lørdag den 28. april 2012

Photogravure at Fotografisk Center

A few days ago I was at an exhibition at Fotografisk Center in Copenhagen. The exhibition is a show of photogravure crafted by Niels Borch Jensen, and the evening I was there, there were talks by both Niels Borch Jensen and Clay Ketter. It was very, very interesting, both because of the photographs in the exhibition but also because of the photograveure as technique.

Gravure is a form of print engraving. The photograph is etched into a hard plate, usually through a raster. This means that very dark areas have rather large and deep holes, grey areas have smaller less deep holes, and very light areas have the tiniest holes. To print you fill the holes with paint and press the paper against the plate in a manual high pressure press. Usually a matt paint is used on matt paper, but you still get very dark blacks as the dark areas get a lot of paint because of the deep holes.
The prints all have a very painterly but also three dimensional feeling. As I understand it, it is partly because of the varying thickness of the paint, but also because of the very slight fussiness of the print because of way the paper is pressed against the plate. Multicolor print can only be made by making a plate for each color separation and then press each plate with different color onto the same paper – a very difficult manual process.
The process was originally developed in the mid 19th century and was used by Alfred Stiglitz and Paul Strand. It was abandon in the 1920’s until it was redeveloped in the late 20th century. It has in this modern incarnation been made known largely by Niels Borch Jensen. It was really great to hear him tell about the technique and about working with artist to find the right expression for just their art. This is not about simple reproduction, it is about using a special and difficult craft to express new art.

The exhibition was with quite a few artist, all printed at the Niels Borch Jensen workshop. They was quit different and most of them was exquisite. Let me just write about a few of those I found most interesting (the pictures are grabbed from the home page of the Niels Borch Jensen gallery where all the photographs can be seen). Just be aware that the photographs of the prints (of the photographs) do not show the great physicality of the print.

This is by Thomas Demand and it is one in a series of four, showing the same building from four sides. I thought immediately that it was very düseldorpfer like, even though I don't really know what is generally thought to define the Düseldorpfer school. I gave me great satisfaction to later find out that Thomas Demand actually studied in Düseldorpf. This print is as object-like as it can be. Thomas Demand photographed an actual building in Japan, he then build a paper model after his photos, which he then photographed. These photographs was then printed with 4-color photogravure. Whew. They are beautiful and strange. They are lifelike and totally artificial looking. They are cool and interesting. 

Carsten Höller had a large series of birds, all amazing in large format photogravure print. Niels Borch Jensen told about how the photogravuere technique results in a different thickness of paint. Black paint is never really totally black, it always is based on some different tone (cool blue, warm blue, yellow, etc, etc). When the paint is thick it looks very black but when it is very thin the base tone can bee seen clearly. This means that a single-color photogravure print often (depending on the specific paint used) has a duotone effect. This is of cause common in many kinds of photographic print (and is also common with digital editing). But Niels Borch Jensen can make two-color photogravure where each color has a clear duotone effect. The bird prints are two-color prints, where each color is near black but with different base tone color. It is very, very beautiful and fascinating. I thought so also before I knew how they were made - but it was great learning about the craft used to make this art. 

The last photograph I will show here is by Carsten Holler who also was at the exhibition and told both about his art and about working with photogravure. His road pictures was my favorites. Perhaps I was influenced by him telling about it - knowing about something obviously makes it more interesting. But I do think that those road pictures was beautiful in an very obvious way. Everybody knows immediately what the motive is, even though we have never seen it quite like this in real life. The photogravure gave it a physical soft roughness that was perfect.

The prints above all have a kind of objective distance to their motive. But other prints at the exhibition was very different with a more dream-like engagement. If you get the chance, you should see for your self.

fredag den 27. april 2012

My new Olympus and me

I got my new camera yesterday evening - an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Here is my old Camera, a Canon 40D, together with my new Oly. Cute, ain't it?

Probably the main reason I felt the need for a new camera is just that I simply love a new gadget. But also I really felt ready to start taking some more pictures again, and that surely is something to encourage.
I still like my old camera and its lenses a lot, but it has two problems: it is simply to large to lug around; and it is quite noise already at 400 ISO. My new camera is therefor - as you can see - a lot smaller; and it is supposed to be quite good at higher ISO.
It is quite different to use a camera that much smaller than my old Canon. But I have quite small hands and even though I have only used it for an hour or so it already starts to feel good; the in-body image stabilizer is however surely needed as it is a lot harder to hold such a small and light camera steady. The buttons and dials are very SLR-like and I use it like a small SLR which is very different compared to use it as a large compact camera. This is fun!
Adobe Lightroom does not yet handle OM-D raw files, so I have only looked at some JPEG's. That is probably not fair to look to hard at those, but they do seem quite nice. It is however quite clear that the larger sensor of my old 40D in some ways holds up quite nicely with this new-generation 4/3 sensor. My Oly perhaps has a little less detail at low ISO but also a lot less noise at higher ISO.

Here is photo of me and my house taken with my new Oly in düsseldorfer style.

And here is one of the unused greenhouse in the garden.

søndag den 1. april 2012

Andreas Gursky at Luisiana

Gursky currently holds the record for having created the most expensive photograph (auctioned at $4,338,500 US $).

Of course this is by any measure an absurd price for any photograph, but many seems to think that this is a boring or even bad photograph. And knowing that it has been heavenly photoshoped makes it even worse for many.

I liked it right away, and after googling some of his pictures - and even more after seeing the Ben Lewis documentary - I even think that I understand it a little. But can you judge a picture on a web page when it is meant to be seen more than 3 meters long? Yesterday I went to Louisiana together with my brother to see the large Gursky exhibition - time to look for my self.

The Rhein photograph is the first one in the exhibition - Louisiana is clearly not above a little record bashing. It is however at bad choice to have it first; it is a very "distilled" Gursky and it is much better appreciated after having seen the many other photographs in the exhibition.
Most photographs in the exhibition are printed very large and I am pretty sure that not many can see them without been totally impressed and without being drawn into at least some of them.

I think that the most immediately fascinating photographs are the ones with a lot of repeating yet different patterns - like Untitled XIII; Hamm, Bergwerk Ost; and Nha Trang (you can google them your self). These photographs works when being seen in smaller sizes but they knocks you socks off when being seen more than 3 meters high or wide. They work in many different ways. When being see from a distance it is the pattern that fascinates you - because of the large format you can both sense the pattern as something abstract and still quite fast grasp what the motif is. Often there is something disturbing about this first view - even though they clearly are photographs of something real, they have a viewpoint and perspective that is not real at all. This is because most photographs are a collage of several photographs taken from somewhat different places, and this really makes you look at things in a new and fascinating way.

When moving closer - or sometimes it is the main theme - you see that the objects (often persons which are usually more object-like than person-like) are all different. And all are perfect in some sense. This "works" in a way I do not quite understand, but it clearly makes you appreciate the photograph in a different way. I think it is something common about all Gurskys photographs, that they make you very intensely aware that you are looking at something.

Most (but not all) of Gursky photographs have a very architectural element. Something about space and objects. This is in many of the "repeating" photographs but it is the (almost) sole element of some photographs, most purely in Prada II. Now we are getting nearer the Rhein photograph. However one of the fascinating aspects of the Rhein photographs is, that although it is a photograph of something that is spatial, then it also mostly appears as flat areas on the vertical canvas. This again strengthens the sense that you are looking at something and makes you think about what it is that you are looking at. In many photographs this flatness has the very architectural sense, but in some even this is distilled away - like in Bahrain photographs and even more in the Bangkok photographs.

The Rhein photograph is kind of repeating without repeating anything else than sameness. It makes the Rhein an object of water flowing through the cultivated landscape.
There is the extra aspect of the Rhein photograph that it is taken near Düsseldorf. I do not (yet) know that much about the Düsseldorf school of photography, but I have seen and been fascinated by the Bernd and Hiller Becher photographs of industrial structures in repeating patterns. The Rhein photograph of course has some of the same German industrial bleakness as the Becher photographs, but also in many other ways it is clearly in this tradition, yet at the same time is is something much more modern.
The Rhein photograph for me is immediately fascinating and impressive seen in real "life". It is very obviously an archetypical photograph taken by a great artist. Even an artist that is immediately understandable by most. And it is exemplifying the influential Düsseldorf school in a great way. I can not understand the price of this photograph, but I can understand that it is something special!

I bought the exhibition catalog at Louisiana at it is a quite nice hard bound book. The format is big enough that most of the Gursky photographs realy work. The print is OK, although a little to contrasty. Some photographs is printed as spreads, and although this usually is totally destroying for any photograph it is actually OK for some of the Gursky photographs. The repeating patterns work even if a slice in the middle is missing and the large size of the spreads is great for these types of photographs.The text in the book is a total bore - uninformative pseudo-intellectual babbling.