Vernacular photography – often defined as “authorless”, but in reality, made by the same people who use it, for themselves or family/friends, or, alternatively, commercial but made directly for consumers (e.g. the Sears portrait service) – has been gaining a lot of attention in the past few years or decades. If you are a photographer yourself, you know the writings of Geoffrey Batchen, who was the engine of the research of that type of photography with his books, especially Each Wild Idea. Continue reading
Category Archives: antique
Disappeared and back again
Toy camera fans, did you hear the news? The Holga is back.
One of the first posts on this blog, seven years ago, was about a roll of Kodachrome. As Kodak was discontinuing the production of its legendary film, the last lab capable of developing its unique process was ending its work, too. So I caught the chance and shot one roll of Kodachrome myself.
That last roll was actually also my first. While for most everyone else the pull of the film was nostalgia, for me it was something I could only define as second-hand nostalgia. I didn’t have access to Kodachrome while growing up, of course, but experienced its allure as part of the allure of the American dream – yet when I was able to access it, the dream had changed. Continue reading
Humble and archival in photography
Rascuache (or, in its Americanized version, rasquachismo) is a Mexican term for reuse and repurpose of things. It is a strategy for everyday life typical for the poor masses as well as a mark of resourcefulness for people in general everywhere. But in the last decades rascuache is also an artistic term meaning the use of humble materials and unexpected sources of supplies – like plastic for drawing, discarded metal parts for sculpture and others. That may sound like the usual found-object crafts that we often see in gift shops and at artfests today but actually originate from the revolutionary practices of Chicano movement artists in the 60s. They used it not because it was cool but to make a political point and insert themselves in a process that was seen as the privilege of higher classes. Continue reading
If you are following this blog, you might remember that last summer I started studying a series of photographs that are currently part of the collection of the Photographic Archive of Milan. I may have not mentioned though what this series is and why this research project is so exciting.
The images are of the reconstruction of the Sforza Castle, Milan’s perhaps most emblematic historic building, and the building of the impressive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, arguably the first shopping mall (and the concept behind all those “galleria” type malls we find in many American cities today, by the way).
The images are remarkable for different reasons. First, because they show the wave of renewal that gave Milan the face we know today, the physical process of how it came to be. Second, because the sites are so emblematic for the city. The Sforza Castle was the seat of Milan’s ruling Renaissance dynasty. Although of course it had lost its significance by the 19th century, being a castle in the era of industrial revolution, its near destruction by Napoleon’s invasion was still an insult. So the new state of Italy (unified in 1861) and especially the municipality of Milan that was developing its first urban plan, wanted to elevate its historic legacy with the reconstruction some 30 years later. The Galleria, of course, was to showcase the wealth of the new industrial society. Think fashion. That’s why both are closely related to Milan’s identity as a city.
But this is not exactly why they are exciting. Continue reading
Archive of Abandoned Dreams: new files
If you are waiting to hear how the review went, it hasn’t come yet. It kept getting postponed, which is great for my worrywart soul but also prolongs the anxiety. Anyway, the project that has taken the most of my time is The Archive. As the best form of presentation, I decided to make an actual antique binder, covered with dark green cloth with metal corners and the photographs would be filed inside, stitched with thread.
If you have been following my blog you know that the Archive of Abandoned Dreams is based on the poetry of Dimcho Debelyanov, a Bulgarian symbolist who, after a brief life as a literature student and then clerk (in order to support his family after the death of his father), volunteered for World War I and was killed in a battle with an Irish division. The irony of his life, in which his forced choices were made against his worldview and beliefs points so well to the aesthetics of symbolists, who relished in the impossibility of communication and forged a code of metaphors that distanced them instead of bringing them closer to readers. Debelyanov himself lamented the impossibility of his dreams but then abandoned them willfully with a very symbolic gesture. This way of relating has so much to do with contemporary culture: a world of facebook mirages in which participants create willful representations of their lives that seem more compelling when ambiguous. Continue reading
Mordançage, or the gentle beauty of the tortured print
As the New Texas Talent exhibition at Craighead-Green Gallery in Dallas is drawing to an end, I realize that I haven’t talked about my new work in the show. The images are done in an arduous process that took months to research and produce that it now deserves to be told about. It’s a process that makes for unique prints that also fits so well in the broader direction I’ve been following in the past couple of years. See some examples above. Continue reading
The Photographic Archive of Milan, Sforza Castle
I just have to write about the Photographic Archive of Milan, not only in aid to those who may need to do research there, but also because it is such a great metaphor for Italy in general. Located in one of the wings of the magnificent Sforza Castle, a brief walk from the Duomo, it is really a pleasure to wander around its vast cobblestone yard before venturing inside.
But, the first surprise: it’s open only in the morning. And materials are available by prior appointment. You need to go in person first and explore the card catalog, arranged by subject matter. Said catalog is only partially digitized and can be found online along with all other public photography collections in Lombardy. Then you can place an order for what your heart desires. However, the staff is so extremely Italianly nice that they offered, in case I needed it in the future, to do any research for me and even send me scans of the images.
Anyway, your patience and skill in navigating the system will be richly rewarded. Continue reading
I’ve been playing with the idea of hand-coloring photographs for quite some time. But it has been mainly daydreaming about it, researching it, being fascinated with it, without actually doing it. Somehow I’ve been looking to discover the real reason I want to hand-color; to give shape to my ideology of hand-coloring first of all. Or maybe I’ve been afraid to ruin the prints 🙂
Before the advent of color film, hand-coloring served the purpose of adding color to black & white images. It was meant to restore reality where it was still technically lacking. And as happens with all photography tools, when technology finally catched up with a possibility, people embraced it for all the practical purposes but also disregarded it f0r art’s sake. Since the 50s, hand-painting on monochrome images has been happening for different reasons, mainly to alter the original color, to make a statement, or to embrace the aesthetics of times past.
Here are some approaches to hand-painting that have fascinated me the most: Continue reading
“Pictures fade when you caress them”. Found Memories (2011)
If the first day of the year is auspicious about the rest of it, I’ll be watching photography-related movies all throughout 2013. But I bet you could’ve guessed that even if I didn’t watch a couple of them on January 1 🙂
One of them was the mesmerizing – in a quiet, subtle way – Brazilian film Found Memories (Julia Murat, 2011). Just like eavesdropping on a conversation and slowly realizing it’s about you, I realized this story could be about me: raking through a past with a camera lens and trying to bring it back to life, when the camera can only capture what’s here and now. Full of metaphors and lightly paced, it’s delightful to watch and ponder on the interweaving connection between photography and life. Continue reading
Certo-phot in the field: what the camera gave back
So, if you’ve been curious to see what kind of pictures my vintage East German Certo-phot makes, here is a selection from my very first roll:
The rundown: Continue reading
Old photo magazines
If you know my experience with old photography books, it is only logical to turn to magazines next and see how they fare at the distance of time. Do their topics seem outdated now? Their perspective silly? Do they provide a unique glimpse into what photography is, while giving us all a real-life demonstration of what endures? After all, magazines are meant to focus on the current and the fleeting, so this kind of fading of significance can only be expected. And it could help distill the significant out of the passing and lead us to a conclusion on the meaning of timeless art.
That’s how I started going through a stack of photo magazines dating from the 50s on. Continue reading
Old School Art Residency in Gorna Lipnitsa: the end as a beginning
This is a small selection of the work I completed at the Old School Art Residency. Since the theme was based on legends about the end of the world interpreted as a beginning, I used expired film from a country that no longer exists (East Germany) and expired paper from now privatized companies. The images I made show archetypal vignettes representing our expectations and anxieties related to endings and beginnings. Continue reading
A German Holga: Certo-phot camera and the pull of nostalgia
One of the bonuses of spending time in Bulgaria for me is the chance for old, interesting, quirky photo finds. That usually means old photos, but also – and especially – old cameras and curious photo equipment you rarely come across these days.
My latest acquisition is this Certo-Phot camera, produced by camera maker Certo in Dresden in what was East Germany. Now, the company itself was founded way back in 1902, but it almost fell apart in the wake of WWII, after which it became state-owned. Its history follows the twists and turns all German technological brands experienced as a result of the war: nationalization, patent restrictions and plundering, activity shifts or even splitting between East and West, which by the way gave us two Agfas for more than 40 years. Continue reading
Van Dyke Brown Rust
Photography, or art in general, is not expected to reproduce reality literally. It does reflect it, but it only picks certain aspects to make a comment or interpret it. So the aspects of reality you choose to represent – and the characteristics of the medium you use – are not random, but very much part of that message.
So it’s not really random that your photograph is black & white, color or rusty looking, as the image above. Continue reading
The power of the real past: Cesare Bizioli, an Italian-Argentinian painter and photographer
My friend Laura recently gave me an old photo she found in an antique store in New Hampshire. It’s a delightful, tender and sassy portrait of a girl in a studio, leaning on a bench, holding flowers. And she is wearing glasses and a sweet, knowing smirk. It was done in Argentina by Cesare Bizioli, an Italian painter and photographer who lived there at the close of the 19th century. A joy to view and think about the little girl, who she was and what became of her. Continue reading