Fading Faces.

An exciting new art photography exhibition by Karl-Kristian Jahnsen Hus has reached Oslo, Norway. Read my interview with the artist.

“FADING FACES”, Karl-Kristian Jahnsen Hus new art photography exhibition in collaboration with Silk Agency (Norway).

FADING FACES consists of 25 large-format portraits of Simians, 20 of which are black-and-white and 5 in color. The artworks are mainly exhibited in 200 x 133 cm. format, but all are also available in a smaller size (133 x 88 cm.). The artworks are dated from 2017 to 2021 — thus representing four years of work in the field and in the artist’s studio/laboratory. The works are in editions of 5 and 11; with corresponding 2021 prices of NOK55.000,- and NOK18.000,- 

This exhibition opened at a Pop-up gallery at Henrik Ibsensgate 40 in Oslo, conceptualized and driven by Silk Agency. The current exhibition period is from 29.10.21 to 21.11.2021.

INTERVIEW WITH:

KARL-KRISTIAN JAHNSEN HUS (ARTIST).

Interview questions posed by Adam Donaldson Powell (artist/author/critic – Norway) and Katya Ganeshi (author/artist/animal rights activist – Russia).

ADP: Good morning! This exhibition is fascinating — both in terms of the subject matter and ideas behind the exhibition, and the amount and quality of the artistic work put into it. Katya and I would like to pose some questions to you. 

Karl-Kristian, can you tell us about your own process as regards this art project … What was the impetus, how did you go about planning and executing the travel, cooperations and permissions to photograph these beautiful animals? And what is the intention of the exhibition? Is this a teaching and social learning exhibition as well as an exhibition of your creative ideas and skills? 

KKJH: I have always had a deep connection with nature. The main force that got me started with this specific project was from watching a documentary named “Virunga National Park”. Listening to the rangers’ stories and hearing them say, “I’m willing to sacrifice my life for the national park and the animals living here” resonated deeply with me. Before traveling, I find someone local that can take me around the county that I am visiting, we create a plan for the trip, and then I go there. For my art installation “Fading Faces” I have captured images from five different countries, displaying faces of animals that the human-animal easily recognise itself with: monkeys. The art installation is made to help the human-animal open its heart to the living world around them. It is a combination of teaching for social learning, and of showing my creative ideas and skills. Personally, I feel that Art should give the participants something to think about and feel. 

ADP: Do you have any stories or anecdotes from this four-year process — regarding challenges and difficulties, amazing or funny experiences? Please tell us about some of these.

KKJH: When photographing one can become consumed by the process, always wanting to achieve the best that one can do. When I started the project my focus was much on capturing the absolute best expressions I could get, but that focus did not allow me to enjoy the moment. The mentality of always criticising oneself, and of not being satisfied with what I had sometimes gave me the sensation of drowning. So I have let myself step back and observe more, thus allowing myself to be more playful. This has given me much joy, and I think it has made me a better photographer. I have had many wonderful experiences while traveling, and they out-weigh the bad ones. Many situations have been scary: like being charged at by two big silverbacks or having a big male orang-utan swinging down from a tree and trying to grab me. Now, looking back, I think of them all  as good stories. 

ADP: There has been much debate in recent years regarding various ethical issues in relation to artists’ usage of animals (living and dead) in art exhibitions. This particular exhibition embraces social responsibility and the ethic of “doing no harm”, whereby neither the animals nor their environments have been harmed or influenced negatively. Can you tell us about your own artistic and social ethics/politics as regards the question of using animals in Art? Is this exhibition not about allowing the animals to teach humans about better respecting other animals, our shared and not-shared habitats … and eventually saving all species, including humans ourselves? Speak freely, as an artist and as an animal lover. 

KKJH: For me speciesism informs my practice. Moral obligation and respect for life are  essential in my works. Much of my art — not just my photography — encourage greater  awareness to the natural world. Animals and nature have indeed been a source of inspiration for artists through the centuries. I think that we have to look at creating art including non-human-animals in an ethical way. Much as with art including the human-animal, there are many things artists would not do as it is inhuman. It seems to me that some artists don’t always take care of and respect the content that is displayed in their art; but that is perhaps merely a reflection of human societies’ brutality towards the planet. This lack of moral obligation might be the reason why the artist can at times seem to be a cruel and savage person. Or it can be that one tries to mirror the human species lack of empathy towards the living world. In the end, as the creator of art, one has to consider what is ethically right, and not.

ADP: You have primarily chosen to make these portraits in black-and-white. I personally feel that black-and-white portraiture is oftentimes quite effective in portraiture, in that it adds to the mystery, subjectivity,  and intimacy of the moment captured. But why have you — the artist — mainly chosen black-and-white photography for this series? What cameras and lenses have you used? How close were you able to get to the animals, and where were these photos taken? 

KKJH: I think that accepted standards of how a photograph is “supposed” to be displayed has informed us in the way of choosing classic black and white. It has taken photography a long time to be accepted in the Art World. As the black and white format was the first to arrive, it apparently has more value to some than others. Through this four year journey of photographing I now see myself enjoying color photography much more, and it was not until after being introduced to analog photography I came to love colour photography. The old photography masters thought that black and white is the way to display the soul, and that colour can not do so. That can be hard to argue against as one has learned and thought that it is a factum. Photographs displaying the souls of the animals i have encountered is what one will see in the installation. I have selected four photographs that are shown in colour, two shot on a digital camera, and two shot on medium format film. To me, the vibration of colour is an important aspect of truth and artistic expression, and I’m still learning about how different people perceive the colour images in contrast to the black and white ones. I aim to show more of what I personally love, through my photographs … and the colour images are some of the favourite ones in the eyes of the visitors. For the installation I have used four different cameras. I started with a Canon 5D Mark iii, before investing in a Canon 1DX Mark ii, a Leica M10 and a Mamiya afd645. There have been a varity of lenses used, my main choice of lens being a Canon EF 28-300mm, as the build and function suits me. The 25 different photographs are shot in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Indonesia. The level of professionalism surrounding the governance of the different national parks has varied, and there are rules in place regarding how one should act around these wild animals. You may get close, but not too close — this for both the safety of the animals as well as your own. We can transmit disease between each other. Sometimes the limit for the distance is broken, for example when a young gorilla punched me playfully in the ribs. 

ADP: What is the hoped-for effect of this exhibition? And where do you hope to take it in the future? 

KKJH: The aim is to open up peoples’ minds and hearts to the living world around us. I want to show the installation to as many people as possible, and I care more about the impact it makes than completely selling out the photograph series. I have gotten much positive feedback from the people who have visited the exhibition. 

ADP: And now, Katya Ganeshi, my colleague in Russia has a few questions to ask you, Karl-Kristian. 

KG: How can human thinking be changed with the help of monkeys (and other animals)?

KKJH: For example: the construct of the alpha male in human society, where one has oe be strong, fearless, ruthless and not connected with what’s looked upon as feminine is different within other groups of animals. When experiencing chimpanzees I have (of course) seen the side that we humans refer to as being an alpha. However, that is only one side of being the leader of the group; one also has to be loving and to care for the others in the group.  To me that is true strength.

KG: Can monkey-thinking outperform human-thinking in the future?

KKJH:  If society as known fails and we no longer have a system to depend on for our survival, many of us will starve to death as food could then no longer be obtained at stores. We will then have to go back to our roots: being hunter-gatherers living off the land. As of today most humans cannot perform the task of feeding oneself without the comfort of our society. When we then look to the animal kingdom we can see them being able to sustain themselves, and I think we have much to learn from them when it comes to living with nature instead of destroying it. 

KG: The philosopher Bruno Latour considers modern scientists to be the same “savages and barbarians.” Do you share his opinion?

KKJH: Sadly there is a lot of harm being done in the name of science “for the better of humanity”. Playing at being gods and harming life through this justification is a sure sign of speciesism. 

ADP: Thank you Karl-Kristian, Jesper, and Katya. Katya and I wish for the best of success with this most important exhibition.

Norsk versjon:

“FADING FACES”, Karl-Kristian Jahnsen Hus ny kunstfotoutstilling i samarbeid med Silk Agency (Norge).

FADING FACES består av 25 storformatportretter av Simians, hvorav 20 er svart-hvitt og 5 i farger. Kunstverkene er hovedsakelig utstilt i 200 x 133 cm. format, men alle finnes også i en mindre størrelse (133 x 88 cm.). Kunstverkene er datert fra 2017 til 2021 – og representerer dermed fire års arbeid i felt og i kunstnerens atelier/laboratorium. Verkene er i opplag av 5 og 11; med tilsvarende 2021-priser på NOK 55.000,- og NOK 18.000,- Denne utstillingen åpnet på et Pop-up-galleri i Henrik Ibsensgate 40 i Oslo, konseptualisert og drevet av Silk Agency. Gjeldende utstillingsperiode er fra 29.10.21 til 21.11.2021.

INTERVJU MED KARL-KRISTIAN JAHNSEN HUS (KUNSTNER). Intervjuspørsmål stilt av Adam Donaldson Powell (kunstner/forfatter/kritiker – Norge) og Katya Ganeshi (forfatter/kunstner/dyrerettighetsaktivist – Russland).

ADP: God morgen! Denne utstillingen er fascinerende – både med tanke på emnet og ideene bak utstillingen, og mengden og kvaliteten på det kunstneriske arbeidet som legges ned i den. Katya og jeg vil gjerne stille noen spørsmål til deg. Karl-Kristian, kan du fortelle oss om din egen prosess med dette kunstprosjektet … Hva var drivkraften, hvordan gikk du frem for å planlegge og gjennomføre reisen, samarbeidene og tillatelsene til å fotografere disse vakre dyrene? Og hva er intensjonen med utstillingen? Er dette en undervisnings- og sosiallæringsutstilling så vel som en utstilling av dine kreative ideer og ferdigheter?

KKJH: Jeg har alltid hatt en dyp forbindelse med naturen. Hovedkraften som fikk meg i gang med dette spesifikke prosjektet var fra å se en dokumentar kalt “Virunga National Park”. Å lytte til skogvokternes historier og høre dem si: «Jeg er villig til å ofre livet mitt for nasjonalparken og dyrene som bor her», ga meg dyp gjenklang. Før jeg reiser finner jeg en person som kan ta meg rundt i fylket jeg besøker, vi lager en plan for turen, og så drar jeg dit. For kunstinstallasjonen min «Fading Faces» har jeg tatt bilder fra fem forskjellige land, som viser ansikter av dyr som menneske-dyr lett kjenner seg igjen med: aper. Kunstinstallasjonen er laget for å hjelpe menneske-dyret til å åpne hjertet sitt for den levende verden rundt dem. Det er en kombinasjon av undervisning for sosial læring, og av å vise mine kreative ideer og ferdigheter. Personlig føler jeg at kunst skal gi deltakerne noe å tenke på og føle på.

ADP: Har du noen historier eller anekdoter fra denne fire år lange prosessen – angående utfordringer og vanskeligheter, fantastiske eller morsomme opplevelser? Fortell oss gjerne om noen av disse.

KKJH: Når man fotograferer kan man bli oppslukt av prosessen, og alltid ønske å oppnå det beste man kan gjøre. Da jeg startet prosjektet var fokuset mitt mye på å fange de absolutt beste uttrykkene jeg kunne få, men det fokuset tillot meg ikke å nyte øyeblikket. Mentaliteten med å alltid kritisere seg selv, og å ikke være fornøyd med det jeg hadde, ga meg noen ganger følelsen av å drukne. Så jeg har latt meg gå tilbake og observere mer, og dermed tillatt meg selv å være mer leken. Dette har gitt meg mye glede, og jeg tror det har gjort meg til en bedre fotograf. Jeg har hatt mange fantastiske opplevelser mens jeg er på reise, og de oppveier de dårlige. Mange situasjoner har vært skumle: som å bli overfalt av to store sølvrygger eller å ha en stor mannlig orang-utang som svinger seg ned fra et tre og prøver å gripe meg. Nå, når jeg ser tilbake, tenker jeg på dem alle som gode historier.

ADP: Det har vært mye debatt de siste årene om ulike etiske spørsmål i forhold til kunstneres bruk av dyr (levende og døde) i kunstutstillinger. Denne spesielle utstillingen omfavner sosialt ansvar og etikken om å “ikke gjøre noen skade”, der verken dyrene eller deres omgivelser har blitt skadet eller påvirket negativt. Kan du fortelle oss om din egen kunstneriske og sosiale etikk/politikk når det gjelder spørsmålet om bruk av dyr i kunsten? Handler ikke denne utstillingen om å la dyrene lære mennesker om bedre respekt for andre dyr, våre delte og ikke-delte habitater … og til slutt redde alle arter, inkludert mennesker selv? Snakk fritt, som kunstner og som dyreelsker.

KKJH: Når man fotograferer kan man bli oppslukt av prosessen, og alltid ønske å oppnå det beste man kan gjøre. Da jeg startet prosjektet var fokuset mitt mye på å fange de absolutt beste uttrykkene jeg kunne få, men det fokuset tillot meg ikke å nyte øyeblikket. Mentaliteten med å alltid kritisere seg selv, og å ikke være fornøyd med det jeg hadde, ga meg noen ganger følelsen av å drukne. Så jeg har latt meg gå tilbake og observere mer, og dermed tillatt meg selv å være mer leken. Dette har gitt meg mye glede, og jeg tror det har gjort meg til en bedre fotograf. Jeg har hatt mange fantastiske opplevelser mens jeg er på reise, og de oppveier de dårlige. Mange situasjoner har vært skumle: som å bli overfalt av to store sølvrygger eller å ha en stor mannlig orang-utang som svinger seg ned fra et tre og prøver å gripe meg. Nå, når jeg ser tilbake, tenker jeg på dem alle som gode historier. KKJH: For meg er artsisme grunnlaget for min praksis. Moralsk forpliktelse og respekt for livet er avgjørende i mine arbeider. Mye av kunsten min – ikke bare fotograferingen min – oppmuntrer til større bevissthet om den naturlige verden. Dyr og natur har virkelig vært en kilde til inspirasjon for kunstnere gjennom århundrene. Jeg tror at vi må se på å skape kunst inkludert ikke-menneskelige dyr på en etisk måte. På samme måte som med kunst inkludert menneske-dyr, er det mange ting kunstnere ikke ville gjort, siden det er umenneskelig. Det virker for meg som om noen kunstnere ikke alltid tar vare på og respekterer innholdet som vises i kunsten deres; men det er kanskje bare en refleksjon av menneskelige samfunns brutalitet mot planeten. Denne mangelen på moralsk forpliktelse kan være årsaken til at kunstneren til tider kan virke som en grusom og vill person. Eller det kan være at man prøver å speile menneskeartens mangel på empati overfor den levende verden. Til slutt, som skaper av kunst, må man vurdere hva som er etisk riktig, og ikke.

ADP: Du har først og fremst valgt å lage disse portrettene i svart-hvitt. Jeg personlig føler at svart-hvitt-portretter ofte er ganske effektive i portretter, ved at det øker mystikken, subjektiviteten og intimiteten til øyeblikket som fanges. Men hvorfor har du – kunstneren – hovedsakelig valgt svart-hvitt-fotografi til denne serien? Hvilke kameraer og objektiver har du brukt? Hvor nærme var du i stand til å komme dyrene, og hvor ble disse bildene tatt?

KKJH: Jeg tror at aksepterte standarder for hvordan et fotografi “skal” vises har informert oss om hvordan vi velger klassisk svart-hvitt. Det har tatt fotografering lang tid å bli akseptert i kunstverdenen. Siden svart-hvitt-formatet var det første som kom, har det tilsynelatende mer verdi for noen enn andre. Gjennom denne fire år lange reisen med fotografering ser jeg nå at jeg liker fargefotografering mye mer, og det var ikke før etter å ha blitt introdusert for analog fotografering jeg begynte å elske fargefotografering. De gamle fotomestrene trodde at svart-hvitt er måten å vise sjelen på, og at farge ikke kan gjøre det. Det kan være vanskelig å argumentere mot ettersom man har lært og trodd at det er et faktum. Fotografier som viser sjelene til dyrene jeg har møtt er det man vil se i installasjonen. Jeg har valgt ut fire bilder som vises i farger, to tatt med digitalkamera og to tatt på film i medium format. For meg er fargevibrasjonen et viktig aspekt ved sannhet og kunstnerisk uttrykk, og jeg lærer fortsatt om hvordan forskjellige mennesker oppfatter fargebildene i kontrast til de svarte og hvite. Jeg har som mål å vise mer av det jeg personlig elsker, gjennom fotografiene mine … og fargebildene er noen av favorittbildene i øynene til de besøkende. Til installasjonen har jeg brukt fire forskjellige kameraer. Jeg begynte med en Canon 5D Mark iii, før jeg investerte i en Canon 1DX Mark ii, en Leica M10 og en Mamiya afd645. Det har vært brukt en rekke objektiver, mitt hovedvalg av objektiv er et Canon EF 28-300mm, ettersom konstruksjonen og funksjonen passer meg. De 25 forskjellige fotografiene er tatt i Etiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania og Indonesia. Graden av profesjonalitet rundt styringen av de ulike nasjonalparkene har variert, og det er regler for hvordan man bør opptre rundt disse ville dyrene. Du kan komme nærme, men ikke for nærme – dette for både sikkerheten til dyrene og din egen. Vi kan overføre sykdom mellom hverandre. Noen ganger brytes grensen for avstanden, for eksempel når en ung gorilla slo meg lekent i ribbeina.

ADP: Hva er den forventede effekten av denne utstillingen? Og hvor håper du å ta det i fremtiden?

KKJH: Målet er å åpne opp folks sinn og hjerter for den levende verden rundt oss. Jeg ønsker å vise installasjonen til så mange som mulig, og bryr meg mer om virkningen den gir enn å selge helt ut bildeserien. Jeg har fått mange positive tilbakemeldinger fra de som har besøkt utstillingen.

ADP: Og nå har Katya Ganeshi, kollegaen min i Russland, noen spørsmål å stille deg, Karl-Kristian.

KG: Hvordan kan menneskelig tenkning endres ved hjelp av aper (og andre dyr)?

KKJH: For eksempel: Konstruksjonen av alfahannen i det menneskelige samfunn, hvor man må være sterk, fryktløs, hensynsløs og ikke koblet til det som blir sett på som feminint, er annerledes innenfor andre grupper av dyr. Når jeg opplever sjimpanser har jeg (selvfølgelig) sett siden vi mennesker omtaler som en alfa. Det er imidlertid bare én side ved å være leder for gruppen; man må også være kjærlig og ta vare på de andre i gruppen. For meg er det sann styrke.

KG: Kan apetenkning utkonkurrere menneskelig tenkning i fremtiden?

KKJH: Hvis samfunnet som kjent svikter og vi ikke lenger har et system å være avhengig av for å overleve, vil mange av oss sulte i hjel ettersom mat da ikke lenger kunne skaffes i butikker. Vi må da tilbake til røttene våre: å være jeger-samlere som lever av landet. Per i dag kan de fleste mennesker ikke utføre oppgaven med å mate seg selv uten komforten til samfunnet vårt. Når vi så ser til dyreriket kan vi se at de klarer å opprettholde seg selv, og jeg tror vi har mye å lære av dem når det gjelder å leve med naturen i stedet for å ødelegge den.

KG: Filosofen Bruno Latour anser moderne vitenskapsmenn for å være de samme «villmennene og barbarene». Deler du hans mening?

KKJH: Dessverre er det mye skade som blir gjort i vitenskapens navn “til det beste for menneskeheten”. Å leke med å være guder og skade livet gjennom denne begrunnelsen er et sikkert tegn på artsisme.

ADP: Takk Karl-Kristian, Jesper og Katya. Katya og jeg ønsker lykke til med denne viktigste utstillingen.

En español:

Fading Faces — en Español

En français :

Fading Faces — en français

Here are a few of the ape portraits in the exhibition:

See the virtual exhibition here:

https://www.karl-kristianjahnsenhus.com/360-virtual-exhibition

Karl-Kristian J. Hus was raised on a small island called Bjorøy at the Norwegian coast on the outskirts of Bergen. Exploring the field of fine art photography while working as a carpenter and constantly developing relations and interest in the object of nature and animals, has given him a unique sensation. After using a broad selection of means to enhance this skill, he is now immersing his expertise through visual arts school in Australia.

Exhibition list:

Faces of the ones without a human voice – Solo – 2018 – Vault Studios Bergen

Wild Ones – Group – 2019 – Lyons Gallery Sydney

Open Day Exhibition – Group – 2019 – University of Wollongong

Fading Faces – Solo – 2020 – Veiten 1 Bergen city, Norway

Fading Faces – Solo – 2020 – 2021 – Seimsfoss Industrial hall, Norway

Fading Faces -Solo – 2021 – Henrik Ibsens gate 40, Oslo, Norway

29.OKTOBER – 21.NOVEMBER

Åpningstider:

Man-Fre: 14.00-20.00

Lør: 11.00-18.00

See ADAP’s youtube video on the photographer here:

Visit Karl-Kristian’s website at https://karl-kristianjahnsenhus.com/

Letters to an Italian Art Photographer (republished … from the archives).

image

Dear Sandro,

After becoming infatuated with several of the photographic works on your blog, I naturally became curious to know just a bit about how you see your instinct to create. You have written quite simply:

La fotografia è una passione, un modo di vedere le cose, il mondo. Ciò che pubblico è sempre da me scattato con il mio iPhone 5 ed elaborato attraverso varie applicazioni, direttamente sull’iphone. Per tale motivo è possibile riscontrare imprecisioni.
Un grazie a chi passa da qui (per caso o per scelta), a chi attraversa le mie fotografie…

You write quite well — both here and elsewhere on your blog — but no words can compete with the exquisite language of your art photography. It is in your art that you betray yourself, i.e. reveal glimpses of your many layers of personality and expression … and perhaps also hints of significant changes that you have experienced and reflected upon in your lifetime. While many of your photographs give the illusion of “having arrived!” it is all illusion – certainly even for you. I suspect that – for you – the journey itself is rather the goal and destination, and that successive photographs are all connected in some way(s). Perhaps all are even more or less related manifestations of the same instincts.

Likewise, I notice your balance of “the classical and the proper” with sometimes almost hallucinatory expressions, achieved both by photo processing and your own instinctive artist-hunter talents. A photographer on the hunt is most often a predator that operates alone, but artists are rarely “lonely” … The worlds artists see, interpret and expose are all much too alive in their darkness, light, color and dynamics for us to be lonely while we photograph, paint or sculpt. But to project and convey the sentiment of loneliness to our viewers – ahhh, that is art, poetry and philosophy – all in one. That being said, your photographs are anything but dismal. Sometimes they convey beauty that can easily be connected with joy, but at other times the beauty is seemingly indifferent to labels, emotions or meaning. You have an interesting way of engaging the viewer – of inviting him/her to co-create experiences and art together with you. Whether, or not, those created experiences actually happened is perhaps irrelevant and unimportant. In my mind, you provide the beauty, and let the viewer decide if he/she will get stung – or not. In my mind, you are not driven by the need for approval but by an inner force within you, and thus you defy both classification and all responsibility beyond standing behind your own work.

This talent of yours — for suggesting beauty in the mundane which is perhaps often beyond comprehension – is a drug on par with a psychedelic pill. I will attempt to describe my own “journey” through ten letters where I react to several of your photographs.

(NB. All photographs copyright Sandro, and from his blog)

(Follow his newest photography blog HERE!


sandro tower

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number one.

Dear Sandro

I have my own name for this work: Déjà vu.

It represents and recalls that brief moment of eternal recognition: memories of places, sounds, flavors and smells experienced before, and yet — on a superficial level — still for the very first time. How many times have I blindly hurried past buildings like this, without offering a second thought to what was really there before me? But this time, while hop-skip-jumping through the streets and dreams of your blog I stumbled over this photo and was thrown into an alternative consciousness. You reached down, gave me your hand and pulled me to my feet. I had quickly turned my head to thank you when I saw what you wanted to show me … in an instant; out of the corner of my eye.

It was a warp in the time-space continuum … a slight tear in the dimensional perspective, where the angles pulled apart just enough to reveal a crevice through which we could pass. To begin with, there were flashbacks of historical events and non-events, priests, artisans, horses, noblemen, and Botticelli damsels being pursued by satyrs etc. After some seconds the circus of ghosts disappeared, leaving us alone with the architectural shell … which was itself a breathing organism which morphed continuously — both in color and image.

I stood there beside you, in amazement. With each pulse, the structure’s lungs forced out a new kaleidoscopic reality … not unlike Mount Vesuvius, in full glory. As the tower reached higher and higher, threatening to overtake the heavens, the windows begged to be used as steps for climbing … screaming joyously each time we took foothold onto a new window sill. And the tower eventually became a monolith, before turning into a huge phallus sprouting tree limbs and branches, and finally becoming a fairytale beanstalk — swaying high above the ground.

And there we sat … you and I, Sandro. I wept tears of joyful astonishment and remembrance, as I embraced myself with my own arms and rocked back and forth. And you were lost in your own reality: taking photos of the ground below us, while smoking a cigarette.

— Adam

sandro glasses

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number two:

Dear Sandro

Viva la rivoluzione!

Your photo moved me greatly. To see the stadium filled to the brim with thousands of naked factory-made wine glasses, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, clinking and singing in protest against the country’s new austerity measures was invigorating. Most were orderly and remained in their assigned seats, but some in the bleachers stood on their heads to emphasize the undignified nature of emptiness. The wine shortage means that many, if not most, of these glasses will be long-term unemployed and many will never leave the factory. They are not alone in their protest. There are reports of several glasses in private homes and institutions allowing themselves to be filled with milk or orange juice before violently hurling themselves into fireplaces in shows of martyrdom and solidarity.

Here there is no humor, wisdom or solace to be gotten from flippant remarks about glasses being half-full or half-empty. These wine glasses are empty, and quite unhappy about it I might add. I say: ” Fill these proud glasses with wine, and ‘Viva la rivoluzione!’ “

All satire aside, this is a lovely photograph both in terms of composition and visual effects. The wine red background is very effective, and your interplay between light and glass is simply breathtaking. You have given an otherwise rather mundane still-life an air of elegance, dignity and class.

— Adam

sandro room

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number three:

Dear Sandro

Nighttime storms are exhilarating, especially as they first approach. It usually begins with wind murmurs and whispers, a pervasive pre-ejaculatory dew-moisture ritually-anointed by the rex sacrorum Janus, and finally the roar of thunder in the distance and a magnificent series of lightning bolts — both designed by Jupiter to expose all living and non-living entities as powerless subjects under his celestial dominion. The thunder is — of course — all pomp, but the lightning is the playful photographer-god’s attempt to leave a flash imprint while using his enormous camera obscura to document the fear engendered. Unfortunately, Jupiter either does not always have very good aim or vision, or he simply does not care if the lightning brings destruction. He has, after all, thundered several warnings admonishing all to get the hell out of the way. Those who do not heed are certainly either fools or daredevils. (Sigh) I love his photography exhibitions and Wagnerian drama, but I personally prefer to watch the show from inside my room … at a safe distance.

Kudos! My dear Sandro, in these two photos you have captured the spirit of the photographic flash of Jupiter … in all its electrifying glory, as well as the quiet comfort of the room with the view – yes, a veritable safehouse from which to follow the approaching storm as the mist slowly envelops all sensibility.

— Adam

sandro lightning

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number four:

sandro universe light

Dear Sandro

There is a profound spiritual quality to these two photographs: both of overpowering refracting Light emerging from Darkness, and simultaneously reflecting Divine essence. One suggests a primordial universe while the other attests perhaps to the classical traditions of prayer and of man-made refinement, often achieved after human struggle or invention. Is it at all possible to understand the nature of Light without a background of doubt, uncertainty, and Darkness? You, Sandro, have answered that question …

Truly, all entities represent both Light and Darkness, and both are prerequisites for existence and spiritual maturity.

Gloria in excélsis Deo!
Alleluia … Alleluia …
Although our backs are broken,
and our wings are tattered;
our hearts and souls
will forever sing your praises.
There is only one God,
but the ways to You are many.
Alleluia … Alleluia …
Alleluia … Alleluia …

sandro chandelier

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number five:

sandro clouds

Dear Sandro

“quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius!”

Certainly, as above so below.

Lying on my back, looking into the sky — which is really the Arctic Sea or the Antarctic Sea, hovering above the endless flotilla of iceberg islands, rushing from nowhere to no man’s land, making me dizzy, wondering if I am moving, hoping the clouds will turn upside down and take me for a rodeo ride across the sky-prairie, feeling lazy, the iPhone is heavy, my arms are tired, I am falling asleep, falling into the down-feathered pillows above me, downside up, too much wine … too many clouds stampeding.

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number six:

sandro kitchen window

Dear Sandro

Art photography enables us to be “social voyeurs” without being judged, and also to peek at and surveil the spaces, lives and private moments of others, without necessarily feeling the need to make a value judgment about what we think we see. However, not making a value judgment does not have to mean that we do not make up stories and imaginings about the persons or events our eyes encounter. When we pass by a window without drawn curtains or blinds, the reflex to glance through the glass and into the room is automatic, and irresistible. Like when sitting on a bus, train or the metro, examining our fellow passengers becomes part of our transportation experience … it is the “in-flight movie” included in our ticket.

We are all quite interested in interesting people, and their secrets. In most dwellings the room least likely to have drawn curtains is usually the kitchen. And yet, kitchens are perhaps the rooms that house most secret conversations, that best expose eating and social habits, and that also best reflect personal organization, hygiene and the level of happiness with oneself and the household in general. It is therefore not strange that dinner guests readily volunteer to help out in the kitchen … transporting food, dishes and drinks, opening cabinets and drawers, examining the contents of the refrigerator etc. It is perhaps even more entertaining and revealing than spending enough time in the host’s bathroom so that one can investigate the perfumes, medicine cabinet, hair products and try out the bathroom scales.

The rest of the house is usually a blur (if we are not alone then we must focus on the other people in the room and suffice with a general comment like: “Your place looks great!”; or because the rooms are off limits socially, i.e. bedrooms or offices).

These two photos are great illustrations of the above. Sometimes things seem much clearer from a distance, and when we are all alone.

N’est-ce pas ?!!

— Adam

sandro hallway

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number seven:

sandro ruins

Dear Sandro

There is something magical about ruins at twilight, or under a full moon. At those times, shadows cast off backlighting and remind us that the energy forms and history archived within the structures are still very much alive — despite their now-altered physical forms. This manifestation of life beyond death gives a mystical dimension to our perception and experience, and allows us to temporarily transform ourselves into personalities that are no longer bound by time, space or physical reality. Sometimes the best context in which to discover who we really are and what we are in the process of becoming is perhaps retrospective:

over the decades,
endings muted into beginnings
like swirls of blue-grey smoke
creeping toward alabaster palaces
in primordial consciousness.
there, in the garden of creativity,
the ashes of one zillion charred
impulses rained heavily upon
furrows of expectations,
cultivating dreams with experience.

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number eight:

sandro portal

Dear Sandro

What a fabulous creation! Portals are doorways to eternity, and windows into our own spirituality and psychology. You have achieved the effect of a charcoal drawing, giving an organic and healing quality to the image as well as facilitating an introspective experience within the viewer of this photograph. Most important is the impression that these hallowed closed doors can be easily opened by those who yearn to forge the keys of self-knowledge, and who have the courage to discover and embrace the mysteries behind the doors.

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number nine:

sandro blue sky peeking

Dear Sandro

In this photograph you give the illusion of geometric abstraction, allowing non-objective practice to supersede the function and presentation of objects. The objects (possibly the undersides of two overhanging rooftops) are joined together with the cloudless blue sky background to form a geometric design which is actually non-objective. Together with manipulated textures and shadows the end effect is suggestive of the ideas behind the works of Wassily Kandinsky, and perhaps other abstractionists such as Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, as well as “hard-edge” painters of today.

While geometric abstraction is not uncommon as a genre in modern photography, your approach with this particular work is refreshing in its originality and welcoming effect upon the viewer.

— Adam

Letters to an Italian photographer — Letter number ten:

Dear Sandro

I would like to see more of your portrait photography. Here you have presented a fascinating self-portrait exposing one half of your face peering out of the darkness, with a smoke-cloud as your only stage prop or “clothing” to adorn an otherwise naked countenance. The eye swallows the gaze of the viewer, almost as if to dare or challenge him/her to attempt to penetrate the inner home of “Sandro, the photographer”. However, the viewer must not confuse the expression with emotion or deep contemplation. The nakedness is — perhaps — due to the fact that the photographer is no longer behind his camera, which is an integral part of his being. By looking into his eye the viewer is actually looking into the lens of a camera. And Sandro is both taking your picture and recording the event … each and every time you look at his self-portrait. In addition, the shadows, skin tones and softness give this portrait the look of a detail from a painting by an Old Master.

Well done, Sandro!

Congratulazioni!

— Adam

Lettres à un photographe français: mes réactions aux images (republié … à partir des archives).

 

image

 

Presenting a new series: my own take on “Letters to a young poet”; but here I am writing my reactions to the photographic works of the talented French photographer Frédéric Bérard, who is in the process of creating his first photography webpage. While perhaps not considered by all to be “young in years”, his vision is indeed fresh, invigorating and quite youthful. These photos are from PICTORY, his new art photography webpage-in-progress.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway (author, artist, critic)

Letter one.

Congratulations, young man!

Now, THIS is what I am talking about! Today’s photo additions to your webpage are truly a combination of “outside looking in” and “inside looking out”; almost as if under the direction of a certain Camus — unemotionally stripping our sense of vision of all illusions of romanticism, and condemning us to a nameless solitude which is in itself the only satisfying raison d’être: the purposelessness of the sea, the uneventful sky, the tunnel to nowhere, ambassadors of nature disfigured and raped by the elements … and perhaps also by the wantonness of human indiscretion, the waste and the intellectual excrement giving birth to new fleeting passions and obsessions. You flash a continuous screen of images from the far corners of your retina, all focal points obscured and devoid of rational meaning beyond the repetitive blandness which is in itself so strikingly beautiful that in my own mind’s eye I give life, motion and smell to the collection of connected but yet non-connected images. I fall back into myself, barely breathing … and I gasp for air … for release … from the banal non-reality of reality. Yes! I am already frantically looking for the lonely and abandoned old men and women, who are pretending to take part in the daily circus but who have really given up … and are just waiting for their names to be called by the Angel of Death.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Prison”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter two.

Your photo entitled “Prison” haunts me. It is perhaps the fluorescent lighting that frames the emptiness that is unsettling. Had you only let the darkness be mystical, or filled it with superfluous objects or people. But no, you were committed to force the viewer to face his/her own loneliness in this concrete gallery of existential mirrors. My every attempt to escape into the shadows of the photograph and to hide from myself are thwarted by the echoes of the whirring and clicking sounds coming from your camera shutter as it opens and closes. They are gunshots, synchronized with the glaring overhead lights spaced out on one side of the corridor as though to taunt: “Run, run, run like the wind! Can you make it to the next darkened section of the hallway before the light catches you, and casts you backwards in time?”

I need not ask to where I might be cast … How old is this prison, anyway? Does the prison really even exist other than as a tourist attraction for the adventurer who has seen everything?

Ahh … I see. Yes, now I understand. It is “I” – the viewer – who is the perpetual tourist.

Yes, I know this corridor all too well. I have my own names for it: Existence, the personal Hell I carry around within myself at all times …

The darkness is my womblike coffin, the intermittent lights are my hopes and dreams … and the shadows are … Well, the shadows are my naked optical illusions: myopic truths, hazy and irrational fears, and my self-hatred – all appearing and disappearing, changing form and substance, and rendered meaningless if they attempt to survive the next click from your camera shutter.

For an instant I am indignant. I press myself up against the wall opposite to the side where the lights are shining down, lift my head up in defiance and I cry out: “So, what are you going to do – hit me?!!” There is no response other than the mocking clicking sound and the low hum from the fluorescent lights. That is answer enough. I am not alone here. I am being monitored, judged, and rendered inconsequent … as always.

I sink to the floor and crawl toward the next section of darkness – hoping to escape the lights, to free myself of hopes and dreams.

When I finally let go I become one with the Nothingness. I am as insignificant as the photograph.

I despise you for showing me Myself, but thanks to your intransigence I am born again.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Espichel”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter three.

“Espichel” … a falsification, a moment that never really happened — or did it? The image of sea and heaven — frozen by exposure to all too many self-serving dreams — is an empty icebox, defrosting here and there into sinkholes masquerading as islands. A testament to global warming so magnificent that oceans overtake skies, water becomes gas, and eternity is transmuted into strands of pharmacy store cotton … a futile attempt to bandage a sore so deep that its severity is still denied by religious zealots and atheists alike.

“Come on in,” you beckon. “The water is fine!”

I am tempted to walk into your photograph … to lose myself in your riddle of negations. I hesitate, extend my right index finger as if about to touch the image — and then pull back.

“I am fine, right here where I am. It is cold,” I say, almost stumbling over the lie lisping out of my mouth.

(The truth is that I have been swimming under the fog-swept surface for quite some time now. This is my secret place, and it is not to be shared with anyone else. Not even with you, my dear photographer. Your photograph has not seduced me. I have always been here.)

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Galactic”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter four.

“Galactic”. A silent explosion within inner space gives birth to bubbles, benign cysts and necessary ablutions: perhaps a newly-found Schoenberg variations, on a theme of molecular disturbance.

I am not fooled by the graceful ballet pictured by your roguish lens. Something unsettling has taken place: an uncalculated movement and force. I remain transfixed; yes, fascinated and apprehensive.

“En garde!” I mutter under my breath.

To whom am I speaking? Well, to myself … of course.
(And to anyone else who might be lurking about in this private enclave within the public sphere.)

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Bretagne”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter five.

“Bretagne”. Electric blue waves flirt shamelessly with a complementary peach sunset. The ghost of Yves Klein is lunching — just a few meters away — on the matching blue-toned beach. He hardly touches the blueberries, grapes or the gorgonzola. He is intensely focused on the highly-saturated azure of the waves. “Nouveau réalisme”, he says, “is not to be confused with Neo-Dada. This is lovely, but it will never do. Take it away, and let us start again. Now, try a blue wash over that sunset. I want it monochromatic!”

I lean over and whisper into your ear: “What does he know?!! The peach-colored sunset is perfect, my dear Photographer …
Painters and critics! … (sigh)

You know, sometimes I get rather tired of Yves — and of singing the blues.”

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Escalator”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter six.

Dear Photographer,

Your photograph entitled “Escalator” reminds me of something I had written many years ago … a poem called “The Homecoming”, which was eventually published in my poetry book “Collected poems and stories”, 2005. Through your use of shadows, you have managed to relegate the experience of riding an escalator to that of a personal maneuver where both man and machine must collaborate in order to get from point A to point B. Much like artificial limbs, this bizarre prosthetic also easily becomes a living part of the organism being assisted:

THE HOMECOMING.
Two machines work in tandem to
transport the newcomer to his
destination: the Incoming Arrivals
terminal, some 60-feet away.
One is called Body: a
miraculous mechanism of impulses
and veiny cylinders which pumps
sparks of inertia into otherwise
lifeless organs and limbs.
Another has assumed the name Escalator:
a complex simple machine, whose
sleek metal and plastic components
derive their electricity from a
brain unaffected by emotion and the
undependable workings of the spleen.
Together, these two brains scheme
to smuggle Body from plane to
terminal without arousing its
potential security risk:
the emotional system.
Body’s eye-apparatus fixates
upon the fourth wall,
noting neither destination
nor landscape in-between.
Brain sends Body impressions
of Elevator and simultaneously
commands to “search and find.”
Spleen sleeps, sufficiently
blinded by Eyes (and too
sophisticated to implement the
long-since devolved functions
of Ears and Nose).
Vessels pump … gears spin;
and Eyes notes a multitude of
peer-bodies assuming similar
movements; a signal is sent to
Brain, with press releases to
Body: “Everyone is doing it.
Ergo, it must be right!”
Body moves toward Escalator
with gusto; and Spleen awakens
abruptly when Escalator
chuckles “gotcha!!!”
But the hopelessness is not
fully understood until Spleen
realizes that Body is alone
in the stream of fast-walking
zombies, guided by Eyes’ robotic
gaze … and overhears the one-way
laughter of Escalator, who
neither sputters nor flinches.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Papiers”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter seven.

“Papiers” is possibly one of your most successful works after the style (and in the Spirit) of contemporary Japanese masters. Much of this genre is characterised by high contrast, grainy, black and white photography. In this photograph you create a feeling of washed out whiteness approaching that accomplished by overexposure — in an eerie still life depicting a mess of discarded papers, molded together by the weather, the elements and time. Had you taken this photographic process even one step further the entire image would have exploded and disintegrated.

These communications (be they love letters, job termination letters, bills, court summonses, death and birth certificates, marriage licenses, parking tickets, food wrappings or old photographs) have once told stories. Now their only communicative value is as “trash art” or a “disposable sculpture”, captured and archived by you. Louise Nevelson goes Daido Moriyama, if you will.

And the thought that nags me as I come back to look at this photograph – again and again – is: “Did the photographer read any of those papers?” In a way, I hope that you did not. The mystery is probably more interesting than the banalities of the actual contents, and too much acquaintance with the individual papers might interfere with the “air of indifference” which helps to make this photograph exciting.

Through your photography, you have given these now “dead letters” new life.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Morzine”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

“Sierra”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

“Carnac”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter eight.

“Morzine”, “Sierra” and “Carnac” are all excellently executed and thematically interesting black and white photographs. In my opinion, the most intriguing of the three is “Morzine”. Here you explore landscape romanticism from the wide angle, combining overview from a distance with a magical aspect achieved by accentuating the hide-n-seek of mist, fog or clouds. The intentional absence of detail in the darkened hills and valleys helps to create a sense of personal urgency and involvement, as the terrain is enveloped and consumed by the whiteness. The whiteness here is not soft and delicate but rather reminiscent of smoke threatening to raze the entire landscape. The geographic specific title for this transformative artwork somewhat confounds me, but I rarely give a damn about titles. Good art needs no title to be understood.

“Carnac” depicts a prairie landscape inhabited by rock formations – vaguely recalling Easter Island or ancient ruin sites in Europe. The rocks are interesting enough in themselves, as they seem to be placed in a pattern and randomly at the same time, but there are two elements that make this photograph an exceptionally good one: 1) the superb lighting which gives a quiet dramatic effect, and 2) the overall composition which hints at a battle between the stoic, hard rock formations reaching for the skies and the dramatic soft cloud formations threatening to overtake both rocks and grassland in an intense shroud which could cloak and make all disappear in a matter of minutes. It is truly the quiet before the storm.

“Sierra” reaches forever … and so does the long ribbon of clouds hovering above the terrain. This simple landscape photograph reminds us of how “little” we are, and also shows us life’s endless possibilities. It is surely those characteristics of all “new frontiers” that have precipitated greatness on this planet.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“Feuille”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter nine.

Congratulations on “Feuille”!

Here you take botanical photography to a new level, indeed! This form of photography is a classic, and an important learning tool for all aspiring art photographers as well as an ongoing challenge for professional photographers who wish to re-interpret – or even “improve” upon classical nature photography, or even expand upon normative perceptions of nature itself.

Why do artists bother to mimic, and even attempt to denaturalize nature? Nature photography is like a waltz, an old stand-by, a sure bet that is so common that it has little artistic value anymore … Unless, new ideas are introduced. Specifically, radical ideas that force the viewer to identify with his/her sensory perceptions in more primitive, more “raw” and other non-classical ways. In this photo, as in “Papiers”, you push the photo-technical to the absolute outer limits — just to see what happens. As with all art forms, genius involves knowing when and where to stop in order to maintain maximum effect without the work falling apart totally. You did it, Sir!

Here, I can (as Maurice Ravel did on the manuscript to his “Valses nobles et sentimentales”) quote from Henri de Régnier’s novel entitled Les Rencontres de Monsieur de Bréot (1904): “…le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” (the delightful and always novel pleasure of a useless occupation). Like Ravel, you also have approached a known and beloved genre and given it your own “twist” (or perhaps “twisted interpretation”).

Again, through creating your own exaggerated imbalances of light, darkness and shadow you have succeeded in giving this leaf a supernatural quality – enticing, intriguing … and a bit frightening. Here you work very much with textures, and this photograph suggests many possibilities: organic matter – plastic – metallic, soft – hard, as well as questions regarding the actual size and dimensions of the leaf.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

“sdf”, photo by Frédéric Bérard, France.

Letter ten.

“Tableau photography” has a long and inspired tradition and history, and is quite prevalent in contemporary art photography and design. There are many decisions to be made in art creations – all the time; and the one decision affects the next ones. Placement of objects – orderly, or not — as well as the surroundings and overall context are questions of balance. In that sense they are as important to an art photographer as weighted notes and interconnectedness of passages in a musical score are to a composer.

Sometimes the best photographic images are found, rather than created or staged. In your photo entitled “sdf” you have achieved something quite remarkable. I cannot know for certain whether the person sleeping on the floor is actually “homeless” or merely a traveller. Had the photo been given another title I might even be tempted to imagine that the protagonist is a concert-goer securing his/her place in the queue before tickets to the Arctic Monkeys concert go on sale. Likewise, you were so fortunate to have stumbled upon that photographic opportunity while carrying your camera that one could also wonder if the photo was actually staged.

Regardless of whether or not the photo was staged or a fortunate find, the active choices that you made in terms of composition are quite commendable. To create such intimacy in a wide photograph, and to successfully balance the camera settings so as to create a virtual stage attests to your excellent technical prowess. But when you, in addition, manage to create a photojournalistic / video quality which underscores the feeling in the viewer that he/she is spying on a private scene in the life of another, I must simply applaud.

Bravo Monsieur ! Bravissimo !

– Adam Donaldson Powell