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

CHRISTMAS AT THE CROSSROADS

and this is a story i’ve told before. but bears repeating . . .

it’s christmas eve. clarksdale. the mississippi delta. i’m there with cin. to get away. to feel something else.

little did i know.

we’re holed up in some motel. eating food from a convenience store. the only thing open this eve.

the history of this alluvial plain bore down. my history bore down.

the bad juju was overpowering. my head felt funny. i was bent out of shape. had to get away. from this motel.

i went to the crossroads. on the edge of town. where legendary bluesman robert johnson sold his soul to the devil. he became the best player ever.

there it was lonesome, cold, rainy, windswept. awful and awesome. i fell to my knees. broke down. was wracked.

the sobbing brought no comfort. only release.

the best christmas ever.

i went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees. clarksdale, mississippi.

ALL QUIET ON THE HOME FRONT: COLIN PANTALL

I’m pretty sure that my definition of (contemporary) photography as art (the serious expression of intelligence) is a bit (a lot) more stringent (limited) that most people’s.

For the longest time I had trouble explaining my complaint. Mostly I fell back on the idea that many of the photographs being put on the art pedestal these days look, to me, more like illustration. You know . . . executing a plan to arrive at a foregone conclusion. Sure, some of them are swell to look at, there might even be some concept and/or happenstance behind them, but not much has really been discovered or disclosed, little risk is involved, nothing seems to be at stake.

Then I ran across an interview with Chris Boot, the executive director of Aperture. While I didn’t agree with everything he said, there was one thing which stood out for me. Let me paraphrase . . .

He said that the common language of photography used to be one of detachment. While the resulting photographs may have had some kind of personal reverberations for the photographer and certain viewers, the photographers’ position was on the outside, looking. (It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway . . . there are exceptions to this.)

He goes on to say that Nan Goldin changed all that. (I’m pretty sure that nothing is ever the result of just one other thing.) Anyway, he says that she combined the personal and the political and the observational, that she made herself, and the medium itself, her subject, and that that pointed to a more modern way of using a camera.

This is not to say that one must only photograph their own circle of friends and acquaintances to be an artist. That’s too literal a reading of what he’s getting at. He’s talking about what you have invested in your work, beyond the time and the money, some looking, a bit of craft and the quest for acceptance/popularity/sales. In business parlance, do you have skin in the game? (When you do really have skin in the game it ceases to be a game.)

I bring all this up because it’s something I think about. But also because I just received All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall, a classic example of the potential of contemporary photography . . .

All Quiet on the Home Front is a book about a father and a daughter growing up, it’s about love and landscape, about wonder and wondering and wandering, about the passage of time. It’s tender but not maudlin; measured but emotional; honest and, you can just feel it, true; it’s simple and complex at the same time.

We see Isabel, Colin’s daughter, grow up, we see their house and the land Colin and Isabel walk to and through. We see what she does on that journey, almost always lost in herself. We catch glimpses of Colin’s wife, Katherine. We don’t see Colin, but his presence is felt in every frame. And we can read this thoughts.

The images are not sequenced chronologically. Here time, like memory, jumps back and forth. It’s a long arc, but throughout there are wonderful page spreads that show us moments of time barely separated.

All Quiet on the Home Front touches on something timeless: family, father, daughter, time, the land. It’s quiet but contains layers of resonance where the personal, the political and the observational combine. Colin has made himself and the medium his subject.

Buy All Quiet on the Home Front
Colin’s blog (worth reading, let me tell you)
The drool. interview with Colin