Photography

Living With Art by Geoff Harrison

How are we supposed to appreciate art?  It may seem a dumb question, but art historians and critics tend to tie themselves into knots sometimes when answering it.  It is the belief of many commentators that society has got it wrong by focusing on the technical elements of a work of art, or its provenance or its historical context.

Sure, these issues are important, but what we are not encouraged to do is to connect up works of art with the trials and aspirations of our daily lives.  “It is quickly deemed vulgar, even repugnant, to seek personal solace, encouragement, enlightenment or hope from high culture” ALAIN De BOTTON. To put it simply, we are not encouraged to appreciate art as a means of instruction on how to live and die well.

The art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon remarked that the paintings of Howard Hodgkin were a rebuttal to the dry academic puritanism of much art criticism these days that can’t relate to a work of art until it’s been reduced to a set of abstract concepts.  I recall having an art teacher at RMIT who was embarrassed by the display of emotion in art.

Elliott Erwitt, His first wife and their child, New York, 1953

Elliott Erwitt, His first wife and their child, New York, 1953

Photographer Elliott Erwitt was born to Russian Jewish parents in Paris in 1928, and as the war clouds loomed, his family emigrated to America.  He felt being an émigré helped him in his job – being an outsider looking in.  He is regarded as a humanist and humourist.

Eve Arnold, Divorce In Moscow 1966

Eve Arnold, Divorce In Moscow 1966

Eve Arnold’s photograph could be considered a modern day version of those moralizing images that characterised Christian paintings of the past.  In a secular world and with considerable skill, Arnold brings us face to face with the consequences of letting ourselves and others down.

Jessica Todd Harper, The Agony In The Kitchen 2012

Jessica Todd Harper, The Agony In The Kitchen 2012

This photo was specifically commissioned for the book Art As Therapy, written by Alain De Botton and John Armstrong.  The rationale of this exercise is that art should start serving our psychological needs as effectively as it served theological and state needs for centuries.  We are asked here to consider what impact viewing this image might have on a couple whose own relationship is going through some difficulties.  They may realise that other people have the same sorrows and troubles as they have.  They may connect with something that is universal and unashamed.  They are not robbed of their dignity but are learning the deepest truths about being human.

Rogier Van Der Weyden, Descent From The Cross, circa 1438

Rogier Van Der Weyden, Descent From The Cross, circa 1438

Even in a secular world it is still possible to feel the emotion pouring out of this painting.  It transcends the perhaps narrow Christian context to touch the viewer in ways many other paintings of that era can’t.  It is a technical masterpiece for sure, but its psychological power goes far beyond.



Diane Arbus - Photographer of Oddity by Geoff Harrison

Ah, the exhibitions we just don't see in this country!  The Met in New York is staging an exhibition of the photography of Diane Arbus.

Born into a wealthy family, Arbus was fascinated by poverty and oddity.  “I love to go to people’s houses,” Diane Arbus once told a reporter, “exploring — doing daring things I’ve not done before.”   She was brilliant at school, sexually precocious and married young.  In the 1950's Arbus was shooting for a fashion magazine, a job she began to loathe - drawn as she was to the "flawed and unusual".

The Jewish Giant

The Jewish Giant

A biographer described Arbus as being adventurous, charismatic and always taking terrible risks.  Norman Mailer described giving Arbus a camera "was like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.”

This image of identical twins so haunted Stanley Kubrick that he had to include something like it in his movie The Shining.

This image of identical twins so haunted Stanley Kubrick that he had to include something like it in his movie The Shining.

Some found her images ungainly, freakish even brutal but Arbus responded by saying these people wanted to have their photo taken - they liked being paid attention to.

Arbus had two daughters by her marriage, which ended in 1959.  In later years, ill health, loneliness and depression got the better of her, especially after her daughters left home. “My work doesn’t do it for me anymore,” she told a friend.  She committed suicide in 1971, aged 48.

Dealing With Asperger's by Geoff Harrison

A confronting exhibition is about to end at Latrobe Regional Gallery.  It's called Splinters Of The Minds Eye by Neale Stratford.  In this show, Stratford interprets the real world through the veil of Asperger's Syndrome with which he was diagnosed years ago.  

"I explore the gaps between internal and external realities, examine wanton desires and delusional thoughts within the context of everyday reality in the understanding of the paradox that is me."  Stratford's work puts me in mind of Bill Henson but with a powerful psychological twist.  References are made to anxiety, depression, introversion and autism that are part of his daily existence.  But at least Stratford has the ability to deal with his "disability" creatively.  I can't imagine what it must be like for those who can't.

 

 

When Less Is More And The Value Of Disappointment by Geoff Harrison

In an interview with "The American Reader", photographer Gregory Crewdson discusses his motivations and objectives.  His photos are often cinematic in scale and haunting - maybe even unnerving.  Crewdson has a very unique relationship with the figures in his work: "I don’t want to know them well. I don’t want to have any intimate contact with them. For all the talk of my pictures being narratives or that they’re about storytelling, there’s really very little actually happening in the pictures. One of the few things I always tell people in my pictures is that I want less—give me something less."  Thus his work is open to the widest interpretation, he is giving the viewer the opportunity to project their own narrative into the picture.

Later in the interview, Crewdson speaks of the inevitable disappointment of translating an image in his mind into the final product.  "Yes. I think that’s the nature of representation. No matter what it will disappoint, it will fail in some way.  But that’s also part of the magic of art. If every picture met my expectation in exactly the right way, there’d be no mystery; there’d be no gap between what’s in my head and the picture I make. So it’s necessary. But it sure disappoints you. It’s also what propels you to make the next one."

He argues this is the case for just about every visual or performing artist.  The desire to make something perfect, exactly right.

 

 

James Casebere by Geoff Harrison

The eerie imagery of the American photographer James Casebere.  In the 1990's Casebere constructed large models of buildings on a layout table and then inserted small light sources before photographing the results.  His work had quite an influence on me early in my career. There is an other worldliness to his work of this period which I admire.

Gregory Crewdson by Geoff Harrison

"These pictures are about creating a world.  I’ve always had these images inside my head that I want to get out into the world.  These towns are just a backdrop for a more submerged psychological drama.  It is really a projection from my own story where I have explored my own fears, anxieties and desires."   Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson was raised in New York City and his father was a psychoanalyst who practiced in the basement of the family home.  
What was going on there  was a complete mystery, Crewdson tried to eavesdrop on the sessions and hence the hidden psychology of his work.

Among other things he is credited with exploring lives of quiet desperation in towns abandoned by industry, although Crewdson denies there is a strong socioeconomic element to his work.

Gregory Crewdson by Geoff Harrison

While there is plenty to admire in the beauty of Gregory Crewdson's photography, it is the deep underlying psychology of his work that impresses me.  Crewdson has said that he wants his work to be both beautiful and have an underlying anxiety, loneliness perhaps even fear.  It is interesting to hear him speak of his work and to note the absence of the usual conceptual, post modernist gobbledegook you hear from so many artists these days.  Perhaps it's because he knows his work stands on its own merits.