June 15th, 2011

LOOK3 2011: A Defining Moment for LaToya Ruby Frazier

At this year’s LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier made her intentions as an artist and activist clear in a powerful presentation of her work that combined diaristic snippets about her relationships with her grandmother and mother with stories about the community of Braddock, PA, where she was raised. Frazier’s reading, reminiscent of a prose poem, was intensely personal, heartfelt and, at times, forceful and defiant, drawing on the history of Braddock as a once-prosperous steel town, and on its current state where poverty, joblessness and pollution-related health issues plague the largely African-American population.

Frazier’s work has previously been included in high-profile group exhibitions such as the 2009 Triennial at The New Museum and a 2010 group exhibition at PS1 MoMA, and she has had solo and two-person shows at her gallery, Higher Pictures in New York, and elsewhere. The work she has presented thus far has been comprised primarily of self-portraits and portraits of her grandmother and mother, whom Frazier taught to photograph and considers a collaborator. Yet the full breadth of her work and her ambition for it has not been widely known, she says.

“Until I spoke today, I don’t think people were aware of what the work was about, because it’s complicated,” Frazier told PDN after her Master’s Talk. “Today was a huge breakthrough to be able to come here and talk to people.” (more…)

June 13th, 2011

LOOK3 2011: Ashley Gilbertson’s Exhibition About Dead Soldiers Defaced

The public had a strong reaction to the exhibition at the LOOK3 Festival of Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen photographs, which show the bedrooms of soldiers who died as a result of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The photographs are being exhibited outdoors on Main Street in Charlottesville, VA. Hours after the photos were put up, Gilbertson tells PDN, dozens of pairs of military issue boots were placed underneath the images to represent soldiers lost in the nation’s wars. Pairs of civilian shoes were also placed under the images; Gilbertson speculates they were meant to represent civilian deaths.

A couple of days later, the day before the festival was to begin, Gilbertson received an email telling him that an image of PFC. Richard P Langenbrunner’s bedroom had been defaced. Langenbrunner committed suicide at age 19 on April 17, 2007 in Rustimayah, Iraq. Someone had cut the word “suicide” out of the caption under the photograph, and had carved the word “hero” into the bed depicted in the photo.

After Gilbertson conferred with festival organizers and curator Scott Thode, the image was replaced.

“It was really violent in my opinion,” Gilbertson told PDN. “It was just a really aggressive and disrespectful response. Not everyone agrees with me on this, the fact that it was disrespectful,” says Gilbertson, “but I feel that it was disrespectful to the content, to Richard and to his family. The family hasn’t been public about the fact that their son shot himself in Baghdad up until this point, and he killed himself after accidentally firing on a civilian car and killing some of those who were inside of it. The Army opened an investigation and he ended up shooting himself at his base in Baghdad.”

He added, “I don’t know who [defaced the print]. I guess that they were so affected by this that they needed some way to express what they were feeling. This is the way that they chose to do that.”

Gilbertson’s Master’s Talk was one of the highlights of the Look3 festival for many photographers who attended. During his heartfelt speech about war, post-traumatic stress disorder and his Bedrooms of the Fallen project, he spoke about how his anger over certain issues, like inadequate treatment for soldiers with PTSD, drove him to create bodies of work that would engage the public.

Though he doesn’t agree with the reaction, Gilbertson is glad that someone reacted strongly to the images.

“That to me is evidence that people are engaging, it’s just that some of the people must have difficulties expressing what they’re feeling in a civil manner. If this is how deeply affected people are by this work it’s a sign that something about it is successful,” Gilberston says. “This is a very deep feeling of loss that people are experiencing. Why hasn’t this been happening when they publish the names of the dead in the newspaper? It’s too foreign, it’s too hard to understand and connect with, but when you’re confronted by a space as personal, as intimate and familiar as a bedroom, I think that people are really engaging. Maybe going forward when I show this work there needs to be some way that people can express what they’re feeling because these are very intense images. But I’m glad that people are connecting in any way. I just hope that the content of the pictures is respected and not defaced.”

Related: LOOK3 2011: Ashley Gilbertson On War, PTSD and His Project Bedrooms of the Fallen

June 10th, 2011

LOOK3 2011: Christopher Anderson On Working Close to Home

Christopher Anderson opened the morning program of Masters Talks today at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA, in front of a packed crowd at the Paramount Theater downtown.

Anderson is exhibiting his latest body of work, “Son,” at the festival. The project focuses on his family as his young son grows from a baby into a toddler and his father battles illness.

During his talk Anderson called the project, which shows his wife and son, his father, and landscapes and cityscapes, “the most important work I’ve ever done,” though it deals with what he called “simple, obvious themes” of life-cycles and the relationships between fathers and sons.

Though he mostly let the work speak for itself, he presented other photographs from throughout his career as a way of telling the story of how he ended up, after living out of a suitcase for seven years, working close to home.

While shooting a group of refugees fleeing Haiti in a wooden boat, Anderson nearly lost his life as the boat sank. He was rescued by the Coast Guard. The experience was transformative, he said, because it made him wonder why, when he thought he was going to die, he chose to make pictures that “no one would ever see.” Photography is “a way of explaining the world to myself,” he said, a “vehicle to process and understand” what he was experiencing. He realized he needed to take pictures that were about more than simply reporting the facts of a situation.

Because editors “decided I would put up with a certain amount of discomfort” he was asked to photograph war and he took those assignments in places like Afghanistan and Lebanon without ever making a conscious decision to become a war photographer. By 2002 he was burned out, though, and bored with the pictures he was making.

He began carrying a Holga around and playing a sort of game where he would take just one frame of a particular subject. The work was turned into a book, Nonfiction, and it also helped him realize he was interested in making pictures that were less technically focused and more emotional and direct.

He funneled that direct approach into his study of Venezuela, Capitolio, which was published as a book and iPad app, and then into his work about his family.

Up until his son was born and he began photographing at home, photography had been a way of escaping Abilene, Texas, where he grew up, and a way of avoiding being “who I was supposed to be.” (When asked during Q&A who he was supposed to be, he said he had long since forgotten.)
–Conor Risch

Related Story:
EProject: A Photo Monograph as iPad App

June 10th, 2011

LOOK3 2011: Antonin Kratochvil Chats With Scott Thode

Look3, a festival that invites a mix of emerging and professional photographers to take a subjective look at the current photographic landscape, kicked off last night with a slideshow of Antonin Kratochvil’s work, titled “In America.”

This touching show of black-and-white imagery was followed by a casual conversation between Antonin Kratochvil and photo editor (and co-curator of this year’s Look3) Scott Thode, who have been friends for over 20 years.

Thode started off by prompting Kratochvil to share his story about leaving the Czech Republic in 1967. As a refugee in Holland, Kratochvil first picked up a camera while taking classes at an art school. Having escaped the Czech Republic and being forced to leave family behind, Kratochvil has a strong empathy towards refugees and the suffering of others. Throughout his career that sense of connection has driven him to make dynamic images, full of feeling. After he took photos exposing the terrible conditions he found in an old folks home in Holland, forcing the institution to close down, he became even more motivated to use his photography to create awareness of injustice.

Thode went on to ask Kratochvil about his photographic process. Kratochvil’s choice of slanted horizon and blur is an extension of his instinctive way of working. The audience had a good laugh when he revealed that his characteristic style of composition– placing his subjects in the corners or directly in the middle of frames—was sometimes a ploy to prevent his images being placed in less than favorable ways in magazine layouts. Thode commented that Kratochvil’s way of reinventing himself is to be always looking for a new way to see. Kratochvil does most of his own editing, and he only allows people he trusts to edit his work, like Thode and Kathy Ryan, director of photography at The New York Times Magazine. “Someone else might have a drastically different opinion and I feel strongly about protecting my own voice and vision,” Kratochvil said. He also remarked that he hates sentimental photography, and photographs that are so obvious they don’t raise questions or elicit a feeling. Thode asked Kratochvil if there’s an anger that drives him to make certain pictures. But Kratochvil replied that he’s not really in control. “If you try to do it, it will be obviously fake, “you just got to feel it. And it takes someone like you [Thode] to recognize it.”

After describing the poetry and emotion in Kratochvil’s work, Thode asked him what his idea of home is. “It doesn’t exist,” said Kratochvil, whose exhibition titled “Domovina” (“Homeland” in Czech) is now on view in Charlottesville. He couldn’t return to what was then Czechoslovakia for many years after he left. Since he started his own family, Kratochvil said, he now makes better pictures, especially when he photographs children because he has a connection with them and a greater understanding of their lives. As an example, he talked about a photo he took of child in a refugee camp in Zaire. Kratochvil explains that now home is wherever he is, and that happens to be back in Prague.

–Amber Terranova