Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Show me your place and I’ll tell you who you are.

How important are our house, our living room, or our bedroom to us?
These places may be where we spend the biggest part of our lives (well and the office unfortunately). We customize them to match our tastes and interests, we make sure they are functional but also comfortable, that they feel like ‘home’. Home: a place where we feel good, safe, protected from the outside world, a place where we can fully be ourselves.   
I’ve spent months on the road and I moved from one apartment to another, from one country to another many times now. So I often wondered what home really means to me and I came to the conclusion that it’s not the place itself that matters, not the country or the street it’s in. What makes a place unique and special is the belongings that we take with us every time we move - a book, a photograph, a souvenir, a blanket - these few items that we cherish and keep close to us and the way we arrange them to create a desirable space where we’d like to retreat from time to time. For me it’s also the people that make a place be home, but today, that’s not the subject…
The surroundings we create for ourselves become a very personal place that I believe tells a lot about who we are…
Some photographers (too many?) have explored this idea by entering inside people’s, teenagers’s and children’s rooms.  Every time it feels like they’re entering more than a room, they’re entering people’s life. Each portrait becomes a story revealing details of intimacy and bringing us closer to the subject.

Rania Matar, A girl and her room

This project is about teenage girls and young women at a transitional time of their lives, alone in the privacy of their own personal space and surroundings: their bedroom, a womb within the outside world.’ 

We all know how difficult being a teenager can be. This is the time in life where each person searches for his inner self, tries to understand who he/she is. The teenager's room represents his or her own universe more than any other place, his or her own personality, interests and doubts. Rania Matar has succeeded in entering the private world of teenage girls 9in The US and in the Middle East) without voyeurism or judgmental eyes. You feel the trust between the photographer and her subjects, an unstated bond that makes the photographer invisible and her photographs so close and natural. More than staged portraits of girls in their rooms it's the life and feelings of the girls that Rania Matar shows with decency, elegance and some kind of retained emotional strength.

Lilly 15, Brookline MA, 2009

Izzy 18, Brookline MA 2011

Dima 19, Beirut Lebanon, 2010

Zoe #2, 2009

Jia Lin 18, Boston MA, 2010
More on Rania Matar: www.raniamatar.com/
Baudoin photographs Parisians at home. The typical and sometimes stereotypical (on purpose) Parisian ladies, the more or less famous Parisian jet setters , the unknown, his friends. Of course the situations are staged, but the places and the people feel real. And there is something unusual, shifted, fun, and playful about his portraits. Each interior reveals a part of the personality of each subject, but the fact that each person takes on a different posture makes it even stronger. I’m not sure how each photo shoot happens but it feels like he lets people do what they want, to choose their gesture, their position. They look like they’re having fun together, and for me that’s what makes each portrait so natural and unique. Isn’t it refreshing for once to look at photographs without questioning our inner selves, our society, our lack of involvement or our guilt? 

Judith, actress, métro Gare de l'est

Fifi, fashion designer, métro Blanche

Manon, fashion designer, métro Saint Germain

Elvis and Archie

Xavier and Gaspard, DJ, ELLE
 More on Baudoin: www.baudouin.fr/
Lucia Ganieva
Lucia Ganieva is a Russian photographer who now lives in the Netherlands. She likes to take portraits and particularly portraits of women. Many of her series could be detailed here, as she likes to combine portraits with images depicting her subject’s environment.  ‘Me & my home’ and ‘The Sunset of Fame’ are probably the two of her series that deeply explore this people-home relationship. Between the two, the one that appeals the most to me is the second one. The title says a lot about the story behind the images. But the title wouldn’t mean anything without the combination of these old women faces and a close up of their wall, a photograph of a time that is long gone. Full of nostalgia, there is something tender about these images and about these proud women. The interiors and décors also seem to belong to another age, in between a comfortable home and an old museum they’ve seen life go by. Everything is still there, but everything has faded even the grey blue paint on the walls…
Lucia Ganieva
Lucia Ganieva
Lucia Ganieva
More on Lucia Ganieva: luciaganieva.com
James Mollison – Where children sleep.
Where children sleep tells us stories of children from around the world, from all types of families. The concept is very simple: the portrait of a kid and a photograph of his bedroom. This book can be seen as a children’s book with nice pictures but what makes it stronger is the power of the portraits and the diversity of atmospheres captured in each room. The portraits and the rooms talk to each other to write these little stories of what it’s like being a child on earth. It talks about children’s rights, social issues, inequalities. But also about education, family, and tradition. The book is certainly appealing and I enjoyed going through it once but something about it bothers me. I guess it’s because even if the photographer’s intention is to show the children ‘as individuals, as equals, just as children’, they also feel like freakish stereotypes pretending to represent a category, a race or a country.  I find the book beautiful but there is something odd, maybe too staged about these children (without a smile?) that prevents me for connecting emotionally with the images… The images feel like an outsider is intruding in these kids’ homes. And some make me wonder: are these kids real?
James Mollison - Where children sleep
James Mollison - Where children sleep
James Mollison - Where children sleep
 More on James Mollison:  www.jamesmollison.com    
Also to explore more similar subjects, I recommend to check out Adrienne Salinger’s photographs, especially her series ‘At home-1995-98’ and ‘Teenagers – 1990-96’: http://www.adriennesalinger.com/  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The body as an open book on life (Part 2)

Tattoos are sometimes perceived as fashion accessories. Many teenagers have sneaked out to make their first ink mark to look cool and try to prove something or belong to something. And of course there is also the drunk tattoo… But they are indelible marks on skin. And the fact that they are indestructible (mostly at least) makes them a true part of the body. Loved or hated, most of the time they say a lot about who we are. And beyond the aesthetic what’s fascinating about them is the strength, the power, the violence or even the sadness they can convey.
Christian Poveda
It was of course impossible to talk about tattoos without mentioning Christian Poveda and his incredible project about the Maras in Salvador. He did an exceptional investigation and spent many years in the heart of the "Mara 18", one of Latin America's most violent gangs. He paid with his life. He was murdered on September 2nd 2009 in the suburbs of San Salvador.
Tattoos are the strongest sign of recognition and differentiation in the Gang wars that prevail from Los Angeles to Central America. There is no word strong enough to describe Christian Poveda’s stunning series of photographs and his moving documentary ‘La Vida Loca’. Just watch this documentary if you haven’t seen it yet and let these portraits speak for themselves… (Maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen…)
Christian Poveda- Portraits
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, Quezaltepeque jail (Mara Salvatrucha) - 2009
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, Chalatenego jail (mara 18) - 2009
Christian Poveda -
El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
 More on Christian Poveda: www.agencevu.com
La Vida Loca, the movie: www.lafemme-endormie.com/vidaloca/

Aramita de Clermont
Not an easy task to follow after Christian Poveda’s disturbing images, but I think Aramita de Clermont’s portraits of former South African prisoners and gang members is the perfect subject. Her project ‘Life After’ is an exploration of the lives and tattoos of these men after they come out of jail. She raises many questions about the signification of tattoos especially when life, past stories, violence become embedded in the skin, when the status of gang member or prisoner stays written on your face for life.
‘Was it about a need to belong, or does it simply reflect an absolute immersion in “The Number”? Do the tattoos create an armour, or do they instead offer a voice, a potent form of self-expression, where the prisoners’ skin is perhaps their only remaining possession and form of self-expression?’
 ‘I also found myself wondering how it would be if we all had our past mistakes permanently emblazoned across our faces.’
What strikes me the most about her portraits is the vulnerability of these men who were ‘Kings’ in jail, this undeniable feeling that they are totally lost and uprooted from reality. You feel the sensibility and compassion of the photographer in the eyes of her subjects, you sense her emphatic curiosity and her desire to understand the minds of these men and read the stories of their lives… on their body.

Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont

More on Araminta de Clermont:aramintadeclermont.com
An interview for the BBC and testimonies of some of the prisoners: news.bbc.co.uk

Max de Esteban
Max de Esteban’s project ‘Vertige’ has nothing to do with the previous ones and I hesitated to include it in this theme. But what I find interesting about it is that it also questions our personality and our relationship with our bodies and our environment. His project is not just about tattoos, and it’s not even really about the persons that are photographed. The subjects become objects to be photographed. There is a certain detachment and conceptualization of the subject photographed. The association of strong individual sometimes disturbing imageries with intriguing statements creates doubts and interrogations. The theories and concepts might be the essence of the project but what I like about it is the striking aesthetic of the photography.
“It is in the context of the secular struggle between civilization and barbarism that we should consider current events. The civilized is insecure and skeptic, contradictions being both his greatness and weakness. In contrast the barbarian is slave to a belief felt with integral and exclusive passion and driven by totalitarian ambitions.”

Undue importance
Most of our pleasures and pains are the result of the undue importance we grant to our experiences.
Intimacy with Doubt
After a long intimacy with doubt, one reaches a peculiar pride: A significant drunkenness and lack of reflection is necessary to create a god. It requires only some attention to kill it.
Frightened by life
Existence is only palatable if we keep ourselves in a state of drunkenness. Life offers nothing positive without inebriation.
What will become of you?
Fallen into time by knowledge, we were granted a destiny, because only outside Paradise there is destiny.

More on Max de Esteban: www.maxphotos.es

Friday, August 5, 2011

The body as an open book on life (Part 1)

The word Tattoo comes from Tahitian Tatau. In Tahitian it means to mark, to draw or to hit. It was introduced in Europe through sailors coming back from Polynesia and appeared written for one of the first time in the journal of Joseph Banks, the naturalist aboard Captain Cook's ship the HMS Endeavour in 1769: "I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them is so marked by their humor or disposition" (wikipedia)

Of course the practice has existed around the globe for many years, transmitted from generation to generation. I really understood this tradition and its role and importance when I met Tihoti in his studio on Huahine (French Polynesia Island) a few years ago. Tihoti was covered with tattoos.  Most of them he made himself, some made by his tattoo artists friends. All of them telling the story of his life, an event that happened to him, the symbol of a belief or a value. He was writing his own story or the story of his ancestors on his body.

He was still working on finishing off his torso and his back. He told me that the only place he will not cover with tattoos was the right side of his face in respect for his son. So that he can still recognized him.
  Here is a more recent picture of Tihoti. Apparently he finished his torso, added a couple of tattoos also on his neck but has still preserved half of his face as he told me he would.
Photo by Norm Heke
 What this encounter revealed to me was the power of traditions, the respect for ancestors and History, the memory of generations.
When I arrived in the States a few months ago, it amazed me to see that many people are ‘wearing tattoos’. It seems the art of tattoo is more accepted and respected here than in France where tattoos have some kind of ‘bad guy’ reputation. I’m wondering what it says about our society and the cultural differences between France and the US (or maybe between Paris and San Francisco as a matter of fact)
Anyway I have decided to explore here a selection of portraits that question our sense of tradition and our relationship to our own body… Through these series I have tried to understand the sense and the role of tattoos for people around the world, from the perpetuation of a tradition to the need for a certain aesthetic. Tattoos can be a lot of things. A beautiful decoration, a form of art, a sign of belonging to a certain group, a statement, a personal meditation on life, a means of differentiation, a tradition, an addiction…It is said that when you start, you always want one more…
Jake Verzosa: The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga
Jake Verzosa is a freelance photographer working from the Philippines.
He photographed an indigenous group called the Kalingas living up in the rice terraces of the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines. His portraits are emotional representations of the flow of life. These women are the last living generation to honor a dying tradition, considered as too painful and unnecessary by a young generation of Kalingas influenced by Western trends and new perceptions of beauty. Their bodies and their eyes speak for them, transmitting a sense of proud melancholy.  With respect and empathy these portraits seem to tell us the stories of these women. In their eyes we can read the accomplishment of a hard life well lived, the sadness of the end of a time with maybe a form of resignation. It’s a testimony to the past and to the future, beautiful and touching. 
  More on Jake Verzosa and his project: http://www.matanglawin.ph
Cedric Arnold, Sacred Ink
Cedric Arnold takes us through the traditions of Thailand . His images are intense and powerful. The strong black and white contrasts make the ink pop up on the skins. We feel the power of the men who endured traditional tattoo techniques to paint their bodies with stories, superstitions and symbols. Here ancient traditions have discovered a new future while spiritual ‘ink’ experiences grow across many categories and generations of the Thai society.
‘A body, used as a canvas, every inch of skin filled with sacred text and figures of mythical creatures, all forming a protective shield. A boxer, a monk, a construction worker, a policeman, a soldier, a taxi driver, a shipyard worker, a shaman, a tattoo master; men, women and their inked protection from evil spirits and bad luck. Enter the world of Thailand’s spiritual ‘Yantra’ tattoo tradition.”
More on Cedric Arnold and his project: http://www.cedricarnold.com/
And a nice article on Wayne Ford’s blog: wayneford.posterous.com

Carlos Alvarez Montero: Scars
In his series Carlos Alvarez Montero shows the Scars of a selection of Mexico city residents. An indelible mark on the skin, a desire to be different and to never forget and to be able to forgive. When the mark is on the face, the most visible part of the body, it becomes a way of life. His powerful but sensitive portraits express the surface of probably deeper wounds. They push us to want to know more and maybe to try to read and imagine the stories of their lives in their eyes and their ink…
‘This series is composed of 20 portraits of residents of Mexico City that decided to engrave ink marks on their neck/face as a statement of their life experiences. This allows them to step out of the crowd, define themselves as unique, and by no means look back. Just forward.’
More photos and more series from Carlos Alvarez Montero: http://www.alvarezmontero.com