The end is only the beginning

It’s the last night of an incredible adventure so naturally the dream-like memory of the five weeks is setting in. The five weeks have moved like the speed of light but our photographic progress and relationships seem like the only evidence that this experience was a reality.

During our final critique today the culmination of our hard work was evident. The projects had depth and complex thought behind them, even photographs of the same subject were unique from photographer to photographer. More remarkable than the work was the valuable critique that came from my peers. The thought provoking comments from trained eyes were night and day compared to our first critique.

As the discussions developed there was an invaluable element that enriched the critique and the entire trip. Our level of comfort and care for each other is that of long time friends. Sorry to get so “Hallmark cards” about this but it’s inevitable that after living in close quarters with a small group strong bonds form.

Since I graduated in May, I am especially sorry that I didn’t meet this group of talented and incredible people before yet even more thankful that I had the chance to before the end of my undergraduate career.

20130802-225239.jpg

20130802-225337.jpg

Harrods and Humor

Another day, another fantastic cultural experience. As the program gets dangerously close to the end the days seem to slip by faster and faster but without lacking the excitement nor the novelty of the first day.

The first order of business today was individual discussions for our London project. After getting a better handle on how to approach such a massive city, we were ready to explore. As people finished their individual talk with Howard, we split into groups for the day which makes the underground much more manageable. A group of six of us ventured off to do some shopping and sightseeing at the famed department store, Harrods. The inside of the building was unlike any other department store any of us have seen. It was beautiful and opulent, with a selection of brands that made me feel like I stepped into a Paris Vogue magazine. After getting our fill of browsing and buying, we made our way back to Regent’s University for dinner.

Rather than having our day wind down, the truly exciting part of our Monday was just about to begin. At 7 p.m. the whole group met with Howard and Kathy at Theatre Royal Haymarket to see a play rife with British humor, One Man Two Guvnors. None of us really knew what to expect from the comedy but we were pleasantly surprised by the hilarious performance. The play, set in the 1960s, was about a dim witted man that had to juggle two employers, which created a lot of mishap and confusion for all the characters. The script referenced people like Margaret Thatcher and used British slang for their punchlines and yet it translated well enough for everyone to enjoy it from beginning to end.

Does it get any better?

BEST DAY EVER! This phrase has come up quite a lot during this trip but this afternoon alone was worthy of the merit. The group was privileged enough to be invited to Jim Casper’s home, the creator of Lens Culture. As soon as we entered his home we were welcomed by his wife, Millie Casper’s contagious enthusiasm and mouth melting pastries. The delicious spread and hospitality was enough to impress us but our lesson hadn’t even begun. We took our seat in the beautifully decorated living room (where a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was visible) and a presentation I will never forget begun.

Casper had us introduce ourselves and tell him how we became interested in photography. I was awed that he genuinely wanted to know who we were as photographers and people. The way he engaged with the class became even more involved and personal as he took us through his journey of starting his website and the incredible plans he has for it in the future. The most valuable piece of information that was reiterated was “happiness will only come if you follow your passion.” As cliché as it may sound, Jim Casper and his wife are living proof of this. In my entire college career I cannot recall a class where every single student wanted to make the lesson longer than four hours.

Feeling invigorated from our once in a lifetime experience, the group split into two to tour a close part of the city with Darcy or Howard. I don’t think that we went more than four blocks past where our hostel is but there was so much to see and do that it seemed like we toured the entire city. Howard’s group visited various small photo and art galleries; we walked through the Jewish quarter where Howard pointed out the best and cheapest falafel place; Howard pointed out mini treasures like the Anne Frank park and other small memorial sites; and we ended in Centre de Pompidou, where Howard kindly bought us all gelato and talked a bit about our upcoming project.

In the evening about half of us braved the metro system to the Eiffel Tower. We ventured to the top as the tower sparkled and had an unrealistically perfect end to our day.

Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

Jim Casper’s advice for our success

Jim Casper’s advice for our success

Optic Nerve

Marisol Dorantes

Exhibition: Optic Nerve

Photographer: Arno Rafael Minkkinen

Location: Parc Des Ateliers

Arno Rafael Minkkinen photographs only what the eye can see so that his exhibit lacks any manipulation. The lack of doctoring in his photographs is a an important element to his collection because it adds mystery and interest to his work. Minkkinen creates amazing abstractions with his own body in dynamic backgrounds, creating both a quietness and loudness about his pictures.

Optic Nerve follows a format of black and white prints with a white frame that blends into the clean white walls. The simple way that the compilation is showcased allows the images to flow very easily into and out of each other. The aesthetic of Minkkinen’s work is consistent throughout all the elements in his photographs because everything becomes the subject, the background and the foreground are equally important. I felt that the ebb and flow of the pictures are important to the eerie feel of what look like dislocated and lone limbs.

Minniken shows the solidarity of being a photographer, especially in his auto portraits The connection that he makes with a viewer follows a musical pattern. Looking at the photographs they start out calming and soft, this is especially true of his hand, pen and water photograph. The longer one stares at something as beautiful and still as a hand writing in water, disturbing nuancces begin to emerge, The unnatural stillness of his images start dialogue about the meaning of his work and the process.

I found Minkkinen’s show successful because when I was taking in his work I could not think of anything other than the images in front of me.

Auto portrait of Minkkinen's hand rising from the bottom

Auto portrait of Minkkinen’s hand rising from the bottom

.

La Politique des Images

Marisol Dorantes

Exhibition: La Politique des Images

Photographer: Alfredo Jaar

Location: Église des Frères Pêcheurs

Photographer Alfredo Jaar grew up with a personal familiarity of political intervention in his personal life. His family became exiled from their natal country when dictatorship took power over Chile. The harsh reality that his family lived in influenced Jaar’s work. The politics of images is an exhibition that compiles his views on the immense power and control the media has. Both the images and the setup of the exhibition were crucial in carrying out an powerful performance.

Jaar combined his skills as an artist with his architectural background to transform the cathedral into space that enhanced the tone of his work. The photographs and the harsh lighting became darker and more intense because of Jaar’s choice to black out the windows and the walls. The cavernous ceilings combined with the pitch-black walls and huge installations of florescent wall lights made the space close in and vast at the same time. The result was of being stuck in a well with no way to escape even while you stare at the opening.

The unsettling feeling of the space helped drive the message of his work forward. His images dealt with conflict from his home land of Chile to the Rwandan Genocide to the unsung heroes of human rights. The most unique aspect of Jaar’s work is that he does not take a subject straight on but rather puts it through the prisms of other perspectives. The group of work that stood out to me the most was the set of Newsweek covers with a description underneath of what was happening with the Rwandan genocide. Jaar created a timeline of how long it took the American media to talk about the subject.

Jaar’s entire exhibition was unforgettable. His combination of documentation and conceptual photography worked very well to not only showcase his work but also to question the veracity of the information society is fed.

Au Revoir Arles

Today was the last day of our stay in Arles and it seems to be bitter sweet for us all. The rhythm of Arles was much different than that of our beloved Prague. It took us longer to get used to the slower pace of the south of France but we grew to appreciate it in a different and more photographically focused manner. What the city taught us and our love for it showed in class.

We started the sweltering day at 1 p.m., later than the rest of our class days, but the refreshing air conditioned room in which we had our critiques could not come to soon. Excited to see the bodies of work that we had worked on this week, we attentively viewed and discussed our conceptual projects. With fourteen of us living together we end up seeing bits and pieces of the work we will showcase or the process of getting to the images; somehow seeing the finished products is an astounding surprise every time. After getting through our concept photography projects we had another set of images to discusses. In Arles we also photographed ruins as an assignment, which helped reinforce our lesson on architectural photography from Prague.

Critiques took about three hours to complete and then the rest of our day was free. I took advantage of our last day in Arles to visit one last exhibit in a beautiful church by the Rhône River called Église des Frères Prêcheurs. The exhibition, by Alfredo Jaar,was an intense documentation about genocide, war conflicts and politics. After spending an hour at the small but detailed show, I indulged one last timein the gelato Arles had to offer and ran into some familiar faces.

In the evening, when we all began to gather back at the hostel, Darcy met us with the key to beautiful photographs. A real key though- to the roof. The view of the monuments during sunset was unreal. The fourteen of us eagerly snapped away with our cameras before the light transitioned out of blue-hour and into night. Watching the city changefrom this new perspective was the perfect way to say goodbye to Arles. We will miss the city with its ancient beauty but we are ready for our new adventure in Paris.

Bibi

Marisol Dorantes

Exhibition name: Bibi

Location:Église des trinitaires

Bibi is an exhibition that develops a heartbreaking love story between the photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue and his wife Bibi. Everything from the framing to the images themselves create the drama of their affair and the compilation of images become a movie.

The show begins with images that illustrate Lartigue’s superficial attraction to Bibi and progresses around the wall of a large open cathedral. The framing of the pictures mimic a family album because the subjects are mostly family and friends. The red bar that accentuates the bottom of the exhibition resembles a timeline. The photographs themselves evolve and change format throughout the exhibit in a way that physically demonstrates the progression of their relationship.

Lartigue’s images are beautifully aware of human movement as a general trademark of his work but as the timeline progresses the pictures feel more intimate and the moods change. The romance between Lartigue and Bibi goes from deep love to the total loss of affection. Latrigue began falling out of love when the couple was faced with the death of their second child and he pursued many of his wives friends afterwards. This great change in his life was especially obvious as Bibi starts fading out of his photographs, even when she is in the frame. The less connected the couple become the more smaller the format becomes, to the point where binoculars are set up so that the images are visible. The feeling of the exhibition becomes very voyeuristic. The finality of their relationship is experienced when Jacques Henri Lartigue is no longer taking pictures of someone he has a life with but rather someone that seems like a stranger.

Inside Église des trinitaires, Bibi was exhibited throughout the majority of the wall

The vast space of the church created an atmosphere of fragility around the thin line that was the exhibit

An abstractly framed shot of Bibi at the beach

The beautiful movement and shape created by bodies in action was a common concept in the exhibit

Inside a small room towards the end of the exhibit, the family album idea became much more literal

Photographs seen through binoculars

This exhibition was a wonderful example of how even the most subtle parts of a composition are dire to molding tone and feeling into a body of work.  The red bar underneath the frames explained the context of the pictures. It also worked as a visual aid to simulate a timeline.