As Grace Robertson shared her earliest work and insight with us, she unlocked a portal into the past. As an aspiring photojournalist in the late 1940’s, Grace worked diligently to succeed against all social odds. She enlightened us that it all, “starts with your handshake”. It better be a worthy, strong one in order to get the respect and recognition you deserve. Yet the relationship with our photography must be delicate. Time and time again she would ask herself, “have I got this as honestly done as I can?” This inquiry polished her a much more precise eye, which awarded work publishing in the Picture Post and Life Magazine. She encouraged us to always be curious. Curiosity will grant us the ultimate fulfillment in our lives and our photography.
Asa Johannesson, a photographer interested in the way portraits have been used throughout history, took on the challenge of making new identities and breaking down those that already exist. Interested in gender and self-image, she began researching how portraits had been used throughout history, specifically through the 1880’s. In her first project, Portraits of Her, Asa imitated the classic ‘Wanted’ photos, objectifying women through deadpan, head on and profile photos. We scrutinize these photos, and by inspecting them thoroughly she hoped they would lure us into her quizzical state of mind. During her ensuing development, Asa explored how much of our femininity and masculinity we can decide ourselves. She asked, “When you’re a child, how much space do you actually get to create your own gender?” In her project, “Is this you?” Asa posted a photograph of herself looking for a reply from individuals who believed they had similar features. This interaction exposed her to an unknown audience, filling the distance she once felt between her viewers.
In Asa’s latest project “Belonging”, her energy was intensified by natural landscapes of Scandinavia. She understood identities to be more welcomed in the forest. Through this harmony of branches creaking and wind whistling, this still and quite habitat that accepts even trolls made her question, who are we? And when we look at ourselves, what are we looking at?
In the spirit of focusing on the way we recognize others, and ourselves, most everyone rode the London eye this evening. Sarah described her new experience, “we saw London in a different way. Changing our viewpoint changed my perception of the city.”
As fortunate as we have been to adventure through some of the most recognized cosmopolitan cities in Europe, I must admit that the some of the most revivifying experiences have been far from urbanite.
The Natural History Museum in London is a proud host to the world premiere of Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis, a documentary photographer whose work explores and documents the diversity of our earth. We first walked through Planet South, observing water trickle down the tails of southern right whales in Argentina and gazing into the river valleys of the Brooks Range in the Arctic. We continued through Sanctuaries, Africa, Amazonia and Pantanal and Northern Spaces. Essentially, I trekked through Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Ethiopia in under an hour. We were given the chance to experience a glimpse of Selgado’s connection with the origin and ceaseless formation of our planet and instantaneously we found our own relationship with our environment. We all understand that we are responsible for the care of our planet, but do we actually have the desire and knowledge to protect it? My responsibility has met desire and empowerment in Genesis. Desire, it is a pleasure to meet you. Earth, you magnificent creation, I promise to protect you.
And then we have Stonehenge, an ancient creation surrounded by mystery. With so many questions left unanswered, it is undeniable that this site on the Wiltshire countryside is remarkable.
Exploring the grounds of Lacock abbey and village offered us a true taste of the past. We looked through the famous window where William Henry Fox Talbot created the first negative photograph, marveled at the cloisters and antique furnished rooms, and were arguably the most thrilled to walk the hallways Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint once walked through in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Before leaving this small but rich with history town, we watched the afternoon sunlight shine through the stained glass of the Salisbury Cathedral. History, you are sacred to me, and I promise to protect you too.
Since day one, it has been engrained in us to “be who we are”, but is it wrong to pretend to be someone or something else just for a second? To help push us that one-step further to become an even better “you”? Jim Casper, now the editor and owner of Lens Culture, a contemporary photography magazine, became the successful entrepreneur he is today by pretending to be a journalist. And by pretending, he became. Sometimes, you have to fake it to feel it, which is exactly what Casper did. Instead of being that fan approaching his idols, he contacted his hero’s as a journalist for his ‘magazine’ and had the pleasure of answering most of his queries. Being quite possibly the greatest enquirer I’ve ever met may have also been in his career’s favor.
“What keeps you awake at night?” he asked an artist he once interviewed. How do you even begin to bite into that delicious seven-layer cake?
Casper wanted to talk and learn about photographers and was fortunate to eventually find individuals to pay him to do exactly that. He shares his joy of discovery with other people through his website. Lens Culture’s philosophy is just this – with such constant visual stimulation, you must shock people with your photos. We’re so jaded in this domain where everything gives us an excuse to take a picture. So, shock everyone. Captivate them. Construct that caption that viewers can’t help but believe and invest themselves in. Of course the question now is, is it possible to be surprised or shocked by a photo today? The answer for us today was JR. An activist photographer who began shooting in the suburbs of Paris, printed outsized true and raw photos, and illegally plastered them on plywood throughout the city. He travelled around the world, snapping photos, enlarging them and making political statements along hillsides, trains, neighborhoods, and throughout public venues. Below is an example of his work along the wall dividing Palestine and Israel. Goofy faces of men and women in the middle of turmoil. That is shocking. You have our attention JR. We find truth in you as a source; we are eating up what you are feeding us.
We are all journalists, documenting our own stories, and it is of the upmost importance that we ask the right questions of ourselves and of the people around us. In respect to photos, we should question…
“Why are we addicted to photographs? Are these just a trophy? What do we really value in them?”
Let us start a revolution, Casper stressed, “Why don’t we alter the popular acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) to JOMO (joy of missing out)? Accept where you are, you cannot do it all and you most certainly cannot document it all.” Next to pornography and kittens, cappuccinos are the most shared photos… Really? What is more important, the objects, the pixels, or the experience? We will still undoubtedly instagram that photo early in the morning of the effortless dancing cream in our lattes; but after all, those photos are the reason why we persevere in this hunt for stunning, far from everyday snapshots.
As we poured our gratitude out to Casper for his honesty and wisdom he left us with such a saccharine goodbye, “It’s really lovely to meet people with so much enthusiasm, I’m inspired.” As enthuses, we could not be more inspired to find our exquisite idiosyncratic take on Paris.
Do yourself a favor and check this website out, http://www.lensculture.com/
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Revolution” exhibit in the Espace de Van Gogh introduces us to Sugimoto’s idea that, “There remains, however, a great divide between comprehending the world and being able to explain what we ourselves are. And even then, what we can explain of the world is far less than what we cannot.” When first exploring his photography, I couldn’t comprehend it. I had no scale to relate myself to. As I explored more I realized his photos captured his gaze at the horizons and were rotated 90 degrees. As I walked through another third of the exhibit with my head cocked to the left to better understand the photos I came to the conclusion that I better appreciated the photos when I didn’t quite know where I was nor where I stood. I felt like I was detached from the real world and had entered an alternate universe. Sugimoto described an out-of-body experience in that late spring of 1982 where he watched a sunset and moon rise from a cliff in Newfoundland, he said “I was far above from the earth’s surface gazing at the moon adrift over the sea, while another me—a tiny speck—remained spellbound on the ground.” Looking at his work we were placed far above the earth’s surface along with him. We became bigger than the moon, yet understood that we remained a tiny speck in his exhibition. What an supernatural experience.
Guy Burdin, a fashion photographer who shot for French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Versace and Charles Jourdan offered us the fabulous exhibition “Untouched” in the Espace de Van Gogh. He was daring and radical, two things that cannot be denied my attention. His bizarre fashion photos of the 1970’s with bold concepts, colors, and contrasts enthralled me. It was not until the end of the exhibition that I realized I hadn’t paid any attention to the actual product being sold in his photos. As I read more about him I learned that, “He made it clear as no other photographer before him had done, that we are seduced by the fashion image rather than the product the image promotes.” That he did. He once was quoted, “There is no measure for the infinite Nor time for eternity But I’ll transform beauty into marble That in the blue of the night, of the eternal night Will shine, shine. Immortally.” Near the end of the exhibition a recording of a photo shoot in that blue of the night played on repeat and I found myself mesmerized. In that very moment I watched him turn beauty into marble, those hypnotizing images will never die.
Jacques Henri Lartigue’s “Bibi” exhibition was exhilarating and filled with adoration yet unexpectedly left me with a pit in my stomach. Before entering, he sets the stage with the quote, “And now it is up to you, modest photographs, to do what you can—very little, I know—to tell everything, explain everything, make everything be imagined…Everything, even and above all what cannot be photographed.” Diary, 1931. This exhibition focuses on the 1920’s and Lartigue’s marriage with Madeleine Messager (Bibi), his first wife. The chic and social couple indulged in the vibrancy of the 20’s, which eventually led to Lartigue’s demise ending his marriage in 1930. As he defined it, “A period supercharged with luxury, merrymaking and pleasure.” The exhibition begins with photos of Bibi alongside affectionate captions such as, “And without knowing it, I’d started to really love her.” As we learn that throughout his marriage Lartigue begins to humor other women, the love story starts to deteriorate. Bibi is no longer the main focus in Lartigue’s work, instead new women appear and suddenly you are forced to preface this love story with the word tragic. His last words, “My broken heart only wishes her well” left mine broken as well. I had lived through his photos, felt his happiness, passions, and temptations and came crashing down with him as he said his last words to Bibi. A powerful and honest exhibition that did exactly what he wanted it to, to say what it could.