is also available. Sebastien Girard will be presenting his books and work at this year's International Photobook Festival in Kassel Germany from June 1-5th at Documenta-Halle.

Monday, February 21, 2011

City Metaphors by Oswald Mathias Ungers

Seen from the clouds, my old suburban neighborhood in Arizona with its dozens of cul-de-sacs must have looked like a gaggle of spermatozoa about to ride off into the sunset. Whether that was the holistic thought of the architect and land developer can't be confirmed - keep in mind it was the late 60s, early 70's though.

I would like to be able to read maps the same way that I read photographs. Meaning, to enable my first impressions to be filled with analogies, metaphors, and symbolism but instead, the rational mind takes over and I see measured facts and deadpan reality. For the German architect Oswald Mathias Ungers however, bridging imaginative perception and a blueprint from a city planner produced a fascinating book titled City Metaphors just re-published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig.

Originally appearing in 1982, City Metaphors presents over 50 pairings of various city maps throughout history with images from science and nature. Each of the pairings is then "titled" with a single descriptive word printed in both English and German.

In Ungers' mind, the division of Venice becomes a handshake, a spirally designed city in India becomes the universe, the plan of the city of St Gallen, Merian from 1809 becomes a womb and so on. Easily, the formal similarities can be seen in each pairing but there is the third level of perception introduced by the title. The factual reality (the plan), the perceived reality (the image), and the conceptual reality (the word).

As Ungers writes in his foreword; The way we experience the world around us depends on how we perceive it. Without a comprehensive vision the reality will appear as a mass of unrelated phenomenon and meaningless facts, in other words, totally chaotic. In such a world it would be like living in a vacuum; everything would be of equal importance; nothing could attract our attention; and there would be no possibility to utilize the mind.