October 27, 2010

№7: Contemporary Art Photography ≠ Photojournalism by Sam Milbrath

I am starting to get the feeling that many photography blogs and sites relate contemporary photography with politically or environmentally aware photographers. Is this because their subject matter is considered socially contemporary or politically correct today? Does incorporating current affairs of any kind make them more credible as fine-art photographers? Or does it place them as photojournalists and documentary photographers? I am a strong believer of art for art's sake. Contemporary art photography should be on the cutting edge of new ideas and aesthetics in art expression. Unless the photographer is totally brilliant in masking the underlying social message in favour of artistic aesthetics, I think for the most part, that the art loses all artistic appeal when combined with strong political, social or environmental subject matter. That said, current political affairs should not hold an obvious position in contemporary fine-art photography. 

October 26, 2010

Richard Billingham

"It's not my intention to shock, to offend, sensationalize, be political or whatever, only to make work that is as spiritually meaningful as I can make it - in all these photographs I never bothered with things like the negatives. Some of them got marked and scratched. I just used the cheapest film and took them to be processed at the cheapest place. 
I was just trying to make order out of chaos." - Richard Billingham

Richard Billingham's work features the trials and tribulations of his dysfunctional family. It is a rare occasion to see Richard's parents receiving each other on kind terms.. in the majority of the photographs, they are yelling at one another or experiencing the effects of substance abuse..

Images from Sotheby's, www.kunstmuseum-wolfsburg.de, and squidgemag.com.

October 25, 2010

October 24, 2010

Dash Snow

Dash Snow is renowned and idolized by some and virtually unknown by others.  He is remembered as a controversial pop-cultural icon, a brilliant photographer, an underground street artist, a successful New York contemporary artist, an intense friend and father, and as a rebellious socialite and member of high society in the arts. "He embodied everything that I wanted to photograph and everything that I wanted to be: irresponsible, reckless, carefree, wild, rich" - Ryan McGinley.  However subtle or obvious his influence, Dash Snow has greatly impacted art and popular culture today. Snow’s prolific Polaroid series documents his rebellious youth in a grimy, yet simultaneously glamourous way.  Because his lifestyle is displayed in his works, Snow’s polaroids offer an unbiased view into Manhattan’s underground nightlife. Arguably, his work presents the deterioration of New York high society in favour capturing the realness of each moment.

"We were always taking photos. We loved to document our adventures and then compare them later. He carried his Polaroid camera everywhere. His photos were from the heart--he had a loving obsession with taking photographs. I always assumed he shot Polaroids because he had the worst case of ADD you could ever imagine. I think even waiting a minute for the image to develop was hard for him" - Ryan McGinley. 

Images from Vice Magazine donated by Ryan McGinley 

October 4, 2010

Elo Vázquez

There is something very Wes Anderson/ Pirate Radio about this boat image. This is why I like it.
Check out more of Elo Vázquez's fabulous work @ helloelo.net

Christian Patterson

№6: F-Stop Magazine October 2010 Issue: Blur & Focus by Sam Milbrath

F-Stop Photography Magazine Presents


by Sam Milbrath

James Cooper, Image from: tinyvices.com/gallery/james-cooper
      All forms of art evolve over time in relation to society. What was once avant-garde photographic aesthetics are now symbolic of a past society’s values. Images containing socially ‘correct’ aesthetics, such as perfect exposure and centered in-focus subjects are now definitive of a past artistic generation. Today, photographs that a vast majority would have discarded because of ‘incorrect’ aesthetics are now highly celebrated by popular culture.
     What aesthetics are generally associated with ‘wrong’ photographs?  Compared to Fine Art photography, images with blurred focus, off-center composition, shifting light, imbalanced exposures, and subject issues such as odd facial expressions and entirely cropped features, contain these ‘wrong’ aesthetics. As well, the informal frontal flash of a point-and-shoot camera and drugstore over-saturated processing are classic indications of amateur photographic production. Ironically, as popular culture evolves parallel to contemporary photography, these ‘incorrect’ aesthetics have slowly become correct.
     These new tendencies in photography are welcomed because of the natural, constant evolution of society and art together. More specifically, there is a current attitude projected in youth and popular culture that is easy-going and anti-formalist. Youth’s relaxed social approach is then realized in the informal art produced. Although older generations display these ‘incorrect’ aesthetics in photography, the associated attitude emanates from a youthful generation. The natural tendency to rebel against past, formalist generations is partly responsible. However, changes in contemporary youth culture, such as photography apps that easily manipulate images, heavily encourages informal, snapshot photography.
     In the contemporary photography book SHOOT – Photography of the Moment, Ken Miller coins the term ‘wrong’ photography in his essay called the moment. Miller argues that the trend away from choosing a photograph with the 'correct' aesthetics is the photography of the moment. The seemingly simple amateur snapshot has willingly transformed from a modest personal collection of memories to an influential artifact celebrated in fine art galleries, museums, and more recently, online blogs worldwide.
     Wolfgang Tillmans, one of the most celebrated commercial photographers of the past several decades, engages with the mysterious intensity of ‘wrong’ aesthetics. Classic amateur qualities such as blur and exposure issues appear in much of Tillmans’ work. This inclusion adds an aesthetic appeal of blurred colour and overexposed light to seemingly straightforward captured moments. The use of blur in his photographs arguably undermines the medium and transforms the image into a contemporary impressionist painting.
Wolfgang Tillmans, Alex & Lutz Back, Image from Christies
      Similarly, contemporary photographer Linus Bill deliberately shoots and exhibits images that reinforce his informal, raw approach.  “Errors are very welcome, and I constantly help them to appear in my work,” Bill stated in an interview for SHOOT – Photography of the Moment. Bill's quick and unassuming snapshots of family and friends portray the true nature of each subject.  By incorporating ‘incorrect’ aesthetics, such as masking the subject’s face or cropping body parts out of the field-of-view, the image becomes more realistic and accessible. Bill’s candid approach allows his viewers to be a part of each photograph and, by extension, allows a temporary view into that intimate, personal moment. 
Linus Bill, Ohne Titel, 2005, Image from soiree-shot.com

       Examples of contemporary photographers that explore the idea of ‘wrongness’ in practice are endless. Often, the use of informal aesthetics makes the art more accessible on an intimate level. This allows more viewers to connect with the artwork and makes the piece more memorable. For instance, Swedish photographer Agnes Thor softens each personal moment captured with muted tones and blurred surroundings.  

Agnes Thor, Untitled, Image from Artist website: www.agneskarin.se
        While in contrast, Michael Schmelling shoots a pair of disembodied, blurred legs perched on a dashboard with a harsh frontal flash and over-saturated development. Both approaches make the viewer feel involved in the moment.
Michael Schmelling, Toes & Map, Image from Artist website: www.michaelschmelling.com
      In conclusion, this new generation of photographers is endless because of the growing demand for socially accessible art. And although examples of informal photographers are not generation specific, much of this approachability emanates from popular youth culture. It is the youthful, easy-going and anti-formalist attitude in popular culture that is projected into informal art expression. Its ‘incorrect’ aesthetics, similar to family snapshots, lend a familiarity that connects the viewer with the intimate moment captured. The approachability of ‘incorrect’ photography in turn helps to disintegrate past borders placed between fine art photographers and popular culture.

Sam Milbrath is a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art from the University of Victoria, British Columbia and is keen to further her education in the future. She is currently living in Toronto and working for a Contemporary Art Gallery, while freelance writing for magazines and galleries on the side.



Luigi Ghirri

Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992) was an Italian photographer who shared the sensibilities of the New Colour and New Topographics Movement in the United States. I can only imagine that Ghirri's muted colour vintage prints from the 70s and 80s partly influenced the global trend toward antique aesthetics in contemporary photography today. By antique, I mean muted colours, grainy processing, and extreme contrasts in exposures, to say the very least.  

Images from zero1blog.com