Friday, September 30, 2011

It’s always Summer… somewhere (Part 1)

When I moved to the US last winter, I had this idea of California as year round warm and sunny place. And to be honest, it’s true if you think about LA or even about the Silicon Valley, but I decided to move to San Francisco, and that’s a completely different story! I guess in a way it reminds me of my native French Brittany with warmer winters, which is not a bad thing…
Anyway they say it’s never summer in San Francisco and that’s partly true, but the last couple of days have been so hot and sunny (some say too hot for the locals!) I guess this is finally our Indian summer. These few bright days gave me the desire to explore the world and enjoy a few vacation days at the beach… So here we are, embarking for moments of pure sunshine and touristic entertainment…
Massimo Vitali
To get into conditions for our summer trip, there is no better way than immersing in Massimo Vitali’s work. Click on the link to his website and you’ll hear the movement of the Ocean and the waves running against the sand… (Yes, I mean it literally!) Scroll through his portfolio and you’ll feel the sunshine on your body, the brilliant Mediterranean light in your eyes, you’ll hear the laughs of people playing in water, the shout of the ice cream seller…
But Massimo Vitali’s images are much more than pretty beach images. The saturated shores and other vacation spots disappear to reveal their occasional inhabitants. In a décor where the sand is so white and the water so turquoise, the intrigue is in the critique of the role played by the crowd. An anonymous crowd that surely reveals itself to viewers lucky enough to see these amazing photographs printed as large-scale murals. But also a crowd that transforms these naturally beautiful landscapes in overwhelming, maybe even claustrophobic environments… What does it reveal? Maybe the necessity to be surrounded by our peers? Maybe a certain non-sense in our ability to follow normality at the expense of our freedom and space?

Massimo Vitali
Massimo Vitali
Massimo Vitali
Massimo Vitali
Massimo Vitali
Also check out his other projects (pools, discos, and more…) on
Zhang Xiao
Through his project ‘Coastline’ Zhang Xiao offers a new perspective on China by confronting us to unusual photographs of Chinese’ leisure activities. In a way, he brings us closer to a population not that different from us. Many Chinese leave their countryside to search for an easier life by the coasts and we see them here having fun and practicing usual beach activities. 
Zhang Xiao describes the coasts as ‘beautiful and painful’ and I guess we can say the same thing about his photographs. There is a beautiful melancholy in his images created by both the impenetrable foggy landscapes and the people’s attitudes. And there is something beautifully soft, gentle, humble in the way he photographs his compatriots. But there is also something painful in the sometimes-deserted landscapes, in the construction sites that represent the speed of Chinese development, on some sad faces. Maybe a feeling of quiet loneliness, of nostalgia that makes us uncomfortable because we’re not sure we’re allowed to smile to some situations that have a definite sense of humor… 
Zhang Xiao, Coastline

Zhang Xiao, Coastline
Zhang Xiao, Coastline
Zhang Xiao, Coastline
Zhang Xiao, Coastline
Watch a video presenting the project
More on Zhang Xiao:
Patrick Smith
Did you know that “65% of the French population gathers together during 2 months on 3% of the territory”? This stat seems extremely exaggerated, but what it tells is a reality. And obviously a similar phenomenon happens in many countries around the world. This is this phenomenon that Patrick Smith has decided to capture in his series called 'leisure territories'. Of course he depicts the amusement and enjoyment of the holidaymakers but also he questions our relationship to tourism and the irreversible damages that it causes to the environment. Mass Tourism changes the face of the planet leaving permanent scars on the coastlines: a tall building to welcome the vacationers, a new shopping mall right by the beach, a man-altered beach to replace rocks by sand… Our leisure and pleasure is the priority, the impact it has on the environment is too often a secondary consideration. France is not the worse country when it comes to preserving its coastlines, but the effects can be subtle, and by showing us our ‘industrial’ intrusion on natural environments without only showing the damage Patrick Smith asked us to just think about our exploitive interaction with the environment. For how long can paradise beaches stay paradises? 
Patrick Smith, Leisure territories
Patrick Smith, Leisure territories
Patrick Smith, Leisure territories
Patrick Smith, Leisure territories
Patrick Smith, Leisure territories
More about Patrick Smith (also check out his winter ski series…) :
Stay connected as next week we’ll get new summer perspectives where we’ll get to know the holidaymakers through beautiful portraits series…

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photography from every angle (Part 2) An afternoon at la MEP, Paris (Maison européenne de la photographie)

Continuing from my previous post where I was telling you about my afternoon at La MEP in Paris… In fact when I went to la MEP my main objective was to visit Jane Evelyn Atwood show and I initially though that it was all I would be talking about on this blog… But I’m happy I let the rest surprises me.
So let’s focus on the 2 exhibitions I mentioned earlier, Jane Evelyn Atwood and l’ombre de la guerre (The shadow of War) and the questions they raised about photography, art and photojournalism or maybe should I say the art of photojournalism. A shame that I didn’t get to go to Perpignan, Visa pour l’image by the way...

The links between photography, art and photojournalism have been the subject of many debates and discussions. We've discussed them again and again among our photo lover friends and photo community contacts.
Can photojournalism be considered as a part of the photography art scene?
Does art pervert photojournalism? Does photojournalism pervert visual arts?
When should a photographic approach be considered artistic? A single image? A conceptual body of work? A narrative? Can there be a narrative in art?
If making art is talking about one’s self and expressing personal feelings, what about photography which is telling someone else’s story?  Because Art is personal and subjective it cannot be associated with photojournalism or documentary photography which should be objective, right? Photojournalism and documentary images are for magazines not for galleries and museum walls, etc...

The list of questions is long and the debates endless... and dare I say pointless? Why? Because there are as many answers, disagreements, arguments to these questions as there are photographs, photographers, stories, artists, artworks to prove each point. Photojournalism and photography are part of an inseparable history, part of the same family and their lines have kept crossing and mixing for as long as the medium has existed and way before photography was even considered an Art. 

I also believe the question of the objectivity of photography (even when called photojournalism) doesn’t really make sense. Photography is never objective, there is always an inevitable human interpretation to what we see, to the way we consciously or subconsciously decide to see it and therefore photograph it. I came across this sentence in Robert Adams' essay Beauty in photography:
'The job of the photographer is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope. This is not to say that he is unconcerned with the truth.'

I like that definition as I guess it summarizes it all. Anyway I don't really intend to enter any philosophical debate about what art is and what objectivity in photography is. I'm only interested in seeing photography, in whatever style or practice we define it.
Photography is photography and talent can be found in every discipline. Talent but also aesthetic, composition, the search for beauty, emotion, feelings, questions and answers. And for me as long as an image or a story create one of these, I don't see why it shouldn't deserve the same attention and an equal consideration. 

Jane Evelyn Atwood (1976-2010)
Jane Evelyn Atwood is clearly an incredible artist (or should I just say photographer!) and I dare anyone to stay indifferent in front of her exhibition at la MEP. Dedicated to her engaged work investigating and denouncing serious social matters over the years, the tension and emotions of her images and stories are strong. From a series about blind children, Haiti, victims of land mines or the last days of a patient with AIDS to women in prisons, she shows a dark side of Humanity with power and compassion. Maybe every single image is not a model of composition and beauty in a strict sense, maybe sometimes the subjects become more important than the single image, but her photography touches the heart without concession. She makes us feel the pain, the misery, the fight of the forgotten as if we were meeting them. She makes us face our own reality and our role. She proves to us that photography can help change the world. Through photography she fights for what she believes in and proves that this is also what the power of photography is: believing that photography can show the world to help change it. 

Jane Evelyn Atwood, The Blind
Jane Evelyn Atwood, The Blind
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Land mines
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Land mines
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Women in Prison
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Women in Prison
 More on Jane Evelyn Atwood:

L’ombre de la guerre, Shadow of War (an homage to Tim Hetherington)

Another floor up and you get to the last exhibition of the day dedicated to war photography from the Spanish civil war to 2007. The Spanish civil war, because it is recognized as the starting point of modern photojournalism, and 2007 to get enough distance from current war news.
So in 90 images, most of them we’ve all seen before, the show takes us through modern History. Our History, a history of conflicts around the world. It’s the photo album of our times. Each photographic cliché becomes a symbol. More than the symbol of a war, it’s the symbol of a time, the symbol of the evolution of the world, of the relationships between the people, a step in History. Each photo is printed in large format and accompanied with a descriptive text explaining the context of the shot. Each photo is of course from a different photographer – a photographer who has captured an iconic moment of truth without losing his own photographic approach, with his own sensibility, with his own perspective.
It’s a strange feeling to stare at History as if reading an open book about the world. Each image sends us back to our weak human condition. But what else does it say about us? Are we making it what? better or worse?
Anyway a very interesting show, a true reflection on the world and on photography and what it takes for an image to become a symbol… I just regret that after Atwood’s exhibition I was already too tired and so overwhelmed to once again get deeper into Human misery…

Robert Capa, Débarquement, Omaha Beach (Colleville-sur-Mer), 6 juin 1944
LARRY BURROWS, South of the DMZ, Vietnam, 1966
© Jean Gaumy, IRAN, Tehran, 1986
Veiled women practice shooting on the outskirts of the city.
James Natchwey, Survivor of Hutu death camp, Rwanda, 1994.
Paolo Pellegrin. Lebanon, August 2006. 
Moments after an Israeli air strike destroyed buildings in Dahieh
Tim Hetherington. 2007, an exhausted American soldier in a bunker, Afghanistan
 La MEP:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Photography from every angle (Part 1) - An afternoon at la MEP, Paris (Maison européenne de la photographie)

Drôles de zèbres [et autres créatures] © Xavier Lambours
Last week I was in Paris. If you love photography and have limited time there (as unfortunately I did this time) the one place to visit has to be la MEP.

I spent (too much) time exploring 4 different shows: Xavier Lambours, XL; Generation de l'air, Jane Evelyn Atwood (1976-2010) and L'ombre de la guerre (the shadow of War). No need to say that I was really looking forward to the Atwood exhibition and that this was the main objective of my visit. But I discovered much more…
Discovery, amazement, confusion, empathy, sadness, shame, overwhelm. I smiled, I nearly cried, I stopped breathing for a few seconds… Ok, I might be exaggerating here but really the experience was worth the trip! It made me question myself, our society, the world and photography. As soon as I went back home happy, fulfilled and exhausted, I knew that I had to try to explain my experience. I also knew that it would raise questions and digressions that will take me time to process, explore and express before writing... But here I am, remembering again my experience and trying to detail each part of it.


I started my visit by the basement where the large black and white photos of Xavier Lambours where exhibited. Xavier Lambours belong to this category of photographers who have been part of the French photography landscape for years but certainly deserved more recognition, and especially outside of France. Nothing more than his date of birth on his wikipedia page… Amazing portrayer, XL has photographed with laid-back humor all the personalities of the French and international scene. His name appeared in the 80s when he started to photograph the Cannes Festival and its profusion of celebrities. But XL is not the photographer of one approach or one style. His photography tells that he has probably refused to be locked up in one unique role. Traveler, documenter, humorist in its way, he explores all genres and excels in every one of them. From documentaries in Yemen or about the French cyclist passion, from animals to nudes, from political portraits to street life, nothing can hide from XL’s lens.
The exhibition at la MEP shows 45 of his images and years of French political life… (With portraits of French political celebrities everyone might recognize now...)

Jacques Chirac, 1986 © Xavier Lambours
© Xavier Lambours

Generation Serge Gainsbourg, Chanteur, realisateur, Cannes 1983 © Xavier Lambours

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Paris, 1996 © Xavier Lambours

Chien méchant, Kyoto, Japon 1993 © Xavier Lambours
More on Xavier lambours: 

Generation de l'air

Walk up the stairs, pass the book shop, more stairs up to the first floor and here you are, entering a large room with walls covered by eclectic prints and magazine pages. ‘Generation de l’air’, the Air Generation or how to take the pulse of a new dynamic generation of photographers (mostly French or at best Europeans by the way…) The exhibition combines a collection of images published in De l’air, a French photography magazine since its launch in 2000. 11 years of images, series, documentaries, portraits, landscapes, nudes, stills that express the experiences of today’s photographers in today’s world.
The images displayed don’t follow any particular theme, any particular order but the originality and the sincerity of the work express the strength and diversity of today’s photographic language. There is no inferiority or superiority complex, no compromise in the work presented. There is no question about what belongs to galleries and what belongs to press, what belongs to the past and where photography is going. This is the future of photography, no question about that. A generation of engaged photographers with bright open eyes on the world around them, avid of discoveries, ready to express their personal feelings and share their hearts through unique and diverse photographic vision and expression. 

Peter Granser, Bikini Queen, Sun City, 2001

Julien Chatelin, Camp de refugies sahraouis a Tindouf, Algeri

Laurent Malau, La Foret, Nouvelle-Zelande

Linda Tuloup, La chambre Rose, 2009

Gregoire Korganow, Georges et Gregoire

Flore Ael Surun, Sur-Vie Sous, Entrance of the metro station Piata Victoriei, Bucharest (Romania)
By the way I’ve mentioned Flore Ael Surun as one of my selection for photographers that deserve more recognition for fototazo, and I believe she really does…

‘De l’air’ website and magazine are in French, but hey, no need to speak the language to understand photography, right:
The current issue is about ‘Tendance Floue’ a French collective I’ve mentioned here before…
I wish I could get the mags in the States though!