Indie Photobooks Recap

Posted: September 16th, 2012 | Filed under: books, photography, San Francisco | No Comments »

After a day listening to people talk about photography and making photobooks, I’m convinced I should be taking photographs and making books. If for no other reason than to document things I’m seeing or thinking about. I love photography, books and photography books so why shouldn’t I make one? Even if the book sucks, it’s so easy to physically make a book these days that there really isn’t a compelling reason not to make one.

That was the overwhelming feeling I had after spending the day at Carte Blanche on Valencia yesterday. CB  owner Gwen Lafage hosted an event built around a show of photobooks from the Indie Photobook Library curated by iPL founder Larissa Leclair and Dairius Himes, Assistant Director, Fraenkel Gallery and Co-Founder, Radius Books. The day began with a Photobook Meetup where a number of people whose work was in the show or had produced books talked about the book making process. Their was a wide range of experience from Noah Beil (Gone Quickly) who produces his own books (printing the photos, hand setting and printing the type, and sewing his own binding) to Lydia Panas, who had her book The Mark of Abel published by Kehrer Verlag. Whatever the experience, there seemed to be agreement that producing a photobook was never going to make you rich, but that it was important to the process of making and thinking about images, and a useful tool that opened up other opportunities.

The afternoon consisted of three panels discussions, The Art of the Artists Book, Publishing a Photobook, and Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century.

Michael Light talks about his book

Books are Containers of Thinking
Kicking off the first panel Lauren Henkin talked about her various book projects and how she really saw them as a chance to collaborate with other artists, be they binders, printers, or poets. John DeMerritt talked about bookbinding and how, though much of his work is still based on 18th and 19th century craft, he’s incorporating things like laser matte cutting as well. I was happy to see that he had worked with Bay Area artist Nigel Poor on a case for her Washed Books project. Though he didn’t say it in so many words, I got the impression that he subscribed to the bookbinding equivalent of the Crystal Goblet theory, that the binding should only be a vessel for the content or ideas of the artist. The final speaker, Michael Light talked a bit about some of his trade books, but the show stopper was a giant thirty-six inch tall book of aerial shots, GREAT RIFT/SNAKE RIVER/SHOSHONE FALLS, in a beautiful case built by DeMerritt (seen above). It was Light who crystallized the theme of the session by calling books “containers of thinking.”

The Period at the End of the Sentence
All three of the panelists for the second panel, focusing on DIY and small press publishing, talked about how they ended up making books almost by accident. Patrick Aguilar talked about starting up Owl and Tiger Books right out of school producing books for people he knew. John Steck, Jr., of Make Book Blog, took a class on photobooks where they just talked about books and had to figure out for themselves how to actually make a book for the final project, and Daniel Milnor (Smogranch), Blurb Photographer at Large, started out making books as promotional pieces for his photography and found that it fed his need to document.  Though they are both working with the book as a form, Steck and Milnor differ in how they use it. Milnor doesn’t claim to be a book designer. He uses the book-making process as a way to work through ideas, making a book for every idea that comes to him. Steck sees the book as the “period at the end of the sentence.” The idea given final form as an almost sculptural object. However they use the book, each speaker from this panel has produced at least one book that is in the Indie Photobook Library and it’s great to see how a community, that was really made possible by the Internet, can move beyond the virtual and result in a bunch of people sitting in the same room looking at and talking about books.

“Photography is a profound corner that sits in between literature and film”
The final panel of the day, ostensibly titled Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century, included Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin’s ethnographic work in Romania from The Color of Hay, Eric W. Carroll’s giant diazo prints of a walk in the woods (Blue Line of Woods), and Todd Hido’s fictional narratives created from real parts for a book that will come out Spring 2013. As you can tell, the term “documentary” was applied fairly loosely, though I tend to agree with Carroll’s point of view that all photography is a document of some kind in that it is a record of the interaction of light with some chemical or electrical process. The “profound corner” quote, sited by Hido and attributed to Lewis Baltz, came towards the end of the panel. It was a fitting closing thought because human beings are hard wired to create stories and anytime you have a group of images arranged in a sequence (as in a book) the mind is going to start creating narratives.

On the whole, a great event on photobooks and a reminder of how strong both photography and the book arts are in the Bay Area. Something I should take advantage of more often.


Thoughts on Typo San Francisco

Posted: April 8th, 2012 | Filed under: design, San Francisco | No Comments »

Typo is a series of design talks that began in Berlin over 15 years ago. Last Thursday and Friday it was held in San Francisco for the first time. Let me start by saying that, in general, I found the Typo conference interesting and inspiring. Being that it’s the first year that they’ve done it in San Francisco, I’ll give them a Mulligan for the organizational hiccups like not having a large enough second stage venue. That said, I have a couple of thoughts on what to do for any future Typo San Francisco events.

1. Theme or No Theme
If you’re going to have a theme, the presenters should address the theme. Quite frankly, I forgot that there was a theme until Neville Brody mentioned it in passing in the second to last talk.

2. To the Speakers: Thinner Decks, More Depth
You’re speaking to a specialized audience. One that’s interested in the process, what you were thinking about, what went right, what went wrong, rather than just the final outcome. Wouldn’t it be better to pick a couple of projects (maybe ones that relate to the theme) and speak about them in depth rather than trying to run through a larger group of projects in a cursory way?

3. Debate and Dissent
Try breaking the single speaker model more often with panels or conversations between an interviewer and a speaker to get beyond the usual show and tell dynamic. It doesn’t have to be antagonistic, but what about having a panel where various people come at a subject from different perspectives?

4. Interaction
A lot of lip service was given to the importance of the interaction that takes place at these conferences. Is there a way to make this a more integral part of the program rather than leaving it to the 15 minutes (provided the speaker hasn’t run over and you don’t have to get in line for the next talk) between talks? Do you have breakout groups to discuss a topic after a presentation is given? What about just allowing for questions from the audience at the end of the talk? You can even pre-screen the questions by either having the submitted ahead of time or even during the speech via Twitter hash tag. That way the tweets have more function than just an echo chamber of adoration.

5. Have Mike Monteiro Close Every Conference
As I mentioned before the conference was inspirational, but Monteiro’s talk was a great reminder that it’s about more than just having great ideas or even doing great work. It’s about how we live, work, play, and act in the 363 days that we’re not at a design conference surrounded by people who speak the same language that we do.

So, in the end, it was a good experience which has the chance to be a great one. Whether or not the suggestions above will help I don’t know, but I hope that Typo San Francisco will be back next year and that I’ll see you all there.


Beginning of summer, End of Animal

Posted: May 7th, 2011 | Filed under: movies, San Francisco | No Comments »

The May 6th opening of Thor signaled the opening of the summer movie season with all it’s sound, fury and, more often than not, lack of significance. That’s not to say that I won’t go see Thor, after all I was a big fan of Walt Simonson even through the whole Beta Ray Bill fiasco, but on the last day of April, I saw a film that is the antithesis of the standard summer fare.

End of Animal, by South Korean director Jo Sung-hee, made it’s U.S. premier at the San Francisco International Film festival and it was the third film I saw that day. The first two (which shall remain unnamed) where underwhelming, so I headed into the theater with a bit of hesitation. The festival mini-guide described End of Animal as follows;

A pregnant teenager finds herself in a taxi with a passenger who counts down to cataclysm. Cinematic clues that you’re in one movie genre will steer you wrong time and again, as this entrancing and deeply unsettling debut unwinds its small, personal tale of apocalypse with menace and dark humor.

Sometimes I come out of a film wondering if the person writing the description actually saw the film, but in this case, the description is spot on. End of Animal is yet another example that you don’t need a lot of effects to make an engrossing film. I will temper that by saying if you like a movie to answer questions, this probably isn’t the film for you. If, on the other hand, you like films with intriguing characters where you have no idea what’s going to happen next, try End of Animal.


War is Surreal

Posted: June 24th, 2010 | Filed under: galleries, photography, San Francisco | 1 Comment »

The more that war or combat is portrayed in various media the less I feel like I will ever really be able to understand what the experience is like. If that is true, is it possible to truly prepare our service men and women for what they will face? They may be prepared with the best physical and technical training, but how can we prepare them psychologically for something that can’t really be simulated? And, if we can’t prepare them psychologically, how will we deal with the inevitable post traumatic stress some may encounter on their return home. These are all questions that came up as I view two well-paired bodies of work currently hanging at SFCamerawork dealing with different aspects of the prosecution of war.

Christopher Sims, Theater of War
Mother with Babies, Fort Polk, Louisiana from Theater of War
© Christopher Sims

The first, Theater of War by 2010 Baum Award Winner Christopher Sims, is a combination of portraiture and environmental images that shows us an aspect of soldiers preparation before deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Sims shows us a glimpse of the fake villages the military creates and populates with “actors” to provide a stage upon which various scenarios are acted out. Despite the fact that, as Sims’ artist statement sates, “The designers and inhabitants of these worlds take great pride in the scope and fidelity of their wars-in-miniature,” the absurdity of a woman sitting in a folding chair spinning wool next to a RPG only makes me think there is no way to properly prepare soldiers for what they will encounter. It also highlights the near impossible task regular armed forces face when they’re up against irregular forces, especially in a populated area. Even if you take the military aspect out of it the images are representation of a simulation. They are one person’s edited view of an interpretation of a foreign place and people which calls into question, more so than usual, the veracity of photography.

Jennifer Karady, Soldiers'  Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan
Captain Elizabeth A. Condon, New York Army National Guard, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with daughter, Kate, and mother, Elizabeth, Troy, NY, June 2008 from Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan
© Jennifer Karady

In contrast to the careful preparation prior to deployment, the second body of work shows us the aftermath of deployment, the psychological damage, and the sometimes faulty support system that soldiers face on their return to the US. Jennifer Karady‘s Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan show soldiers reenacting  traumatic situations from their deployment, but in their home setting, often with friends or family members in the scene as well. Though perhaps not as intricately staged as Gregory Crewdson’s work, I feel that Karady’s work is more immediate. By that I mean that though both artists construct staged narratives replete with psychological drama, I think of Crewdson’s work as being more removed and clinical, lacking the emotional weight of Karady’s work. A lot of that may have to do with being able to read the soldiers’ recounted descriptions of what they were feeling or the situations they were reenacting. Yet even before I read the accounts, I looked at the images and wanted to learn more about the people pictured. Not something I often feel with Crewdson’s work.

Gregory Crewdson, Twilight
from Twilight
© Gregory Crewdson

All in all, a really smart paring of two thought provoking bodies of work. Both are up through the first week in August, so if you’re in San Francisco this summer, check out the show.


More Dollar Signs

Posted: December 13th, 2009 | Filed under: art, collecting, photography, San Francisco | No Comments »

I went to last Saturday’s SFCamerawork auction expecting to see a lot of photos being sold below the low estimate which is pretty much what happened. Of the 151 lots, 114 sold for below the low estimate, 33 sold within the range in the catalog, and only 4 exceeded the high estimate. As I said, this is what I expected given the state of the economy. What I didn’t expect was, when I went back and looked at my notes from the last auction I attended, that those numbers were roughly the same distribution as in 2006.

Though there were more lots in 2006, 180  to Saturday’s 151,  the percentage of pieces that sold for below the low estimate was actually greater 78% to 75%. There were more sold above the high estimate in 2006, 7% to 3%, but there were also fewer sold within the estimate range, 15% to 22%. It makes me wonder how they come up with their estimates. Does Camerawork come up with the estimates or are they provided by the person who donates the work? In Camerawork’s case it’s probably in their best interest to have the estimate high so that the buyer will feel more inclined to bid if they think they are getting a piece for within or below an estimate. With the donors, especially if it is a gallery representing the artist or the artist themselves, then it gets a bit trickier. You want the work to go for as much as possible, but you don’t want it to go for under the estimate and possibly effect future prices. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure that this auction has that much influence on prices.

The four pieces that sold for above the catalog’s high estimate were Richard Gilles’ Clement Ave. & Oak Street, Ann Hamilton’s book weight (human carriage), Dinh Q. Le’s Untitled, and Hank Willis Thomas’ Who Can Say No To A Beautiful Brunette?. The Dinh Q. Le actually went for $12,000 on an estimate of $5000/$8000 establishing a new record (according to the auctioneer) for a piece sold at a Camerawork auction.

Dinh Q. Le, Untitled, 2004
Dinh Q. Le, Untitled, 2004

I’m missing data from 2007 and 2008, but Le’s work seems to be on the rise in terms of popularity. In 2003 a piece estimated at $850/$1000 sold for $1100. In 2004, on the same estimate a piece sold for $2600. In 2005, for a work the same size as 2004, the estimate moved up to $4500/$5500 and the work sold for $3200. Though it didn’t meet the estimate there was still an increase in the price reached compared to the previous year. The work on offer this year was the same size as both 2004 and 2005 and again the estimate had moved up and was exceeded. The bidding can down to two particular bidders. The winning bidder also bought lots from John Collier, Flor Garduno, Todd Hido, Pirkle Jones, Marion Post Walcott and Edward Weston. I don’t know if the winning buyer was a dealer or collector, but the underbidder was a dealer, who could have been bidding for a client, his gallery, or himself.

In general the lots are quite affordable. Whether it was a boom year like 2005 or a bust year like this year a majority of the lots went for $500 or less (roughly 60% in 2006 and just over 50% in 2009). So, if you are looking for affordable art or just want to watch the show, the SFCamerawork auction is a good place to start.

I also mentioned Sarah Thornton’s book, Seven Days in the Art World in my last post and wanted to follow up with a mention of the special report on the art market that she co-wrote with Fiammetta Rocco in the Nov. 28th–Dec 4th of the Economist. The report considers the art market in light of the current economic conditions and addresses issues like primary vs. secondary markets, Andy Warhol as a “bellwether”, and the flow of Chinese art back to China. It’s worth checking out as either an addition to the book that deals with more current events or as an introduction to the topic.


Dollar Signs

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Filed under: art, books, collecting, San Francisco | No Comments »

If you were wondering how the recession has changed the art world, judging from the $43.7 million payed at auction for a Warhol painting (fittingly a painting of money) the answer is not very much. At least not at the top end of the market where, like any other part of the economy, the people with money still have money and are looking to consolidate or expand their holdings. This is the world that Sarah Thornton is largely dealing with in her book Seven Days in the Art World, an entertaining introduction into various facets of a very insular world. Anyone looking for an expose will most likely come away disappointed. It’s not that kind of book. Instead you’ll get snapshots of a Christie’s auction, a crit at CalArts, the “feeding frenzy” at Art Basel, the presentation of the Turner Prize, the workings at Artforum, Takashi Murakami’s studio, and the Venice Biennale which end up showing how small and connected the art world is at the very top.

Most of the research for this book took place before the bottom fell out of the economy. The auction she covers was in 2004 and the most recent entries (the studio visit and the Biennale) are based on events in 2007 so reading it now adds an interesting twist. One point made in the book was that the most recent boom in the art market was fueled largely the work of living artists, the Damien Hirsts and Jeff Koons’ of the world. And that, like other sectors of the economy, there was a lot of speculation. Like the housing market, the art market was distorted by the huge amounts of money flowing into it. The money had to find a place to go and, with the fixed number of Monets and Van Goghs in the world, it flowed into living artists and the search for the next big thing. With the downturn I imagine there will be a return to the blue chip artists like Warhol. As a side note I also recently saw the documentary Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?, a film about one woman’s quest to sell what she believes to be a Jackson Pollock painting that she bought in a thrift store for five dollars. As you may imagine, this film portrays the art world in a somewhat different light.

On a completely different scale, it’ll be interesting to what kind of economic indicator SF Camerawork’s benefit auction (Saturday, December 5, 1 pm) will be this year. Will it be positive like the Sotheby’s auction, an indication that there are still people willing to spend money on art? Or will it be another grim reminder that the next boom is still a long way off? Let’s hope it’s the former.


“Items I Thought I Needed”

Posted: May 1st, 2009 | Filed under: collecting, galleries, San Francisco | No Comments »

Have you ever been seized by the urge to just rid yourself of all your possessions? You may not actually do it, but there’s this desire to purge that’s a counterpoint to the urge to collect. In a recently opened show at the Haines gallery called The Relative Value of Things Nigel Poor examines these two competing desires. The work on display was created during a residency at the San Francisco Center for the Book, but reflects the ongoing examination of the idea of collecting. By collecting things that have no value (hair and lint) and keeping a record of all the things she has discarded for a number of years she prompts the viewer to examine their own choices about what they keep and discard.
Nigel Poor: 18 Years of Date Books
Nigel Poor, 18 Years of Date Books

The show consists of three twelve book sets, eight triptychs that combine text and image, and a wall of compositions made of either hair or lint set up salon style. All three sets of books are mounted on the wall in a way that there covers combine to form a single large compositions. Like the salon wall, one set of book covers is compositions done with lint and the second is done with hair. The final set of books displays the shared back covers that form a single large image called Someday I will be as Insignificant as a Swarm of Summer Insects. This piece is composed of the same tiny handwriting that appears in the triptychs.

One frustration I had with this, and pretty much any show of book art, is the inability to turn the pages*. In this case the books are mounted on the wall, the only hint we get about the interior is from the cell phone tour. It states that the interiors are much like the triptychs which combine two photos of discarded items with a fraction of the written list of discarded items. Which brings me to my second quibble, I wanted to see more. There are only eight triptychs to represent the entirety of years of discarded objects. I don’t know if it was a function of the space available (Poor’s work is in only a small section of the gallery), but I would be interested in seeing more of this facet of the project and, even if I can’t turn the pages, at least one spread of a books interior.

Nigel Poor: S'Rilla #2
Nigel Poor, S’Rilla #2

That said, I appreciate the way in which Poor’s work is often a combination of the intensely personal and the participatory. For this work, in addition to keeping track of everything she has discarded, she is inviting people to contribute their own stories and images of discarded items at www.nigelpoor-relativevalue.com. The lint and hair were also gathered from other people, putting yet another strange spin on the idea of collecting.

I knew going in that, both visually and conceptually, the work would be right up my alley and my minor quibbles with the set up of the show did nothing to change that. I’m looking forward to see how this project evolves and what will catch Poor’s collector’s curiosity next.

The show runs through June 13 with an opening Saturday, May 2 from 3:00pm to 5:00pm.

*Correction:
I went to the opening this afternoon and maybe I missed it the first time, but there were copies of the book available at the front desk that you could look through upon request.


Spring Cleaning

Posted: March 21st, 2009 | Filed under: San Francisco, Uncategorized | No Comments »

The first full day of spring seems to be as good a time as any to clean out my drafts folder of the various fragments I have written over the past couple of months.

***

if you get there before me, will you save me a seat?
if you get there before me, would you save me a seat?
but if i never get there at all,
would you leave the seat empty?

My favorite thing about the Mountain Goats is the poignancy and occasional strangeness of the lyrics. By his own admission, John Darnielle isn’t the greatest guitarist, but he more than makes up for any lack of musicianship with the poetry of his words and the conviction of his delivery. It seems fitting, therefore, that he would sit down for an interview with a writer like Tobias Wolff as he did last night (Feb. 24) at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater. They seemed to share a mutual admiration for each others work that went beyond the usual interviewer-interviewee relationship. At several points Darnielle was much more interested in asking Wolff questions than he was in answering.

The conversation was fairly wide ranging and covered topics from initial creative influences to downloads of digital music. I was particularly interested when they talked about the difference between being a working artist and being an artist while working some other job. Both were thankful that they are able to earn a living doing their art, but also feel pressure to produce something great with that opportunity. They also spoke of the almost elicit excitement they felt working on their art while holding down a regular job. How it felt like stealing time.

***
Maya Lin Systematic Landscapes at the deYoung Museum
From Maya Lin’s Systematic Landscapes at the de Young

On my way to Maya Lin’s Systematic Landscapes show at the de Young earlier this year I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for, but that didn’t make it any less fascinating. While you could call the work reductivist, in that the pieces are abstracted explorations of landscape, that would neglect the thorough nature of the exploration. Lin is able to work in a wide range of media including wood, glass, metal, pins, and paper while still keeping faithful to the clarity of her vision. She also manages to stay true to each of the materials. None of the choices seem arbitrary and there is something transformative, for example, in the way she uses simple 2x4s cut to different lengths to create the wave/hill that dominated the museum’s atrium. I got the feeling that each piece, though varied in size, material, or execution, was part of a unified whole.

***
film still from Revanche
Still from Götz Spielmann’s Revanche

Revanche.  The act of retaliating; revenge. With a title like that you would expect the movie to be an adrenalin fueled revenge fantasy. Or, at least that is what you’d expect if this were your typical Hollywood movie. Instead, Austria’s submission to the Academy Awards, though it includes sex, violence, drugs, and a bank robbery, is an exquisite portrait of internal conflict. Visually beautiful and languidly paced this film avoids the usual devices of the summer blockbuster and the melodrama of awards season movies. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fan of Hollywood movies as well, but in all the movies I saw in the run up to the Oscars , few impressed me the way this one did. I’ll also admit that it’s hard to judge the quality of the acting when you’re reading subtitles, but none of the acting rang false.


After the Revolution

Posted: April 27th, 2008 | Filed under: galleries, San Francisco | 1 Comment »

If you happen to be in San Francisco on a weekday between now and June 27 you may want to check out a show of photographic work from young Iranian artists called After the Revolution. The ‘revolution’ in the title is the 1979 Iranian Revolution and all the artists were born that year or later and live in either Iran or California. The show is being presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission and hangs in City Hall which sets up an interesting dialogue between Iran and a representation of US government. Before I even saw the work, the juxtaposition had me thinking about things like censorship and freedom, fear and security. Thoughts that were reinforced when I passed through the metal detectors to see the show.

The work hangs on both sides of two long corridors that radiate from a central space. I’m describing the space because the dialogue that began with the building and art continues between the work of different artists within the show. In several cases the curator(s) have set up photos by two different artists across the hall from one another and this viewer can’t help but make relationships between them.

Amir H. Fallah
from Fort Series, Amir H. Fallah

The first pairing is Meysam Mahfouz’s sensitively observed series The Interiors (2007) from Tehran with Amir H. Fallah’s Fort Series (2007) in which the photographer and friends constructed forts in their homes using everyday objects. Both play with the idea of interior and exterior, but more specifically with the idea of a safe haven. Especially when you take into consideration Mahfouz’s artist statement saying that the photographer work exclusively indoors. Why is that? Is there something to fear in photographing outside or is that just the artist’s preference? In Fallah’s series there is the sense of play that comes with fort building, but in the context of this show one can’t help thinking of the military connotations of the word. Are they built for protection, an outpost in an unfamiliar land?

The topic of interior and exterior is continued in the work of Morteza Khaki, but his series Purse Snatching (2006) is also more explicitly about identity. In his series of wallets and purses that are photographed open you can see both public faces (ID cards) and private ones (personal photographs). This duality of public and private persona is the most frequent topic of the work here and shows up in the next pairing as well, Naciem Nikkah’s A Private Rebellion (2007) and Mahoube Karamli’s The Girls (2006). Nikkah’s work is a series of images of desktops from an Iranian school with the layers of writing and drawing that have been left behind by students. The image brings to mind a similar one from Catherine Wagner’s series American Classroom showing that the girls of Manzandaran high school in Iran have many of the same concerns as young people in the US. Karamli’s series also portrays young women in Iran, but this time they are themselves in the private spaces of their rooms rather than traces scribbled on a desk. Switching from the portrayal of others to the portrayal of self, Shadi Yousefian deals with the idea of different selves in a much more visceral way. Her Self-Portraits (2003) are collaged together from roughly cut or distressed parts and the central space in the exhibit holds two close to life size portraits, The Two Standing Shadis (2003), cobbled together on metal plates, one in traditional dress, one in Western dress.

 University of Virginia, Humanities Classroom, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1986 from American Classroom: Catherine Wagner
from American Classroom, Catherine Wagner

Mehraneh Atashi
from Bodiless I, Mehraneh Atashi

To me the most interesting work was Mehraneh Atashi’s Bodiless 1 (2004). A series of images taken by a young woman at a zourkhaneh, a traditional gymnasium where men train for both physical and spiritual strength. That in itself would be interesting, but she also uses mirrors to view the men and place her own image in the frame. The negotiation that must have been involved to gain access to this society of men is accentuated by her own image wearing a head scarf and holding a camera. You are conscious of both her gaze, that of the men and their awareness of her gaze. On top of all this, many of the images show that the walls of the gym are covered with portraits of very serious (religious?) men looking down on the happenings. I can’t help but wonder, would they approve? I also wonder what those serious men would think of the work across the hall where we have a different take on the mirror, identity and the idea of self-improvement, this time with the focus on Iranian women. Parisa Taghizadeh’s series Make-Up Iran (2001) focuses the lens on the daily ritual of applying make up that is most likely unknown to men outside their immediate family.

Parisa Taghizadeh
from Make-Up Tehran, Parisa Taghizadeh

The final pairing is Parham Taghioff’s Passage (2007) and Elhum Amjadi’s Makeshift Motherland (2005). On the one side you have images of a market in Iran, shops shut, covered over with colorful cloth. On the other you have images of a Persian market in California, shop keepers, people conversing, reading books, etc. The images are black and white, shot in a documentary style, but they also take on characteristics of nostalgia. They show a world that is a recreation of another time and place. It’s a place that you wonder, when looking across the hall, if it still exists.

Parham Taghioff
from Passage, Parham Taghioff

Nostalgia isn’t restricted to the photographers living outside of Iran either. Working in the streets of Tehran Manboube Karamli documents the destruction of older buildings in his series The Walls (2007). By photographing the walls of the buildings that remain when the neighboring building is razed he reveals the traces of what has been lost, making what is left behind all the more poignant.

In the end I feel like the importance of this show, more than the work of any individual artist, is in the dialogue that it engenders between two cultures, past and present, public and personal, male and female. It is a reminder that dialogue is the key to understanding.


Memories of Play

Posted: December 19th, 2007 | Filed under: galleries, San Francisco | No Comments »

With Christmas coming up I’m a bit prone to nostalgia, thinking back to a time before I was aware of the rampant commercialization of the holiday. The arrival of the Sears Wishbook that officially kicked off a season of acquisitiveness, the anticipation of Christmas eve, tearing open the presents on Christmas morning, a time when toys were the order of the day. I never really thought about the meaning of those toys then. How toys for boys generally centered around construction and war while girls’ toys often were about child rearing. Katsushige Nakahashi, on the other hand, has spent quite a lot of time thinking about his childhood and the things he played with.

Katsushige Nakahashi: Zero
from the University of Hawaii Zero Project, Katsushige Nakahashi

Nakahashi is a sculptor who uses photography to generate the building material for some of his projects. In 2006, at the University of Hawaii he built a full-size replica of a WWII Japanese Zero out of roughly 25,000 photographs. The photographs where taken of a 1:32 scale model, a toy. Nakahashi constructed such models as a child, so the work is partly about the memory of those times and the sense of play, but the objects represented are so loaded there are bound to be multiple readings. It seems Nakahashi has run afoul of these multiple readings and has the following to say about his work.

My memory of war was making a plastic model of a Zero fighter, and playing with it. I am not a historian, nor am I a politician. I am frequently asked to clarify my status, whether I belong to the right or the left. The fact is that answering these questions is not what I am asked to do as an artist. Judging right from wrong doesn’t make any sense to me either. On the contrary, questioning people from a lot of different dimensions through my work, bringing those questions to light, is what I am aiming at. Through the process of doing so, I sincerely believe that by looking back at the past, a spirit of forgiveness, intelligence, and respect for a better future will emerge.

In the past few weeks I spent two separate occasions taping together photographs for his upcoming show at SF Camerawork. This time Nakahashi has photographed a 1/30th scale model of a WWII suicide sub (kaiten) in minute detail. When the photos are taped together they will create a 3D replica at actual size (roughly 15 meters). Unlike past projects, where he has photographed commercially available models as a connection to his childhood, he had to have this model custom made. I don’t know that this fact changes the tone of the work because, to me, the whole project is a replication of that sense of construction as play. In this case the materials are not plastic parts and glue, but photographs and cello tape. The show opens January 3rd and runs to March 22nd with an opening reception January 15th.

For more information on the upcoming exhibition, including volunteer sign-up for the construction of the project, click here.