Photography Visionaries, by Mary Warner Marien.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Photography Visionaries is an inspiring guide to 75 of the most influential photographers from around 1900 to the present. Entertainingly written by an expert on photography, it provides fascinating insight into the lives and careers of men and women working in a medium which perhaps more than any other in the visual arts has been deeply affected by technological change.
The entries are arranged chronologically, instilling in the reader an understanding of what marks each photographer as a visionary. Each entry is less about providing a full biography of the person and more about creating a sense of excitement regarding their work and the lasting impact that it has had on photography.
With the aid of an arresting selection of photographs, some well-known and others less so, this book offers a unique and engaging perspective on the development of photography through some of its most inventive practitioners.
"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent." Eugène Atget.
Mary Warner Marien knows where to find a quote or anecdote that says more about a photographer's life, career and ethos than a long biography. She found something witty or striking to say about each of the 75 photographic visionaries she selected for the book. Those visionaries are people who experiment, expand the scope and significance of photography and are inspiring to their peers. They work in any field: portraiture, advertising, photo reportage, documentary, fashion or conceptualism.
Each of them gets one page of bio and three pages of images with a timeline charting the most salient moments of their career. There is always also a portrait of the photographers. I thought i didn't care much for artists' portraits until i realized i had never seen a photo of Bernhard and Hilla Becher before. Or one of Cindy Sherman being no one else but Cindy Sherman.
Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with the author's selection. And i'm going to agree with the English reviewers who deplore the absence of Martin Parr. Another reviewer mentioned Hiroshi Sugimoto. Indeed! He should be there as well. I'm going to add Broomberg and Chanarin to the list. What i like in the author's selection, however, is that women and non-Caucasian people do not feature only as subjects. I don't know if there was a conscious effort to include women photographers, black photographers, Chinese photographers, etc. But it feels just that the white male monopoly is somewhat under assault.
Warner Marien is also the author of Photography. A Cultural History, perhaps the most informative, interesting and intelligent photo book i've ever read about photo. Photography Visionaries is very different (i probably shouldn't compare one with the other anyway): it's snappier, shorter and less elaborate. But it's written with the passion and verve that characterizes her style.
And now for some images and (fairly random) comments
August Sander's major project, People of the 20th Century, attempted to give an overview of the most archetypal figures of contemporary society, categorizing his subjects by profession or social class. His photos represent types (The Woodcutter, The Farmer, The Sculptress, The Bricklayer, The Bohemian, The Bank Official, etc.), not individuals.
Although there was nothing progressive about this model of society, the Nazis disapproved of Sander's work. In 1936 they confiscated the publisher's copies of Face of our Time (a selection of portraits from his series People of the 20th Century); the printing plates were destroyed and the book was officially banned.
Inspired by Sander's work, Liu Zheng traveled throughout China to portray archetypal Chinese characters from every social stratum: homeless children, transvestite performers, provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, Buddhist monks, prison inmates, Taoist priests, waxwork figures in historical museums, and the dead and dying. The images of The Chinese series depict a country caught between tradition and unprecedented economic upheavals.
When she was herself in her early nineties, Imogen Cunningham started working on After 90, a series that portrayed the elderly. One of them was Irene "Bobbie" Libarry who used to be a circus attraction and was living in a nursing home at the time of the photography.
John Heartfield was one of the first artists to use photomontage, manipulating photographs to satirize the brutality of the Nazi regime.
Lisette Mode never formally studied photography but took it up in the 1930s while living in Paris. Her images are early examples of "street photography," a style which developed after the invention of the hand-held camera, which made impromptu shots possible.
Yes, the photo above just made me realize how black and white the book is.
López orchestrated situations in public space and document passersby reactions. In the series "La Venus se va de juerga", for example, a man travels through the crowd carrying a blond mannequin.
Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art, by John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning at Parsons.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Games and art have intersected at least since the early twentieth century, as can be seen in the Surrealists' use of Exquisite Corpse and other games, Duchamp's obsession with Chess, and Fluxus event scores and boxes--to name just a few examples. Over the past fifteen years, the synthesis of art and games has clouded for both artists and gamemakers. Contemporary art has drawn on the tool set of videogames, but has not considered them a cultural form with its own conceptual, formal, and experiential affordances. For their part, game developers and players focus on the innate properties of games and the experiences they provide, giving little attention to what it means to create and evaluate fine art. In Works of Game, John Sharp bridges this gap, offering a formal aesthetics of games that encompasses the commonalities and the differences between games and art.
Works of Game is part of MIT Press' Playful Thinking, a series of compact, short, sharp volumes on game-related topics that should interest pretty much everyone, from academics to industry professionals to members of the general public. I've only got this one book from the series but i can confirm that it counts some 115 pages only (excluding the notes which, by the way, are surprisingly amusing to read) and that it analyses its subject in depth while remaining extremely readable to art experts and curious players alike.
In the book, John Sharp attempts to explore the way game makers and artists conceptualize and create game-based artworks. He identifies three connected community of practice:
Game artists appropriate the tools of the video game industry to create art.
Sharp illustrates the three practices with examples and brings them in parallel with key moments or players of the history of art. It is one of those rare books in which Donkey Kong finds itself in the company of Marcel Duchamp, Dune and Raby, Nicolas Bourriaud and Sol Lewitt.
A clear example of Game Art is when Julian Oliver exploits a bug in the Quake 3 game engine to 'paint' abstract images and videos. The result is a wok of art that stand on its own but that might not necessarily appeal to a gaming community who expects interaction.
A great artgame would be Castle Doctrine, a massively-multiplayer game set in the early 1990s. Each player has two missions: protect their home and break inside other players' houses and steal money from their vaults. It's not pleasant, you can lose everything and commit suicide, be mauled by a guard dog, or be killed by the traps your neighbour has installed to protect their belongings.
In creating this paranoid game, Jason Rohrer was influenced by his childhood fear of his house being robbed, shootings that made the headlines, and his own political views regarding gun rights and home invasions. Castle Doctrine demonstrates that a game can be autobiographic, like a painting or a poem.
The series is composed of six separate non-digital games that experiment with the traditional notions of games and the way they can extend human experience and create emotions not traditionally associated with games.
One of them is Train, a board game where players have to transport as many yellow game pieces from one end of the game board to the other. But the winner discovers the name of their destination only once they've reached it. All of them are concentration camps. The player can then choose to stop playing or attempt to sabotage the game by intentionally trying to draw derail cards.
Another game, Síochán leat (aka "The Irish Game") re-creates Oliver Cromwell's mid-17th century invasion of Ireland. As the English army advances, the Irish people (game pieces) are displaced onto other squares of the board until the figures representing Irish people can barely squeeze into increasingly crowded areas. Two players manipulate the Irish pieces. When there isn't enough free spaces left, the Irish people will have to fight one another in order to stay alive, for example by sending some of the Irish people to one side of the board where they will wait to shipped to Barbados to serve as slaves.
All the games in the series put the player in the very embarrassing position of playing an active part into a human atrocity. The rules of the game are not published anywhere, you discover them as you play.
Now artists' games have the best of both world. They satisfy the art community because of their critical and conceptual rigor and they entertain the gamers with their level of interactivity and their representation of real phenomena experiences.
An example of artists' game is Mary Flanagan's [giantJoystick] which critically engages with the design, play and cultural place of games. In the installation, you have to handle an oversize Atari VCS joystick to play classic games designed for one player. However, you need the help of another player in order to successfully manipulate it. The idea is thus very simple. However, questions soon arise in the mind of the player: How do you collaborate on a game that was designed for one player only? How does the playing activity change once you're in a museum rather than alone in your living room? etc.
Molleindustria's The Best Amendment, a game that pushed the pro-gun rhetoric to its most absurd limits, is as ludic as it is socially-engaged and as such, it appeals to both the game community and the art crowd. It particularly challenges Wayne LaPierre's argument, made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
In the concluding pages, Sharp states that the artgames movement is more or less on its last leg and that game art is relegated to the 'marginalized world of media art.' He does however make a great case for artists' games, explaining why they deserve to get the attention of galleries and museums, what is their place in culture and also why we should develop a new literacy to better appreciate (and create) them.
Now who might enjoy this book? That's a no-brainer!
Works of Game is a book for people who love contemporary art and read Jonathan Jones' art column on The Guardian (i like Jones' writing but his good sense seems to evaporate as soon as any form of technology is involved.)
It is also a book i'd recommend for gamers, for the media art crowd and anyone else who want to further reflect on art's contribution to games. And vice-versa.
Publisher Island Press writes: Short-term, community-based projects--from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives--have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as neighborhood gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way.
Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two founders of the movement, promises to be the foundational guide for urban transformation. The authors begin with an in-depth history of the Tactical Urbanism movement and its place among other social, political, and urban planning trends. A detailed set of case studies, from guerilla wayfinding signs in Raleigh, to pavement transformed into parks in San Francisco, to a street art campaign leading to a new streetcar line in El Paso, demonstrate the breadth and scalability of tactical urbanism interventions. Finally, the book provides a detailed toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges.
Tactical Urbanism is a grass-root approach to urbanism. Tactical Urbanism is what happens when citizens, frustrated with the hurdles of civic administration, take the future of their neighbourhood into their own hands before someone else, someone with a political mandate, someone who doesn't actually have to live there, does it for them. Tactical Urbanism is a method for transforming 'an orderly but dumb system into one that's more chaotic but smart.'
The authors of the book, Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, believe that the city is the perfect laboratory for testing out dreams and ideas. They show us how to experiment with, reclaim, redesign or reprogram vacant lots, empty storefronts, overly wide streets, local markets, highway underpasses, surface parking lots and other underused public spaces.
Garcia and Lydon have been documenting and applying Tactical Urbanism practices for the past 4 years. That's not a very long period of time but they have learnt a lot in that period. More importantly, they've learnt mostly by doing: they released Tactical Urbanism guides, organised salons and also worked alongside citizens, government officials, advocacy groups and developers on a series of projects.
The authors also admit that they haven't invented everything. The second chapter of their book looks at moments in history that have paved the way for Tactical Urbanism. The journey starts much earlier than i had expected, with the Neolithic settlement of Khoirokoitia in Cyprus, one of the first citizen led planning process in history. Garcia and Lydon then explore and explain how the Roman castra (temporary roman military camps with easily navigable gridded streets) literally set the first stones for European cities to settle and develop. How in the late 1960s, people in Delft started to strategically place trees, bollards or bike racks in order to slow down traffic and give the street back to the community. How parents in the city of Bristol appropriated legislation designed for street parties to close street to cars so that their children can play safely. The initiatives in both England and The Netherlands ended up being officially condoned by their national governments.
The following chapters contain many more U.S.-based examples and lessons. They also analyze the reasons for the current resurgence of Tactical Urbanism (growing disconnection between citizens and decision-makers, people moving back to the city, the current recession, the rise of the internet.) At this point, however, i was starting to lose interest in the book. Apart from the historical section, it was firmly grounded onto the U.S. soil. Nothing wrong with that, i just expected the book to either make me travel all over the world or apply to a reality i feel closer to (i should probably mention that some of Street Plans publications focus on other parts of the globe.) I was also a bit annoyed with the constant talk of 'empowering' citizens. But then the word 'empowering' has that nails-scratching-on-chalkboard effect on me. I just can't help it. If I did carry on reading, it's because the experiences shared in the book are indeed very uplifting, each story is written in a clear and engaging language and then there's that chapter 5....
Chapter 5 is a gem. It is a very detailed and informative toolkit for aspiring Tactical Urbanists. The pages explain how to use online tools (such as Neighborland, Mindmixer, etc.) to widen engagement, how to identity your project partners, fund the project, apply for a permit (or not as it appears that sometimes applying for special event is enough if you want to test drive an intervention in public space and get the ball rolling), where to find the materials to make it happen, how to build a prototype, measure its impact and learn from the results, etc. There's even a cheat sheet with important guiding questions.
But as the authors make clear, Tactical Urbanism is not an off the shelf solution or a check list, it's a process that should also allow for frequent adjustments. It's also decidedly small-scale, short-term and low-cost (and often surprisingly low-tech) but it should also serve a larger purpose.
The concluding chapter is mostly preptalk, an admonition to go out, use this book and take action in your own community.
I'm drowning in really good books this year. Unsurprisingly, half of them are photography books. And because i'm short on time and these publications deserve a review, i'm going to take the lazy road: a sweeping and speedy overview of 5 of my favourite photo books of the moment. In one post.
Here we go...
The Earth is a living organism. Our escalating energy demands are interfering with the carbon and nitrogen cycles and altered the metabolic balance of the planet. Authored by two photographers and a scientist, the book uses images and essays to investigate the landscape in relationship to sources & sites of energy, energy extraction, energy use and climate control.
Gina Glover's work exploits atmospheric weather and ambient lighting conditions to draw attention to such energetic places and artefacts as coalfields in the Arctic, nuclear installations in France and hydraulic fracturing sites in the USA; Jessica Rayner observes how theories of the sun have varied according to the symbolic or scientific precepts of the day, drawing comparison between manufacturing, properties of the sun and changing theories of energy; and Geof Rayner constructs an accompanying textual narrative which shows how the energy transition has profound evolutionary consequences, not only for external nature, but how we see and interpret the landscape.
Next is Some Things are Quieter than Other by a young Polish photographer called Jacek Fota.
Fota made several trips to the U.S.A. between 2012 and 2013, consciously avoiding the mega cities and landscapes we are already too familiar with. Instead, he turned his lens to the 'peripheries of civilisation' and condensed his personal experience of the big country into a small travel diary.
His photos show the U.S. but on a less grandiloquent, less cliché and more mundane angle than we might be used to. His images look effortless, they are both dream-like and very real, very down to earth.
Over a year ago, i saw Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power at the Imperial Warm Museum in London. The photo exhibition brought together five geographical locations that are interconnected through the apparatus of military surveillance.
Steidl has collected into one slipcase three of these photo series. British Watchtowers (2007) studies the surveillance architecture built at the height of The Troubles. The network of watchtowers and observation posts was erected by the British army to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence. The watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007, as part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. As Whyle documented their final days in the countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of these Northern Ireland watchtowers.
The second book, Outposts (2011), charts NATO observation posts in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Built on natural promontories, the outposts offer a fascinating parallel with the British Watchtower, as both networks ensured oppression and control in the name of a "war" against terrorists.
The last book in the set, North Warning System looks at a radar station that is surveying a less clearly defined threat. The extreme environment of the Canadian Arctic is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled.
Happy Famous Artists beat me to the review.
The term "PIGS" was coined by the financial press as a shorthand for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain . Never doubting the suitability of reducing over 100 million people to a bunch of clichés, the neoconservatives and the mainstream media quickly adopted the acronym.
Photographer Carlos Spottorno attempted to portrays "Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain through the eyes of the economists". The parody starts right with the design of the Pigs: the book cover is modeled on the front page of The Economist, and even the back page of the publication features a fake advertisement for WTF Bank.
Spottorno's photographs show European countries squeezed between a glorious past and far less glamorous contemporary realities.
I'll always have time for war photography. And since i enjoyed the exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography so much, i had to get my greedy hands on the catalogue of the show. The show (and thus the catalogue as well) looks at over 150 years of conflict around the world, since the invention of photography. Instead of organizing the photos according to themes, geographical area or chronology, the curator orchestrated them according to the length of time that elapsed between the conflict and the moment the photographs were taken. The result is fascinating. You start with images taken almost straight after a disaster occurred and as you proceed, the duration between image and event grows into days, weeks, months, years and decades. One of the last series was shot almost 100 years after the start of WWI. Chloe Dewe Mathews photographed some of the exact spots where British, French and Belgian soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914 and 1918.
I'd definitely recommend the book if you can't make it on time to see the show.
Publisher Black Dog writes: Staging Disorder brings together work that considers the contemporary representation of the real in relation to photography, architecture and modern conflict.
The concept of 'staging disorder' looks not to how photographers have staged disordered reality themselves, but rather to how these artists have recognised and responded to a phenomenon of staging that already exists in the world.
Military simulations of rooms, houses, planes, streets and whole fake towns in different parts of the globe provoke a series of questions concerning the nature of truth as it manifests itself in current photographic practice.
Everything in this book is fake: fabricated streets that barely look real, sculptures of airplanes that look like cheap overblown toys, American soldiers who pretend to be the enemy and paint anti-US slogans on the walls, etc.
The photos presented in the book are astonishing and often spectacular but they also make us reflect on a society that fears and feeds on threats and catastrophe. Staging Disorder also invites us to consider the role of photography, a medium which relation to truth is routinely being questioned, when it comes to documenting a reality that is fabricated.
In military lingo, killing with direct contact is called a "personal kill." Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann visited a place in Bavaria (Germany) where American soldiers are trained to do so. The settings are not the usual battlegrounds. They are mundane, civilian spaces where, increasingly MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) are taking place.
An-My Lêtraveled to a Marine base called 29 Palms, in the California desert. This where soldiers train before being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The series show the American soldiers both rehearsing their own roles and playing the parts of their adversaries.
Public Order is a series of photos of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Training Centre, a simulated urban environment where officers rehearse responses to football riots, protests, acts of terrorism and other acts of civic unrest.
The fabricated training locations look a bit like the fake backdrops used to shoot Western movies. The largest of these, Denton, is a huge network of fake streets and cinder-block facades, with all of the hallmarks of a midsize British working-class city, including a football stadium, a nightclub, and a Tube station.
Pickering's images demonstrate better than any newspaper article the omnipresent anxiety and fear of terrorism that pervade our society. "My work explores the idea of imagined threat and response, and looks at fear and planning for the unexpected, merging fact and fiction, fantasy and reality," she states.
In military context, Red Land-Blue Land are terms that define a site divided into the territories of friend (blue) and enemy (red.) The military training ground of Senne in Germany is one such site. Claudio Hils documented a ghost town that looks normal until you start to identify cartridge cases, overgrown graves, human-shaped targets, wooden backdrops that represent streets, etc.
At the time of the work, an estimated 25,000 private military personnel were stationed in Iraq, collectively forming the second-largest fighting force in the country after the US Army. Mostly funded by US tax dollars, these armed security services handle tasks that include training local forces, surveillance, fighting but also 'clearing' domestic houses in war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. The mercenaries aren't trained in US boot camps but in places like the one located in a vacant area of Arkansas and depicted in Christopher Stewart's photographic series Kill House.
The Chicago series documents a fake Arab town built in the middle of the Negev desert by the Israeli Defense Force for urban combat training. "Everything that happened happened here first, in rehearsal," write Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin. All wars led and to be led by Israel in the future get a test run in the streets of Chicago, where the only traces of human beings are photographs of Arab militia used for target practice. Chicago comprises different settings that reflect the terrains where the IDF might have to strike: a fake refugee camp, a fake downtown neighbourhood, a fake rural village, a dense market area, etc.
Staging Disorder is also an exhibition currently open in the galleries of the London College of Communication. The show runs until Thursday 12 March.
Printing Things. Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing, edited by Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier.
Publisher Gestalten writes: 3D printers will soon be found in more and more workshops, offices, and homes. With them, we will be able to print out small pieces of furniture, prototypes, replacement parts, and even a new toothbrush on-site at any time. Consequently, new production methods and business models are developing--along with a new visual language of multidimensional formal explorations. Today, 3D objects and complex forms can already be printed out that were previously impossible to achieve with traditional methods.
Printing Things is an inspirational and understandable exploration of the creative potential of 3D printing. The book not only introduces outstanding projects, key experts, and the newest technologies, but it also delves into the complex topics that these paradigm-shifting technologies bring up, such as how to handle copyrights and seamless manufacturing.
I've no idea why i waited so long to get my hands on Printing Things. Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing but i've just finished reading it and it is brilliant. Which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the work of the authors of the book. Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier are Unfold, a duo of designers who have worked, experimented and provoked debates with their 3D printing experiments.
In 2011 already, the duo walked around the Salone del Mobile in Milan with their mobile Kiosk, making 3D scans of the new objects presented at the fair. They then started to appropriate, sample, remix, improve, up/downscale or copy new objects 3d-printed on the spot.
And because the members of Unfold believe that 'there can be no revolution without disruption', i'd say that it was a brilliant idea to let them edit a book that sums up and illustrates the opportunities and challenges offered by 3D technology.
Printing Things starts with a few pages that explain very clearly and briefly what 3D printing is and how it works. Then come a series of essays that explore issues such as the empowerment that the technology gives to people and the responsibility that comes with it, the right to copy and create derivative content, the way 3D printing affects the figure and role of the designer, the decentralization of production, the peculiar aesthetic characteristics of the technology, the compatibility with craftsmanship, etc.
After these first 50 pages of reflections and ideas, you get almost 200 pages of pure Gestalten paper entertainment: photos and short texts that highlight the best of what artists, designers, architects, and even experts in prosthetics are 3D creating today.
The boyfriend has been a 3D printing maniac for a couple of year. My involvement with the technology is much more distant but we both really enjoyed reading this book. I particularly appreciated the way the 'case studies' and the introductory texts cleverly balance the down to earth practicalities of 3D printing and the near future scenarios the technology might give rise to.
I'm going to leave you with some of the projects i've (re)discovered in the book:
Axel Brechensbauer 3Dprinted a cheerful-looking UAV that would playing loud 'clown music' and spray 'terrorists' with a cloud of Oxycontin, a pain-relief drug that also induces feelings of euphoria, relaxation and reduced anxiety. I used to think that a weapon could never be more devious than a predator drone....
The OpenReflex is the first open source 3D printed analog camera with a mirror Viewfinder and a finger activated mechanic shutter. All the pieces can be printed and assembled at home using a RepRap-like ABS 3D-printer.
The DIY instructions are up on Instructables.
Jesse Howard designed household appliances for a not so distant future that will see people being increasingly involved in making, repairing, and customizing their own products. Each appliance is constructed from 3D-printed and CNC manufactured components based on OpenStructures, standard components, and parts salvaged from discarded appliances.
Amanda Ghassaei created a technique for converting digital audio files into 3D-printable, 33rpm records that play on ordinary turntables. Though the audio quality is low, the audio output is still easily recognizable.
This Growth Modeling Device scans an onion plant, 3D prints a plastic model of it and then displays it on conveyor belt. The process is repeated every twenty-four hours. The result charts the growth of the plant in little plastic models.
Dries & Verstappen scanned the interior of buildings with their own developed hardware. The resulting 3-D sculptures are materialized with a 3-D Print.
Foster + Partners looks at how 3D printing might be used to construct lunar habitations, using raw lunar soil as building matter.
Views inside the book: