Monthly Archives: October 2012

“Fire! Colorado Under Siege” exhibition

A forest fire burns in Rocky Mountains National Park. Copyright Malcolm Raggett

A forest fire burns in Rocky Mountains National Park, 2012. Copyright Malcolm Raggett

Fire can be a terrible thing. People, including the fire fighters, lose their lives, their health, their property and their livelihood when a fire sweeps though a populated area. This exhibition of photographs by 4 photographers at Photo Art Center, 833 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, USA, documents such fires and their aftermath.

John Wark’s images are more distant shots many of which many are aerial pictures taken from a plane he flies himself,

Richard Saxon and Aaron Ontiveroz concentrate more on people and the impact of the fire resulting from the confusion and numbness of having your world turned upside-down by property loss,

Steve “Smitty” Smith gets in the closest, concentrating on fire fighters and fire fighting operations, which is not surprising considering he  is a fireman himself.

The photos are good, though it’s not an exhibition I would recommend travelling a great distance to see unless you combine it with something else. What did impress me though (in a negative way) was the bias exhibited in the joint show: from the title all the way through the photos what I saw was essentially a northern European view of forest fire. In northern Europe forest fires are rare and not an essential part of woodland regeneration. The damp cool northern forests rely more on microbial action to compost the leaf litter and break down the dead wood.  But it is different in warm dry woods; here, fire is essential to the life cycle of the forest. As destructive as it may appear at the time, fire is a life force of nature. It also ranks alongside the weather in man’s inability to control it. Perhaps this is what fascinates and terrifies us about fire, but to adopt the siege mentality suggested in the exhibition’s title seems to me to be fundamentally wrong. Man cannot take a cool-damp-forest attitude and expect it to work in a warm-dry-forest region. It is man that has to change, not nature. Fire will happen, it’s not a question of if but when. Judging by this exhibition, America still has much to learn. Luckily I know from seeing the National Parks system and native American culture that parts of America have learned this lesson, but how to make it widespread is the challenge.

This is a valuable message to take from the photographs, though perhaps not the one the exhibitors were intending.

iPhoneography in Lander, USA

I was passing through Lander, a town in Wyoming, USA, last week and visited the Lander Art Center where there was a captivating exhibition by 3 photographers David F. Schuster, Brad Christensen and Lonnie Slack.

All 3 had achieved different but consistent styles using their iPhone (or maybe the Android equivalent, it doesn’t matter):

iPhone photo by Brad Christensen

iPhone photo copyright Brad Christensen

iPhone photo copyright David F. Schuster

iPhone photo copyright Lonnie Slack

All 3 photographers had done a great job but if I had to pick a favourite it would be David Schuster, who had balanced the grunge of Hipstamatic  with the high tech gloss of aluminium prints (you have to see these in reality to appreciate them, rather than the copies of postcards I’ve used here).

It was well worth stopping for!

Daido Moriyama’s tights

Photography, like music, should be a universal language, but when I see the work of many young Japanese photographers I realise this is not the case. Or if it is, I just don’t like what they are saying.  Many of the images are a world away from the Japan I know from my admittedly short visits to the country over the years.  Like young artists the world over, they seem to think that I’m interested in their personal hang-ups, phobias and obsessions.  Well no, I’m really not.

One photographer that does bridge this cultural divide is Daido Moriyama. At the age of 74 and with a lifetime in photography, he has the experience to know what works on an international stage but still enough creativity to surprise and delight us. As evidence, take a look at his recent Tights series (a development of a 1987 idea “How to Create a Beautiful Picture 6: Tights in Shimotakaido”).  I am old enough to see these as abstract and semi-abstract patterns and forms, though it is possible that younger people might disagree with my interpretation. This fascinating and appealing set of images are showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, just off the King’s Road, London until 20 October 2012. Do see them if you can and buy one if you can afford it (I had to settle for the book, which is an excellent publication, and considerably cheaper at Michael Hoppen’s that at the Photographers’ Gallery bookshop).

2 of Daido Moiyama's Tights at Michael Hoppen Gallery

2 of Daido Moiyama’s Tights showing at Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, 2012

Tights is a useful complement to the forthcoming Klein/Moriyama show at Tate Modern, London, which opens on 10 October, so there’s a 10-day opportunity to see both. Great!

Fiona Tan – voice of the people?

Fiona Tan’s latest commission has been to add to her Vox Populi series by targeting London. Although none of the photographs was made by her, her installation of 265 images was on display at the Photographers’ Gallery, London until 30 September 2012 (I have to use the past tense due to my tardiness in keeping my blog up-to-date).

part of Fiona Tan's Vox Populi, London

part of Fiona Tan’s Vox Populi, London

The photographs were donated by members of the public and cover a 50-year span. Individually, not many have merit beyond the sentimental value to the owner.  Some are vulgar, others funny or poignant,   but put together by Fiona Tan they acquire an entirely new meaning; they form a fictional life story of anybody and nobody in particular.  The story could be about an individual or a whole city (obviously in this case, London).  It is definitely London-specific though, the story doesn’t work for other areas of the UK. But that’s OK. Fiona has approached the artwork with an outsider’s view of London and by restricting it geographically has made it manageable and successful.

Fiona Tan has the knack of taking the personal and making it universal. I look forward to seeing more of her work sometime.