Photography Class of 2017 – Kittens, Rainbows and Unicorn Supplement

“Perhaps they are interpreting what our current day lascaux looks like from a satellite etc. and looping us on playback feed before a very cataclysmic Trump Presidency. As we know, everything is recorded by visual data and means. The sheer weight or volume of photographic and video information available is irreversible, past cautionary and utterly claustrophobic. We exist in a feeder society that inherently funds this probability, but we also identify with consuming images of ourselves and of others and feed on these images while simultaneously networking the grand scheme of image collation”

This is not an angry rant…(Paul Graham)

I’m walking into my studio’s local everyday “Maka a dolla holla” Cheap German supermarket in need of coffee, milk and ham to throw to the lions-by lions I mean my two salvaged studio cats I pulled from a drain earlier this summer. Feeding pigs to cats as it were…I’m sure there is another metaphor in that sentiment. I peruse the aisles looking at Greek anchovies, bizarre underwear that I refer to as “banana hammocks” and all of the associated sales posts and blazing orange price reduction stickers found on everything written in an Central European language I have yet to come to grips with. I make my way towards the register pondering King Diamond, Frank Ocean, Freud and Jung’s “Little Hans” and his agoraphobia, the oncoming autumn chill and the shopping carts driven by old women and men filling their trolleys with Argus beer at 9 in the morning. It is a fairly normal start to the day in other words.

As I get ten meters from the Checkout, I notice stacks and stacks of white candles on reduction and a woman with a trolley full of green bottled wine holding one candle to her eye for examination. Her neck is brown and leathery from a summer in the garden and for a moment I exist within the dark folds of her neck and her purple/mauve and thinning perm. The lime green pantsuit she wears is from the 1980s and the offset drain of the white candle is backed by rows of hyper-orange blowout stickers titled in English, “Grave Candles” and it reminds me to “click” this tableau in my head as a photograph. After said photograph is “developed” like a Polaroid, always a Polaroid, in my mind (I can hear it), I file through the indexes of images in my head like a T-1000 in Cameron’s first Terminator film. Finally, a “Eureka Moment”-the image I “took” belongs to Martin Parr, the Godfather of Gaudy. I know this not because I have any of his books or any desire to devote much attention to his work, I know this because I have the Internet.

And as a child of the 80’s and 90’s I can tell you that one of the greatest things about currently living neck deep in the anthropocene, is that my mind is awash in torrents of images and ideas that interest me and it is making my mind more and more visually encyclopedic. I do not need Martin’s books to remember that this color “dis-co-ordination, or perhaps disco-ordination” is very much in-line with his aesthetic and I am thankful for living in an age where communication of ideas and imagery, though overwhelming to many, is something I can refer to mentally on my stroll through Lidl.

Please understand that even though we live in times of never-ending war with capitalist tendencies devouring its creators and their children, and with a technology that is racing out of control against our biosphere, we still live in unprecedented times where images are part of the last stand in the cleansing and folding paradox of simulated realities or inevitable endings for our shared humanity. It has to be one or the other, really and it is completely Hyper-Baroque. What I mean to say that we do indeed live in extreme and exciting times. I don’t have to use an outdoor toilet, my worries are confined to whether or not my laptop turns on and I get to listen to music all day long. Side note-It is not lost on me that patronising these places and that my own routines are endemic of the hypocrisy for which I speak about in citizens patronising the material value of dirty capitalism. Dude. needs. coffee. Ight?

Imagine future generations collating and culling our images, re-evaluating them from a not so distant future or perhaps it is some alien civilisation finding some lazer disc floating in the celestial body embedded in an asteroid and are busy disarming it to break its encryption and see all of these images of all of this…bio- data from a distance. Perhaps they are interpreting what our current day Lascaux looks like from a satellite etc. and looping us on playback feed before a very cataclysmic Trump Presidency. As we know, everything is recorded by visual data and means. The sheer weight or volume of photographic and video information available is irreversible, past cautionary and utterly claustrophobic. We exist in a feeder society that inherently funds this probability, but we also identify with consuming images of ourselves and of others and feed on these images while simultaneously networking the grand scheme of image collation. But, within this, lies our complete potential to transcend barriers of language, of economics and certainty.

When I submitted my last piece about photography in 2016, I couldn’t help but feel a river of venom coursing through me. Having been working in photography for two decades, I could see so many things that did not seem right, moral or were just plainly regressive. Most of these issues that I spoke about were part of a larger contextualisation of my anger towards what is going on within the world of capitalism and photography. That being said, capitalism is over if you had not noticed. When the ideology overtakes the presets that man has made for it, the will of the beast itself-its ideological manufacture takes over and negates the creators own intent to be harnessed. As the planet becomes more and more automated, these functions have no proverbial stop button. The same people that wish to control- The Wal-Mart Waltons, The Tescos, The Bransons, The Clintons, Etc are no longer controlling the genie. So, this has a negative consequence of choatic proportion and its spiralling affect infiltrates every system within our lives including the arts, education and prizes and so on and so forth. Look at the professional photography industry as example one. Capitalism has pushed down the profession so far that being a photographer is no longer considered a better paying vocation than say a Starbucks barista. Technology, through the surplus of image production ease and automated availability has put so many images into the world that the market is saturated and by proxy, has driven the prices of a jobbing photographers rates so far down it has become a very difficult way of sustainability. We do have to many photographers, don’t we?

My main interest in photography has always been the art world side of it, so speaking on the ills of the professional jobber is not my place, just as education is also not my place, per se. So I want to re-examine a few of the key categories that I discussed last time, but I think it fair that even under the unbridled maelstrom of uncertain economic disparity and perhaps the crass nature of the medium’s rhetoric we embrace, that I look towards what little I can glean from a positive perspective and give credit where credit is due as if it were not all Sodom and Gomorrah in photography (sounds like a great party in actuality). There are some outstanding folks contributing to photography’s mass even under the duress of capitalism’s failure to promote it and its accolades into a sphere of relative harmony and stability.

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Festivals

Exotic. Open-Minded. There are some great festivals for which artists have a possibility to showcase their works with organisers who work tirelessly to promote ideas above and beyond their call. Of note is Stefano Stoll’s Images Vevey. The operation, which brings international recognition to a small town in Switzerland, is a stand out. This year, Stephen Gill’s installation in particular is of note. Placing images around a central fountain in the town, the images force the public to interact with the opacity of their production and augment a reciprocity of imaginative interaction by the hand of the viewer who is forced to throw water from the fountain on the image before it becomes apparent.

What at first might seem gimmicky is lost to the purposeful administration of making the public perform with the image and its potential to be seen in such a space. It is a small gesture, but one that perhaps Nicolas Bourriard would appreciate and does not condemn photography to the sanctity of the white wall. Stefano is also looking past the totem catalogue of all-consuming big brand photographic name and ego. He has some stars, but he is also looking at younger artists who demonstrate will and a professional output that will see his vision cemented in a decade’s time as forthright and smart

Other festivals from Braga, Portugal, Louise Clement’s Format Festival to Lagos, Nigeria are bent on bringing the world of images to similar remote locations where the parapet of photography seen in the world’s capitals can be embedded in the everyday lives of citizens that can experience the culture of photography from a position other than a screen and outside of the global city center. These festivals do much to promote the global phenomenon that we live with. My thoughts on the new management of Arles is still on hold for the moment simply due to not having visited and from having to see how it all pans out between the city itself, the new management and how Hoffman’s enterprises will or will not work with the photography side of things.

I visited Berlin last weekend for the European Month of Photography (EMOP) and though my concentration was on a series of talks and the book market held between the Helmut Newton Foundation and C/O Berlin, I felt that even if some of the moderation of the panels was slightly regressive, the general will and the exhibitions had some notable players. These festivals tend to include too many galleries and festivals taking part, but in Berlin, exhibitions at C/O Berlin…the Gordon Parks retrospective and the Broomberg & Chanarin shows were outstanding. I sadly missed Robert Morat’s gallery, but have good feelings about his excitable nature and lament that I opted out on time shortage. I am not sure whether I see the EMOP as anything past EU subsidised adventures in the arts with perhaps too many players, but the core weekend was indebted to a lively atmosphere and general good will. I am looking forward to Gordon McDonald’s new venture with Krakow next year as he is another tireless, tested and approved man about photography.

At this point, perhaps we do have too many fairs. That is certainly a possibility. My facebook feed lights up with images from September to November and then again from May to July from countless positions around the globe. I enjoy these fairs when there is a specific reason for them and usually I have the delight of seeing above average exhibitions. The jury is out on whether the tree should shake a bit going forward, but for now, I will simply hit the unfollow button a bit more if I can’t deal.

“Finally, a “Eureka Moment”- the image I “took” belongs to Martin Parr, the Godfather of Gaudy. I know this not because I have any of his books or any desire to devote much attention to his work, I know this because I have the Internet”

Criticism

Expansive at times and pro-bono in nature. I have spoke about the problems facing criticism before and included myself in this mix. The attempt was not to disparage those are doing excellent work in the field and usually for no economic gain. Daniel Campbell Blight is one of the people I read regularly. His handle on critical theory, the institution, philosophy and language and his will towards perfectionist style will see him as contributing towards a greater theory of photography in the future.

David Campany is a writer, artist, curator, and educator that I wish I had studied under. His writings are accessible, historically balanced and include a capacity for disciplined research (Walker Evans, Cinema and Photography, Asking the dust, etc.) that sees his titles published and his curatorial endeavors recognised widely. He is also human, funny and not above himself in the pantheon of overly- clever photographic insider rhetoric. For me, his accessibility is crucial.

Lewis Bush is another writer that I read and I also find difficult at times because he comes from a similar place to me, which can be seen as whiny as opposed to rightly pissed off. Lewis sees the never-ending cascade of problems within photography, economics and the general apathy of living in a society of one and he rallies strongly against these concepts and provides scrutiny in his writings and asks questions larger than his own interests of the photography community. What I once rallied against with Lewis is now where my position has changed from acceptance towards gratitude for his voice, which when mediated and not always bringing up Broomberg & Chanarin is incredible to behold both in terms of style and “nail on the head”-isms.

Stanley Walukau-Wanambwa is one of the more gifted writers on the scene presently. His output is not vast, but it is overly considered and succinct and reading his works, whether I agree with his position or not, is always enlightening. This is also not to go without saying that the industry standards are also great-Sontag, John Tagg, Szarkowski, Liz Wells, Maria Warner, Victor Burgin, Luigi Ghirri, Barthes etc, but they are establishment names that historically should be drawn from alongside the bevy of people writing or that have written about images in general and a bit outside of photography such as Hito Steyerl, Girogio Agamben, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Virilio, any number of e-flux writers etc.

From the publication side of it, great things are also happening. BKN magazine in England headed by William and Louis Esdale is a fantastic, well thought out new magazine (Issue 3 just dropped) where the team have taken it upon themselves to investigate works by artists who do not necessarily radar on the normal pages and maps of current “hot” names. The work found in the issues is often by people I have never heard of yet whose works are incredible. The world is full of great people working in the medium who go unannounced and BKN is a doing a great turn in publishing these works. The production is slick and comes with supplementary material and single artist pamphlets of artists who present pretty amazing work that needs to be seen.

Co-Curate run by Isabelle Evertse is another similar affair. She is working on issue 2 now and the works covered include artists working within a theme, similar to BKN, but also factor in a curatorial effort by people like Aaron Schuman whose eyes lend themselves to a validated and impressive curation of works within. This is a fantastic approach to a magazine. It shows collaboration and often puts the work into a mode of seriousness often lacking in many of the bigger journals and magazines that promote photography through advertising budgets and it is done with thought and care.

Self Publish Be Happy continues to be an inspiration for me. Bruno and his team’s efforts on the publishing front, aside from the workshops, promotion of the photobook as a serious medium on the website and his overall vision for bringing young artists to a wider audience should never go under-valued. His vision and his tireless work is something I continue to refer to, but it is not often that I meet with somebody whose work ethic is greater than my own.

Of note here, MACK has recently published Luigi Ghirri’s writings and is ramping up an Allen Sekula edition of writings for November. This is brilliant. We need more publishers looking past the “photobook of the year” award and giving back to the community with unpublished or un-translated texts by artists who have penned magnificent and exceptional writings, which we could consider as potential curriculum within….

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Education

Changing and Progressive. ECAL in Switzerland. The Swiss are gaining momentum from the French and the English as the hub of European photography pushing the envelope between conceptual thought, practice but also theory and practical production. Ecal is a school devoted to photography under the administration of Milo Keller. The school has taken a very important decision to include amongst its staff professionals such as Bruno Cesahael of Self Publish Be Happy, and Lorenzo Vitturi and Thomas Maellander as visiting lecturers.

The management of the photographic department seems to understand that by having young and productive artists and educators teaching modules and seminars at the school that not only will its output be recognised as contemporary and relevant, but it will also speculatively provide a student with an environment that dissolves notions of the archaic power structures associated with the static endorsement of long-term teaching posts. It means that it is teaching its students to be critically apt and it also emphasises current methodologies for entering the art world when they leave the university with close networks with contemporary practitioners. I imagine the bureaucracy to be challenging for the school, but I cannot help but applaud their vision and efforts.

Also, my gripes previously may have led to the conclusion by the reader that I wanted to destroy education and perhaps have a long piss on top its corpse. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Many educators are brilliant minds that often spend more time than they are paid for to interact with their students, promote a deep and understood promotion of theoretical positions and can elaborate on what they see as the market. This by no means suggests that every educator should be an art star. Art Stars probably won’t answer that text by a miserable student trying to find their way during difficult times of growing pains, etc.

What I am asking for, however is that we re-assess education to include a reality check for the market and for what is to be considered “vocational skills”. Professors, when they do their jobs right can take a young person interested in the arts and push them towards a self-governing and deep and enduring relationship with art and thought. They can hone the student’s skill or obsession into something that the student will not realise until years later was an important tool to gain. This comes from the educator’s experience and cannot be translated from any other method than teaching with care. Educators have a tough battle and if they are worth their salt and more, this should never go under-valued or under-appreciated.

We should look at administration within universities and look towards building programs that suit the realistic needs of the market and practice in tandem. It has long been avoided because the medium and profession is in flux. How do we teach technical photography when the market is broken at present due to capitalism? How do we teach about the art world when the bubble has presently grown so big as to give the impression of a false or ill-repaying career before it actually pops? The job an educator has in walking this minefield is not lost on me.

Workshops

Appropriate and Unique. At any given moment there are a number of workshops available for small groups of students or practitioners to enroll in. JH Engstrom and Margot Wallard’s Atelier Smedsby is spread between Sweden and France and is a guiding venture in which students of any age, etc. can make work under the tutelage of Engstrom and Wallard, but also Christian Caujole, Michael Grieve and Anders Petersen. It is a hard turn to find a workshop in which the critical capacity of Caujole, alongside the professional working artistry of Engstrom and Wallard et. al can be found under one roof. There are many of these workshops available and one should consider working with people whose vision stretches past the simplicity of process, wet-plate etc. You have the Internet for that. You cannot get the experience from Engstron, Bruno Ceshael, etc. by typing it in your browser. It is real-time, it is lucid and it is an experience.

Previously, these workshops had an air of the technical about them-learn infrared process, learn Pre-Rupert Murdoch National Geographic reportage, etc. That is all well and fine, but again speaking from the art side of things, it is incredibly difficult to study outside of the formulaic reaches of academia with artists who have a presence and with whose countenance smashes down the walls of the professional/personal relationships tendered in the institution.

Institutions

Younger and more and more approachable. Since Simon Baker came on board of the TATE in 2009, things have changed quite drastically in England. His appointment alone made other institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Photographer’s gallery, and the ever-confusing Media Museum step up their game to participate. It has also formed a core group of curators that are youngish and fairly accessible. Baker and Curator Shoair Mavlian are especially commendable for their on the ground presence. They attend all the book fairs, photofairs and they will actually take a minute to speak with people well under their pay grade about photography because it excites them and they are not dickheads. I hope it is not lost on anybody how rare that is. It doesn’t mean if they buy your book that it moves your career one single inch forward, but it does mean two of the most important heads of an institution are actually looking at new things and are open-minded.

C/O Berlin again is another institution that is doing excellent things with photography. They are showing artists like Peter Puklas, Broomberg & Chanarin as well as looking at the normative tropes of photography and bringing exceptional turnouts and reception to their events. The curators are approachable, friendly and very very studied without being dusty. This is not to be taken for granted.

FOAM Museum in Amsterdam also does exceptional up to the moment exhibitions with important and fresh contemporary work mixed with a few industry standards. They spare no state-expense on lavish shows, publications and their staff, in particular Marcel Feill and Kim Knoppers are pleasant and knowledgeable. They employ working critics for their magazine and it shows in the output. It is one of the few institutions like FOMU Antwerp where the heads of the institution actively engage younger audiences by their energy, discipline and never-ending consideration of the medium. FOMU has just had an open call for exhibitions in their museum space. Yes, that means the public body can send in a proposal for a takeover of one of the museums floors. When is the last time that you have heard of a museum inviting the public to take over their space? No slow hand clap needed, go see their shows. Make the effort and don’t say there is not possibility for entry into an institution.

 “Great creators create for the desire to do so, not the false impression that it will give them a job, respect or totemic implementations of economic boon based on rigid conditioning of distributing their work as saleable”

 

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Market

Hard working and actively engaged. Gallerists- There are amazing people out there taking shots on artists that have a vision that is not easily saleable. Many young gallerists are finding their own vision within the people they work with. They spend tireless hours dealing with the egos associated with artists, pouring over spread sheets with accountants and book keepers just to keep their door open to promote creativity. Of course money is involved. We cannot all run privately funded institutions because there is too much money on the books. The efforts of dealing with customs agents, shipping works to fairs and the day-to-day function of a gallery are costly and can be highly unrewarding. It takes sweat and a backbone and the ever-pressing knowledge that it may not be sustainable. Its very easy for an artist to see the gallery as a middle man just waiting to harvest their ideas for financial gain and not to see the gallerist as a possible patron and distributor of their work. It is about money, but without these people, the possibility to exhibit or the possibility to catch the occasional paycheck diminishes quickly. One should also realise that certain gallerists also studied art and are familiar, like great educators with the concepts involved. They have advice for artists that should be heeded with reason. Not all gallery people are bankers who are looking to enliven their lives through your art. A good many are passionate and believe in your work and are actively considering how to feed themselves AND you.

Find the ones who have vision, don’t have any expectations, but do patronise their exhibitions. It’s the least you can do as it rewards by its existence, even if you hate it. It would also be good to remember that as an artist, you are probably not buying works from these people. Remember this when you spend too much time talking to them about your work or the desire to be affiliated with them in an exhibition situation.

Artists often get upset when their needs are not met. They feel frustrated that they are not given a place. This is understandable, but do remember when you see a gallerist at fair or an opening that they are working. How do you approach them? I don’t know, but if you have done your homework and the gallery is open to submissions then keep doing so. If you are told no, don’t build a vendetta in your mind. Don’t talk badly of another artist showing there because you feel let down or perhaps that you believe your work is better. Rise above and carry on making work for you. Be critical, have a discussion. Don’t talk poorly.

One other cautionary note, showing up to a gallery and expecting them to look at your work with a cold call is supremely off-putting. If you attend their exhibitions and have the chance to speak with them about the work on the walls, it will go much further for you down the line. You will need years of patience to network with these people. Remember this.

Gallerists that I see doing interesting work and are not completely crass is actually longer than you might expect. A few off the top of my head would be…

Harlan Levy Projects in Brussels (though he is not medium specific), he is indefatigable and regularly visits graduate programs to look at work and discuss ideas.

TJ Boulting Gallery in London. Hannah’s sheer will to exist and exhibit work is applaud-worthy. It is not so much what she exhibits, but her will to do so in an obnoxiously difficult town is remarkable. She is also remarkable for working to even the odds of a male dominated art world and this should also be highly respected.

Galerie Reflex in Amsterdam is a relatively newish gallery that shows Todd Hido, Daido Moriyama, but has also recently shown the much overlooked Irina Ionesco. For that alone and the superior nature of their publications, they are worth mentioning.

The same goes for Jasper at Ravenstijn Gallery also in the Netherlands who has championed younger artists without having to stick with Dutch names. Exhibitions by Peter Watkins and DARREN HARVEY REGAN are of note.

Bruce Silverstein in New York, who is known for showing exceptional master pieces of photography in line with Howard Greenberg (also New York) has recently taken on showing younger talented artists such as Penelope Umbrico and Nicolai Howalt alongside incredible vintage works by Frantisek Drtikol, Paul Outerbridge and Joel-Peter Witkin.

Then there is Yossi Milo, the tireless master of dealers of photography in New York who also shows younger artists and actually seems to sell work very well, thus a boon for artists whom he works with that are younger and perhaps finding it difficult to cash in.

In France, RVB is not only a publisher of note, but they also operate a gallery in Paris exhibiting works by Thomas Maellander, Tiane Doan Na Champassak, Ruth Van Beek and many other younger to mid-career artists with an energy that is nearly un-paralleled.

Ost-Licht Gallery in Vienna might not be everyone’s cup of tea with exhibitions by people like Lenny Kravitz and Bryan Adams, but they are also showing Stefanie Moshammer and Ren Hang. The former is less well-known, but rising, extremely talented and it shows that bottom lines are not always bottom lines in Vienna.

Directly underneath Ost-Licht Gallery is Regina Anzenberger’s Eponymous Gallery. Direct, to the point and inexhaustible, Regina organizes Vienna’s Photobook Festival, constantly champions rising artist through her gallery and agency such as Klaus Pichler and exudes an energy of professional discourse well above my own patience level. I respect that deeply.

I could go on further about people I have interviewed or worked with in the gallery scene over time. I am not advocating what galleries are better or that I even like the work being shown in the above-mentioned galleries. The point is, these people are hard working and for one reason or another hit my radar as doing something well.

Not all my gallery war stories are nice, but this is about unicorns, rainbows and kittens this time, so…

At the end of all of this….

When the tree shakes, the leaves will fall under the storms of economy, crushed under foot and we will be left with our intent to produce as the infinite measure of self-worth and it will rally against the banks never-ending call to fill its bloated belly. We can communicate, we can create and we can do so without the false impressions that our output need be crafted for the consumer. It is within us to do so and like the great “outside artists” Bill Traylor, Adolf Wolffli, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and many of the other unschooled but visionary artists, the paradigm of our creation is what is inside us and it reflects our needs to continue our path in making work for ourselves and not the callous complexities of the market. The bubble of the market has created a false impression for many people who want to create as a sustainable way of living. If we discount this, we are left with what could be considered closer to the pure phenomenon of creation as a reality to our individual needs. We will not have to shape those needs towards the paucity of economic governance.

Great creators create for the desire or need to do so, not the notion that it will give them a job, respect or minor totemic implementations of economic boon based on rigid conditioning of distributing their work as saleable. Never restrain your mind, eye or hand in favor of what might sell. This is the power of not having access to the market. Of course, be realistic on what you have to do to empower this reality financially. The truth is that you will likely have to work another different and less interesting job and you will lose time to create, so make the moments count when you have them.

….This is not an apology.

 

(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm.)

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