dinsdag 19 augustus 2014

Ger van Elk was Here (1941 - 2014) Photography

‘Ger van Elk was here’

In the National Gallery in London there is a full-length double portrait of the Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his bride Giovanna Cenani, painted in 1434 by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. She has placed her hand in his; as they stand before the nuptial bed the two of them are entering into a pact. Between them hangs a convex mirror reflecting these two figures from behind and also two others facing the mirror, one of them probably the artist, for above the mirror is written ‘Johannes de eyck fuit hic’ (Jan van Eyck was here). These words not only give the panel a signature but make it into a document. This must have been the first time that an artist portrayed himself in a designated function.
The Dutch artist Ger van Elk (1941-) has frequently assigned himself a particular role in his work. In various interviews he has always explained this by saying that he himself was the cheapest model because he was always available. In Amsterdam he attended what is now known as the Gerrit Rietveld Academy from 1959 to 1961, when he left for Los Angeles. There he continued his training until 1963, but concentrated on studying history of art at the Immaculate Heart College. After travelling extensively through South and Central America he returned to the Netherlands in 1967. He still divides his time between the Netherlands and the New World.
Ger van Elk was twenty-two years old when the musician and designer George Maciunas explained in a manifesto the choice of the name ‘fluxus’ for his international and interdisciplinary movement. Fluxus was against expensive works of art, marketable art and commercial galleries. Fluxus rejected the attention given to individual artists, and as an antidote to this organised group activities of an unconventional nature. Cologne, Paris, London and Amsterdam were some of its centres in Europe. Among the participants were Wolf Vostell, Nam June Paik, Christo, Cage and Wim T. Schippers. It seemed as if the spirit of Dadaism had been reborn. Schippers and Ger van Elk worked together in 1962. Van Elk did not take part directly in the international fluxus movement but he felt drawn towards its informal collaborative way of thinking and acting. And some art critics rightly saw a
[p. 216]

Ger van Elk, Well Polished Floor Piece. 1969, Photograph, 150 × 150 cm. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

similarity between Marcel Duchamp, forerunner of the Dadaists, and Ger van Elk in their way of thinking and working; for both of them an unconventional theme was more important than the form.
An early example is the cactus that Ger van Elk lathered with shaving soap in 1969 and subsequently shaved clean with a safety razor. Two photos of The Well Shaven Cactus are evidence of this act. The first photo shows the lathered-up cactus with shaving tackle; in the second the tackle has been moved and the cactus stripped of its stubble. The photos do not make a documentary record of the action as a film or a series of photos would do, but by choosing the two important phases, before and after shaving, the emphasis is placed on the absurdist idea. The act itself, which for fluxus is always the main aim, remains, as does the performer, out of sight.
Yet this is not the case in the Well Polished Floor Piece dating from the same year. The photo that celebrates the floor-polishing shows a pair of male legs which tell us Ger van Elk was active here. They stand there like initials, a sign that the work has been completed and can be released, like a signature on a piece of sculpture or a painting. Unlike the group activities of fluxus, they attest to the individual artist's involvement in his work.

In Ger van Elk's oeuvre the photo occupies a prominent, even central position. Originally the photo recorded a single act as in The Well Shaven Cactus, but eventually the medium was to lose its documentary character. Since a photo - however much it may be manipulated - records whatever is there to be observed, it can be said that, as Ger van Elk himself has said, his art aims at a realistic depiction of non-realistic situations.
The photos of The Well Shaven Cactus record a Dadaist-absurdist event, the photo of the Well Polished Floor Piece a domestic activity: the polishing of a parquet floor. In his later work Ger van Elk has often made use of the triangle as a composition form: always seeking to stimulate the viewer's visual faculty, he has developed a preference for unusual frames.
[p. 217]

‘What I am after is a realistic depiction of non-realistic situations’

When Ger van Elk was in Los Angeles in 1971 he was confronted by the aftermath of an earthquake. Under a chunk of asphalt from a road that had been torn open he found a cigarette packet with some cigarettes still in it. This gave him the idea for the two photos of The Discovery of the Sardines. He replaced the cigarettes by sardines because he is crazy about sardines. Emerging from the cracks in the road, the small silver fish at first seem to be emerging from a dark underworld of human society, making a fascinating surrealistic image. In contrast with this enigma from another world, a fast car is speeding by whose chauffeur apparently has no eye for miracles.
The subtitle Placerita Canyon, Newhall, California indicates that the artist has not yet relinquished the documentary character of The Discovery of the Sardines; he is eager to convince us of the veracity of his vision.
So in addition to an affinity to Dadaism Ger van Elk's work has a bond with surrealism, the movement that was to succeed Dada historically. Van Elk's surrealism, however, has no Freudian overtones, nor is it in any way didactic, probably because wonder is its source of inspiration. What Van Elk offers us is not figments of the imagination but, like Picasso, finds and inventions.

In the series The Missing Persons (1976) Ger van Elk likewise presents us with a realistic depiction of a seemingly realistic situation. For example, in one photo from the series five statesmen are standing in a row for the official photographic record of their historic meeting, with an uncomfortable gap between two of them. In another three people are sitting together in overstuffed armchairs, all eyes directed towards an absent party. The photos allude to the way in which under dictatorial regimes figures are removed from official photos when people who have fallen from favour have to be expunged from the nation's memory. Ger van Elk constantly accentuates the

Ger van Elk, The Discovery of the Sardines. Placerita Canyon, Newhall, California. 1971. Two colour photographs (separately framed; 4th ed.), (2x) 65.5 × 55 cm. Collection Becht, Naarden.


[p. 218]

Ger van Elk, The Missing Persons. Conversation Piece. 1976. Coloured photograph, 106 × 124 cm. Collection Nigel P. Greenwood, London.

artificiality of this kind of situation through, for instance, the poses the figures strike, their shiny pomaded hair or the garish nature of their surroundings. The photos are coloured in and sometimes rephotographed to bring home to the viewer how he has begun to take artificiality for granted.
In the series The Adieu (1974) the realism in a non-realistic situation is more complex. The artificiality is already anticipated in the title derived from two languages. A painting may be seen on an easel; on the painting is a path bordered by wintry-looking trees, a cliché for the romantic attitude to nature. The path leads the eye to the horizon as in Hobbema's famous Avenue in Middelharnis (1689), a painting that has been inspiring both professional and Sunday painters of the realistic-naturalistic type for over three hundred years now. On the path in The Adieu Ger van Elk is standing waving goodbye to the viewer, as if about to turn around, walk down the path and vanish. Relatively speaking, he is not much larger than Jan van Eyck in the National Gallery portrait but here he is the only figure doing anything, in fact he is the only figure in the ‘painting’ on the easel, which is foreshortened. If the canvas were to be turned further away from us the figure of Van Elk would also become invisible. The foreshortening emphasises the artist's gesture of farewell which gives the work its title. The ‘canvas’ on the easel also seems to be about to disappear through the heavy blue curtains that ‘hang’ behind it. The clichéd counterfeit of nature, not even painted in oils but a coloured-in photograph, is framed by luxurious textile. The one artificiality reinforces the other. Is art going to disappear together with Van Elk? In any event, with its incongruous frame The Adieuprovides an ironic and whimsical commentary on the artificiality of traditional painting.
[p. 219]

‘The only thing one can do is rebel’

In a 1977 interview with the German art historian Antje von Graevenitz Ger van Elk said that he wanted to reconsider his point of view continually. To this he added: ‘The only thing one can do is rebel.’ These remarks clearly show that Ger van Elk has no intention of pursuing the same artistic course all the time. As his art is chiefly defined by its content, this, if it is to be innovative, requires shifts of view point. In the same spirit, the Flemish avantgarde poet and theoretician Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928) wrote: ‘I get up in the morning with the problem: what can I do now that hasn't been done before.’ The problem of artistic renewal, crucial to every artist, is even more urgent for Ger van Elk because, preoccupied with the subject matter as he is, he is averse to an unchanging, recognisable style. His art, like his theoretics, is essentially dynamic.
In 1980 a large work, Triangle Balance Pull, came into being. Two figures appear to be pulling so hard on a rope that, with the soles of their feet set against each other, they and the rope form a horizontal diagonal. It is a trial of strength between two adult men, in which perspectival lengthening (of the legs) and foreshortening (of the trunk) give the viewer the sensation of witnessing a supreme effort. A formal balance is struck not only by the triangle, the various shades of red for the figure on the left also offset the violet-blue of the figure on the right. It is Ger van Elk who with his full length pits himself against Ger van Elk and in this way holds himself in balance.
By rejecting the support of a consistent style Ger van Elk frequently

Ger van Elk, The Adieu. 1974. Gouache and ink on colour photograph (in irregular quadrilateral frame), 132 × 84 cm. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
[p. 220]

Ger van Elk, Triangle Balance Pull. 1980. Colour photographs and acrylic paint on canvas, 110 × 490 cm. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Ger van Elk, Paysage Saignant (Pressure Sandwich). 1991. Oil on canvas / steel / paintings, 226 × 254 × 50 cm. Collection Liliane and Michel Durant-Dessert, Paris.

arrives at crossroads where he has to decide his direction without the help of a map. This is why he makes a figure of himself, or sometimes even two figures; Van Elk tussling with Van Elk in Triangle Balance Pull or Van Elk debating with Van Elk in The Western Stylemasters (1987). Furthermore, the title of the second work is in deliberate opposition to his desire not to be a stylemaster.
[p. 221]
In 1971 in The Return of Pierre Bonnard, 1917-1971 Ger van Elk displayed the back of a painting with stickers on it showing where and when it had been exhibited. And in 1975 in The Last Adieu, a work from the series The Adieu, he showed three paintings visible from the back only. If the artist was portrayed, the method of presentation made him invisible. In 1991 he took up the theme of the back that becomes the front once more by giving it the form of a sandwich. Since then he has employed the concept of the sandwich in a large number of variations.
The work created in 1991 has the half English, half French title ofPaysage Saignant (Pressure Sandwich). As in The Return of Pierre Bonnard, 1917-1971, it is the back of a painting that is shown to us. Four canvasses have been screwed together, with a number of small landscape paintings wedged between them. Parts of these small paintings protrude out of the sandwich; the screws, one must assume, go right through some of them. The large splotches of paint around the screws create the impression, reinforced by the title, that the paint has been squeezed out of the small wedged-in paintings.
This drastic representation, which almost hurts the viewer physically, takes sides in the clash between serious artists and the numerous unoriginal producers of painted landscapes. The second-rate work is a wan reflection of the great movements and styles; it is the work of the imitators of the masters. There is no question of peaceful co-existence: great art crushes the rest, puts thumbscrews on it, reduces it to the garbage of art history. This is art's blood-stained battlefield.

In the spring of 1993 a large exhibition of new work by Ger van Elk was held in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. The sandwich concept was so central to the exhibition that it was entitled Sandwiches, Pressing, Pushing, and Pulling. The tone was set by three-dimensional objects, varying in size from two to five metres. As early as 1968 Ger van Elk had made three-dimensional objects. In 1977 he told Antje von Graevenitz: ‘I chose film in order to add moving parts to sculpture’ (my italics).
At the Boymans-van Beuningen exhibition photographed and painted men's heads, already familiar to the viewer, were subjected to physical torture

Ger van Elk, Bitch. 1992. Gloss paint and varnish on wood / framed photographs under glass, 74 × 452 × 63 cm (Photo: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1993 exhibition).
[p. 222]
in various objects. In Bitch (1992) it is the turn of the female sex to be tormented. Photos of parts of female breasts and buttocks which, encased in circular pink frames, form an erotic ensemble, join forces to resist the pressure of the broad planks they are wedged between. The danger of being crushed makes the tension even greater than in Triangle Balance Pull. The ‘jaws’ that threaten to snap shut can, as the title suggests, also be seen as a vagina.
Exercise of Love, Hope and Faith from the same year is equally misogynistic. Stabbing red-, white- and black-lacquered women's fingernails protrude between the layers of a circular threedecker sandwich. On the top small pink noses poke through cracks in five places, suggesting that the rest of the bodies have been crushed. The size of the noses indicates that these men were no match for the super vamp. As in Bitch,deeply rooted fears are expressed here.
In his most recent work Ger van Elk depicts realistic situations surrealistically. Here he introduces a new theme: the battle between the sexes, its aggressivity and the traumas which result from it. While his early work already showed a remarkable amount of physical activity, violence has come to the fore since 1991.
In these latest works Ger van Elk is more present than ever. It can no longer be maintained, as he himself has done in various interviews, that he presents himself because he is the cheapest model. His own existence is now what is at stake. Presenting himself in his work has come to mean an almost physical resistance to threatening forces. With this, the rebellion which has been the guiding principle of his work down the years, has taken a dramatic turn.

jose boyens
Translated by Elizabeth Mollison.

Ger van Elk, Exercise of Love, Hope and Faith. 1992. Gloss paint and varnish on wood / ceramic / steel / photographs, 71 × 263 cm (Photo: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1993 exhibition).

Ger van Elk, Nederlands boegbeeld conceptuele kunst, overleden (73)

Ger van Elk. Foto VINCENT MENTZEL/ NRCH 2010
Ger van Elk in 2010 met op de achtergrond twee foto's die van hem zijn gemaakt in 1993 in museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Foto NRC / Vincent Mentzel
De internationaal vermaarde beeldend kunstenaar Ger van Elk is overleden. Dat melden twee galeries die hem vertegenwoordigen. Van Elk was onder meer bekend van zijn conceptuele sculpturen, installaties en beschilderde foto’s. Hij is 73 jaar oud geworden.
Twitter avatarBorzoArt Borzo GalleryIn Memoriam GER VAN ELK. Overleden op zondag 17 augustus. Groot kunstenaar en lieve vriend.16 uur geleden
Van Elk wordt samen met Jan Dibbets en Marinus Boezem gezien als de belangrijkste vertegenwoordiger van de conceptuele kunst in Nederland. Hij werkte met allerlei materialen, waaronder touw, canvas en hout. Zijn kunst is tentoongesteld in het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, het Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago en The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


“Hij was één van de weinige Nederlandse kunstenaars die internationaal is doorgebroken”, zegt redacteur beeldende kunst Sandra Smallenburg. Hij was vertegenwoordigd in internationaal toonaangevende tentoonstellingen, zoals ‘Op losse schroeven/Situaties en cryptostructuren’ in het Stedelijk Museum, ‘When Attitudes Becomes Form’ in de Kunsthalle in Bern, beide in 1969, en ‘Sonsbeek buiten de perken’ in 1971. Smallenburg:
“Vorig jaar was bij de Fondazione Prada in Venetië, gelijktijdig met de Biënnale, een remake te zien van ‘When Attitudes Becomes Form’. Daar zat Van Elk weer bij, samen met Walter De Maria, Robert Smithson en Jan Dibbets.”
Zijn meesterwerk was La Pièce, zegt Smallenburg, een klein, witgeschilderd blokje hout op een roodfluwelen kussentje.
“Hij schilderde het midden op de oceaan wit, omdat de lucht zo zuiver en stofvrij mogelijk moest zijn. Hij maakte het op kruising van twee oceaanwinden. Het was een klein werkje, dat hij later exposeerde op een roodfluwelen kussen onder een glazen stolp, alsof het een diamant was. Het was een reactie op de spektakelkunst van de Amerikanen, zoals Robert Smithson, die in de jaren zeventig zo megalomaan mogelijk werkten door bijvoorbeeld in de natuur kilometers lange kunstwerken te bouwen.”

Foto van Sportive Time Study van Van Elk in het Kröller-Müller. Foto ANP/Ed Oudenaarden


Van Elk was in zijn kunst veel bezig met de kunst zelf. “Ik ben geen fotograaf en een schilder ben ik ook niet”, zei hij in 2012 in een interview met NRC Handelsblad.
“Ik ben geen fotograaf. Een schilder ben ik ook niet, zelfs niet als ik schilder. Ik onderzoek wel vaak de tradities van de schilderkunst. Ironisch zou ik mijn werk niet willen noemen. Ik ben eerder een romanticus. Als ik iets ben, is het nieuwsgierig. Voor sommige mensen lijkt het alsof ik van de hak op de tak spring, maar ik ben streng op wat ik maak.”
Van Elk over zijn meesterwerk La Pièce:
“La Pièce heb ik pas een paar jaar geleden verkocht. Christophe Cherix, conservator van het Museum of Modern Art in New York zag het bij mij op het atelier in Amsterdam en zei: ‘Hé, heb je er nog een gemaakt?’ Hij kon niet geloven dat La Pièce niet was aangekocht door een museum. Een paar weken later kreeg ik opeens bezoek van Evert van Straaten, de directeur van het Kröller-Müller. Hij vroeg wat ik ervoor wilde hebben. Twee ton, zei ik. ‘Dat gaan we organiseren’, zei hij. En dat is gelukt. Ach, mensen zien op het moment zelf bijna nooit wat goed is.”
Van Elk over zijn jeugdjaren in de VS:
“Toen ik twaalf was, was ik een lastig jongetje. Hopeloos. Op school in Nieuwendam wisten ze niet wat ze met me aan moesten. Ik moest een test doen bij het nationaal katholiek instituut voor beroepskeuze. Daar kwam uit dat ik fotograaf of binnenhuisarchitect moest worden. Mijn vader, die toen al lang in Los Angeles woonde, zei, ‘Ach jongen, kom maar naar Amerika, kom bij mij werken.’ Hij werkte in de tekenfilmindustrie, bijvoorbeeld voor The Flintstones. Ik ben inderdaad na een jaar op de Rietveld Academie naar Amerika gegaan, niet naar mijn vader, maar naar het Immaculate Heart College. Dat was een te gekke school, je kreeg les van allerlei rare types. Ik kreeg kunstgeschiedenis van nonnen, maar dan wel nonnen die in Cadillacs rondreden. John Cage gaf er ook les.”
“Ik heb lang tussen Amerika en Nederland op een neer gereisd. Nu ben ik alweer tien jaar vooral hier. Amerika is heel spannend, maar ik heb ook de melancholie van Europa in me.”

Ger van Elk, kunstenaar from Deen van der Zaken on Vimeo.
Een bezoek aan een tentoonstelling in het Stedelijk Museum zou eigenlijk 75 euro moeten kosten, zei Van Elk in NRC.
“Een kaartje voor het Concertgebouw kost 75 euro en het Concertgebouw zit gewoon vol. Maar bij kunst heeft niemand er voor over wat het echt kost. Ik ben een oude VVD’er, een rechtse bal. Ik geloof ernstig in vraag en aanbod. Ik was het wel eens met de bezuinigingen op kunst. Als je er niets voor over hebt, betekent het niets, net als in de liefde.”

zondag 17 augustus 2014

The Shortlist The Unseen Dummy Award 2014 Amsterdam Photography

Unseen and Lecturis have designed a photobook dummy award to showcase the work of exceptional photographers from around the world and to give them a chance to realize and publish their photobook dummy. The Unseen Dummy Award will give the winning photographer an entry into the international photography industry. See also 

a Hybrid Photo Fair / Marketplace / Festival Martin Parr Kadir van Lohuizen Theo Niekus Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam 2013

The shortlist :

  • Jorge Miguel Reis de Almeida & Diogo Bento - Journey [01]
  • Natalia Baluta - After a While




    Shadow Lives - Jon Lowenstein from José Bautista on Vimeo.

  • Lajos József Major -  s=eee
  • David McBride - The Most Beautiful Girl in the World 
  • Karola Mech - It will surely be a good weather tomorrow 
  • Barbara Modolo - HOTEL TV 
  • Ohri Ogi - Line Guide 
  • Stefan Nozomi Ohkubo - Tomato 
  • Projektil - FIXED MUSCLES 

  • Constance Proux - Akkar 


  • Megumi Sato - ENTROPY 
  • Yuki Shimizu - mayim mayim 

On Friday 19 September, the international jury will come together at Unseen to select one photobook dummy as the winner, at the Unseen Dummy Award and Book Launch

Members of the jury include photographer and winner of the Unseen Dummy Award 2013 Heikki Kaski, director of Lecturis Paul van Mameren, Dutch publisher, curator and galleriest Willem van Zoentendaal, founder and owner of Mörel Books Aron Mörel, Librarian and Archivist at the International Center of Photography (ICP) Matthew Carson and graphic designer Sybren Kuiper

donderdag 14 augustus 2014

Photos that do not freeze time Oscar Muñoz. Protographs Photography

from 03 June 2014 until 21 September 2014 Paris

Born in 1951 in Popayán (Colombia), Oscar Muñoz is regarded as one of the country’s most important contemporary artists, whilst also garnering attention on the international art scene. A graduate of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cali, he has built up over a period of four decades a body of work whose images deal with the realm of memory, loss and the precarious nature of human life. Muñoz’s work defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.

“Protographs“ (a term coined to evoke the instant just before or just after that split-second when the photographic image is captured and frozen for ever) presents his major series grouped by theme. These themes poetically and metaphorically juxtapose Muñoz’s own past and the different material states of the image. For example, he combines the dissolution, deterioration or disintegration of the image with the inherent fragility of memory and the impossibility of making time stand still; or the image’s evaporation and transformation with the tension between rationality and chaos in our urban societies. Finally, in the main part of his work, he creates ephemeral images that, as they disappear, invite the spectator to share in an experience that is simultaneously rational and sensual.

Oscar Muñoz began his career in the 1970s in Cali in a period when a whirlwind of cultural and cross-disciplinary activity saw the emergence of a generation of writers, photographers and filmmakers who today play a leading role in the contemporary art scene (with Carlos Mayolo, Luis Ospina, Fernell Franco and Andrés Caicedo to name but a few). At that time, Muñoz was drawing with charcoal on large-format supports presenting a cast of sad and sometimes sordid characters with a deep emotional charge.
The main characteristics of his work emerged at an early stage. These include a profound and tireless interest in social questions, an original approach to materials, the use of photography as an aid to memory and the exploiting of the dramatic possibilities afforded by the play of shadow and light in defining the image. Moreover, the artist developed a phenomenological approach to minimalism by insisting on the relationship between the artwork, the spectator and the surrounding exhibition space.

In the mid-1980s, Oscar Muñoz moved away from traditional artistic methods and began to experiment with innovative processes that created a real interactive exchange with the spectator. This was the time of a radical reassessment of his artistic practices, whether drawing, printmaking, or photography, and a questioning of the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. He abandoned traditional formats and techniques, whilst preserving something of their roots and wellsprings, to investigate ephemerality, highlighting the very essence of the materials themselves and their poetic associations. His use of the fundamental elements – water, air and fire – refers to the processes, the cycles and the transcendental manifestations of life, our very existence and death itself. “My work attempts to understand why the past and the present are so full of violent acts”, says the artist. By choosing to use a diverse selection of media and to apply innovative and unique processes, Oscar Muñoz blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines.

The “Protographs” exhibition showcases a career that has lasted nearly forty years. It presents series of works grouped around the artist’s major themes, starting with his works on paper and his series of large format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal (1976–1981) – bearing witness to his deep interest in social context – and the drawings and engravings that he started making in the 1980s, which marked the relinquishing of paper for an exploration of unconventional materials and processes (printing on damp plastic, the use of sugar and coffee, etc.); continuing with his experiments in the 1990s and 2000s on the stability of the image and its relationship to the processes of memory; and including his latest works (2009–2014), characterised by a continual process of appearance and disappearance, including a new work produced specifically for the exhibition.

OSCAR MUÑOZ: “Protographs” (english subtitles) from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.
Foto’s die de tijd niet stilzetten
De Colombiaanse kunstenaar Oscar Muñoz maakt foto’s die hij niet fixeert. Ze vergaan waar je bij staat. Zijn tentoonstelling in het Jeu de Paume in Parijs is gewijd aan herinneringen. 

Een vriendin vertelde ooit dat ze als ze zich iets wilde herinneren net deed alsof ze er een foto van maakte – dit was in de prehistorie van de mobiele telefoon. Klik zei ze in zichzelf, om in haar hoofd een beeld op te slaan van een Grieks eiland, een zonsondergang, een gezicht. Gezichten onthouden is misschien wel het moeilijkste, juist omdat je ze zo vaak ziet. Als je er geen foto's van maakt, echte of denkbeeldige, kan je geheugen later niet kiezen, niet bevriezen. Je kunt wel iemand herkennen, maar echt voor je geestesoog zien is lastig. Ik heb tenminste een heleboel gezichten waarop ik in mijn geheugen niet scherp kan stellen.
Wie dit vaag vindt klinken, moet naar het Jeu de Paume in Parijs. Daar is een werk te zien dat precies weergeeft wat ik bedoel: Re/trato van de Colombiaanse kunstenaar Oscar Muñoz. Het is een filmpje uit 2004 van 28 minuten waarin Muñoz probeert een zelfportret te schilderen. Muñoz kan goed schilderen, met een paar streken geeft hij geloofwaardig een oor, een neus, een oog, een wenkbrauw weer. Maar helemaal af raakt het nooit, want Muñoz schildert niet met verf maar met water en voor hij zijn kin af heeft, is zijn haar al weer opgedroogd; dit zelfportret wordt door de zon steeds uitgewist.
Muñoz (Popayán, 1951) blijkt in Parijs geobsedeerd door herinneren en vergeten. Zijn hele tentoonstelling in het Jeu de Paume is eraan gewijd. Niet verrassend misschien, als je bedenkt dat bijna iedereen hiermee worstelt, ook in het digitale tijdperk; nog minder verrassend als je bedenkt dat Muñoz uit Colombia komt, land met de meeste politieke ‘verdwijningen’ van Zuid-Amerika. In de catalogus rakelt iemand de letterlijke betekenis van het woord amnestie op; het komt van het Griekse woord amnestia, wat vergeten betekent. De Oude Grieken beboetten soms zelfs iemand die een te vergeten feit toch in herinnering bracht. Nu kennen we het recht om vergeten te worden.
In Fade to White maakt Muñoz zijn werk zelf opeens nogal persoonlijk. Het is weer een korte film waarin we in een witte kamer zijn oude vader zien zitten, in het wit gekleed. Aan de muur achter hem hangt een zwart-witfoto van zijn – naar ik aanneem – al overleden moeder. Een wit gordijn wappert soms in beeld. Af en toe doet de vader zijn ogen dicht. Zou hij dan zo’n denkbeeldige foto nemen? Valt hij in slaap? Of zijn de gesloten ogen een prelude op de dood? Het sluiten van de ogen van een dode lijkt een universeel gebaar, dat in elke cultuur voorkomt. Aan het zien is een einde gekomen. Aan het herinneren ook.

Analoge kiekjes

Muñoz is in Nederland nog niet zo bekend, ook al won hij vorig jaar een prijs van het Prins Claus Fonds en had hij deze zomer op het kantoor van dit fonds in Amsterdam ook een kleine presentatie. Voor de meeste werken op het retrospectief in het Jeu de Paume gebruikt Muñoz analoge fotografie. Soms omdat dit de enige fotografie was die voorhanden was. Muñoz verzamelt de kiekjes die fotografen in de jaren zestig en zeventig op straat namen en die de geportretteerden niet hebben gekocht. Wat een melancholieke verzameling.
Vaak maakt Muñoz zelf foto’s, maar die drukt hij op ongewone dragers af, niet op papier maar op douchegordijnen, suikerklontjes, spiegels en zelfs op water, iets wat onmogelijk lijkt maar Muñoz toch voor elkaar kreeg door op een laagje water houtskoolpoeder aan te brengen. Muñoz fixeert de afbeeldingen vervolgens niet, waardoor de foto’s niet meer doen waar foto’s juist beroemd om zijn: ze leggen niet vast, ze bewaren niet, maar ze vervagen juist. Ze vergaan waar je bijstaat.Protographies, noemt Muñoz zulke beelden, ‘protofoto’s’, die we nu alleen kunnen blijven zien omdat hij hun ontstaan en vergaan digitaal heeft vastgelegd.

Camera obscura

Historisch gezien was het nemen van een foto niet het moeilijkste; dankzij de camera obscura en andere machines was het mogelijk langs mechanische weg een beeld te verkrijgen (reeds de oude Chinezen schrijven daarover). Of denk aan de spiegel, waarover de Romein Apuleius al zei: alle beeldende kunsten leggen het bij het maken van een goede kopie af tegen de „kunstig vervaardigde gladheid en scheppende schittering van de spiegel”. Voor ons is het nu moeilijk voor te stellen, maar spiegels waren kostbaarder dan schilderijen. Zelfs eeuwen later was een goede Venetiaanse spiegel duurder dan een schilderij van Rubens.
Het probleem was deze scheppende schittering te bewaren, vast te leggen. Er werd al lang met allerlei chemische verbindingen geëxperimenteerd om dat mogelijk te maken, bijvoorbeeld door Thomas Wedgwood, voor het Niépce in 1826 lukte om een beeld te fixeren en de tijd te slim af te zijn. Muñoz’ ongefixeerde fotografie gaat dus terug in de tijd, naar het moment waarop dit nog niet mogelijk was, en leert daardoor iets over de hedendaagse fotografische praktijk, waarin juist het tegenovergestelde gebeurt. Er zijn nu, denk ik, meer mobiele telefoons dan spiegels. Zien is bijna synoniem met vastleggen geworden.
De technieken die Muñoz gebruikt zijn niet praktisch meer maar poëtisch, niet meer letterlijk maar figuurlijk. Zo ook in zijn Confronting the image. Voor dit werk in oplage uit 2010 liet Muñoz het eerste portret dat ooit gefotografeerd is, een zelfportret door de Amerikaan Robert Cornelius uit 1839, etsen op een spiegel, waarvan het oppervlak opnieuw niet is gefixeerd. Na verloop van tijd zal de spiegel gaan wolken en niets meer weerkaatsen. Tot die tijd zie je niet alleen jezelf maar ook Cornelius.
Muñoz’ werk bekoort het meest als hij het materiaal waarmee hij werkt ook tot onderwerp weet te maken. De vorm wordt de inhoud. Maar niets is wat het lijkt, ook bij Muñoz niet. Het filmpje van Re/trato wordt bijvoorbeeld versneld afgespeeld; in werkelijkheid duurt het heel wat langer om zo’n portret met water te schilderen en te laten verdwijnen dan de paar minuten die het nu kost. Toch ook bij Muñoz niet alleen ontmaskering maar ook verhulling. Illusies. Alle kunstenaars zijn tenslotte goochelaars. Misschien is kunst vooral ernstig goochelen.
De vriendin die foto’s maakte met haar ogen, probeerde haar herinneringen te sturen. Maar je kunt van tevoren nooit weten wat achteraf belangrijk blijkt te zijn. De achterkant van een krantenknipsel kan jaren later interessanter zijn dan de voorkant. Alles vastleggen biedt geen oplossing, want om dat alles te bekijken heb je een nieuw leven nodig. In dit leven zal er altijd weer een achterkant zijn. Soms haalt een kunstenaar die naar voren. Muñoz maakte een serie korte filmpjes van foto’s, zoals ze op dressoirs en schoorsteenmantels staan, ingelijst en achter glas. Hij filmde wat doorgaans weggedacht wordt: de reflecties in het glas voor de foto. Een televisie in een rivier, een deur voor een oog, een zoon naast zijn overleden moeder. Ook wat gefixeerd is, blijft zo in beweging.


Boven: The Game of Probabilities (2007) van de Colombiaanse kunstenaar Oscar Muñoz
Foto’s uit catalogus Protographies


zaterdag 9 augustus 2014

Errata Photobook Classics Martin Parr: Bad Weather Richard Billingham: Ray's a Laugh Donigan Cumming: The Stage Photography

Books on Books #17
Martin Parr: Bad Weather
Essays by Thomas Weski, Peter Turner, Jeffrey Ladd
Hardcover w/ Dustjacket
90 pp, 9.5 x 7 in.
50 Duotone illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-935004-33-2

Martin Parr's Bad Weather is the debut book from Britain's most world-renown and prolific photographers. Armed with wry humor (and a water-proof camera), Parr captured the social landscape of the UK during downpours, snow storms and the most challenging elements. Published in 1982, Bad Weather has been long out of print and is one of Parr's most sought after books. Books on Books # 17 offers an in-depth study of this important photobook including a new essay by Thomas Weski called Even the Queen Gets Wet. 

Review by Blake Andrews

Martin Parr's Bad Weather is the classic counter example. Unfortunately this is one of those books which is hopelessly out of print and rare. I've never seen an actual copy (maybe a job for Eratta?), but images can be found here and there on the web. 

from Bad Weather, Martin Parr

Parr used an underwater camera with flash, and judging by the photos he needed it. Many of the photos are shot in winter, in dim light, during downpours. It must've been difficult for him to stake out scenes, much less analyze them with a photographic eye. Nevertheless he came up with some doozies. 

Manchester, England, 1981, Martin Parr

I'm not sure how he saw this one. Maybe the photo gods were with him. Who knows, but it works. 

I think part of Parr's lesson is that photography isn't a straight mirror of reality. We always apply a filter. We aim the camera in certain directions and not others, and we shoot at certain times and not others. Which is fine. A filter is a form of vision. But it helps to be aware of that filter, to realize that the choice not to shoot during hurricanes is a conscious one, and maybe wonder what else is being filtered.

Books on Books #18
Richard Billingham: Ray's a Laugh
Essays by Charlotte Cotton, Jeffrey Ladd
Hardcover w/ Dustjacket
108 pp, 9.5 x 7 in.
90 Color illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-935004-35-6

Richard Billingham's Ray's a Laugh is considered one of the most important contemporary photobooks from Britain. Centered around Billingham's working-class family who live in a cramped Birmingham high-rise tenement apartment and his father Ray - a chronic alcoholic - these candid snapshots describe their daily lives in a visual diary that is raw, intimate, touching and often uncomfortably humorous. Books on Books #18 contains every page spread from this classic book including a contemporary essay by Charlotte Cotton. 

Meet the parents By Robert Chesshyre

Richard Billingham's family photographs - all fags and booze and TV dinners - accidentally led to his explosion on to the art scene. Robert Chesshyre interviews the Turner Prize nominee who invites him round to see the mother and father he has made famous

Richard Billingham // Ray's a Laugh from haveanicebook on Vimeo.

Books on Books #19
Donigan Cumming: The Stage
Essays by Robert Enright, Jeffrey Ladd
Hardcover w/ Dustjacket
240 pp, 9.5 x 7 in.
275 Duotone & Color illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-935004-37-0

Donigan Cumming's The Stage is one of the most challenging photobooks published in the last century. Collaborating with his subjects to explore a kind of psychological portraiture, Cumming created a theatre of domestic and institutional interiors peopled by the strange and eccentric. Books on Books #19 presents an in-depth study of this remarkable and little known Canadian photobook with an essay by Robert Enright called The Overwhelming Quotidian: Donigan Cumming and The Stage. 

Donigan Cumming’s Photography of the Absurd

What is going on in these pictures? Is this an unsanitized view of society’s margins — the aging, the sick, the poor, the painfully awkward? Or is this a grotesque fantasy of a photographer-exploiter who pokes fun at other people’s misery? The photographs are incongruous and illogical; something about them is just not right.
The handful of spreads comes from Donigan Cumming’s infamous and rare 1991 photobook, The Stage (Maquam Press). Published in an edition of 600, the work went largely unrecognized until its inclusion years later in Gerry Badger and Martin Parr’s The Photobook: A History, Vol. 2 (Phaidon 2006). The Stage featured 250 jarring, full-bleed photographs across 125 pages — uncaptioned, unnumbered and undated. Though the imagery may have quoted the styles of social documentarians like Diane Arbus, Weegee and the lesser-known Chauncey Hare, the book was a first.
“I was stunned and could not recall seeing another like it,” says Jeffrey Ladd, a founder of Errata Editions, who are releasing Books on Books #19a study of Cumming’s provocative monograph this spring. “It is a difficult work, often funny, and I found much of it offensive. I think it should be known in wider circles.”
Cumming’s art is meant to be challenging. “I want to be vexed, pushed, startled by a book,” he told TIME. “It shouldn’t be set up as too smooth a ride.”
Over the years, Cumming (66), who was born in Virginia and moved to Canada in 1970 in resistance to the Vietnam War  had developed a rather jaundiced attitude toward photojournalism and other “straight” image-making.
“There’s a mythology of concerned photography that revolves around improving things for humans, stopping war and doing all kinds of things that are G-O-O-D,” he says, literally spelling out the word. “At the same time, the people that make this are usually driven by another set of motives, and some of them are not very transparent, and pretty self-absorbed.”
He decided he would adopt the documentary mode in order to expose its fracture points.
Cumming walked the streets and suburbs of Montreal, approaching people he thought looked interesting. He would offer them a picture of their apartment or their pet, and in exchange ask that they pose for one of his own. Motivated by a mixture of curiosity and desire, many agreed.
In their homes, surrounded by their possessions, Cumming directed his subjects into exaggerated, unreadable gestures while highlighting his own presence and the manipulation inherent to all photography with a heavy-handed head-on flash.
He sequenced the work from a distance of 15 feet — the length at which one might stand to view a large abstract expressionist canvas — arranging the pictures on a grid purely based on tonal quality, further disrupting narrative logic.
Cumming says he sought a truth about people by “confronting them as aggressively as possible and pushing them around, tricking them into revealing the secrets of their culture.”
“People act themselves all the time,” he says, “but it is not a theater that is false. It is a theater that leads to insight and a provisional truth.”
Though some were surprised, nearly none of his subjects objected when he asked for permission to release the work. They were comfortable with their roles, as Cumming was with his.
Indeed, he was fine playing aggressive, mean and cold-hearted — which is exactly how many view the photographer when they first encounter his work. Our own pained amusement at this compendium of wrinkles, sagging skin, awkward postures, gap-toothed grins and drool might make us feel complicit in the exploit. Instead, most blame the messenger.
Cumming hopes viewers get past that initial response. “If you leave unsettled and afterwards don’t look at photographs the same way, the next time perhaps you won’t approach them with the same shallowness,” he says. “That’s what’s important.”

Donigan Cumming is a Montreal-based visual artist who uses photography, video, painting, drawing, sound and text in experimental documentary films and multi-media installations.
Eugene Reznik is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and photographer. Follow him on Twitter @eugene_reznik.