Close Encounters: Reframing Family Photography

Close Encounters: Reframing Family Photography

Posted by on Mar 29, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

This is my last guest blog post and it’s been an honor to share my thoughts about contemporary photography with the Baxter St/CCNY audience. I wanted to end my guest blogging stint with a post about an upcoming continuing education course I will be teaching at the School at the International Center of Photography.

Titled Close Encounters: Reframing Family Photography, this course focuses on historical and contemporary representations of family. It is intended to expose students to the range of artists and photographers who have used their cameras to define their concept of family. Though weekly critiques, in this class students will also begin or continue to develop their own body of family work.

Below you’ll find more of the course description plus select images that played like a slideshow in my head when I was thinking about the photographers whose work I wanted to discuss in this course:

Capturing the immediate family as subject matter has almost always been considered a form of vernacular photography, and yet some photographers have made it a part of their life’s work—thus confirming or contesting official discourses of race, gender, and sexuality.

Moving beyond simple snapshots of domestic scenes and the heteronormative, “nuclear” family, this course reexamines the genre of family photography and investigates its cultural politics and new importance, as it is being redefined by historical events such as migration/immigration and queer visibility.

Throughout the term, we will look at and address the family work of a diverse selection of historical and contemporary photographers, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Elinor Carucci, Emmet Gowin, Catherine Opie, Carrie Mae Weems, and other artists, such as LaToya Ruby Frazier, Zanele Muholi, and many more.

Top Image: Renee Cox. Olympia’s Boyz, 2001.

Julia Margaret Cameron. Prayer and Praise, 1865.

Julia Margaret Cameron. Prayer and Praise, 1865.

Lyle Ashton Harris. The Child, 1994.

Lyle Ashton Harris. The Child, 1994.

Catherine Opie. Self portrait / Nursing, 2004.

Catherine Opie. Self portrait / Nursing, 2004.

Emmet Gowin. Edith and Elijah, Newtown (Pennsylvania), 1974.

Emmet Gowin. Edith and Elijah, Newtown (Pennsylvania), 1974.

LaToya Ruby Frazier. Grandma Ruby and Me. From the

LaToya Ruby Frazier. Grandma Ruby and Me. From the “Notion of Family” series, 2001 – 2014.

For more information or to register, visit the Close Encounters: Reframing Family Photography course page on the ICP School website. This is a 5-week, course that will run on Mondays from 6:30-9:30pm from May 22 through June 26, 2017. 

Also note, in June of this year I will also be teaching a one-weekend course titled Layered Narratives: Visualizing Stories Through Photocollage.


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.

Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:

Photography at the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial
Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli
Five Visual Motifs in the Photographs of Ren Hang
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity

Photography at the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial

Photography at the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

This past Sunday the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial: Greatest Love of All opened at chashama at XOCO 325 to a packed crowd of NYC art lovers and creatives of all kinds. This year, I had the honor of being invited to submit work and was accepted into the second edition of this unique group show which features only women artists, a move I can only attribute as a response to the gender inequality that is so rampant in more “established” art exhibitions.

No surprise this underdog biennial had already gotten TV and press coverage before it opened, so the line to get in was a block long. As I made my way into the exhibition space with my family, our eyes/hearts/minds became full of the glorious spectacle that is this all-female group show. The exhibition space itself is small but the floor-to-ceiling, salon-style hanging is democratic and accommodates humans of all sizes. My son and other children I saw there were thrilled by the work at their eye level.

Part of the artist submission process included having to write about a pioneering female that inspired your work. This requirement was easy for me given my current obsession with the black, PreRaphaelite model Fanny Eaton who I wrote about for the show. So not only is the show a visual celebration, but it also honors female legends big and small like Ms. Houston and 125 other women who have marked the world.

For me the biennial was a great way to discover new artists and below I highlighted the photographs, collages and lens-based images that were some of my favorites. All are available for purchase on the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial website. The WHB is on view until March 29th so be sure check the website for other readings, panels, performances and other events.

Featured (Top) Image: Suzanne Wright – “8 Shuttles”

Nichole Washington -

Nichole Washington – “I Considered Her My Blood and it don’t come no Thicker”

 

Marissa Long - "Forever Melon"

Marissa Long – “Forever Melon”

 

Juliana Paciulli - "Uh-huh (Basketball)"

Juliana Paciulli – “Uh-huh (Basketball)”

Nick Alciati - "xoxo, Darlene (Bedroom View)"

Nick Alciati – “xoxo, Darlene (Bedroom View)”

Maureen Catbagan -

Maureen Catbagan – “Hidden Sites – Blanton Museum Stairwell”

Nasrah Omar - "Azia 2"

Nasrah Omar – “Azia 2”

 


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.

Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:
Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli
Five Visual Motifs in the Photographs of Ren Hang
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity

Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli at Baxter St

Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli at Baxter St

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

Qiana Mestrich: Can you talk to me a little bit about the title and its reference to NYC bodegas (neighborhood convenience stores)?

Marco Scozzaro: That was the starting point. The work is an exploration of the current visual vernacular and I wanted to take different elements from the visual landscape and digest and work with them to create multilayered photographs and sculptures. As you can see the work is very diverse and in a way I like this idea of the deli as a place where you can find everything and anything… opposite elements that by being in the same space kind of make sense together. I’m playing a lot with natural vs. artificial/synthetic and opposite elements that seem unrelated but in the way I work with them they become organic.

Marco Scozarro. BETA 909, 2016.

Marco Scozarro. BETA 909, 2016.

This piece BETA 909 is where the project started from, the backdrop is a vinyl tablecloth that I found in a 99cents store in my neighborhood in Williamsburg, BK. In this still life I use obsolete technology like a Beta VHS player and a drum machine that I use to make music. I like the idea of the cheapness of the background that references nature against these electronic objects that were futuristic when they came out but are now obsolete and almost organic in this constructed image. So  these elements don’t seem related but to me they make sense. From this point on I started playing with images and opposites, incorporating visual tropes or cultural artifacts like a Calvin Klein advertisement or referencing commercial photography, even appropriating my own work. In a way this work is a comment on the identity of photography and the inherent paradox of representation.

Marco Scozzaro. DAMASO LUNARE, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. DAMASO LUNARE, 2016.

Is this a departure from the way you usually work or is more of you having a conversation with contemporary trend(s) in photography?

I wouldn’t say it’s a departure but I’m definitely exploring new possibilities and being open to new layers of interpretation. This image titled DAMASO LUNARE is what my previous work looked like. I guess the subject matter is very related. I’ve always been interested in exploring the relationship between society and personal identity. The previous work was more existential and with this new project I’m talking about the same things but using humor and adopting different strategies to deliver the same message. I’m also trying to make the work more accessible. I realize that the first layer of my images seems funny but if you dig deeper they’re not as accessible.

Marco Scozzaro. OMINY TANDINY, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. OMINY TANDINY, 2016.

There’s definitely a lot to unpack in all of these images. They look simple on the surface and they’re very attractive and shiny but there’s lots of symbolism. I feel like there some larger social statement you’re trying to convey.

There is, I’m glad you noticed that. It’s not just a collection of nice pictures. I’ve always been interested in not glamorizing an image and non-conventional beauty but sometimes that intention has been misunderstood. I like playing with different languages in photography. I’m using still life, landscape… I’m rephotographing my pictures.

Marco Scozzaro. 516N0RJ1N4 D16174L3, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. 516N0RJ1N4 D16174L3, 2016.

Yet there’s also decay and death and playing with the idea of the vanitas, not literally but in that same still life tradition.

Sure! In this picture 516N0RJ1N4 D16174L3, for example I’m making a comment on stereotypical images of the female body in mass media. This is an appropriated ASCII alphanumeric code. I found it interesting that this silhouette of a woman was totally unrelated to the content of the document where I found the image. And then I pasted the silhouette on a photograph of a landscape, that I made using film. Actually most of this work was shot on film, so I became very interested in this idea of using hybrid technology as a consequence of what the work is dealing with.

Marco Scozzaro. DIGITAL CLOUDS, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. DIGITAL CLOUDS, 2016.

There’s also a sculptural quality in your work. The largest piece in the show is a blanket. Is that an image you’ve taken as well?

Yes, all of these images are mine. If there’s any appropriation it’s an image that has been rephotographed or inserted into my composition, like the Calvin Klein advertisement or the Giant Single record sleeve. That image titled DIGITAL CLOUDS on the blanket was a photograph I exhibited at Aperture last summer (Aperture Summer Open: Photography is Magic, curated by Charlotte Cotton). I’ve been thinking and playing around the idea of different materials and how they work with photographs. So at some point I found these digitally woven blankets – you have a jacquard loom that you can hook up to a computer to weave an image. The machine deconstructs the image in six threads to recreate all the colors. I like that this image was shot on film, then scanned and now it has a new life as a woven blanket instead of a print. And it’s also interesting as a “meta photographic concept” because the blanket references the blanket in the image.

Installation view of PALMS ON PALMS over BLANKETTO, 2016.

Installation view of PALMS ON PALMS over BLANKETTO, 2016.

It looks very painterly as well, so you’re tying multiple mediums together: the art of weaving, painting, photography…

Exactly. Also like this piece PALMS ON PALMS over BLANKETTO, which is one of the newest pieces… as you notice I’m trying to expand the two-dimensionality of photography in the space. The pictures themselves become objects. This particular fluorescent plexiglass that the photographs are back mounted on cast a glow on the white walls.

Installation view of Marco Scozzaro's Digital Deli solo show at Baxter St in NYC.

Installation view of Marco Scozzaro’s Digital Deli solo show at Baxter St in NYC.

In this sculptural piece titled TUBBI, 2016 I wanted again to use opposites, images coming from fields that seem unrelated like rocks or a glitch from my computer or tiles or a pool or clouds and a carpet. The cylinder shape references the way you roll the paper when you make a large print that you just put on the floor and it stays in that shape. So I found a technical solution to let the prints stay in shape there a little longer… I like the idea of having these elements linked together, they become just texture. In a democratic way they are in the same space like when you are viewing multiple images on the monitor of your computer.

Marco Scozzaro. SVIAGGIONI, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. SVIAGGIONI, 2016.

I would say SVIAGGIONI is the mood board for the project. I started taking visual notes with my iPhone and then at some point I realized there was something going on. The photos were re-posted to my Instagram and tumblr, so I had a template and I would see the pictures on my monitor in random order and in slightly different sizes. I printed all those pictures and played around with them and then I made a book. I photographed the book for a magazine feature (OSMOS) and I thought the picture itself was more interesting than the whole book. Then I rephotographed the image of my book in the magazine using different nail polish on the same hands holding the book open.

I thought it was interesting to have this double meaning that reflects the paradox of representation. This mood board combined organic with non-organic elements, associated by the color or shape, creating something visually pleasing but at the same time creating a starting point for new relations. From that book I realized I was working on something but I wasn’t 100% happy with the small prints so I used them as the starting point to make new images – either sculptures in the studio or created in post-production.

Detail of PLEASE and TUBBI, 2016, both by Marco Scozzaro.

Detail of PLEASE and TUBBI, 2016, both by Marco Scozzaro.

What about the word “Please” in this wallpaper?

Please was a way to explore the “bodega vernacular” like Thank you for your business or Have a nice day graphics on plastic bags… So I photographed those 80s/90s fonts, isolated the word “please” and started making this repeated pattern similar to the red carpet backgrounds with the sponsors on them that celebrities are photographed in front of. This piece is making a comment on how sometimes we’re over apologetic and over thankful and this gesture doesn’t even mean anything.

Marco Scozzaro. SMILE!, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. SMILE!, 2016.

Yeah it’s not genuine, it’s just our own programming.

This way of working allowed me to play with text. Like this piece SMILE! I photographed this hot dog stand in midtown. I was on the street and I saw this grumpy hot dog guy and someone just passed and said “You’re never gonna sell a hotdog if you don’t smile!” And I thought that phrase was a metaphorical way of describing our society.

Marco Scozzaro. ISLE OF MOTTE, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. ISLE OF MOTTE, 2016.

Do you think this work is a statement on American culture or is there a more of a world view here?

It definitely starts from an American point of view. I’m not American but I’ve been living here for seven years assimilating into the culture of course. Also I realize that I grew up with Western influence through television. I don’t want to talk about American imperialism but there is a cultural hegemony that in a way is coming back. Now as an adult being here and experiencing everyday American life a lot of it seems like déjà vu and I’m starting to understand the messages that I couldn’t understand as a kid.

Marco Scozzaro. VISA, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. VISA, 2016.

The work definitely talks about mass media and how our perception is influenced by them. Like this image of the Hawaiian shirt and the VISA credit card, which is also a reference to my own situation as an immigrant… These are not literal but hidden or unconscious links, thoughts that come to mind when I look at the images after the fact.

Marco Scozzaro. GIANT SINGLE, 2016.

Marco Scozzaro. GIANT SINGLE, 2016.

It’s nice because the aesthetic is not overtly political but as you dig deeper you do get some undertones.

I didn’t want to make political work but I realize that…

Everything is political.

Exactly. Especially looking at what is going on now in America, I see this work as very political. For example, in Italy we had Prime Minister Berlusconi who as a media tycoon became a politician because of his fortune and influence. So in a way with Trump we are kind of seeing the same thing happening. I didn’t want to mention Trump because he’s not relevant here but I think the work is observing what mass media can do, good or bad. So I wanted to create images that look good but also give a starting point for a conversation that is not about being frivolous.

Installation view of Marco Scozzaro's Digital Deli solo show at Baxter St in NYC.

Installation view of Marco Scozzaro’s Digital Deli solo show at Baxter St in NYC.

Marco Scozzaro’s solo show, Digital Deli, is on view at Baxter St now through March 25, 2017.


 

Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.

Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:
Five Visual Motifs in the Photographs of Ren Hang
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity

Five Visual Motifs In the Photographs of Ren Hang

Five Visual Motifs In the Photographs of Ren Hang

Posted by on Feb 27, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

On February 24th after suffering from a deep depression, Chinese photographer Ren Hang took his own life just weeks before his 30th birthday. Despite his young age, Hang leaves behind a large body of photographic work. Known for his “racy”, erotic images, Hang’s photographs visualized a provocative and constructed world that simultaneously referenced a uniquely Chinese aesthetic and contemporary youth culture.

When I look at Hang’s work, I am less interested in his exposure of genitalia and the titillating effect of his images. As a photographer, I’m drawn to his storytelling techniques, specifically the aesthetic patterns that emerge when seeing the work as a whole. In memoriam I’d like to highlight five visual motifs that Hang repeatedly employed to thus create his signature style. 

 

The Color Red
Considered the most popular color in China as evident by the red field featured in the country’s flag, Hang used this symbolic color in a variety of ways. In traditional Chinese culture, red is associated with celebration and creativity, good fortune and joy. In its most political meaning, red is associated with communism or socialism which in this case may relate to the form of government Hang was always in conflict with.

In Hang’s images you’ll often see red painted on the lips and/or nails of his female models and also as a backdrop color. Whether a face is immersed in crimson-colored bathwater, or as in this image where both model and snake are laying on red bedsheets, Hang uses the same blood-red shade to highlight an idea or frame his subjects.

 

Polycephaly
Popularized in literature by Greek mythological creatures, polycephaly is a condition of having more than one head that can also realistically occur in animals and humans. In several images, Hang has played with the concept of a double-headed being, focusing less on the condition itself and more on the idea of two that share a body. In other images, he’s posed his models to resemble a multi-limbed being, an act that comes across as pure play, fitting bodies together in an exploration of the fantastical human form.


Hair

Sporting medium to long, black hair, Hang’s female models uphold stereotypical and historical visions of Asian femininity. Draped over faces and limbs, jet black hair shines in the glare of Hang’s almost-violent flash lighting. In the art of dream interpretation, hair is recognized as a symbol of sensuality, seduction and vanity – all descriptors commonly used to interpret Hang’s work.  


Flora

Hang often staged his images in nature and in his studio shots, cut flowers and various types of exotic flora also appear, sometimes competing with the model(s) for the viewer’s attention. In the above image, the cherry blossom tree obscures the model as its intricate branches and blossoms dominate the frame. A historical symbol of desire and sexuality, Hang has used various species of flora ranging from the innocuous tulip to the Anthurium with its sexy, patent-leather like red leaves and erect pistil.


Birds

Lastly, one can’t help but notice the winged creatures in Hang’s images. Although domesticated animals (like reptiles and cats) mingle amongst naked bodies, the birds are limp, tamed, as if to be prepared for consumption. Not knowing for sure I insist they are dead or at least taxidermy, as I can’t fathom any bird would cooperate in such foreign, artificial conditions. Hang’s repeat use of birds seems obsessive. He even poses his own mother in the series My Mum with an excess of doves, ducks, peacocks and swans.

In his most complex compositions, Hang arranged several of these motifs together to make a single, confounding image. And though there are bodies, except in the case of his mother, there are no characters. Alive or not, Hang arranges his subjects like objects. It is because of this that I’ve come to appreciate Hang’s work as still life photography. RIP Ren Hang.


 

Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.

Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity

New Image Library Specializes In Race and Cultural Diversity

New Image Library Specializes In Race and Cultural Diversity

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

Autograph Media is a recently launched photography licensing agency from the people who run Autograph ABP, the British-based photographic arts organization. Specializing in all aspects of race and cultural diversity throughout history, Autograph Media’s image library is comprised of a multitude of collections from various media partners like Getty Images and Magnum Photos.

Indian suffragettes on the Women's Coronation Procession, London, 17th June 1911. Mrs Fisher Unwin, who had links with India, was in charge of this contingent, which was part of the Empire Pageant. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Indian suffragettes on the Women’s Coronation Procession, London, 17th June 1911. Mrs Fisher Unwin, who had links with India, was in charge of this contingent, which was part of the Empire Pageant. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Covering a wide range of subjects, while browsing through the Autograph Media archive online one quickly realizes what a treasure trove it is. Well tagged and contextually/conceptually linked, during my first look I quickly went from 1950s images of newly arrived West Indian immigrants in London to documentary work on the British in India… and yet Autograph Media doesn’t stop at visualizing the history of Britain’s colonized subjects.

27th May 1956: Immigrants from the West Indies arriving by ship at Southampton Docks, Hampshire. Original Publication: Picture Post - 8405 - Thirty Thousand Colour Problems - pub. 1956 (Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

27th May 1956: Immigrants from the West Indies arriving by ship at Southampton Docks, Hampshire. Original Publication: Picture Post – 8405 – Thirty Thousand Colour Problems – pub. 1956 (Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

During my Autograph Media search I discovered images from the Afro Newspaper/Gado archive. Founded in 1892 by John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave who gained freedom following the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, The Afro-American newspaper was formed when Murphy merged several church papers together. With a large circulation in several cities, the Baltimore-based newspaper was instrumental in effecting social change on a national scale from pushing for black representation in the legislature, to establishing state-sponsored education for African Americans, fighting the implementation of Jim Crow segregation and even collaborating with the NAACP on civil rights cases.

Three women in lavish dress stand with nooses around their necks in protest of lynchings, 1946. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Three women in lavish dress stand with nooses around their necks in protest of lynchings, 1946. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

With its nontraditional and inclusive hiring practices, The Afro-American employed notable black intellectuals (Langston Hughes, Romare Bearden) and journalists and while many of the images in the newspaper’s archive don’t give photographer credit, we do know that they employed women photographers like Erika Stone. The image of Little Miss Black Liberty below from Autograph Media’s online archive is by Stone, a photojournalist, magazine photographer and member of the Photo League. After she had children, Stone exclusively photographed children and family. (For more work by Erika Stone, take a look at this portfolio of her Ellis Island images  from a previous Baxter St blog post by Patricia Silva.)

A child wearing a Statue of Liberty headdress on National Freedom Day in New York City, USA, circa 1988. National Freedom Day commemorates the signing of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery on 1st February 1865. (Photo by Erika Stone/Getty Images)

A child wearing a Statue of Liberty headdress on National Freedom Day in New York City, USA, circa 1988. National Freedom Day commemorates the signing of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery on 1st February 1865. (Photo by Erika Stone/Getty Images)

Autograph Media is a compilation of several photography archives, many of which you can access individually from their own websites. Yet the value of Autograph Media lays in its mission of making visible a multitude of historical images that offer a more fair representation of human history at the intersections of race, culture and gender. Visual resources like this remind us of our past, our humanity and ultimately what’s worth fighting for in this era of uncertainty and political instability.

Group portrait of three Chinese children standing in a room in Chicago, Illinois, each holding an American flag and a Chinese flag, 1929. From the Chicago Daily News collection. (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Group portrait of three Chinese children standing in a room in Chicago, Illinois, each holding an American flag and a Chinese flag, 1929. From the Chicago Daily News collection. (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther PartyThe Black Female Self in LandscapeIn Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes and Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers.

In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes

In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich, Uncategorized | No Comments

Earlier this month, noted art critic John Berger passed away. His death immediately sparked ripples of mentions throughout photography and art communities online. Though his writings may have been eclipsed by the more-celebrated musings of Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag, Berger’s observations on the propagation of the photographic medium are nonetheless as crucial and still relevant today.

When I heard of his passing, I immediately looked for my copy of About Looking (Pantheon Books, 1980) which I happened to find years ago amongst a pile of books left on the street. The book is a collection of essays by Berger written over ten years which were all previously published in New Society magazine and The Guardian UK newspaper. About Looking not only discusses the act of looking at photographs, it is “a fascinating record of the search for meaning within and behind what’s looked at.”

Berger’s most direct critique of our lens-based medium is an essay titled Uses of Photography, in which he writes down “some of my responses to Sontag’s 1977 book On Photography.” Without publishing the entire essay, below I’ve highlighted select quotes that introduce and elaborate on Berger’s idea of “an alternative photography” to counteract the medium’s nefarious functions and realize it’s altruistic possibilities.

WARNING: The following quotes contain radical (or what could be considered socialist) views on photography’s historical role in modern, Western society. Proceed with a decolonized mind.

“The speed with which the possible uses of photography were seized upon is surely an indication of photography’s profound, central applicability to capitalism. Marx came of age the year of the camera’s invention.”

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearances.”

“A mechanical device, the camera has been used as an instrument to contribute to a living memory. The photograph is a memento from a life being lived.”

“Has the camera replaced the eye of God? The decline of religion corresponds with the rise of the photograph.”

“The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.”

Upon (re)reading this quote I immediately recalled photographer/ethnologist Edward Curtis who made it his mission to document the North American native population because of his imperialist belief that they were “a vanishing race.”

Edward Curtis. “The Vanishing Race – Navaho”, 1904, volume 1, portfolio plate 1, photogravure, 46 x 31 cm., Special Collection, Honnold Library, Claremont.

Edward Curtis. “The Vanishing Race – Navaho”, 1904, volume 1, portfolio plate 1, photogravure, 46 x 31 cm., Special Collection, Honnold Library, Claremont.

“… the current systematic public use of photography needs to be challenged, not simply by turning round like a cannon and aiming it at different targets, but by changing its practice. How?”

“The truth is that most photographs taken of people are about suffering, and most of that suffering is man-made.”

Certainly this quote speaks to the historical and systematic utilization of ethnographic photography of native and indigenous populations around the world. In our globalized era, suffering is injected into (public and private) visual culture through images of war and illicit pornography which is a byproduct of modern slavery or human trafficking.

“It is possible that photography is the prophecy of a human memory yet to be socially and politically achieved.“

“The task of an alternative photography is to incorporate photography into social and political memory, instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any such memory.”

“The aim must be to construct a context for a photograph, to construct it with words, to construct it with other photographs, to construct it by its place in an ongoing text of photographs and images.”  

Next Berger argues that photographs are typically used in a “unilinear way… to illustrate an argument, or to demonstrate a thought…” Consider the way a forensic photographer records the initial appearance of a crime scene as the first encounter and experience it through their subjective perspective. Berger also cites a photograph’s more common, tautological use so that it only “repeats what is being said in words.”

Although Berger argues that memory is not linear and works radially, with an “enormous number of associations all leading to the same event.” This radial pattern of memory is compared by Berger as being like the spoke of a wheel, which is a bit simplistic with just a single radiating plane. In my opinion, memory’s radial pattern has multiple (perhaps intersecting) planes and instead mimics the fractal-like, radiating pattern of a dandelion seed head.

Diagram of a radial pattern.

Diagram of a radial pattern.

Radial pattern of a dandelion seed head. By Avenue (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Radial pattern of a dandelion seed head. By Avenue (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“If we want to put a photograph back into the context of experience, social experience, social memory, we have to respect the laws of memory. We have to situate the printed photograph so that it acquires something of the surprising conclusiveness of that which was and is.”

“A radial system has to be constructed around the photograph so that it may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic.” 

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this profound “radial system” and ways in which it can be used in storytelling and to display photographs in physical locations (galleries, public sites, etc.) More importantly I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps Berger was signaling our use of the #hashtag as a descriptor and curator of images on social media.  


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther Party and The Black Female Self in Landscape.

The Black Female Self in Landscape

The Black Female Self in Landscape

Posted by on Jan 12, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

A recurring theme within contemporary art photography has been the imperative to address the biased or unavailable historical representation of the Black, female body. Since the 1990s’ artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Cox, Xaviera Simmons and now Nona Faustine, have used photography to recognize Black womanhood in all its unattested complexities. In the photographs shown below, each artist has settled their melanated bodies within their landscape of choice – sites that have witnessed unspeakable violence, marooned existences and/or enlightened encounters.

Carrie Mae Weems. Dreaming in Cuba, 2001.

Carrie Mae Weems. Dreaming in Cuba, 2001.

Arguably the most prolific in her use of self-portraits within landscape, Carrie Mae Weems’ elegant figure has crossed the lens of several different bodies of work starting with her 2001 Dreaming in Cuba series. Unlike the other artists discussed, Weems more often than not stands in opposition to the lens, as if leading a group behind her. Exaggerated by robes or gowns, Weems’ figure floats into the frame, inserting the Black, female body into spaces from which its presence was forgotten or previously denied entry.

Xaviera Simmons. Denver, 2007.

Xaviera Simmons. Denver, 2007.

Launching her art career after a two-year pilgrimage retracing the TransAtlantic slave trade with Buddhist monks, Xaviera Simmons’s concern with wilderness explores spirituality in art. In previous works, Xaviera has used photography to create (self) portraits in both constructed and natural environments that question African-American identities and their relationships to those settings.

Renée Cox. River Queen, (from the Queen Nanny of the Maroons series), 2004.

Renée Cox. River Queen, (from the Queen Nanny of the Maroons series), 2004.

Although all of these artist perform for the camera, Renee Cox’s work is most dramatic in its telling of the stories of Black female figures like Queen Nanny, the only female national hero of Jamaica. Taking advantage of the physical strength expressed by her own, muscular body, Cox is concerned with self liberation and challenging the predetermined roles imposed on Black women.

Nona Faustine. “ ‘. . . a thirst for compleat freedom … had been her only motive for absconding.’ Oney Judge, Federal Hall NYC,” 2016.

Nona Faustine. “ ‘. . . a thirst for compleat freedom … had been her only motive for absconding.’ Oney Judge, Federal Hall NYC,” 2016.

Continuing this photographic tradition, Faustine’s work brilliantly hits at the intersection of two major socio-political conversations of the 21st century: the #BlackLivesMatter and body size acceptance movements. Standing on sacred, scarred or political North American spaces, Faustine’s self-portraits ultimately function as archaeological documentation. In its robust form and stoic posture, her body is a blatant reminder of chattel slavery yet also channels (art) historical representations of the feminine – from fertility goddesses/Venus figures to ancient Egyptian statuettes.

Faustine’s use of poetic captions with each photograph is particularly unique as she educates the viewer of what lies beneath these commonplace landmarks and tourist attractions. As commentary on issues that haunt our past and present realities, the images in White Shoes and in Faustine’s follow up exhibition at Baxter St are timeless, visualizing the cycle of (our country’s) birth, (economic) growth, death and rebirth.  

Nona Faustine’s solo exhibition, My Country, closes this week at Baxter St. You can also see her talk at the Brooklyn Museum this Saturday, January 14th.


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther PartyThe Black Female Self in Landscape and In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes.

Interview with Charlotte Cotton

Interview with Charlotte Cotton

Posted by on Aug 17, 2016 in Osman Can Yerebakan | No Comments

When I talked to Charlotte Cotton over the phone in-between her busy schedule, she had recently arrived to L.A—a city the renown photography curator considers special for her career which includes a curatorial position at LACMA. Cotton—the Curator-in-Residence at the recently-opened ICP Museum in Lower East Side—is on the West Coast for a residency at Metabolic Studio. She sounds excited talking about the Woman’s Building, the legendary feminist non-profit art center founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila Levant de Bretteville and Arlene Revan in the early 70s as reaction to CalArts’ patriarchal dynamics at the time. The historic building that housed the bygone art center on North Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles sits next to the Metabolic Studio, and it has recently been listed for sale. “We are here to celebrate the Woman’s Building and its impact for all of us before the building s sold” says Cotton. We talked about Aperture’s recently-closed summer exhibition Photography Is Magic, which included fifty photographers she selected out of portfolio submissions in response to the Foundation’s annual Summer Open call, as well as her other exhibitions that opened consecutively this summer in New York.

Chris Maggio, Untitled, 2014

Chris Maggio, Untitled, 2014

—Before turning into an exhibition, Photography Is Magic was a book, in which you use the word magic as a metaphor for experimentalist approach to photography in Internet age. Is the exhibition a continuation for this approach?

Yes, it definitely feels like an extension of the book. As the artists submitted their works, I saw how in line they were with the project and how few  degrees of separation there are between many of the artists in the Aperture exhibition and the artists represented in my book.

—You emphasize the ‘optimism’ of this concept in your statement. Does magic also mean a socially conscious stand against the turmoil the world is recently experiencing?

You can read the optimism on a number of levels in Photography is Magic. The core optimism is specific to photography in 21st century, as a reaction to broad phenomena since the early 2000s. For instance, the economic crisis of 2008 and its impact on the bubble market for contemporary art photography, the rise of digital techniques, the shifts in photographic pedagogy – these were all militating factors impacting on the idea of making photographs as art. In 2010, SFMOMA organized a two-day symposium called Is Photography Over?. And this embodied an existential moment for the medium. The optimism in Photography is Magic is about the artists who were forming their identity in this climate and finding productive, critical ways of working.

The artists in this exhibition come from a generation that mainly undertook their MFAs in the early 2000s and they are first the generation to deal with the recent technological and ideological shifts in the perception of independent photographic practice explicitly in their works. The optimism is also about observing a strongly artist-led moment of production and I think there is an inherent optimism in moments where creativity is driven by creators rather than institutions or market mechanics. The movement that the book and the show both reflect is important because they are not initiated by institutions but stem from real discussions between artists. The makers of images are defining their terms. Photographers are observers of their environment and they are aware of its realities.  Their work may not be obviously – stylistically – autobiographical but looking at their practices en masse, I think you see a wave of creative sentience to the image world that we are living through.

Adam Ekberg, Eclipse, 2012

Adam Ekberg, Eclipse, 2012

—Photography is a great narrator of the time, while its methods constantly change based on the time’s standards. In other words, photography is in a deep conversation with what the time bears. How is this conversation reflected in the pieces you selected?

Our perception of art photography no longer hinges on the prospect of capturing of a moment of real time, or at least we generally have a greater understanding of artistic practice as a multi-layered process with a degree of preconception and postproduction. We talk about “making” an image, or “rendering” an idea and artists using photographic methods or ideas are highly conscious of every active choice they make: nothing is default and much is pre-mediated. The classical idea of photography as the suspension of a millisecond of real time is still present, but is being challenged by contemporary practitioners. We still have remnants of the idea that a photograph is proof of something but we are also wondering if an image is a stable entity. The technology that is accessible to the photographer is now accessible to the viewer as well – we have a quasi-shared understanding of how to make images and use images.  The artists that I selected for both the book and exhibition versions of Photography is Magic are highly aware of all of this and the state of contemporary viewership.

Bubi Canal, Beautiful Mystery, 2015

Bubi Canal, Beautiful Mystery, 2015

—The exhibition was based on an open call and you received submissions from artists in various stages in their careers. Was maintaining a diversity in terms of career points a challenge?

Ellen Carrey who probably has the longest career amongst the artists in this exhibition. When she applied, that set a high benchmark for the exhibition. As soon as I saw Ellen’s work, I realized this exhibition had to be about the artists rather than the pictures. When you curate an open submission exhibition, you can either select artists that you are interested in or particular pictures that seem to work together, and seeing Ellen in the mix confirmed to me that my selection had to be primarily concerned with creating a visual representation of the collective dialogue between artists that is happening right now – internationally and cross-generationally – about the very idea of rendering photographic ideas.

—You undertook three other curatorial roles in New York this summer. The Ties That Bind: ICP-Bard MFA Show at Baxter St, Reviver: Yale MFA Show at Danziger and ICP Museum’s inaugural exhibition Public, Private, Secret all stem from different curatorial standpoints. Is there common thread that goes through all of them?

On a basic level they share that desire to create experiences, although they all signal very different types of engagements. Photography Is Magic has a very specific context since Aperture published that book and it was a journey that had this existing platform, so the exhibition is another stage of the project.

I worked with Yale MFA students who showed their thesis exhibition at Danziger, and ICP-Bard MFA students who exhibited at Baxter St/Camera Club of New York. I didn’t have to do much in terms of hands-on curation, really, I genuinely did not want to just select my favorite pictures and create a show, I was much more interested in amplifying their collective aims. Every MFA program has its own internal dynamic, and my role was as a mentor or advisor. I basically served as audience advocate to these students and I helped them polish their curation.

Installation view at Aperture's 2016 'Summer Open'

Installation view at Aperture’s ‘Photography Is Magic’

Public, Private, Secret was a much more layered and intense working process for sure. With the opening of ICP’s new exhibition and events space at 250 Bowery, it was important that the program spoke to ICP’s unique cultural role in thinking about and questioning the social impact of photography and visual culture on our lives.  The exhibition is about photography beyond the narratives set by modern and contemporary art. I think that the most important thing we achieved in this first iteration of ICP’s 250 Bowery was to invite visitors to bring their own knowledge and experiences of visual culture into their engagement with Public, Private, Secret. The experience is determined by each viewer’s subjective understanding of the state of our privacy and the roles that image culture plays within this. Hierarchies of who makes images and who determines image culture have been flattened in the past ten years and that state of equivalency is literally manifest in the way that the exhibition combines historical photographs, contemporary artists’ projects and curation of real-time media streams.

Some people have found the exhibition messy, which I take to mean that it’s not a typical museum show where seemingly everything is spelled out in a didactic fashion. My choice to constellate a range of visual material  came from a position of highlights that we are all in this together, we are all implicated. Public, Private, Secret does lay out both the negative impacts of celebrity culture, surveillance, porn, voyeurism, social media, et al. upon both our sense of personal privacy and our image-making habits but it is also about the agency of “being seen’ and the social impact of widespread self-representation and alterity. I came through the process of working on this exhibition with a quite optimistic sense of what visual culture can activate in progressive and positive ways. There is a reason why young people are gravitating towards social media as their visual platform of choice because of the possibility to express, communicate and defend who they are.

Foley Gallery’s High Summer Steps Out of the Shade

Foley Gallery’s High Summer Steps Out of the Shade

Posted by on Aug 12, 2016 in Osman Can Yerebakan | No Comments
High Summer at Foley Gallery

High Summer at Foley Gallery

‘It is perfectly natural for the Sun 

to shine initially on the upper lefthand 

corner of the first page of this book’

Francis Ponge, The Sun Placed in the Abyss

Francis Ponge was referred to as ‘the poet of things’ for his ability to elevate the essence of mundane objects—soap, cigarettes or oranges. The way Alain Robbe-Grillet revitalized furniture in The Erasers, Ponge, like many other Surrealists, deconstructed the confinements of reason and tangible reality, blurring the hierarchy between objects and living things. The most challenging depiction he embarked on arguably was his The Sun Placed in the Abyss essay, in which he articulates on the sun’s metaphoric impact on terrestrials.

High Summer at Foley Gallery

High Summer at Foley Gallery

Penelope Umbrico, Pirouette for CRT, 2012

Penelope Umbrico, Pirouette for CRT, 2012

Of the summer group exhibitions currently on view in Chelsea, Lower East Side and elsewhere, Foley Gallery’s High Summer, curated by Joseph Desler Costa and Jeremy August Haik, takes account the season’s thriving temperatures in the most literal sense, as well as adopting Ponge’s text as source material. The sun, with all allegories and facts it perpetuates, is the central or auxiliary subject for each piece in the exhibition that features twenty-four lens-based artists. “What is the Sun?” asks Ponge in his essay and adds, “that which dominates all things therefore, cannot be dominated”.

The omnipresence of this yellow sphere is of a kind that is indisputable; unlike any other sources of power—divine or tangible—the sun poses universal and pervasive. Yet, like any other supreme source, the sun destructs as much as it nourishes. On the other hand, the impossibility of having a complete vision of its full extent only augments its mysterious aura.

Works by Bill Jacobson in High Summer

Works by Bill Jacobson in High Summer

Works by Dillion DeWaters in High Summer

Works by Dillon DeWaters in High Summer

Penelope Umbrico’s ninety-second long GIF animation, Pirouette for CRT, includes images of outmoded tubed TVs listed on Craigslist for disposal, intricately edited to create a perfect cycle with the way each TV is photographed. Looping gadgets reflect the light on their screens while they continue in their perfect cycle similar to the sun’s journey over a year or the Earth’s in twenty-four hours.

Bobby Davidson, American Cinematographer Manual, 10th Edition with 36 Fluroscent Tube, 2016

Bobby Davidson, American Cinematographer Manual, 10th Edition with 36 Fluroscent Tube, 2016

Works by Pacifico Silano in High Summer

Works by Pacifico Silano in High Summer

Bobby Davidson’s American Cinematographer Manual, 10th Edition with 36” Fluorescent Tube, one of the few three dimensional works in the exhibition, combines the 10th edition of American Cinematographer Manual—an obsolete source for cinematographers, including Davidson himself—with a fluorescent bar piercing through. Considering the cruciality of the right timbre of the sun for those working with camera, the sculpture, sitting on a custom-made wooden Apple chassis, is self-referential and unabashedly self-mocking.

Works by Thomas Albdorf in High Summer

Works by Thomas Albdorf in High Summer

Works by Joseph Desler Costa in High Summer

Works by Joseph Desler Costa in High Summer

Works by Dillon DeWaters, Thomas Albdorf, Justine Kurland, Genevieve Gaignard and Bill Jacobson refer to absence of the (or a) sun within the frame, while their juxtapositions claim its impact as evident. The glare the sun radiates as reaction to the camera on the subject matter is another strong motif, emphasized by a group of artists including Pacifico Silano, who photographed men from the pages of the 70s’ gay porn magazines with accents of light glaring on their faces, as well as Erin O’Keefe, Christopher Rodriguez and Tommy Kha, who poignantly utilized the sun’s reflection to blur his model’s identity in his photograph.

High Summer will remain on view at Foley Gallery through August 20, 2016.

Interview with Elisabeth Biondi

Interview with Elisabeth Biondi

Posted by on Aug 8, 2016 in Osman Can Yerebakan | No Comments

When I visited Elisabeth Biondi at her TriBeCa apartment, where she lives with her five-year old dog Boris, she had just returned from teaching at The Photography Master Retreat, a week-long immersive course bringing together a group of international photographers in a small village in southern France to discuss their works. “We eat, drink but most importantly talk about photography twelve hours a day” explained Biondi talking about her experience there as a teacher. Biondi recently co-curated REFUGEE, an exhibition looking at the reasons and impacts of the ongoing refugee crisis, with Patricia Lanza for Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography.

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“I feel lucky to have worked as a photo-editor during what I call the golden age of photography”, says Biondi remembering her days as the photography editor at The New Yorker, where she worked for 15 years and helped create some of the seminal works by Martin Schoeller, Richard Avedon or Helmut Newton.

— In New York you’re widely recognized as the former photo editor of The New Yorker, How was being the decision maker for photography in a publication heavily know for its writing?

It was a particular challenge. When I started working at The New Yorker  when Richard Avedon was its only staff photographer. When I got the offer to work there, I was working at Stern in Germany, a weekly magazine, which used photography for all its articles, had a huge staff, 15 staff photographers, and a 7 days a week photo-desk.  After that I thought it would be easy to work for a magazine with so few pictures. 

After I started working at The New Yorker, I realized it’s really challenging to create photographs for a magazine particularly known for its excellence in words. Every single picture mattered because there were so few. My criteria was ‘intelligent pictures’, knowing the context of the article, which meant I had to make it my business to figure out in what context they would be published. Choosing the photographer, briefing and discussing everything with him or her were all crucial. In the end, it would be one single photograph used for each article, and it had to reflect many facets of a story.

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—You started at Penthouse Magazine when you first moved to the U.S. and slowly built yourself a path that led to an impressive career in photo editorship. With the changing face of technology, do you think such direction to success in the field is possible today? What direction would you recommend to new comers?

It vastly changed. Now print is losing leadership and advertising. Budgets have shrunk, staff has been cut, and sometime interns fill in the gaps. I don’t see many long careers in picture editorship in the future. The field in printed media is limited and photo editors have much more smaller budgets, which often limits what they can do. Also, often art/creative directors take the leading role in photography assignments. On the other hand, online publications opened up a new way of being a picture editor—come up with the ideas, write and find the visuals. This might be way for the future but right now I really do not counsel young people to become a traditional picture editor.

—What is the most striking difference between being a photo-editor and a photography curator? They seem to include some similar methods but what is the division?

As photography editor the primary function is to visualize stories. Generally speaking, it starts with a story and pictures work alongside words. When you curate, it starts with your idea and you visually express it, in other words, pictures lead. For an article, the picture has to support the text; not so when curating an exhibition. In a magazine you flip through the pages and a picture has only seconds to grab attention but a viewer who enters a gallery is committed to spend time to look at the images. It influences how images are displayed and seen.

—Contemporary photography is rapidly moving toward a conceptual direction. Photography intersects with other mediums such as sculpture, video and even performance. How do you see this direction photography is going?

Someone said: nothing is as constant as change. Nothing stays the same, which is also true for photography. How photographers express themselves evolves constantly. With so many digitals images produced and posted daily, artists have to find new ways to draw attention, conceptualization often using appropriated images, is one. Years ago most pictures in shows hung on the wall, now images no longer have to be two-dimensional.  Photographers have greater freedom. Still analog photography continues and even traditional processes continued to be used successfully.

—In line with the previous question, due to this conceptual form artistic photography is taking, the documentary/informative photography is sort of becoming ‘the other’ within the field. What do you think about this separation?

I don’t think there is a separation at all. To me, they are different ways of expression and making statements. I believe photography, like music for example, is diverse.  We have, for example, photojournalism, documentary photography, fine art photography, and there is conceptual photography, to name some major ‘categories’. Often the lines blur, and all can be seen in galleries. I am particularly interested where documentary photography intersects with fine art photography.

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—You work with many young photographers in exhibitions you curate or through mentoring them in their thesis projects. Are you content with new photography?

Yes, there are many talented young people and I support them. I appreciate what they are doing. I try to be open to what they have to say. Young people have to experiment and find new ways and I applaud it, if is good and I support them. Unfortunately, there are so many young people having a hard time showing their works and finding a way to survive.