Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Shark Fishing postcards

Something a little more irreverent for this post: a selection of vintage shark fishing postcards from around the world. 
Even today, when so much of the wild world has been tamed, sharks are one of the few creatures who strike fear into nearly everyone, and their willingness to attack humans shows no signs of abating. There's something heroic about these fishermen and mariners from another age who have battled and caught these big beasts, often with the most rudimentary gear. Of course the sepia-tinged images add to the nostalgia, and although there are many recent postcards and photographs out there of similar scenes, they don't have the same power, or elicit the same sense of awe and admiration as these haphazardly composed, faded snapshots from the past.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Leigh Ledare

These days there are few taboo subjects that haven’t been tackled by a photographer, and it takes something very unexpected to genuinely raise eyebrows. At least year’s Recontre d’Arles photography festival in the South of France,  guest of honour and long-time provocateur Nan Goldin invited a group of talented photographers, some established and some emerging, to show their work in one of the main exhibition halls. After the opening week, one young photographer’s name was on everyone’s lips: Leigh Ledare

His exhibition there, currently on show in expanded form at the Pilar Corrias gallery in London, was an extraordinary exploration of his decidedly ambiguous relationship with his mother, and the conflicting desires faced by a young man and an aging woman.  Brutally intimate, it featured a mix of poignant portraits, personal, often troubling letters between mother and son, and explicit shots of his mother involved in sexual acts with male prostitutes. For a son to witness his mother involved in such scenes is one thing, but to be able to coolly document them and realise a show based around them was something few, if any, were prepared for. His mother, a former model and professional ballerina, appears to have serious trouble reconciling herself with her increasing age and declining appeal to the opposite sex, actively going out of her way to be provocative and sexual, drawing Ledare into her subversive schemes. These images aren’t deliberately sensationalist though, and once you can get beyond the initial shock, Ledare’s work explores some serious, fundamental issues. He looks at what makes us who we are; our desires, aspirations and needs; primal urges which are often loaded with ethical and psychological conflict. The hand-written ‘Girls I Wanted To Do’ list, which include his mum and his then-girlfriend’s sister alongside more obvious objects of teenage lust, listed alongside heroes from his childhood, is a great, poignant illustration of the complicated urges and aspirations of adolescence. All of us have ideas of who we'd like to be and how we want to appear, but few have delved this deeply into the murkier parts of the psyche. The viewer wonders who this woman is, and who the photographer is that can put himself through this. Its raw therapy and role-play through photography in a way that Cindy Sherman never dreamed of, and the body of work as a whole is something very brave and unprecedented.

Perhaps unfortunately for him, Ledare was anointed the successor to Goldin’s throne after his triumph at Arles. But his work is very different to hers, and the fearless way he explores the themes he does set him apart from Goldin, who is more of a documentarian. Ledare has also been working on a series of self portraits which continue his exploration of identity and the role of photographer and model. Answering personal ads which reminded him of his mothers’ view of herself, he paid these women to photograph him at their homes, in scenarios of their choice. He also invited certain art collectors to photograph him within the context of their art collections, and both these series mix together to further blur our idea of who this complex, unsettling photographer is.


Black Wig, 2006

Mom and Me in Thrift Store, 2005

Mother and Catch 22, 2002

Mother's Thoughts on Modelling, 2008

Untitled (Entire Roll), 2008

Blowjob, 2002

Untitled (Fucker), 2008

Hotlicks, 2002

Mom with Wrist Brace, 2006

Girls I Wanted To Do, 2002

Let the Good Times Roll. 1 Blond, 53 yrs old, curvey, buxom, slim, clean,petite. No diseases or drugs. Seeking healthy, honest, reliable, financially secure younger man for discreet sensual fun. Ext#1084”, 2008

All images © Leigh Ledare, courtesy of Pilar Corrias Gallery

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

David Maisel

Abstract, otherworldly and, once your brain has processed what you are seeing, both beautiful and terrifying, David Maisel’s photographs show the impact of man and nature on the earth, seen from the air. Over the last twenty-five years he has created an ambitious series of works that show the scars and marks left on the surface of the earth, from volcanic eruptions to strip mining to the seemingly unstoppable sprawl of cities.

Photographing the landscape in Washington in the aftermath of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, Maisel was amazed at the level of destruction he saw, especially when he and his tutor at the time chartered a light aircraft and flew over the landscape:The destructive power of this event had altered the landscape on a scale that defied categorization or comprehension. Viewed from the air, these transformations were totemic in scale: whole forests thrown down like matchsticks; riverbeds rerouted through vast debris flows of rock, pyroclastic flow and volcanic mudslides; and countless layers of ash blanketing the flanks of the volcano and surrounding region.” It had a profound effect on him, and influence the direction of his work from then on; alongside the volcanic destruction he also witnessed the brutally transfiguring effect of the forestry industry, clearing up the thousands of felled trees in the region and adding to the carnage. This led him to examine and document other industrial practices, and to realise that destruction on this scale almost had to be shown from the air to convey it: "I first experienced the potency of the aerial view there; I became instantly attracted to its capacity to permit a kind of mapping of the terrain to take place, allowing the creation of images both literal and metaphorical.”

Subsequent projects included The Forest, a more concentrated look at industrial forest-clearance practices; The Lake Project, a huge series on the disastrous Owens Valley reclamation project in California which left thousands of acres of polluted, unliveable arid land. The Mining Project, begun in 1987, shows the deep scars and photogenic-yet-lethal ‘tailing ponds’ left by increasingly aggressive strip mining practices in Nevada, Arizona and Montana. The striking colours of the lakes and gullies captured alongside the spiralling gouges by Maisel are caused by cyanide, sulphur and mercury amongst others, the unfortunate by-products of these mining techniques.

The sheer scale of these events and the massive effect they have on the land are hard to compute on a day-to-day basis, especially when we spend much of our time at ground level.  These virtually abstract, contemporary landscapes, from their removed viewpoint, are a powerful record of the constant, long-term, large scale battering the surface of the earth faces. 

Clicking on the thumbnails will bring up larger scans with much better levels of detail.

The Mining Project (Ray, AZ 5)

Mount Saint Helens 3, 1983

Oblivion 15n

Terminal Mirage 16

The Mining Project (Inspiration, AZ 4)

The Forest 11

The Lake Project 15

Mount Saint Helens 12

The Lake Project 3

Mount Saint Helens 17

American Mine (Carlin, NV 23)

Oblivion 1n

Terminal Mirage 17

American Mine (Carlin, NV 6)

The Forest 4

Terminal Mirage 15 (Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty)

Mount Saint Helens 9

The Mining Project (Butte MT 3)

American Mine (Carlin, NV 1)

All images © David Maisel

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Frantisek Kupka

Frantisek Kupka was a remarkable painter, born in Bohemia in 1871, who created some of the strangest and most experimental paintings seen in Europe during his long lifetime.

After training as an artist as a young man in Prague, he moved to Vienna when he was 20, and then on to London, Scandinavia and Paris where he continued studying and painting. Absorbing the myriad styles and techniques he was exposed to on his travels, as well as incorporating his fascination with folk art and philosophy, Kupka’s early work was mainly literal and figurative, although the subject matter was often loaded with mysticism and symbolism. Some of these images such as 'The Black Idol' (above) still have a sinister power to them.

In Paris in the early 1900s he was introduced into a circle of artists including Duchamp, Léger and Picabia who spent as much of their time discussing art and ideas as they did creating work. Through these discussions Kupka became increasingly convinced that colour itself could provoke intense feelings in a way similar to music, and his painting become more vivid, experimental and abstract. In fact he produced what were, at that time, some of the first non-representational paintings by a European artist, and became a key figure in the Orphism movement, which led the way from Cubism to Abstraction.

The evolution in Kupka’s style is illustrated nicely by comparing two paintings, both of the same subject – his daughter. The 1908 painting ‘Girl With A Ball’ is a recognizable representation (albeit with slightly sickly colours) of a young girl, whilst  Amorpha, Fugue In Two Colours II' of 1911 takes the same figure into total abstraction, and becomes a kinetic blur of curving forms and colour.

As Kupka continued his journey into abstraction, he created some really striking, powerful paintings which verge on the hallucinatory, like the 'Reminiscence of A Cathedral' or 'Graphic Motif' paintings. In 1931 he co-founded the group 'Abstraction-Création' group with, amongst others Hans Arp and Jean Hélion, who sought to counteract the increasing influence of the Surrealist movement. He continued painting almost up until his death in 1957, and left behind a large and unique body of work.

Admiration, 1899

The Way Of Silence, 1903

Babylon, 1906

The Colossus Of Rhodes, 1904

Sketch for Bather, 1906

Planes By Colours, Large Nude, 1909

Girl With A Ball, 1908

Amorpha, Fugue In Two Colours II, 1911

Mme Kupka Among Verticals, 1911

Study For Vertical Lines, 1911

Organisation Of Graphic Motifs II, 1913

The Piano Keys, 1914

Vertical & Diagonal Planes, 1914

Vertical Study in Yellow, 1915

Reminiscence of a Cathedral, 1920

The Machine Drill, 1929

Blowing Blues II, 1936

All images © Estate of Frantisek Kupka/2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris