SUBJECT(ive)

Back in 2015 the members of Boreal Collective asked me to pull together a selection of their photographs. I called the collection SUBJECT(ive).

These images were exhibited at SPAO, Ottawa and, as part of the Format Festival, in Derby, UK. SUBJECT(ive) was also produced as a newsprint.

Here, to ring out the old year and bring in the new, is a portfolio of those images for you to look at. And a bit of writing to read. drool.

SUBJECT(IVE) at SPAO, Ottawa

SUBJECT(ive)

Nothing in this world is ever the result of just one other thing. Everything is an amalgam, every instant is a coincidence. But the stress of our lives since birth creates filters we use to process, and react to, the world we move through. Our thinking is not evenly weighted, we always give preference to this over that. And so we make some so-called sense.

Photographers who go out into the world, make contact and bring back evidence are stuck on the horns of this dilemma. How to sort things out while they’re there on the ground, what to record, how to record it. Then, how to process, pick and choose, after the fact, from the pile of data they have collected.  Why this? Why not that?

The camera always transforms the subject of the photograph into something else: a frozen shard of time and space. In the hands of a practiced practitioner, though, it can close the gap between the external (the normative subject) and the internal (the photographer’s subjectivity) in miraculous ways. It can turn reality into resonance.

When I was asked to curate a show for Boreal Collective, I asked each member to send me fifteen or twenty images that, to them, went well past any objective look at what they had actually photographed. I wanted to see images they considered more than mere document, images that were, in fact, representations of how they feel.

What you see here is a further mutation of reality. I chose and arranged these particular images not because they are photographs of a hearth, or fireworks or a baby, but in spite of that. This, to me, is life.

Tony Fouhse
January 2015

Boreal Collective
Contributing photographers
Laurence Butet-Roch
Aaron Vincent Elkaim
Brett Gundlock
Johan Hallberg-Campbell
Matt Luton
Mauricio Palos
Jonathan Taggart
Ian Willms

Bits of the SUBJECT(ive) newsprint

I HAVE THE BEST WORDS

Three things this week: contests, publishing (or, not publishing) and being critical of a gift . . .

I HAVE THE BEST WORDS

Donald Trump said “I have the best words”.

A certain percentage of the U.S. population thought, well, okay. Others
laughed, were shocked and appalled, shook their heads or were downright outraged.

After all, anyone who says they have the “best” anything is either full of shit, or delusional. You know that. Don’t you? You do.

But what if you enter a photo contest and one of your images gets chosen, is proclaimed the best. Would you believe that? Isn’t that idea equally laughable?

As is the idea that any contest would frame their competition as the search for, or mechanism to find, the best photograph, or photographer.

The above bit of advertising/hype is a classic example of the kind of preying on hopes and dreams that seems so prevalent in the PhotoWorld™ these days.

Look at it: a “name” to give it weight, plus not only the best, no . . . the World’s Best, a London Gallery, Great Exposure. Not to mention + more. What more could you possibly want?

Of course, some of these contests are more righteous than others. And I have seen lots of very good work that has been brought forward as a result of winning. But using modern methods of persuasion to sell you a bill of goods is not exactly honest. It brings to mind the lottery. They, too, sell hopes and dreams, but at least, if you win, they don’t identify you as the best, or even deserving. Its just blind luck.

STRAYLIGHT PRESS WILL CLOSE

It’s been a good run.

Over 5 years STRAYLIGHT PRESS published 15 photobooks by 10 different photographers. Most sold out and were shipped all over the world.

When I started STRAYLIGHT, back in 2012 I was full of beans, interested in supporting both my own work, and that of others. For a few years it was great fun and most invigorating.

Then, a couple of years ago my enthusiasm began to wan. The fun bits (concept, editing, design, supporting of photographers) make up about 20% of the workload, the rest is just maintenance and drudge. My heart’s not in it.

So I am closing it down.

There are still a few titles left in the inventory and I want to clear them out. So all remaining books have been marked down to 1/2 price. Sad to say, the shipping charges will stay the same (seeing as they are all pretty much cost anyway).

So head on over to STRAYLIGHT PRESS and pick up a book or two. For yourself or as a present.

The store closes December 9th and supplies are limited.

Here are a few of the available books. The prices you see here will be chopped in half. Deal!

Thanks to the photographers whose work we published: Christina Riley, Adam Amengual, Timothy Archibald, Stacy Kranitz, Scot Sothern, Cindy Deachman, Josh Hotz and Shannon Delmonaco.

In the meantime, I have opened a small bookshop on my personal website. Just my own books. I plan to use this (and social media for some hype whenever a new title appears) as my conduit to the outside world.

A big thank you to all the folks out there who supported STRAYLIGHT by actually getting out their wallets.

LOOKING A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH

A few years ago Stephen Wilkes’ photos made a splash and he’s riding the wave. Each image in the series he calls Day to Night shows a scene that transitions from, yes, day to night.

The images are often regarded as spectacular. And, looked at one way, I suppose you could say they are . . . the way velvet paintings are spectacular. But once you look past the spectacle you are left with banal tourism photos. You know: kitsch, cliché, idealistic.  Perhaps that’s why people like them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that, when talking about his work, he references and compares himself to Alfred Steigltz, Claude Monet and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Some folks fall for that stuff.

I bring this up because he was in Ottawa this summer to shoot one of his Day to Night things during the big Canada Day 150 celebration. The resulting image was gifted to Canadians in a ceremony hosted by none other than National Gallery director Marc Meyer, where it was accepted by the Gallery on behalf of the people of Canada.

Ottawa, Canada 150, Day to Night. Photo by Stephen Wilkes

One wonders.

Wilkes has been patronized by Vicki Heyman, who as the wife of then U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman (an Obama appointee) did many good things and brought lots of energy to the KapitalCityArtScene™. I shot her for Canadian Art magazine and I must say that the art she had in the residence was smart and engaging.

The sitting room there was full of photographs that focused on race in the USA. A swell and provocative move, if you ask me. I have a difficult time, though, reconciling the modern and political art she chose for the residence with the work of Wilkes. But she has supported the gifting of this photo and folks (even national gallery directors) seem to give that weight.

I suppose it might be considered impolite to look a gift horse in the mouth. But if you have to house that horse, feed and pasture it, call it your horse and live with it for years, it might be a good thing to give it the good-old once-over before you commit.

PICTURE WITHOUT MEANING

The other day I posted this image on my Instagram account . . .

 . . . just a shot I dashed off after noticing those two plates with their corresponding tomatoes on our kitchen table. I’m pretty sure I shot and posted it to show off our beautiful tomatoes.

I titled the thing Picture without meaning (tomatoes) and pretty much forgot about it.

Then a comment appeared under the photo. The commenter wondered why such a deliberately arranged, carefully composed, still life would be without meaning. And while the image may not mean much to me, there will be others who see meaning in it. Finally, the commenter went on to say it is very difficult to make a picture without meaning since there is always a maker, a viewer and some form of subject.

All-in-all an excellent comment, I must say. It set in motion a cascade of thoughts, appreciations and questions in my head.* After dinner I sat with Cindy and we discussed. (Always great, when you are mulling, to have someone to mull with.)

The first thing I wondered about was why I titled the thing Picture with no meaning. Upon reflection I realize I called it that to push some buttons (something I seem to do unconsciously). I guess the title kind of insinuates my thoughts about what kind of imagery I think is important and, yes, what kind of imagery has meaning to me. If one were desperate one might make reference here to René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images, where the title makes the work, um, work. Funnily enough, the title of that tomato picture makes it, um, mean something. I think.

The Treachery of Images, by René Magritte.

As to the idea that because I took some time to craft the image it must have some meaning . . . for me that’s a false equivalency. Just because you work at something, arrange it, is no guarantee that the thing you make has much, or any, meaning. Conversely, there are things, like photographs, that have obviously been created in an instant and, for me at least, have lots of meaning.

I have always thought that it is the intelligence of the operator that instills worth into expression. And that that intelligence can be manifested by any number of working methods, from tight and controlled to free-wheeling and spontaneous. It’s the brain behind the machine that interests me.

Of course an image that means nothing to me might well mean something to another, we have a tendency to project the meaning we seek onto anything that seems to suit that purpose. Not to mention that, if you are tuned in enough, and looking for it, everything means something, or, at least, we can construct meaning from anything. So the commenter must be correct, it is difficult to take a picture with no meaning.

My studio wall

But we are always sorting things, putting them, consciously and unconsciously, into some kind of hierarchy. And this is what photography is (can be) about. You frame a tiny portion of the world, a slice of time and space that seems like it might be somehow important. Later, you look at what you’ve done and try to figure out what it might mean to you, if it means anything at all. Its all a stab in the dark.

The job of a photographer (or artist) must be to wonder about meaning, to make work that states their case, and then stand back.

Accidental iPhone picture

Links:
René Magritte
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Peter van Agtmael
Existentialism

* I tried to contact the commenter to sort out where
and how I may have misinterpreted what he wrote.
He was unavailable. So I attached my own meaning
to his words.