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"

Late Blog Entry (Sorry!): Jason Hanasik

Jason Hanasik is a CCA grad student that came and spoke at one of the Mills lunchtime lectures. He talked about how in this image of his mother and father entitled “Jeff and Jackie Hanasik,” his father exhibits body-language that transgresses traditional (stoic) maleness.

These transgressions are a theme in his later work dealing with his friends in the Marines. That body of work—the “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” one was deeply rooted in the personal experiences he had with these stoic, straight men who broke down in his presence in several instances.
Back to the family photographs, at one point I think someone asked if his family objected to any of the photographs of them and he responded that he didn’t think his family understood the images (though his father did object to one in particular, so Hanasik doesn’t show it). The whole visual literacy/being able to “get it” reminded me of questions brought up by the Shelby Lee Adams video.
Other things: there were some images—particularly some of his photographs of spaces in parks which doubled as locations for gay-men-hooking-up and also homeless camps but didn’t look like much more than some broken sticks and stuff—relied heavily on the context and an explanation of what they were about for the viewer to understand them. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, just something I noticed. In general I admired his ability to recognize potentially problematic stuff in his own work and to contextualize it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Korean Activist Artists

I couldn't find any decent quality photos of any of the korean artist artwork online. So here is another painting by Hung Liu (And I like Hung Liu's paintings better than these artists). It was a hard lecture to listen to, mainly because of language barriers; each artist had to go through the translater. The most common answer or reason that all of the korean artists like making art is because it gives them a sense of freedom being a woman.

Hung Liu (Women Warriors)

Hung Liu who is the advanced painting teacher at Mills, and spoke at the Berkeley artists lectures along side the Korean Activist Artists. Hung paints chinese women warriors, from historic photographs that she finds. She has a great website, I suggest people should check it out.

O (

O is a Chinese female artist who broke the traditional rules taught in chinese art schools. The Chinese culture didn't think of photography as an artform. The chinese art schools are very male dominated, and O want to break the restraints her society put on her. O traditionally was trained as a painter, and then later on in her art career she decided she like photography better. In some of her photographs she combines graphic text which is used in Cultural-Revolution-era propaganda posters.


This is a picture of my dog that got hit by the car. I just wanted to show you guys how cute she is. In this pic. she has a rock in her mouth. We are still not sure at this point if she will ever be able to walk again. I didn't attend as many lectures as I wanted to due the constant care my little doggy has needed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stanley Greene

I went to go hear/see Stanley Greene last night at SFAI. I think that by far his work and his passion as a photographer has made the greatest impression on me from all of the lectures that I have gone to this semester. He is a photojournalist and made the disclaimers that it isn't a glamourous, exotic, well-paid adventure. His presentation of Chalklines- A Russian Opera, was a short film of stills from his ten years of documenting the war in Chechnya and its people. His work was an amazing body of portraits in this country and his presentation made it apparent that having to worry about snipers and bombs going off constantly is a serious stress that war/conflict/photojournalists have to contend with. He has started an agency for "photographers without borders" called NOOR, which he hopes 'will bring light to the darkest of places in the world'. It is a vital job that he holds and I don't think that it is appreciated enough what photojournalists of this caliber experience to capture the stories that they do. He spoke about one experience that haunts him, of men clubbing two figures, setting them aflame, then dragging them through the streets and then hanging them. He was brought in by these insurgents to photograph this act. These men and women suffer unimagiable horrors and risk their lives to bring us news. How can someone depict humans in such acts of evil and remain untouched? How can we?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jillian Granger lunchtime lecture

Back in September I went to the lunch time art lecture featuring work by Jillian Granger. Her artwork, paintings mostly, are interesting in that they focus on her childhood memories. She painted whatever she remembered about her childhood, the way her room looked and how cluttered it was and I especially like the one where she imagined different designs appearing in the wallpaper. I think she saw tootsie rolls. Her work is mostly about memories and dreams, which I think can be both very interesting and difficult. It's interesting to see how someone's memory of something is affected by time and most of what she paints is from years ago and she has that long time to influence what she initially saw. She has paintings of how she remembered her grandmother's bathroom, and her mom's collection of horses, and her father's peanut butter crackers and, of course, the tootsie roll wallpaper; it would be interesting to be able to compare her representations with the actual things. Dreams are interesting for obvious reasons because dreams are crazy and it's fascinating to experience other people's dreams or at least what they remember of it and she seemed to remember a pack of Elmos swimming in a bathtub.

Better late than never...

These are the pictures from the assignment early on in the semester where we had to take 100 pictures and then just one picture. I chose a spot by the bridge in between the art building and the alumnae house (picture on the bottom right) for the 100 pictures. I wanted to choose a place where I could get a lot of pictures and by choosing the fence, I was able to get pictures of the creek. The picture I chose (picture on the bottom left), however, didn't take advantage of that. I placed the camera on the ground in the plants and took a bunch of pictures from a low perspective. I like to think this must be what it's like to be a bug. I think I set the white balance on this one to tungsten to see what would happen and I think it changes the mood of the picture. It was a bright day and that sunny feeling has been lost by the blueish tint, which is usually reserved for cop shows, but maybe this bug is feeling blue.
For the second picture (top picture) I chose this tank that looked like it was made from large Lego's that was sitting by this huge tree also by the alumnae house. I believe this was someone's art project, as they often seem to find their way to the foliage surrounding the art buildings, but this one is very easy to miss as it is so low to the ground and well concealed by the plants. This picture was also taken low to the ground and could be the perspective of a bug, but I like it because you almost miss seeing the thing even though it's staring at you right in the face.

Shopdropping: It is what it sounds like.

After the Eyebeam lecture, where the seven fellows and residents discussed what projects they were working on, they held a few workshops in which they divulged a few trade secrets. They had workshops on how to throw a good party, something about listening, and some others, but I was mostly interested in learning about shopdropping. Although, learning how to throw a cool party was kind of tempting, too. Shopdropping gives you the opportunity to leave your artwork in stores so as to share it with the public in a more personal way, for the person who finds it anyway, however, that person will probably be all kinds of confused. The guy's approach to teaching how to shopdrop was by teaching how to shoplift; I found that very entertaining. He told us how to act, what not to do and such, so as not to attract attention to ourselves. He had had a job looking for shoplifters, so he knew what behaviors would attract the attention of the security. We also shared our own ideas of what we may want to leave in stores; I thought it might be fun (for me and for the person who ended up buying it) to fill up the extra space in cereal boxes with extra toys. The kid who received that cereal box would think he won the lottery. While I really like the idea of leaving things I created in stores for other people to find and be entirely confused by, I probably wouldn't be brave enough to actually go through with it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Eyebeam: loads of fun

Eyebeam was by far the most interesting and fun lecture of this semester, despite its length. You knew right away it wasn't going to be anything like the rest of the lectures thus far, or like any lecture you've ever attended, when they started the day by exchanging profanities and discussing how they constantly curse during their lectures. No stuffy, pretentious self-proclaimed art aficionados here. The focus of Eyebeam is to bring art and technology together providing a safe and encouraging environment at their facilities in New York and also to extend their practices to the neighborhood around them. They have after school programs, in which high school students are allowed to use their equipment and space for their own projects and some of the projects that these people discussed required outside participation. One of them put together an event where people, kids mostly, created armor out of cardboard boxes only to destroy them in a massive street brawl. Another of them turned throwing parties into an art form and even held a workshop on how to throw a great party. One of my favorite of the projects discussed was the boozebot, which is a robot that provides party goers with drinks and conversation, and even compliments if you are lucky enough. One of their most impressive endeavors was passing out a fake (but very realistic) issue of the New York Times which proclaimed that the war had ended and issues such as global warming were being solved. It had an appropriate tag line that stated this is the news they wish to print. I was thoroughly impressed by how much work they had put into this project and how far they had taken it by distributing them to people on the streets ( for free, of course). I really enjoyed hearing about the different projects each fellow or resident was working on and how each seemed to incorporate community involvement, be it people in their direct neighborhood or from their virtual neighborhood. Their goal seems to be to bring people together through art and technology, whether to focus on important issues or to just find creative ways to party.

Debra Pincus

I have to agree with Weyam's assessment of the Debra Pincus lecture. If I learned anything from this lecture, it was that some people are so interested in the development of different fonts that they have based their entire career on studying the styles that have emerged from various places. Who knew font could have such an impact? In this lecture, however, she focused on just the Roman square capitals seen primarily on architecture and how those eventually developed into the more rounded uncials. (To be perfectly honest, as the lecture went on and she started to mention other font types, they all started to look the same to me and I started to create my own artwork on my notes.)

I, too, was astonished at the turn out for a lecture on font, when previous weeks had such vibrant and exuberant artists as Adrienne Salinger and Favianna Rodriquez, which were no where near as crowded as this lecture. I think that the most interesting aspect of her lecture (or the only part that stood out) was when she showed a slide of a tombstone that had integrated the uncials with the square capital. Following the lecture, someone mentioned this very slide and people gave some possible theories as to why this was done. When they mentioned this very slide, I had to wonder if this was the only moment of the lecture they actually remembered, which was the case for me. Debra Pincus also shared a little anecdote in which she watched a woman carve something (using the square captials) into a wall and the woman asked her why she would want to watch her do this. Why, indeed.

Girl Who Wed Another Girl

Girl Who Wed Another Girl: Pre-1950 Gay, Lesbian & Transgender Marriages in the U.S. is a small photographic exhibit that is currently at the San Francisco Main Library. This exhibit shows about 16 photographs, newspaper clippings, court documents and marriage licenses for about four or five documented same-sex marriages.
I think that this is a large topic that was just barely skimmed in this show. I think that with the extensive access to the local archives at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, that whomever put this show together could have found further material to further build the historical references that they were drawing.
I found the exploration of gender informative, specifically with the given time period. That women would literally choose to take male names in order to live as men, marry women and/or because at least one woman felt like she had always been assigned the wrong sex at birth really relevant to the times that we are living in. It is phenomenal that a man would be able to marry three times to different men and live as a wife to these men and not have the public know of his biological sex until his death.
Specifically, I felt that it was a good beginning to show some understanding of gender differences and how things have changed socially, if only for the worse. The women whom were investigated were charged with misrepresenting themselves, simply impersonation. However, the idea, at least at that time, that there was something "wrong" with same-sex marriage apparently wasn't as widespread as it is today based on how judges and juries settled these cases. However, the newspaper articles are rather limited and redundant. I would like to know what exactly has changed in our society, (the Cold War, Sexual Revolution?) that would cause us to go backwards, from acceptance to intolerance?