Category Archives: photo series

Helen and Her Hula-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland

Chris Killip

Note, this originally posted on NJWV.

Helen and Her Hula-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland
Helen and Her Hula-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland
Terraced Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside
Terraced Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside

I was in LA—Beverly Hills actually—for a weekend and decided to take a looksee around The Getty. I don’t really have much to say about the permanent collection but I was very pleased to see their show of Chris Killip’s In Flagrante.

Killip’s documentary photos around northern England in the 1970s and 1980s are fantastic as just historical documents but they’re also especially interesting in terms of how they were made. Instead of the typical social documentary unobtrusive Leica rig, Killip shot with a handheld Linhof 4×5. That’s just insane to me in terms of both how it severely limited his ability to blow through exposures and in how it’s anything but unobtrusive.

The large negative meant that he could crop and rotate images without suffering any grain issues on the print. There was a wonderful section of work prints and contact sheets which demonstrated how he worked through his negatives before creating prints. And the amount of access he had with that large camera demonstrates the degree to which he’d embedded himself in these communities.

This isn’t a photographer parachuting into a place. Killip has gained the trust of these communities—many of which are very private or defensive— and as a reuslt is able to take amazingly gritty but humane photographs as they struggle with deindustrialization and the resulting anxiety which comes from not having an obvious trade to practice.

It’s tempting to view these as being about the bleakness of the Thatcher years but  Killip’s view isn’t to critique Thatcher but rather highlight the way people are having to survive as their economies collapse and transform into something else. The photos aren’t about suffering or blame, they’re about coping and living and to a certain extent, remembering these jobs and communities before they’re completely lost.

We see how people are still working and making ends meet. We see how the kids play and how families stick together. We see how they live and the harshness of their lives deserves our empathy.

We also get to look at these in a time when very similar changes are going on in the US. Factories are closing. And if they’re not closing, they’re being automated. Factory towns are dying. As much as “economic anxiety” is often a euphemism for racism there is truth there as well. People don’t know what their next gig will be or where they’ll be able to get money from. Plus a ton of the people being affected aren’t white anyway.

One of the best parts of this show though is in how it shows Killip returning to his 1980 project and spinning two additional projects out of it. I love this idea that even if you’ve locked a good project up that you can always come back to parts of it and use those as the cornerstones for something new.

Seacoal and Skinningrov are both wonderful little series of photos in and of themselves. They serve to provide context to some of the images in In Flagrante but they also demonstrate how a deep dive and immersion into a community makes it hard to truly delete photos. Instead of being about the general sense of things at the time, these too additional projects document specific communities and how they’re coping with the changes going on.

Richard Misrach. Wall, Los Indios, Texas, 2015.

Border Cantos

This originally posted on NJWV.

Richard Misrach. Wall, East of Nogales, 2015.
Wall, East of Nogales, 2015
Richard Misrach. Wall, Tierra Del Sol, California, 2015.
Wall, Tierra Del Sol, California, 2015

In the American West, the open road is one of those enduring, unavoidable photographic tropes. While Dorothea Lange and Robert Frank are the iconic images, I’ve always seen the photos as part of the larger theme of photographing technological expansion into the West. So photos of train construction like those by Russell* are also part of the same narrative. It’s a seductive image which captures much of the myth of The West. A technology’s-eye view full of possibilities. Places to go. Things to build. Landscape to tame. The freedom to become whatever you want to be.

*My post on Russell’s Great West Illustrated covers more of this but Carleton Watkins has some train photos too. It’s also worth looking at Marc Ruwedel’s Westward the Course of Empire here, in particular photos like this one.

I suspect that everyone in The West takes at least one photo of the big sky, unending road, and undeveloped landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see. I know I have.

That Richard Misrach’s Border Cantos is able to reference and draw on this trope while conveying the exact opposite idea is my favorite part of his show in San José. In his images we have all the myths of The West except that everything is literally turned on its side. Instead of traveling along the road and into the frame, we know that the migration direction is side to side across the frame. On foot. The road is no longer an invitation, it’s a barrier. The landscape is no longer wide-open, it’s partitioned.

This west is now explicitly about preventing travel. And it’s about traveling despite the barriers.

The wall and border cuts through without regard for the terrain or landscape—whether natural or manmade. It’s a straight line on the map which creates an artificial imposition on real life.* It slices through mountains and deserts with gaps which are large enough to allow animals but not humans or automobiles to cross.** It divides cities—we see photos of the wall crossing streets, parks, backyards, and farmland—into two with the singular purpose of keeping people, and only people, stuck on one side. It’s a visual demonstration of the absurdity of borders and what it means to say that “the border crossed us.” The land predates the border. Cities and settlements predate the border. Mexican people and their migrations predate the border.

*I prefer the concept of geography-based borders but those, as the case of Chamizal shows, can be at least as absurd due to the fact that natural features change over time.

**The wall itself also reminds me of Christo and Jeane Claude’s Running Fence except that where the Running Fence used the landscape, the border wall is imposed upon it.

Richard Misrach. Wall, Los Indios, Texas, 2015.
Wall, Los Indios, Texas, 2015

The wall is indeed absurd. Just looking at it reveals how futile the idea of making it impenetrable is. There are gaps. There have to be gaps. Sometimes the gaps are wider than the segments of wall. The frontage road gets dragged daily so that footprints show up. Migrants wear carpet over their shoes to hide their footprints. The territory it covers is so immense that the task of securing it is sisyphean. There’s no way to do it. To claim otherwise is irresponsible.

It’s a bit of a shame that there’s no equivalent photographic trope regarding fences in The West. While the myth and appeal of The West is the promise of possibility, one enduring aspect has been the struggle over land usage.* Fences have been at the heart of that for over a century. Where the fence-cutting wars signified the beginning of the end of the open range and the increased conflict between Anglo and Mexican-American conceptions of land-use, the border fence is the newest incarnation of that conflict.

*Granted, much of the history of photography in The West is the tradition of unspoiled landscapes and we have people like Robert Adams to thank for yanking us into The New West and reminding us that unspoiled landscapes are only a small part of the land usage equation.

What a lot of the land-use discussion misses though is that it’s not just about how we’re using the land, it’s about who gets to use it. Which brings us to the other part of the exhibition. It’s not just about photos of the border. It’s about the migrants, the things they drop, and the small marks which they leave on the land.

This part reminds me of Marc Ruwedel but there’s room here for multiple artists. The border may be the most-visible voice in this series, but the traces that the migrants leave are just as important. The border acts upon the landscape and the migrants. What the migrants leave behind is more passive, but still speaks to their will about making the crossing and how while they want to use the land for the same mythical hopes and dreams that The West has always promised, their very presence is in conflict with the way Anglos want to use the land now.

Guillermo Galindo. Efigie. 2014.
Efigie. 2014
Guillermo Galindo. Zapatello, 2014.
Zapatello, 2014

The artifacts—clothing, books, trash, etc.—are all things that simultaneously speak to where the migrants come from and where they’re going. After he photographed them, Misrach sent them to Guillermo Galindo as part of a companion project to the photographs. Galindo’s project transforms the artifacts into musical instruments which, in-concert with the photographs, gives them life by providing them a voice.

There are short videos featuring many of the instruments on bordercantos.com but listening to the full composition in the gallery is a completely different experience. I was struck by how close converting the artifacts to instruments cam to merely being a gimmick. But it’s not. It’s wonderful.

The music is totally gente both in terms of its sense of sound/musical memory as well as how well it embraces the ethos that everything can be repurposed. It also works wonderfully as an aural context for all of the photographs. The border and The West has a long history of humans leaving their mark as they pass through. Photography is a way to capture these traces visually. Music and sound engages another sense and takes the entire exhibition to another level.

Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Santa Claus Group • Samichlaus–Gruppe

Hobby Buddies

Saturday morning. It’s almost noon. I’m standing in line at the department store cash register. A few people in front of me, behind me a small group forming. I look at those waiting in line—people of all kinds. A broad spectrum of society. What will they do after they’ve finished shopping—how will they spend their Saturday? And what about Sunday? How was their week? How do they spend their free time?

Freizeitfreunde

Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. St. Brandan Scout Section • Pfadiabteilung St. Brandan
St. Brandan Scout Section • Pfadiabteilung St. Brandan
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Poodle Club • Pudelclub
Poodle Club • Pudelclub
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Swiss Garrison (Serving the 501st Legion)
Swiss Garrison (Serving the 501st Legion)
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Association of Scientific Preparators • Verband Naturwissenschaftlicher PräparatorInnen
Association of Scientific Preparators • Verband Naturwissenschaftlicher PräparatorInnen
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Dintefisch Diving Club • Tauchclub Dintefisch
Dintefisch Diving Club • Tauchclub Dintefisch
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Froburger Academic Co-ed Fraternity • Akademische Verbindung Froburger
Froburger Academic Co-ed Fraternity • Akademische Verbindung Froburger
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. BDSM Regular's Table • BDSM-Stammstisch
BDSM Regular’s Table • BDSM-Stammstisch
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Butchers’ Friends Society • Verein Freunde der Metzgerschaft
Butchers’ Friends Society • Verein Freunde der Metzgerschaft
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Santa Claus Group • Samichlaus–Gruppe
Santa Claus Group • Samichlaus–Gruppe
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Hat Club • Hut-Club
Hat Club • Hut-Club
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Dance Sports Club • Tanz Sport Club
Dance Sports Club • Tanz Sport Club
Ursula Sprecher & Andi Cortellini. Hobby Buddies. Merriment Pipe-Smokers' Club • Pfeifenclub Heiterkeit
Merriment Pipe-Smokers’ Club • Pfeifenclub Heiterkeit

Another one from the Tumblr wires. Ursula Sprecher and Andi Cortellini’s Hobby Buddies is a straightforward typology which manages to be more interesting than its “kind of high school yearbooky” premise would suggest. Part of this is due to the variety and hyper-specific nature of some of the clubs depicted. But a large part is that these photos are often very funny while typically not poking fun at the people depicted.* Which is a very hard line to tread.

*I don’t think any of the photos are meant to poke fun. But some groups, like sadly, the photo club, are probably impossible to not laugh at.

Ruth Prieto Arenas. Blue.

Safe Heaven

This project is a new interpretation of immigration using color as a unifying metaphor of diversity and acceptance. Each woman will be identified with a color palette so that a mosaic of color represents diversity.

Ruth Prieto Arenas

Ruth Prieto Arenas. Red.

Ruth Prieto Arenas. Red.
A waitress at stands at the counter where she hands back the check and the tips.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Yellow.
Details on the wall reveal Juanita’s partner main hobby and their devotions. A ferrari and a vigen of Guadalupe hang on the wall as details of culture and preferences.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Yellow.
Lluvia sits on her bed with a pink dress bought for special occasions.

Ruth Prieto Arenas. Yellow.

Ruth Prieto Arenas. Yellow.
Juanita sweeps the floor of her house. When she doesn’t get a job from her maid agency, she stays home and cleans.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Blue.
Delia is on the phone with her boyfriend. She lives in a house of two rooms with her two sisters. She shares her room with one of them. In the other room lives her other sister Mirella , mother of two and her husband.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Blue.
Typical food from Oaxaca such as Tlayudas is sent over by Delia’s mother. Tlayudas are a type of tortilla made out of blue corn and slighty bigger than common tortillas. Its taste and consitency is different due to the way is toasted and how it is prepared.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Blue.
La Virgen de Guadalupe has a beautiful altar at Delia’s house. She is full with red roses and candles that adorn her everyweek.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Purple.
Maribel (21) lives in two bedroom apartment. She shares one room with her husband a two daughters. They live with another Mexican.
Ruth Prieto Arenas. Purple.
Maribel has been pregnant for six months. married for two years. Her husband works double shifts and gets home very late. She takes care of Sherlyne (2) and Evelyn (9 months)

I am presenting the lives of Juanita in yellow, Delia’s in blue and Sabel in green. Homes have deep emotional meaning. Through their homes we get to know them, their motivations, their thoughts and aspirations along with the conditions they live in that reveal how much they have achieved and struggled. They have painted and decorated their rooms according to their own personal story and choice. I am exploring the notion of safety and confidence in relation to space.

The NYC Mind

Another project which caught my eye on Tumblr. Artspeak and ambitious goal aside, I really like these as representations of a community by someone kind of in that community. These are photos about people, not just of them and the way that so many have of them have detailed captions is as important to the story as just the images.

Also, I really love the way Prieto Arenas is using color. It’s not just the colors of the walls, there’s a lot of subtle lighting and color temperature stuff going on which gives each series an internal consistency.