100th Anniversary of Cornell Capa

Today marks the 100th birthday of ICP’s founder, Cornell Capa. Many of the books that built the foundation of the ICP library came from the man himself. Many are inscribed with notes, and stickers from his personal library. Even Edie Capa, Cornell’s wife has books that have been accessioned into the collection.

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One of the highlights of these books is Cornell’s copy of The Decisive Moment, which is inscribed:

“Cornell please tell me: what is THE DECISIVE MOMENT in a Magnum meeting? (guess my answer) Avec toute mon amitié Henri”

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Another treat, is noticing Capa’s book plates that he pasted in many of his books as well as this copy of The Decisive Moment. We cannot help but remember his adventurous spirit represented by the ship travailing the open oceans, engraved on his library plate.2018-04-10-0004

Check out some of our posts of gems found about Cornell and his work here and some other books from Cornell’s library here.

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The WRRQ Collective: A Sensibility

 

This spring, the ICP Library launched a collaborative exhibition series co-curated with Be Oakley of the GenderFail Archive. In addition to organizing a variety of curatorial perspectives to investigate gender through archives, Oakley invited participating artists Hallie McNeill, Evan Galbicka, and Colin Klockner to reimagine how printed media can experienced experienced in mobile reading rooms. Each artist has produced a sculptural display: McNeill’s Untitled book stand is functionally minimal and requires us to be at multiple heights to view its books; Galbicka’s GenderFail Archive Seat are resin sculptures that double as floor seating and shelving; Klockner’s Forum is an architectural model showing the most common form for how architecture has assembled bodies in search of information.

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Evan Galbika, GenderFail Archive Seat. Installation view at ICP Library, 2018.

For the first installment of the series, Oakley assembled a selection of books and printed ephemera from the GenderFail collection as well as the ICP Library’s holdings. Four members of the WRRQ Collective arranged the first installment for the library windows: Darnell Davis, Pheral Lamb, Marcela Ossio, Quito Ziegler. What follows is a casual conversation with three members of WRRQ, completed in March 2018.


Patricia Silva: Quito, will you introduce the WRRQ Collective and how it functions as a group?

Quito Ziegler: WRRQ is an intergenerational network of queer/trans artists, cooks and activists. We came together through an annual summer retreat, now in its 6th year, linking queer artists with young people dealing with homelessness and transience. We have grown into a year-round family and our WRRQ continually evolves as a creative response to community needs. Depending on the project, there are 5 to 50 collective members working together.

All of us understand that our liberation is interconnected, and WRRQ hard to relate to each other across our differences. We make art for visual resistance and collective healing, including visual art, poetry, music, drag, video and culinary arts. We also take care of each other and our people by organizing community dinners, clothing swaps, vigils and street actions.

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Patricia: How did the selections for the ICP Library window come about, for each of you? Quito mentioned earlier that you all worked intuitively, so how was that process?

Marcela Ossio: We initially looked through books and zines and came up with a variety of images that we liked. We then gathered the images together and came up with connecting themes.

Darnell Davis: We wanted positivity, an escape from the sad news of the world like a sigh of relief or a breath of fresh air. We just looked around and found things that made us happy and evoked that feeling of freedom and resistance that called out to us. I literally turned my mind off for a bit and just picked out images that sparked a positive feeling within me. Whether it was a beautiful brown face, a powerful uplifting image, maybe an image that was a little out there and sexually liberating, and even vibrant colors that put a smile on my face.

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There wasn’t much talking which can be oddly surprising but, I guess that is due to the fact of us being a family of queers knowing each other well enough. When we all were smiling we knew we were doing the job we came to do which was to have these visuals become eye-catchers and lure people in to see the queer archive on display and not hiding or being on one row of a bookshelf. We created what we embody as a collective of diverse people with the commonality of being queer.

Patricia: Is this the first time that WRRQ Collective has done a ‘queering the archive’ type of project?

Quito: Kristen P. Lovell and I, two of the co-founders of WRRQ, have both been obsessed with queering archives for years. Kristen has produced at least four “Trans in Media” videos that show how black trans people are portrayed in the media versus how they portray themselves. My long-term search for images of nonbinary people and grappling with our historical invisibility made its way onto ICP’s walls last year in the Gender section of Perpetual Revolution, among other curatorial projects.

As trans movements grew and our stories became more known, Kristen and I have both starting moving away from strictly historic work, and are both into producing original films that put images of trans people we can relate to into the world.

Patricia: What does queering an archive mean to you, Marcela and Darnell?

Marcela: Showing different aspects of queer expression and community through a variety of artistic mediums.

Darnell: To me, it means putting queer books to the forefront like bolden texts making articles easier to find and harder to miss. I really enjoyed working with my collective family in making queer materials easier to find and out there for others to enjoy. One thing that always upsets me is to walk into a library and the queer section is either hard to find, one row on a bookshelf (ok, in some places it’s two rows), or non-existent.

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Patricia: What sparked individual interest in the images that you chose and wanted to arrange for the windows?

Darnell: Happiness, Vibrant and Saturated Colors, Positive Message, Sexual Liberation, Beautiful Brown People, Strength, Power, Resistance. I chose images that I felt as human beings we need to acknowledge that we live in a diverse world where all shades and backgrounds of people exist. Our images need to reflect that diversity especially within a queer archive. I felt it was my duty to inject black and brown faces in there to dismantle the idea of the word queer and having the first thing in your head [for an image of queerness] be a white person. Instead I want the first thing to be seen with the relation to the word queer is an abundance of flowers. Not just one flower, but a whole field of wildflowers.

Marcela: The selections I made were works that popped out at me that were either by people of color or displayed the strength, power and beauty of people of color.

Patricia: How did you think of approaching this queer archiving project, knowing what our current political climate is?

Quito: The week before we curated our windows, a #MeToo moment happened in our lives, and I initially wanted to use the windows to rage against patriarchy and create space for others to air out their feelings. When we actually sat down to dream together, Darnell and Marcela convinced me that rage was not as fierce as love, and we’d do better by displaying positive images of strength.

Marcela: That was the initial idea, to do a Graveyard for the Patriarchy. I believe that with everything that’s been going on lately, it would be better to do something that would showcase works of art that are more positive rather than further giving a platform to negativity.

Darnell: When we were discussing how we felt about “throwing” books into the graveyard, things began to feel a bit depressing for me. I internally felt like this was another way of burning books and I did not feel like that was something I wanted to be apart of. So instead Marcela voiced what I was internally thinking and we all agreed that we should shift the vision from the graveyard and into focusing more on positive and self-affirming imagery. I thought it was especially necessary during a time where our country’s stance in the world is so depressing.

Patricia: Your arrangements are organized according to a sensibility rather than media-specific visual forms. I see this as a reflection of the WRRQ Collective’s own energy, and what holds you all to each other, do you agree?

Darnell: We are all a great mix of people with different backgrounds and talents merging together. Everything we do is a form of mixed media so you are right about that one. Our visuals are like wild ponies in a field of wildflowers!

Patricia: Love it!

Marcela: I would say that it is close to a reflection of the WRRQ collective because of the diversity of the images we chose, and how they came together so well to describe different ideas we were trying to display.

Patricia: From what you were drawn to in the ICP Library, what was most enjoyable to discover?

Darnell: The Black Panther and Flower Power photo book and the James Unsworth zine. It’s funny because when I came across the James Unsworth zine, I actually found him on Instagram and messaged him. James responded and told me about his new zines coming out soon and and now I’m a fan!

Marcela: I really liked discovering a lot of the work we displayed. These works are things I hadn’t come across before and it was very empowering.

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Stephen Grebinski, Keyed to Masculine Comfort, 2015

Faced with the excess and diversity (where to start?) of publications in Queering the Collection, currently installed in the ICP Library, I was happy to find (& just by judging a book by its cover) a familiar name: Stephen Grebinski.

This past fall at the Art Book Fair at P.S.1 I bought one of his publications in the hot & steamy zine tent, recognizing his work from Instagram (aparafoto). Grebinski works with an archive of old (analogue) gay porn, culled from print publications and VHS tapes.

The self–published book Keyed to Masculine Comfort mixes images from porn and interior design manuals. Cropped, printed in black-&-white on cheap paper, with a laminated soft cover, the book suggests longing and loss through the sea changes of time and low-tech appropriation. Both collections were once ordinary, or representative of markets that have subsequently fallen into an abyss of irretrievable times past. Bodies and furnishings once fulsome with possibility have receded into obsolescence, betrayed by the very technologies that once propped them up as ripe and fantastic. Rather than consider forms or styles as changing (body types, hair, floral arrangements, wallpaper patterns, etc.), we are faced with the shifting norms of electronic media that speed far ahead of our slow flesh, demanding new models of recognition.

Relentless consumption can be viewed as a perpetual and uncanny crisis in this bittersweet model of defunct intimacy and interiority, understood only in hindsight, past the point of being discarded. The wit of this book is in its transformation of mundane materials into a charged and graphically complex mapping of discarded desires that survive (somehow) and reanimate (into something different) in this perpetual fire of media.

 

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anybody’s image could become everybody’s image: an interview with Mariken Wessels

 

Mariken Wessels spoke with me about her work and evolution as an artist. Here is our conversation:

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Mariken Wessels, PHOTO OF THE EDITION /TRILOGY BOX

epd: When did you start making visual art works, and how did you start working with found materials?

MW: Before I moved to Amsterdam to attend the Theater School I was already taking photographs. In the southern Dutch city of Breda, where I grew up, I worked in the small local theater, where each employee had multiple responsibilities, from door keeping and preparing the dressing rooms to constructing the sets and serving coffee during the breaks. This small theater was part of a larger theater where large companies were holding their rehearsals. At the time, in the early 1980s, I was able to attend every show, by both small and larger companies. Due to my job I was allowed to take pictures during rehearsals too. I felt intrigued by the narrative power embodied within theatrical scenery, which prompted me to move to Amsterdam to study acting at age twenty. A few years later, after having graduated from the Amsterdam Theater School I studied a year abroad at the Lee Strassberg Institute in New York City. During my subsequent acting career in The Netherlands, where I worked for classical theater as well as for T.V. series, I kept on taking photos. Additionally I was involved, like during my apprentice years in Breda, in everything dealing with a play, from suitable attire to the design of sets. This attitude was stimulated at school and also welcomed in practice.

Parallel to my acting career I kept making my own work, which grew stronger and stronger on its own, up to the point that I realized I’d be happier on my own and let my art works develop within an autonomous practice, rather than remain part of the bustle of theater. And I went back to school, this time the Rietveld academy of arts in Amsterdam. One of my teachers in the photography class assigned us to make a book. At that moment I realized I wanted to make a book about someone dear to me who passed away, but of whom I had no photographs at all. On the internet I started searching for photos related to his everyday surroundings. I worked from the outside toward the interior, as it were. I asked myself the same questions that I would have asked myself in the capacity of actress. By means of these questions I tried to build a picture of this person, adding to the portraits pictures that approximated the way he lived, where he lived, how his room looked like, and what things he used. He played the guitar and listened to cassette tapes a lot, so I went looking for these kind of images, too. And I found exterior shots of his house. This collecting activity helped coming close again to this dear one I’d sadly lost. I collected the images I found in a little artist’s publication. One of the results that fascinated me is how the images in this book replaced my actual memory of where and how he lived. When I think of the staircase in his house or his room, my mind is directed to the book. I discovered the frightening possibility of pasting images onto one’s memory, distorting that memory toward a belief in the later images rather than the actual, living memory. Even though human memory is unstable to begin with, the idea of memories being replaced by (other people’s) photographs is something that kept me busy ever after. This launched my interest in ‘found footage’ and convinced me that other people’s images, often anonymous, can be easily appropriated both into my artist’s practice and into my private memories. I realized that anybody’s image could become everybody’s image.

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PHOTO / TAKING OFF. HENRY MY NEIGHBOR

epd: You studied and practiced as an actor for many years. How has that influenced your art practice? Does your experience as an actor affect your artwork, especially through your use of narrative or embodiment of a character through photography?

MW: I think that the way in which I work has a lot to do with how I was trained as an actress in approaching a t

 

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heatrical role. Just like an actor has to study and do research in preparation of a role, I invest a lot in research and preparation for a project. I collect as many materials as I can around a certain theme or initial body of work. I have a large, Styrofoam bulletin board in my studio onto which I paste those research materials that might turn valuable for a project. Then there are large tables on which I collect objects or books that might become part of the story, or as attributes to a character.

In order to collect materials I’m reading a lot, comb out the internet, and my own memory or notebooks, because usually a lot of information and material has already been collected before I could connect it to an outlined project.

The molding of a character, to give it emotional depth and a credible environment (or a set, if you wish, to stay in the realm of theater), is stimulated by employing the Stanislavski-method of an actor’s preparation, following the so-called five W’s (Who am I? Where do I come from? Why do I do what I do? What do I do?, and When?). Thus one creates a faithful being, one who deals with trauma, has memories, goals in life, and so on. This digging of the human soul is what interests me and gives me the freedom to invent as much as it establishes the framework with which to keep a possible surplus of invention at bay.

epd: We are currently featuring the books included in your trilogy box in our exhibition Je est un autre: The vernacular in photobooks. Why do you consider these books (Elisabeth – I want to eat; Queen Ann. PS Belly cut off; and Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor) to be a trilogy? What are some of the differences or similarities between these three books your other work?

 

 

MW: All three books deal with people experiencing difficulty in keeping their lives on track and each of them deals with problems in a personal way. What binds them together in the end is a desperate cry for love and attention. But in each of these stories this attempt at healing happens rather falteringly. To be able to participate in the ‘normal’ world of daily goings-on doesn’t go without saying. The threat of dropping out is always just around the corner, one false step and one’s pushed to the side of the road. The border between functioning normally and failure is razor-thin. A repeating motif in my work is constituted by life’s vulnerability and contingency. The role played by memory and how people, especially under dire circumstances, find creative ways to shape and reshape a memory of a tragic event or their discontent, is a recurrent theme as well – perhaps the most important propeller of my pictorial approach in combination with first-person written statements accompanying the images as, for example, personal letters, postcards, or snippets. We often come to believe in our, often deliberate, distortions of our memories as conveying the truth. But I tend to place big question marks at such a belief. To what extent can we trust our memory? How can we even be sure that something has happened in the way we remember that something? As memories seem to buttress our feeble existence, that existence can easily collapse when memories prove to be fictitious.

Finally, another important theme is the way in which people communicate, especially when that communication seems inadequate. In Elisabeth –I want to eat (2008), for example, the eponymous character conducts a correspondence with her aunt Hans in order to keep a lifeline to the outside world, while she gradually gives in to depression. Hans approaches her niece as if she’s a patient, but her peculiar way of communicating raises the question who’s actually in need of help here.

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Elisabeth – I want to eat

Ann, the protagonist of Queen Ann. PS Belly cut off (2010), the second book in this ‘open trilogy’, tries hard to keep a handle on life, but only with immense difficulties. She keeps safe distance to the real world and shapes her own world in which she attains her youthful and slim beauty again. Almost voodoo-like she cuts off her belly from recent photographs, damages her image so to restore her self-image.

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QUEEN ANN. BELLY CUT OFF

In my latest book Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor (2015), we are witnessing Henry and Martha’s marriage becoming marked by the camera as an increasing divisive force. Henry almost literally disappears, firstly behind the camera with which he photographs an undressing or undressed Martha, secondly behind the prints he arranges into sequences and patterns, and after Martha has left him behind, Henry tries to reassemble her image into weird collage works before he retreats into the forests never to be seen alive again. I think that the ways in which he obsessively and systematically annotated his photographic project amounted to a frenetic effort to cling to life, while it would come to cost him his marriage.

 

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epd: Your work in the trilogy deals with found materials, the origins of which are somewhat explained on the colophon, but not within the narrative of the story. Can you talk a bit about the process of discovery of these materials, and how you go about selecting a set of materials to investigate?

MW: I trust my “antennae” to be on edge when encountering potentially interesting material. It’s a process I find hard to analyze or describe in detail, as it works so intuitive and guided by associations, that a single found or given photograph could carry the seed for a large work, whether it be a book, series of collages, a sculpture, photo series or otherwise. One thing leads to another. Recently, on the occasion of an exhibition at the The Hague Museum of Photography where I reshaped this ‘open trilogy’ into a spatial installation, I reworked the materials I’d used for Elisabeth –I want to eat for a 17-minute long film called Elisabeth (2017).

epd: In all of your work, I am consistently struck by the strength of your sequencing and narrative. Your ability to use blocks of images as markers or chapters to break up different elements of the story is especially powerful. What is your process when you are choosing the ordering or sequencing of imagery for your books, especially Taking Off and Queen Ann?

 

MW: As I said earlier for my researches I collect various materials, but I also produce images myself. Combined, these are added to my ‘sketchbook’, which consists of a long wall in my studio. The arrangement of the materials evolves from mood-board to storyboard, following free association as well as based upon research, developing into a story whose features grow sharper. In this process of questioning and polishing and honest listening to myself, I constantly wonder whether certain interventions are right. This process at times is very tedious, but I see it when it’s right.

When I make the transition from storyboard (still a spatial lay-out) to the book format, I scan or rephotograph all my materials before I make several dummy versions in InDesign. For all my books I did the sequencing, lay-out and design myself. I print paper dummies to check if the sequencing and design works well outside the computer too. When I transmit this dummy into a real book with a published, usually very few changes are made to my original concept.

epd: Have Martha, Henry, Anne or any of the other subjects of your books seen the finished pieces? What has been their reaction, or their families’ reaction?

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MW: As far as I know none of them, nor their direct family members, has seen any of my books. At least, I’ve never gotten a response nor spoke to anyone who has heard that my subjects have had access to my books. And, honestly, this is not what I’m after, as the material has been removed (and often already far removed when found) from its original context and gone through my process of appropriation.

epd: Your books are often described as “voyeuristic.” I find that this description is a bit limited, and have always had the impression that you feel a certain empathy or tenderness towards your subjects. Can you discuss the nature of voyeurism and empathy in your work, and how you go about finding a balance between the two?

MW: The interplay of voyeurism and empathy is important in my books and it plays out on many levels, directed towards how a ‘reader’ of my books might feel about witnessing the collected material and the story but also voyeurism and empathy as it plays out with or between my subjects. I’m very much interested and stimulated by people and their, often strange, behavior – especially of people whose condition is hanging in the balance, so that distinctions between what’s normal or deviant are much harder to make.

For example, in Taking Off it seems as if Martha is being exploited through her husband Henry’s nearly ceaseless interest in using her as a model, but it is she who decides to put an end to it and even disappear from his life and their marriage completely. She stands her ground and takes over control.

TAKING OFF. HENRY MY NEIGHBOR.

TAKING OFF. HENRY MY NEIGHBOR

I think it is thanks to my education in theater and acting experience that I can place myself quite well in other people’s shoes. Also, the characters in my book are often not far removed from characters I know in my own life or from my own experience.

epd: I was exploring your sculptural work and was struck by your piece Recover. Your website describes it as follows: “This is a leaf with a hole in it. One of Mariken’s hairs has been used to repair the leaf. Via this one simple act Mariken is attempting a grand gesture; to counteract mortality and to ask for forgiveness.” Your interventions are so elegant and respectful of the story, be it about a marriage, a teenager or a single leaf. I wondered if you could touch on the themes of rescue and repair in this work and in the work that appears in your photobooks.

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Mariken Wessels, RECOVER Sculpture / 20 x 15 cm / Hair, Needle / 2006

MW: It’s all about holding on to things and memories, to not wanting to let life pass. It’s about fear for departure, fear of losing someone dear to you. Perhaps the holding on is convulsive, but that also bears the seed for tragicomedy.

In Recover I wanted to heal something with something very close to myself, my own hair in this case, but a strand of hair is frail. In this work I arrived at a fragile balance. In fact, in life one can never have a full grasp of or hold on things. Life can sneak out any time, suddenly, and then you’re left with empty hands. Recover constitutes an impotent attempt, a cry from the heart toward a better handle on life with its inevitable losses.

epd: Themes of body dysmorphia and anxiety appear often in the trilogy. Do you think that the reproduction of one’s image, and the power of manipulation of that image, speaks to these themes?

It does so indeed. I’m interested in distorted self-images. One can feel very different from how one appears (to yourself or others). This type of schizophrenia doesn’t always come to the fore in everyday behavior. What I want to show is behavior that gets marked and distorted by despair, as can be evidently seen in Queen Ann who wrestles with her self-image and cannot accept that the times of her juvenile beauty are irreversibly gone. She still wants to wear a sailor suit because it was denied to her in childhood. When she dresses in a sailor suit she feels young and small. Everything is possible and things are yet to get started. As her adult life bears too heavy on her, she creates her own world, or recreates a warped image of childhood. And Queen Ann is just one example standing in for many anonymous others wrestling with issues related to low self-esteem.

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I’ve recently been reading an interpretation of Hans Bellmer, and his photographs/sculptures by Sue Taylor, she writes that Bellmer’s work can be read as feminist and that Bellmer, and therefore his depictions of his doll is “…thoughtful, well-read, and sensitive individual, a real intellectual.” and that his work is not based in misogyny, ownership and manipulation of the female body. Do you think the same instinct is present in Henry and his story? Is he trying to identify with the female body?

I find Bellmer an intriguing artist. I even possess two works by him. But to answer to your question: After Henry’s wife and muse, Martha, had suddenly left him alone, for Henry also the ‘object’ disappeared which gave his obsessive lust for photographic registration outlet and focus. Instead of looking for a replacement model, Henry gave free [reign] to his obsessions in relation to all the remaining photos, including the fragments he gathered after Martha had left behind a torrent of images thrown out the window. It is perhaps in this period that Henry ‘discovered’ his artistic talents by assembling collages based on the thousands of nude pictures. I think it especially came to pass when he, presumably by accident, overlayed multiple torn images.

 

Very different from what could be expressed through a single photograph, we see a Henry emerge who vented to his lustful desires by focusing on breasts and buttocks in particular. I, for one, got very curious about the boundary between obsession and sexual desire on the one hand, and the self-discovery of Henry the ‘amateur’ artist. I’m not sure that he was even aware of such ambition when still together with Martha.

In a certain sensitive approach to this dangerous subject I do see similarities to Bellmer’s work. Like in Bellmer’s case, Henry’s figurines (based on his collages based on his photographs of Martha), can be of classical beauty while they are permeated with some kind of serenity.

 

Have there been any collections of found materials that you’ve begun working with that did not manifest in a project?

Nope. But I won’t exclude any option since that would place a limit on my artisthood.

epd: Are you working on any projects now?

MW: Currently I have several projects running, based on gathered materials waiting to be fully formed and realized. These are put on hold for the time being since I’m working on another project since last summer which eats up all my time and attention for now. I won’t say much about it except that it will be presented in the course of this year and the next in three different phases.

The first presentation will consist of a few life-size ceramic sculptures based on the human body. These will be on show as of June 2018 in Museum Princessehof in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. These sculptures are inspired by one of Muybridge’s plates from the Human and Animal Locomotion series, namely plate 268, titled ‘Arising from the ground’ (1885).

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Human and Animal Locomotion series, plate 268, ‘Arising from the ground’ (1885)

A sculpture, of course, stands still. But there’s a major difference between a static presentation or a movement that is ‘frozen’ in motion. The latter type of ‘movement’ can be completed in one’s own imagination. Sequence and time are important elements, hence Muybridge.

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As of the early summer I will start working on a project following from this first presentation. This must become a photo series in which the human body will be explored in its ‘scenic beauty’ as well as in its animal nature. Keywords here will be deformation, (absence of) gravity and the elegance of the unexpected.

In the third phase I want to make a publication in which the first two series (sculptures and photographs) are brought together. Finally, the different stages of this project will be contained within a larger project.

epd: Lastly: What is your astrological sign?

MW: Sagittarius.

photos courtesy mariken wessels / image copyright mariken wessels

 

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“I am in Paris.”

thumb_52488_media_image_x584Following conversations with my colleagues at the ICP Library  about an event related to our current photobook display Je est un autre: The Vernacular in Photobooks, I decided to present selections from a small collection of films stills I accumulated in the 1980s when I worked at movie revival houses and non-profits in NYC. Calling these a collection is a misnomer: there was little impetus to my hoarding beyond instincts of accumulation. In the dark forest of time they are little crumbs leading back to multiple tales.

Rather than present the actual stills, I put several images into a powerpoint slide show, an “illustrated talk,” which would act as a prompt to revisit these lost worlds.

My first job in NYC was at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, then located in the basement of Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie was run by a couple, Sid Geffen and his wife Jackie Raynal, who also owned the Bleecker St. Cinema at Bleecker and LaGuardia Place. The Carnegie & Bleecker were part of a circuit of revival houses which were common in NYC at the time, including the Thalia, the Regency, Cinema Village, Theatre 80 St. Marks, the Hollywood Twin, the Metro, along with non-profits such as Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives, which are both still with us, the daily screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as smaller venues such as the Collective for Living Cinema and Millennium. Going to movies was part of seeing movies at the time. VHS (and then DVDs, and then streaming) rendered this world obsolete.

Filmgoing has a manic, obsessive side: The “regulars” as seen in the front row of the Titus theaters at MoMA, or in the film Cinemania touch on this devotion. The narcotic allure of cinema is a platform for sociability, an ersatz commons that has been diminished as we retreat to the privacy of our individual screens.

Through my employment at the Carnegie, Bleecker, Film Forum, the Van Dam Theater, and Anthology I came in contact with a fantastic array of film aficionados who covered a spectrum of interests: classic Hollywood, French  and American auteurism, French New Wave, New German Cinema, experimental filmmakers engaged with the “Essential Cinema” canonized by the founders of Anthology Film Archives, independent documentarians, etc.

Hollywood studios had an office for stills, produced for continuity on sets (John Divola’s project Continuity utilizes examples of these – these images were for internal use only) and for publicity: establishing iconic moments of films, re-staged for the camera, for placement in theaters along with posters and lobby cards. They were both essential and worthless. With the decline of film studios and a move towards independent productions, the making of stills was done on set. The collectible aspect to these scraps is driven by tastes and associations, not material fine-ness. They are mass produced, duped endlessly, and usually printed on cheap resin-coated papers.

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Working in a smaller scale film exhibition system outside of mainstream new releases, and without any specific agenda, I accumulated materials related to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Schroeter, Werner Herzog, Ulrike Ottinger, and Hans-Jurgen Syberberg among others, none of that so unusual for the time: it amounts to a snapshot of art film exhibition in NYC in the 1980s, the same with “classic Hollywood” melodramas by Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli and Nicholas Ray 30 years later this snapshot quality has morphed with the passage of time to look like an entirely different world. The non-linear films of Kenneth Anger or Bruce Conner have adapted to our contemporary world of virtuality fairly well, perhaps out of brevity & a liberal use of music (I recall Anger speaking at the Collective for Living Cinema, citing music videos, ostensibly a form he influenced, as “pablum for the mind.”).

These scraps persist as a sepulchral archive for experiences I didn’t quite apprehend at the time, colored with shifting memories and odd details that persist. Perhaps this is only a ruined map of a kind of magical thinking meant for the young in a big city. In retrospect there’s more skepticism and a sense of critical distance in the materials than I sense nowadays. A pragmatist like Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development may have her finger on the contemporary pulse when she says, “Here’s some money, go and see a Star War.”

Unmoored from their initial contexts, these strange, cheap images can engage with different drives and impulses, and act as a kind of memory theater oscillating between past and future, potentially to reveal more than anticipated. Gathered, rather than collected, with little direction and simple tastes, these images now act as a kind of retrieval system, although what they lead me to is not where I was, or how I thought about it, instead it is someplace else.

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Conductors of Experience: A short interview with Brad Zellar

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…I is another – Arthur Rimbaud

The International Center of Photography Library over the last few months has been presenting an investigation of vernacular imagery in the photobook. Je est un autre: the vernacular in photobooks. These are books that utilize the found photographs, snap shots, archives and collections of others.

There is a great interest for this folk photography and for the publication of photobooks which utilize and re-appropriate this wealth of materials.

One of the most successful vernacular photobooks and certainly one of my favourites is Conductors of the Moving World by Brad Zellar.

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Conductors of the Moving World was published by Little Brown Mushroom in March 2011 in an edition of 500 (30 pages, french-fold, 6.625×7.875in, custom side stapled, B/W offset with 17 hand-tipped, color photographs) and designed by the brilliant Hans Seeger.  The story was constructed by Brad Zellar and according to the LBM website it is a tale that began in the autumn of 1972:

In the autumn of 1972, a delegation of Japanese police officials visited the United States to study traffic control in several large cities, including New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. The unofficial photographer for the delegation was Eizo Ota, an inspector with the law enforcement department of the Yamanashi Prefecture, and he produced a record of the group’s travels that might best be described as forensic tourism. Using Inspector Ota’s snapshots as launching points, Brad Zellar plundered traffic manuals, haiku anthologies, the Watergate transcripts, and The Godfather for textual inspiration. The mysterious result is a Zen travelogue through 1972 America. From a collection of 60 C-Prints, a mix-and-match assortment of 17 will be hand-tipped into individual volumes, making each book a singular work of art.

 

 

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The story of “Conductors of the Moving World” began in 2008 and with the publication of the Suburban World and the meeting of Brad Zellar and Alec Soth.

MC: Brad, how did the Conductors book come about? How did it happen? How does a project like this begin? In 2002 you had unearthed a collection of Norling’s negatives from the archive of the Bloomington Historical Society and in 2008 published a selection of these images in your book the Suburban World, so you already had a history of conjuring up stories from images, but how did this project come into being?

BZ: Neither Alec nor I can remember how or when we first met –that’s how memorable we both apparently are. At any rate, I don’t think we really knew each other by the time the Norling book came out, but I was a fan of his work. It was pure serendipity that he ended up writing the foreword to “Suburban World (The Norling Photos).” One of the Coen brothers was supposed to be doing that job, but bailed at the last minute, and someone from the publisher contacted Alec and asked if he could turn something around in a hurry –seriously, I think he had maybe 48 hours to write that text. And he nailed it.

We met briefly at the opening of the Norling exhibit; I remember that. After that things are sort of foggy, but at some point he contacted me about this box of photos he’d received from the granddaughter of Eizo Ota, the ostensible subject –and photographer– behind “Conductors of the Moving World.”

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MC: Was this a collection of digital origin or a shoe box of found materials? Is it real? Was it real? Has it become real? What happened to these folks? Did you ever get to meet them?

BZ: Little Brown Mushroom was just getting started about that time, and Alec asked me if I thought I could make a book out of the Ota photographs. There were quite a few more of them than we could use, and I remember trying all sorts of failed approaches to create some sort of narrative around them. One of those approaches was biographical, and entailed hunting down his son and some former police colleagues in Japan. Eizo was deceased, it turned out, and nobody I talked to had many concrete memories of what he might have been up to on that trip to the U.S. other than that he was supposedly studying American traffic control systems.

MC: It is so mysterious and that gives the narrative a fantastic energy.

BZ: The photographic record of that trip was super mysterious. though; interspersed with all these strange and inexplicable technical photos were a large assortment of more typical tourist pictures –beaches, street views of NY, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, and a bunch of terrific shots of stewardesses, motel rooms, diners, and desolate stretches of highway.

I couldn’t figure out how to make any kind of narrative out of any of it, however, until  I hit on the idea of ordering a bunch of old manuals on traffic control from the internet. When I started reading through these things I was struck by how aphoristic and almost Zen so much of the writing was, so I also rounded up a pile of books on Buddhism, and ended up making up fake Zen aphorisms incorporating the language of traffic systems and, eventually, all sorts of other really clipped and spare texts that came to mind.

BZ: We made those books by hand in Alec’s studio, and every single book in the edition of 500 has a different and randomly-chosen set of photos. There are also some little in-jokes and a hidden text incorporated in Hans Seger’s amazing design. I love that book so much, and made a few copies that incorporated my own favorite photos and sequences. Alec’s studio manager, Carrie Thompson, also made me a special backwards version out of a dummy that was misbound.

 

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MC: “Conductors” is great. You gave all the money to the tsunami relief right?

BZ: We had the release party for “Conductors” at ICP in NY, and the book sold out pretty much before we got back to the Twin Cities, so it’s one book Alec and I did together that a lot of my friends never saw. Oza’s granddaughter, Kei, who brought the photos to Alec’s attention, was at the release party, and her father –Oza’s son– flew in from Japan as well. And yes, this was right around the time of the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan, so we donated all the proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross.

MC: ICP opening, yep I remember it, [see the pic below of crazy bloke pointing at book signing].

BZ: There’s a really funny story regarding the business card that is embossed on the front of the book, by the way. It was in the box along with the photos, and since it was in Japanese –and an English version of Oza’s business card was also in the box– we just assumed it was the Japanese version. So the card on the front of the book is reversible –the English on one side, the Japanese on the other. Anyway, Oza’s son arrived at the signing and someone handed him the book. He had this puzzled look on his face and asked –through his daughter– what the story was with the Japanese business card on the cover.
“It’s your father’s business card, isn’t it?” I said.
“No,” Oza said emphatically. It turned out the card we used on most of the covers was for some Japanese fellow who ran a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls.

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MC: I think that LBM seemed to be at the height of its powers at the time of publication. You had all series of books out and you were like rock stars. What happened? [lol] – but yeah, I mean the band – you and Alec went on to do some marvelous things and then the band split. How is Alec these days? Are you blokes still in touch? Get along? What was the back story to that?  Is the band ever getting back together again?

BZ: Alec and I ended up doing a run of projects after that one, all of which involved trying to find ways to incorporate words and pictures. They were all amazing experiences, and I’m really proud of the work we did together, but by the time we did the last LBM Dispatch I think we were both ready to get back to the reality of trying to make a living. I mean, Alec was on an amazing career roll, and here he was out pissing around in a van with me putting out our fake little newspaper.

I love the guy so much, and he’s an amazing artist. The real wonder, though, is that he’s got a work ethic and an ability to make stuff happen like nobody I’ve ever met. We still get together and the conversation just seems to pick right up where we left off, but he also has a crazy travel schedule and a family, so I don’t see him nearly enough.

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MC: What are you up to these days Brad?

BZ: I basically went right back to pounding out words in obscurity –my natural inclination is to play my piano in the closet, as I think Salinger put it. Turns out, though, that there’s no money in the closet piano gigs, so I need to scrape up some new projects.

At some point I’m going to write a book about the Dispatch experiences –that was always the plan; there were so many incredible photos and stories that didn’t make it into the papers, and by the time we wrapped it up we both had the sense that there was this overarching thematic narrative that sort of tied the whole thing together. It felt at the time like this almost hopeful State of the Union portrait of a remarkable country trying to hang onto old notions of community in this weird age of ersatz and often discouraging (and lonely) virtual connection. I felt inspired. And then, you know, Trump.

MC Lastly: What is your astrological sign?
BZ: I’m a Scorpio, of course.

Alec Soth: Ha, so great to see this, and to read Brad’s comments. I don’t have much to add other than I just love Brad so much.

the End

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for now.

 

. . .crazy bloke at book signing for “Conductors” at the ICP March 2011

mad bloke at a book signing

 

 

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Joshua Lutz’s ‘Meadowlands’

“For most people, the Meadowlands is a place to pass through and forget on their way to someplace else. Not unlike a neglected child, the Meadowlands has grown up without guidance, constantly unsure of what the future holds.” – Joshua Lutz

I grew up in Northern New Jersey with “the swamp” a stone’s throw away. While out my window I could see the lights of the beautiful NYC skyline flickering in the distance, within the frame was also Giants Stadium – so close I could feel the rumble of a loud concert or the fireworks at the State Fair (same with MetLife Stadium). The remnants of Brendan Byrne Arena –> Continental Airlines Arena –> IZOD Arena (once home to the NJ Nets and NJ Devils) and the racetrack are still there, all surrounded by mud and reeds that blow elegantly in the wind. A sports and entertainment complex lost within the marshlands of the Meadowlands – where indigenous wildlife inhabited, chemicals and landfills stewed, and hotels/motels/trailer parks claimed their spaces.

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(TR820.5 .U6.L881 2008)

In his 2008 book “Meadowlands”, Joshua Lutz captures the various aspects of the 32 miles of wetlands that, as Robert Sullivan describes in the opening essay “separates New Jersey from New York City, or, put it another way, from New York City and the rest of the United States of America.” Photos of the water, marsh, motels are among portraits of those who call this area home.

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Mark Lewis, Vicar – Episcopal Church of Our Savior (Secaucus)

Also included is a picture of what could be assumed as a dead body face down in the muck, acknowledging the storied rumors of murders as moist lands positioned so close to an airport was the perfect formula for a Mafia “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” hit. (Lutz photographed the Meadowlands under the apparent pretext of searching for Jimmy Hoffa).

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While the book is a fantastic monograph about the area’s character, it’s also a wonderful murky trip down memory lane for those from the region and for Lutz himself, as he states that the “loneliness and solitude … continues to bring me back year after year.”

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After the hotel boom in preparation for the 2014 failure of a Super Bowl and the still incomplete mess that is Xanadu / American Dream – or whatever it is being called now – a lot has changed. The auto body shops that lined part of Paterson Plank Road are now abandoned and land that was once deemed too toxic for anything now supports buildings (examples from the Carlstadt/East Rutherford section of the Meadowlands). But it’s nice to know that a flip through Lutz’s book can instantly transport you back to a time before any of that happened.

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Meadowlands State Fair in the parking lot of Giants Stadium, which can be seen in the background (East Rutherford).

And if/when Lutz releases his next book, it will do just the same for the current era.

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