One of the first photo books I ever got was Salgado’s “Workers” about 20 years ago. It has remained one of my all time favourites. So seeing the large gallery prints of those images is an absolute revelation. The scale is even more heroic and sorrowful than in the publication. There is an added dimension in these large prints that is missing from the book and that is the level of abstraction in the images which can only be fully appreciated when presented in a gallery setting.
The trend of increasingly high quality photo exhibitions in Hong Kong continues with these two new shows. The first set of photos are from Vincent Yu’s Hiroshima vs Japan 311 (Soliloquize) at Jockey Club Creative Arts Center. It’s a touching tribute to the twin nuclear atrocities of WWII and more recently the 311 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Departing from his usual photo journalist practice of using a Canon 5D MKIII, all the photos here were taken with the Hipstamatic app on an iPhone. According to Vincent his carefully composed images were actually taken very rapidly. Also unique to this exhibition is the handmade spot lighting which was completed in the early morning hours on opening day. Whereas the photos from Hiroshima are shown as prints the 311 photos are shown in video slide show format. The pace of the slide show is brisk mimicking Vincent’s working method.
The second exhibit is Daido Moriyama’s Searching Journeys show at Simon Lee Gallery. In contrast to Japan 311, Searching Journeys is in a big ambient light filled space. Most of the works on display are large prints from black and white film negatives arranged into two massive walls. These photos show normal everyday life in Japan free from any reference to war or disasters. It’s Daido street photography at it’s best. There are a few rare colour photographs also shown but they are dwarfed by the much larger and more well known B&Ws. Being in the gallery surrounded by these large prints is like being inside Daido’s recent photobook Labyrinth. Here you have the luxury of walking right up close to the print and staring at the photo grain if that is your kind of thing.
First off, many apologies for the long absence. Work and other interest have taken over my life of late. A good place to pick up where I left off with photobook reviews is this svelte black and white beauty. I picked up Ed Van Der Elsken’s “Een Liefdesgeschiedenis In Saint Germain des Pres” (henceforth SGP) at one of my paris haunts – the awesome photobook store – Comptoir de l’Image.
Walking into the store is bewildering because it is a veritable treasure trove. But luckily the proprietor Michel is quite a good judge of character and makes very good recommendations. Sensing my fondness for all things parisian he recommended SGP. Ed Van Der Elsken’s photographs really captures the Left Bank bohemian culture. The images are held together by Ann’s “Love Story on the Left Bank.” In the book we are immersed in her romantic world of artist and bar patrons. I love it for it’s gritty realism which you don’t see much of these days in the age of digital imagery. It is possible to fall in love with a woman made of silver halide.
Hope these iPhone images will motivate you to pick up the real book!
Were Miroslav Tichy’s photographs intended to be the end result or were they just a part of his artistic process? On cursory examination they look like quick sketches one would do as studies for more laborious paintings. The fact that he used his pencil to outline and sketch over the photos suggest that this may have been the case. However, Tichy took far greater pains to acquire these images then necessary if a reference was all that was needed. This book published together with Tichy’s exhibition at the ICP effectively answers this and other questions regarding the enigmatic artist.
“What Happens When Nothing Happens” by Brian Wallace
Wallace sees Tichy’s work as a continuation of the surrealist movement in that he was “willing to engage viscerally and critically with the environment, in other words an amateur.” For Wallace Tichy was a flaneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, Benjamin and Breton. Like Breton’s book “Nadja” (which I bought recently in NYC but have yet to read) Tichy regarded the urban space as an erotically charged environment. However, Wallace goes on to conclude that unlike the amateur who strives to make clear and pristine images, Tichy’s photographs are anti-snapshots which are double exposed, blurred, and badly cropped. These photos are focused “on inconsequential details or gestures” and “begin to create a kind of lexicon of everyday communication that is scarcely ever recorded or understood.”
“The Artist With the Bad Camera” by Carolyn Christov-Bakargrev
This essay takes the anti-snapshot argument even further by suggesting that Tichy himself is the camera. Considering he took great pains to fashion and create his own clothing to look like an inconspicuous common laborer. Tichy also used homemade cameras that did not look like they even worked to the casual observer / subject. “So in his daytime derives in the town, his body took photographs: organic, biological photographs each an encounter and impulse toward life, each a moment marking the flow of time like the sand of an hour glass, each “take” proving to himself he was alive.” According to the author of this essay Tichy’s photographs look more “alive because you are aware of their materiality…because there is more space for the viewers’ projections and the activity of interpretation.”
“Velvet Revolution” by Richard Prince
In Prince’s essay, he takes a less formal approach but is more aggressive in asserting Tichy’s quiet revolt against the modernist endeavor and the social-political environment during his time. Prince writes: “What does Tichy believe in? Buttocks and Breasts, that’s my guess. The outline of a bra. And what is in a bra? Heaven, everything that matters. All the rest of it…the highways, the smokestacks, the poured concrete, the public housing…the intermittent electricity, the plumber that never shows up…it can all go away with a girl in a towel in the sun turning over and lifting an unshaved arm. Fuck the Cold War. The reincarnation of Georgia O’Keefe. That’s what we look for.” It is interesting to note that Tichy never had a serious relationship with any women and that his artistic career was interrupted by stints in political prison.
After this essay by Prince we are presented with Tichy’s photographic body of work. All works are printed at full scale. The numbers next to the photographs are the MT inventory numbers of the works in the catalogue of the Foundation Tichy Ocean. The photos run the whole gamut of posed and unposed portraiture from full body to tight head shots. They are of women of all shapes and sizes and age groups. The photos give the sense that they could have only been taken by someone who is familiar to those in the photos. Who over the years due to his persistent presence became part and parcel of the landscape. Maybe it was the use of his homemade telephoto lenses but even in the up close shots you never get the sense that he is interrupting. The relationship the artist has with his own work is ambiguous since the photos seem to be obsessed over and neglected at the same time. Tichy lovingly and compulsively created and decorated all the frames for his photos by hand. But most if not all of them look to have been discarded at some point. This maybe some what problematic since it calls into question Tichy’s intent. Perhaps it is informative that the publishers chose to include Nick Cave’s poem titled “The Collector” to follow the photographs.
“Miroslav Tichy: Tarzan Retired” by Roman Buxbaum
In this last essay and perhaps the most authoritative, Tichy’s long time friend and psychologist Roman Buxbaum gives us the insider story of the artist’s life. Buxbaum grew up with Tichy and remembers taking photos with a pin hole cameras Tichy taught him to make. We learn from Buxbaum that after the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia, the students at Tichy’s art school were forced to draw workers in overalls instead of the female models they were used to drawing. According to the author Tichy refused to draw the workers. Furthermore, we get details like how Tichy wanted to insure his homemade ragged coat for 100,000 czech crowns which was then the price of a luxury car. Buxbaum interprets these as acts of resistance against the prevailing regime. However Tichy may not have even cared enough to resist as he seemed quite happy going about doing his own thing.
It seems that after all his toils and tribulations in his life, Tichy was able to find a mode of expression that was unique to him. It was something unforced and came perfectly natural to someone like him living in his times. He no longer had to justify himself or his works to anyone so he could behave and act in accordance to his own will. Tichy was motivated and inspired by the one constant unchanging beauty that was around him: women. And how he saw them is how one would view a beautiful sunset or an idyllic landscape. The experience of this beauty in and of itself was all that Tichy needed and the photographic works were just a bi-product for him. Luckily for us we are able to also experience this beauty through Tichy’s dreamlike yet suprarealistic photographs.
Pretty odd but that’s what it says on that man’s t-shirt. My vacation in Switzerland seems like ages rather than months ago. Guess it’s time dilation at work again.
Can you see a ghostly Matterhorn in the background? Seems like the summit is made out of clouds. How small are man’s endeavours compared to nature’s.
Must see video for all Daido and photography fans