Category Archives: Photograhers

Alan Henriksen

While researching photographers for Assignment 5, I came across the work of Alan Henriksen featured in LensCulture. His body of work is entitled “Acadia – Upper Hadlock Pond“. I was particularly drawn to the way he expresses water, as my subject for Assignment 5, Finn Slough, features similar aspects.

The body of work is, in a nutshell, a narrative about the Upper Hadlock Pond, in all its distinctive moods. The pond is located on Mount Desert Island in Maine and spans an area of approximately 35 acres. Henriksen’s images are in black and white and feature lily leaves and reeds in the pond water, which I find highly expressive and which rather remind me of Japanese silk screens. By confining the colour palette to black and white, the photographer has removed the distraction that colours would have brought to the images and so the expressive nature of the images really comes to the fore.

Upper Hadlock Pond 55, © Alan Henriksen Image reproduced with permission

Upper Hadlock Pond 55, © Alan Henriksen
Image reproduced with permission

The work takes on an abstract form, with light being the key player in the series. Some of the photographs where the water reeds grow prolifically look like a sketcher’s dark cross hatchings exercises (Upper Hadlock Pond 23: Image 13 of 20). The first image (Upper Hadlock Pond 55: Image 1 of 20, seen left) is high key image with a few reeds and lily leaves are scattered across the image. The pond water is rendered mirror smooth and a very light muted grey, almost white in colour with a soft gradation in tone down towards the bottom right of the frame in a barely perceptible triangular form, which subtly keeps returning the viewer to the reeds.  This is my favourite image. I like the verticals of the reeds and their reflections in the water, and the contrasting circular form of the lily leaves which serve to lead the eye back around the frame again.

I find the lighter toned images in the series convey a sense of calm and serenity, while the darker ones seem troubled and have a sense of foreboding or disturbance, a sense of an approaching storm perhaps. Who knows what lurks beneath the surface? Movement is detected in all the images by the ripples in the water, probably caused by a breeze or wind blowing across the water, with the exception of the first image – again emphasising the serenity of the moment. Throughout the series one is very aware of the light quality which plays on the convolutions of the ripples, the shadows of their troughs and the reflections off their crests, as well as the shadows and highlights striking the reeds and lily leaves. This is also a collection of images consisting of three design elements, namely verticals, horizontals and circles and I find it really inspiring that one subject can be expressed in so many different ways. Definitely something to work towards.

More of Alan Henriksen’s work can be viewed on his website.

References

Alan Henriksen Photography [online]. Available from: http://www.alanhenriksen.com/index.html [Accessed 25 March, 2015]

Henriksen, Alan. (2013) Acadia – Upper Hadlock Pond [online]. LensCulture. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/search/projects?q=alan+henriksen&modal=true&modal_type=project&modal_project_id=9844 [Accessed 25 March, 2015]

Upper Hadlock Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine [online]. AcadiaMagic.com. Available from: http://www.acadiamagic.com/upper-hadlock-pond.htm [Accessed 26 March, 2015]

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David Hlynsky

I seem to be developing an affinity for “Eastern Bloc” photographers and photography. Lately in looking at the many electronic newsletters that hit my inbox, I find myself looking in greater detail at those photographs and I haven’t been able to figure out why yet. Possibly because there seems to be a sense of “rawness” to them. The subjects and landscape are not refined as in the West. Perhaps it is the emergence of truth that I’m sensing that is coming out after years of being suppressed behind the Iron Curtain.

David Hlynsky is a photographer from the American Midwest and has taken over 8,000 photographs of shop fronts throughout the Eastern Bloc countries. The photographs depict the scarcity of products and produce. The few products that are available are very simply displayed in the window. There are no name brands adorning the shop windows either.

© David Hlynsky. Camping supplies, Prague, 1988 Reproduced with permission

© David Hlynsky. Camping supplies, Prague, 1988
Image reproduced with permission

There are a couple of Hlynsky’s images that I particularly like from this article. The one is a window display of camping supplies in Prague. The shop window’s border is painted orange and there are an assortment of camping paraphernalia (also orange in hue) displayed: a fold-up chair, sleeping bag, rucksak and duffel bag. All very 1960’s style. These contrast with two identical large photographic prints of a forest of trees against a blue sky and displayed in front of them are blue sleeping bags, and portable gas burner. What really intrigues me the most is the presence of a vacuum cleaner or carpet sweeper alongside the rucksack and sleeping bags. Do the people take vacuums/sweepers along when they go camping to clean their campsite? Or is it just a stray product that happened to come into the store owner’s hands?

The other image which intrigues me is one of a vase containing a huge display of lilies with one pair of shoes in front of it. The rest of the window is empty. The interior dark and uninviting. The long, tall, brown vase and shoes are so placed that they look as if they could be one item. At first I thought it was a florist shop, and couldn’t figure out why there was a pair of shoes in the window. But on seeing the reflection of a man in the window I figured that it must be a shoe shop. Its a very sad and lonely image.

Says Hlynsky in an interview with American Photo:

However, if we read the windows only on the surface, we risk missing the depth of their meaning. These shop windows revealed nowhere near what they obscured about the Socialist economy, so much of which operated in the shadows and alleyways through unauthorized hard currency exchanges. In reality, the best commodities ended up in the back rooms rather than the storefronts in anticipation of shortages. Advertising was replaced by rumor and gossip; currency supplanted by favors.

As a youngster I had heard the stories about people queuing up outside a shop, the line sometimes going around the block, without knowing what they were lining up for, but for the sake of being able to purchase the item that they might possibly need, like a loaf of bread. It is pretty hard to imagine a life like that.

Like the novel, Animal Farm, Hlynsky’s images tell two stories. The first story is the superficial one that we see straight away when viewing his photos – the hardship that the people in the Eastern Bloc countries had to endure with lack of products and produce. The second story is a story of capitalism. The very absence of it in the images is extremely telling. We in the West can look at these images and wonder if all the hype of advertising and branding that we are exposed to on a daily basis are really worth it. Is advertising not just geared to make one buy something that you don’t really need in the first place?

It is a bit of a double edged sword really. I know that I can definitely do without the constant bombardment of mindless ads, especially on the television, but at the same time I do value the freedom of being able to choose which brand I might prefer, preferably without someone fighting to insist that their brand is the one I should buy.

References

Hlynsky, David. David Hlynsky Photographs [online]. Available from: http://www.davidhlynsky.com/ [Accessed 18 March, 2015]

Reznick, Eugene (2015). Go Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain: Communism meet Consumerism. [online]. American Photo. Available from: http://www.americanphotomag.com/go-window-shopping-through-iron-curtain [Accessed 18 March, 2015]

Vanessa Püntener

After running a few ideas past my tutor for Assignment 5, he suggested I take a look at Vanessa Püntener’s work, specifically her work on the Alpine farmers in Austria, as there were some similarities to what I was planning. Her work shows the people working and living on the mountains, which is fast becoming a thing of the past. Their way of life is at risk of disappearing altogether. A very similar situation to my project.

I first looked at Püntener’s Alp series. The first image in the series immediately provides the context for the narrative – the mountain. She then follows this with a portrait of a young boy in the cowshed who looks like he is sitting on the rump of a cow, surely a sign of the relationship between man and beast. We are then taken into the little kitchen with its two stoves with firewood piled high next to them, makeshift shelving  around the walls and colourful wall and ceiling decorations, made of a variety of materials, such as plastic and wall paper. I would imagine these have been put up to stop any drafts getting into the house. Even though the kitchen is almost like a patchwork quilt, one can see the farmer’s wife pride – her pots are spotless and gleaming as is the rest of her kitchen. One gets the sense that everything has its proper place.

The next image is vertical wide angle shot of the family herding the cattle back up the mountain. The mountain is shrouded in a mist but the farmhouse is faintly visible in the distance. One gets the impression that this a task in which the whole family takes part regularly. A portrait of one of the children and the dog are next in sequence, followed by a view of the rugged terrain of the alps. A beautiful chiaroscuro image of a cow resting in its stall follows. The muted brown shades of the cow blend into the surrounding walls while the light coming in through the stable door illuminates her face and the straw on the ground in front of her. This is followed by another photograph of the alps with the clouds coming in over their peaks.

The remains of simple meal consisting of cold meats, bread and cheese provide the details of the family’s simple way of life. The table is economically laid on a wooden table with only the platters, knives mugs and jugs visible. No crockery except for the mugs are visible. This leaves the impression that it is a quick meal, eaten on the run, so to speak. The image of the farmer’s built in bed reminds me so much of the beds found in the old Dutch village of Marken, where these were built into the walls, bunk-style to maximize space in these little one room houses. Layers of muslin cloth hang over the side of the bed. One wonders if they are there for privacy reasons, or just a convenient space to hang the cheesecloths that are used for making cheese?

The last few images in the series show us evidence of some “mod-cons” that have reached the Alpine community. An old fashioned wall telephone hangs proudly next to family and wedding photos. A plug’s cord cuts diagonally across the one wedding photo providing evidence of electricity on site. Püntener finishes the online series with two photos of the community in the throes of a severe winter. One of the farmers poses for his portrait outside his farmhouse, while the snow sits at least 3 foot high on his roof. The final image is a shot of the farming community/village taken from a fair distance down the mountainside. Only the brick red and grey walls of their houses poke out of the snow, reminding us of the isolation and hardships this little community has to endure.

For the most part Püntener uses muted colours for her images in this series (I can only speak for the online images because according to my tutor she made a book on this subject). One might regard the images where there green grass of the alps is visible as bright, but I don’t think so. While the colour saturation might be more intense than in the other images, the atmosphere of the images remains muted. One gets the sense of the mist descending to wash out any available colour.

In her Sbrinz series, Püntener  documents the life of a single family. She begins the online series with a couple of very endearing images of two little girls and their donkey. My favourite image has to be the one where there little girl is inspecting the donkey’s teeth and the donkey is standing oh so patiently. We then see the little girls at play outdoors, and in the evening dressed up in fancy dress clothes posing for the camera.

An early morning view of the moutains seen between the house and the cowshed follows. Püntener then turns her attention to the farming story in essence following the journey of the milk through the manufacturing process and opens with an action shot of a farmer pouring fresh milk into milkcans starts the day off. A close-up shot of the farmer sitting on his milking stool provides some variety in the narration. This is followed by a detail shot of the milking apparatus that is used.  Separating the curds from the whey provides the context that this is a cheese manufacturing farmer. I’m really intrigued by the image with the upside down milkcans standing on a bench outside a little hut. I seen more milkcans just to the left of the hut’s door, so must assume that this is some kind of collection or drop-off venue for empty milkcans. The red bench and jacket on the bike provide a wonderful punch to the muted tones of the scene.

The next detail shot is one of two wedges of cheese. The texture of the roughly cut cheese is visible lit by the light coming through the door. Possibly the hut in the previous image is where the rounds of cheese are left to age. Püntener comes full circle and for her penultimate photo does a group portrait of the family standing outside the milking shed. The final photo is one of the mudroom in their home, where the family’s jackets, boots and outdoor shoes are left together with the broom to sweep up the mud. The end of another day, signified by the closed door.

As in the Alp series, Püntener has again used fairly muted tones in this series. She has paced her narrative well, introducing the audience to the characters (children) slowly and then launched into the busyness of the daily tasks of dairy farming and gearing back on the pace once we see the finished product. Only then does she reveal the whole family to the audience.

I feel that the Sbrinz series reads better as a narrative essay than the Alp series. Perhaps that is only due to the limited selection of images that Püntener has on her website, but I felt that there were bits missing from the Alp series that I would have like to see more of. Nonetheless, I think I have some good ideas on how to proceed with my Assignment 5 and will try and incorporate some of Püntener’s ideas.

References

Vanessa Püntener [online]. Available from http://www.vanessapuentener.ch/index.php?section=2 [Accessed 14 March, 2015]

Claude Savona

I came across Claude Savona’s work on the FeatureShoot website while scrolling through the documentary category while doing some research in preparation for the Narrative and Illustration assignment. Savona’s work is listed under the documentary category and I found the title of the article rather poignant: “A Look at London’s Elderly Population Through Images of Their Kitchen Sinks”. I was immediately intrigued by this title and without reading the article or looking past the first photo, quickly scrolled down to see who the artist was, googled his website and went there to view the whole series.

Savona has made a series of photographs of kitchen sinks in various homes. On his website the series is only entitled “The Kitchen Sink Series” and there are no captions or clues – unlike the telling heading in the FeatureShoot article. The images are framed tightly around the sink and its immediate surroundings. What do we see from our kitchen sink? In most cases there is a window placed over the sink to look out of while one is doing the dishes, and memories of childhood come flooding back to me. Images spring to mind of my mother standing at the kitchen sink watching me while I played in the garden. One has to wonder what stories the kitchen sink could tell if that was possible.

 Knick-knacks and potted plants stand in the window sills or on the side of most of the sinks indicative of memories of past places visited or gifts given. All objects with sentimental value or received in love. We all tend to put something that we hold dear to us close to this living space. I have objects that my children, both adults now, made when they were at school – their artwork, which I find endearing. Even the most run down, dilapidated kitchen in the series has a little mirror on the wall, reflecting the yellow shrubbery from outside the window.

Some of the newer kitchens don’t have a window over the sink – just bare tiled walls. No little pleasures will ever be viewed from in front of these sinks. They have one purpose only and that is to do the dishes without distraction. They are sterile in appearance and this is indicative to me of a singular, lonely existence. Perhaps these are the kitchens of the elderly who have been downsized out of their homes and put into assisted living quarters. Or it is society’s way of breaking down our creativity.

Kitchens have for centuries been regarded as the heart of the home and this is evident from the signs of life in the various kitchens. A forgotten lipstick and compact next to the sink, dishwashing powder in the window sill, clocks and smiley mugs, dishes in the sink, kitchen utensils, milk jugs, fresh garlic hanging next to a window are just a few of the items that reflect on their owners. Some of the owners value their privacy and hang lace curtains over the windows. Others are concerned for the safety and have security bars in front of the windows. Another group embraces the world outside and leaves their windows unadorned so that they can see outside without any hindrances, thus incorporating the outdoors as part of their daily living space.

On the FeatureShoot article Savona makes this statement: “The kitchen window,” he says, “represents a perfect space for daydreaming, as one stood in his mundane space whilst looking out into a more beautiful world which he could aspire to.” This is so true and I can relate so well to this. How many times have I stood at a kitchen sink, doing the mundane task of washing pots and pans and daydreaming of warm skies and far away places – too numerous to even think about.

This series is quite poignant for me and I really like Savona’s work. If I were to ignore the FeatureShoot article title, this series could very well be a metaphor of life. The new kitchen, the first image in the series, with the finishes not quite done is representative of one’s start in life (let’s limit it to adult life). Gradually the kitchens acquire things, knick-knacks and clutter representing our middle age years. The older we get the more memories we acquire and finally the image of the dilapidated kitchen represents our final years, the state of the kitchen reflecting the state of our old bodies, worn and used up.

References

Claude Savona [online]. Available from http://claudesavona.com/ [Accessed 11 March, 2015]

Kieran, Kat (2015). A Look at London’s Elderly Population Through Images of Their Kitchen Sinks [online]. Available from http://www.featureshoot.com/2015/01/a-look-at-londons-elderly-population-through-images-of-their-kitchen-sinks/ [Accessed 11 March, 2015]

Eva Skalakova

I discovered Eva Skalakova’s work last night while I was browsing through the Sony World Photography Awards shortlist. She is a Czech photographer and I so wish I had discovered her work while I was working towards assignment two – Elements of Design. Her compositions are a cornucopia of design elements and delights. The first images that I came across were featured in the professional photographers shortlist for the Sony World Photography Awards. Her series is entitled “Landscape touched by a human” and comprises a set of minimalist landscapes, which are absolutely amazing. The subject matter is so banal and consists of mainly of man-made items, (pipes, fences, electric wires, ladders, telephone poles, etc.) but the way she composes her photographs turn them up quite a few notches pushing them totally to a more serene level, almost ethereal. This series is in black and white and many are done in a high key way, with highlights either totally blown or almost blown out, but this doesn’t distract from the image at all, rather it enhances it, drawing one’s attention to the other elements in the frame. She composes with low horizon lines, right to the edges of the frame and makes such striking use of diagonals, triangles, leading lines, points, s-curves. I particularly liked her image of a horse in a pasture which can be seen here. Even though the image is calm and serene, there is a tangible energy emanating from it from the diagonal lines of the electric pylons and the paddock fencing which seem to resonate off the horse’s trot downhill.

Skalakova does a lot of street photography as well and her elements of design are evident in those images too. I think she has to be a very patient street photographer, probably selecting her vantage points carefully and then waiting for the right subject to walk into her frame as compositionally the images might seem to be thought out beforehand.  Even in her street photography her placement of the elements in the image are quite dynamic. She makes great use of high and low placements in the frame, as well as light and shadows to complement the elements she has chosen to photograph:

She is quirky and has a good sense of humour in her street photography, gently taking the mick out of her fellow townspeople, which really engaged me and kept me up half the night as I did not want to stop looking at her work. Rather like picking up a page turner book and not wanting to put it down until it was finished! I found it really inspirational. There were no images that I did not like, but here are a few fun ones:

She has another interesting series on her website where she has photographed people, and these are posed portraits, against interesting backgrounds. What makes this series interesting is that the people are wearing complementary clothing that in some way or other work with the background. For example, in one image the background, an architectural wall, has vertical stripes with interspersed colour blocks and she has photographed a person whose shirt in the same colour scheme has horizontal stripes also with colour blocks. Obviously a lot of thought and planning went into this series.

I think I might just try out a few of her techniques. Find an interesting backdrop or mural, sit and wait for the photo to come along and see what happens.

References

Eva-Skalakova [online]. Available from http://www.eva-skalakova.com/fotogalerie/ [Accessed 25 February, 2015]

 

Bob Avakian

While scrolling through Lenscratch’s 2014 favourite photographs I came across Bob Avakian’s work. I liked his work so much that I thought a short write up was in order. His body of work is all about how light creates mood and atmosphere.

Bob Avakian is a photographer from Martha’s Vineyard and he does his landscape photography there and on the neighbouring Chappaquiddick island and has won numerous awards and participated in exhibitions in New York and Massachusetts.

His body of work consists of images taken at night and at sunrise. Many of his images have an unknown light source in them. I especially like the one called Into the Light which is a photograph of a road sweeping around a curve with two houses alongside it. The house furthest from the camera is illuminated from within by indoor lighting and the brightly lit window immediately draws the eye to that part of the image. Another bigger light source from behind the house is illuminating the back side of the house and a little spillage around the side of the house illuminates the road and lawns and the barriers on the side of the road. Shadow beams radiate into the night sky from this golden light source, fading gradually into the surrounding darkness. There is so much mood and atmosphere to this image. Without this lighting the photograph would be rather mundane.

Another night image that is particularly poignant is Avakain’s Flower Moon Tree. It is an image taken at a very low perspective, probably belly on the ground height, of a farmhouse with a tree in the foreground. So the horizon line is low in the image. Only the side of the white farm house is visible, being illuminated by an outdoor light source which the viewer cannot see. The light is quite white and casts white-pink tinge on the approaching driveway. At the top of the frame we see a full moon illuminating the rest of the scene with its golden light. There must have been quite a bit of cold moisture in the upper atmosphere as the moon has atmospheric rings of light which are caused by the light refracting off ice crystals. The gnarly branches and foliage of the tree reach out as if to embrace the moon, leading the eye upwards. Again in this image the light creates the mood.

The mood in Avakian’s Morning Walk is soft and ethereal. This is one of the images from his Day series. It is an image of lone figure in the far off distance walking along the beach. The fact that the distant horizon is scarely visible and the golden haze of the early morning sunrise which envelopes the figure creates the effect that the person is going to disappear into another world. The surrounding light matches the tones of the sand while the blue tones of the sea are slightly darker than that of the overhead sky. This image works so well because it consists of the muted complementary tones of blue and orange. Tiny shadows from debris washed up on shore create a leading line of sorts directing the viewer to the lone figure on the beach.

In contrast with the Morning Walk image, Avakian’s photo of Chappaquiddick Ferry is almost monochromatic.  It is shot from within the photographer’s car which is on the ferry, approaching the dock. The sea is choppy and cold and on the approaching bank some cars and bicycles stand waiting. What made me do a double take on this image was the immediate foreground which is a silver curved shaped object reflecting the approaching dock. The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to this as this is the brightest object in the photograph.  I first thought that this was a canoe or kayak, but upon closer inspection I noticed the rain drops and surmised that it was the bonnet of the photographer’s car. The only colour in this image is from the yellow-brown tones from the grass and shrubbery and the few muted green trees flanking the approach to the dock. The waves and the raindrops provide movement to the image to the extent that I can almost feel the pontoon bobbling its approach to the dock. The dark vignette at the top of the frame also draws one into the frame. Again one can feel the mood in this image and there is something a little ominous about the mood in this photo. Perhaps it has to do with the historical fact that this ferry was close to the spot where Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge into the Poucha Pond causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

All of Bob Avakian’s work that is online is pretty amazing. They all have a certain amount of wow factor and I do like the general feeling of isolation that is evident in his images. After looking at an aerial map of Chappaquiddick Island it is very clear that there are only a few houses on the island and lots of wide open spaces between them. I imagine that Martha’s Vineyard is fairly similar, but probably a little more populated. The isolation depicted in his images is a positive one. It is more a sense of sereneness and tranquility. Oh that I had such open spaces close to home.

Reference List

Bob Avakian Photography [online]. Available from http://www.bobavakianphotography.com/ [Accessed 4 January, 2015]

Incident on Chappaquiddick Island, 18 July 1969 [online]. History.com. Available from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/incident-on-chappaquiddick-island [Accessed 4 January, 2015]

Beth Moon – Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees

Sometimes its difficult to keep up with all the photographic newsletters that hit my inbox and they usually get a cursory once over and then get filed away in my inbox. But once in a while something will resonate with me and I will go back and search for that article. One of the recent LensCulture newsletters introduced me to Beth Moon and I was quite blown away by her Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees.

The featured series was about ancient trees – trees that had stood the test and ravages of time, some are documented to be about 4,000 years old and clearly will be around for some time to come yet if mankind doesn’t destroy the planet. Beth explains that this series is printed by using a platinum/palladium process which is hand-coated onto the print. Apparently this process will preserve the print for centuries. She uses this technique in a sense to pay homage to the survival of this ancient trees.

Coming from South Africa, my favourite images just have to be the Buffelsdrift Baobab and the Chapman’s Baobab. As children, we always used to call the baobab trees ‘the upside down trees’ because they appeared to have their roots growing above ground and somehow the leaves and branches had ended up underground. If I remember correctly, there is an old legend to that effect. The sheer majesty of these mighty trees dwarf the surrounding thorn trees present on the African plain, making them appear as weeds. They simply pale into insignificance next to these trees. The positioning of the trees in the centre of the frame and the fact that the branches extend beyond the edges of the frame emphasis the magnitude of the trees. Both trees also reach almost to to the top of the frame leaving very little breathing room in the images, but at the same time creating a sense of breath-taking awe in the viewer. I can only hope that these prints are as big as Edward Burtynsky’s are. I would want to stand at the feet of these trees and gaze up to their top most branches. One is left pondering on all the events and scenes these trees must have born witness to: the animals that have made the trees their homes over the centuries; the weather conditions the trees must have endured; the changes in the planet they have witnessed …

Beth Moon has captured the majestic elegance of all the trees in her series in a very poetic way. One might well classify this series as landscape, but I think it would fit equally well into portraiture because each tree’s unique character, idiosyncrasies, foibles and beauty are on display. From the upside down baobabs to the luxurious Bowthorpe Oak, to the UFO-like Heart of the Dragon, to the split Linton Yew, to the succulent quiver trees (another reminder of my old home country – we used to have one of these in our garden) to the quirky Ifathy Teapot and the serene Zalmon Olive trees, there is an overall underlying atmosphere of respect and dignity in all the images.

Reference List

Moon, Beth (2014). Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees [online]. LensCulture. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/beth-moon-portraits-of-time-ancient-trees-2 [Accessed 4 December, 2014]