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Women artists

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Julie-mehretu-4

Julie Mehretu’s surges of colour, line, and geometric form are pretty awesome. Her energetic combinations of painting, drawing, and digital layering processes reflect many aspects of our physical and virtual environments, and yet consistently and engagingly retains their visual abstraction.

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In the digital age, touching the work of established photographic masters can be sensitive business. Recently a Swedish artist named Sanna Dullaway applied her colorizing skills to several historical photographs that included Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of an on-the-spot execution of a Vietcong on the streets of Saigon. The debate surrounding these modified versions was whether the interpretation was an improvement that could somehow be more powerful emotionally—due to addition of a color palette and the ability to reach newer generations who disconnect when they see black and white images—or simple vandalism.

The artist Pavel Maria Smejkal in his Fatescapes series took his appropriation of historical images one step further by digitally removing the people from images such as Nick Ut’s photograph of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack and the aforementioned Adams image. By leaving only the landscapes or streetscapes to play on our subconscious memory of historical places and events, he questions the limitations of a photograph’s accuracy at the representation of history.

Perhaps the most provocative example in terms of potential copyright infringement is when the artist Sherrie Levine re-photographed some of Walker Evans’ famous images from the 1930s Farm Security Administration project and presented them unaltered and with her name (the series was called After Walker Evans). Many viewers were outraged. Her act called into question many issues regarding a photograph’s author, copyright (Legally the FSA photographs are owned by the American public, which financed the project so there is no copyright infringement case that could be brought against Levine) and the portrayal of the poor. To some it was Art, but to others, it amounted to Blasphemy.

After Evans, Robert Frank may well be the most influential photographer the medium has seen. Frank’s book The Americans, published in the United States by Grove Press in 1959, was equally celebrated and reviled for its view of the U.S. and its citizenry. Today there is hardly a contemporary photographer who does not acknowledge that Frank accomplished greatness while photographing America for two years on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Americans hasn’t escaped its own touches with appropriation. In his newest bookwork Less Américains, London-based artist Mishka Henner takes his humorous title from the French Edition of Frank’s book Les Américains, published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris. By scanning and applying Photoshop to Frank’s images, Henner has proceeded to remove most of the vital subject matter from all 83 photographs—leaving only small details hovering around the frame like background props on an empty theater stage.

Of course, as the title suggests, Less Américains does away with the “Americans” in Frank’s photographs so all that remains, for example, of the Hoboken City Fathers are a line of hats and some political bunting hanging on a two-by-four. And what has been spared in the most famous of all New Orleans street car picture which so perfectly expressed the implied race hierarchy of Jim Crow in the United States? A few vague, unidentifiable shapes that sit within the frame like mismatched puzzle pieces. To quote Jack Kerouac, who wrote an introduction to the American edition of Frank’s book, “The humour, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures (!)” linger like a ghost in these secondary elements.

Less Américains includes an introduction by the artist Elisabeth Tonnard that takes the form of a concrete poetry version of Kerouac’s prose. Tonnard’s approach was to systematically white-out the individual letters A.M.E.R.I.C.A.I.N.S. from Kerouac’s text, leaving an incomprehensible soup of vowels and consonants. His “…basketa pittykats…” becomes the even more cryptic “…B k t p tty-k t …”

Well, what can we make of Henner’s reworking of this masterpiece? I think Kerouac said it best: “What poem this is, what poems can be written about this book of pictures some day by some young new writer high by candlelight bending over them describing every grey mysterious detail.”

Less Américains was published earlier this year.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Visit his blog here.

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Cindy Sherman’s work has fueled countless arguments: Are her images self-portraits or not? Is she a feminist or not? Is her work too repetitive? But on this point there is agreement–Cindy Sherman is one of the most influential contemporary artists. The current exhibition at MoMA contains 171 images from the mid-1970s to the present. It is an echo-chamber of sorts, a world without men where women look at women looking at women. In these powerful conceptual images where self-identity is provisional at best, Ms. Sherman comes across as courageous everywoman. She is a skilled actress and a extraordinarily clever detective of type and personality. Ms. Sherman works alone, without an assistant. In interviews, Ms. Sherman has said that she found working with models to be frustrating, because it was hard to direct someone in what is essentially an intuitive and private process. The exhibition runs until June 11.


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #465. 2008.


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #119. 1983


Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #56. 1980


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #216. 1989


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #137. 1984.

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Untitled (man with arms around two women), 1950-60'sLee Balterman's ChicagoBy Paul Berlanga, Director, Stephen Daiter GalleryLee Balterman has romanced the city of Chicago with his camera for six decades and shows no sign of falling out of love. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Lee that my partner and I had managed to grab a last lunch at the legendary Berghoff restaurant without standing

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