The Wonder of it All

As a blogger I get sent several press releases a day for upcoming exhibitions, from the weird to the wonderful and everything in between. Although 95% of it doesn't hold my interest, once in a while something stands out. The press release for the upcoming exhibition at Gallery 138 in New York of photographs and videos by Clark Winter entitled The Wonder of it All stopped me dead in my tracks.

I knew nothing about Clark Winter, but discovered that he is a global investment advisor, a TV pundit, an art world mover and shaker (he serves on the Committee on Photography at the Museum of Modern Art), as well as a photographer and an "artist". The release tells us that "in his photographs and videos (...) patterns appear, information is collected, everything is experienced; nothing is explained (...) Something's coming, and you don't know what it is." It would seem that Winter leaves the explaining to his day job and let's the invisible hand of chance govern his artistic endeavours. From the visuals I got my hands on, his photographs seem to be as random as the above press statement: snapshots taken in hotel lobbies, airports and assorted 'exotic' locations. Winter travels a lot and rubs shoulders with the powerful and famous, but is also capable of photographing the totally banal... a toaster, some flowers, a field. All of this is then thrown together in 3x3 grids where the mundane rubs shoulders with the "extraordinary things he has seen while travelling as a global financial advisor" and where the former comes out comfortably on top. In one self-portrait, Winter appears with electrodes attached to his head, suggesting his deep connection to these many complex layers of our planet, or perhaps simply to suggest the powerful brain that lies within it.

Of course I haven't seen and won't be able to see The Wonder of it All and this may simply be a case of overblown PR, but to me this feels incredibly misguided. Could there be a worse time to put together an exhibition that reveals "the private world of high finance" by giving us "access to things that are unavailable to ordinary travlers (sic)"? The idea that a man who certainly has a deeper understanding than most of global economics, finance and the powers that be and is clearly very successful in his field, could somehow translate this into a visual form with a series of off-the-cuff photographs, strikes me as a little overambitious, if not downright pretentious.

Clinton and Ali at Davos

The exhibition is part of a series exploring the relationship between art and finance, something that is extremely pertinent at this moment in time. There is a lot that is wrong with both worlds and an exploration of how they influence and affect each other could make an interesting exhibition. But surely this is something that requires more than the contents of a powerful man's iPhone camera roll. I don't write blogposts that frequently and writing a critique of this exhibition may have been unnecessary, a waste of your and my time. However, I can't help feeling that in a way this exhibition is insulting to people who are actually devoting themselves to making art. The idea that it is this easy suggests that the relationship between art and finance is a lot more twisted than I thought.

If anyone does actually manage to see The Wonder of it All I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts. However, I am concerned that for someone who cites Picasso and Piero della Francesca as influences, it may be difficult to live up to such lofty expectations.

Aaron Schuman's Sunday brunch, mushrooms included

Aaron Schuman, Jason is a funghi After having met Aaron Schuman at Fotofest Paris last November I just stumbled across his latest project Jason is a Funghi (pronounced 'fun guy') in which he as turned one Sunday morning of conversation with Jason Fulford into a delightful series of stream of consciousness musings on eggs, signs, comic books, childhood, blood oranges (which I just squeezed a few of into a glass), photographic greats and unknowns, memory and, inevitably, mushrooms. Aaron is a writer, curator, photographer and, well, a funghi himself. If you're not having brunch with him this Sunday, don't miss the next best thing.

A Hipstamatic plea

Although it appears that not a week goes by without a story of another film stock or photo paper being discontinued, analog photography is undergoing something of a revival at the moment... online... and more specifically on screen, courtesy of the Hipstamatic application. As far as I understand it the point of Hipstamatic is to try and emulate—or at least suggest—the elusive qualities of a print on the backlit screens that we are now all glued to 24/7. I have already had a rant about the lack of clothes on the Emperor that is iPhoneography, so I won't do the same here. This isn't a rant about Hipstamatic actually, I think it makes crappy camera phone images taken on the fly look a little better. Also it is giving thousands of users the joy of discovering the beauty of square format and reminds them that once upon a time there was this thing called film. Some photographers even seem to be able to make good pictures with it (as anyone who is friends with Aya Takada on Facebook will know). With the exception of photojournalists using it to casually photograph US soldiers in Afghanistan, I see it as a bit of harmless fun.

No, this rant is about the increasingly popular idea of making actual real-life prints from Hipstamatic images. The Guardian ran a piece this week on a London gallery which is holding an exhibition of Hipstamatic prints. My first thought on reading this was whether prints of Hipstamatic images could be anything but terrible. And a Sunday-afternoon walk through the Marais gave me an answer as I happened upon a gallery with a Hipstamatic print in the window. I may have been influenced by the exquisite Bruce Wrighton prints that I saw just a day earlier at Les Douches gallery, but this print was bad enough to feel like an insult, particularly as they had gone to the trouble of making a pigment print on some fancy paper in a limited edition of 3 priced at over $200 in all its grossly-pixelized glory. This image would never look any good at anything larger than the palm of your hand on the low resolution of a screen. And here it was, a sad piece of hyper-colour mutton (totally over-)dressed as lamb. Can't we please just let these Hipstamatic images go about their business of passing the time for us on the internet, or on our smart phones where they belong?

Rewriting history

A few months ago, courtesy of Bryan, I stumbled on a link to this archive of colour photographs taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information from Depression-era America (apparently it's a fairly well-known internet resource). I remember seeing a few people's reaction to these images on Facebook including one commenter who was bothered by the use of colour, saying that it somehow felt wrong for the subject matter.

I was intrigued by this comment, because I had almost precisely the opposite reaction. This is the first time that I have seen colour photographs from this period in US history, but like anyone interested in photography, I have seen my fair share of black-and-white images from the Depression years. That period is so intrinsically and deeply associated with black-and-white that I found it shocking to see just how colorful this time actually was. These photographs made me feel like my conception of these years was all wrong.

Subconsciously I had almost come to assume that the world actually was black-and-white during these years: it seems so appropriate for photographs documenting difficult and dark years like these to be totally drained of colour. I realise that this about as basic a eureka moment as you can get with photography ("Wow, look, things seem really different in colour than in black-and-white"), but when a time becomes so characterised by a particular kind of photograph, you can't help but be taken aback when seeing it depicted in an entirely different way.

You can see a fuller selection of images from this archive on the Library of Congress Flickr page.