When Sally Mann published a series of photographs of her children titled Immediate Family in 1992, she spotlighted childhood with a rich tonal backdrop of a Virginia riverside summer house, and she was met with accusations of child pornography. About twenty years later, caught in a starkly different contemporary artistic current, the photographer Alain LaBoile presents La Famillie, a series that for its distinctive silver gelatin aesthetic and subject matter seems to pick up where Mann left off.
LaBoile’s work, unlike Mann’s, lacks the suggestion of immediacy, binding viewers within the nostalgic frame of childhood play, entirely carefree and unabashed. Mann’s work is urgent: she reveals a haloed shot of her daughter, blonde hair dancing in pool of water like some inexperienced Ophelia, and she tragically subverts its innocence with image of the last nude swimming photo her son let her take. Childhood for Mann is something to be beautifully lost, but for LaBoile, it’s more of a constant realm, easily returned to with a flash and made blindingly undeniable by jarring accents of white.
The innovative power of this contemporary work relies upon oh-so-subtle symbols of purity and incorruptibility of youth; a boy digs himself from mud filled and grave-like abyss, resurrected in glowing white to a young girl who prances about the Edenic verdure. Similarly, another daughter remains preserved in a class case, safely nuzzled between fine china and a white cat. Bums innocently moon the camera like those of cherubs. A boy printed in a blinding sort of white appears to hang from a tree; yet upon closer inspection, he’s just climbing, playing the part of a-not-yet-fallen Adam for an onlooking sister. Take a look. (via Feature Shoot)
For her undergraduate project Young and Old, the freshman photographer Kelsey Duff photographed two models: the first is 18, and the second is 65. By excluding her subjects’ faces from her close frame, she catalogs the aging process as it might apply to an everywoman figure; despite trademark tattoos and painted toenails, each woman is stripped of clothing and other common markers of individual identity. Avoiding the impulse to capture moments of conventional portraiture, she shoots isolated sections of each woman with an imaginative fascination, pulling apart the body and fixing each piece within precise borders.
Despite its repetitive and almost anthropological vantage point, Duff’s camera work avoids any sense of coldness or sterility. The choice of warm natural lighting imbues the series with a romance that highlights tone and shadow. As if the subject of a yellow-filled Baroque landscape, the three-dimensional erosion of flesh through stretch marks, scars, pores, and wrinkles are dramatically and reverently seen. Even the clothing change from black skivvies to white underthings reads as part of a years’ old fading process.
The ever-present backdrop of shifting daylight and plain white bed sheets serve to visually condense years into a single dawn or dusk; as Duff follows her visual narrative, the time-lapse between her two subjects flattens, forming a poignantly timeless archive of the evolution of the female body. Caught at two poles of the same lifetime, young and old woman engage in a physical dialogue, exploring beauty and eternity hand-in-hand. Take a look. (via BUST)
For Lost and Found, the photographer Will Ellis photographs objects collected from the deserted buildings, parks, and bays of New York City. Dating back to the first half of the 20th century, each recovered object is shot with the utmost care, regardless of condition or value. The artist’s long journeys in search of his discarded relics— traversing less frequented city spots with haunting names like Dead Horse Bay and North Brother Island— give historical and totemic meanings to each possession. Once relevant only to a forgotten child, a plastic toy shoe from the 1920s is studied under lights, archived by a seemingly objective lens, and repurposed as evidence of some imagined urban ancestry.
Ellis’s choice to incorporate animal bones into a few of the images strengthens the work’s genealogical impulse; a set of hospital keys, ripped from their locks and rusted beyond recognition, stands alongside a raccoon bone separated from its socket in time. Similarly, a horse bone from the city’s industrial age is visually equated with a pair of plastic doll arms; shot from the same angle, the eroded bone and muddied plastic occupy similar portions of the frame, each lit with expert precision.
As if part of a museum catalog, the series of 30 photographs provides a cohesive, if subjective, vision of history. Through the eyes of Lost and Found, the city’s children narrate its evolution, telling a visual story that begins with doll, touches on music book, and culminates in senior portrait. Ellis’s choice of a stark white backdrop and harsh lighting brilliantly avoids potential sentimentality; as the artist invites us into a distinctly nostalgic space, we are instructed to view the work with the utmost seriousness. Take a look. (via Feature Shoot)
Dilok Lak’s recent series “The rabbit ears” is the graphic designer’s respite from everyday tedium and a retreat into imaginative play. Drawing on children’s books and the trope of the talking animal, he imbues his illustrations with a minimalist innocence and charm. The title of the work harkens back to whimsical fables, but it also applies to the artist’s own persona, as he was born in the zodiac year of the rabbit. The work lightheartedly examines the existential questions of a young human mind: the caption for a few images reads, “Why is life so boring?”
Placed starkly against a white and pale pink backdrop like murals on a child’s bedroom wall, furry friends perform unlikely feats. Some of the illustrations are brilliantly nonsensical; in a sort of modern Dadaist exploration, Lak combines a vintage photograph of a young girl with a high-resolution duck and collaged orange. Collaged creatures appear to wander in and out of his frame of their own free will, teetering on its edges and leaving empty space in their wake.
“The rabbit ears” is a childlike ode to the imagination, bringing with it hints of critical self-parody. The brilliantly ironic series reads like a 21st century kind of pop art, using commercial graphic design techniques to satirize human behaviors and pretensions. An absurd cat sips on a cappuccino and sports classic hipster-style glasses; an erudite bunny proudly displays a portrait of himself in a suit. A bored kitty chews on bubble gum. In Lak’s delightful world, animals play as humans and humans play as rabbits, and ultimately, all our everyday worries seem a little less serious, and life feels a lot more fun. (via iGNANT)
For monograph Ad Infinitum, the photographer Kris Vervaeke captured small human likenesses etched in porcelain and affixed to hundreds of tombstones in Hong Kong. The dreamy book is potent for its simplicity; every page turn finds a blank white page fixed beside the a weathered portrait of an anonymous soul. Each capture magically veers from the photographic, entering a realm of abstraction evocative of fading memory. With every page, comes that same blankness, which functions to blur the portraits further, reminding the viewer that someday our own human faces will be washed away entirely.
The series works poignantly to make the reader forget—if only for an instant— that it is not composed of ordinary photographs of living, breathing people. Although the tombstones have been worn (in some cases more than others), the artist’s precise and intimate frame invites us to search for markers of human character; if we lose the eyes, we find glasses, and even amongst the faceless we discover hats. With each progressive photograph, the viewer clings to these signifiers of humanity, only to find him or herself frantically making meaning from the most impersonal cracked stone or chipped paint.
Ultimately, though, the images are not portraits but photographs of portraits, poignantly denying us any clear picture of who, when, or what these people were. A person dies. A body deteriorates. A portrait is chosen for a tombstone. A tombstone deteriorates. Someone takes a picture. With every progressive step, individual life fades bitterly into a mysterious realm just beyond our reach, Ad Infinitum. (via Lensculture and The Independent Photo Book)
For her series “Animal Alchemy,” the sculptor Jessica Joslin uses delicate found animal bones and antique metal works to build an array of animal acrobats, who play at balancing on balls and interacting with one another. As suggested by the work’s alliterated title, her pieces present a touching marriage of the biological and chemical. The incorporation of once-living materials succeeds seamlessly for Joslin’s choice to use nostalgic and decorative out-of-date metals; against the rusted filigree of fragmented keepsakes, the time-bleached animal bones appear right at home.
Joslin’s creatures navigate a fine line between fragility and aggression; in a piece titled Troy, the reimagines the deceptively merciful figure of the Trojan Horse, fortifying a spindly neck with bullet casings. Frail skulls wear protective armor as if preparing for some ancient battle. Against the sheen of durable metals, animal bones appear unexpectedly delicate despite their sharp teeth and clawing talons.
With breathtaking precision, the artist allows her bony creatures a single mark of vitality, filling their cavernous sockets with marbly eyes. The careful emotionality of the pieces ultimately makes them more gentle than frightful; the sculptor subtly realizes their personalities and relations with one another through the downcast slant or expectant focus of a pupil. A particularly poignant two-headed tortoise is only given two inner eyes, causing each head to fixate the other without access to a peripheral world. Similarly, a horselike beast gazes upwards balefully, pulling the heavy carriage behind him.
Each piece, beautifully fashioned with discarded bones and obsolete metalworks, performs for the viewer, imploring us not to forget their purpose. Take a look. “Animal Alchemy” is now on display in Scottsdale, AZ at Lisa Sette Gallery. (via Hi-Fructose)
For her series of ceramic sculptures titled Shadow Circus, Kirsten Stingle draws upon her extensive training in the theater to create subtle narrative pieces. Incorporating found objects with her considerable technical ability, the artist summons dreamy stories through her command over gesture and shape; the blend of rusted objects and newly formed faces stands in for any physical movement normally employed to convey the passage of time.
Shadow Circus is evocative of miniature puppetry works like Alexander Calder’s legendary circus, where only the slightest details make the inanimate appear human. The narrative power of the circus lies of course in motion, which Calder once evoked with his pulleys and threads; Stingle impressively avoids the performative, and her painfully still works appear as if frozen, on the verge of animation.
In this way, each figure reveals itself like a funerary figure, meant to accompany not Cleopatra but the modern woman into her tomb, bringing with her objects useful in some imagined underworld: a machine-horse hybrid motorbike, a foreboding rowboat with wheels. The work’s religious iconography further realizes this thrust toward an otherworldly eternity; a Catholic-style papal mitre makes an appearance, surrounded by delicate symbols of the cross.
The artist also seems to pull from the work of women artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, combining fatalistic bleach white bone with the seductive prettiness of a pink rose, red lipstick, or a baby doll wearing pale bunny ears. Placed firmly within this feminine aesthetic, Shadow Circus is simultaneously blossoming and fertile and eerily disquieting; Stingle’s nuanced work appeals both to a fear of death and a hope for rebirth. Each piece, with its antique aesthetic and meticulously fashioned visage, is poignantly left eternally waiting for the movement and life that feels so inherent within her. (via Hi-Fructose)
For Ruined Polaroids, William Miller uses a broken polaroid SX-70 that he stumbled upon at a yard sale; quickly discovering that its decades-old gears mangled the film and transformed the exposure, the artist submitted the the whims of the photographic relic, allowing it to form blurred and unpredictably patterned abstractions from his shots.
Within the “ruined” images, we find a surprising emotionality, with the faulty chemical process producing expressionistic renderings of a less literal kind of photographic memory. Cataloging the accidentally lovely results of mechanical happenstance, each shot enters a richly moody realm evocative of the work of mid-century abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko. As the spastic movements of gears, chemicals, and fingers become the subject of the work, the artistic process overrides a predetermined result. Rather than serving as a record of a particular instant, Ruined Polaroids poignantly archives the accidental deterioration of a camera past its time.
Ultimately, the conceptual work also serves to refute contemporary understanding of the photograph. In her seminal work On Photography, published in 1977 at the height of polaroid popularity, Susan Sontag discusses the illusion of a photographic truth, theorizing that the photographer, unlike all other artists, is capable of disguising subjectivity for objective fact. Miller’s work expertly challenges this assumed power of the photographic medium, acutely presenting each image as evidence of its failures. The immediacy of the polaroid image only accelerates this process; printed instantly and held against some imagined reality, the bleeding lights and darks veer jarringly from what we expect from the camera. Take a look. (via Lost at E Minor and This Is Paper)