Two Aperture lectures

/ Monday, May 16, 2011 /
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.


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