William Klein : ABC

Finally to the last but by no means least of the three books I recently received.

The book is titled ‘William Klein : ABC’ a book that I can only describe as a graphic extravagance, Kleins use of mixing graphic art, high contrast colour and grainy B&W images throughout just keep me wanting to look at the images time and time again.

This book or catalogue was produced for his 2012 exhibition in The Tate Modern Museum, London and contains images from his visits to New York, Moscow, Rome, Tokyo,  Paris, some of his fashion photography and films. Plus of course his ubiquitous marked up contact sheets, where he uses his graphic art skills one again, even on the contacts! As a mixture of painting and photographs, Klein has commented that ‘all photographers do mark-ups and is therefore part of my photography’.

In a recent interview Klein said in creating his images he ‘was interested in typography and wanted to use all the possibilities of photography – grain, contrast and blur’. As with Ansel Adams you could write volumes just on the photographer, but here I want to talk a little about some of Kleins photographs.

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This image initially caught my eye because, having no previous knowledge of this set of fashions shoots, I stared at them thinking how odd the set was, then realised that perhaps they were not all what they seemed. Later I read and learned that apart from the more modernly dressed girls they are all wax works dummies. Though shot well in B&W the image and its composition are mainly dictated by the positioning of the wax statues. What I really love though is the comedy of the image with on girl adjusting the wax works tie looking back to camera, the other holding out a program to the sitter and pretending to talk to the other statue behind. It looks like the scene was lit with a basic single front on light source, crude but I think adds to the charm and the simple approach of the image.

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For this image I saw an interview where Klein talks about ‘there is always someone looking’ , for him this clearly makes the image or a statement when someone is looking at the camera ‘then i the next frame it is gone’. He is of course talking about the man far right. I am intreaged by the depth to this image, the couple in the foreground matching the mid ground couple and the people/scene in the background. All at odds with our friend in the right corner..

It was also interesting to hear Klein discussing the images he took in Tokyo saying that it was difficult to take shots of places and events as he did not know if they where ‘significant or really mean something’, a statement I can empathise with having found it difficult shooting on the other side of the world.

William Eggleston

One of the three recent books that arrived was William Eggleston’s Guide, along with Ansel Adams 400 Photographs and Willam Klein’s ABC.

I have looked and looked again at the images in the book and tried to appreciate their purpose but they do nothing for me, not as individual images or as a whole. I have even gone to the lengths of finding one of his rare public Q&A sessions about his work that is on video. Eggleston seems to have little to say about any of his images and often seemed to be dismissive or worse just get plain cross at what he considers ‘stupid’ questions.

I realise that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and subjective. I also realise that I would not like every photographers work that I reviewed, but this is an undertsatement in this case, perhaps I am missing something fundamental and will come to realise I have a lot yet to learn. But I can only give my opinion of now and am surprised at how much I dislike this book. To me this book is like the story of the Emporers Clothes, someone has said it is art and everyone else is afraid to say they are not.

To me there is no redeeming image in the entire book, it is a collection of snaps at best and the shot of the dirty electric oven is the crowning glory. In fact I am so disillusioned with this book and Eggleston’s images that I am not going to talk to a single one. I am surprised that this book has created such a strong reaction with me, I am sure Eggleston is a nice chap and others see great merit in his work. But it’s not for me.

 

Ansel Adams

It would be very easy to get wrapped up in the man and write about nothing else. But what could I write that has not already been written about Ansel Adams. His involvement in the Sierra Club, Group f/64 and drafting its manifesto (which his later work contradicts), his books and teaching, but instead I will (try to) focus just a few of his images and talk to those.

As per a previous post on my blog, I had three books arrive on the same day one on Ansel, the others on William Klien and William Eggleston. The book Ansel Adams 400 Photographs is the one that captured my attention from the off and this interest has not stopped. Now that I have had the book few weeks, I have to be honest and now say that I am officially a fan of Ansel Adams, from being aware of his work as a casual passing observer to now seeking out his images even to the point of looking to see where I can go and see an original print. So on to the images:

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Monolith, The Face of the Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California. 1927

Taken in 1927, this is the first image where Adams when interviewed called this his first serious photograph, when he knew what he was doing “I could visualise the image I want, I know my technique, my craft, I can operate the camera use the right filters, exposure and development. And with that whole approach came the zone system.” It is clear that Ansel could recognise the expressive qualities he wished to portray in his images and had the skill to do so. This image was originally taken using a yellow filter, however, not happy with the result Ansel went back and this time used a red filter to enhance the stark rock face and darken the sky even more. This is a very majestic looking photograph, yet the size and placement of the monolith gives an uncomfortable, even menacing aspect to the image.

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Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. 1942

Considered by many to be one of Ansel Adams most famous/popular images. From the dark black through to the bright whites, you can see the zone system at work in the exposure. There are 7 easily identifiable zones here at work and more if you take time to look. Despite his famous quote “The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial”, you can clearly see many a play here. The curve of the river and the thirds proportion of the composition for starters.

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Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. 1941 ‘chance favours the prepared mind’

After an unsuccessful day (by his standards) Ansel was driving home when he came across this scene. Quickly setting-up in the changing light, he was able to make only one exposure before the light changed.  As in all of Ansel’s work the depth of field is considerable in all the images with foreground to background in sharp relief. From his images you can also see that this was not just due to small f stops but also masterful use of the camera movements, such as shift & tilt.

Many of the images where taken at early dawn or dusk, with the shadows bringing the landscape alive, this quality and Ansel’s eye for the correct light is impressive to say the least.

Over the years Ansel (and his assistant) produced many versions of the same prints, either as his darkroom skill improved or as a result of his own personal tastes changing. Often the later images had far harder contrast and often the once light sky’s had turned black. He even had an assistant ‘ink out’ unwanted elements, most notably on ‘Winter Sunrise’ where the initials of the Lone Pine High School are removed from later prints. All clearly at odds with the Group f/64, rather purist manifesto…

New books arrived today…

OK so finally trying to get into other photographers work, I have gone old school, meaning that I have bought books, rather than just look at images over the internet. The images online have helped me choose who to look at, but I want good quality images to review and asses not some low res pixelated copy on the net. So to the books that arrived today are Ansel Adams 400 Photographs, William Klien:ABC and William Eggleston’s Guide.

Ansel Adams 400 Photographs – the one which attracted me right out of the box, a photographer who’s work I have been aware of but never really looked at in detail..but the book I have not put down since it arrived. The book, the writing, the images are just fantastic. I love the graphic quality of black and white, but combined with the majesty of the mountain scenes and the composition of the images are just incredible. If you’re looking for a photographer to review, a good book, or just want to see what truly good Black and White photography looks like, then this has to be top of your list..

I will of course come back around to talk about Ansel’s work in some more detail in due course. As for the two Bills I’ll come back to those at another time…I need to go back to ‘Ansel Adams 400 Photographs’

Atget

Eugene Atget considered by many to be the father of documentary photography, who for the last thirty or so years of his life worked as a commercial photographer in Paris, died an almost unknown figure in the industry. It was only because by chance Man Ray discovered and helped to publicise Atget’s work, the chance being they worked from the same street.

Much of Atget’s work focused on the disappearing areas in Paris, often the poorer areas that where being demolished. His photographs contained few people and even when they did they are often secondary to the subject. 

Man Ray’s purchase of 50 or so of Atgets photographs sparked the initial interest in his work. Though these were of ‘out of place’ or ‘found’ out of context objects of interest to the surrealist movement of the time, which Atget had captured in his many travels (some 10,000 images), it was this catalyst that eventually brought the worlds attention to Agets work combined with Bernice Abbott, who was Man Rays assistant at the time.

During much of Agtet’s photographic career he treated his work as ‘documents’ for reference by artists and cartoonists only in is latter years hid he start to portray the art of the medium. Through out his work Atget used the Alguman print method to produce his work, which even when he started using it was outdated and by the time of his last works was archaic. He was asked why he did not use more modern methods and replied that he would not know how..

Boulevard de Strasbourg 1912

 

A ‘document’ of a shop window selling ladies apparel. The composition appeals to me, with the hint of a building behind reflected in the window and the motion of the hanging garment blurred due to the slow exposure time. It is difficult not to get caught up in the nostalgia of these images.

Notrodame Cathedral 1925

One of his later images, when he seemed to have discovered the ‘art’ of his media. The tree branches across the structure of the cathedral in the background with the silhouetted tree in the foreground drawing a black spiders web across the building, the thicker branches leading your eye to different parts of the structure. The silhouette structure creates a mosaic of the background

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Atget taken in 1927 and he died shortly afterwards.

I find Atget’s work fascinating, his ‘documents’ have recorded for posterity a Paris that no longer exists in a time of considerable change. His simple approach and style appeals to me and the clean, uncluttered images reflect that approach.

Robert ParkeHarrison

I have deliberately not read any reviews of their work and have no reference of the series or exhibition these images come form . I say their work as I understand these images are the result of a team effort with his partner Shana. My comments are from my initial impression over the period of a week looking at a selection of images below.

Initially I find the world portrayed in these photographs to be a stark, bleak and depressing place. The monotony of the monotone, grey upon grey, the often single male figure in a shapeless suit struggling with an often seemingly impossible task. With an endless and bleak horizon with typically not a white or true black to be seen in the image. The human subject always at odds with his surroundings.

Then after a period I find myself looking at them differently. Though I still find them dark, there is also humour in the  fantasy of the tasks portrayed . Tying ropes to clouds, strange flying contraptions, huge cogs in the ground being fixed by a man with a over-sized spanner, too name a few.

All rights to images copyright Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Only used as educational example.