Posts Tagged 'museum of photography'

Retrospective on surrealist photography pioneer Arthur Tress in Thessaloniki

By Harry van Versendaal

A retrospective on the Brooklyn-born photographer Arthur Tress, currently on display at the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki, reveals the endurance and simultaneous freshness of the 73-year-old artist’s surrealist oeuvre that puts him among the masters of 20th century photography.

The exhibition, a selection of 145 images taken between 1956 and 2006, was organized in collaboration with Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse and Contrejour publications, and forms part of the museum’s “Great Masters” series.

“His work is an excellent combination of the realistic and fictional aspects of photography,” Vangelis Ioakimidis, the energetic director of the Museum of Photography Thessaloniki, told Kathimerini English Edition, noting that this is the first time the images are being shown in Greece.

Tress’s early forays at the Whitney, where learned about the surrealist paintings of artists such as Magritte and Dali, influenced his vision – as did his later traveling (which also kept him from being drafted for the war in Vietnam).

He started out as a street photographer, shooting in the heart of New York as well as the suburbs – the grey zones near the bridges that connect Brooklyn to Manhattan. Using a 2 1/4 square format, either a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad, Tress soon veered into more experimental territory with dreamlike staged and sometimes manipulated compositions: A boy claws his way out of the ground with hands made of tree roots; a grim woman in sunglasses sits next to a coin-operated binoculars at Coit Tower; a young man irons the arm of his terminally ill mother.

Who Tress is – a gay Jew – naturally influenced his work. Operating from a state of “melancholic alienation,” as he put it, his clicking often became political.

“As with many photographers of my generation, I saw the camera as a means of social satire and commentary with the goal of them becoming mechanisms for political change,” Tress said in a 2012 interview.

“I was inspired by the work of the photographers of the ‘social landscape’ – Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson and Danny Lyon – who used their cameras as media weapons to expose injustice and inequality.”

Tress’s photographs have been shown worldwide and many of his works are housed in permanent collections, including those at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. He has published more than 25 monographs – some of them on display at the redbrick seaside structure that houses Thessaloniki’s Photography Museum – while his archive includes more than 700,000 negatives. Tress still works as a professional photographer today.

The Tress retrospective wraps up the museum’s “Great Masters” cycle which was launched in 2007 and has featured photography giants such as Duane Michals, Bernard Plossu, Andre Kertesz and Joel Meyerowitz.

The exhibition runs until the end of March.

Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, Warehouse A, Port Complex, tel. 2310.566.716,


Staring at the big picture


By Harry van Versendaal

Photo-sharing app Instagram last week announced it had reached the 100 million-user milestone. Jennifer Trausch is one of them. But the Berlin-based artist much prefers to make her instant photographs using a refrigerator-sized vintage Polaroid camera.

Trausch, 36, can normally be found operating one of the five such machines, built in the late 1970s by the former US tech giant, at her studio in Berlin, where she moved this January after spending a year in Paris.

Before moving to Europe, the Ohio-born artist lectured and made photographs at the 20×24 Polaroid studio in Manhattan, where she was director of photography for about eight years. In a daring project that spanned from 2006 to 2011, Trausch, a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate, took the vintage camera out of the comfort zone of the protected studio environment and onto the rural roads of the American South to shoot poster-size, black-and-white pictures of fairs, auctions, bars and rodeos – a project that gave birth to her well-received “Touching Ground” exhibition.

From Germany, Trausch is currently trying to spread the love for instant photography, putting much of her time and energy into Impossible Works, a Berlin-based nonprofit supported by the Impossible Project, a company that manufactures new instant film for Polaroid 600 and SX-70 cameras. The mission of Impossible Works is to support artistic projects made with instant films.

Trausch was recently invited to Greece to participate in the jury of the 4th Cedefop Photomuseum Award – a 5,000-euro prize granted to photographers from all over the world by the EU’s European Center for the Development of Vocational Training and the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography in the context of its PhotoBiennale.

During her stay in the northern port city, Trausch delivered two two-hour workshops at the museum on the basics of working with Impossible Project instant films with a variety of cameras and film types.

In an interview with Kathimerini English Edition, Trausch discussed her love for large-format photography and the particularities of her work in the digital era.

What drew you to large-format photography? What do you think is special about the 20×24?

I started out in photojournalism / documentary photography, so I really began my career shooting with small- and medium-format cameras. In 2001, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to use the 20×24 Polaroid camera, and I have been working almost exclusively on large format ever since. I like how laborious shooting with big cameras is, how much attention you end up giving to each image.

Large cameras, especially the 20×24, also demand much more out of their subjects. The 20×24’s grandiosity makes people look into it in a different way, perhaps because it commands a certain kind of respect as a human-scale object. With the 20×24, there’s always a limited depth of field, and the way the world falls off behind the focal plane can be quite surreal, soft and graceful.

The 20×24 instant prints also have a material, painterly quality that is all their own; it is the sharp detail of a 20×24 negative in a contact-print, mixed with the softness of a print made by the diffusion transfer process.

How are you able to carry around and work with such a big and heavy machine that was meant for indoor use? Is it a hindrance?

The 20×24 Polaroid cameras – there are five original units built in the late 1970s – each weigh 105 kilos, so I had no choice but to find a way of working that was relatively easy. For my “Touching Ground” project, I chose B&W film since the film is fast enough that I could work in most conditions without extra lighting or equipment. I tried to simplify the shooting process so that it was just the camera, film, black cloths to keep the light out, and my assistant Kimberlee Venable and I.

I tend to not like when too much credence is given to the technical side of photography, as in what equipment or techniques were used for a certain effect, but I have to admit that in this case the camera had a huge influence over what we could and couldn’t do. Sometimes it held us back as the camera couldn’t always go where we wanted it to go (on a rooftop or on an oil rig) and other times it was exhausting to push it up muddy hills or to lift it over train tracks. Taking the camera out and setting up always took a lot of effort, which added a certain pressure on each shoot to get things right.

This also meant that when I didn’t “get the shot” I hoped for, it felt much more devastating because of the extreme physical effort it took to set it up in the first place. Perhaps if I had had more hands to help we wouldn’t have felt this pressure and disappointment so much, but I really preferred to work without a giant crew so that the process with my subjects could be intimate.

What are your favorite themes? What kind of things do you like to photograph?

I am interested in the idea of place, the culture and traditions surrounding a particular place at a particular time, and whether I can take you there to feel it.

For me this is always a mix of portraits, landscapes and activities that are indicative of that place. Sometimes it is specific to one environment, such as my “Skateland” series, or in the case of “Touching Ground,” it’s about a much broader portrait of regional American culture.

I also am interested in the idea of sensations in photography – whether images can elicit the physical sensations of being there for the viewer standing in front of the final print. It is always my goal to make images where you could almost feel the heavy humidity on your skin, hear the leaves rustling, or taste a swamp’s scent wafting through the air.

Could you tell us a few things about the Impossible Works project?

Impossible Works is a nonprofit supported by the Impossible Project, the main manufacturer of instant films today. The mission of Impossible Works is to support artistic projects made with instant films. We accept proposals from anyone looking to use and challenge the instant medium.

How does it feel taking photographs with a huge, slow and hard-to-move analog camera in an age when people upload thousands of pictures a second on social media that it takes them all of a second to frame, and their friends all of another second to “like”?

The process of working at 20×24 definitely creates a different kind of image, in the attention that you and your subjects inherently end up giving during a shoot.

The final prints can be shared as you work, in all of their incredible scale and detail, which transforms the building of an image. While this can partly be equated to sharing digital files online or during a shoot, it’s pretty easy to lose the fine, subtle details of an image looking at it on a glowing screen or on the back of a digital camera.

I do share some of my images online in similar ways to many digital photographers, but only as a teaser, not as an end to themselves – I don’t think you can really experience the work until you’re in the room with the original full-size prints.

Do you own any smaller cameras, and, if so, do you like using them?

Yes, quite a few. I use them mostly when I am traveling, which these days is quite often. When I am traveling, I test a lot of Impossible Projects small-format materials on Polaroid SX-70, 680, and 110B cameras, mostly for sketching out ideas.

But in general I’ve gotten quite accustomed to working on a larger ground glass and seeing my images upside down. I think this is the way my brain is wired these days.

Photographer offers glimpse into Lebanon’s paradise lost

By Harry van Versendaal

Two black IKEA-style chairs sitting empty on a balcony overlooking a bombarded apartment building, a black Mercedes, partly covered by a tablecloth in an empty lot next to a derelict building, a tangle of trees sprouting through the floorboards of a bullet-riddled church.

Demetris Koilalous does not pretend to be a documentary photographer. “My style of photography is intrinsically connected to the way I see the world. A beautiful landscape, for example, does not interest me — I don’t even lift my camera,” he says, sitting on the sofa of his colorful apartment in the northern Athens suburb of Halandri.

This jagged juxtaposition of the mundane with the war-torn is what the 50-year-old photographer seeks to bring out in his photo exhibition of present-day Lebanon currently on display at the Museum of Photography, located in a former warehouse designed by Eli Modiano in the northern port city of Thessaloniki and the only Greek institution exclusively dedicated to the medium.

Koilalous spent 18 hectic days last year in the Land of the Cedars on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He was on a photographic assignment commissioned by the museum which sent five professionals to the Middle East as part of a Greek Culture Ministry program. Featuring some 200 images shot in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Qatar, Lebanon, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, “Oriented and Disoriented in the Middle East,” will run through May 13.

Intrigued by the delicate balance found in Mideast societies, Koilalous went to Lebanon intentionally seeking out places that would illustrate a country on the brink — “a rather European preconception,” he admits. Carrying a Canon DSLR camera, he looked for places where battles took place, where massacres occurred, where people were driven out of their homes, places that formed the border between different minorities.

“At some point during the second day, I was in the center of Lebanon and I happened upon this church that was totally pockmarked by bullets; you know Beirut, it’s all cement, ruins, torn-down houses, rebuilt houses, there are really modern buildings and not much green at all. And so suddenly I see this incredible anarchic greenery. It was an old church, it didn’t have a roof, and when you walked inside it was like walking through a forest. And that’s when I remembered another photographer’s project called ’Paradise Lost.’ And it just kept going through my mind that there is a lost paradise over there. This country that’s living its very own anti-paradise,” he says, explaining the inspiration behind the somewhat awkward project title.

Conflict-prone Lebanon is split along sectarian lines that dictate not only politics but also living arrangements and standards of living. The 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 cost an estimated 150,000 lives while many more were wounded or displaced. Originally fought between Christian militias and leftists allied with the Palestinians, the conflict triggered a wide array of clashes as Syria, Israel and others stepped into the fray. Social peace remains fragile and contemporary events are so disputed that school history books stop at independence from France in 1943.

Understandably, time pressure was not the only problem Koilalous had to deal with. Security guards were constantly monitoring his movements and the photographs he was taking. He was armed with documents from the Greek Embassy in Lebanon, the Museum of Photography, and Greece’s Culture Ministry. He also had written permission from Lebanon’s Information Ministry, police force and military to take pictures in public spaces. But often he would find out these were not enough.

“There’s this hotel called the Monroe with a great view of the sea where I wanted to take a shot. So I showed them all my papers. The guy responds that the paper says I am allowed to take pictures inside Beirut but nothing about overhead shots,” he says, explaining that it was not army officials but private security guards that would give him the most trouble.

“If I were his cousin he would have let me in — just like in Greece. But because I took the legal route he wouldn’t let me. Some people find an excuse to exercise the little power they have left. A security guard trying to impose his own interpretation of a ministry document in order to legitimize his position.”

Born in Athens in 1962, Koilalous initially studied urban planning in Edinburgh and geography at the London School of Economics before gravitating to photography. It was only after he started to teach the craft about 10 years ago, he says, that he began to take good photographs. First noticed thanks to the dreamlike quality of the black-and-white panoramic landscapes of “Deja vu,” showcased in the 2008 PhotoBiennale, Koilalous has steadily evolved with more sharply focused work. His open-ended “Growth” project, a rather lyrical commentary on the changing landscape along Greece’s national highways, has shown him to be a good master of color and symbolism.

Koilalous keeps no secret of his wide range of influences — from the activist photojournalism of Sebastiao Salgado and the iconic images of Magnum master Josef Koudelka, to outsider photographer Diane Arbus and Joel-Peter Witkin, to Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth of the Dusseldorf school. “It’s a lot of contrary things. But I gradually came to appreciate the simplicity of photographers like [Andre] Kertesz.”

However, as his experience working as a teacher has shown him, no amount of quality influences and hard work can match a generous dose of talent. “The outcome is a matter of hard work, but instinct is a question of talent. There are people out there who can see through walls. It’s incredible. Some things can be cultivated, particularly some stereotypes — but instinct cannot.”

Skeptics often complain that contemporary art, particularly its conceptual genre, has lowered the bar to the point where actual talent is made redundant. If you want to succeed, the argument goes, make sure you have good market connections. The argument seems to strike a rather emotional chord with Koilalous, who is ready to defend his more conceptual counterparts.

“I am not denying the fact that the market defines things to a certain extent, but it’s bulls**t to say that art is determined by curators. The price of an artwork is one thing, its value however is quite another. It’s good that a photograph can sell for a lot of money. The more people want a photograph, the more its price will rise. Something that nobody wants to buy will never sell,” he says before going on to deconstruct a couple of Gursky photos from a Dusseldorf school photo book.

The German artist’s “Rhine II,” a picture of the gray river under gray skies, last year fetched a record 4.3 million dollars at a Christie’s auction in New York. The image, described by Gursky as “an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are,” was digitally manipulated to leave out elements that bothered him. Many found the photo “overrated.” Writing for the Guardian, Maev Kennedy called it a ”sludgy image of desolate, featureless landscape.”

“It’s immature to say that Gursky, whose works hang in MoMa, Berlin and the Tate Modern, is a creation of marketing. Only someone with an inferiority complex would claim that.”

It’s not easy being a pioneer. If you want to use photography to talk about new things, Koilalous suggests, you have to overcome the huge obstacle that is reality. As a photographer who is an artist, you have to make use of what is commonly perceived as reality and illustrate it in a subjective way, but still communicate it to the audience, he says. “This is an important part in photography that you need to get used to.”

One of the “anti-paradise” pictures depicts a pair of empty armchairs flanking a little round table with decorative objects — including a statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle. His intent, Koilalous explains, was not a comment on religiosity or kitsch, but rather an allegory on the absence of dialogue in the divided country. “This is what I am trying to say. I am not sure if this will resonate with the audience at all. But I want my images to make people think twice.”

Out of space

By Harry van Versendaal

The Photography Museum of Thessaloniki, the country’s only museum dedicated to the craft, is currently organizing the 21st International Photography Meeting, now known as the PhotoBiennale, which is scheduled to run through September.

Having grown in size and prestige over the past few years, the PhotoBiennale has also become more outward-looking, forging ties with foreign institutions and festivals while introducing a number of welcome initiatives, such as master classes and portfolio reviews.

The event, which this is year dedicated to the theme of “place,” spans over 58 group and solo exhibitions and slideshow projections by 188 photographers from 25 countries. You can browse through them at some 35 galleries and exhibition centers in Thessaloniki. Organizers plan to showcase some of the work in other Greek towns later in the year.

This year’s highlights include Nikos Markou’s “Topos: Nuances of Space,” a collection of multilayered and often ambiguous pictures of urban and natural landscapes that depict man’s impact on nature – only subtly so. Markou’s work, which you will find at the museum’s beautiful brick-and-steel premises on the waterfront (Warehouse A, Thessaloniki port complex), is complemented by Inge Rambow’s “Niemandsland.” The stunning images of industrial sites turned wastelands shot by the 70-year-old German highlight the devastating effect of humankind on their natural environment.

Both exhibitions run through August 31.

Drive up to the Byzantine Castle and Seven Towers Prison (“Yenti Koule”) on the upper side of town to see “Execution Squares” by Damascus-born Hrair Sarkissian. The apparent innocuousness of these empty Syrian squares can be misleading for, as the title suggests, they serve as public execution grounds for criminals sentenced to death. Shows at the Seven Towers Prison wrap up on June 28.

The launch of the PhotoBiennale is an achievement in itself, organizers said, as the museum had to brave severe budget cuts and organizational snags. The Photography Museum of Thessaloniki, which has come under pressure to merge with the larger but troubled State Museum of Contemporary Art, has turned to the European Union for subsidies.

Fresh funding will be crucial for organizing the follow-up to this event, scheduled for 2012, which is set to complete the time/place/discourse trilogy.

More at Mylos

Mylos (56 Andreou Georgiou), at the western end of town, this year hosts a number of exhibitions including Pavlos Fysakis’s melancholy “Land Ends” project. The work, a product of the photographer’s extensive wandering at the four edges of Europe – Norway, Greece, Portugal and Russia – explores quasi-existential questions about the concept of borders and the nature of European identity.

“Homeland” by Turkey’s Serkan Taycan is in similar vein, being a semiautobiographical work, bringing together images of contemporary Turkey and snapshots from the largely impoverished region of eastern Anatolia, where the photographer grew up.

New York photographer Leah Tepper Byrne documents The Children’s Village, a 150-year-old residential treatment center and alternative site to incarceration for more than 200 boys, aged 6 to 21, in upstate New York. Moving, albeit sometimes disturbing, the images in “Still Lives“ explore youths caught between isolation and healing.

A more editorial work, Nikos Pilos’s “The Invisible Wall Line” revisits Berlin 20 years after the fall of the Wall, while in “Sanalika” (the Turkish word for virtual world) Alexandros Avramidis exposes the plastic but colorful – and often hilariously tacky – aspects of a consumption-driven world.

Exhibitions at Mylos will be showcased until July 31.

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