A project of Hope

/ Tuesday, November 29, 2011 /
                                                                     Untitled ©  Chrissie Smolders

I've been in Brooklyn for almost a month now, shooting for my graduation project. This work is about a girl, Hope York. She lives in Flatbush, a neighborhood down in Brooklyn. It's almost an hour away from where I live. Two weeks ago I found out she lied about her age; she's one year younger than me. That makes her twenty years old. She has a son, Justin. He is nine months old. She was the last of her group of friends to give birth. She's no longer together with the father; her boyfriend is in jail and her father was recently released. 

However stereotypical this may be, Hope is not. She's resilient and responsible. She has a decent job with opportunities. She stays home with her baby every day. Hope is looking at a future.

A Portrait

/ Friday, November 11, 2011 /
                                                                     Geert ©  Chrissie Smolders

This is my brother. When I was younger, a lot of things about him made me jealous. How incredibly smart he is. The large group of friends he has, and the social life he leads. How he makes people laugh with jokes that are just on the edge of being acceptable. He never seemed scared or insecure.

It's only since the last two years that I've really gotten to know my brother. Being able to see through the masks he wears made me realize we're not so different after all. And I caught him naked in this picture. This is my brother.

Loch Ness

/ Tuesday, October 25, 2011 /
Ik kom met vragen, oude vader,
ik vraag een uurtje van uw tijd
en waag me in ‘t koude water
van ons beider kindertijd.

Mijn eigen kroost is meegekomen,
zie eens hoe u op hen lijkt!
Ik wil u mijn kinderen tonen
zodat u mij als u bekijkt.

U moet nog wensen hebben, vader,
ik wil meer dan een ademtocht
iets dat u heeft bewaard voor later
omdat het toen niet kon of mocht.

Schudt niet met uw rimpelige hoofd,
het is een angstkreet die u hoort,
als mijn vader van mij is geroofd
ben ik de laatste van mijn soort.

Ik had nog vragen, oude vader,
maar u strijkt op de bodem neer.
Hier laat ik mijn rouw te water,
uw oudste zoon, de oudste van het meer.

Loch Ness, Geert Smolders

Commemoration

/ /
                                                                                          Untitled ©  Chrissie Smolders

Last time I visited my grandparents, I wandered about the house and secured some of my memories on film. This picture was taken in the attic; it was the main playroom for the grandchildren. When playing with my nieces, I'd pretend to be a race horse and run around on the carpet. The same carpet still lies there, after almost a decade. I haven't seen them in years.

Until recently, I never really felt like my camera could comfort me and be valuable to me in a different way. I'd read about photographers, saying that their camera got them through a difficult time. Now I know what they mean. In ten days I'll be back in New York, and I'll be there for ten weeks. It's what I have been looking forward to for months; so much so that I sometimes forgot to be in the present. But there's a chance of losing something back home. Because of that, I feel a tremendous need to capture everything that I'm afraid might go away. It's worth wondering though, whether I should spent those hours clinging to material scenes that mean so much to me. Maybe I should just be with someone very consciously.

This is me

/ Monday, October 24, 2011 /


Can you get closer to me?
What does this crop tell you that the larger framed photo doesn't?
Is there more access to me?


For my fellow Dutchmen;

/ Tuesday, October 11, 2011 /
Kijk allemaal eens op Besloten Kring.
Een website met enkel tekst, die zeer te waarderen is. Te vinden zijn verhalen, gedichten en overpeinzingen, geschreven door mijn broer Geert Smolders, en zijn talentvolle kornuiten. Ik laat de woorden voor zich spreken.

nu word je nooit meer aangesproken
laat achter wat een ogenblik vermag
en vermaak jezelf onafgebroken
tot wereldse confectie van gezag


ik beloof dat ik je niet zal zoeken
noch je gezicht zoals het is verspreid
door strak bijeengebonden boeken
als aanklacht tegen de onenigheid


volgens jou hebben we niks verloren
aan gemene stemverheffing en is
ons vriendschapsideaal onaangedaan
lichamelijk zichtbaar perfect bevroren
verstilde geliefde vriend tot kennis
nu zijn we vreedzaam uit elkaar gegaan


Sonnet voor de naamlozen, Geert Smolders

Hair!

/ Saturday, October 8, 2011 /
                                                                                    the Hairpiece ©  Chrissie Smolders

When we came to visit her last time, Hope was still doing her hair. During the two months I was working with her, I've seen her with approximately five different hairstyles. It's quite amazing what it did to her appearance. It's almost like a continually shifting identity. I will be documenting this more closely when I go back this winter.

Or, maybe I should watch Good Hair! It seems like a fun movie.

A Soft Spot

/ Tuesday, October 4, 2011 /
                                                                             Polar Bear  ©  Scarlett Hooft Graafland
Last week I went to visit Huis Marseille in Amsterdam. The photo museum at present has the work of Scarlett Hooft Graafland on show, who is a sculptural landscape artist and photographer. Her photos are often surrealistic and draw you in with their soft colors while they touch on contemporary and environmental issues.

This specific image made a big impression on me when I saw it. The various shades of grey make it a very dramatic image, but those bare legs sticking out can't help but make you smile. Now, you may not be surprised to learn that that polar bear is Graafland herself. In an interview I read that it was -25°C (which is -13°F) at the time. Seem cold? Please. Forget about worrisome practicalities and insecurities about relevance for a while, and do as Scarlett Hooft Graafland does: "Sometimes I just get an idea and I think it's so great. And it just has to be made somehow."

Ideas

/ /
Do you know the feeling when you suddenly come up with a plan of genius? When for a short moment you gasp for air, your body gets all hot and tingly and your thoughts start tumbling over each other?

It happened to me when I was riding the train back to Brooklyn. The most exciting plan dawned on me; I should start writing about people I saw on the subway, and afterwards take their portrait. The subway fascinates me endlessly; Wall Street members next to mumbling drunks and discontent hipsters. The environment they're in is so natural to them that they seem able to create their own comfort zone. I started to carefully watch people, and let loose my imagination about them by whatever they were factually doing. I started to write little bits and pieces.
But I couldn't gather enough courage to actually take the portraits. I'm not sure what they should look like. Should I show their faces? Or only details? What is left to the imagination and interpretation of the viewer? The possibilities are never ending.

However incomplete now, I wanted to share a piece of something I wrote.
-------
There's a young man sitting across from me on the E-train. He's swaying his head on the rhythm of his song, while his fingers animatedly follow the spitting of the lyrics. The shadow of his cap increases the darkness of his face and I look at his dirty, white sneakers. They tap at the slow bass while his lips mimic the words of song. Resting his head on the metal bar on the side of his seat, he lacks every regard for his surroundings.

He got off at west 3rd street and I hesitated to follow him. I thought maybe he had seen me watching him and writing. At the last possible moment I got out and caught him walking to the train towards downtown Brooklyn. As I was a few steps behind, he looked back at me. I stopped. He walked on.
-------

Family Photos

/ Wednesday, September 21, 2011 /
Yesterday I went to visit my grandparents with my father. When we arrived, I was the first to go through the garden and step through the back door. My grandparents were watching the Queen giving her annual speech and we made ourselves comfortable at the dining table, with tea and cake. After a while my grandmother pushed an antique leather case my way and told me to open it.
A big smile appeared on my face.


We looked at every little print. 
My granddad looked at them through a magnifying glass.



This is my grandfather when he was about my age. He was supposed to become a butcher, like his father. Instead, he married my grandmother and made his own dreams come true.

Conserving memories

/ Wednesday, September 14, 2011 /
This is my grandfather. He's eighty one years old. Together with my grandmother he lives in a small town, in a house they've lived in for thirty two years. Through the course of time nothing in that house has changed much. All the memories I have of spending time there have been conserved in time quite well. There's still the tiny room upstairs in which my grandfather tried to teach me how to paint. In the living room, the sofa still prickles my bare legs. The same heavy carpet lies on the dinner table. Every hour, their longcase clock plays a tune that's been etched in my mind.

I used to sleep over regularly when I was a child. But when I became older I stopped visiting them as much. Their house lost it's appeal to me. At this point though, I can see them getting older. And I want to know about their history. I want to hear the stories of their youth and see the photo albums they've kept all these years.
And through documenting them, I can keep what is there now.

                                                                              ©  Chrissie Smolders

                                                                                                       ©  Chrissie Smolders

                                                                                                        ©  Chrissie Smolders

Contemplation

/ Saturday, September 10, 2011 /
At present I'm fascinated by light. The way it plays with color and form. How easily something ordinary can be transformed, just by being illuminated. When a particularly beautiful display of light catches my eye, I always hurry to catch it. Time passes quickly and sunlight is fickle; I may never see anything like it again. 

                                                                                The Front Yard  ©  Chrissie Smolders

Now I can easily admit I'm afraid to lose. Losing in the form of material things, but much more than that I fear of losing memories, feelings even. Everything in life constantly changes and as a human being there's not a whole lot I can do about that. But as a photographer I can try to capture that which I think is worthwhile, and I can look back and remember.

Sixty-Nine Cents

/ Wednesday, August 31, 2011 /
I used to go to a thrift store in Brooklyn. Within their extensive inventory was cheap, worn-out furniture and second-hand clothing. And next to the coats and shirts that just weren't vintage enough to make it into a hipster's closet, there was a big cabinet with drawers full of buttons, keys and beads. I loved going through all the useless little things, wondering where it all came from. Week after week I'd see the same old clothes not even the coolest of Williamsburg wanted to buy.

Naturally what I was most drawn to was a big wooden bin filled to the brim with negatives and photos. I remember the feeling of sheer bliss upon spotting it, and my excitement when I came home with a selected few. My roommates didn't exactly seem to understand what the fuss was all about but I loved going through this big pile of memories. So many thrown away little suggestions of a life someone once had. I would look at the pictures and wonder where they all came from.

I'd imagine someone holding a shoe box filled with photographs, taking it with them on the subway or in the backs of their cars. Maybe they took them out of useless old family albums and never thought twice about who these framed people were. I find it a little sad, these photos with no origin. Given no more worth than sixty-nine cents. But how I loved to rummage through, move aside and lift up piles of photos to find the ones that most fascinated me. Especially the ones that had dates or descriptions written on them, ones that tell me I bought a portrait of Jay Habbart.


Why anyone would want to get rid of a gem like this is beyond me. It looks like it was taken at the back of the house, and Jay here was stuck in his Sunday clothes. I imagine his mother, urging him to stand up straight and smile at the camera. Or maybe it would have been his dad, someone enchanted by photography. Someone who might have understood the power of photography. Someone who chose to write down a date and a name. So as not to forget.

More on Hope

/ Wednesday, August 17, 2011 /
`
                                                                                        Untitled ©  Chrissie Smolders

This photo is from the last time I visited Hope. This time I brought a softbox with me and the best photographer around, Jordan Gomez. He helped me set the whole light-thing up and made getting what I wanted possible. I came to photograph Hope in her home, the home she is bound to by her young son, sweet baby Justin.
The apartment is small, and always kept warm and dark. The curtains and blinds are never open, and the last time I tried to get them out of the way everything came crashing down. So I had to try a different approach. This was actually the first time I used artificial light, as I never really trusted it to give me a natural look. But it really didn't disappointed and I am very happy with the outcome.

I am aware though that these pictures may portray something other than what I was going for. Without the story behind it, you may rather quickly think that I was having a session with an escort-girl (to put it nicely). In a room where the bed stands next to the crib. Nice. What I was actually going for was, in short and simple, this: Hope is a young girl, twenty years old, that leads a regular teenage life. Which involves a lot of friends, dressing up and going out. Now that she has her baby though, she is bound to this one place. So I chose to shoot her in the outfits she used to wear from her "former life" in the life she leads now. To create some sort of contrast. Naturally there's more to the story. And even though this might be something else in effect, it most certainly is not a bad thing. It's also not an insult to Hope, so if you're reading this Hope, do not be offended. It's merely an observation that outsiders might have. And it may very well be more interesting than what I was aiming at.


                                                                                          Untitled ©  Chrissie Smolders

Even though I didn't think about it at the time, I find the idea quite interesting. Seeing as how Hope, and many girls with her, put provocative photos of themselves on the internet to share with others, I may not be as far from the truth as I first thought. This is not to say that I want to portray Hope as a prostitute. But I am interested in seeing where the borders lie between consciously portraying girls like this as opposed to them making self-portraits in provocative positions.

PS. As soon as I can work in school-environment again, I will replace these pictures with the ones I can edit on calibrated screens.

At the End of Summer

/ Monday, August 15, 2011 /
As far as photography goes this summer, I have not met my goals. I don't like making excuses for myself, even though I have plenty (valid ones too!). I'm sorry I didn't do what I wanted to. Fact is though, school starts in a week and I am graduating this year. I want photography to take up a bigger space in my life than it does now, and it should. This whole summer has been about personal growth, which is fine. But this blog was meant to be about photography and as much as I like to be personal, I'm going to write more about that instead of digging into myself all the time.

All the photographers I've come to love inspire and intimidate me. I know I've grown so much this year, and I'm very curious to see where I'll be in five years. I wonder where and what I'll be. At this point I'm living the dream I had as a twelve-year old; getting into art school and studying to become a photographer. Now, within ten months, I'll be there.

I've been scared a long time to call myself a photographer, and I still am. When is one a photographer? What are the requirements? Am I one when I have my diploma? I'm not sure. I guess I won't be one until I say so. Which I should do.
So, here goes: I am a photographer!


This self-portrait I made in our bathroom. I just came out of the shower and I liked the way our mirror had fogged up. So I grabbed my Rollei and took a quick shot. After I scanned it, I left the photo mirrored; it's actually as if you are looking at me from out of the mirror. I look vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. But the light coming over my shoulder is promising. It's like the future is out there and it's waiting for me to arrive. And I'm going to enjoy the ride over.

Chuck

/ Friday, August 12, 2011 /
Last Tuesday I finally got around to scanning the negatives that had been lying around for a while. Most of them were photos I made close to my time of leaving Brooklyn and they really took me back. It's been almost eight weeks since coming home, and living here ain't so bad. Sure, the partying went down with 75%. Plus the move to my parents went smoothly (I never slept at my own place again) and, being the cool kid that I am, I spend most of my time at IKEA. Working and serving, in yellow and blue. But at least I'm making money, to pay off the debt with my parents so they'll loan me a new sum to get out of here..

In the meantime I'll entertain myself, and hopefully some others, by reminiscing about the past.

                                                                                                Chuck ©  Chrissie Smolders

This fine man I met on the streets of Bushwick. I was out with a friend and the Rollei, and spotted sailor-boy across the street. Like that time on the bus, I hesitated but knew I had no choice but to go after him. He just looked so peculiar with his hat, and the little wooden toy train. Dressed in all white with nothing but black accents. Incredibly smart. He was taller than me too, which really is quite tall, and he was walking away from me with big steps. I shouted something to my friend, ran across the street and tapped him on the shoulder while trying to look decent after about 10 seconds of heavy exercise.

He didn't mind me taking a couple of photos, but was giggly and nervous the whole time I had my camera aimed at him. So much even he made me feel a little uncomfortable. But at least it made him laugh and I was happy.
However insecure I can be about asking someone for a portrait, it always makes me feel invincible. It's like a rush to the head, a drug that lasts for the shortest time.
I love how something so simple can make you feel so amazing.

P.S. Check back soon for exciting images and news on Hope, among other things!


EDIT: As a friend pointed out, he is wearing a 1950's milkman suit. Amazing indeed. It also explains what he's holding in his hand, which appears to be something to put the glass bottles in. Nice!

Boys, boys,boys!

/ Tuesday, August 2, 2011 /
                                                                                                       ©  Me!

What's not to love?

The Future

/ /
                                                                                                    ©  Chrissie Smolders

I was taking a stroll through Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one afternoon. It was probably the first   time I was outside that day; often that happened to be around three or four pm. I always thought that to be quite scandalous, getting out of the house that late. But on this particular day, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have met this old lady.

Though I didn't actually meet her, of course. I happened to see her walking down
the road, and I ran to a spot where I thought I could take a good picture. While sneaking in two shots, hoping she wouldn't see me, I felt slightly guilty. It was almost as if I was using her, and the way she looked. In fact, and everybody is aware of this, I did use her. We all do. I'm a photographer, and I saw an interesting scene which could possibly make a nice photo. Even so, maybe because I have a soft spot for old people, I wish now I would've talked to this elderly lady.

I think that makes a nice resolve, talking to strangers. Who doesn't like meeting new people? Besides, the elderly always have stories to tell. Stay tuned for more.    

A Soft Spot

/ Sunday, July 31, 2011 /
                                                                    ©  Alessandra Sanguinetti

This is a piece included in Sanguinetti's work The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams. The whole piece of work is amazing, but this photo claimed a permanent place in my memory immediately. I love how the light brings the little girl and the goat together, in being. The way the shadow of the goat's ear defines the light that brightens it's eye is perfect. The girl must have had something in her hand to keep the animal interested, though how it holds it's heads looks natural. At the same time I like to think of them as having a special human/animal bond; I've never met a goat that is so cuddly. 

I wonder how symbolic it is that it is specifically this goat, to be embraced by the girl. With it's big horns it could be a representation of evil, a devil in sheep's (goat's) clothes. Personally, I've never trusted goats. I see nothing in their eyes.

Red Lights Flashing

/ Wednesday, July 20, 2011 /
Every week is in it's own phase of high or low. I feel like a tiny ship riding high waves of an angry ocean, sailing towards the horizon. But every time the storm clears, I think I've reached my destination, and I drop my anchor. And every time clouds gather and the sky turns grey, I get tired. Tired because I've fooled myself into thinking I was there, again and again.

                                                                              Dog days, Bogotá ©  Alec Soth

I meditate. Eighty-five percent of the time, I meditate twice a day, for twenty minutes. Sometimes more, if my blind eyes don't see the red lights of our silent alarm flashing. Sometimes less, if I get up too late.
Saturdays are free. On Monday I have a class that teaches in Zen Meditation.
I'm not going to explain what one does when they practice this, but I will say I've been struggling lately. I have a hard time focusing. A hard time to be strict towards myself, and keep counting. And now the twenty minutes become a frustration, a disappointment, instead of a joy.

One of the best things about it is, though, that twice a day you get the chance to start over. To try again.
When does that ever happen?

So, I will not be angry with myself for feeling like this tonight. 
Tomorrow is a new day.

Ongoing story

/ Saturday, July 9, 2011 /
I want to write more about Hope. The last time I visited her was two weeks before I would leave, and I promised to her that I would see her again before I got on the plane. And I thought I really would. I really wanted to. But somehow, when in the last week my best friend was at my side, I never had the time; or took the time to make the effort. Even though I was all tied up in being with my friend from home, being with the friends I made in Brooklyn and accepting the fact I actually was going to leave, I felt incredibly guilty about it.
The guilt stopped me from contacting her sooner than I did, a couple of days ago. But when I finally did, the way she responded made me realize again what an amazing person she is. Hope has a lot of love in her heart.




These are some of the photos I made later on. I wanted to try and do something else than what I normally do, which is being the fly on the wall; nothing more than registrating with my camera. This time I took control and created the scene myself (except for the one with the baby, Justin was actually sleeping there).
I'm quite happy with the results so far, but the project is far from done.
Actually, this may be the first time I mentioned a project... More about that later.

As far as Hope goes, the story does not end. We are still talking and I have no doubt about seeing her again. Just as I have no doubt that I will return to Brooklyn, New York, and create some sort of life for me.


P.S. My 11" laptop is not calibrated, which means the photos may not be a 100% in tune. I did however buy my own Rolleiflex. Happy face!

Thinking Back

/ Monday, June 27, 2011 /

Regretfully, it has taken me a while to write a new blogpost.
The last few weeks in Brooklyn were amazing, but it still felt like it wasn't enough. Ofcourse, the time spend would never have been enough; and time flies when having fun. Meeting one's soulmate in a city across the ocean and then having to go back home doesn't make a goodbye any easier, either. I'd known leaving was coming up since I first arrived, but when it was finally there it felt unexpected, and unreal. It's not that I have any doubt about coming back to America. But after having such an amazing time I very much resisted being back home.


We took off on the plane on Sunday evening, and arrived at Amsterdam on monday morning. After sleeping through the day and drinking with my brother at night, I had to start afresh on Tuesday. I had an important critique coming up on Friday, which helped me to stay busy during the day - while skyping kept me busy at night.
I was completely drained after my presentation, but at least I knew I did well. I took the weekend off to regain some strength and now a whole week has passed.


Plans are being made about my return, and in the meantime I'm moving back in with my parents to save money. If that ain't radical, I don't know what is!

P.S. I miss you.

Home away from Home

/ Tuesday, June 7, 2011 /
The date of me leaving this continent is getting closer and closer.
It is not something I look forward to; my friends and I have even decided not to bring it up. When we do talk about it (quite occasionally), I sigh and they try to convince me to just not leave, ever. I believe they are planning on stealing my passport and duct taping me to the stairs..
Even though the idea sounds very appealing, I know my old life is waiting for me to be picked up and lived again.

It really does feel like my old life. Naturally I want to see my friends and my family again But the thought of going back to my own place, where I live alone, scares me. I'm spoiled by the days and nights spend with others, and this was a very happy way to live for me. Besides that, going back to work and and meeting with the responsibilities I used to have is not a thing I look forward to at all.

That being said, I am ever so grateful for all the people I've met and everything I have been able to learn here. I do feel like in a lot of aspects, I've been able to better myself. This may have cost struggle, but I will benefit from it for the rest of my life. Although I suppose the actual test is still to come back in the Netherlands, I look forward to proving myself with my graduation project. Even if not to anyone else but myself.

After graduating next spring, I plan on coming back to the United States. I never expected this country to appeal to me so much. I want to see everything there is to discover. Maybe I'll have my driver's license, and I will drive my own route through the states. Maybe I'll settle in a city that's not New York. Maybe it really is the country of endless possibilities.
What's sure is that if I'll ever be homesick,  it will be when I get back home.

Blessed

/ /

I met him on the bus a couple of weeks ago. I purposely sat down two rows behind him and stole some glances while listening to him talk to a lady in front of him. I kept thinking I would never forgive myself if I didn't take his portrait.

I thought of getting off the bus when he would, but I kinda' wanted to go home and wasn't sure he would let me take his picture anyway...
When I clicked open the viewfinder on my Rollei, he looked back at me and said: 'Wow. That's one oldschool camera, isn't it?'.
He smiled at me. We talked, and he let me take a couple of photos. I asked him about the headband, and he told me that he just started a new brand called Blessed Addiction. He'd put all of his money in it, but he told me it was hard to set something up.

He had the friendliest smile. Under his headband, there was a portrait of the devil.

Nightlife

/ Thursday, June 2, 2011 /
I sometimes visit a friend of the family who lives here in New York. Each time while walking from Union Square to her place, I suddenly realize where I am.
It always makes me so happy. I look up at the sky, past the towering buildings and the many windows behind which New Yorkers live their lives. Somehow the route does something to me.

Walking back in the evenings, I saw many beautiful things in the dark. Whatever scenery you're used to during the day, at night it always seems to change into something more. Streetlights seem to draw you in while shadows are continuously shifting. A sense of possible danger makes you more aware.
You start to see things.


Hope

/ Tuesday, May 24, 2011 /

For the last 5 weeks I've been working with Hope. She is 20 years old, born and raised in Brooklyn, and almost three months ago she got a little baby boy named Justin. Except for our age we haven't got a whole lot in common, but the relationship we do have goes beyond photographer and subject. I genuinely feel for this girl, and I can tell Hope is happy with me spending time with her. She is honest about her being lonely. Her friends don't live nearby, and she doesn't like to go out. Her apartment is always dark and tropically hot when I arrive, filled with old furniture and knick knacks from the lady she rents the place from. 



Hope told me she wants to be a nurse in a psychiatric ward and she wants to travel, to Haiti and South-Africa. She wants to go back to school and get into college. She knows that this all is going to be hard to do now that she has a child, who is everyone's first priority. She feels forgotten as the young woman that she is, one that still needs care from the people around her.

The second time we met, Hope walked me back to the bus stop. We talked about how long we would work together, and she said that she thought it was going to be hard for her when I'd leave to go back to Holland. I was amazed by this girl, who apparently is so touched by someone paying attention to her. I wish I could help her more. I wish I knew how to. Even if I don't really make a difference, I hope that however possible, I leave a trace of love and attention behind.

Trine Søndergaard/Monochrome Portraits

/ Thursday, May 19, 2011 /




Trine Søndergaard is an amazing Danish photographer who I just discovered via Landscape Stories. I was honestly blown away by her Monochrome Portraits; seeing creative and experimental work like this inspires me so much. What I especially love about her work is that it's so diverse. Her statements and the interviews with her are also very much worth reading. 
I am going to be more adventurous from now on..

PHOTOGRAPHY NOW

/ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 /
Even though the NYPH’11 ended sunday, I wanted to write something on the main show curated by Elisabeth Biondi and Enrico Bossan.  The show was called PHOTOGRAPHY NOW : Engaged, personal and vital. Within this context, Biondi and Bossan each curated their own show.
Within the context they created I think the work fit well, and I could see that they tried to have diverse subjects. But I was a bit disappointed about the space they used for the large amount of work shown. I like photos to have space. It creates more weight and lets you consider the work without something else being in your view. Sometimes I was confused as to what belonged to whom, and the statements not always being in the right order didn’t help. The statements and the nametags were also just pasted on the wall, and some were curled and wrinkled. I feel that for such an event in NYC, they could’ve tried a little harder to make everything look tidy.

For each show, I will talk more about one photographer that impressed me the most. 
The show Elisabeth Biondi put together was called Subjective/Objective. For it she chose 10 photographers who each made documentary work through their personal vision. In Biondi’s statement about the show she says the following:

'As images can no longer surprise by discovering unknown territory photographers venture into a more personal visual language. From the more traditional approach which strives to show the world in an objective way to a more contemporary subjective engagement'.

While I disagree with her saying that there is no more unknown territory to explore, I think it’s a step forward to establish documentary photography in a new, contemporary way. For as far as the discussion about documentary and objective/subjective goes, I will say right now that I don’t believe in objective photography. For me, documentary photography has always been subjective.
But I love to see photographers venture out and experiment with new ways to make a documentary.
What I liked about the show was that it was clear that each photographer had chosen a subject that they felt close with. The personal aspect certainly did show. And I could see how some experimented with the medium, like Balazs Gardi who took all of his pictures with the iPhone 4, using the Hipstamatic app.


 © Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines, with her project ‘My Brother’s War’, researches her brother Gary’s history of life and death. Gary spend two years in the Vietnam War and came out with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Us Veteran’s Administration labeled him 50% disabled and ten years later Gary took his own life. Twenty-five years later, in 2004, Hines started the search to retrace Gary’s footsteps.
Hines used his letters and photos as a guide and they make for an important part of her work too.
I like the way she incorporated existing footage in creating something new, and how something a small part of her is visible in the photos. Her presence, by having herself visible in the photos, makes it even more personal and touching.

The other participating photographers were Richard Mosse, Martine Fougeron, Irina Werning, Ethan Levitas, A Yin, Alejandro Chaskielberg, Stefano de Luigi, Balazs Gardi and Carolyn Drake.

Bossan’s show was called Hope: Between Dream and Reality. He chose 14 young photographers who impressed him with their ability to capture the most essential parts of life. The work ranged from the Dwarf World Games, to Anorexia, to the harsh reality of violence in Juarez, Mexico.
In this show there were a couple of photographers that really caught my attention with their work, like Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse with their series about Ponte City in Johannesburg, South Africa. They had larger than life prints with beautiful portraits and amazing views of the trashed building. Matt Eich’s project Carry Me Ohio also lingered with me after I left. It’s about the region that struggles with the problems that inevitably arise when poverty strikes.

© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

© Matt Eich
But the one photographer that I really loved was Sean Lee, from Singapore. He used the medium to affect him and his family in a way they haven’t experienced. He wants to be changed by what he does. Through photography he could make his family touch each other, make them laugh together by doing crazy things for the camera. Lee says that “photography allows him to confront his reality in a manner that, hopefully, gives him a little more tenderness and passion in life”.
If that’s not a beautiful goal, I don’t know what is.


 © Sean Lee
In the exhibition, five photos were shown. When I was over there on the first day of the show, there was a little cardboard box on a pedestal. In the box was the complete work and  I am really glad I was able to see it, because when I went over there on the last day, it wasn’t there anymore. With every photo he wrote a little something about the scene, or something about him or his family. Turning the camera towards your family is not a new thing, but the tenderness and development of his family members was visible and Lee created his own language in doing so.
I went around the block to ask people if they knew where I could get it or if they had more info, but nobody really knew what I was talking about. I hope I can somehow get my hands on one and write a more profound post about it.

The other photographers in the show were Olivia Arthur, Peter van Agtmael, Shaul Shwarz, Margo Ovcharenko, Clémence de Limburg, Ali Taptik, Andrea Gjestvang, Andy Spyra, Ben Lowy, Cia de Foto and Simona Ghizzoni. 

Recently Acquired

/ Monday, May 16, 2011 /




Two Aperture lectures

/ /
This weekend I went to two Aperture talks at St.Anns Warehouse, as part of the NYPH’11. On Saturday it was Penelope Umbrico, Sunday I saw Yann Gross.
At both talks I arrived slightly hungover and not in the best mood, but Umbrico and Gross managed to give me some of my spark back in less than an hour.
The talks were a pleasure to attend. Umbrico and Gross talked enthusiastically about their work and made the 45 minutes fly by.

Umbrico is an artist that uses found footage for her work and reflects on our (consumer) society. Her new book Photographs just came out, and in it is collected work from over the years. An interesting body of work included is Suns (From Sunsets) from Flickr, for which she collected all the photographs from Sunsets on Flickr. After cropping them, she places them in a grid. The photos all become similar and indistinguishable from each other, which is important for what she tries to reflect on. The collected photos erase all authorship and make them and their photographers part of something that goes beyond individuality. It made me think about us, the people, all having some sort of collective mindset.

 
Suns of Flickr © Penelope Umbrico

This process of repeating appears in all of her work. The way she uses found footage and makes it into something that is all hers, but still readable and recognizable is something that I applaud. Having more artists reflect on our great consumer society is never a bad thing, and Umbrico does it well.

Yann Gross is a photographer from Switzerland. He started the talk by introducing his country and the things we know it for (dirty money, chocolate, mountains). By doing this he made fun of his country but also made clear that, behind a first impression, stories lie that are waiting to be told. Gross tells these stories, in his own subjective way. What I love about him and his work is that a lot of it is made in his own country. This is not particularly unusual, but the way he keeps his work up close and personal counts for a lot. It doesn’t however, make for the quality of his work.


Benny Muganga © Yann Gross

Kitintale is a large body of work Gross made in Uganda. It is a beautiful and unique documentary about youth in the town of Kitintale, who developed their own skateboarding culture to help them overcome boredom and poverty.
After the talk, somebody in the audience asked Gross if he thought that he had helped them by bringing a Western culture into their lives. Gross first made clear that the kids knew about skateboarding long before he got there, and then spoke about the dreams and longings of the youth to have a certain life. They want to be acknowledged as pro’s, they want to challenge other professional teams, they have dreams of a better life. Other than having an eye and an ear for this, Gross has become good friends with the people he worked with, and that is a special thing to me. He’s not afraid to become involved and to make a difference.

All together the talks were very enjoyable and once again made me realize how good it is for me to visit them. They’re inspirational, educational and make me feel more involved in the photo world. The only counter is that it also makes me realize how many photographers are out there, and how much great work. 
But I will let that be my challenge, and one that I shall overcome.

Friday the 13th

/ Saturday, May 14, 2011 /
Untitled © Chrissie Smolders

I am not one for superstition, but today was under a bad spell. Before I entered the B62 from Gold St to Bedford Ave, the bus had gotten quite full. I sat down on a seat reserved for the elderly and disabled, next to a teenage boy. He was wearing baggy pants and sat down comfortably. As we sat together, our legs touched.

Whenever I touch a stranger, I make sure to quickly get some space between us. It's not about not wanting to touch the stranger, it is an act of insecurity. When one moves away, it is a rejection of the other. I feel like I don't want to experience this too often, which is why mostly it is me who moves away first.
Today however, both of us did not move. For about fifteen minutes we sat there.
I could feel the warmth of his body through both of our jeans. A man came in and sat down next to me on the other side. Heading towards a difficult task, I felt safe and comforted. I watched people enter the bus and leave, like a simple display of life. At some point, the boy got up and left. The sudden loss of warmth against my body felt like a big gaping hole. I got cold. And I thought about how nice it had been, touching this stranger. About how uncommon it felt that we did not move away from each other.

Somewhere to Disappear

/ Wednesday, May 11, 2011 /


On Monday I went to see the screening of Somewhere to Disappear. The film is about Alec Soth, a well-known photographer and one who I very much admire.
Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove, two young filmmakers from Europe, followed Soth for two years in his search for men who have turned away from society (and also to find a cave). After the film followed a Q&A by Chris Boot from Aperture.

Personally I enjoyed the film. Although the use of music was too heavy sometimes, the movie was easy to watch and gave me ideas to think and write about. I thought it was interesting to see how Soth works with his subjects and Flammarion and Uyttenhove gave room for the characters to get some depth. One thing that came forward that was very interesting to me, was that Soth spoke about the need for human connection. We see people that feel a strong disconnection and suspicion of modern-day society.  They have often had hard lives. And even though they willfully detach themselves, they miss the attention that comes from others. A lot of people enjoy the attention a photographer gives them.
A lot of people are lonely.

Still, each man he finds is interesting enough to make a documentary about, and I felt the need to hear and see more about them. Besides that, it was hard to escape the stereotyped runaway like the skinhead with a Nazi-symbol tattooed on his arm, or the hermit that is convinced the government is after him.
What also wasn’t shown were the pictures Soth made during the trip. Although I could do without them, I can imagine they could’ve made the film stronger and the scenes more visually accessible, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Soth’s work.

In the end, I definitely think the film is worth watching. Soth makes some interesting comments and I could identify with his search for the runaways, and his personal longing to disappear. 
But one of the most important things for me was that it shows his own vulnerability, as a person and as a photographer. Sometimes the search for something worthwhile can be a lonely one. 
And Alec Soth needed people around him just as much as the subjects he took pictures of.
 
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