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

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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

Tribute to Don Herron, artist; and Tubshots.

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Don Herron (USA) passed away in 2012: May he rest in peace!

Don and I were lovers, partners and friends back in the NYC artist heydays of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Don was an accomplished visual artist (silk screen prints, painting and photography) and later worked as a writer/journalist as well. During our years together he created the now infamous “Tub shots” series, featuring many personalities of the day from San Francisco and New York City, including: Robert Mapplethorpe (See Don’s iconic portrait of Mapplethorpe HERE), Jackie Curtis HERE, Belle de Jour, Bob Opal, John Kelly, Holly Woodlawn HERE, Charles Busch HERE, Ellen Stewart HERE, Peter Hujar, Cassandra, Paula Sequeira, Keith Haring HERE and HERE and many more.

I remember quite well meeting Robert Mapplethorpe the day Don delivered his photo print to him. We were received at the door by one of several gorgeous (mostly naked) young men in s/m gear. Mapplethorpe himself was a god. Funny … I first seduced Don while wearing cowboy gear on Christopher Street. I had been conducting my own “art-social experiment”, visiting the same gay bars in the West Village every night for one week but dressed as a different gay fantasy each night … in order to test out whether (or not) attractions were based upon drag/fantasy or other things. I met my Texan on “Cowboy Night”. Many of my gay experiences during that period are documented in my book “Entre Nous et Eux” (2017). Back then being “gay” and being a “performance artist” were often two sides of the same coin.

Here is the story: I have been so fortunate as to have met many inspiring persons in my many decades on this planet — some quite famous, and others not so well-known to the masses. A handful of these personalities have left lasting impressions on me; some even after just a brief meeting. One such person was Robert Mapplethorpe. In February of 1978 my partner (Don Herron) and I visited Robert Mapplethorpe at his loft in NYC, to deliver this iconic bathtub portrait that Don had taken of Robert – as part of Don’s famous Tubshots series. Robert had a powerful magnetism that shone through easily. He looked like the very definition of health and virility.

We were first greeted by a young man in s&m attire, who opened the door to reveal several other (semi-)nude young sex gods busy at work (doing whatever they did). Eventually the most gorgeous sex god of them all — Mapplethorpe, himself — received Don and I. I had — of course seen the photo that Don had taken, which was quite amazing — but Mapplethorpe himself was absolutely enthralling: beautiful to look at, hot and sexy, and at once kind and down-to-earth. This meeting was many years before I, myself, had become infected with the AIDS virus; although Mapplethorpe and I frequented many of the same sex clubs and other venues. Eleven years later Robert was dead, of AIDS. And four years after that I began my own fight for my life, after an AIDS diagnosis. Robert was just one of many who died back then … and since — all too many. I was an international and national AIDS-activist for over two decades, and now I am simply known as a «survivor». Sometimes when I think about the many beautiful and talented men I have known who succumbed to the disease and its stigma, I still feel a bit of «survivor guilt». Watching the documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe, and seeing his artwork on my walls makes me feel that guilt. But it also drives me to use every bit of talent that I can muster to create art and literature, and help to encourage others to live creatively. Had it not been for the AIDS diagnosis and my long struggle to survive then my personal courage and conviction would not have been what it is today, and certainly not my art and literature either.

We are all searching for ways to leave our mark on history — both as a confirmation that we did something for humanity, and to justify our minutes/hours/years of consumption and wear-and-tear on the planet. Those who have creative disciplines work to leave behind their ideas and visions in various artworks. And then when we suddenly get a message or diagnosis telling us that we are living on limited time/borrowed time then the urge to produce art and literature becomes manic. That is how I have managed to publish so many books and to have numerous art exhibitions etc. That is also part of Mapplethorpe’s drive in his last years. I call AIDS “the great Teacher”.

Here I wish to present some links to some of Mapplethorpe’s art, his history and a wonderful tribute to him at the queerhistory.blogspot.

THE ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE FOUNDATION

QUEERS IN HISTORY: ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

DOCUMENTARY – ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

THE FINALE

MAPPLETHORPE’S WORLD OF FLOWERS

MAPPLETHORPE’S OBSESSION FOR BEAUTY

Don’s portrait of me is HERE:

adam-in-tub

And here is his iconic portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe:

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2018 UPDATES TO THIS BLOG POST:

Read more about «TUBSHOTS» HERE! and HERE!

Read about the 2018 retrospective of Tubshots HERE!

Adam Donaldson Powell: A Personal comment on Herron, the East Village Artist movement in the 1970s-1980s etc.

This period of art, AIDS and gay cultural development in NYC and SF is difficult to sum up — as is evident from the many who now comment that they can hardly remember things that transpired back then. This is not just because we are now “old”, but because it was a chaotic time where everything flowed together: personality itself as artistic expression, renaissance of multidisciplinary ideas and art, underground celebrities who often met only once or a few times (and either on the streets, at parties or sex clubs), oftentimes diffuse art forms whereby individual stunts and niches sometimes suddenly and magically finally took hold, weekly/nightly disco nights with Warhol and other celebrities at places like Studio 54, Area, The Tunnel, drugs, drag queens and leather queens, outrageous sex clubs, punk rock, witchcraft as a lifestyle, etc. In short, it was (and is) difficult to separate the everyday occurrences from “the dream-state”. Many gays at that time were — like me — transformed “super hippies” who basked in the vast environment of sex clubs, artistic stunts, new minimalistic theatre, dance and music forms, poetry at art galleries, building occupations, cross-dressing as an art form etc. Someone should really try to get deeper into the phenomenon of that period of time in NYC, SF, Paris, Berlin etc. and how it has influenced art, literature, music, our outrageous street fashion that was quickly mimicked by trendy boutiques in the West Village and later by international fashion designers, and gay identity/activism today.

It is all too easy for those of us who were a part of the “scenes” back then to glorify things. There were, in fact, lots of “downers” — especially with the AIDS crisis, drug overdoses etc. And only a few of us became very important in art history. But none of this could have happened without each and every one of us participating, interacting, encouraging, challenging, feeding on and feeding one another, in our artistic niches and outrageousness. We were unafraid — and at times a bit naïve. We were, basically, determined to live — for the moment; a glorious moment without recognisable start or ending. But we were also vulnerable human beings, full of emotional ups and downs, lives and wardrobes full of rags and glitter, forgotten sexual memoirs with now-famous persons who turned us on just because they were full of determination to express themselves in every way possible.

Don Herron was human, emotionally vulnerable, intelligent, very artistically gifted, unconventional, a cat-lover, one who met people in all social environments rather easily, he was very funny (referred to himself as a “Fred MacMurray-type” and loved “I Love Lucy”, tea and pies), and he had a very large cock and was fond of both sex and lots of cuddling. He was also at times more than a bit neurotic and could be intense — but no more than any of the rest of us. “Tubshots” was just one of his art expressions and ideas. His walls were adorned with murals of Roman lasciviousness, angels and cartoonish figures. His silk-screening, painting and other artworks were advanced for the time. Don Herron is just one of many from that time before modern internet who deserves a good-sized footnote through contemporary technology and art and gay history.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, September 2018, Oslo, Norway.

Adam on the Christopher Street Pier during the Tubshots years:

Essays: examples of my photo book criticism.

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(Adam Donaldson Powell, selfie)

EXAMPLES OF MY PHOTO BOOK CRITICISM:

ALBERT RUSSO: A professional photographer finds his «inner tourist».

Review of «Norway to Spitzberg», photography by Albert Russo; published by Blurb Inc., 580 California Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA, http://www.blurb.com. Price: US$31.95, published in 2007, hardbound, glossy paper, 144 pages (also available as softcover, glossy paper, price: US$24.95).

Albert Russo’s photographic essay illustrating a cruise ship voyage with the Costa Atlantica («La città ideale») along the coast of Norway, from the city of Bergen (birthplace of composer Edvard Grieg) to the top of the globe (Spitzberg) is fascinating not only because of his realizing the full circle of «post-post-realism» in modern photography, but also because Mr. Russo transforms the tourist «photo-stalker» experience into the creation of a professional visual compendium – combining dramatic and magnificent seascapes, fjordscapes and landscapes with the intimacy of still lifes, the humanity of people at work and play and in their quiet, alone moments, as well as the extremities of fauna, and indigenous peoples and their cultural expressions and living environments.

It is not difficult to understand that Mr. Russo is also an accomplished poet and a master of prose-writing. The stories he tells in this photographic essay are not a mere show of proficiency as regards each individual work of art, but rather a dance of images as vivid as an operatic performance – full of passion, drama, silences, humour and music.

Mr. Russo has employed a Canon digital Ixus 55 – 5.0 megapixels camera, with 3x optical zoom. His «eye» for discerning, and his talent for capturing the «photographic moment», the mastery of light and clarity vs. slight distortion etc. is a testament to his delicious sense of artistry as well as his empathy for the experience of being human.

Review by Adam Donaldson Powell, 2007, Oslo, Norway. Adam Donaldson Powell is a professional reviewer, visual artist and the author of five collections of poetry, short stories, essays, literary criticism, and photography. He has performed his poetry all over the world – from New York City to Buenos Aires to Oslo to Kathmandu. His reviews have been published in several countries.

ALBERT RUSSO – Poet as photographer / Photographer as poet.

Albert Russo – novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet ….. photographer.

Of some fifty-five book publications to-date, eighteen of Russo’s books are photographic essays. These titles include impressions from travels around the world, quirkiness and humour in human experience, studies of sculptures, autobiographical essays with photography as the medium, and more. Had Russo not had such a passion for art and literature, he would surely have had a fine career as a photojournalist for commercial publishers of travel books, travel guides and travel magazines. However, Russo’s inclination towards the artistic and social elements of human predicament and expression, coupled with his love of poetry, has resulted in a myriad of publications which effectively express poetic and literary curiosity through poetry’s modern-day “first cousin”: photography. I use the word “curiosity” intentionally as Russo never forces his impressions upon us as an expression of “truth”, but rather guides us through his own personal experiences and thoughts through visual exposés. Sometimes the progressive order of photographs in some of his books can seem somewhat illogical as Russo presents us with his own “connections” between impressions as he sees them as an artist – rather than grouping photographs in an order that an advertising executive or commercial travel book might choose. This is Russo’s prerogative, his perspective .. and an important aspect of his own unique poetic expression.

Some of his photography books are combinations of texts and pictures, and others are without texts. The absence of titles is a bold artistic statement in itself, relying upon the strength and the progression of photographs themselves to tell the author’s/photographer’s personal story. Personally, I prefer the books that consist of photographs alone as I do not always relate to the accompanying texts and find them sometimes to be as annoying as I find signatures on the front side of paintings (when the signatures not only do not add to the overall work of art, but actually detract from the viewing experience). But this is a question of personal taste. Having a background both within visual art and poetry, I – like Albert Russo – am capable of understanding the “poetry” in the photographic presentations without explanation or added literary decoration. I think this is true for many (if not most) persons who enjoy photography books as works of art.

Russo’s photographic essays to-date include: “A poetic biography”, “Brussels ride”, “Chinese puzzle”, “City of lovers”, “Granada”, “En / in France”, “Israel at heart”, “Italia nostra”, “Mexicana”, “New York at heart”, “Pasión de España”, “Quirk”, “Rainbow nature”, “Saint-Malo”, “Sardinia”, “Sri Lanka”, and his newest: “Body glorious” and “Norway to Spitzberg” (both released in 2007). These are almost exclusively full-colour photos .. a medium which Russo plays with combining childlike naiveté and curiosity for the unusual aspects of the “banal”, and exciting excursions into the nature and the planet’s overall cultural diversity, with a broad palette of professional techniques. Russo goes to great pains to mix traditional images with their contemporary partners and counterparts, and to play with exposure, light, filters and clarity/non-clarity in order to exaggerate aspects of the culture and to communicate his own personal experiences and sensations. I would like to see a photographic essay by Albert Russo, in which he translates his interactive communication between photographer/poet and subject to the medium of black and white photography. I am certain that Russo would find even more exciting nuances and enigmatic photographic puzzles through the usage of light, shadows, layers of greyness etc., which would even further enhance his natural highly-effective ability to penetrate beyond picture-taking .. and far, far into the inner energy forms and thoughts of his photographic subjects/objects and their surrounding environment/conditions.

Perhaps the most unusual photographic essay is his “A Poetic Biography”, published in 2006. The book is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of photographs of Russo, his family members and friends in various situations and environments, and over a period of several decades. Here Russo includes both photographs of people (colour and some black and white), photographs of letters and telefaxes, telegrams, articles on Russo as an author etc. – all without explanation or commentary. In this way, Russo uses the classic “first person” style of prose-writing to create an almost surrealistic glimpse into the inner reaches of Russo’s personality, history, personal life, ambitions and self-identity. The book leaves us with a yearning to discover that personal aspect which Russo has not commented on, but which most other artists and authors usually make no bones about proclaiming ad nauseam: namely, his dreams .. and what his life might have been like otherwise.

Another fun and beautiful photographic exposé is Russo’s latest book: “Norway to Spitzberg”. I have previously reviewed this book and commented:

“Albert Russo’s photographic essay illustrating a cruise ship voyage with the Costa Atlantica («La città ideale») along the coast of Norway, from the city of Bergen (birthplace of composer Edvard Grieg) to the top of the globe (Spitzberg) is fascinating not only because of his realizing the full circle of «post-post-realism» in modern photography, but also because Mr. Russo transforms the tourist «photo-stalker» experience into the creation of a professional visual compendium – combining dramatic and magnificent seascapes, fjordscapes and landscapes with the intimacy of still lifes, the humanity of people at work and play and in their quiet, alone moments, as well as the extremities of fauna, and indigenous peoples and their cultural expressions and living environments. It is not difficult to understand that Mr. Russo is also an accomplished poet and a master of prose-writing. The stories he tells in this photographic essay are not a mere show of proficiency as regards each individual work of art, but rather a dance of images as vivid as an operatic performance – full of passion, drama, silences, humour and music. Mr. Russo has employed a Canon digital Ixus 55 – 5.0 megapixels camera, with 3x optical zoom. His «eye» for discerning, and his talent for capturing the «photographic moment», the mastery of light and clarity vs. slight distortion etc. is a testament to his delicious sense of artistry as well as his empathy for the experience of being human.”

Out of curiosity, I took contact with Albert Russo to ask him to comment on his love for photography. Here is his comment:

“In response to your question: I’ve always liked photography, from my adolescent years in Africa; actually I loved filming too and my 8mm or super 8mm films looked more like stills than films. People would complain telling me: “Oh God, five minutes on the same object, flower, trees, landscape, whatever, enough already!” Ever since my African days I’ve been taking photos with all kinds of cameras, from the standard Kodak box, to the famous German Minox, to the Fujica ST-605 (wonderful camera that accompanied me everywhere) – often using the Rexastar lens for close-ups) (1:3.5 – f- 135mm) alternately with the smaller but very friendly Minolta 70W Riva zoom, and now with the Canon digital Ixus 55. I have probably forgotten a few other cameras I had. Oh I used to take many colour slides in Africa (which I still have tucked away somewhere, and should think of printing the best). Poetry and photography? They are always closely related. A good picture tells a thousand things to the beholder if he/she pays attention to it, and the ‘right’ word suggests a thousand other things, that is why I never like to simply write captions under my photos. Actually now I do not wish to write anything at all, the photo must speak to you on its own.”

In conclusion, I would recommend that art photography and poetry enthusiasts take note of this talented artist. As one who has reviewed his collected poetry and read many of his novels, short stories and essays, I can attest that his literary talent complements his photographic expression. Albert Russo is artistically self-integrated in all of his creative disciplines.

Copyright 2007, Adam Donaldson Powell.

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL (Norway) is a literary critic and a multilingual author, writing in English, Spanish, French and Norwegian; and a professional visual artist. He has published several books (including collections of poetry, short stories, short novels, photography and literary criticism) in the USA, Norway and India, as well as numerous works in international literary publications on several continents. He has previously authored theatrical works performed onstage, and he has (to-date) read his poetry at venues in New York City, Oslo (Norway), Buenos Aires and Kathmandu (Nepal).

GEERT VERBEKE & JENNY OVAERE

 

ABRACADABRA: NOT JUST ‘BLACK AND WHITE’.

Review of «Abracadabra», black-white photography and haiku book by Geert Verbeke and Jenny Ovaere; self-published, printed by Ye Print Kortrijk (Flanders), published in 2008, softcover, glossy paper, 112 pages, ISBN: 9789081291828. Order the book directly from the artists (see http://www.haikugeert.net).

ABRACADABRA, true to the style of Geert Verbeke and most mature artists, poses more open questions than gives concrete answers. This collection of black-white photographs and haiku is an ambitious endeavour, challenging both the artists and the public in many ways. What would otherwise be perceived as yet another beautiful coffee table book of brilliant black-white photographs is transformed into a journey – not only to different physical destinations, but also to diverse states of mind and culture, all the while creating many levels of intellectual and artistic complexity which far surpass black-white photography in its most simplistic form as a medium in that Verbeke and Ovaere actually create “colour” in their use of the medium. This “colour” is further accentuated by the bilingual haiku that accompany each photo. I use the verb “accompany” loosely here, as the two mediums (photography and haiku) function at times both together, at times in complement with each other and at other times separately, from page to page. The discussion regarding combination of photography and text is a complicated and potentially controversial one, which I will introduce shortly.

Verbeke and Ovaere have employed Pentax IST-DS, zoom lenses 18-55, 28-80 mm, 80-320 mm and D-A Fish-eye 7-17 mm; and Pentax IST-DL, zoom lenses 28-200 mm and 18-55 mm. The photographers’ natural abilities to “see” and to “capture” images, and to find the poetry of the moment are quite remarkable. The individual photographs in this book, the reproduction of the photographs, the sequencing of the images, the quality of paper used, and the layout and format of the book all work very well together with the photographic artistry – giving the reader a sense of having been in or having observed the depicted situations himself/herself. In addition, the photographs often give the impression of expansion of format: transforming small images to the big screen in the mind’s eye – sometimes “inside looking out” and at other times “outside looking in”. This is, of course, very much the function of poetry … and perhaps even more specifically of the haiku.

These photographs function very well as a pure book of photography, and even as a private photography gallery exhibition. I have written elsewhere that I prefer photography books without captions and titles. Therefore, it is only natural that I address this question in the case of Abracadabra. As stated above, this is often a sensitive and over-debated question. However, I do not believe that it is solely a question of aesthetics or subjective ‘likes and dislikes’ / personal preferences. There are also the questions of functionality, total artistic impression as well as technical questions such as “when is more actually too much?” Are the haiku captions or poetry? Do they serve a complementary function or an interpretative function, and are they (in fact) essential to understanding the photographs? Is the placement of these haiku optimal, or would another approach to combining photography and haiku have a stronger effect? These are all questions that strike me in my own personal experience of this extraordinary book of photography.

Firstly, I am rather indifferent as to whether one technically categorizes the texts as captions, loose short poetry or haiku in this particular work. I have read the haiku individually, attempting to not see the photographs … and then again together with the photographs. I personally find the combination as presented to be a bit “over the top” – often functioning as an afterthought to the photographs which is largely unnecessary and sometimes directly competitive as art forms. It is not my impression that the haiku have a complementary function in all instances, but that some cross the boundary over to becoming interpretative. In addition, I feel that many of these short poems could function quite well on their own – i.e. independently of the photographs – but perhaps not all of them. What would I have preferred? I would have preferred a version of this book where the photographs were permitted to live their own lives on each page, followed by a haiku section. This would allow the reader / viewer to experience the visual, intellectual and emotional openness of both artistic forms of expression – both independently, and in “indirect” comparison, without the one form competing with, overshadowing or directly leading / affecting the experiential and interpretative process of the reader / viewer. Just as one cannot really directly compare a book and a film based upon the same book, photography and poetry are quite related in functionality and expression but they both have their own distinctive voices. This discussion is (as previously said) a complicated one.

All in all, Abracadabra is a brilliant, captivating and personally transporting work aesthetically. One is easily drawn into both photos and texts. As I previously have seen in the haiku, tanka and haibun of Geert Verbeke: nothing is just ‘black and white’, and there is always in his work an invitation to discussion. Perhaps that is part of what “art” is all about …

— copyright Adam Donaldson Powell, 2008.

RENDEZVOUS:

 

Seldom does a book leave me totally speechless, and when I do have such an experience (mind you only for moments – I do love to express myself in words) it more often than not is a book of art photography or superbly-written haiku. In their latest artistic venture: «Rendezvous», Geert Verbeke and Jenny Ovaere have worked their «magic» and spun gold out of pure simplicity. I have reviewed many a haiku book, many a haiku plus illustration or haiku plus photography book, including several by Geert Verbeke, but in this instance the total symmetry of art plus literature has approached new heights in terms the «book as an artistic medium». Both because of the superb art presented and because of the superb presentation of the art. In «Rendezvous» they have found the optimal format for combining haiku and art photography, giving each its proper place in the limelight, and together forming a musical backdrop egging the book admirer to dance forwards and backwards, again and again. This is not merely a book with good art in it, the book is itself a work of art.

Geert Verbeke is renowned as a haiku artist, musician, painter and photographer, but in this work he has successfully combined all of his talents to portray the essence and spirit of Nepal, in its various spontaneous and traditional cultural perspectives. Anyone who has been in Nepal will most likely instantly be transported back to their experiences there while looking at this beautiful book. And that is what good art does: it affects and inspires the observer/recipient in a way that he/she becomes a participating creator himself/herself.

It is customary to list the cameras and objectives used by the artists, so I will do so just briefly: Geert Verbeke: Pentax IST-DS, Pentax K200 +zoom 18-5, 28-80 mm, 80-320 mm. Jenny Ovaere: Pentax IST-D-L+ 40 mm, 28-200 mm & 18-55 mm.

The «magic» created by these two artists goes far beyond their technical abilities or the photographic equipment used. The book is tastefully not numbered (as that would detract from the overall sensation of the work) so it is difficult for me to cite particular photos. All are wonderful, but in my opinion the portraits are breathtakingly exquisite and are (together) worthy of a contemporary art museum exhibition in their own right. The art photography books that I have seen by Geert Verbeke and Jenny Ovaere have all been professionally-produced, with excellent reproduction, design and binding. Here there is no exception. And like all works of genius, this work of art is presented with simplicity and modesty. This is a book to be treasured, but also to be brought out and looked at from time to time, over and over again. Namaste!

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, Norway, 2010.

BOWLS.

 

BOWLS: Geert Verbeke’s follow-up art photography book to “Rendezvous” is entitled “Bowls”. This small book is a pearl amongst pearls. The mastery of technical and artistic decision-making employed in exacting art and sound from these highly-meditative photos is astounding. To write any more would simply detract from the beauty of this work of art. Geert Verbeke rules!

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, Norway, 2010

 

GEERT VERBEKE: Born in Kortrijk, Flanders (Europe). Geert began writing haiku in 1968. The decisive factor to study haiku was the discovery of the Himalayan singing bowls and the travels to Kathmandu, the Sinaï-desert, Istanbul, Tunisia, Djerba, France, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. Geert has also written a few books about singing bowls. He has, in addition to have published several books on haiku, haibun, senyru and tanka and singing bowls, recorded 11 cd’s with singing bowls, gongs and percussion. Geert is self-taught as a photographer, and often combines art photography with his literature.

JENNY OVAERE: Born in Stasegem, Flanders (Europe). Jenny is self-taught as a photographer. An ex-teacher, she has travelled the world and worked as a professional art photographer for many years.

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL (Norway) is a literary critic and a multilingual author, writing in English, Spanish, French and Norwegian; and a professional visual artist. He has published several books (including collections of poetry, short stories, short novels, photography and literary criticism) in the USA, Norway and India, as well as numerous works in international literary publications on several continents. He has previously authored theatrical works performed onstage, and he has (to-date) read his poetry at venues in New York City, Oslo (Norway), Buenos Aires and Kathmandu (Nepal).

(All photos on this webpage courtesy of Albert Russo, Geert Verbeke and Jenny Ovaere.)

(Adam Donaldson Powell, selfie)