The relationship between photography and the performative—whether the intuited performance of the serendipitous “decisive moment” or something more intentional—has always been an important one. In this issue, we explore three particularly interesting examples of that relationship.
ROBERT ADAMS'S exhibition The Place We Live will open at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2010; a three-volume publication of the same title will be produced by Yale University Art Gallery. CHARLES BOWDEN'S most recent book is Trinity (University of Texas Press, 2009).
Walker Evans (1903-1975) once told some students: “I think artists are collectors figuratively. I’ve noticed that my eye collects.” So did his camera. And so did he, constantly and obsessively. He maintained collections of printed ephemera, driftwood, metal, and wooden signs that he photographed on the roadside and then simply took home with him, and, in the single area where he seems not to have discriminated (because even he could not have figured out how to do so), tin-can pull tabs.
The work of Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958) and that of Jo Ann Callis (b. 1940)—on view in adjacent galleries at the Getty Museum— was first paired in a Los Angeles exhibition at the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in 1981. Following Outerbridge's death, his work had essentially dropped from sight, neglected by critics and curators.
The core conundrum in photography—painting, too!—is that in the vast majority of instances it is a two-dimensional art form tied to a representation of a three-dimensional world. That this has become almost a "duh" observation, somewhat trite and hackneyed, should not diminish its position as one of the central Ur-realities of photography, and every opportunity to reinvestigate and rearticulate its tenets can have value in reminding us of the causal ambiguities at the heart of its practice.
As indicated in the title of Roni Horn's retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern (the artist's first major museum show in the United Kingdom), hers is an art of doubling. But that is to sketch only in the broadest terms the subtle reflections and involutions of a body of work that for more than thirty years has ramified notions of mirroring and self-reference in seemingly infinite directions.
While it is well known that a slew of talented photographers were working in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s, and that the 1950s and '60s were likewise fascinating periods for the medium in the country, who outside of the country really knows the scope of Czech photography?
Seen one at a time, Jochen Lempert's black-and-white photographs of the natural world and its inhabitants do not make great claims upon a viewer. Some have artless compositions; others seem out of focus or to have no subject at all. Encountered in aggregate, however, as in Field Work, the first major survey of Lempert's photographs presented outside of his native Germany, they possess a quietly mesmeric force.
Over the years, the artist Alfredo Jaar has become adept at making the absence of images as palpable and powerful as their presence. In August 1994 he went to Rwanda and returned with thousands of images of the aftermath of the genocide there.
A man and a woman sit together in an environment stripped bare. The main prop is a kitchen table with a ceiling lamp hanging overhead. Everything is in clear focus: he reads his newspaper and is unresponsive, while she is reflective and looks on.
In the mid-1950s, before the French New Wave burst onto the international scene with audaciously original films, many of its young luminaries (Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, and their inspiring elder, Eric Rohmer) were making their names as film critics.
CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN PHOTOGRAPHY
The Iranian revolution in 1979 saw the departure of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran and its ruler for thirty-eight years, and the return, after fourteen years in exile, of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution, exactly three decades ago this year, is considered by many today to be one of the key moments— notwithstanding the protests and other events following last June's elections in Iran—in the history of the Middle East.
In Detroit there is a warehouse, once used to store books and supplies for the public-school system. Abandoned for many years, last winter it was the scene of a grotesque discovery: a homeless man had plunged head-down into the bottom of a flooded elevator shaft, and had all but disappeared in a deep block of ice; only his feet protruded.
Since acquiring the master sets of Robert Adams's photographs in 2004, the Yale University Art Gallery has been collaborating with Adams on a series of projects devoted to his work. This year, Yale reissued denver and What We Bought, two of Adams's most respected monographs, and this fall, Aperture, in partnership with Yale, released Summer Nights, Walking, a revision of the photographer's classic book Summer Nights.
When we want to compliment an artist, one thing we may say is that so and so has "a good eye." Or a really good eye, or even a great eye. Sometimes that eye is turned inward, seeing aspects of the self that run so deep it takes vision beyond the mere 20/20 to identify and name them.
Just as I'm leaving Nick Knight's London home he stops to show me a curious object. White, triangular, and about two Inches thick, It's a section of his old studio floor: the accumulated mass of twenty years of painting and repainting for shoots.
Songs Left Out of Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency
I have always been seduced by the title of Nan Goldin's slide show about her life and that of her friends from the mid-1970s through the mid-'80s, in and around Boston, Berlin, and New York's Lower East Side. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency—the title comes from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, but I didn't know that when I encountered Goldin's work.
Twenty years ago a controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs ricocheted from the United States Senate, where Senator Jesse Helms decried his work as "filth," to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where the artist's retrospective was canceled by the museum's director, to Cincinnati, where obscenity charges were brought against the Contemporary Art Center for exhibiting his transgressive images.
A natural storyteller, Rockwell envisioned his narratives down to the smallest detail. Yet at the easel he was an absolute literalist who rarely painted purely from his imagination. Unable to directly paint the pictures "in his head," Rockwell originally employed studio models for each composition.
About a year ago I stumbled upon the final scene from Fassbinder's The American Soldier on YouTube, where a man has just been shot, his back arches as he reels around with one arm reaching behind towards his wound. continued on next page (Men in the Cities continued) I was familiar with the still image, on which Robert based his sculpture of the same name, from one of the many film books that inspired both of our early work—but I had never seen the actual film.
SEEING WITNESS: VISUALITY AND THE ETHICS OF TESTIMONY
On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the United Nations Security Council, laying the groundwork with satellite photographs of chemical weapons facilities for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.... A dominant theme of Powell's testimony on that day in February was that the witness who is invisible, omniscient, and disembodied is more trustworthy than the witness who is visible, with finite knowledge and human limitations.
I remember sitting with an old man in his house as January patrolled the frozen ground of the Northern Plains. In fifty years, his town had dwindled to six from two hundred and fifty. When he and his wife died—and they were getting toward eighty—well, then there would be four.
I look at Michelle Obama and see her—I try to see her as her, not as a vehicle to see her husband, but to see and hear what she is expressing. We look at her arms, her bare arms, wrists, and fingers. Many look at her arms as a signal of a new style. But I think our First Lady is signaling that it is time to be uncovered, to be exposed, on her own terms.