Photography Festival Review: Photobiennale 2012

Fotobiennale is the biggest American photography festival. It is held every two years, alternating with “Fashion and Style in Photography” by the Multimedia Art Museum formerly the New York House of Photography . The Photobiennale 2012 was held for the 9th time and the audience could see more than 60 exhibitions. According to the plan of the organizers, all of them were to be “strung together” with two themes: the main one – “Focus – USA” 2012 was declared the year of USA in America and America in USA and “Filmmakers – Photographers and Photographers – Filmmakers”.

1. Chris Marker. From the

Chris Marker. From the “Koreans” series, 1957

Courtesy the artist and Peter Blum Gallery, New York

Unlike previous years like in 2008, when a retrospective by Andreas Gursky was brought to New York, and “The Primrose” – a bright exposition about the history of color photography in America, put together by MDF curators – was shown, the Photobiennale 2012 didn’t have such an accent on the program. In general, this year against the background of the usual “birthmarks” of the festival for example, vague themes and the absence of a unified conceptual core it gave the impression of a special “blurring”, as if the interest in the idea on the part of the organizers had been exhausted. He did not – and many have noted this – ignite the usual energy of creative burning and enthusiasm in presenting the treasures of photography. Nevertheless, this time too, an interesting selection of exhibitions of Western artists, including those working at the intersection of contemporary art, was shown. They were perhaps the strongest point of the current photographic review.

Modernity, as you know, is not merely a word with which to describe our present it was a way of speaking of the present in the 16th and 18th centuries . Modernity is a special stage in the development of culture, when traditional society is being broken down, the value of everything innovative is greatly increased, and the urban environment becomes a community of constant change. American culture is something of a basic symbol here – it has always been in the forefront of “modernity,” both positive and negative. No wonder, then, that the presentation of the “problems of the present” is so aptly juxtaposed with the “American theme. For America, with our complicated history, with its perpetual desire to catch up and surpass everyone, with its monstrous experience of violent modernizations and at the same time its eternal desire to drop out of the progress and freeze into communality and sobornost, this is probably one of the most compelling ideas to contemplate.

Here in a united and coherent chord of reflection on a given theme we heard several projects by authors as different but in many respects conceptually and ideologically similar: Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, Taryn Simon, Liu Bolin, Ai Weiwei and Alec Sot.

One of them is Shore’s “Amazing Places. Having traveled through America in seventies and published the book Uncommon Places in 1982, Shor became the pioneer of several of the most actual directions of conceptual and documentary photography. His snapshots of the simplest scenes of everyday life build a bridge between what is relevant to the era in which his work is made and our time: postwar road and street photography, the birth of serious interest in color here Shore’s name is named alongside William Egleston , the “impassioned” research photography of Becher, the influence on Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky and Martin Parr and the current interest in the banal as artistic.

Parr was represented by his famous project “The Last Refuge. Photos of New Brighton 1983-85.”. Although the press release says the series was “included by The Guardian newspaper in its list of ‘1,000 works of art you need to see before you die,'” it initially elicited a highly mixed reaction. Some of the audience took it as a sharp and caustic political satire, while others took it as a mockery of the working class spending time at a resort in Brighton in English, of course, there is wordplay here: the word resort means both “asylum” and “resort” . Parr’s gaze combines a coldly detached anger toward humiliating people to politicians? To the stupidity of the very people who succumb to manipulation? and an admiration for color, texture, and the beauty of everyday life.

Parr’s work echoes the compilation exhibition “Photographs and Texts” by Taryn Simon shown at the very beginning of the festival, even before its official opening. The images from two projects make a particularly strong impression: “Innocents” 2003 and “The American Catalogue of the Hidden and Unknown” 2007 . The first features portraits of people convicted of other people’s crimes based on their false photo identification. DNA tests saved would-be criminals from execution or life in prison, but many served 10-20 years. “American Catalog.” – a series of photographs of sites that are the foundation and cornerstones of American life, but remain “invisible” to the average citizen and viewer: the Nuclear Waste Storage Center, the Cryonics Institute, where frozen and awaiting resurrection corpses are kept in special capsules, the CIA headquarters, hiding from view a permanent exhibition of contemporary art, some genres of which were maintained to promote the “American way of life”, and so on and so forth. Made in a deliberately “neutral,” “exploratory” manner and accompanied by rather lengthy texts, Simon’s work makes visible the unknown, including propaganda and ideology, exploring the gap between imagination, fiction, manipulation and reality. And also between text and visuals. Simon explores photography as the backdrop of modern life, pointing to its role in constructing our consciousness and unconscious.

Liu Bolin’s “Invisible Man” is an exhibition that becomes both a soft but very definite commentary on China’s political and social life and on major world problems in general and an amazing reflection on the nature of photography, an exploration of the various strategies and types of world visual art, optical illusions and the laws of perception. What looks close up as a picture in which you can see every detail, from a distance appears to be a hieroglyph in which all the “strokes” and “signs” merge into a single image, and the person as well as the author simply disappears.

Sota’s “Cruelty-Free Beauty” seemed like an unfortunate curatorial project, the selection and arrangement of which blurred the impression of the work of one of the most interesting contemporary art-documentary artists. A storyteller and creator of book-series, Soth gives his work a strange quality that we have already seen with Simon and Bolinh – an ironic exploration of the seams of photography as a “medium,” in addition to being quite cinematic, compressing the entire space of film into a vibrant, complex single frame.

From the images of Shore, Parr, Simon, Bolinia, and Sota draw threads for other Fotobiennale projects, gathering and stitching together the very structure of the Photobiennale. On the one hand, to “archival” and historical exhibitions, on the other hand, to the intersection of different types of art, this time represented mainly by text, photography and cinema.

Among the first projects was the enormous exhibit “New York. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s “1983-1993” with photography. Named by Art Review magazine as “the most important” in last year’s list of “influential artists of our time,” Ai Weiwei was until recently an officially recognized author, but became a symbol of China’s opposition in 2008. The artist was beaten up after supporting an independent investigation into the Sichuan earthquake, including corruption in the construction industry he was then arrested, his studio destroyed, and a tax evasion case filed against the design firm. By subscription, the people raised $1 million for him. However, the project itself, shown at Fotobiennale 2012, was made long before the described events. At the exhibition there are about 200 pictures of New York out of 10 thousand. . This is something like travel notes, only not made by hand but with the camera and turning into an all-encompassing encyclopedia of local life. A marvel at the West, detailed documentation of meetings with artists, including famous photographers like Robert Frank, and just everyday scenes, including the lives of immigrants, are all present in Ai Weiwei’s project. The astonishing gaze of an enchanted and confused alien culture with a different aesthetic tradition paradoxically captures and conveys something most basic, innermost, important about New York, while photographically revealing earlier layers of the visual that the culture itself had time to forget about.

The historical layer of the Photobiennale also included at least three other interesting exhibitions: Walter Rosenblum’s “From the Heart” a “socially oriented” documentary photography by a student of Hine and Strand , Lee Friedländer’s “America, A View from the Car” one of the street-photography pioneer’s latest projects, black and white reflections of America in the rearview mirror, surprising overlays of everyday scenes and unexpected angles and “New York. 1955”, once famed by William Klein breaking Cartier-Bresson’s precept of the “invisible photographer”, his rejection of technical perfection in favor of spontaneity, and the scandalous trail of accusations against the 27-year-old photographer for showing Americans as too unattractive and New York as a slum city .

This also includes two extremely interesting “archive” exhibitions: “The Art of the Archive. Photos from the LAPD archives” and Doug Menuz’s “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000. First of all, both expositions seem to be interested in the material itself, in the documentation of what is happening. However, from a closer look they raise a question repeatedly raised in the history of photography – about the elusive line between its registering, social and artistic components.

“The Art of the Archive” presents about 100 photographs taken from the 1920s to the 1950s the negatives were accidentally found in 2001. Questions about transgression and the limits of what is acceptable, about the extent to which images intended for an audience of hardened experts and criminologists should be brought before the judgment of an ordinary viewer, and about the unconscious aesthetic tendencies that the artist either invents or picks up out of thin air, arise when looking at these pictures of crime scenes, evidence, victims, murderers with robbers and corpses. At a certain point, you catch yourself with a strange feeling: for some reason, all of this is much less shocking than the work of some Joel Peter Witkin and yet it shows the real thing, not specially reworked by the artist . Perhaps because “archive-reportage” photography, even in the exhibition, continues to be perceived as an all too familiar backdrop.

Each of Doug Menuz’s photos the photographer has been taking them for 15 years has a very detailed commentary on the history of various Silicon Valley projects he started with working with Steve Jobs . But it’s hard to call the whole series a unified narrative. Rather, it is a collection of stories in which the visual and the verbal play an equal role. As you move from card to card, you realize more and more that you’re not just looking at a history textbook. You gradually get a surprisingly coherent idea of how American culture works and why innovation adheres so well to it. There is also a direct echo of the “ideological” dispute between Klein and Cartier-Bresson over the non participation and non visibility of the photographer in what is happening: Menyes was an “included observer,” spending days and nights with his heroes in the literal sense. He himself called his project “a quest in the field of visual anthropology”.

The theme of archives and history was given a modern twist by two other expositions at the Biennial: “Artist with a Bad Camera” photos by Miroslav Tikhoy and “The Nine Eyes of Google Street View” by John Rafman. These exhibitions seem to tell two completely different and somewhat opposite stories. One is about a Czech avant-garde artist, marginalized by the totalitarian state. Another is about the omnipresent, depersonalized yet unexpectedly personal view of modern technology, about the overwhelming information noise it creates, making it impossible to realize the idea of privacy, distance and solitude. But both question the fine line between raw and technically perfect, amateurism and craftsmanship, artist’s sensitivity and madness, art and aesthetic “garbage”.

As for the subject of cinema, that twin brother or relative child of photography, it was present at the Fotobiennale not only in projects that were directly dedicated to certain directors for example, the two exhibitions on Ingmar Bergman . “Even the documentary filmmaker’s “straightforward” look turned out to be “cinematic. Thus, the striking and lingering project by Peter Hugo “Hyena and Others” questions forced acting and playing, the natural and artificial in the social world which is more important: to stop torturing animals or to turn attention to the poverty of the violent? . Unexpected glimpses of the theme were heard even in “The Los Angeles Archives” when it turned out that police photographers were moonlighting, shooting actors in casts at the studios of one of the “most cinematic” cities in the world and imitating the film noir genre.

The photographer turned cinematographer or the director turned photographer, a common path for the 20th century author. We have already got used to Sarah Moon, the festival’s regular visitor, who presented her next project “Little Black Riding Hood”. Wim Wenders’ photo series of the iconic figure of the New German Cinema, “Paintings from the Surface of the Earth,” which the director began in the early 1980s and continues to this day, are a kind of “visual haiku. “Moody” and “atmospheric” large-format color panoramic shots remind of the films of Wenders himself and the work of Becher’s students, documenting color as the flow of life and the borders of emptiness as a concept. Like pictures by Chris Marker, director, photographer and philosopher, they strike with the complexity of a narration, packed into a single frame, behind which lies the mystery of the uninterrupted flow of time and the abyss of fragments of someone else’s history. In New York we saw four Marker series and a few films at once. “The Koreans” 1957 , a black-and-white classic made during a trip to North Korea. The project “What time is it??”(2004-2008 , blurry, surreptitious photos of a “benevolent paparazzi” hidden in his wristwatch and laughing about something outside the frame, looking thoughtfully to the side and into the distance at something outside the frame. “Durer’s Motifs, a return installation to ancient engravings Silent Cinema 1995 and Empty People 2005 , two other installations about the non-linearity of history and the juxtaposition of image, text and meaning. And finally, “Runway” 1962 – a film consisting of photographic frames, dividing time into discrete components and parallel spaces, and telling about the existence of the hero in three time layers.

As for the American segment of the festival it traditionally “sags” in comparison to the western shows. There were few interesting expositions here, and even Harry Gruyere’s New York experience “New York 1989-2009” was more interested in texts than in photography.

Among the exhibitions, the “Selected Works” by Alexander Sliussarev, only black and white works from 1966-1993, are definitely worth mentioning., All in author’s prints, mostly from family archives. This exhibition pleasantly surprised with its excellent curatorial work and thoughtful selection that combined both the already known and the new.

“Arkady Shaikhet. Continued at. 1928-1931” is an exhibition made by Maria Zhotikova-Shaykhet, granddaughter of the famous photographer, which evokes quite an interesting feeling. In spite of the obvious presence in almost every frame of the exposition of a hymn to the socialist economy: new houses, paper mills, industrial facilities, in an incomprehensible way Shaikhet’s photographs show the whole underbelly of these achievements: the poverty inherited by the new country and the inhuman pressure on all the same people, which the new regime brought about. And also just ordinary, everyday, private life, breaking through any oppression – even the oppression of the state, which has set out to remake human nature. Particularly interesting in this sense are the shots from Central Asia. “Time Machine. The Color 1930s-1970 by Vladislav Mikosha is an echo of The Primrose. The cameraman, photographer, famous war reporter and chronicler of Soviet life who celebrated his centennial in 2009 is shown here as one of the pioneers of color.

Cinema theme in the “American part” was represented by the project for the 10th anniversary of the film “American Ark” by Alexander Sokurov and the exposition “Interior. Natura. Vladimir Mishukov’s “Pavilion” photos from the filming of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Elena” . That is, perhaps, all there is to it – and then there are the small exhibitions of several major contemporary artists in New York galleries.

On the whole, the festival leaves an incomprehensible aftertaste. At the end of the exhibition a thoughtful critic, refreshing his memory of all the projects, suddenly begins to see: The Photobiennale shows the basic tendencies of our time, it really represents a large-scale integrity. In addition, there were as always many good displays by Western artists, made by Western curators MDF has always had an excellent sense of a finished product that should be brought to America . At the same time, however, the exhibitions themselves constantly and habitually evoke a feeling of chaos and disintegration into separate pieces, a lack of a clear structure and articulate overall concept, as well as mature and vivid curatorial work by American specialists and a clear understanding of the place of American culture in the global process. I’m not at all sure that the viewer who is not engaged in the analysis of world artistic trends in the 24/7 mode can put it all together. The more so because this year it had to deal with several authors who were quite difficult to assimilate and not particularly organic to our culture. And I don’t know how many more times I’ll have to say that it’s time to move on, and whether that message will be heard, or whether the festival will continue to stagnate as usual, gradually losing the interest of the audience.

2. i. Wayway. A restaurant on the Lower East Side. 1988

Ai Weiwei. A restaurant on the Lower East Side. 1988

&copy Ai Weiwei. Courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

3. William Klein Four Women, Supermarket, 1955

William Klein Four women, supermarket, 1955 &copy William Klein

4. Vladimir Mishukov On the set of Andrey Zvyagintsev's

Vladimir Mishukov On the set of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film “Elena”

5. Doug Menyes Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000

Doug Meneuse Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000.

Steve Jobs talks about the ten-year cycle of technology development. Sonoma, California, 1986

3. Unknown author Women police officers practice shooting at a shooting range. 1968

Unknown author Women police officers practice shooting at a shooting range. 1968

&copy Los Angeles Police Department Courtesy fototeka Los Angeles

7. Ingmar Bergman on the set of Fanny and Alexander

Ingmar Bergman on the set of the film Fanny and Alexander

Photographer Arne Carlsson &copy 1982 AB Svensk Filmindustri, Svenska Filminstitutet

8. Liu Bolin Urban Camouflage Series - 36, 2007

Liu Bolin Series “Urban Camouflage” – 36, 2007

“Gather your thoughts to improve your knowledge” &copy Courtesy of Liu Bolin/Galerie Paris-Beijing

9. Liu Bolin Urban Camouflage Series - 16, 2006

Liu Bolin Urban Camouflage Series – 16, 2006

Citizen and Policeman #2 &copy Courtesy of Liu Bolin/Galerie Paris-Beijing

10. Harry Gruyere America. New York. The Vinzavod District. 2009

harry gruyert America. New York. Vinzavod District. 2009


3. Vladislav Mikosha New York. 1960-e

Vladislav Mikosha New York. 1960-e

12. Stephen Shore Ginger Shore, Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida, Nov. 17, 1977

Stephen Shore Ginger Shore,

Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida, November 17, 1977

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