Friday, 31 July 2009

Emmanuel Polanco

A fairly brief post today, about French illustrator and collagist Emmanuel Polanco. I don’t know much about Polanco, except that he’s based in Paris and has been crafting his peculiar, nostalgic pieces of art for the last eight years or so. His is an odd, macabre world of disconnected figures, and allusive symbols and marks, using muted tones and aged papers. The images are like strange old family portraits, discovered in a box in the dusty attic of a distant, eccentric uncle. His work reminds me of some of the collages of Hannah Hoch and Max Ernst - although Polanco’s images are less aggressive and more wistful than the Dadaists’ pieces. The vitrines and collections of Joseph Cornell also seem influential, and his more commercial work – book covers, for instance  - has hints of some of Saul Bass’s iconic work. 

Examples of work by Hannah Hoch, Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell

From the series 'Lune'

From the series 'Poe' for the US Postal Service

An illustration for CSO magazine

From the series  'Tarot of Marseille'

From the series 'Tarot of Marseille'

From the series 'Tarot of Marseille'

From the series 'Tarot of Marseille'

An illustration for 'Milk'

From the series 'Costumes'

From the series 'Lune'

From the series 'Square'

'Moby Dick' book cover

'Macbeth' book cover


All images © Emmanuel Polcano

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pieter Hugo

What are we looking at here? Victims of a civil conflict? Participants in a voodoo rite? Members of a bizarre bloodthirsty cult?

These photographs are actually from South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s newest series Nollywood, an unprecedented look at the Nigerian film industry.

Hugo’s previous bodies of work – Looking Aside, Messina/Musina and the amazing (and award-winning) The Hyena and Other Men – have already set him apart as a photographer with a fierce, unflinching vision of an African world few know even exists. A world that to Western eyes seems so unreal or extreme as to be from a post-Apocalyptic film, but is, in fact, harsh reality. With this new series he has created strikingly original, powerful portraits – no mean feat in itself – that take us deeper into this strange world.

There is little subtlety in Nigerian films; they are loud and brash, lines are invariably shouted rather than spoken for maximum impact, and special effects are brash and gory whenever possible. Plots tend to revolve around a mix of romance, comedy, deception, witchcraft, bribery and prostitution – all themes that appeal to African filmgoers, and reflect the struggles and turmoil that are part of their everyday life. Fascinated by this blend of the mundane and the unreal, Hugo approached a team of actors to recreate scenes and situations based on some of the industry’s staple fables, which he then photographed. What we see in the portraits here is his version of Nollywood’s vision of the real world. The line is blurred further; you’re left with a sense of awe and unsure of quite what is fact and what is fiction.

Escort Kama, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Azuka Adindu, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Izunna & Uju, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Linus Okereke, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Omo Omeone, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Rose Njoko, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Song Lyke & bystanders, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Song Lyke, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Tarry King Ibuzu, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

And here are two images from The Hyena and Other Men, Hugo's previous project from 2007, for those of you who haven't seen it.

Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Nigeria, 2007

Abu Kikan with Ajasco, Nigeria, 2007

All images © Pieter Hugo

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Tauba Auerbach

American artist Tauba Auerbach’s work explores new territory and seems really fresh and interesting; she is definitely mining a rich creative seam, creating bold, graphic, sometimes puzzling work centered around communication and information. Fascinated by language – from phonetics to anagrams to actual letterforms, as well as the implications of miscommunication – much of her work borders on the abstract whilst reveling in the written symbol and mark.

From an early age Auerbach, originally from San Francisco, knew she wanted to be an artist but chose to study maths and science at Stanford University. After graduating she worked for three years as a professional sign painter, which started “an aesthetic fascination” with words, which has never left her, and has obviously had a huge bearing on her work. Initially exploring letterforms and different alphabets – maritime signals, the ancient Phoenician alphabet – she then became more intrigued with letter frequencies in common texts, and the way words morph and slide. Its hard to tell from the images here but despite appearing computer generated, virtually all her work is painstakingly painted by hand (which took its toll at one point when Auerbach suffered from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, finally persuading her to hire an assistant).

With the painted word so key to Auerbach’s work there are echoes of Ed Ruscha, with his gnomic sayings and phrases, and the work of Bridget Riley is also a major influence. More recently she has begun to explore the digital realm – representations of binary patterns and large scale photographs of static – taking her work to another level of complexity and repetition

“In looking at the material of what is behind anything digitized — ones and zeros, or a signal and then the absence of a signal — I’ve come to feel that the system is prohibitively absolute. It’s a simple idea of something being there or not being there, and that’s what continues to fascinate me.”

A, 2005

E, 2005

How To Spell The Alphabet, 2005

+1, 2005

Ambo-Dextro, 2005

Nautical A-Z, 2006

And All Ale, 2006

Anagram 1, 2006

Creation/Reaction, 2008

The Answer/Wasn't There (Anagram III), 2007

This Is A Lie, 2007

Uppercase Insides, 2006

Ugaritic Alphabet, 2006

50/50 V, 2006

50/50 XVI, 2008

A Half Times A Half Times A Half (coarse), 2008

Yes or No and/or Yes or No, 2008

All images © Tauba Auerbach

Friday, 17 July 2009

Julius Shulman 1910-2009

Julius Shulman at his home, 2005 © Laura Wilson

A sad week indeed for photography. Firstly Dash Snow’s untimely demise and then the passing of a true legend - architectural photographer Julius Shulman has died at the age of 98 at his home in Los Angeles.

Shulman’s vision and impact on phtography are hard to overstate. Along with fellow photographer Ezra Stoller, he basically wrote the book on what constituted modern (and Modernist) architectural photography, and his images are still the benchmark for photographers working today. Beyond the vision apparent in his photographs, Shulman also helped people to understand and appreciate modern architecture itself – promoting this new ideal, and, through the pages of architectural magazines and journals, showing it to the wider world.

Born in Brooklyn in 1910, Shulman studied photography only briefly at his high school, and although he sometimes took photos whilst a student at Berkeley to earn some money, it was only through a chance meeting with architect Richard Neutra in 1936 that he really started on his career path. Shulman’s sister happened to rent a room to one of Neutra’s draftsmen, who invited him along one day to see the construction of the Kun House in Los Angeles. And fortuitously, Shulman took his camera along. "I had never seen a modern house before," Shulman said. It "intrigued me with its strange forms -- beyond any previous identity of a house in my experience."  He developed a few of the pictures he shot and gave them to the draftsman, who in turn showed them to Neutra. The architect was impressed with what he saw, and invited Shulman to photograph some more of his projects, and thus began his career as an architectural photographer.

Through Neutra, Shulman met other prominent architects of the time who were pushing the boundaries of architecture and defining the Modernist movement, and over the following decades he photographed the key work of nearly every pioneering architect - Rudolf M. Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, Raphael S. Soriano, John Lautner, Eero Saarinen and Pierre Koenig to name a few. It was his shot of Koenig’s stunning glass-walled Case Study House No. 22 overlooking Los Angeles at night, taken in 1960, which would really cement his reputation.  Featuring two women casually chatting with a jaw-dropping backdrop of Los Angeles at night spread out beneath them, it perfectly encapsulated the aspirational, sleek, idealized modern Hollywood dream of that era, and is one of the 20th Century’s most iconic images. As architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in the New York Times, " [it is] one of those singular images that sum up an entire city at a moment in time."

It wasn't only forward-looking and fabulous buildings that caught Shulman's eye though. He loved the city of Los Angeles and all it's strange traits and quirks, and documented it thoroughly. Some of his lesser-known images such as The Last Remaining Houses on Bunker Hill and Angel's Flight show a more tender and wistful side to his vision, whilst still showcasing his compositional and tonal mastery.

In my role as Photography Editor at Wallpaper* magazine I was lucky enough to work with Shulman twice, commissioning him to shoot two different Modernist houses in LA . He was charming and wry in person, and almost effortlessly and instinctively knew where the best angles and shots lay, and at what time of day he should shoot them. He was so comfortable with shooting that he gave up using a light meter in the 1940s and trusted his instincts from then on! There was also a boundless enthusiasm he had when shooting - not always a common trait in someone who has been photographing variations on the same theme for 70 years.

In 1995 The Getty Center in LA acquired Shulman’s archive, containing more than quarter of a million negatives, prints and transparencies – an amazing collection; an almost definitive photographic record of the architectural adventures of the United States during one of its most exciting periods, which I doubt will be surpassed. Unintentionally, this archive now also now serves as a record of the Golden Age of Modernist architecture, capturing some of these architects’ finest work for all time, since many of the buildings have sadly been pulled down or unsympathetically remodeled and ruined.

Shulman's most iconic picture, Pierre Koenig's Case Study House #22, 1960

Shulman at work photographing Case Study House #22, 1960

A colour image from the same shoot, 1960

The Steeves Residence, 1960

The Spencer Residence, 1950

The Kaufman Residence, 1947

The Bass Residence, 1958

The Arango Residence, Acapulco

Interior of a house by William Alexander, 1952

The Chuey Residence, 1958

Case Study House #21, 1958

Angels Flight, Los Angeles, 1969

The Saltbox and the Castle, the Last Remaining Houses on Bunker Hill, 1967

A young Shulman at work, date unknown

All image ©  Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research