“I don’t have the impression that I photographed you a great deal. I certainly photographed you less than I wanted to. Besides, I don’t know why I photograph you. Maybe because I can’t caress you, but I never even asked to caress you.”
“The idea makes me shudder.”
“You see, its easier to ask to take your picture than to ask to caress you. I photograph you as if I were stocking up on you, in anticipation of your absence. These pictures are like pledges, or bonds, for my desire: I don’t even know if I’ll ever print them, but if one day, because I am in love, your absence becomes unbearable to me, I know that I’ll be able to turn to this little roll of film and develop your image, and caress you, but without making you shudder, or casting a spell on you. They say that if you want to make someone who is stubborn fall in love with you, all you have to do is surreptitiously put an apple stuck with clover under their bed and let it rot there. A photograph works the same way, like a spell I might cast on you. By taking your photograph, I can attach myself to you, make you a part of my life, assimilate you. And you can’t do anything about it.”
Translated from French, Ghost Image by Hervé Guibert
Happy New Year!! 2014 has been a brilliant last year and so much yet to come. This post is mostly going to be a recap of the last year and a hint on the amazing things to come soon this year.
Firstly this has been a great year in terms of just getting to understand how to see photography. I spent the last three months moving through the idea of straight documentary to how to seek abstraction in the same space to make it so much more than I could possibly explain.
Its also been a great technical learning experience both with how to manage film and digital. I have to say I have new found respect for what digital can do and am looking to shoot a lot more with my Canon DSLR.
I also got the chance to mingle with Large Format 4×5 cameras and see 8×10 in action and it just amazes me how much you can get out of a negative.
So keep checking up on the blog. Subscribe (if you haven’t already) and you can follow Constellation Cafe on Facebook too! Also because we’re starting a new year, let me know if you have any requests for specific topics of interest.
2014 has been a really interesting year for photography with some great work coming out. I’ve been specially busy watching and reading some great content online, so sharing it here for your Xmas / New Year free time.
First is a panel discussion with Michael Mack, Dewi Lewis, Thijs groot Wassink and Stephen Gil moderated by Martin Parr as part of Photobook Bristol 2014. A great talk, must watch specially for photographers looking to publish soon.
Secondly if you haven’t been reading writings related to photography, here is a documentary to jump start your interest. John Berger is the author of the highly influential writings titled “Ways of Seeing” which was also adapted by BBC for a four part documentary.
Lastly, SVA on Youtube is sharing some brilliant talks, I’m linking you guys to a talk on Instagram and social media’s influence on today’s photography but almost all of their talks are worth listening to.
If you’ve been following Constellation Cafe, you know I’ve been pretty excited about sharing notes on Toni Amengual’s new book “Pain”. Toni has usually been shy about his exposure to the online world and the work promotion, specially in the English speaking world. So here is some more on his book along with his comments on how we perceive and engage with it.
Before we continue, Toni already has a brilliant in depth interview online which I recommend reading. (Its in Spanish but Google Translator does a good job)
I spoke to Toni about the process on how he created these images and he spoke about not initially having a clear intention but experiencing it more like a game where he was documenting his surroundings.
I also spoke to him about the design of the book and how it engages the emotion in a more physical form. This is what he had to say :
As I told you, as it started as an exercise it wasn’t meant to be a serious project which is what I have on my website. The book format allows me to do other things. About the design, it was done by Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martin from Atlas Studio. I present them my work, my ideas and intentions and they understood it perfectly. They made the perfect container for such a work. They have a great responsibility on the success of the book. I have been asked about the problem that it is more a design book than a photobook. I don’t like the photobook definition. It´ s a book, and as all books it is designed. With the peculiarity that working with visual codes (that´s how I do understand photography) I can also use design to express the message. And that´ s what we did. At the end of the book in the credits there are the special thanks to many people, that are the persons that helped me to develop the piece. I couldn’t have done it alone, despite I sign the book because I coordinate all the work. I think that we, photographers and everybody, should start thinking more as teams than individuals. That´ s also a change that I am feeling politically in my country. So that’s also another layer that there is in the book.
One of the most interesting books to come out this year has been Pain by Toni Amengual. Curiously enough there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it so I decided to talk to Toni about the work and the book.
So I’m going to start with a few notes on the book and in the next post I’ll bring in Toni to speak more about it from his point of view.
Pain is Toni’s first book and if I can say he’s nailed it. The book is not very big, about 8 x 5 inches and unexpectedly very light for its thickness. Softbound in a bright red jacket, the design calls out for you as soon as you see it. The title “PAIN” is printed in bold black letters on the cover, loud as it can be like a accident on the side of the road you’re compelled to look at.
Pain is a quiet book until it explodes like a visual secret hidden in plain sight. Brilliantly designed, the book follows Japanese two fold design but encourages the viewer to physically cut through the pages to reveal the images inside.
What I love about the book is its politically charged statement and the way it engages you to act physically before it reveals anything. The act of cutting open a book is poetic and harsh at the same time and it couldn’t have been conceptualized better.
I am a little hesitant in terms of the final emotion of the book. When all the pages are open and you go thought them, the realization of a perennial state of hardship lingers. The book in all its beauty and engagement has a very strong opinion which at times hinders the viewer imagination.
In the interview with Toni I shall speak more about the images inside and how he looks at the society and existence in the work.
Pain is a beautiful book which is more than just a book. Its a installation which engages you to move and take action, to cut open something precious to be able to see its core. I’ve already added one copy to my library and you should definitely pick one up from his website before the limited edition of 500 is sold out.
I was introduced to Ara’s work in a workshop at ICP and to say I was impressed would be a understatement. His work has character and intimacy which is rarely seen in photojournalism. And so I requested him to spend some time with me in a interview to discuss his book “Father Land”.
For those who haven’t seen the slide show from Burn Magazine from the last blogpost, Father Land is Ara’s first book. Exploring the small region of Karabagh next to Armenia, this book documents the photographers presence in this homeland he’s never visited before, the residual conflict in the lives of its citizens and the search for his own identity. Coming from a family of poets, Ara effortlessly constructs complex narratives built on exile, loss, being an outsider and yet being intimately involved with the space.
The publishers, Powerhousebooks have made a video and a detailed synopsis of the book, I do recommend looking at it before you read the interview as I would be skipping to the more pressing queries at hand.
Q. Fatherland was created over ten years of photography, with you travelling between Armenia and California. And a very important part of this work has been the fact that you never had been to this location prior to the book. I’m curious how the place was in your imagination vs the reality of it? And if it was different how did that change your viewpoint about it.
That’s very true; I was born in a diaspora in the Middle East, into a nationalistic family, which was very much connected to Armenia. We were descendants of the Armenian genocide, very conscious of retaining our language and culture after this attempt to exterminate our language, culture & identity. My father and my grandfather both wrote in Armenian, so there is this whole continuity there. I grew up with an imaginary idea of what Armenia was. We were taught in school about the beautiful mountains and streams and the heroes of the Armenian past, almost propaganda of what motherland should look like. But we know the reality is very different.
So when the project happened, I went with a very open mind. I didn’t want to go back to Armenia without a purpose, but now I was working in this region, it all changed. As a photographer you just go into places and you try to connect, without judging or thinking of things should or should not be. Just tried to be there without preconceptions.
Q. Before going to Armenia, you were already documenting your family and this diaspora you exist in back in LA. Why was it necessary to go to Karabagh and not just work with your family to create a metaphysical space in California?
I was doing both and I really feel it’s very important to work in your own backyard. But going to Armenia, mostly comes out of influences of literature. Like most writers write about themselves, their people, the places where they live in. It’s expected to come from there; no body goes to a country and writes fiction about that country. And my approach was to write about myself, to photograph about myself. So I started photographing in LA but there is a symbiotic relationship between Armenia and the diaspora. My father would say, “You have two lungs, one is Armenia and the other is diaspora. And they both need to be working for the person to be alive”. It was clear to me, if I was going to look at Armenia and the Armenian experience between the 20th and the 21st century; I had to go to Armenia at some point and work on a project that connected to the diaspora.
Q. Reading your father and grandfather’s work, they both wrote passionately about Armenia while in exile. I wish to understand how your viewpoint changed being an outsider in the most basic physical sense yet always being intimately involved with the idea of home?
I think it meant I had a different perspective. I don’t think it helped me, as I didn’t really have a well-defined direction, like I’m going to start here and end here. I just started exploring and that’s the beautiful thing about documentary photography as there is no particular endpoint. The process becomes as much a purpose as the actual purpose.
A lot of the work really comes together in the editing process. Like Nan Goldin the other day said “photography is editing” and everything is very much instinctual. But yes it did give me this ambiguity that we were earlier talking about. You go to this homeland but you’ve never been there before. So I found myself in this strange ambiguity of knowing the place but never having been there. I spoke the language, but a different dialect from the locals in that region. Their culture was my culture but not quite. It was home but also at times completely foreign. So it also became about identity.
Infact the title, which my father gave the book, was “The Spirit of Karabagh” in the sense that it was going to be about the spirit of this place and how they were able to survive. In the introductory text, my father lists twelve to fifteen races that used to be in this region that no longer exist. So his question was why is Armenia still there. But as I was working, it became more about me, my identity and the connection to my father.
Q. Do you consider yourself in exile?
Through and through, in a sense, yes. An outsider. I don’t think of it as exile because that would mean I’ve been thrown out of someplace. But I’m in a state of constant diaspora; even if I go back to Armenia it would be a diaspora for me. So I believe this is my state of being, between multiple cultures, languages that influence all of my work.
Q. As we look deeply into the image construction, the classic style of photojournalistic documentary comes into play and invokes a deep sense of conflict intertwined with poignant awareness of normality. How did you start exploring layering and working through this contrasting stability and residual conflict in your images?
Yes, the aftermath of war is obviously a important part of that region. The book for me was about the place, the issues as well as about my identity. There is a image in the book which is very much about the duality of war with some kids who are playing with these rusted old military vehicles. War and life are definitely one of things which I explored in the book.
Q. Your father’s work has always been about the loss and struggles of Armenians yet always a hope for the future. As we look at fatherland there is a deep sense of loss, the lost land, your own history, losing your father, as you became a father. Do you think somewhere this work becomes a family album more than the exploration of a society?
In a sense it is a family album. Everytime I went, I had one more addition to my family. My sons were born and at the same time I lost my father. So there is a cycle which is repeated. Yes, you could look at it as a family album, a very very strange (laughs) family album. And I do feel that for the work to be relevant it has to have multiple layers. Its a dark book but in it there is this idea of becoming, which looks at the future of myself and this place.
Thank you Ara for taking the time to talk to me for this interview. If you are interested in more information about the book or Ara’s work, please visit his website. Father Land is available at the ICP Book Store (Signed Copies, I think) or it can be ordered on Amazon or via the Publishers directly.
This has been a exciting week. Firstly I was introduced to the work of Armenian Photographer – Ara Oshagan who I interviewed today in the ICP Library, discussing more about his work, motives and the craft behind it all.
Ara is the photographer behind the book “Father Land”. Stunningly intimate, spontaneous and emotional, this work really made me question the idea of identity, homeland and the state of exile. As the interview is in audio form, I would need a little time to edit it. So till then have a look at the work on the Burn Magazine website.
Continuing on the topic of exile, today I also attended the talk with Sunil Gupta. The Indian photographer based in London has been working for more than thirty years on the exploration of homosexuality and the phobia’s attached to it. If you haven’t seen his work, do have a look at his website but if you’re able to get your hands on his book Exiles, then thats where my favourite work lies.
One of the books which caught my attention in the New York Book Fair was Crushed By Jason Fulford. I had previously seen two of his books Raising Frogs for $ $ $ and Hotel Oracle and his brilliance really likes creating relationships between the images.
Crushed is small hardbound book with a leatherette cover. Surprising heavy for its size, the cover features just the title with a photograph of a raised concrete platform with stairs leading to a vista which seems to have vanished into a faded memory.
Inside are about ninety pages of full color square photographs printed on lustre paper. On initial introduction itself, the books intentions to take the viewer on a private journey are evident. The images present themselves as thoughts of the photographer, streaks of air left behind as traces by a aircraft in a blue sky or a lone donkey standing in the middle of nowhere as if a statue.
The images as beautiful as they are, all exhibit a strong sense of sentimentality and solitude. This all is layered deep underneath a constant presence of amusing elements like the lonely dinosaur in a suburban city, seemingly lost in this time and space.
Crushed is a beautifully simple book and it exhibits melancholy in the same beautiful simple way. In the process of making the book through his editing, the photographer constructs something so indescribably fragile and beautiful, it would be impossible to see at the very moment it was happening. This book photographs the invisible spectrum of our visible lives and it does it in the way most delicately possible. I would definitely recommend it for any library.
In case you’re interested, do have a look at Jason’s website here. Inside you’ll also find links to his other books and commissioned work.
Its been a hectic week here in New York and its Sunday late night here as I’m trying to clear my mind to write a paper for my art history class. But as I have no real ideas at the time, I thought I’ll just warm up by updating you with some new information about whats been happening.
School has been really hectic, this weekend was spent in the classroom discussing images and strategies about getting access to photographic subjects with Joseph Rodriguez. For those who don’t know him, Joseph is a brilliant photojournalist and a amazing human being. His workshop was definitely one of the best I’ve ever attended. He’s worked with Nat Geo, BBC, Mother Jones etc and also teaches at ICP other than taking workshops. Whenever you have time, do have a look at his work on his website, its a real inspiration.
In case you’re looking for more inspiration, I’ve been watching a beautiful documentary on the legendary modern architectural photographer Julius Shulman called Visual Acoustics. Its easy to see how this brilliant photographer changed the way we look at architecture and how we look at light interact with our living spaces. A must watch!
The above is a shot from my digital camera. At one point of time I had almost given up on 35mm film because of how grainy it was looking even at low ISO’s and how the colors were just not saturated enough.
Ironically I recently came across in a discussion at school was Film Speeds. There was a major difference in film results, specifically in grain and color when I compared my results to others. And for a really long time I thought it was because of the quality of light in India and the color temperature.
But thats not the case. I was facing the same issues even when shooting here in NYC. The reason as it turns out to be is how I’ve been metering film.
Most films as it turns out are best shot if metered for slower ISO than the box rating. So for example if you have a roll of film at 400 ISO, you could shoot it at 400 ISO and get low color saturation and high grain OR shoot it at 200 ISO (overexposing by +1 stop) and get higher color saturation and almost no visible grain. I just want to point out, here I’m talking about pure overexposure, not pushing film (we are still developing the film at box speed)
Thanks to the latitude of films, overexposure is not so much of a problem if you’re going up to +2 stops in color. BW is even more resilient with capability of up to +5 (for low ISO BW). Just a note – these tips are only for C41 and BW films, not slides or digital. Also as you go up in ISO on films, latitude will continue to drop.
Now all sounds good and you might be jumping around excited that your results would be better but this ISO reduction poses one serious problem. Color films as such are limited to mostly 400 ISO. There is a single higher speed Portra 800 but other than that they max out at 400. So now because you’re shooting everything at a lower ISO, you’re stuck at 80 ~ 200 ISO for most of the times which means shooting only in daylight. Question is what should be done in low light situations?
One solution could be buying expensive faster lenses with apertures like f1.2. The other could be pushing films. But there is a trick to it too. Instead of pushing the film and processing it at pushed ISO, if you develop it at still higher ISO, you could get some of the saturation and contrast back. So hypothetically speaking, if you wanted to shoot at night, take Portra 400, shoot it at 800 and develop it at 1600.
I’m yet to try the last push process idea but in theory it should work. When I do I shall post results or if any of you guys are going to do it, send me a email and we can share the result online.