Friday, March 26, 2010
Is he a street photographer? Yes. Is he a documentary photographer? Yes. A photojournalist? A travel photographer? A portraitist? A fine arts photographer? Yes, yes, yes and most certainly yes.
French photographer Marc Riboud isn't easily categorized, because he's never specialized in any particular area of photography. There are some recurring themes and stylistic idiosyncrasies in his work, but the pictures fall easily into half a dozen different modes of photography. For half a century Riboud has been shooting highly personal images that appeal to a variety of markets. The marketplace, however, has never been uppermost in his mind.
Born in Lyon, France in 1923, Riboud became interested in photography at an early age. His father, a combat veteran of the First World War, gave him the dented little Vest Pocket Kodak that he'd carried on the battlefield. It seems Riboud was initially as intrigued by the personal history of the camera as he was by the act of photography. "The camera stirred my imagination," he wrote, "for it had its own story to tell: it had witnessed the mud and the courage, the suffering and the absurdity of the trenches." In a very real way, that attitude epitomizes Riboud's photography; his work is about personal stories as interpreted through the camera.
War came to France when Riboud was seventeen years old. He joined the French Resistance movement as an active member of the Maquis du Vercors and took place in several engagements. At the end of the war, Riboud enrolled in Lyon's Ecole Centrale, where he studied engineering. After graduating, he accepted a position at a factory in the nearby town of Villeurbanne and began a normal life. His interest in photography, however, hadn't diminished.
Riboud took a week-long holiday from his job to attend (and, of course, to photograph) a drama festival held in Lyon. What was intended to be a brief holiday never ended; Riboud decided not to return to the factory. Perhaps the time he spent fighting with the Resistance made the regimented life of an engineer employed by a factory intolerable, perhaps he felt his position didn't permit him enough of an outlet for self-expression, perhaps Riboud went temporarily insane—we don't know. What we do know is that instead of resuming his safe and secure position, he decided to devote himself to photography.
Riboud went to New York City for a short period before returning to France. He moved to Paris where he had the good fortune to meet another photographer, also a veteran of the war: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson and his partners had founded the Magnum photography agency shortly after the war. He encouraged Riboud to keep working at his photography. A year later Magnum accepted Riboud as a member.
The unique approach of the Magnum agency allowed Riboud to shoot the sorts of photographs he wanted to shoot, while giving him a grounding in the actual business of photography. He learned he could actually sell the photographs he would have taken anyway. One of his first photographs for Magnum, a man applying a coat of paint to the Eiffel Tower, was published in LIFE magazine. Coincidentally, that photo became one of Riboud's signature images. It contains all the elements that characterize his style: an emphasis on graphic composition that works in balance with the human figures, who are always depicted with compassion.
Although his work for Magnum encompassed everything from portraits to photojournalism, Riboud never approached an assignment or a project with a political or social agenda. According to Riboud, photography "must not try to be persuasive. It cannot change the world, but it can show the world, especially when it is changing."
With the support of the Magnum Agency, Riboud documented a lot of change. For the next few years, from 1955 to 1960, he found his way through India, Nepal, Mongolia and the Soviet Union. He drove a car from Alaska to Mexico, shooting photographs as he went. He became one of the first Western photographers to be allowed into China after the Cultural Revolution. Later he would document rebellions and civil insurrections and wars in Africa, Southeast Asia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Algeria.
Wherever he went, his work always stressed the human element. English boys playing cowboy in the streets of London. Workers in China taking a brief break for lunch. Pilgrims at the ghats on the holy Ganges in Bénarès, India. Peasant herdsmen in Mongolia. He also shot portraits—both formal and informal—of movie stars, politicians, and diplomats, but his best work was always of common people.
Riboud describes himself as a "shy" photographer, saying "I was torn between the fear of getting too close to people and another force that egged me on to get a closer look." Not surprisingly, over the years he has developed some strong opinions about the practice of photography. He takes his cue from René Char, the French poet who advocated people should "foresee as a strategist and act as a primitive." In other words, Riboud believes a photographer should mentally sketch out the scene in terms of composition, but must also be alert for the happy accident—the gesture, the turn of the head, the unexpected element—that turns an ordinary image into something extraordinary. "Surprises of every kind lie in wait for the photographer," Riboud has written. "They open the eyes and quicken the heartbeat of those with a passion for looking."
His best work reveals a finely-tuned sense of balance between rigorous composition and openness to the moment. Experience allows him to put himself in the right spot to take advantage of the unexpected element while retaining the strong sense of composition. One of his iconic images—a 1967 photograph of a young woman protesting against the war in Vietnam facing a stern line of armed troops standing before the Pentagon and presenting them with a flower—is a classic example of Riboud's approach. He saw the situation as it was unfolding, took a position that provided a solid composition, and then remained poised in case a photograph presented itself. That same approach yielded a perfect moment one morning in China as his train stopped at a station. It's not just a matter of being in the right spot at the right moment; it's a matter of knowing where that spot is in case the moment takes place. Riboud was aware that the windows of the train would act as frames and he was prepared when each of the frames was filled.
In 1979 Riboud resigned as a full member of Magnum, though he remains a 'contributing member.' He continues to shoot the things that interest him with minimal regard to the marketability of his photographs. His work hangs in museums in Europe and North America, his photos are published in magazines throughout the world, he has won awards from several international photography bodies.
At 85 years of age, Marc Riboud feels he still sees the world in the same way he did when he was 13, looking through the lens of his father's camera. He still approaches his work the same way, though by now he's done it so often that it's almost instinctive. Riboud says it best: "I photograph the way a musician hums."
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
A single man stands like a bird-watcher,
and scuffles the pepper and salt snow
from a discarded, gray
Westinghouse Electric cable drum.
He cannot discover America by counting
the chains of condemned freight-trains
from thirty states. They jolt and jar
and junk in the siding below him.
He has trouble with his balance.
His eyes drop,
and he drifts with the wild ice
ticking seaward down the Hudson,
like the blank sides of a jig-saw puzzle.
The ice ticks seaward like a clock.
A negro toasts
wheat-seeds over the coke-fumes
of a punctured barrel.
sweeps in from New Jersey,
and smells of coffee.
Across the river,
ledges of suburban factories tan
in the sulphur-yellow sun
of the unforgivable landscape.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Marcel Broodthaers (January 28, 1924 – January 28, 1976) was a Belgian poet, filmmaker and artist with a highly literate and often witty approach to creating art works.
He was born in Brussels, Belgium, where he was associated with the Groupe Surréaliste-revolutionnaire from 1945 and dabbled in journalism, film, and poetry. After spending 20 years in poverty as a struggling poet, he performed the symbolic act of embedding fifty unsold copies of his book of poems Pense-Bête in plaster, creating his first art object. That same year, 1964, for his first exhibition, he wrote a famous preface for the exhibition catalogue;
"I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old... Finally the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway. At the end of three months I showed what I had produced to Philippe Edouard Toussaint, the owner of the Galerie St Laurent. 'But it is art' he said 'and I will willingly exhibit all of it.' 'Agreed' I replied. If I sell something, he takes 30%. It seems these are the usual conditions, some galleries take 75%. What is it? In fact it is objects." Broodthaers, 1964
He worked principally with assemblies of found objects and collage, often containing written texts. His most noted work was an installation which began in his Brussels house which he called Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles (1968). This installation was followed by a further eleven manifestations of the 'museum', including at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle for an exhibition in 1970 and at documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972. For such works he is associated with the late 20th century global spread of both installation art, as well as "institutional critique," in which interrelationships between artworks, the artist, and the museum are a focus.
Broodthaers died in Cologne, Germany on his 52nd birthday.
Marcel Broodthaers was a poet and bookseller until age forty, when he turned to Conceptual art by creating a sculptural work composed of fifty copies of one of his poetry books, cast in plaster. He later became known for paradoxical word-image juxtapositions, as well as large-scale installations simulating museum exhibitions and assemblages made in part with eggshells, mussel shells, and European household goods. He also created paintings, films, performances, and sound pieces. In general, Broodthaers's work focuses on the ways in which social, economic, and institutional constructs influence and affect art's meaning.
Broodthaers's printed work consists of twenty-six individual prints, several in diptych format, and some twenty artist's books, mostly created to function as part of his Conceptual projects rather than as explorations of printmaking techniques. The diptych Museum-Museum presents Broodthaers's views on an institution of culture, which, he believes, decontextualizes art. Here identical bars of gold bullion are each stamped with an eagle, a reference to the "Eagle Department" in his fictional museum. On the left, they are labeled with artists' names, such as Mantegna, Ingres, and Duchamp, and on the right, with names of commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and chocolate. The bars along the bottom row of each panel carry the following captions: "IMITATION," "KOPIE," "COPIE," "FALSCH," and "ORIGINAL." By integrating issues of art and commerce, Broodthaers raises questions concerning the reduction of art objects to basic exchange commodities. Created for one of his mock museum installations, this print implicates museums for their role as treasuries of artistic currency and for their collaboration in the process of commodification as they act as guarantors of aesthetic values.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
On the TV an endless loop of cum shots with a voice over in Dutch
They never go out in the day and they always do way too much
Benny and Cesar, two inseparable, insufferable fools
A couple of real rag dolls stuffed with sand and straw and real plastic jewels
Benny, a young Buster Keaton got up in powder, brilliant and in his prime
Cesar, a whisper of a man, full of good intention and petty crime
They take on many lovers who only live inside of their heads
They’re all very handsome and of course they’re all very dead
He hates it when he looks at him that way
With his pretty mouth full of obscenities, lies and decay
You don’t think that I’m man enough well then baby just you try me
We’ll move out to the desert where everyone wears Chrystal crowns in the shit hole kingdom a.k.a. i.e.
Where the shit is always good and the endless day always bad
Always the same question, how can you miss what you never had?
Wrapped up in pink shower curtains and several rolls of packing tape
Cesar looks flushed, his skin red, his mouth agape
Twitching with a sudden doubt in his eyes a budding fear
“Ah fuck baby I’m sorry, I forgot you were still even here”