Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“Just what is Friedlander’s work about? To what does it refer, either concretely, metaphorically, formally, allegorically, or representatively? In what sense are his photographs documents – either of the world or of his true perceptions? Is he confronting us directly with our perception of reality –or merely an abstract, ultimately barren non-reality? Is his work an allegory for his view of civilization and humanity – or is it only about the medium in its narrowest sense? Is it a series of facile formal maneuvers? Or even a kind of existential jerking off?” These questions appear in Gerry Badger’s essay assessing Lee Friedlander’s style in photography. Friedlander works bring the whole new conversation and perspective in photography. At the first glance, Friedlander works seem mundane and sometimes seem arbitrary. But it is intriguing enough for the viewer to look deeper through the picture to find the meaning if not a deeper meaning from the photograph. Lee Friedlander’s open-ended nature on his photograph provides the viewer an endless examination.

Lee Friedlander is an American photographer with a fascination on the street photography. He works primarily with his Leica 35 mm camera and black and white film. Friedlander photography style is considered as “social landscape photography” because of his prominent street photos focusing on the look of the modern life. Friedlander focused to photograph his surrounding with unique perspective. He doesn’t stick to any convention in taking photograph. He wonders around and pursued different types of photography. Friedlander begins his career from photographing jazz musician for the Atlantic Recording. Thus he proceed his interest in photography by self-taught himself with direction through Evans and Adget works.

Friedlander pioneers the new visualization perspective of street photography. Throughout his career, he captures images from his surrounding with unique approaches. Rather than documenting straight and clear-cut photograph, he intentionally juxtaposes layers of weird perspective and creates confusion to deliver the story. Friedlander uses the strategy to show something that the viewer can’t immediately comprehend to captivate their interest in the photograph. Visual complexity, unfamiliar perspective and abstraction become the major role in Friedlander’s style of street photography. Friedlander creates his own photography style with an informal and seemingly unintentional approach to his photographs. In her essay, Martha Rosler states that “[Friedlander Photography style] had aimed to signify a transcendental statement through subtractions or rationalized arrangements of elements within a photographic space”. Ambiguity seems essential in Friedlander’s photography style. Thus this element provides visual attraction to its viewer. Friedlander’s photograph amazingly invites the viewer to jump inside the picture without any overly admirable details or any obvious focal context.
Friedlander. Maria Friedlander. Southwestern United States. 1969 


                Ambiguity, informal, and unintentional suggestion appears to become the integral elements in assessing Friedlander’s work. Friedlander’s work considered the pioneer of postmodern photography. Postmodern photography work is characterized by atypical compositions of subjects that are unconventional or sometimes absent. Thus, Friedlander’s work also relates to formalism, which is working by either following or breaking some rules and aesthetic conventions within the cultural milieu and/or by embracing certain philosophical concept. But at the first glance, Friedlander’s work seems like an accidental picture taken by an amateur photographer. Therefore through deeper inspection into the photographs, it might appear that his ‘unintentional’ photographs implied referential statement and narrative of a bigger concern.
Friedlander. Memphis, Tennessee. 2003

The Picture was taken in Memphis, Tennessee in 2003 can be portrays as a simple perspectile humor. It shows the triangular sign touching another triangular object in the background as seems like those two objects are in the same plane. It shows what capacity a camera can create manipulation of the documented picture. The photograph proposes ambiguity and the sense of unintentional behavior. Thus it makes the viewer to array opinion of the picture from a mere perspectile humor to a really deep message with complex metaphorical symbols.
Friedlander. Albuquerque, New Mexico. 1972

Lee Friedlander’s photograph in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1972 seems like an everyday street intersection that could be taken by anyone.  However, this picture of a black dog sitting in a common intersection is carefully arranged to formally imply to the social-political aspect at that time. This photograph contains many symbolisms to array a message or an implied narrative. For example, the black dog and the relatively bright surrounding suggest the contrast between the living and the non-living objects. The black dog dissected by a vertical lamp post can symbolically be interpreted as a concern on the civil right movement of the African American society that was ‘cut in half’ in the American society. Although a significant movement has been done, the African Americans were still in the ‘intersection’ of being accepted and treated equally. The buildings in the background shows bright Victorian house style complete with the pillar on the entrance shows reference to the ‘white’ who tend to own the slave. Thus it separated from the ‘black dog’ by the road intersection.

Friedlander. Chicago, Illinois. 2003

Another photograph by Lee Friedlander in Chicago, IL in 2003 juxtaposes everyday objects on the street. He activates the vertical element bring focus and configuration to the composition. He creates order in a chaotic manner. This highly composed picture creates complexity and insert loads of context to intricate its viewer to observe.  Thus the picture allures us to think about the life in the big city. The traffic sign and the traffic light suggest that life in the big city is harsh, full of complexity, and rules. There is ‘no turn’ but cannot proceed either. Taxi cab and Marina City advertises the ‘luxury’ of living in a big city.  The taxi cab is supposed to provide a luxurious transportation service and the Marina City with its initial idea from Bertrand Goldberg as the city inside a city. The city provides endless opportunities but ironically it also eats you alive. Being trapped in the big city lifestyle seems that reality doesn’t as flashy as it once promises.  

Friedlander: Mannequin
                This picture of a mannequin and the reflection on a storefront window is not another random weirdly composed photograph. The photo itself is intriguing with a complex composition with reflection and the use of transparency object. But beside the fascinating composition, this series of photograph by Lee Friedlander implies to a bigger contextual message in the urban society. The 103 photographs of mannequin published in by San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery suggest a criticism of the social habit of consumerism. The headless mannequin inside the storefront symbolizes the people who are trapped by the consumerism habit. Also it shows a series of head silhouette picture that suggest the lack of identity as people tend to strip their own to keep on track to the latest trend.  The superimposed storefront window reflection also implies to the generic manner in urban society. The reflection and the mannequin connect the lack of identity of the people and the tough nature of the city lifestyle.
In some extend, all these view and interpretation is not merely what Friedlander necessarily intended the viewer to look at his photographs. However, the ambiguous and open-ended nature of his photograph imposes endless examination. Friedlander photographs assaults the notion of ambiguity. It creates a whole new experience and interpretation of the moment in the picture while at the same time alluding into it. The photographs seem literal and transparent in term of symbolism after some extend of careful investigation. Friedlander style in his photography work features and shifts the meaning behind the picture to a bigger frame.

Martha Rosler states in her essay that Friedlander’s photograph possesses a wide range of meaning other that the technicality and playfulness of the form: “The locus of desired readings is, then, formalist, modernism, where the art endeavor explores the specific boundaries and capabilities of the medium, and the iconography, while privately meaningful, is wholly subordinate (…) the level of import of Friedlander’s work is open to question and can be read anywhere from photo funnies to metaphysical dismay.”
·         Badger, Gerry. (1991) ‘Out of Cool–Lee Friedlander at the Victoria and Albert Museum, (available at http://www.thisispipe.com/2013/04/lee-friedlander-post-modern-photography.html) (accessed December  2013)
·         De Lima, Rafael. (2013) ‘Formalism in Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky’, available at http://dzima.net/blog/formalism-in-jeff-wall-and-andreas-gursky/) (accessed December  2013)
·         P. Galassi, R. Benson, L. Friedlander. (2009) Friedlander. New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
·         Pipe. (2013) ‘Lee Friedlander & Post Modern Photography: Deconstructing Albuquerque, New Mexico (1972)’. (available at http://www.thisispipe.com/2013/04/lee-friedlander-post-modern-photography.html) (accessed December  2013)

·         Rosler, Martha. (2004) Decoy and Disruptions Selected Writings, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts. The MIT Press

Constructing Reality

Photography started as a mean to document the physical world as a two-dimensional picture. A photograph captures reality as it is. However, throughout years of development and explorations, numerous photographers such as Alexander Rodchenko, Beate Gutschow, Andreas Gursky, have changed the meaning of photographs. These photographers altered their photographs to express their ideas; the ‘documents’ are now ‘art’. Similarly, architects have also used photo alteration techniques to present their ideas. With the same techniques, they insert their imagined building into a photograph resulting in an illusion of reality. Mies van der Rohe is famous for his collages and renderings. The Smithsons used similar technique, combining photography and line drawings. Contemporary architectural rendering company Luxigon also uses similar although more modern techniques.

Friedrichstrasse skyscraper. 1921

The photomontage Mies van der Rohe submitted with his drawings for the 1910 Bismarck monument competition didn’t convince the jury that the design could be built. The concept, a huge platform on steep terrain embedded onto a field, was found to be too ambitious given the limited engineering capabilities of the time. Despite not having won that competition, this collage, as well as later iterations such as that for the Friedrichstrasse skyscraper, became an inventive example of architecture’s engagement with the imagined, abstract possibilities of the built environment. Today, photomontaging is still a fundamental aspect of the design process for many contemporary architects, though its forms and purposes have changed in decades since Mies's earliest experiments in collage.

Bismarck Monument Project. 1910.

This work, one of Mies van der Rohe's earliest photomontages, seamlessly embeds his proposal for a national monument to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) in a photograph of the Rhine landscape. Using the picture of the site supplied for the 1910 competition, Mies created a "realistic" architectural scene through precise photographic manipulation. Mies’ competition model was carefully photographed from below to match the perspective of the site image. In the resulting photomontage, the monument appears embedded into the hillside; its neoclassical colonnade and massive podium, overgrown with foliage, suggest that the buildings existence is not hypothetical, but rather fact. The image, with its convincing realism, is a predecessor to contemporary rendering practices that merge fiction and reality.

 "War of the Future (Voina budeshchego)" magazine illustration, 1930.

In the early 1920s, Rodchenko left painting behind and took up different types of art including photomontage. He believed this form of art to be more effective is communicating the messages of the Soviet Union. His works from this point on echoed what was going on in the Communist Regime during that era. He became involved and was a huge leader in the Constructivist movement (whose followers favored strict geometric forms and clear graphic design) in Russia. Within this movement, he formed the first working group of Constructivists. Rodchenko played a large part in the Constructivist movement, essentially making it what it was, just as it, in return, made Rodchenko who he was.

Illustration for "About This" poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1923.

In 1923, he started creating his own photography and received many graphic design commissions for book covers and posters. He became the principal designer for the magazine Lef, a publication for the Lef group, a group of avant-garde writers and intellects associated with poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky’s poems were often accompanied by photo collage illustrations done by Rodchenko. He was soon doing all of Mayakovsky’s book covers. Rodchenko’s graphic design work achieved much of its clarity and directness from his utilization of elements taken from photographs, staying in a flat dimension of space with a limited color palette. This method of photomontage let Rodchenko express his ideas without dwelling too much in realism.

Robin Hood Gardens Estate. 1972
In the 1970s, Alison and Peter Smithson revisited photomontage as way to represent their ideas for the Robin Hood Gardens Estate in London. This architect couple was catapulted to architectural stardom on winning the competition to design Hunstanton Secondary Modern School in 1950. Peter was only 26 and Alison, his new wife and former student, a mere 21 years old. Having worked in the schools division of London County Council Architects’ Department for less than a year, winning the competition allowed them to set up their own practice. In only a couple of years, Alison and Peter Smithson had established themselves as leaders in post-war architecture. The Smithsons’ preached modern architecture designed with low cost, and easily available materials. They were categorized as Brutalists, and sought for each building to be designed according to its location and its use. From these ideals also came their utilitarian aesthetic, reflecting all of these conditions in their buildings’ form.

Robin Hood Gardens Estate - Perspective. 1972

Robin Hood Gardens Estate - Section. 1972

The Robin Hood Gardens Estate, which has just been demolished, was a Brutalist social housing project characterized by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, much like Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation. Some of their architectural renderings for this project were actually collages, in which a combination of line drawings and elements of photographs were used. The results were unique representations of scale, site context, and building tectonics.

S#10. 2005.

At first glance, the large-format black-and-white photographs in the S series by Beate Gütschow suggest authentic documentations of urban scenes: monumental architecture, decaying buildings, rusty automobile parts. Yet the images are the result of complex digital manipulation. They are photomontages consisting of numerous photos taken by Gütschow on her various journeys and later assembled to create a single picture. They are often fragments of aging modern architecture—plain, unadorned concrete buildings, now crumbling and in part non-functional. In this way, she suggests ideas that have survived modernity while she also explores and scrutinizes the medium of photography as a representative of reality.

The S series makes reference to the black-and-white architectural and documentary photography of the 1950s and ’60s. It feels post-apocalyptic, revealing failed social ideals by alienating architecture. While individual architectural structures and sections of the places portrayed prove familiar to the viewer, the unusual combination of the whole makes it impossible to pin them down to any precise geographical context or time. The practicability of the individual buildings also appears uncertain. We are left with the impression of the architectural remains of a failed utopia.

S#14. 2005.

Despite the utopian ideals behind the modern architecture, cities are less hospitable than we idealize them to be. Gütschow’s process brings discussion on making ideas visually apparent within a frame. The photographer’s ability to tell a story is constrained by the physical orientation of subjects in the focal field, but Gütschow starts like a painter with a blank canvas. She combines pictures from a variety of times and a wide range of geographical places while a traditional photographer is tied to the moment when, and the space where, the photograph is taken.

 In spite of photography’s inherent ability to record facts, Beate Gütschow’s photomontages represent its abiity to create a visual channel to fiction. What we see is not the result of a documentary investigation into the city but rather her personal vision of the urban environment. These images are the result of a digital processing on photographs of different cities, which are assembled to form a new cohesive view. Her digital collages use an archive of her own images to present urban scenes composed in accordance with the classic pictorial principles for urban views. Her work is like that of painters who take the observation of reality as their starting point but then create the final work in the studio as a synthesis of reality and memory.

Placeholder - Luxigon

Sao Paulo, Se. 2002.

Photographer Andreas Gursky demonstrates a similar technique in his large-scale photography. The perspective in many of Gursky’s photographs is drawn from an elevated vantage point. This position enables the viewer to see the scenes fully, encompassing both center and periphery vision, which are in reality impossible. In a 2001 retrospective, New York's Museum of Modern Art described his work as "a sophisticated art of unembellished observation." Gursky’s style is perplexing but straightforward.

Bahrain I. 2005.

The photographs of the Bahrain series feature the Formula 1 racetrack in the Bahrain desert. Gursky takes multiple overhead shots of a landscape deeply transformed by human intervention and then, with a computer, combine the individual parts into one large single image. The results are similar to an abstract painting.

Andreas Gursky is one of the most recognized representative of a generation of photographers who draw inspiration from the stylistic principles of painting and regard digital processing as an crucial stage of image configuration. He puts artistic and compositional requirements priority over realism with respect to the dimensions of the individual elements, reorganizing details, increasing the height of buildings, swelling the crowds and recasting the landscapes. Similar to the photographers and architects mentioned before, Gursky sees photographic images as raw material for a complex operation from which the final image emerges. His photographs are therefore a sort of aesthetic abstraction of a reality that – as he puts it – does not exist as such but only as a construct. 


                                                                    Look through your window.

What do you see?

The aperture between the interior and the exterior, the inside and the outside world has been subject of not one architectonic thesis, psychological metaphors or reasons for pieces of art.

The window as that opening to the street, as that viewpoint of a compelling landscape or that connection with the eternal, the supreme.
The window as that observation point of the outside world, as that reflection of our own interior world, as that exploration vantage point of our surroundings or that magnifying glass revealing unsuspected visionary images.

Establishing that connection with what you see inside-out , whether to engage with, distance yourself of or escape from becomes an activity.
Looking through the window becomes an event.

It is an intimate moment of a solitary action in a point of confluence between the tangible and intangible, the consciousness and unconsciousness.

Look through your window again.
Take a picture of what you see.

What do you see now?

As being so intimate, when looking through the window,  each one establishes their own field of vision, so that the views through the same window, seen by different people at the moment will be individual and unique.

Looking through the window is an apperceptive act of understanding our inner world or outside surroundings.

The window itself becomes a screen on which we project our own vision of the reality through our emotions and experience, memories and understandings of the world and becomes an opportunity for introspective, intellectual or social  reflections.
The window becomes our own frame from which to see our own picture of the world that is exclusive and unique to us.

To look in the window as Robert Frank  in order to observe the outside world.

To stay inside the window view as Andre Kertesz so as to connect with his own inner world.

To look through the window as John Pfahl so as to stage the subjectivity of the view.

The Street Window

Whoever leads a solitary life and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere, whoever according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business, and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling – he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street. And if he is in the mood of not desiring anything and only goes to his window sill a tired man, with eyes turning from his public to heaven and back again, not wanting to look out and having thrown his head up a little, even then the horses below will draw him down into their train of wagons and tumult, and so at last into the human harmony.
Franz Kafka

View from Hotel Window, Butte, Montana, is part of the series of photography captured by Robert Frank as he travelled on the road around America on a Guggenheim fellowship.

Butte was not a typical mining town. At the end of the 19th century, Butte’s mines were the largest producers of copper in the world with the dominant share of the copper wire used to electrify the United States and the rest of the world. After the second World War, production of copper decreased and Butte was finding its own ways to keep the mining industry alive by exploiting lower grade reserves, conversely it would never regain its mining prosperity and Buttes main mine would end up closing in 1983.

Finding himself halfway through his trip, Robert Frank reached Butte in May, 1956.
The photograph is taken from a vantage point of an upper storey hotel room window. It is a view of Butte.

The eye is first drawn down on the outside window pane, then on the cluster of buildings and eventually up, towards the top to a plume of bright smoke. The transparent gauzy curtains surrounding the window are observed at a second glance, forming a blurring frame of the work.

In terms of composition, the outside window pane is in clear focus in the foreground forming a darker grey edge with the façade of the building in front, just to be interrupted by the presence of an industrial chimney, making it look as though the chimney itself is starring inside. This informality of the frame and contrast  between  window pane–façade invites the observer to look outside and perceive the atmosphere of this industrial town, setting the main focus on the row of receding roofs and a line of cars on a grey street, at the end of which, in softer grey tones, come the disfigured slopes of a copper mine. 
Not a human in sight though the imprint of human activity could hardly be more pronounced.
“View from Hotel Window,” the title reads, and we realize the presence of the one looking in the window. We are sharing the gaze not just of Robert Frank but of every traveller who has ever woken in an unfamiliar town, moved towards the window to look into the inhospitality of the unknown.

This “aesthetic snapshot” exposes Robert Frank’s exclusive ways of recording and describing actual reality not only as evidence of what exists, but also in expression of his own experience.  His view as an external observer of the Americans evokes sadness and mystery at the same time appreciation, for his aim is not to reform life, but to know it.
He looks in the window, to let the curtains draw and reveal the story of The Americans.

As American a picture -  the faces don’t editorialize or criticize or say anything but “This is the way we are in real life and if you don’t like it I don’t know anything about it ’cause I’m living my own life my way and may God bless us all, mebbe”. .… “if we deserve it”. ..
The Americans, Introduction by Jack Kerouc

From my window, published in 1981, consisted of  fifty-three Polaroids exploring still life compositions of objects and mementos that Andre Kertesz and his wife Elizabeth had accumulated throughout their years together and gathered in their apartment on Fifth Avenue.


The book was dedicated to Elizabeth who had passed away four years before the publishing of the book. After a period of bereavement, Kertesz turned to his camera and found the process as a remedy and expression of his grief and loss. Turning to his Polaroid SX-70,  he soon embraced this new technique which he had never used before. The the small square size of the format (8x8cm), the colour format, and the production of a single shot developed immediately without a negative resulted as the appropriate technique to express his intimate message.

I have little purpose left in life now that she is gone.

From the fifty-three polaroids, nearly half featured “Elizabeth bust” – a sculpture Kertez had seen in the window of a nearby store a glass bust that had remained him of Elizabeth. He recalled, “I was touched...the neck and the shoulders…it was Elizabeth..”. Kertesz obsessively photographed the glass bust throughout the apartment, but was most successful with evocative imagery created when he placed it on the windowsill, contrasting the graceful curves of the sculpture with the skyline that had grown before his eyes.

Bust with Twin Towers is an example of Kertesz’ inherent ability to compose a still life, perfected through years of precise architectural and interior studies at house and Garden had evolved into a powerful form of self expression.

He stalked the object of interest for his photos until composition and expression were correct.

The main focus is set on the glass bust in the foreground, placed symmetrically to the World Trade Center Towers in the background. The universal symbols of the greatness of a city in comparison to the symbol of greatness of the one who is loved and grieved for. No doubt in this picture, one is greater than the other, with its grandiosity and meaning in time and place, representing an everlasting memory. The twin towers have established their presence in the city,  as the bust has established its place in Kertesz studio, in his life .

At the lower third of the picture, stands another object , with similar curves and lines  to the ones of the bust. The verticality of the objects present in this photograph evokes the idea of comparison and enhancement of the glass bust.

The eye is first drawn to the statue, then to the middle towards the Twin Towers and then the observer’s view is dispersed into the sky, in the eternity of the transcendental presence of Elizabeth, the supreme. The photograph is taken from a lower vantage point as though revering the bust. The curtains are completely drawn, exposing this symbol of the one loved to the world.

The blackness that frames the photograph stimulates the sense of absorption of sound and light to concentrate the look on the one object. In this case, the observer remains inside, only to look out to exalter the greatness of the object inside.

The title of the publication of the forty-nine polaroids is almost in disagreement with the contents which explored in fact a field of few centimetres: the window really opened onto Kertesz inner suffering.
For photography had always been his finest tool to express his inner vision of his surrounding. In this case, From my window is an intimate visual diary of his grief, an expression of relief, both spiritual and temporal, giving voice to the pain of the greatest tragedy of his life in the only language he felt fluent.

I looked, I saw, I did.

Picture windows comprises John Pfahls work between 1978-1981.

Plate 14 Northrimhighway                 Plate 12 Seventh Avenuenyc         Plate21 South Springwest

While making my "picture window" photographs, I came to think that every room was like a gigantic camera forever pointed at the same view. In the dictionary, of course, the word camera in Latin means chamber or room.
I searched the country for these cameras and their views: the more unusual or picturesque, the better. It was often hard to tell from the outside what could be seen from the inside, so I was usually surprised when I discovered a scene in its new context.
Strangers with puzzled looks were amazingly cooperative in letting me into their rooms with my photographic gear. They let me take down the curtains, wash the windows, and rearrange the furniture. Often, too, they expressed their desire to share their view with others, as if it were a nondepletable treasure.
I liked the idea that my photographic vantage points were not solely determined by myself. They were predetermined by others, sometimes years earlier, and patiently waited for me to discover them.

His not work is not mere representation of landscape. He is interested in the relationship of nature and man’s imprint on the land. He does not look to transmit the vastness, greatness of a landscape, but through different methods of framework outstand all details in the view in order to transmit a mixture of aesthetic, social and historical ideas.
In Picture Windows, Pfahl uses the window as an imposed grid over the landscape way of reducing it to discrete parts that can be studied in isolation.

His photographs depict famous American scene from both natural and urban landscapes.
He stages the moment of looking through, emphasizing each layer through which the glance goes through and so establishing a frame from which the viewer looks through the window.  As if evoking those preconceived frames from which we look through and into the outside world. Many times, our experience of looking through to contemplate a certain vista is already mediated so we experience the landscape infront of us the way the masses are shown and imposed to see.