Thursday, December 11, 2008

One More Thing About Fazal Sheikh

Also, I think Sheikh is a good guy, because on his website, most of his work is accessible to be viewed and read in a variety of languages. This further convinces me that he is producing this work for the right reasons. This is NOT to say that he shouldn't be able to make a living making photographs, but I appreciate that considering he has the resources to do so, he puts his work out there for free so that more people may know what's going on even if they can't afford to buy his book. With regards to his work made in India, the text has also been translated into Hindi and Bengali. I think that's huge, because that is not often true of similar work- his subjects could potentially have access to the work themselves and understand the text, a consideration not often made in other cases.

Fazal Sheikh

I'm not sure I'm doing this right, because I've never quite figured out how to post pictures successfully, but hopefully this will work. Anyhow, Fazal Sheikh is someone the Deirdre recommend I look into it, and boy am I glad I did. It's an interesting response to photography that has been historically problematic. Fazal Sheikh makes photos of many of the same subjects that other 'war photographers' or photojournalists take pictures of, but he does it in such a different manner. He does just that- makes photographs, and you get that sense from his work.

Some of his subjects have included widowers and 'unwanted' children in India, as well as refugees in camps in Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi. Rather than taking the typical photograph by storming the scene and making 'poverty pornography' of sorts, a viewer can tell that Sheikh's process is completely different because the photographs that result are completely different than other work of this kind. For me, the most marked difference is that his subjects are almost always looking directly into the camera and portrayed in a formal portrait. The viewer gets the sense that the person in the photograph was complicit in its production, that it was a true collaboration, and not someone stolen from this person. Sheikh also names every one of his subjects, thereby avoiding the 'nameless African starving refugee #347' syndrome and offers the potential for his work to do more than just continue to saturate us with photos that we are accustomed to seeing of those regions of the world. This is true of his book, Common Ground, which the Mills library has, which is his work from the refugee camps. I think his work often manages to capture a dignity where other photographers have often produced a generalized sense of pity.

His more recent work, taken in India, has a lot more text accompanying it, which also expands what it is capable of achieving. By reading Sheikh's words, we learn not only the stories of his subjects, but how he came to the work himself, and his placement in its creation. While his work is not flawless, and we still must be in dialogue about why we are so often attracted to making certain kinds of work (specifically work that focuses on poverty etc, instead of turning our lenses to other places) I still think Sheikh's work is tremendously important in this field, and introduces a much more responsible voice into this arena of photography.


Your posts made me really wish I'd attended the Eyebeam lecture. Damn. But I could only do five days at school that week- a 6th was pushing it, but damn. They sound amazing. I would like to be them and date them as well.

Things That Make Me Laugh...


It is a little bit silly that we are all scrambling to complete the blog entries (or at least the less internet-inclined ones amongst us) at the end of the semester.

Here is what I have learned: attending artist lectures and looking into other photographers' works that are grappling with issues I myself hope to work on was not supposed to be a chore, but something helpful along the way... This semester managed to get away from me somehow, and for that I'm sorry. I got to mess around with some pretty neat cameras, but I didn't really get to pursue the body of work that I was hoping to be able to produce this semester nor see many artist lectures. I will still never forgive myself for missing Hank Willis Thomas. Hopefully there will be other times... Anyway, in looking through several books and on several artists' websites lately, I've realized how much I could have benefited from doing that more throughout the semester. While I did try and take advantage of some of the library's resources and checked out books of work by Francesca Woodman, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Mary Ellen Mark, and Jeff Wall, I didn't manage to employ some of their methods as I could have in my own work. I think it's important to look at other people's work as you go along, like we saw in the Annie Liebowitz documentary, both to know what's already out there on your topic, but also to loosen up and try different methods and approaches to getting at a certain theme. I think my biggest problem is being inhibited in shooting and pursuing projects, and I think some of that could be ameliorated by allowing myself to try and utilise some of the methods employed by other photographers and see where it takes me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ace Lehner Lunchtime Lecture

Ace Lehner is a grad from CCA who gave a lunchtime lecture last month. (One neat thing I learned is that CCA offers a program which allows you to leave with both an MA and an MFA in three years—which is what Lehner is doing). Lehner’s early work was preoccupied with making multi-faceted portraits of people using themselves composited several times in the frame in order to show their relationships with their various selves.

Some themes of Lehner’s later work:
-femme invisibility
-“queer failure”, failing/making things messed up on purpose as an expression of queerness
-the uncertainty of queer bodies: how it is harder to glean meanings from them

Lehner was also hoping to explore “the queer tomboy gaze” with work that consisted mostly of an exploration of her relationship with her girlfriend. This work brought up questions of how the queer tomboy gaze visually differs (or doesn't differ) from the historically hetero male gaze of the female body. To respond to that concern in some of the pieces, she put up barriers between the viewer and the female-bodied subject, for example a foggy shower door.

Eyebeam: Blowing my Mind, One Milk-Scanner at a Time

Kathleen’s entry about the Eyebeam folks was right on the button. The individual members seemed to be a perfect combination of snarky, unbelievably innovative, artistic, really accessible and down-to-earth. I wanted to get to know them, be them, and also go on dates with them. I was a little overwhelmed by how crazy-awesome their projects were (some of which I couldn’t really even comprehend). Some of the ones I remember included:
-interactive tours of parks in which phone numbers are posted to various locations for you to dial in and record a story about that spot or listen to one
-“We Think This is Art” stickers which people post in public places, photograph, then share, and make maps of the locations of
-building a womb at a party (liminal space!)
-a scanner which is a pool of milk or ink; a person lays down on a board and gets lowered slowly into it, then has a bunch of digital photographs taken of her per second until she is basically scanned into a computer in topographical layers
-a “cloud-car” (a car enshrouded in what appears to be a real cloud).
- all kinds of “webscraping”: re-tooling stuff on the web for your own artistic purposes. Example of this:, a site that turns 3 youtube videos into a triptych

But so much more!

“Don’t Stop Writing”: Ginger Wolfe-Suarez Lecture

Ginger Wolfe-Suarez is one of the artists featured in the Mills Art Museum this semester. During her lecture, she spoke about the research she did for her show about early twentieth century suffragettes. She was surprised by how little information she could find about these women and had to do a lot of legwork on her own to uncover information. She visited the houses of people who personally collected suffragette paraphernalia, looked up primary source documents, and spoke to a few historians. She encouraged artists in the audience not to feel daunted by a lack of information and that they could do their own research too if necessary
Also I just found this sentence in my notes that sums it up: "The artist's role in bringing stuff back into the collective consciousness" + "battling historical erasure"