The elements of visual art consist of texture, form/ shape, space, line, color, and value; the one element I constantly hear people get excited about in modeling photography is color. It’s certainly the thing I get most compliments on.
I am not sure why color is so important in the average citizen’s judgement of photography or art in general. As far as photography goes, it’s the easiest thing to alter/ correct after the photo is taken– you could have a crummy image to start with but at the least you can have intriguing color. Modern monitors and HD tvs make color scream off of them.
Color is the one element of art my children can recognize and appreciate. When I taught high school, David LaChapelle came up again and again as students’ photographic idol. My general impression is that, on the most basic, beginner level of photography, there is a belief that if you fuck up the colors, it’s art.
To this point, yesterday I did a shoot with Lacheln, a model/ painter who generally styles herself in extremely colorful scenarios. The primary setup we were doing started life based on this video from Jesus Jones, my favorite band of my youth in my favorite video of all time.
One of the things I have learned lately is that certain people are perfect for certain projects, others not so much, no matter how experienced they are. Lacheln was probably the most perfect person I have met to do a messy, paint filled shoot where she gets to treat a guy like a canvas and exist in a cartoon world.
Photography-based artist Kris Sanford and book artist Beata Wehr have a show at the Burton Barr library in Phoenix called titled “Cover to Cover.” Since I’m familiar with Kris, I’m going to focus solely on her. Kris is an artist who frequently uses found imagery- specifically old photos found at antique stores- to draw connections from the cultures of the past to the present, and to highlight gender identity subtexts in those images.I first saw her work when she spoke to one of my ASU classes in 2005. Later, we alternated days as long term substitutes for a high school photography classroom. Lots of memo notes went back and forth but we never met formally. As with most artists, if they do something that interests me I keep up with their work as well as made small attempts at using a style, sort of like trying on unusual clothes to see if one looks any good in them. Every so often I will pick up old family photos from antique stores with the idea they would someday become part of some grand art idea. In this series, Kris cuts out physical prints of her vernacular images and rephotographs them amongst the pages of her Grandpa’s journal. Sometimes the words are the point of focus, sometimes the characters, sometimes both; the viewer stays engaged by trying to decipher the words and meaning of the journal entries.
I recently did some diorama-style images where I cut out the photos and placed them in a real world environment, so seeing another artist do something along the same lines felt like a validation of the concept. Mixing past elements with actual journal writing- and the physical journal supporting the images- make this one of the most personal displays of photography one can view, one that is more unique and deeper than simply showing the best snapshots of the artist’s personal life. It’s a consistent and complete show.
My only caveat is that I recognize small bits of the cut out images from stuff I had seen back in 2006. It probably comes across as nitpicking to say I would’ve liked to have seen entirely new material rather than recycled elements. Most artists spend years developing styles and building series up, but for myself, I feel like the only valid work is whatever I had done in the previous 6 months, so of course I unfairly project my feelings on other people. It very well may be the challenge associated with using vernacular images as art making material- there’s only so much of it around, and such a small percentage of that usuable for art, and an even more miniscule amount suitable for a specific point the artist wants to make.
“Cover to Cover,” March 23 – May 31 at the library’s @Central Gallery, 1221 N. Central Ave
Even before I kept track of what artists’ styles looked like, as a kid I loved Dave McKean’s comic book covers. The blend of photography, illustration and design was absolutely unique in the late 80s when his work graced the front of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. There’s bits of surrealism and bits of gritty rawness that grounded the dreamy atmosphere. Several times I have attempted to take my photography in steps towards a McKean-like vision of subconscious mixed media.
One of my favorite series of his is the “Small Book of Black and White Lies.” Vintage toned images in a square format, very stripped down. I’ve shown it to several potential collaborators and some got it, some didn’t, but I never was able to achieve anything remotely like it. Then I came across model and artist Glass Olive in Portland, who had a fairly clear influence of Dave in her personal art.
Not much else to say except this was a model who indulged every weird idea I threw at her and turned it into something way better than I had envisioned.
The next collaboration is in a month in LA, so far involving body paint, latex and swimsuit designers, hair forms, unicycles, a gothic photo studio, rubber ducks, and a white afro laden with vegetables. Quite a step beyond the original McKean influence, but it’s great when the unusual aesthetics of one artist helps to bring other artists together.