© Lee Friedlander. The New Cars 1964

Post by Pugilist Press

Now and again, with my finger on the shutter release, I'll ask myself, "What am I doing?" Some times it's an audible "Why the fuck am I taking this picture?" Sun bleached billboards for a Christian daycare. Ripped boxes behind an apartment complex. Chewing gum at the base of the drive thru order box. Is it of any value? I panic a bit, clutching that little black box with clammy hands; then I remember Lee Friedlander, and every view is alive with potential. The cloud passes, I take the picture.

The Friedlander I’m thinking about is a contemporary photographer, and not some dinosaur bones from the MOMA archives that peaked when That Girl was on the air. We will not be talk-ing about some Photo God with a string of half-empty churches across the land, and a brick-thick Bible to disseminate his legend. We will not be talking about some antique tradesman frozen in a quaint infotainment village going about his business just like they did "back then." We won’t be talking about someone we look up to, or one that we’ve evolved beyond. We are simply talking about a photographer of this day, 2014. One with bad knees, sure. One with a few more mentions in the history books, but more importantly, more urgently, one who works in the now, and one whose methods are aligned with what we say we want.

I’m assuming you want what We want. Am I wrong? A better world. Gender justice. Racial justice. A world where the puppet strings of power are illuminated and everyone is equipped with a pair of scissors. One where we embrace reason yet recognize its limitations. You are not all talk and no action. You do not have a tab at Chick-fil-A. You have never uttered the words “reverse racism.” You are for real, you want that real, and you’re ready to do the real work. If that’s the case, if you want photography that points to a just world, then start with Friedlander.

I’m not saying Lee’s the future. I don’t play those odds. Sci-fi writers don’t play those odds. The future is an unknowable distraction from the present. The question of time gets confusing for photography because it is so central to its ontology. So one must be forgiving of the many that are in a tizzy over what comes next. Amongst the arts, Photography is a pup, less than two centuries compared to the others’ millennia. The current crisis is nothing more than growing pains, but too many are worried about the crib-death of photography. And many of the attempts to Frankenstein-up the medium are light on the electricity and heavy on the formaldehyde: redoes of Sander without the wit, Rejlander without the finely calibrated melodrama, Bayard without the punchline, Hoch without the rigor, Rusha without the generosity, and so many of these sub-Bournes turning every gallery into wunderkammers. We are still learning to deal with photo-graphs that are older than grandma, never mind those that were made last week. We are still teaching ourselves how to look at photos and figuring out why we look. Currently, the best answers are provisional. Those reaching for the stone tablets are the ones making the most dubious pronouncements.

© Thomas Struth, Paradise 17. 1999

The second most influential tribe in photography still seems to be the Dusseldorf crew and affiliated chapters. The first has this weird and sad contempt for the medium and seems to control many of the institutions that should be supporting it. Thinking about them paralyzes me, so allow me to go straight to the house that the Bechers built. Could those two be any more Catholic? They have left us a body of work that treats pleasure as an annoyance, that is deeply concerned with funerary rites and the afterlife, that thrives on a clear, regimented, and immutable structure. The Bechers' work is also one huge act of faith: it was produced over decades without a single sign of doubt of deviation, it was the same process at the end as it was at the beginning. There was no reaction to the reactions, those grids kept popping up like monoliths across our museums, stating powerfully, without ever shouting, that “the answer” was there from the beginning and the world would have to conform to it. Pleasure was mostly absent, curiosity was absent, conversation was absent. The Bechers photographed a fifty-year sermon. And you know what? I ain’t mad at it. It’s decent work, and some of their students went even further and made some pretty good Catholic pictures.

© Daido Moriyama, Stray Dog, Misawa, Aomori, 1971

Here's the thing about a true secular culture, as opposed to atheism as some perverse theocracy of Logic, it allows for pockets of religion, it understands that a single system cannot possibly provide for all of its members, it understands that encouraging alternatives will make the society stronger. It is a lot more difficult, maybe even impossible, for a culture formed around strict dogma to respect and nurture pockets that wish to deviate from or reject that dogma. In small terms there’s room for the Bechers at Friedlander's house, but there's no room for Lee at the Becher temple. And this is why I am not suggesting we look to Friedlander, not as the ideal, but simply as a sturdy and useful model, one that we've been in danger of boxing up and burying in some warehouse.

Containment don’t jive with the faithless, and Lee is faithless. His eye has never settled on subject or schema. There has never been a lack of things to see for Friedlander. Even when age temporarily robbed him of his legs, he still managed to produce an odd and lovely book of flower stems. Viewed together, Friedlander's many series seem to say that nothing is beneath attention, nothing is meaningless. And that might be a lie, but if that's the case then it is a useful one. It's a lie that goes beyond our species dark leaning to turn every event, object, and life form as some sort of mirror. The work he's done over the years is often incredibly tender towards humanity, sometimes a bit cruel, and sometimes the very things that we have made are emancipated from us by Friedlander's framing. All those moments, spaces, and objects exist at the same level of effort and attention. There is no hierarchy. What we find instead is a keen aware-ness that Chaos and Order are the same tune played in different keys, one note after the other, one sound after the other, building melodies and rhythms, there is no status in a tune, even the voids are propulsive. The work is everywhere and it is never ending.

© Josef Koudelka, Hauts-de-Seine. Parc de Sceaux. 1987

If I sometimes get carried away describing the work, I blame its many complex and unexpected pleasures. I've seen the work described as too "flashy" or "tricky" by people, I would assume, that are disturbed by virtuosity. Or perhaps, they see it as nothing but indulgence, some dude showing off. I see nothing but humility. A thing in itself will always have value. Physics, biology, history, function and many other facets of its presence will see to that. A description of a thing, on the other hand, is often worthless as description even when it is of definite value as an artifact. Description that does justice to its object is a very rare thing. In four decades of looking at dog pictures, for example, I've seen a bunch of pretty good ones, and only two great ones. Even with the torrents of photographs coming at us from Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and others, the world lacks adequate descriptions. Friedlander is trying, and the effort often translates into pleasure, and not the cheap kind that is nothing but a shortcut to jouissance, acrid and necessary fuel for the big fire. Lee's pleasure is tantric, it is narcotic, it embraces the moment and pushes perception to bloom. These photographs help us with the necessary transition from be-ings who can look (setting eyes on the known) to beings who can see (setting eyes on the known and unknown alike). The pictures' formal verve has nothing to do with indulgence, that’s just Lee trying to describe the world adequately.

When the Chicago Sun-Times fired its photographers, I was very definitely on the side my brethren. That said, I had a big issue with the illustration that kept popping up as an indictment of The Sun-Times’ greedy, short sighted ways. In this comparison, the Tribune photograph showed me exactly what I was expecting, in a professional and polished manner, a good photograph that offers a look at victory. The Sun-Times, photograph, the supposedly bad one, allowed me to figure out that mourning is a corollary to any well earned victory. Reaching that final goal means an end to the effort that drove and at times probably sustained the players, it also means the temporary or permanent dissolution of the fellowship responsible for this success. The Sun-Times photograph is about seeing, and it exposed the very real lack that was present in even the most densely staffed papers.

© Jessica Watson, Flounder. 2001

Friedlander has not photographed everything. He has not photographed in every way, but with each year he grows the library of the seen, and each year that we’re exposed to that library, we extend our capacities for perception. Each committed laborer with a camera can add to this endeavor, and the results are invariably beyond our imaginations and desires. Look at Jessica Watson's Flounder. It's one of the kinkiest images I have ever seen, a sad and beautiful slice of fish that connects fetish culture to the Shackleton expedition in a way that makes perfect sense. Look at Wolfgang Tillmans' for when I'm weak I'm strong, a new source of hope in a world that had seemingly exhausted the resources. This is photography as instrument, as tool, as factory rather than illustration or critique or confirmation. These are the type of photographs that are always absent from all of those shows and publications that claim to be the harbingers of the New Photography. They are ignored because the language around such pictures feels exhausted, and so the common mistake is made of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How does one even begin to catalogue the layers of fascination of this image (sadly separated from its author) found on Tumblr. More than new ways of making photographs we desperately need new ways of talking about them.''

Image from Tumblr, separated from author

Pugilist Press is a collective of seven artists who all happen to be the same person, including pensive heartthrob Jericho Butters, renaissance bad boy DJ BabyNeckFat and Haitian expat Sebastien Boncy.


Barry W. Hughes Selects

© Leonie Hampton

The premise here is simple: to ask a curator, blogger, editor, photographer or other person involved in contemporary photography to select five portfolios of work that they are currently excited about to recommend to the rest of us, placing emphasis - ideally - on work that hasn't seen heavy rotation online. The portfolios are not presented in any sort of order.

The series comes from a belief that the Internet has a tendency to briefly cohere around certain projects and, longer-term, establish its own canon of photographers, distinct and separate from the gallery and museum canon.

While these phenomena have advantages, it also has the expense of promoting a limited number of projects on a large scale, overshadowing other projects frequently equal in quality. This series, then, seeks in particular to look for great photography that counterbalances heavily distributed projects. It also is part of a general interest I have for this site to go behind the limits of my single vision, personal knowledge and time.

Today's guest is Barry W. Hughes.

Hughes is a photographer, writer and publisher. His photography and video works have been published and exhibited internationally, including solo shows in Ireland, Germany and China. The founding editor/publisher of SuperMassiveBlackHole online photography magazine (SMBHmag), Hughes is a contributing writer to Hotshoe magazine, and has curated exhibitions, reviewed portfolios and given talks for the likes of The Photographers' Gallery, Belfast Exposed, Sirius Arts Centre, PhotoIreland Festival, Belfast Photo Festival and PhotoBook London.

Hughes chooses everyday objects and situations to explore ideas such as incidence, coincidence and accident, motivated by a desire to understand the tension between the intentional and unintentional gesture. Many of his works are based on the reinterpretation of social, scientific or psychological histories and models which ultimately exist as visual metaphors.

Léonie Hampton – In The Shadow of Things (Image from series above)
Léonie's personal family life is captured with sincerity and integrity. A really powerful body of work that avoids cliché, there are moments that can haunt and amuse, which adds to the brutal honesty of her subject.

© Noé Sendas

Noé Sendas – Crystal Girls
Noé creates surrealistic images that combine traditional classicism with Hollywood chic. The elegant beauty of the subjects are subverted through erasure or heavy laden black forms that suggest film noir and horror, yet retain a kind of quiet confidence.

© Louis Porter

Louis Porter – The Anatomy of Business
Using an archive of 1980’s financial newspaper photographs, Louis has created a substantial body of work that exemplifies the act of appropriation through his innate ability to redefine the potential meaning of an image.

© Harry Griffin

Harry Griffin – Gold Coast
Slick for all the right reasons with an acutely sharp wit, this portfolio uses aesthetic pleasure as concealment for the inevitable demise of physical beauty. Surface value and materialism collide with sentimentality and the prospect of oblivion.

© Geert Goiris

Geert Goiris – Continental Drift
Few contemporary photographers have the capacity to capture the sublime like Geert can; this drift between humanity and nature's competing attempts to out-do one another as master and slave adds tension to a visual poetry that refuses to give up secrets we know exist.


Mexico Notebook: Q&A with Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

Hannah Frieser, Jaime Permuth and I have begun a collaboration to explore contemporary photography in Mexico. We're looking at trends and how they relate to traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers on what's happening currently. This collaborative project will feature a variety of types of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Hannah Frieser is a curator, photographer and book artist and former Executive Director of Light Work. Jaime Permuth is a Guatemalan photographer living and working in New York City and a Faculty Member at the School of Visual Arts.

Today we start the project by collaborating with photographer Alejandro Cartagena. Cartagena has overseen and executed a series of short interviews with photographers from Mexico that will be published over the coming weeks.

Alejandro lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues in the Latin-American region. His work has been exhibited internationally in festivals like CONTACT in Toronto], The FIF in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, GuatePhoto festival in Guatemala City, FOTOFEST in Houston], the PHOTOIMAGEN festival in the Dominican Republic, Photoville in Dumbo, New York and UNSEEN by FOAM in Amsterdam among others.

Alejandro's work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as Newsweek, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Independent, Nowness, Domus, Domus Mexico, the Financial Times, View, The New York Times Lens Blog, Stern, PDN, The New Yorker, Monocle and Wallpaper among others. His book Suburbia Mexicana was published by Photolucida and Daylight books in 2011.

He has received the Photolucida Critical Mass book award, the SNCA-CONACULTA grant for Mexican artists, the Premio IILA-Fotografia 2012 award in Rome, the Street Photography Award in London and a POYi reportage award of excellence, the Lente Latino award in Chile, the award Salon de la Fotografia from the Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Mexico among other awards. He has been named a FOAM magazine Talent and one of PDN Magazine's 30 emerging photographers. He has also been a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio award, the Photoespaña Descubrimientos award, the FOAM Paul Huff award and has been nominated for the CENTER Santa Fe photography prize.

His work is in many private and public collections including the San Francisco MOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Portland Museum of Art, the Museo de Arte Moderno in Rio de Janeiro, the Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico, the University of Maine collection and the Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca, Mexico. He is currently represented by Circuit Gallery in Toronto, Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles and Galería Patricia Conde in Mexico City.

Today's first interview is between Cartagena and Jorge Taboada.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

Alejandro Cartagena
: Where do you live and what you do?

Jorge Taboada: I live in Monterrey, Mexico. I am an architect by profession and I have an advertising agency specializing in architectural photography called Idea Cúbica.

Alejandro Cartagena: ¿Dónde vives y a qué te dedicas?

Jorge Taboada: Vivo en Monterrey, México. Soy arquitecto de profesión y tengo una agencia de publicidad especializada en la fotografía arquitectónica llamada Idea Cúbica.

AC: How did you get started in photography?

JT: I started by taking some workshops developing and printing black and white in college, but I already liked photography much earlier. I decided to make my passion for photography and my career converge. I investigated and noticed that there was a sector of photography that demands service, impeccable technique, perspective correction, modeling through lighting and the trained eye of an architect.

AC: ¿Cómo te iniciaste en la fotografía?

JTPrimero inicié tomando algunos talleres de revelado e impresión de blanco y negro en la universidad, pero la foto ya me gustaba desde mucho antes. Me propuse a hacer de mi pasión por la fotografía convergiera con mi carrera. Investigué y noté que había un sector que demandaba el servicio, una técnica impecable, corrección de perspectiva, modelado de iluminación y el ojo entrenado de un arquitecto.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

AC: When and what made you start considering producing photographic work to explore your personal concerns?

JT: The look is restless, the obsessions were always there. One documents with their camera that which they do not want to forget, what you want to take; like many photographers I'm a thief of moments.

Some of us began shooting without a purpose, without a theme. We discovered over time that there are messages encrypted in the images, patterns that repeat themselves. From there came recurrent themes that have much to do with form, geometry and rhythm. Later I found time to learn how to create a well-planned and justified photographic project. I was selected in Programa de Fotografía Contemporánea (PFC '11 ) and then a PhotoEspaña portfolio review in 2012, events that definitively determined my career as a visual producer.

AC¿Cuándo y que te hizo empezar a considerar producir trabajo fotográfico que explorara tus inquietudes personales?

JTLa mirada es inquieta, las obsesiones siempre estuvieron ahí. Uno documenta con la cámara lo que no quiere olvidar, lo que se quiere llevar, como muchos fotógrafos soy un ladrón de momentos.

Algunas personas empezamos a fotografiar sin tener un propósito, sin un tema. Pasando el tiempo descubrimos que hay mensajes cifrados en las imágenes, patrones que se repiten. De ahí salieron temas recurrentes que tienen mucho que ver con la forma, la geometría y el ritmo. Tiempo después me di el tiempo para aprender a crear un proyecto fotográfico planeado y justificado. Fui seleccionado en el Programa de Fotografía Contemporánea (PFC '11) y posteriormente en un visionado en PhotoEspaña 2012, eventos que me han determinado para la carrera de productor visual.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

AC: Tell us about some of your projects and the themes you approach through the images we are presenting.

JT: "Alta Densidad" (“High Density”) is a project that subtly addresses the issue of social housing in Mexico. The proliferation of large complexes on the outskirts of the main industrial cities of the country and its non-sustainable model, non-sustainable for both the city and its users. Huge developed areas "disconnected" and far from the city center exacerbate the problems of the operation and traffic of the city.

My contribution to the subject is to approach it from an aesthetic and visual perspective. It is a denunciation, but implicit, silent and thoughtful. When I fly over these homes, they seem so attractive and tidy, it is like honey to my eyes, perfection and order. My distress starts when I think about people suffering the consequences of standardization, bad planning, lack of green areas and recreational areas: a quality of life diminished.

ACPlatícanos un poco de tus proyectos y los temas que abordas en las imágenes que estamos presentando.

JT: "Alta Densidad" es un proyecto que aborda sutilmente la problemática de la vivienda de interés social en México. La proliferación de grandes complejos en las periferias de las principales ciudades industriales del país y su modelo no-sustentable, tanto para la ciudad como para sus usuarios. Enormes terrenos urbanizados “desconectados” y muy lejos del centro de la ciudad, agudizan la problemática de operación y transito de la urbe.

Mi aportación al tema es abordarlo desde una perspectiva estética y plástica. Es una denuncia pero implícita, silenciosa y reflexiva. Cuando vuelo sobre estas viviendas me parecen tan atractivas y ordenadas, es como miel para mis ojos, perfección y orden. Mi angustia comienza cuando pienso en las personas sufriendo las consecuencias de la estandarización, pésima planeación, ausencia de áreas verdes y espacios de esparcimiento: una calidad de vida disminuida.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

AC: How do you think about the history of Mexican photography in your work?

JT: I grew up admiring the work based in social issues of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Tina Modotti, their closeness to the people and their approach to the abstract, to rhythm and texture. My images are more urban archeology, but they share something anyways.

AC¿De qué manera consideras la historia de la fotografía Mexicana en tu obra?

JTCrecí admirando el trabajo con temática social de Manuel Álvarez Bravo y Tina Modotti, su cercanía con la gente y su acercamiento a lo abstracto, al ritmo y la textura. Mis imágenes son mas de arqueología urbana, pero igual compartimos algo.

AC: Do you believe that there is any relationship in subject matter, form or any other aspect between photography in Mexico and the rest of Latin America?

JT: I think one of the main topics addressed in Latin America is the denunciation: of the situation of minorities, of ethnic groups segregated, on political and social themes, the environment, etc. Latin America is undergoing big changes that we are trying to understand and assimilate development begins to reach us, democracies are perfected. Photographers know this and we approach it in different ways, but it is similar in Monterrey or Sao Paulo.

AC¿Encuentras alguna relación de temas, forma o cualquier otro aspecto entre la fotografía en México y la del resto de America Latina?

JTCreo que uno de las principales temáticas que se aborda en Latinoamérica, es la denuncia, a sea de minorías, de grupos étnicos segregados, de temas políticos y sociales, ambientales etc. America Latina esta sufriendo grandes cambios que esta intentando comprender y asimilar, el desarrollo nos empieza a llegar, las democracias se perfeccionan. Los fotógrafos lo sabemos y nos acercamos de distintas maneras, pero es similar en Monterrey o en Sao Paulo.

© Jorge Taboada

AC: What are the issues being addressed both in contemporary photography in Mexico and outside of Mexico that interest you?

JT: In Mexico and elsewhere photographers are often engaging autobiographical and personal themes, I like it and I'm surprised at the results, but it’s not something that is in my plans to do. There is also a significant rise in work based on environmental issues. I think I'll continue to document spaces in various degrees of detail.

AC¿Cuáles son los temas qué están siendo tratados en la fotografía contemporánea en México y también afuera de México que te interesen?

JTEn México y en otros lugares se están abordando frecuentemente temas autobiográficos e intimistas, me gusta y me sorprende el resultado, pero no es algo que este en mis planes hacer. También hay un auge importante de temas ambiéntales. Creo que seguiré documentado espacios, a diferentes grados de detalle.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada

AC: What do you feel benefits you or is a problem with being based in Mexico?

JT: I feel that there is a good infrastructure for producers in Mexico , the circuits are distant , protected and connected . They start to generate a lot of programs and activities to learn the art, but past that find space in which to display and validate your work is not easy.

AC¿Qué sientes te beneficia o problematiza producir desde México?

JTSiento que no hay una buena infraestructura para los productores en México, los circuitos están lejanos, protegidos y no conectados. Empiezan a generarse una buena cantidad de programas y actividades para aprender la técnica, pero después de ahí encontrar espacios donde mostrar y que validen tu trabajo no es fácil.

AC: Anything you'd like to say about contemporary photography in general?

JT: I think that photography and film are experiencing a worldwide boom. This is because of its democratization and mass propagation (accessible digital technology). This is brining more and better producers to the cultural scene, and hopefully it will also provide new ways to access the circuits of Latin American art.

AC¿Algo que quisieras comentar sobre la fotografía contemporánea en general ?

JT: Creo que la fotografía y el cine están viviendo un auge a nivel mundial. Esto debido a su democratización y propagación masiva (tecnología digital accesible). Esto esta promoviendo más y mejores productores a la escena cultural, esperamos que también se den nuevas condiciones para acceder a los circuitos de arte en Latinoamérica.

© Jorge Taboada

© Jorge Taboada