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Original author: 
Marco Bohr

As the old expression “a canary in a coal mine” suggests, the small songbirds have long been a symbol of a type of early-detection system — a way of indicating something that might otherwise remain unknown. And just as the old coal mine canaries alerted miners to invisible gases and fumes, the camera is capable of capturing moments that might pass unrevealed, or undiscovered. The striking pictures in Japanese artist Lieko Shiga’s series, Canary — currently on display at the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam FOAM — references this powerful metaphor with images that are not immediately recognizable, nor easily understood, but that are nevertheless laden with meaning.

The Amsterdam show is comprised of an extensive body of work first published as a book in 2007 — a book that has since become something of a classic among photobook collectors. The majority of images in Canary are utterly fantastical, bordering on the surreal: a giant animal skull in a room lit by mysterious blue light; a fireball writhing in midair; a woman floating above the half-naked body of a man lying in bed. Elaborate and visually arresting dreamscapes, the pictures’ effectiveness is largely achieved through an intriguing interplay between light and color. However, much of the work is also manipulated: relying on analog technologies, some negatives appear scratched while other effects appear to have been produced in the darkroom. The extent of this manipulation varies. As Shiga points out: “I always try to approach the subject in its own way.” The photographer’s methods, in other words, are dictated by the subject of the image, and not the other way around.

Perhaps because most of the images in the Canary series were produced at night or in dark, interior spaces, the work at-once possesses and exudes an unsettling, ambiguous aura. The viewer’s sense of stumbling upon another’s intensely personal dreamscape is heightened even further in the photos where the identity of the subject is disguised.

In “Restaurant Surtaj,” for instance, the details of a restaurant interior recede before the eerie presence of a woman whose face is obscured by a ghostly black presence. The photograph has the palpable sense of a half-remembered dream. The dreamer struggles to give shape to a dream — perhaps even recalling the table number in a restaurant — but can not bring into focus the face of her dinner companion.

Shiga’s work is strongly reminiscent of the black and white photography of Masatoshi Naito. In his classic project, Tono-Monogatari, from 1983, Naito interrogates the complex relationship between mysticism, spirituality and Japanese folklore in a striking series of nocturnal landscapes and portraits. By manipulating the photographic negative or print, however, Shiga also points to the inherent vulnerability of the human body. If not suspended, as it were, in Shiga’s imagination, many of her subjects would fall, collapse or drown, simply as a consequence of the laws of physics.

The emphasis on the body perhaps relates to Shiga’s past experience as a dancer, which she practiced before teaching herself photography. Rather than depicting or documenting a recognizable physical world, however, Shiga instead employs photography as a means of choreographing an emotionally and psychologically complex inner landscape.

Lieko Shiga is a Japanese fine-art photographer.

Marco Bohr is a photographer and writer based in London. He maintains the Visual Culture blog.

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This fall, Amsterdam—known for its innovative photo community— will welcome a new photography festival to its Dutch district. Called Unseen, the festival hopes to be a festival that, well, viewers have never seen before, with a focus on new and emerging talent as well as an aim to showcase never-before-seen work from established favorites including Richard Avedon, Steven Klein, Helmut Newton and Edward Steichen, among others.

Taking place from Sept. 19-23 at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek, the fair comprises more than 50 galleries hailing from around the world. With photography from places as diverse as Japan and New York, Dubai and Finland, the scope of the work will range from documentary to conceptual to experimental. Highlights include Miles Aldridge’s Immaculee #3 (Red Madonna), 2012, which reaffirms the long standing relationship between photography and iconographic painting, but pushes the boundary of what we expect as a viewer by asking the virgin figure to maintain eye contact and acknowledge the image maker. Also of interest is Zanzibar, 2010, by Chloe Sells. The American photographer explores the idea of land and nostalgia through her experimental darkroom C-prints. Colorful and graphic with bold colors and strong shapes, yet abstract and ambiguous, her images inspire thoughts of place and placelessness.

While there are many photography fairs around the world, Unseen works to offer a few additions to the typical fair. There will be a collection of affordable photographs, all priced under 1,000 euro (approximately $1280), to both help young photographers reach a new audience, as well as allow the young collector, or photography appreciator to invest in affordable work. And for the book connoisseur, Offprint Amsterdam will be at the fair, curating a new collection of self published and limited edition books.

You can learn more about the galleries featured and the day-to-day events here. Unseen is a project initiated by Foam, Platform A and Vandejong.

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“War is worse than drugs. One moment it’s a bad trip, a nightmare. But the next moment, as soon as the immediate danger has passed, there is an overpowering desire to go back for more. To risk one’s life in order to get more pictures in return for not very much. It is an incomprehensible force that pushes us to keep going back in.”

-Rémi Ochlik, 2004

This spring, after French war photographer Rémi Ochlik was killed during fighting in Homs, Syria, a group of close friends and colleagues felt their obligations to the photographer weren’t complete. Meeting aboard a TGV train on their way to Paris from the World Press awards ceremony in Amsterdam in late April, the group took stock of everything that had happened since Rémi’s death. His photographs had spoken for themselves when exhibited in tribute in Amsterdam. The large circle of friends gathered in his name was a testament to his character; he was always the guy who would make friends sharing a cigarette. But one duty remained unfinished—not a tribute, nor a memorial, but a commitment to continue what was and what should have been in Rémi’s life.

Now, five months later, Revolutions is finisheda book of 144 pages, across which Rémi’s photographs of the Arab Spring spread forth. The tome depicts hope, anger, celebration and fear—some of humanity’s most powerful emotions recorded in photographs—and feelings the photographer undoubtedly felt during a career cut short by the harsh realities often facing those documenting armed conflict.

Scattered through this visual record of Rémi’s witness are the words of friends, which encompass close confidants, long-time coworkers and fellow photographers. Their testimonies are short, speaking to the memories of a man killed at a time and place in the world many photographers hesitated to cover.

Ochlik began his photography of the Arab Spring in Tunisia—and so the book does the same. “It is impressive to see the ease with which he moves through the street as the rocks fly everywhere,” writes Julien De Rosa of his shared time with Rémi outside Tahrir Square in Cairo. “This is clearly his natural environment.”

Rémi, considered by colleagues an old-school photographer despite his young age (29), moved with confidence and resolve through the borders of conflict in the Middle East. This is what makes his death that much more painful, for at his age and with his skill, his potential had seemed limitless.

“Be safe, okay?” were the last words that Gert Van Langendonck told Rémi before his final trip to the besieged city of Homs. “You’ve already won your World Press Photo.” And indeed Rémi’s work was deserving of high honor—his story from Libya earned him first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo competition’s General News category. His photographic eye was strong—strengthening, even—as he entered Syria. A vision deserving of high honor, cut short by a barrage of shelling that also killed American correspondent Marie Colvin.

Rémi was often aware that he didn’t have a personal project in the works, Van Langendonck told TIME. Personal projects provide an outlet for photographers to explore their interests outside of commissioned editorial work, allowing for an inner-consistency even as a photographer’s surroundings are rapidly changing. So caught up in his work, Remi didn’t need it — “I’ve never had so many of my pictures published in my life,” he told Van Langendonck.

After paying the ultimate price for his work, Rémi’s personal project became clear. Although the future promise of the French photographer will never be fully realized, the publishing of Revolutions has brought a modicum of closure.

Revolutions is now available through Emphas.is. The book project, funded by contributors, raised $24,250 as of Sept. 4, exceeding its original fundraising target of $15,000 by almost 40%.

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Musical history seems to happen when things collide, when things get mixed up – certainly in the twentieth, and now the twenty-first century. And so it is that one of the most important “Detroit techno” records ever released came out of Amsterdam.

If this were a new artist, the long string of endorsements from a who’s who of electronic music in the video here might seem like publicity fluff. But because Dutch artist Steve Jerome Rachmad, aka Sterac, has had such a deep influence on electronic music since his 1995 debut release, instead you can listen to a network of people in the dance music community, and how those influences form nodes in a neural net of musical creativity. Those networks cross national borders and backgrounds, speaking this musical genre as a common language. As the centerpiece of this docu-short, Rachmad himself is humble and quiet, a Zen-like presence on a sofa in the midst of bubbling techno celebrities, as he talks about how he clawed his way to getting anything released at all, on his first Atari 1040ST computer.

The best part of the video, though, is hearing Sterac’s musical process, often just playing directly from his head through a series of overdubs. I’m sure Rachmad was thrilled to power up his Atari ST for the first time; nowadays, a lot of us find a way to return to the immediacy of directly-recorded one-take overdubs. (It’s not so hard, of course. Just step away from your fancy editor.)

I’ve just listened to the re-release “Secret Life of Machines,” due out in June. It’s a fantastic, fresh-sounding release – unassuming and direct in the way Rachmad himself is in the interview. The dirty reality is, some 90s electronic music – even some that is considered a landmark today – really does sound dated today. These cuts simply don’t. There is this sense, as Richie Hawtin puts it in the video, of music that’s “melodic, funky, like Holland … but [is] rhythmic and beautiful like Detroit.”

I am, not very secretly, an optimist. I wonder what musical collisions may happen next – whether it’s club music or dance music or not, in electronic music as a medium. To me, the most fertile moments in music bloom when these kinds of connections and influences can form.

“Secret Life Of Machines” will arrive in phases, remastered and remixed, starting in June 2012, on CD and digital.

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k

If you find yourself in Amsterdam too, don't miss Battered at Melkweg's photo gallery. For obvious reason, the exhibition has the support of the Finnish Institute of Culture rather than the Finnish board of tourism. The photo series by Harri Pälviranta shows men (and a few women too) in the middle of or after a physical fight in the streets of Turku. The powerful flash leaves nothing to imagination. It's bloody, messy, a few teeth have probably been lost and the subjects will wake up the day after with ecchymosis all over their face continue

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