Photography is a preferred medium of story-tellers. But given the depth and breadth of what photography can be now, it becomes increasingly impossible to tell the real from the fictional. Some artists posit whether truth in photography is even the point any more. This even as the directive to chronicle the world's diversity of beauties and social injustices is increasingly urgent, as a matter of truth. Some people want to play with the amazing space-age toys; still others resurrect vintage tech or even make their own. The genre has mushroomed into the least monolithic thing possible -- as a genre, it contains multitudes. The 2014 Paris Photo L.A. show, showing from April 25-April 27, reflects this wide-angled variety. The LA-based artists being featured at the fair alone offer a nearly whiplash-inducing array of relationships to technology, history, abstraction, landscape, portraiture, narrative, sculpture, handcraft, digital manipulation, drama, ambiguity, nostalgia, propaganda, memory, seduction, and document. Now multiply that by the hundreds of international artists brought in by their galleries and publishers, and you start to see why you might need more than one day at Paris Photo L.A. Plus walking the outdoor streets of the New York backlot is very convincing -- going up stoops into galleries on brownstone first-floors, having storefronts occupied by bookstores, cafes by cafes, and the intimate hangar-style settings therefore breezy and cool and not at all overwhelming. As an experience, it's compelling. It feels, of all things, natural. The world comes to Paris, then heads for the part of Los Angeles that's specifically built to look like New York City in the movies. And to think, some people are still worried about illusion.
The following are a few Southern California artists who will be on view at Paris Photo:
If there's one conversation Mitch Dobrowner is accustomed to having, it's the one about illusion . He lives locally and shows at Kopeikin Gallery in Culver City, but at the fair, it's the iconic publishers of Aperture (New York Backlot D1) who are hosting his work, with a booksigning on Sunday April 27th at 2 pm. His book Storms is a tour de force of photography publishing, and because of the impossible majesty and monumental phenomenology of his intensely detailed black and white photographs of monster storms, people frequently assume he uses Photoshop to engineer composite images. He doesn't. In fact, Nat Geo did a 10-page spread on this series, which included their own meticulous analysis of his image files for latent authenticity. He's proud of that. He remembers being about 18 and seeing Ansel Adams for the first time; inspiring him like so many to teach themselves how to take pictures -- and that meant manual lenses, wet prints, negatives, darkrooms. So although he shoots digital, he works his filters in the field and in the camera, as close to old-school as a digital camera can get, and there will always be a wet darkroom in his heart. In that vein, he feels that his win at the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards for Photographer of the Year represented less his own amazingness than a broader and important resurgence within the tradition of black and white landscape photography. "Ansel Adams is not the end of the vision. What would he be shooting with today? What does a new generation have to add to the conversation?" Ansel's grandson invited him to Yosemite -- a "dream come true" for this artist whose magnificent work is at heart, radically traditionalist.
The history of the book's imprint is not lost on Dobrowner, whose other great influence was its first publisher, the photographer Minor White who founded Aperture and edited it from 1952 to 1976. And for their part, Chris Boot, Aperture's executive director and the editor of the "Storms" book, felt the same way about Dobrowner's pictures. "It's happened just a few times in my working life, where the experience of a first encounter with a body of work fired an instant conviction: to want to publish them. Thrilling and simple and beautiful, they struck me as pictures from my imagination, so inevitable that you immediately wondered why no-one else had made them before. They satisfy old-fashioned criteria for me, about what photography does best: observe the world in a way that causes the viewer to rethink their understanding of the world, while offering something new to the lexicon of "what the world looks like in photographs" (to borrow Garry Winogrand's adage)."
Zackary Drucker & Rhys Ernst
For something so completely different that it's kind of amazing that it's all still photography, catch Zackary Drucker & Rhys Ernst as part of the group at Luis de Jesus at Stage 32, Stand 9. These artists work as collaborators, creating in staged and produced set pieces as well as operating in documentary mode, chronicling a long-unfolding narrative with bracing intimacy. Their renowned "Relationship" series, which is currently taking the Whitney Biennial by storm in the real New York City, is a personal photo diary that documents Drucker and Ernst's life together over the last six years, during which one transitioned from male to female and the other from female to male. Their gallerist Luis de Jesus feels that the images "speak to our essential human nature and basic need for companionship, love and collaboration beyond race, gender, and any other fluctuating circumstance. We are given a privileged look into their private lives, which it turns out are not that different from our own. However, this is precisely the essence of their power: the ability to break through hierarchies and dislodge our minds from the trappings of a presumed normalcy. They are a serious, pardon my French, baise de l'esprit totale. Just when we think we know it all, we're given the opportunity to expand our consciousness!" In a special treat for fair-goers, the gallery will also be debuting brand new work from the pair, including several never before seen photographs.
In yet another compound twist further thwarting a monolithic view of the state of photography, an expansive series of artist and curator talks takes on a variety of high-level topics. The Friday afternoon (4 pm on Friday April 25th) Sound & Vision series (all at the Sherry Lansing Theatre on the studio lot) features the artists Walead Beshty and Jean-Luc Moulene in a conversation introduced by new MOCA Director Philippe Vergne. Beshty in contrast to both the landscape and portraiture modalities, is concerned with primary issues of abstraction and direct action. Working in both sculptural and painting-based processes, Beshty deploys photography along a continuum of mediums, often including or featuring it within much more complex installation contexts. His recent Regen Projects show here in Los Angeles (where he lives and works for the most part) included, among many other works, a selection of his photograms, which in their deliberate "misuse" of conventional materials, challenge the very viability of aesthetic compartmentalization as a function of the global blurred-boundary zeitgeist. Moulene is definitely a fellow traveler on that paradoxical path, so expect a wide-ranging and possibly slightly mind-melding conversation between these artists.
Brian Bress will present a solo show at Culver City's Cherry & Martin space (New York Backlot G2), which includes works you might have seen in a slightly different configuration at the Stark Bar at LACMA. "Idiom (Brian, Raffi, Britt)" 2013 was a high definition three-channel color video with wall-mounted monitors, each measuring 22.5 x 37.5 inches. On a 19 minute, 24 second loop, the work is both more massive and more durational than the typical photograph one imagines. For this fair, Bress reimagined the triptych as singular images, using some of the same costumes, characters and image construction techniques that were used for the Stark Bar piece but with different variations of color, pattern and performance. Paris Photo LA has gone out of its way to including "the moving image" in the photography tribe, so Bress will not be the only video artist on the lot. Of course, Bress is not really a video artist anyway. Rather his gallery describes what he makes as "soundless, digital loop in which isolated actors (often the artist himself) perform in various forms of dress -- their faces, torsos, and arms obscured by sculptural masks and suits or paint that originate from the artist's photo-collages, which are composed of found and original photographs."
For Bress, photography is "a means to an end," he says. "I love that the more ubiquitous the technology becomes the less people want to marvel at the technique and the process and the more they skip immediately to the form and content. And in what I do a lot of times that content is about documenting other art processes, like painting or drawing or performance. A more direct answer is that I see video as being a continuance of the process of photography but, that relationship quickly becomes secondary once you add motion and time to the mix, and I'm more likely to answer questions related to performance than to photography than if I showed prints of the same subject matter. The way that I got from still photography to video was through the desire to document the performances I was doing in these giant tableaux I was building in my studio. I think we're instinctually drawn to document and tell stories about the people around us. The reason that figures still play a role in the videos where the imagery is so highly abstract is because I'm in love with watching things come to life and giving that magic over to the viewer."
Christopher Russell will be releasing two print editions through Aperture at their storefront in the New York Backlot D1. Each image is in an edition of 10, but the scratching and drawing on each single piece is unique. The work is related to the current exhibition at Mark Moore Gallery, which examines among other things the potential beauty and emotional power of imperfection, and "the handmade origins of bookmaking, imitating the illustrative qualities of crafted manuscripts while also recalling the visual language of contemporary materiality, literature, and design."
For her part, Gina Osterloh, whose solo show occupies Francois Ghebaly's space (New York Backlot G5) also has an emotional impulse for the handmade, emotional aspects of her practice -- which culminates in photographs but as with Bress's works, requires much, much more. She executes a huge amount of performative and sculptural set-up for the documentation payoff that are the photos. Her images themselves are crisp and clean, the scenes they portray anything but. While quite clearly artificial, there is a sense of authentic expression that inheres in the clearly hand-made contents of the image. Yet it is the photographic image where she chooses to come to rest.
The sheer eclecticism is exhausting to contemplate; so like we said, give yourself plenty of time to linger among the thousands of intimate and epic moments of the human and mechanical eye on offer this weekend.
Top Image: Mitch Dobrowner, "Arm of God"
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