/ 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..


/ 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.

Home and Away

/ Monday, May 9, 2011 /
                                                                                           Waiting © Chrissie Smolders

I remember Amy saying that I was like a stranger here: I can view and capture, but I don’t have real access to life in New York City. Outside of the vicinity of 151 Kent, I believe this to be true.  Even though I go through daily life here like any other, I am often reminded of not being an American.  It’s a fun and learning experience.  Being away from my homeland makes it possible for me to view Holland from a distance and America from up close. I feel like I’m experiencing both an objective and subjective vision of both countries at the same time.

The weird sentences I sometimes put together draw laughter from my friends here, as well as me never having tasted peanutbutter with jelly before. They took me in as one of their own immediately, and I am forever thankful. Being with them and living as a resident, not as a visitor, made it possible for me blend in with the American crowd. I do think that makes it easier for me to walk around in neighborhoods where I’ve never been before, without feeling like an intruder.

Being in a strange surrounding often makes it hard for me to be confident as a photographer. It makes me hesitate, hurry or just not take the picture.
I suppose I’m not the only one experiencing this, and hopefully it will go away with time.  That and using my strong will to not listen to my fears, but to my wants.
A strengthening thought also is that I know that I am the one who has the most influence on what I do.

For as far as photography goes, I embrace being an outsider. I believe it makes it easier for me to see what is there in front of me, to observe, to wonder. I catch myself looking into homes, behind fences, always so curious to see what goes on in other people’s lives.  All that is there are clues to what they think is important, or useless. What they think is beautiful.

I know that I have the same curiosity in Holland, but it seems like I miss a vital part there.  I miss the curious eye that I have here, one that I have while I wander around and that is still able to catch a special scene in daily life.
I suppose I just don’t go strolling about at home. Everything seems so familiar that I don’t look for that which I have not seen yet. Even though I know that there are enough parts of the Netherlands which I have not seen yet with my own eyes.
That will be a new resolution for when I go back home.  I need to not close myself off for familiarity and keep an open mind for that which seems dull in my mind.

For the next 6 weeks though, I am still in America, and I am going to make the most of  me being in these unfamiliar waters.  
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