Tuesday, April 08, 2008

FotoFreo - Part 01

This is the first part of some 'short' collected thoughts on the FotoFreo Photography Festival.

Paolo Pellegrin @ WAMM
Really tight show with a bubbling intensity - almost electric. I like the immersive aspect of the work and the paradoxical idea that he quite often shoots images as 'drive bys' through a car window.

There are two or three images (machete, popes funeral, boys 'playing' in an alleyway) that are very striking. Unfortunately I had to rush through it the first time and was distracted the second. Needs another visit.

Edward Burtynsky @ WAMM
I must say that whilst I know his work relatively well (books, films, etc), the images really bowled me over. They were not what I expected to experience when looking at them 'in the flesh'.

The luminosity, detail and geometry is really moving. There are three images in the show that honestly made my hair stand on end.

Manufactured Landscapes is also screening/has screened at FTI if you haven't seen it already. There are interesting parallels with Our Daily Bread from 2005 and Baraka from the early 90s. ODB is disturbingly about food production in Europe. This is quite obvious when it comes to the opening pan shot of Manufactured Landscapes and the pace of Ron Fricke's work on Baraka.

There were a few things in the work that I found particularly interesting. Given the subject matter it could have quite easily fallen into an almost modernist approach by reducing that which was imaged to tone, form and texture. Quite importantly the horizon was included to 'ground' the image. That is, that this is a real place/thing and not a construct as with some of the Gursky work.

The balance between the toxic and the beautiful (see conference re. sublime) is also fascinating. We are disassociated from the experience (smells, etc) so we might look at it initially on a aesthetic level. Just as sulphur makes a vivid and arguable beautiful yellow it is in fact an intensely dangerous substance.

I could write much more about the work - and likely will - but will leave it with his presentation at TED in 2005. Fascinating viewing if you haven't already seen it.

FotoFreo 2008 Conference
The conference was great if a bit heady some times. All interesting nonetheless. Burtynsky was quietly sitting in and engaged on discussions of beauty vs the sublime as it relates to his work.

The second day of the conference included Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin. Their work is 'hard' as it's not intended as passive viewing. They hope that people participate by viewing the work as you might when visiting a museum - as opposed to viewing it 'simply' as art. A quick look won't yield 'results'.

I'm a huge fan (and collector) of Colors and if any of you have read the issues on Rwanda, Star City, Madness, Roland Trujillo, Leisure World and Choihung (all of which are heavy with their work) then that helps. The 'caption' (as a bigger concept) is very important to their work.

This is a presentation (50MB Mov) that they did at Host in the UK last year. This helps contextualise 'Fig' (showing at the Prison) and other work.

One of the key themes I picked up on was Intervention (Anne Marsh) and the lack thereof in documentary photography. I had wanted to push that further as I've been interested in the various strategies photographers use to try to effect change.

Oliver and Adam have an immersive approach where they engage extensively with their subjects over a prolonged period of time - effectively they look at creating broader and personal stories than isolated images that can be misused out of context - ie. on an art gallery wall, in a magazine. This generates quite sublime work that is more poetic than simple journalism.

Salgado (picked up by Daniel Palmer on the second day) has been criticised (wrongly in my opinion) for beautifying tragedy or hardship. This is more obvious in the anonymous abstract work where workers have been reduced to shape and tone. Effectively this beauty generates exposure for the associated issues so irrelevant of method they arguably approach their goals. Where is gets dangerous is the audience of the work. Too often socially concerned work by prominent artists becomes wall candy out of public eye.

Another strategy - and the most interesting theoretically - is shock. In an image-saturated world there is a dangerous precident to push the boundaries further and further (I talked to Helen Ennis about this a bit) so as to over yell the masses. One photographer whose work uses this is Gilles Peress - in particular his images from Rwanda (see The Silence) in the early 90s.

Where it gets interesting is the balance between reportage (ie. what can realistically be shown in a public sphere), voyeurism (by exposure does it compromise the subject more than it might help them?) and toxic shock (ie. people become immune to that which they see by over exposure).

I need to think about all of the above a lot more...

See also:
Roger Ballen @ AGWA
More FotoFreo
Jodi Bieber @ Moores

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