Pissed Off

09 June 2014

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From the series ‘Street Cats’ | © Akito Tsuda

​Akito Tsuda​’s website: akitotsuda.wix.com/akitotsuda

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08. June 2014 by Joao Bento
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“And the winner is…”

30 May 2014

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Image from ‘Ghost Cats’, 1st Prize on the Nature Stories category of the 2014 World Press Photo | © Steve Winter

“Cougars, once in decline, have for the past 40 years been making a comeback across the western United States — though they remain extremely elusive. The cats are protected in California and Florida, but prized game in 13 other states. The success of the recovery in cougar numbers depends in part on where the public will tolerate them, and on strategies for dealing with the difficulties of interaction between humans and cougars in populated regions.”

Steve Winter’s website: www.stevewinterphoto.com

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30. May 2014 by Joao Bento
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Joan Fontcuberta – The Fictional and the Fantastic

08 May 2014 . Written by Tristan Hooper

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Joan Fontcuberta’s most recent book looks and feels like it was published in a past era. With a soft, deep green cover and a fire-coloured serpent running up the spine, the book seems to incorporate many of the decorative features so often forgotten in today’s publications.

The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography is a composite comprised of six well known series – produced in conjunction with the Hasselblad award and presented to Fontcuberta in 2013. The book, published by MACK, is quite a triumph. The binding, sequencing and presentation are considered and engaging. The independent projects are brought together in unison and sit comfortably alongside one another. The publication exhibits the feel of an exploratory journal – something autobiographical; an ambitious record compiled through extensive studies and findings sourced from apparently far reaching locations. Flipping through the pages, it’s difficult not to become nostalgic; reflecting on childhood days spent peering at encyclopaedias of the weird and wonderful.

Over a career spanning some 20 years, Fontcuberta has established a reputation as an intelligent and witty artist through his works that examine photography’s rather tenuous relationship with the concepts of truth and objectivity. This book charts Fontcuberta’s career and in doing so traverses an ambitious range of topics, including flora and fauna, the natural landscape and even astronomy.

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© Joan Fontcuberta

At first glance, the book appears to be a treasure trove of interesting facts – intriguing and informative couplings of pictures and text. However, viewers should be careful not to take everything they see on face value – instead they would be best advised to pay very close attention because nothing is quite as it seems with Fontcuberta’s work – and it is only through closer consideration that the true nature and depth of his practice comes to light.

The history of photography is strewn with hoaxes and prevarication. Right from its invention up to the modern day – as technology has developed, so has the deception and the level of sophistication behind the trickery. Fontcuberta’s projects allude to this particular evolution; his work simultaneously addresses the concept of photography’s reliability and the development and trends inherent in the medium.

The book opens rather quietly. An early project, Herbarium, features images that would be at home in a botanical study of some kind. Various weird and wonderful plant specimens are photographed in a clear, clinical manner – black and white, against a plain backdrop. As viewers, we are invited to scrutinise even the minutest details. The pictures are even accompanied by denotative captions – providing the Latin name for each species. These studies, however, are not quite what they appear to be. They are in fact intricate, near flawless imitations of plant forms, achieved through the meticulous construction of various materials – ranging from household items to common domestic rubbish. The pictures are incredibly convincing and as viewers we are left with the distinct and somewhat unnerving confirmation of photography’s uncanny ability to show us something that purports to be one thing but is in fact something entirely different. Herbarium provides an appropriate introduction to the book and indeed Fontcuberta’s modus operandi.

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© Joan Fontcuberta

What follows is a journey of startling ambition and scope that leads us not only through the career of a photographer, but through a multi-faceted exploration of science. As the title implies, this book is as much concerned with photography as it is with nature. As Fontcuberta’s gaze shifts from subject to subject, his photographic approach changes also. Over the course of the book, we see Fontcuberta make use of the picture essay, the archive and ‘found’ photograph, digital imagery and more primitive methods such as the photogram.

His work pulls into sharp focus the significant role that context plays in the presentation and reception of photographs. For example, it is easy to draw parallels between Sirens and the type of article made famous by magazines such as the prestigious National Geographic. Through the conventions of reportage photography, Fontcuberta weaves a tale of startling discovery where the subject, certain fossilized findings, hint at the very stuff of myth and legend – mermaids and mermen. Despite the rather dubious subject matter, the coupling of pictures and text is very persuasive. The register of the language and the ‘straight’ manner in which the pictures are composed work together to build an overall air of authenticity. It wouldn’t be difficult to concede that someone could be ‘duped’ by such a story. However, as in many of Fontcuberta’s pieces, if one looks a little closer then it’s easy to notice various humorous statements imbedded into the work, hinting at its farcical nature.

Fauna draws upon the archive and found image. In a fictitious account, Fontcuberta details the discovery of a treasure trove of extraordinary species and findings, including field drawings and notes, photographs and even specimens stored in formaldehyde. The fact that these items are apparently ‘found’ affords Fontcuberta a certain distance from the material, the authorship is transferred away and he instead becomes more of a guide – leading us objectively through a myriad of bizarre findings. Through the accompanying text, we learn of the German doctor, Peter Ameisenhaufen, and his incredible encounters with a multitude of intriguing creatures, including a serpent like species with eight legs, a monkey with wings and a two legged fur ball with the head of a tortoise. Do these creatures belong to a hidden link in the evolutionary chain? Looking at the photographs and eyewitness accounts, you could almost be forgiven for thinking so.

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© Joan Fontcuberta

A written account detailing various mountain expeditions introduces the next project Orogenesis – the most recent example of Fontcuberta’s work included in the book. The imagery presented in this portion of the book is breathtaking, but attention should be paid to the use of the term imagery as opposed to photography. Here, Fontcuberta makes use of the digital terrain modelling software Terragen. The program interprets data, producing detailed images that mimic natural landscape forms. Interestingly, these ‘landscapes’ seem to adhere to visions of an idealised landscape – beautifully lit scenes that depict epic terrain, void of human presence. They are beautiful and idyllic enough that you almost find yourself wanting to believe them.

The Star-Catcher directs our gaze towards the heavens, or so it would seem. Each full-bleed image depicts the blackness and sporadic, speckled lights associated with pictures of the night sky. Some images seem to show light trails – which we naturally assume to be the result of the long exposure times required to capture the stars. Short captions offer coordinates and classifications for the ‘star systems’ or ‘constellations’ that we are being shown. Of course, these pictures are not showing us space, they aren’t even made using a camera. They are in fact the products of one of the oldest techniques in photography. Fontcuberta made the images by placing photographic sheet film onto the soiled windscreen of his car and shining a light through the glass, exposing it and creating a photogram. The epic constellations depicted are in fact splattered insects and other debris. This project is perhaps most successful in the fact that it exploits or makes apparent, photography’s uncanny ability to show the apparently insignificant, unnoticed or even grotesque, as something different, something quite beautiful.

In what is surely a continuation of the thematic sequencing that really seems to underpin the book, the next project is entitled Sputnik. Here, Fontcuberta creates a fictitious account of a little known Russian space mission, undertaken by a man and a dog. The astronaut, Ivan Istochnikov, is depicted at different stages of his life and career – again in using a number of ‘acquired’ photographs, a certain sense of credibility is created. In addition to these found images, the piece incorporates more examples of the trends associated with contemporary photographic practice, including the staged image, the manipulated image and even, in a sense, the self- portrait – Fontcuberta does indeed appear to be playing the part of Istochnikov.

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© Joan Fontcuberta

Many of the photographs are quite reminiscent of cold war propaganda – a proud countryman in full uniform, surrounded by adoring citizens, faces full of admiration. Sputnik seems to operate with acute historical and thematic relevance. The space race has long been the subject of scepticism and even outright disbelief – one need only browse the Internet to find a wealth of conspiracy theories relating to the first moon landings for example.

Looking at the book, it’s difficult not to simply feel impressed by Fontcuberta’s achievements – the breadth of his practice and the inherent complexities, the questions raised and the messages therein. The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography perhaps really comes into its own when viewed by an audience with no prior exposure to, or knowledge of, the man who is Fontcuberta. One isn’t sure what to believe. You could easily forgive someone for taking everything they see as plain fact – in the past; many have reportedly been guilty of this.

To flick through this book is to waste it. In order to fully appreciate the content, one should pore over the photographs and text, affording equal attention to both. Fontcuberta’s work is satirical, multilayered and above all, playful. A wonderful compendium of falsities.

Tristan Hooper is a British writer and photographer currently based in London
Website: www.tristanhooper.com blog: www.tristanhooper.tumblr.com

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08. May 2014 by Joao Bento
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The Frozen Wolf

27 March 2014

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© Ricardo Cases

Words by Ricardo Cases extracted from an email exchange about the project ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’:

“Working on ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’ was an emotional cocktail. Until then all my work had been made in urban areas. It was the first time that I photographed in a natural setting. It was interesting and encouraging to see how the photographs looked in this new environment, the colours were crazy! It was also an exotic experience because I had never been on a hunt and I did not know what the role was of dogs in this game.”

“Maybe this photograph, out of all of them from the project has been the one that has raised the most interest from the people who have viewed it, because it’s hard to determine if there is a problem with the animal or not. The dog looks happy but his face is covered in blood. I always think about this photograph when I question my role in this context.”

“I love my dog Quatre, I spend all day with him. I often take him to work but I don’t consider him a working dog, rather a hedonistic dog! Jokes aside, I think the relationship with dogs changes substantially when you’re with a working dog. This can be understood by their more independent character.”

To see more photographs from ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’ please visit Ricardo Cases’ website on www.ricardocases.es

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27. March 2014 by Joao Bento
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‘Veins, Rivers’

19 March 2014

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‘Veins, Rivers (cyanotype, 2014)’ from the upcoming series ‘Forget Me Not’ by Marta Giaccone

Marta Giaccone’s website: martagiaccone.com

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19. March 2014 by Joao Bento
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Knife Reflections

01 March 2014

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Canyon Suite, 2004. Type C prints mounted on aluminium, 21 1/4″ x 27″ x 2″

Words by Laura Parker extracted from an email exchange about her work:

- ‘Canyon Suite’ is a single piece of work composed of four separate photographs printed from negatives, all floating on different planes (each photograph is mounted on aluminium and the whole is held together by a hidden substructure). In addition to being photographic, the work is sculptural, as it has physical depth.

- I have been hiking at a place called Eaton Canyon for most of my life, (I love hiking and the local mountains I grew up with; my husband and I actually just recently moved to the canyon’s edge!), so I titled the piece ‘Canyon Suite’, as it is very much about this particular place that has been so important to me; a sort of refuge from the rest of Los Angeles. Also, both a canyon and a knife have an edge, no matter how blunted, and I am indeed interested in the dangers of the everyday.

- The knife reflections was an accidental discovery made during a breakfast I was having outdoors. I saw the oak tree above reflected in my knife and forgot about breakfast! It created an interesting perceptual rift due to the double plane of focus: the knife-on-the-table itself, and the reflection coming from far away.

- A significant amount of my work has originated in and around the use of household objects: from the burners of a stove, to pot bottoms, to all sorts of cast-off domestic materials. I would say I am interested in the dangers (knives, burners, electrical appliances) and subversions of domesticity… (I really resonate with some of Mona Hatoum’s sculptural installations) but I am also interested in having something utterly mundane trigger a transcendent experience.

- I am interested in working with issues of perception and exploring ‘thresholds of visual legibility’. The writer Buzz Spector once wrote that I had “conjured up a kind of photogrammar that encourages viewers to read the process through the image. So everything from my ‘Rubbings’ to ‘Knife Reflections’ (going all the way back to ‘Prime’, 1992) plays with ways that a photograph can become a highly ambiguous object. It’s both about the nature of surface and the push/pull between two and three dimensionality.

- Also, there is an undercurrent of being obsessed with the elements of nature in all of my work. It affords us a more primal reference point that challenges the linearity of language and other human constructs.

Laura Parker lives and works in California. Laura’s career spans more than three decades and her work has been widely exhibited. To see more work made by Laura Parker please visit her website: lauraparker.com

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05. March 2014 by Joao Bento
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Ali the amazing sheep dog…

15 February 2014

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‘Ali’ | © Julie Fischer

Please visit Julie Fischer’s website: www.juliefischer.fr

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01. March 2014 by Joao Bento
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Richard Mosse – Infra

01 February 2014 . Written by Tristan Hooper

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Vintage Violence, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011 | © Richard Mosse

The Congo has long been in the public eye. For many years, the mainstream media has spread images of genocide, famine and human rights violations to audiences the world over. Yet, despite the extent of reportage, the situation in the Congo endures as being somewhat enigmatic.

Driven to explore some of its hidden mysteries, Irish photographer Richard Mosse took the opportunity to make a number of trips to the country. Over a three-year period he captured the Congolese and the vast landscape that they inhabit. But whilst Mosse’s pictures could certainly be described as war photographs, they are rather unlike what one usually sees in contemporary conflict photography.

Mosse elected to make use of a discontinued form of infrared film for his work in Infra. Originally designed for use in aerial surveillance by the military, this specialised film was made to render camouflage useless. Natural vegetation and foliage – normally visible to the human eye in various shades of luscious green – are instead depicted in tones of magenta, verging on the psychedelic. The overall effect is quite startling; the images are both striking and curious.

These large-scale landscape photographs depict the region in a way that one feels to be looking upon some kind of alien terrain. A facile interpretation could perhaps relate the colour to that of a landscape stained with the bloodshed resulting from years of conflict. But perhaps we should look beyond the obvious and consider the more subtle possibilities inherent in Mosse’s Infra.

His decision to use this particular film is of real interest – not only because of its unique effect, but also because of its original intended purpose: designed to make the invisible visible, to show what is normally obscured and hidden from view. In employing this military technology, Mosse is perhaps attempting to peel away some of the ambiguity surrounding the region and its troubled history – in turn helping us to view the Congo differently.

The strange colour palette coerces the viewer into pondering the natural landscape – it places emphasis on the topography and fertile nature of the country. An interesting perspective as the Congo is home to an incredible glut of precious natural resources, attributes arguably at the root of the country’s problems. Despite the vast quantities of uranium, rubber and copper present in the region – providing the possibility of establishing the Congo as one of the world’s wealthiest nations – these reserves have only contributed to the state of unbalance.

Another captivating aspect is how many of the photographs depicting people within the landscape seem to perpetuate a divide between the inhabitants and the land. Often the Congolese appear at odds with the landscape, almost as if superimposed upon it.

Infra represents a potent and pronounced departure from the norms of photography concerned with war. It has often been commented that war photographs have contributed to what is known as ‘compassion fatigue’. Pictures depicting the horrors of conflict are so readily available that people have ceased to be affected by them. We are all only too familiar with the black and white reportage spawned from the Vietnam War, and more recent colour photographs from the Gulf and Afghanistan.

Mosse’s photographs demand attention; they show us something new, something to arouse our curiosity.

Tristan Hooper is a British writer and photographer currently based in London
Website: www.tristanhooper.com blog: www.tristanhooper.tumblr.com

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10. February 2014 by Joao Bento
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Valter Vinagre : ‘Pets’

29 July 2013 . Written by João Bento

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Faisão Phasianus colchicus (Linnaeus, 1758)

“The animal body, the animal voice, the animal gaze and the animal trace are, in contemporary art, all new questioning entities. But what questions do they pose? Upon witnessing this animal invasion, one may ask: why now?”
- Giovanni Aloi, ‘Art & Animals’, 2012

‘Pets’ is the most recent book by Portuguese photographer Valter Vinagre. Inside the book you will find thirteen, square format, black and white photographs showing taxidermied wild animals, all animals commonly found in the Portuguese fauna. These stuffed animals were photographed in a variety of domestic interiors – therefore their ‘new natural environments’ – surrounded by pieces of furniture and personal belongings.

Valter Vinagre has used flash to illuminate these scenes. This use of light, often associated with the use of black and white film, creates a dramatic effect in the images. The play between intense bright light and deep shadows makes the stuffed animals look scary – they seem to have come back to life to claim something from us. Some of these creature are endangered species – maybe we should pay more attention to that..?

One of photographs shows a pheasant placed next to several objects with the emblem of Benfica (the famous Portuguese football club) that uses the American golden eagle as its symbol. The pheasant sits on top of a shelf while the Benfica paraphernalia stays underneath. One can imagine that the owner of these objects is a fanatic supporter of Benfica – but he is even more proud of his hunting skills. In this case, the pheasant rules over the golden eagle.

The relationship between the Portuguese and their wildlife is not an easy one – maybe like in all the other countries of the world. The people that live in the rural areas seem to be more aware of, and understand, the animals that surround them. By opposition, the majority of the population living in the urban areas is suffocating due to economic pressures and is too overwhelmed to think about the sustainability of nature. It might be that, one day, the animals that Valter Vinagre photographed will only exist in taxidermied form, which is a shame.

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Fuinha | Papalvo Martes foina (Erxleben, 1777)

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Coruja das Torres Tyto alba (Scopoli, 1769)

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Texugo Meles meles (Linnaeus, 1758) | All photographs © Valter Vinagre

‘Pets’ can be consulted at Fauna & Flora Library: www.faunaandflora.org/library/
You can see more of Valter Vinagre’s work on his website: www.valtervinagre.com

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29. July 2013 by Joao Bento
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Sarah Laure Engelhard : ‘Plastic Drift’

24 July 2013 . Written by João Bento

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Untitled | © Sarah Laure Engelhard

Sarah Laure Engelhard is a Dutch photographer and marine biologist. As a photographer she works on self initiated projects. Most of her work is drawn from nature, such as the projects ‘Still Wild’ (2008 – 2009) which shows “wild animals that died in the city of Amsterdam by human intervention” and ‘Rest’ (2009), depicting a series of manmade objects that were left behind in nature. In most of her work she applies a fixed photographic strategy that makes it possible to observe the development of, and small differences between, objects or situations. Currently Sarah lives at the Gold Coast, Australia and is a PhD student at the Griffith University.

We were impressed with Sarah’s project ‘Plastic Drift’ (2009 – 2010). ‘Plastic Drift’, she tells us, shows “objects that had been drifting in the ocean but were collected from the beach. The objects were taken into the sea again and photographed at a depth of 6 to 9 meters.” One of the objects from ‘Plastic Drift’ made us think of a spaceship flying through space! We asked her if she knew what the object was: “the object is a broken plastic ‘mandibak’, the name for some sort of a plastic ‘pan’ that is used in Indonesia in the bathroom to throw water over your body instead of a shower.” In the same photograph we can see two species of fish and the organisms in the background are corals and a type of sponge. The little shiny dots are particles in the water (sand, organic material, plankton) that reflect the sunlight.

We wondered if the image could be judged in the context of scientific work. Sarah explained that her photographs “do not supply data that can be used to measure anything or compare something scientifically and are, therefore, useless for any research purposes. In that sense they are solely visual.” In the course of describing her work, Sarah added, “I don’t think my images have a clear message. I am mainly fascinated by the impact human beings have on their surroundings and the way they always mark their presence with litter, but I think my images do not activate or explain enough to make people change their behaviour.”

Asked about her influences, Sarah explained, “a photographic project related to aquatic life that I really like is the seascapes taken of cities from the water level by the Japanese photographer Asako Narahashi. Another of my favourite works of art is the book and series ‘Another Water’ by Roni Horn.”

Please visit Sarah Laure Engelhard’s website to see more photographs from ‘Plastic Drift’: sarahengelhard.com

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24. July 2013 by Joao Bento
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