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Dorthea Lange

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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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Stacy Kranitz

The Other

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My project engages with history, representation, biography, personal narrative, and otherness in the documentary tradition. Each year in Pennsylvania, 500 people come together to reenact the Battle of the Bulge. During the reenactment, I portray Leni Riefenstahl and behave with soldiers, as she would have. I am intrigued by the complex story of a woman with a problematic set of morals. My work aims to understand people beyond the constraints of good vs evil. I have inserted myself into the Nazi reenactor photographs to subvert the viewer’s instinct to dismiss these people as different from themselves. This allows me to reflect upon atrocity, delve into my own relationship with my Jewish heritage, and contemplate the camera’s ability to re-imagine history.

Much of our conception of history is based on images. Historical images have been filtered through media and propaganda. These images become history as generations pass. Images are the dominant force that shape the public imagination. My images of the reenactment are part of the deconstruction process by which images first represent and then replace history.

The next phase of this project will explore Riefenstahl’s life between 1962-1977 when she lived with the Nuba in Sudan. I will visit the same Nuba tribes to focus on the disjunction between her fetishized images and my own exploration of the Nuba’s complex modern reality. The Nuba were victims of genocide during a recent civil war and it has deeply impacted their culture. They were forcibly relocated to camps and Islamicized. Hundreds of thousands died from warfare and starvation.

My project asks how we live in a world where genocide takes place in continuum? It reflects on the history of the documentary tradition as it poses new ways of expressing identity in relation to ‘otherness’. This project deconstructs the notion of the photograph as document, its power as a tool of propaganda, as a witness to history and a call for change.

 

Bio

Stacy Kranitz studied film and photography at New York University. Her work focuses on the ways we express aggression and violence in our daily rituals, habits and pastimes. Additional themes in her work include the relationship between music and culture, the emotional growth of children and environmental racism. She is interested in the theoretical underpinnings that bind together the evolution of the documentary tradition. Her work looks to explore important social issues while commenting on this tradition and challenging its boundaries.

Her clients include Adbusters, Dwell, Elle, ESPN, Entertainment Weekly, Forbes, Fortune, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, Metropolis, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, People, Rolling Stone, Spin, Vice, Wall Street Journal and Wired.

She was awarded a Young Photographers Alliance Scholarship Award and also received a Story Project Grant from the California Council for the Humanities. She has shown her work at galleries in NY, CA, LA and FL.

 

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Stacy Kranitz

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Photo: Dorothea Lange | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

The photograph that has become known as "Migrant Mother" was a 32-year-old mother of seven children photographed in February of 1936 by Dorothea Lange.

Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

LIFE's Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this scene amid the joyous chaos of August 14, 1945, his "V-J Day in Times Square" has become one of the most famous photographs ever made.

By Jon Sweeney, Sr. multimedia producer

 

When Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway colorized a series of historical works from the likes of Eddie Adams and Dorthea Lange her intent was not to re-create history or take credit for adding a new twist to these historical images. She was just showing off her talents as an artist in her personal blog (see more images from her series on imgur).

Photo: Eddie Adams | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

Vietcong Execution in Saigon in 1968 was one of the most iconic images of the Viet Nam war.

“I only wanted to show everyone a new perspective of the past black & white world.” She wrote in an email. “The sun shone on our grandparents too.”

"I felt the famous photographs would  best reach and touch everyone who saw them," Dullaway continued.

When colorized images went viral, with websites like Gizmondo writing about her works, she realized the impact of what she did. “I never claimed them being my own work nor did I want to ‘improve’ or ‘replace’ them as some people might want to think.”

When Dullaway realized that she might have infringed on copyrights, she immediately took the images down from her blog and apologized for her actions on her deviantart.com website. She added this to her status, “Please note I do not take credit for the iconic photos I colourized,” she wrote. “Focus on the photos, not me.”

Needless to say her images are out there and alive on the internet, and as I look at the manipulations, I have to wonder  how many times can history be re-written and when does a piece of art ever stop being modified?

Gizmondo blogger Jesus Diaz wrote today that these colored famous photos are so much more powerful than their black and white originals, but I have to disagree.  Eddie Adams photo of the execution captured on the streets of Saigon is more powerful, because it is real. That black and white photo raised the global conscience about the conflict in Viet Nam, and helped bring an end to the war. Color or not it’s one of the most important photos of the 20th century.

I understand that these images were done not to modify history and should only be taken as entertainment. It’s not the first time that works of art have been digitally altered and it’s definitely not the first time black and white classics have made the leap to color. I remember the first time I saw Ted Turner's colorization of Casablanca. It looked unnatural and like many others I preferred the black and white original. However, on a completely different tune, when DJ Dangermouse mashed the Beatles White Alblum and Jay-Z's Black Album to create the Grey Album, I had to commend the creativity. But that's art of a different color.

Ultimately for Dullaway, her experiment got the job done. People are talking about her new colorization business, around the globe, and in this day and age, that’s more than half the battle for an artist. The ability to self-promote is important and she should enjoy the buzz while it lasts, because after it’s over, an artist needs to stand on their own talents and not gimmicks.

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What do you think? Discuss this post in the comments section or hit me on Twitter @sweeneyjon.

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