Saturday, October 18

"Onto the stage."

Been laying low after the exhibition... taking a bit of a rest. Am back now, after a mild bout of sickness and interviews... started work on the next project today and am feeling good.

There will be much more to come on this blog, in the run-up to the artist walkthroughs and such. But first, thanks to:

All those who came to the opening, who wished me well in person, via sms or on Facebook on the night... I have been trying to collate a list, but I have lost track... I hope you all know who you are.

My Dad, for sms dryness, my Mom for being there in person, my wife for saying she's proud of me.

Gavin, for all the support and hands-on involvement, and for shooting enough on the night that I didn't have to.

Zander, for coming outside.

Michael MacGarry, for being a hard man to track down, having a workload second to none, and STILL managing to tie in all his loose ends (and a podcast recording) to boot.

Tim, Lee-Ann and Karin, the Rooke "staff" for putting up with my OCD catalogue assembly.

Kidofdoom, for playing that night, for Richard's warm words and Ryk's beer joke. It should have been cider, it was so dry.

Van Coke Kart(et)al, for rolling in like a mafia movie, even if Francois was grinning and waving like Corky Romano.

Red Bull and their crew (Sibu in particular) for contributing on the night and for rolling deep in support.

John of Wet Ink, who got thanked indirectly on the catalogue but who worked like a demon once it was set to get it all done in time.

Those who bought works on the night... I know it is not the norm necessarily to sell on opening, but you helped my nerves somewhat, somehow.

Chris and Sylvia's friend (whose name I now forgot) for expressing what I hoped would've been seen on one level... all these people are connected, all these images are of life.

Thanks again.

Wednesday, October 1

"As you try to explain me I will spit you, yellow, out of my mouth."

The following connection was made by Zander Blom himself, after a trip down to the coast and a New Year's Eve of excess; Jaco Venter plays the role of the good Samaritan. After seeing the image for the first time, Zander referenced Saturn Devouring One of His Children, from one of his books on Goya's work... the tilt of the head, the position of the arm, the arc of the lip...

Zander has come to like the image so much he has put it forward as a portrait for certain press interviews; it is one of many candids and portraits I have of Zander over the years, along with other references, possibly conceits, taken directly from my notes:

First work with Zander, producing works under pseudonym "Lez Black"... Current work in preparation for exhibition features "monsters" and quasi-satanic images amongst others... installations and murals directly onto the walls and ceilings of Zander's Brixton home and studio... work is "transferred" to photographs, then dismantled or reworked... a similar approach was seen in last exhibition The Drain of Progress...

Saturn Devouring One of His Children is one of 14 "black paintings" so named for their "dark tones and preponderance of black", originally on the walls of Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man). Goya was left deaf after battling serious illness, apparently feared a relapse and this tension began to show in his work and technique... these last paintings are know for their disturbing subject matter, this reference to the Greek myth of Cronus in particular. He may have been influenced by another painting, Ruben's 1636 painting of the same name... Goya never named these paintings though; others did after his death. The must have been finished by 17 September 1823, as he donated the house to his 17-year-old grandson and then went into hiding. The murals spent 70 years deteriorating on the walls of the house when the then owner allowed them to be transferred to canvas under the direction of Salvador Martinez Cubells, the curator of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where they are today.

The work has been described by Fred Licht as "essential to our understanding of the human condition in modern times, just as Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling is essential to understanding the tenor of the 16th century".

Friday, September 19

"Brown and yellow, no buttons no shoes..."

In February of this year, I began shooting on a project (more of an exercise) that had me outside the bounds of what I was used to, or known for. I wasn't entirely sure of what I was trying to do, but I had an idea that focussed on women I knew, and I was running with it. I realised later the aesthetic I was in search of had a lot to do with Edward Hopper's work, as described here by Carol Troyen in her essay Hopper's Women:

"A succession of representations of contemplative women, often nude or partly dressed, who occupy enclosed spaces alone... [the paintings] bring together isolation, sensuality and unease. Some explore the pathos of solitude literally laid bare."

This image came about by chance; a light test in a room, while the model sat waiting. For all the composition, each shot was just part of a series balancing the window light...

The model is used to me doing my own thing while she does hers... it is her asleep in the Caravaggio image, as "the Virgin". Incidentally, the cropped print in the background, also of the Virgin Mary, is by Sanzio Raffaello. It can be tricky to recognise without the two iconic genii at the foot of the painting, that have since become pop culture images all on their own. The painting is also mentioned in Dostoevsky's Demons, "where Stepan Trofimovitch is unable to explain the profundity he sees in the painting." Neither am I. It took Zander Blom to recognise it from the photograph, emailing me the details along with the line, "the man painted a shit load of Madonna and child stuff."

It was also Zander that pointed out the almost-imbalance of the feet in my own image (an odd detail for him, given my recent nod towards particular formalism) that brought to mind Jon Thompson's description of Hopper's Hotel Room. Sometimes, it seems that photography unconsciously emulates paintings that emulate photography itself.

"There is nothing unexpected or out of place in the disposition of forms within the space of the canvas, expect perhaps for the slightly awkward cropping of the woman's feet - a device that seems to belong more to photography, or even to the cinema, than painting."

Friday, September 5

"A girl whom I've not spoken to or shared coffee with..."

Again, an image blogged before. I was asked if it was shot in a theatre and replied: "Fashion show... so yeah, theatre."

I am not good with colour... there was something about this woman that always reminded me of the central figure in Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, though that figure's parasol is red, not blue. I have said before that I am partially colour-blind, that I have trouble distinguishing between certain "cooler" colours; this since an accident in primary school which also had me switch the colours red and green for a few moments, before passing out completely.

One of the bonuses of modern digital equipment, is that it allows the photographer to shoot in black and white, while the RAW image still retains all the basic colour information... more on this later in reference to Alec Soth's realisations during the preparation of Dog Days Bogota.

Another aspect of modern photography: digital noise. I have never tried to compensate for the grain in this image... it was shot under difficult conditions, with the model's turn so sharp her foot blurs even at 1/125th of a second. Lights pick up behind her... whether reflection, or watches, or compact cameras, I am not sure... it may well be extreme digital noise. Zander and I have at times compared this to a "painterly" effect, perhaps the essence of Pointillism?

"Pointillism is analogous to the four-color CMYK printing process used by some colour printers and large presses, and to a lesser degree to computer monitors and television sets which use tiny dots of primary red, green, and blue to render colour."

La Grande Jatte was the first painting I ever looked at "in-depth", while still a child, as a result of a pop-culutre upbringing. In the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the character Cameron is shown staring at the little girl holding the hand of the woman with the parasol. The shots cut from his face to that of the girl, moving in closer each time, until eventually the texture of the canvas is visible, and her face is rendered in its most basic elements, with no specific form.

Shot in the Chicago Institute of Art, the director John Hughes describes the the painting...

"... like making a movie, in point of style. You don't have any idea of what you've made, until you step back from it. I used it in this context to see... the closer he looks, the less he sees, with this style of painting. The more he looks at it, there's nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him, the less you see, there isn't anything there. That's him."

Seurat himself was almost scientific in his analysis of his work and in the last years of his life "turned his attention to trying to devise a rational approach to the emotional aspects of colour", according to Jon Thompson in How to Read a Modern Painting. La Jatte is described as a "classical painting in Impressionist guise", a feature of his colour theories based on the reading of Michel-Eugene Chevreul's The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours. Chevreaul's theories lie at the heart of Seurat's Pointilism, particularly in La Jatte...

"Harmony is a correspondence between conflicting and similar elements of tone, of colour and of line, conditioned by the dominant [colour] key and under the influence of a particular light, in gay, calm, or sad combinations" - Georges Seurat

Monday, September 1

"Caravaggio is out on the tiles looking for a photograph of himself."

I have blogged this image before, in reference to Caravaggio... it immediately stood out for me, that second it was taken. I was with friends, New Year's Eve/Day, outside Kenton-on-Sea after a concert, and the night had gone pear-shaped, as would most of the day to follow. I think we were stranded...

I was down there with Zander, and we had been discussing what "painterly" should mean in connection to photography. This image, based on biographies I had been reading, made some sense to me, in light of this written of Caravaggio:
... the characteristic look of the work of Caravaggio — night-time setting, dramatic lighting, ordinary people used as models, honest description from nature.

Even words he wrote of himself:
All works, no matter what or by whom painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles... unless they are made and painted from life, and there can be nothing... better than to follow nature.

Somewhere along the line Zander had loaned me John Gash's biography on the artist, but with work piling on in the new year, and moving house and the like, it took me until August to find it again. When I did locate it, I turned to Death of the Virgin at random in an attempt to explain why I called the photo above "the Caravaggio."

This painting had not stood out for me any more than the others, though I was aware of the history and controversy surrounding it, its one particular connection top Carravagio's practice of using those around him as models, particularly a courtesan for the Virgin (though the true nature of the debate seemed more a dogmatic one, according to Gash).

I had sat for hours on Zander's couch, as he worked on The Drain of Progress, reading through his collection of art books and biographies... some of it seemed to leak through, it seemed, along with other phrases and snatches of ideas from other sources... guidelines...

"radical naturalism which combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical approach to chiaroscuro..."

"the painting recalls The Entombment in scope, sobriety and the photographic naturalism..."

His dismissal of lengthy preparation or working from sketches, preferring the Venetian process of working directly in oils from the subject, something he was denounced for, as it was perceived a failing!

"... figures in vast areas of darkness; they suggest the desperate fears and the frailty of man, and at the same time convey with a new and desolate tenderness the beauty of humility and the meek, who shall inherit the earth."

"... to express in one scene of unsurpassed vividness the passing of a crucial moment."

"Innovations inspired the baroque, but took the drama of his chiaroscuro without the psychological realism."

More to follow...

"Meander if you want to get to town."

The first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human. Meander if you want to get to town.
- Michael Ondaatje

In the run-up to the opening of this exhibition on the 9th October, I hope that this blog will serve as explanation of sorts for a methodology; a way of making connections between the work on show and what I have come to regard as inspiration for it... however tenuous the link may seem at times.

I have spoken at some length about it in the past, but only once in public... at the Joburg Arts Fair in March of this year. It was there that I drew on references to writers such as Michael Ondaatje, Jack Kerouac and John Berger as a means of contextualising new work that I had on show at the Fair, and explaining an approach that I felt was finally beginning to emerge and make sense to me...though judging by the faces of some of the passers-by listening to me, I was the only one it was making sense to.

After Open to Misinterpretation (my exhibition focusing on Fokofpolisiekar) opened last year, I hoped to find a different approach, based on some of the realisations that came through the constant interviews and artist walk-throughs; one conducted with Hunter Kennedy of the group, in which he made some key observations. Ideas about narrative and journalistic approach were changing for me, and I had become intrigued by various aspects of my own story that came through in the work, and not just the story of the rock group the exhibition focused on.

In August of that year, I made attempts to force this different approach, to no avail. In September I lucked onto an image, purely by chance, that said something of what I hoped to achieve. By October I was off, with nothing but a date of departure and a date of return as guideline; the work started to appear (piecemeal at first) though it was some time before it would make any kind of sense to me in a larger context.

As sense began to emerge, I saw that I was starting to reference writers and ideas that I had come across in poetry or art/photographic theory, in discussions with friends and colleagues and in particular (though I later realised subconsciously) the works of certain artists, specifically painters, that I - with my limited education in art history - was now being introduced to by the likes of Zander Blom and Michael MacGarry.

As this blog progresses, some of those references may become clearer... even to me, as I write of them. I have tried as much as possible in the past to avoid writing too much on photography, as I constantly seem (and wish) to be learning and am therefore loath to commit myself on "paper" to one idea or theory. That said, I will try... but I welcome questions from anyone slogging through this, to use this blog as a forum of sorts, so that I might explain specific points to readers (and again, myself) as we go.

Consider this then also a diary of sorts, a notebook, the "behind-the-scenes" featurette in the Bonus section of the DVD.

For now, I will simply refer to what Michael Ondaatje had to say to Salon's Gary Kamiya when asked about his approach to narrative and plot preparation in the writing of The English Patient:

I don't really begin a novel, or any kind of book, with any sure sense of what's happening or even what's going to happen... there was a nurse and there was a patient, there was a man who was stealing back a photograph of himself. It was those three images. I did not know who they were, or how they were connected. So I sat down, I started to write and try to discover what the story was... I tend not to know what the plot is or the story is or even the theme. Those things come later, for me.