Archive for September, 2010

Artist Interview: Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim

Monday, September 27th, 2010

This week’s image in the 2010 Portfolio Project comes from the duo of Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim. Birdhouse is a menacingly whimsical picture that is by turns inviting and psychologically terrifying. The created scene is photographed with a cinematic eye, leaving the door of narrative possibility wide open for the viewer to walk through.
Birdhouse, by Arlo Valera and Hyeyoung Kim

  • First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. I’d like to start with the image selected, entitled Birdhouse. Can you talk a bit about the story behind this image?
  • Arlo: A lot of the work Hyeyoung and I do for this series plays with the idea that you as the viewer have been led into a private moment, or entering an atmosphere where something is about to happen. In this case I think I wanted something to do with a guy running away from birds (kind of like the Hitchcock movie). I felt running figure needed a reason to be running away, so I gave him a birdhouse head. I can speak from personal experience to say that there is something both scary and funny about being attacked by birds.

    Hyeyoung: Also birds in this image are metaphor of anyone’s peril or fear from which they want to run away.

  • Your created images are composed of fictional scenery, composed very dramatically. The sets themselves obviously take a lot of craft and time to make. I’m wondering, do you consider the work you do primarily photography, or primarily sculpture/3D craft, or something in between? Does the distinction even matter?
  • We found that photography was a good tool for story telling and allowed us to incorporate our other loves, like drawing and sculpture. We like to think of the final photograph as a souvenir of the process or journey. There is always a bit of a “grey area” when we try to explain the series to someone in terms of how to categorize it in photographic terms. We sometimes say mixed media or photo-illustration. Making the distinction about the particular type of media we are working in is not that important to us, but we understand that it is often needed when explaining our work to others (especially if they have not yet seen it). We just think of the whole series as an ongoing experiment.
  • Your scenes strike a tantalizing balance between whimsy and horror that I find compelling. In a way, it reminds me of David Lynch’s movies, that sense that things are absurd, terrifying, and funny, all at the same time. Can you talk about any specific influences on your art, whether it be other artists, films, or whatever?
  • Arlo: I saw Calder’s Circus by Alexander Calder it on a film reel in class when I was a kid. It was a miniature circus world he created where the characters were made entirely out of ordinary household materials. It has had a lasting effect on me even after all these years. At the time (around mid 1990′s) I began working on this series, I was being inspired by artists like Paul Klee, Hieronymus Bosch and Goya. I was very interested in anything labeled outsider art, films by the Brothers Quay, Terry Gilliam (yeah, David Lynch must be in there too). I was into Photographers like Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Joan Fontcuberta and Joel Peter Witkin, I was reading stuff like Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, Kenzaburo Oe, and Oliver Sacks. I am sure there were many more, but these artists were the ones that came to mind when I think about influences that began this particular body of work.

    Hyeyoung: I adore many of works from the people Arlo mentioned above. Surely, their works I read, saw, or watched must have been staying somewhere in my subconsciousness and influenced on my art. However, my great influence comes from my everyday life experiences and the provoked emotions from them. I find life is the most “absurd, terrifying, and funny” thing.

Artist Interview: Yu-Chen Chiu

Monday, September 20th, 2010

This week’s winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Yu-Chen Chiu, a New York-based photographer. Her winning photo, Map is an interesting play of light that gives the viewer the jolt of a chance encounter of the eyes.
Map, by Yu-Chen Chiu

  • For the first question, I guess I’d just ask you to tell me the story behind the photo you submitted. Can you talk about it a bit?
  • Sure. “Map” is one of my favorite reflection images I took. It was taken around the Union Square while I was strolling in the city. I really drown into reflections because for me, it serves as symbols of the known and unknown; the lost and found, and the shifting nature of identity, which are the things I am very interested in. It was originally shot in 35 mm color film and I decided to experiment with it and converted into black and white. And it came out really nice because the black and white gives the depth of the subject.
  • Could you say something more about your interest in reflections? Have you been shooting them for long? Has your conceptual appreciation of them adapted itself smoothly to different subject matters?
  • I didn’t realized I was into reflections until one day when I started to edit my photos, and I found there’s one thing that appears on my images often, which is reflections. I would say it is a subconscious choice and I didn’t force myself to envision the images that has the reflection elements in them. It’s funny, for some reason I always can find something that triggers me to capture through the reflections and it just comes naturally to be part of the elements in my projects.
  • That’s interesting, that a prominent theme can develop without your conscious engineering. Now that you’ve sort of grabbed onto it as a working concept, what do you look for for your new shots? Do you have an idea of what the image will look like reflected, or do you just wander until one strikes you in the right way?
  • I seldom set up idea for the subject I want to capture. One thing is because my subject is mainly candid street photos, and you never know what’s gonna to get today. Of course I will have some broad ideas, like where I want to explore, what will be cool to capture, but they are not the guildline. The other important thing is I treat every photoshoot opportunity as a journey and I enjoy the unexpected happenings because these are the inspirations and triggers for me to capture the moments. And even though I didn’t think about reflections but there’s always a few images that contains reflection elements in one trip shooting.
  • That makes sense. Now, is there a certain mindset you have to get yourself into to be receptive to these unexpected happenings and inspirations? Do you have a “zone” you get into?
  • Well I guess I have a build-in trigger in my head so I don’t really have to switch myself into a different mode when it comes to unexpected happenings and inspirations. I am a curious person and I love adventures. I am always ready.
  • You said earlier that ‘Map’ was originally taken on 35mm film. Do you always shoot on film, or do you shoot digital as well?
  • I always shoot in film. I tried to switch to digital but it seldom came out the way I expected it to be. I would say 90% of the time I shoot in film, black and white. Except when it’s a editorial or wedding occasions that I need to see the results right away. And recently I started to explore iPhonegraphy. So it will be the other exception. The texture of film is just different. And even some people say Photoshop can do anything, even make the digital image look like film, like make it grainy like or other film-like effects, but it still looks different.
  • I agree. Do you have any initial impressions of your explorations of iPhone photography? How does that sort of point-and-click method jive with your normal, film-centered way of doing things?
  • I was suspicious about it at the beginning. But because I mainly do street candid shots, so there’s certain occasion that I don’t feel comfortable to pull out my camera. I don’t want them to aware of it and became unnatural. I started to find other solutions, and iPhone is one of my new findings. It gives me more flexibility for certain demanding occasion or lighting conditions, and there are many apps that can capture the way I want it to be, and the new iPhone finally upgrade its camera, which is a good news. And of course its focus feature, which is a way to give an image depth. But I still carry my camera with me most of the time.
  • Right, not a replacement so much as a different thing altogether. Alright, well I think that wraps it up from my side. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
  • Not really I think you covered them all. But it would be nice if you could let the viewers know that my website will come to live this weekend that would be great! (Website here)
  • Alright, well thank you very much Yu-Chen, I really appreciate you taking the time.
  • It was really pleasant to talk with you, and thanks again for providing this opportunity and making it happen!
  • Our pleasure. Take care.

Artist Interview: Allan Ayres

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This week’s winner in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Allan Ayres, a photographer based in the Bay Area. Allan’s winning photograph was entitled, End of the City, Sunset District, San Francisco, and used composited layers to capture a fleet-yet-dense impression of the streets of San Francisco.
End of the City, by Allan Ayres

  • Alright, well firstly, I’d like to ask about the photo that we selected for the Portfolio Project. Can you tell me a little bit about it? What’s the story behind it?
  • That photo is from my Composited Neighborhoods project. It’s a layered-up combination of the end street signs from every street in the Sunset District in San Francisco, where they all dead end at the Great Highway at Ocean Beach. There are 15 source images, one for every street from Irving to Wawona, all aligned on the word “End.”
  • This creates a very interesting visual effect, a sort of pluralistic perception that I think is unsettling but also engaging. Can you talk a bit about how you landed on using this method?
  • Yes, I like that phrase “pluralistic perception.” I tend to notice patterns and recurrences when I’m out and about, so I’d been interested in exploring this method of emphasizing a pattern element while also revealing something of the texture of its surroundings. I’d seen some examples of this sort of method before (Idris Khan’s work, in particular), but most people who were doing it seemed to be using appropriated images. I thought I could do some interesting work using original photos, taken in a short timeframe within a single neighborhood or district.

    Something I like about these images on a personal level is that they’re documents of a walk or a drive I took, in a particular location, on a particular day. So they have all sorts of resonances for me personally — patterns of details I noticed, experiences I had — sort of a standard theme of photography, I guess, but put together in a different way than in what I had been doing before.

  • That seems fitting, because one of the things that I thought when I first saw your images was that they feel sort of like memory. And I mean this in the way that there is the central, or focal point that is clear, but around that there is this sort of swirling multiplicity, or ambiguity that admits of any number of interpretations. I also like the idea of reappropriating the reappropriationist method, with original material.

    It seems that your work relies very heavily on this sense of place, but not as an objective location, more as a space in the mind. Can you talk about how your environments and surroundings have influenced your development as a photographer and artist?

  • I lived in San Francisco for a number of years without a car, and walked and took public transit everywhere. I feel like that was a great way to be immersed in the urban fabric, both in terms of the literal physical experience of walking the streets, and also in terms of seeing “the passing parade” from innumerable bus windows. I’m by no means a documentary photographer, but the things I’m interested in seem to have a documentary quality to them, in the sense that I’m motivated by intensely seeing real things in my environment.

    I wonder if that makes any sense. What I’m trying to say is that it’s the things in my environment that motivate me to explore, abstract, capture, which is why photography is such a fertile ground for me. I suppose that’s obvious, though? I’m not sure I’m actually saying anything useful.

  • No, that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s always interesting to hear where a photographer places him- or herself along the spectrum of documentary-fine art.
  • Your comment about “a space in the mind” is very keen, I think. Particularly in this series, the images are about iconic features and/or spatial patterns that define my experience of a piece of the urban fabric. Less a picture of a street, and more a picture of the experience of the street, or the idea of the street, or what it feels like to move through the street.
  • You mentioned earlier that you’ve seen some Idris Kahn work that has similarities to your own. Can you talk about any other major or minor influences that you see impacting your work?
  • In terms of contemporary photographers, I’m a big fan of Richard Misrach, Edward Burtynski, and Andreas Gursky. They seem to have interesting things to say about what you might call iconic texture, or alternatively the tension between icon and texture. I’m inspired by some earlier creators of icons, too, like Tina Modotti and Alexander Rodchenko. And Diebenkorn and Gerhard Richter have always wowed me with the way they work texture — overpainting, erasure, scraping, etc.
  • Very interesting group. Alright, well I think that’s about it from my end. Is there anything else you want to add?
  • I’d just like to say how much I’m enjoying seeing the variety of work that was chosen for this project. Very inspiring. Thanks so much for making this opportunity happen!

Review: Gerhard Richter

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Gerhard Richter, Untitled, 30.5.1999, 1999. Graphite on paper, 11 7/8 x 8 5/16 inches. Private collection, Berlin.

Gerhard Richter’s lines are full of contradiction. At a glance, they appear to be gestural; pencil scribbles making vague, abstract shapes. They seem simple, bordering child-like. But a closer inspection reveals how astoundingly beautiful the marks are. They have an unclassifiable quality to them, a subtle gyration and throbbing sway. They seem both confident and tentative at once, refusing to be solidly classified as either, but also refusing any middle ground. They are somehow both, fully and without dilution. They are beautiful, intriguing, and mesmerizing. And yet, Richter removes himself from the process as much as possible. The drawings were made by taking a pencil, inserting it into a drill, and using the spinning vibrations to create the lines. He dispels the notion that the artist’s touch is important.

To limit a description of Richter’s work to his lines would be doing them a disservice. These aren’t merely contour drawings, but complex explorations of materials. The paper is filled with graphite, natural patterns arising from the drawing tool, the paper surface, etc. Often, the drawing is smudged and blurred. The abstracted images almost coalesce into something tangible, but like a distant memory, they linger but never solidify.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a series of four large-scale drawings hung at the far wall. They have a haunting quality to them; a fog where shapes hint at emergence. There are points of aggression–two sets of erasure marks angrily cutting into a rectangular form. On another, an erasure line ripping through the drawing, separating two vaguely rectangular shapes. Recall the imagery of the 9/11 attacks, and you have the key to interpreting the drawings. Suddenly, the clues slam together and become perhaps the most subtle, intricate, and poignant art pieces done by any artist in response to the attack.

Gerhard Richter: “Lines which do not exist”, On view at theDrawing Center from September 11-November 18, 2010

Artist Interview: Michael Knapstein

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The sixth winning image in our 2010 Portfolio Project is Before the Storm, by Michael Knapstein. Michael’s work seeks to bring fresh eyes to his surroundings in the Midwest, and Before the Storm succeeds in capturing the intangible Midwestern feel. Before the Storm was also recently selected for a show entitled PhotoMidwest, along with another of Michael’s shots.
Before the Storm, by Michael Knapstein

  • Well, first, thanks for taking to the time for this talk. We really appreciate it.
  • You’re welcome.
  • So, let’s start with the image we chose. Can you tell us the story behind it? Where was it taken, and what were the circumstances?
  • It was taken very recently — in June of this year. It was taken in Stoughton, Wisconsin — about 30 minutes from where I live. I was heading to a State Park to take some photos when I passed this farm on the way. When I saw the farm and the clouds behind it, I knew I had to capture it. So I turned the car around and went back. The light was amazing — it really made the white farmhouse stand out against the grey clouds.
  • The image does a great job of capturing that. It seems almost archetypically “Midwestern” to me. Flat land, huge skies. Farms, et al.
  • Yes, it is an archetypcal Midwestern scene. In fact, this image is one of two of my images that was just selected for a juried exhibition called PhotoMidwest.
  • That sounds fitting. Where will that be held?
  • The exhibition will be at the Porter Butts Gallery in the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin campus. It begins in late September and runs through November. The show was juried by the editor of Shots Magazine.
  • Very cool. Congratulations on that.
  • Thanks! This is the first time I have had more than one image selected for this exhibition. They do a show every two years.

    A quick comment on the power of black and white…at first I explored this image in color. And it is quite striking with vibrant green grass. I worked on it quite a bit and thought it was a very nice image. But then I converted it to black and white and it took on a whole new dimension. I used Adobe Lightroom software for processing the image and love the control it gives me over black and white images. I would have spent many hours in my old wet darkroom to achieve the same level of control over the image. You’ve got to love digital black and white!

  • It is very interesting the freedom is bestows on photographers to see how the photo looks “both ways”. Can you maybe say something about how this has changed your process, and how you go about finding images? Is there anything you miss about film?
  • Yes, it sure beats carrying two camera bodies or extra backs to switch back and forth. I do miss certain aspects of film — something about the ritual of it. I used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom and it is such a magical process. I started converting to digital in the late 90s and haven’t shot any film in years. I find myself shooting much more freely with digital. I get out more and shoot a lot more. But I find that if I apply the same sense of discipline to digital that I did with film the results can be exceptional.

    About finding images — I used to travel a lot and really enjoyed shooting photos in new places. Europe. Asia. West Coast. Desert. Then one day I realized that there are so many photographers shooting the same things. Everyone does the desert. Everyone does doors in Santa Fe. But the Midwest has a unique look. So a few years ago I gave up the long-distance travel to concentrate more on the Midwest — prospecting in my own backyard as they say. It has been really fun rediscovering the beauty of my surroundings. Because I see them every day they can blend into the background. It is nice to look at the local surroundings with fresh eyes.

  • I can readily appreciate that. I’m from the Midwest, and these photos definitely bring out something buried deep in my consciousness. A familiarity, maybe, that’s tough to put my finger on precisely.

    Can you say something more about that enhanced perspective this approach gives you? About how it makes fresh those things you might otherwise take for granted?

  • Yes, it is almost like a visual metaphor for the Midwest. It is a challenge to take the ordinary and make it look extraordinary. Small details can be brought out in a photograph –especially a great black and white photography. I really think black and white photography is photography in its most pure form.

    A quick comment on your printing process — it helps bring out subtle details that really give a photograph extra depth and interest. I am a good printer…but in comparison, my prints of this image have blocked-up shadows and look crude in comparison. Your prints have a luminescant quality. They really help lift digital black and white to a new level as an art form.

  • Thanks. We got started in this vein because of our interest in really shadow-heavy black-and-white photography and, I agree, there’s no process that even comes close to the way the K7 ink-set handles those dark spots.
  • It is amazing how far digital printing has evolved in the last ten years. It will be fun to see where it keeps going.
  • So you mentioned that you took this photo when you were on your way to somewhere else. Do you generally keep your camera on-hand, and take pictures as inspiration strikes? Or do you have more specific “missions” generally?
  • I try to have a camera with me whenever I can. When I don’t feel like carrying a lot of gear I usually have a small Leica digital camera with me. Even though this camera doesn’t generate images that are as high in quality as my main Nikon gear, it is amazing how many photos I have taken with the Leica that have been included in exhibitions. So it does to show that the best camera is always the one you have with you.

    I do also go out on “photo missions” — which may include long lenses if I am going to shoot wildlife. But many of my best images have just appeared as I have been headed somewhere else. I just had two galleries and a book pick up a photo I took while eating lunch in a small cafe in Mineral Point Wisconsin while I was on my way farther south of there to take pictures. Sometimes you go out to find and image. And sometimes the image finds you.

    The image you selected certainly “found me” — I saw it out of the corner of my eye and it literally stopped me in my tracks and made me turn around and got back to get it.

    Interestingly enough, I went back to the same farm recently to see if it might hold another image. The trees were all leafed in, and the fields around it are now high with corn. It just wasn’t the same.

  • You also said that shooting digital lets you shoot more, and be freer with your shots. Can you talk about how you pick the ones that “work”? Is there something you look for among what you bring back from an outing?

    Does the question make sense?

  • Yes, but that’s a tough question.

    I usually review all my images at a fairly small size to see how they hit me. The ones with a strong graphic quality will usually stand out even at a small size. Now that everything is captured in full color, I usually try to “think in black and white” while I am reviewing images. I usually shoot fairly tight from a composition standpoint. And I don’t do a lot of heavy image manipulation. In most cases I am not doing anything to a digital image that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a traditional darkroom.

  • Do you find that having that background in darkroom work helps your digital art, then?
  • Yes, I really do. You have to been able to look at a negative — or a RAW file — and be able to see the potential it has. Bringing all that potential out through cropping, contrast, dodging, burning, etc. is an art form unto itself.

    I find the new digital tools to be so much fun to work with. It is like having taken every photograph with every BW filter possible. And having every type of developer available. And every grade of paper. It is just amazing the range of possibilities photographers have to work with today.

    I have met quite a few younger photographers who have grown up with digital. They understand the tools — but they don’t always have a context in which to know how to use them. They know how to do just about anything that can be done with a visual — but they don’t always know what to do — just how to do it.

    Black and white is a great medium in which to learn. Color can be a distraction at times. It is like when a graphic designer creates a logo. They always do the initial designs in BW first before adding color. A great image — even a color image — will almost always work in BW.

  • That makes sense. Well, that pretty much wraps it up for me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
  • No — you’ve asked some great questions. Please let me know if there is anything you need later.
  • Will do. One more thing: when you look at the Duckrabbit logo, do you see a rabbit first, or a duck?
  • A duck.
  • Alright, thanks a lot Michael. We really appreciate your taking time for this.
  • Thank you!