Mark Steinmetz – the Greater Atlanta series

Calhoun, GA, 2000_Mark Steinmetz, Gelatin silver print

Calhoun, GA, 2000 (Greater Atlanta series)
Mark Steinmetz
Gelatin silver print

Highly recommend a visit this week!  But hurry…(exhibition through June 12, 2010 – at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, in Portland, Oregon).

Your time will be rewarded with some very nice prints from Mark Steinmetz, Greater Atlanta.  This is Steinmetz third photobook forming a visual trilogy about the area from which the series takes its name. South East, and South Central are two previous books related to the series and were released and printed through Nazraeli. With each copy, the quality is very high as can be expected, at least from everything I’ve ever seen coming from Nazraeli.


Rt. 316, Barrow County, GA, 2005_ Mark Steinmetz Gelatin silver print
Rt. 316, Barrow County, GA, 2005  (Greater Atlanta series)
Mark Steinmetz
Gelatin silver print

Having picked up my own (signed) copies of the books back in early 2009 and being able to look at them as a group for a while – it is terrific to finally get to see select prints up on the wall from the Greater Atlanta series. The prints are both stunning and modest – much like what I might project upon the people, landscape, and urban scenery that Steinmetz presents.

I have to say that having the books and being able to see how well the prints are represented in the book as compared to the prints on the wall means that for my limited means, the books are absolutely valuable and worthy representations.  I can’t stress enough how terrific it is to be able to look again and again and again through the trilogy to appreciate the photos. Each time something new seems to catch my attention.


Mark Steinmetz_Barrow County, GA, 1994 Gelatin silver print
Barrow County, GA, 1994  (Greater Atlanta series)
Mark Steinmetz
Gelatin silver print

In some ways Steinmetz’ Greater Atlanta series – recalls parallels to some work by Robert Adams – sensible, in the moment pictures, that seem to be almost too perfect in composition and with a similar sort of dignity and presence held still within the pictures. These are “candid” shots – it seems mostly that the subjects in the pictures clearly recognize a picture’s being made.

My best at describing what I like about the series (my projection) is this:  If,  I was trying to describing what my place might look like to an outsider, I’d do well to show them these books about my neck of the woods.  But, it strikes me that unless I told them where I was from before hand, the stranger might miss a lot about the locations of the pictures. Something I imagine that I probably am missing as an outsider to the south.

There is an interesting passage in “Beauty in Photography” the collection of essays by Robert Adams, published by Aperture. From the essay “Truth and Landscape”, where Adams is describing how making photographs has to be a personal matter, somehow the photographer has to be in the picture…

“…what we hope for from the artist is help in discovering the significance of a place. In this sense we would in most respects choose thirty minutes with Edward Hopper’s painting Sunday Morning to thirty minutes on the street with what was his subject; with Hopper’s vision we see more…there seem to be moments of revelation…there is a sense of comprehension.” – Robert Adams

Adams goes on a bit before this into the three elements landscapes should offer: geography, autobiography and metaphor – the intensity of which these three are present raises the artistic act of what we all “work to keep intact – an affection for life.”

Mark Steinmetz_Athens, GA, 1995 Gelatin silver print

Athens, GA, 1995,  (the Greater Atlanta series)
Mark Steinmetz,
Gelatin silver print

Mark Steinmetz work on the Greater Atlanta series, as a group of photos, presents a lot more than just a picture of the “south” – and for this reason, I keep affectionately returning to the books.


More from Mark Steinmetz – website
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Olaf Otto Becker at Blue Sky Gallery

Ilulissat Icefjord 09 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

Ilulissat Icefjord 09, 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

I’ve enjoyed viewing the work of Olaf Otto Becker albeit previously through online web work and so I jumped at the opportunity to visit the current (January 2010) hanging at Blue Sky Gallery here in Portland, Oregon.  As always, it is good to see the work in person and it was time well spent.  The work from his series “Broken Line,” is shot in Greenland with 8″ x 10″ camera and the results are as expected loaded with fine crisp detail and a rich pallet of colors.  The prints hanging are “modest” in size at 25″ x 30″ and with the fine detail I found myself practically nose up to the prints in an attempt to take it all in.

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003 69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003
69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

What I found most interesting in terms of viewing the pictures is with a personal question about the problem of describing “a place” through photographs. In this case what sort of impression does Becker’s characterization through pictures of “place” in Greenland leave behind?

Becker’s photographs as assembled in the show reveal a balance between what I would call “natural beauty” as pictured in the more decorative photographs of icebergs and sculpted bays with the images of resident cabins, outbuildings and associated detritus of human inhabitation.  I recall about a 2/3 to 1/3 distribution with natural beauty leading the way…

The pictures of human habitation at first seem to me to keep to a neutral presentation – meaning my assumptions are that the images are simply “what can be found”.  The pictures seperately do not seem to convey an explicit indictment but when coupled together with overtly beautiful images of a potentially devastating environmental situation to me alludes to a larger question of how we choose to live in our surroundings. The human places pictured indicate to me a pretty ugly disregard and disordered inhabitation.  Of course this is completely my own conjecture, but the pictures of local inhabitation chosen to be pictured are what I would call beautiful pictures of ugly things and by transference, I begin to recognize how the “Broken Line” may be much more revealing in general about how we inhabit places and is therefor much more than simply pretty pictures of icebergs. Of course it’s a pretty big jump and a lot of transference to allow the inhabited pictures to speak about “human disregard” of the landscape… but I think it’s there none-the-less.

Thinking about the problem of keeping a body of work together in order to convey (potentially) an intent held within a group of pictures is a problem probably best solved by the photo book – the book containing these pictures The Broken Line by Becker presumably may hold some more answers.  I have not yet had a chance to see the book – but am curious to see if my intuition and assumptions might play out in the book…

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

This relates to a couple of posts as well on the potential value of a photobook as a reference item for collectors and is blog and post worth visiting as it is quite nicely elaborated upon by DLK collectors offering another point of view.  The photobook posts might explain a bit more regarding Becker’s work from the same DLK collectors on the new series “Above Zero”….  All of this make me wonder more about the question of “decorative” work as a hook to bring a larger audience towards work that ultimately wants to be more than just beautiful…

“The Maze”

 

The Maze - Donovan Wylie - More photographs: Magnum

Some amazing photographs by Donovan Wylie, Magnum photographer of NORTHERN IRELAND.

The Maze Prison. 2003.

“The Maze” records and preserves a unique physical structure that has played an important role in our recent history. (source)

In Granata 102 – there are additional pictures by Donovan Wylie, of the dismantling of this prison which are quite amazing. The symbolic meaning behind the tearing down of such a place – a powerful statement.

I wonder what visual records might be able to be made to exist in the public domain to remember the more recent political prisons of our time – right now – with an eye such as Donovan Wylie brings to something like “the Maze”.   Imagine the cultural value of the pictures of Abu Ghraib or of Guantanamo Bay for example – surely there would be value to attempt to record in a more systematic way – but perhaps the time is too soon, the story still unfolding – all too political. Perhaps it is naive to ask, but are we brave enough – secure enough in our beliefs – to withstand such scrutiny?

Constructed Contemporary Photographic Visions

Ice Park (B) - 2007 by Noriko Furunishi

Noriko Furunishi
Ice Park (B), 2007
(original C-Print 
89 1/4 x 60 inches)

I first came across the work featured above from Ice Park 2007  by Noriko Furunishi in a recent issue of Blind Spot 37.  I have to admit that my first, second,third glance through the images in the issue was very brief and casual – on the bus ride into work. But,  I found Furunishi’s images to be quite nice – beautiful depictions of ice formations in wintry mountainous terrain.  I liked them enough – simply for their composition and form – and the fact that you don’t “usually” see landscape depictions composed in a vertical photographic format.  The images stuck in my mind from the other more “constructed” and you might say overtly manipulated photographic work – begging for a “reading” either of subject matter and/or acknowledgement of the artists chosen photographic process or more frankly simply the artist’s hand – at least for the first few glances.  At any rate – for some some reason – the Ice park images stuck (and still remain) in my memory.

Ice Park (D) 2007 - by Noriko Furunishi

Noriko Furunishi
Ice Park (D), 2007
(original C-Print
89 1/4 x 60 inches)

So upon a closer look again, I noticed a detail here or there that at seemed odd, not quite what I had expected to see – then looking closer, I realized more and more details revealing wonderfully odd juxtapositions and shifts in perspective – a real “cubist” moment for me – at least at the surface of stylistic references.   Everything seemed to be in and out of scale, upside down and quite disorienting – but revealing something to me in a good way.  I can only imagine the effect in the presence of a full scale work might be compared to the diminutive but still rewarding size as reproduce in Blind Spot.

Reading up a bit on what I could find about this work introduced to me to a deeper appreciation for the approach. Furunishi’s contemporary approach along with a measured comparison to a historical cultural appreciation of nature as read in the context of more traditional Chinese landscape painting reveals an artistic attempt to convey a contemplation and depiction of our contemporary relationship with nature.

My first realization is that the depictions go beyond mere superficial mimicry and gimmicks – if you consider the subject matter depicted – for example, a snapshot of the artificial ice climbing competition – pictured below – from one such “ice park”

My read on the work (now that I’ve spent some time with it), and the subject matter that Furunishi deals with in this series is about a very contemporary cultural view of “man VS. nature” where your worth is measured by the time and skill with which you can overcome nature’s obstacle before you – even if it is artificially natural…

Second realization, is to consider a reference to historical Chinese landscape painting – traditionally depicting a way of being with and in commune with nature – in a more mystical and spiritual way –  not in opposition to nature – this is where it begins to be interesting and to me seems to be the “message” in the work to consider.  Where do we stand in relation to nature?

Tang Yin (1470-1523): Conversation by the River.

A question to consider: How will we – our cultural generation – be “remembered” for our depictions of our view of the landscape and “nature” in generations to come? 

For me anyway, I find this sort of contemporary fine art work interesting to consider and a much more fruitful endeavor considering the potential of “constructed” photographic work that abounds.  Thanks again Blind Spot for another fine example of the strong work out there for sure worth looking at more than a few times over…

More on NORIKO FURUNISHI – via Murray Guy, Blind Spot and a brief review by Roberta Smith of the NYT.