Monday, February 28, 2011

An evening with Leah Gordon… in Haiti.

Once a year for Mardi Gras, as in many places around the world, the town of Jacmel (South coast of Haiti) dresses up and goes to the streets. But what makes it so special in Jacmel is that Kanaval here is a way for the people to relive their own history - the History of the people of Haiti. 
With their papier-mâché masks, charcoal and syrup painted bodies, and traditional home made costumes, the people of Jacmel transform into these grotesque, mystical, intriguing, sometimes frightening characters to retell their story and to remember. From generation to generation they keep the tradition alive. They tell about slave revolts, political history, aids, economic issues, natural disasters and of course Vodou. Rather than a parade with loud music and sexy dancing, it’s chaos and creative improvisation with groups of performers and little theatrical stories in every street corner.
Every year since 1995 Leah Gordon has taken part in this chaotic experience to give her own very personal testimony. Kanaval is the book that says it all.

Far from trying to capture the live effervescence of the streets and the perfect moment of craziness, she walks the streets with her 50 year old Rolleicord and asks the participants to stop for her in Creole. Her camera is totally manual, the process is slow and when people accept to have their portrait taken they have to be patient. In a world where everything goes fast, where snapshots of street life became so easy, Leah Gordon makes time stops around her. She sets up a little old fashion street studio.  This creates a gap between her and her subject, a moment of silence and mutual examination during which the characters step out to reveal their souls. Far from all the images of Haiti published by the media since the earthquake, her photographs make us understand the humanity, the suffering and the pride of these strong people. They show the reality behind the masks.
I met Leah Gordon last week at a book-signing event at SF Camerawork. Over a glass of wine we had time to share a few words about the rain, London, Rock & Roll in the 80s, The Arcade Fire, Carnivals, her intimate passionate and nearly mystical relationship with her Rolleicord, film photography and the people of Haiti.

"... if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know that it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph."
- Diane Arbus (as cited in Kanaval)


Kanaval by Leah Gordon is published by Soul Jazz Publishing.You can also get the book on 
Learn more about Leah Gordon on

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An unusual sports photographer: Thomasz Gudzowaty

You might have already heard of Thomasz Gudzowaty, a photographer from Warsow (1971). He has won 2nd prize again this year in the World Press Sports stories awards for his essay ‘Mexico’s Car Frenzy.’ And it’s already the eighth time that he wins a World Press Award!

He has the talent to transform sports images into social documentary essays. Using traditional black and white his images tell the stories of people in love with their sports. Not celebrity soccer or basketball players but non-famous everyday people engaged in atypical, intriguing sometimes mystical sports. Through his work and the proximity he creates with his subjects he draws strong portraits of modern heroes devoted to their arts: hard work, sweat, strength, willpower, self-control, passion. It’s a lesson of life to learn from these people from around the world.
It’s also a lesson of Fine Art Photography. The Art of creating amazing elegant sport images, the Art of telling stories of our times in black and white, the Art of sharing emotions by capturing moments of life. 
Wuqiao Acrobats
Wuqiao Acrobats
Shaolin Temple
Shaolin Temple
Freerunning - The Art of Movement
Freerunning - The Art of Movement
Urban Golf in India
Urban Golf in India
 More amazing images and incredible stories on:

Monday, February 21, 2011

An exclusive exquisite visit to Pier 24

Pier 24 is a 28,000 square foot exhibition space in San Francisco dedicated to Photography.  
‘Born out of the desire to reinvent the ways in which photography and photographic ideas are presented, Pier 24 is a distinctive environment where art has the freedom to be seen and thought about differently.’
It means that you have to book in advance (and it’s often full), that they only allow 20 people inside at the time, that you have 2 hours to wander around the exhibition and make your own self-guided tour. It also means that there are no signs explaining the images or even stating their titles or authors. It’s only about the photographs.
Of course you can ask at the entrance for a small catalog of the show with all the names and context you’ll need, but I recommend that you first just wander around freely and open-minded. Just walk through the different rooms in no particular order and let yourself be overwhelmed by what you see. If you arrive on time, you might even be alone in most of the rooms and have the photographs to yourself. It’s a wonderful and unique feeling to stand on your own in a room full of photographic masterpieces. Of course you will recognize some of them and identify their authors but try first to look at the pictures without thinking of their syntax just for the thrill of the experience.

Then get the book and give yourself another chronological tour. The current exhibition is ‘From the Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher’. (For those who don’t know - and I didn’t, maybe because I’m not an American - Bob Fisher is the son of Doris and Donald Fisher, co-founders of the Gap.)

Part of the exhibition is dedicated to contemporary German photographers giving us a good representation of the Dusseldorf School of Photography with artists Bernd and Hilla Becher, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky.

The main show however takes you on an incredible journey through American Photography. From Man Ray to Diane Arbus, from Alfred Stieglitz to Robert Frank, from Edward Weston to William Eggleston, not forgetting Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander or Garry Winogrand. In less than 2 hours you can enjoy more than 100 years of American Photography by some of the best American photographers.

Here are a few random pictures of the exhibition and of the photographs you’ll see there. No title, no photographer’s name, no particular order. You might know these photographs but I don’t want to spoil your experience before you go.

 Learn more on Pier 24:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Meet Ferit Kuyas at 291 Gallery in San Francisco

Ferit Kuyas’ new exhibition ‘City of Ambition’ at the 291 Gallery in San Francisco (291 Geary Street) runs until April 23rd. That should leave enough time for everyone interested to visit it. And believe me, it’s worth it!

Ferit Kuyas was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1955. He studied architecture and law in Zurich, Switzerland and graduated from the University of Zurich in 1982. Working mainly on personal projects, he published several books. His photographs have been shown in museums, galleries and festivals around the world.
I had the chance and great pleasure to meet Ferit Kuyas at the gallery for an open conversation about his work and experiences in creating this body of work about the riverbank of the Changjiang River in China.
His work directly reminded me of Nadav Kander’s series on China (read my post from Feb. 4th). And in fact I was right, the Changjiang River is also called the Yangtze River and some of their images have been shot at the exact same locations! They don’t know each other, even if they met once at a photography show, so no one has really influenced the other but Ferit Kuyas completely acknowledges the similarities of their work. The way they decided to photograph the Yantze river is very similar as they are both presenting landscapes of a quickly evolving China. But While Nadav Kander shows ‘humans dwarfed by their surroundings’, Ferit Kuyas focuses on the landscapes, the fog, construction sites. The human presence is tangible but in a very subtle way.
The main difference might also come from the fact that one is an outsider depicting the smallness of the people in this gigantic environment, while the other is personally connected to the place. Ferit Kuyas’ family in law lives in Chongqing. With his photographs he shows us the pride of the inhabitants, and captures their relationship with their city while very rarely depicting them.
The exhibition at 291 Gallery presents a selection of 20 large 4x5 photographs of the ‘City of Ambition’ project. The pictures depict a moody and enigmatic city with its buildings, unfinished development projects and living spaces. They all have a mysterious dreamy power that surrounds you and takes your breath.

 ‘I am mainly interested in the outskirts of Chongqing, where the city can’t be really seen but sensed, like a tiger moving through the jungle – invisible, yet there.’

Changjiang River. Beibin Road. Chongqing, China 2005

Jialing River. Huanghuayuan Bridge. Chongqing, China 2005

Jialingjiang Rivershore Drive. Jialing River. Chongqing, China 2005

Caiyuan Bridge. Changjiang River. Chongqing, China 2007

Restaurant Boats. Changjiang River. Chongqing, China 2005

Restaurant Boat. Egongyan Bridge. Chongqing, China 2008
Learn more on Ferit Kuyas:
Learn more on 291 Gallery:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let's go to the circus - Part 3

Jose Antonio Martinez – Circus 2007

Born in 1950, Mexican photographer Jose Antonio Martinez was once a student of Mary Helen Mark. Maybe that’s when he got his inspiration for his circus series… Initially an industrial designer, Martinez has dedicated his personal artistic work to transforming death into life and horror into beauty. He’s had more than 20 solo and group exhibitions in Mexico and the US.
Despite the fact that many of his subjects are quite dark, related to death and religious matters, he always tries to find aesthetic values in the scene he photographs to overcome his emotional feeling.
In his circus series he worked hard to capture, quoting author John Irving ‘a life of great daring and relentless hard work’. The main difficulty of photographing circus artists is probably to overcome the clichés and to create new interesting images never seen before. His portraits of the performers in different formats including landscape images succeed in showing the pride and love of these artists for their work. 

More on Jose Antonio Martninez :

Philippe Lopparelli – quel cirque?
The last photographer that I wanted to feature is a French photojournalist, member of the Tendance Floue Collective.
He has spent 2 years touring with a traditional French circus, getting to know the performers, sharing their practices and shows, trying to understand their enigmatic world. Together with Marie-Pierre Losfeld they published a book in 1996 to tell about their incredible journey.

 ‘Their photography evokes the idea that this unique art perpetrates an ideal: that of daily efforts, which have survived in an age where people are mostly drawn towards contemporary forms of entertainment.’ 

 Through a documentary approach in very contrasted square black and white images, Philippe Loparelli transmits the magical atmosphere of the stage and the strange spirit of behind the scenes. Watching his images we feel like both spectators and cast-members, we get a bit closer to understanding this ‘traveler’ way of life, which today seems of another age.

 More on Philippe Lopparelli:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's go to the circus - Part 2

Bruce Davidson – Circus
A member of Magnum since 1958, American photographer Bruce Davidson’s most recent book ‘Circus’ (Steidl - 2007) is a wonderful testimony to the lives of American circus travelers in the mid-20th century. His black and white photographs mix behind the scene and on-stage stories in 3 different Circuses over 10 years (1958-1965-1967). The first section is dedicated to his intrusive, very emotional masterpiece essay about Jimmy Armstrong, dwarf-clown of the Beatty circus. Here it’s not about the show and the glitter anymore, but about the humanity of this intriguing performer. The 2 other sections, even if less magical photographically speaking, show the excitement and laughter that happen when the circus comes to town.
Beautifully composed, full of emotions, all Davidson’s images stay true to the tradition of Magnum’s artistic documentary photography. 
    Read a great review of the book on circus-by-bruce-davidson

Learn more on Bruce Davidson:

Michal Chelbin
  Born in Israel in 1974, Michel Chelbin is  well-recognized in her country where she won many prizes and has had many numerous solo and group exhibitions since 2000. Her work has also started to be appreciated on the international photography scene and she had a few great reviews and publications in famous influential magazines.
I decided to include her in this selection, as her approach to circus performers is unique and compelling. In a series called ‘Stangely Familiar” she attempts ‘to capture human stories in everyday life, those that exist in the space between the odd and the ordinary.’ Possibly influenced by Diane Arbus’ images of ‘strange people’, she takes close straightforward portraits of all types of performers (circus performers but also ballroom dancers or child athletes) in casual settings, off stage. Her images are enigmatic, mystical and sometimes full of an awkward erotic charge. In strong vivid colors or black and white she offers beautiful intense images full of contradictions and far from clichés. In each picture we feel that we enter the intimacy, even the mind of the subject but without knowing more than their first name. 

Xenia, Janna and Alona in the woods, Russia.

Paulina, Ukraine 2005

Jenya and Vitally on a spring bed, Russia 2003

Father, Israel 2005
Dasha and Oxana, Russia 2004
 Learn more on Michal Chelbin: