The following text is a reprint from June 9, 2014 issue of L’Oeil de la Photographie.
American photographer Mary Ellen Mark has been taking pictures for more than 50 years. In May the Stills Gallery in Sydney hosted her first solo exhibition in Australia featuring a number of images from the eighties and nineties including some shot for National Geographic in 1987 for a story on Australian Immigrants.
More recently she’s worked in Australia as a stills photographer on three of Baz Luhrmann’s films – ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ in Sydney, and ‘Australia’ in the remote town of Kununurra in Western Australia, 3,040 kilometres (1,889 miles) from Perth. I can tell by the way Mark pronounces” Kun-un-urra” that she is still savouring that quintessential Australian outback experience. Of her time with Baz and his multi-Oscar winning wife Catherine ‘CM’ Martin she says, “Great people, brilliant”.
Internationally Mark is equally renowned for her film stills as well her documentary photography and she’s managed to successfully live in both worlds without losing her visual signature. She is credited with shooting more than 50 films including ‘Tootsie,’ ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Fellini’s ‘Satyricon’. Mark tells me these commissions, and her magazine work, have funded her personal projects, which lie at the heart of her photographic practice.
Like other notable photographers Mark studied painting and art history before photography came into her life. “When I went to university I wanted to be either an architect or painter, a fine artist; I found being a painter very isolating. As for being an architect, that’s very academic, very difficult and I am not a good engineer,” she laughs.
At graduate school Mark took a major in photojournalism; it was a light bulb moment. “Photography became an immediate love for me. I had always read books about photography and was always fascinated with great photography. But it hadn’t occurred to me that it was something I could do myself until I got to graduate school and picked up a camera in my very early twenties”.
Following graduation Mark secured work with publications she’d grown up with such as LIFE. “In the Sixties there was a real life for a photographer working in magazines. Magazines needed great photography and they believed in it. I wanted to be an artist and take pictures that move people and that would last far beyond my lifetime. I wanted to become really great at what I did,that’s always been my goal”.
“I always thought of magazines as kind of my grants. A lot of the time they’d let me go and work on my ideas. It was a great time, but it’s changed. I think work for magazines now is very illustrative, and I’m not an illustrator, I’m a storyteller. Today images in magazines are controlled by post-production, that’s the real artist not the photographer,” says Mark. “Magazines are not interested in work that is very personal. They want work that can be changed with a grey or blue filter in post-production. If young photographers are interested in what I was, in telling stories, they have to pursue that. Don’t let technology push you around”.
While Mark hasn’t made the shift to digital – she still shoots medium format and 35mm film – she says, “I am not against it. I teach and most of my students shoot digitally and some make great pictures. But for me it is a different mindset as it involves the computer. It’s a different thought process, and I know film so well and I love the prints…I don’t want to give that up”.
It isn’t nostalgia colouring her view when she speaks of the constant bombardment of imagery from cyberspace. Mark says the current level of activity in photography has “lowered the bar. I don’t think people know what good photography is anymore, not just the public but those working on magazines also. There is no discrimination, everything is uploaded, downloaded, and we are inundated with images. People are not dazzled anymore by how difficult it is to take great pictures”.
Continuing she says, “We used to look at magazines and see the pictures of great photographers who took incredible images that stuck in our minds forever. Now we are seeing average nothingness. I mean it is true that anyone can take a picture, and some make good pictures, but it is very hard to make great pictures, very hard and I don’t think people know the difference anymore. I think people are becoming numb”.
I ask – ‘who, in your opinion, are the ‘great photographers’? The phone line goes quiet while she mulls the question. “I’m looking at my wall in the studio, I have a lot of prints up here, people whose work I really love,” she tells me down the line from New York. “For me the photographers who were the great photographers are still the great ones – W. Eugene Smith, Irving Penn, André Kertész, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Margaret Bourke-White, Helen Levitt…A great contemporary photographer is Graciela Iturbide from Mexico. With the great images I think they heighten peoples awareness about life and about art and humanity”.
We talk about photography as an agent of change and Mark tells me, “I think the kind of photography that can contribute to change are photographs that relate more to war and disaster. I have a lot of respect for the people who have done great photographs of (these), but I’ve never had the nerve to do that. As far as looking at things like poverty for example, I am not sure that photography contributes to change, but I think it opens peoples minds to look at humanity in a more heartfelt way”.
Throughout her career Mark has been drawn to stories that fall outside the mainstream – brothels in Bombay, street kids in Seattle, pregnant teens, circus performers – creating visual explorations that peel back the layers of the human experience. Very much her own woman – Mark is one of few that have rescinded their Magnum Photos membership – she is still resolute in carving her own path.
Like many great photo essays her idea for ‘Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay’, which became one of her most lauded projects, came by chance. “When I first went to India in the late sixties someone took me to Falkland Road. It made a lasting impression on me and I said I’m going to come back here to photograph these women. It took ten years to pull it together, but I did go back and photograph them. You have to be determined. I’m proud of that work and nothing has come close to it as far as the intimacy and the look into the lives of these women. People still struggle with how to deal with that work”.
‘Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay’ became a book, one of the 18 she has published. ‘Man and Beast’ was released this year and is her latest, featuring works from Mexico and India. Here Mark’s images explore the complex relationship between humans and animals, one of the topics of fascination for this erudite photographer.
Currently she and her filmmaker husband Martin Bell are working on a sequel to Bell’s 1983 film Streetwise. Again this story began by chance. Mark was on assignment in Seattle for LIFE magazine shooting a story on runaway children. After photographing these children and hearing their stories, Mark went home to Bell with enthusiasm to pursue the story in greater depth. Bell agreed and later that year the pair returned to Seattle to make the documentary film. Since then they’ve been following the life of one of that film’s protagonist, Tiny, who they met as a 13-year-old prostitute living on the streets of Seattle. Mark says Tiny is now a mother of ten. There is also a book of this work.
“All my projects mean something to me,” says Mark. “I develop relationships with many of my subjects and l love going back, I really believe in going back. It’s very moving when a project ends and yes, it’s sad. But I’ve always felt you are only as good as the next thing you do so I’ve made myself move on.” At 74 years she has no intention of slowing down, there are too many stories left to tell.
It is late in the day in New York as we end our interview. Mark’s voice is full of an energy that belies her years. As we get ready to hang up she says, “Call me if you need anything else, if you have more questions. It was a pleasure”.
By Jim McKinniss
drkrm specializes in documentary and photo-journalistic work, cutting edge and alternative photographic processes and the display and survey of popular cultural images both current or historic. For the past 8 years drkrm has presented a superb and continuous array of exceptional exhibits, specializing in more under-the-radar, counterculture presentations. As curator, John Matkowsky has never been afraid of unspoken issues; some shows were immensely stimulating while profoundly poignant, others were compelling, powerful, heart-rending, and even transforming in their relevance.
Past spectacles have include edgy oddities a la Beefcake Babylon, Found: Mid-Century Vernacular Nudes, and Haunted Hacienda, a study of the art of the Mexican horror film. Taboo and alternative subjects likeghosts, queer history, cell phone photography, prostitution, the developmentally disabled, the films of Roger Corman, cult filmmaker Donald Cammell and the LA Punk scene have also been explored. In one glowing review from the national magazine JUXTAPOZ, Matkowsky was called a “visionary” for his edgy, dramatic showcases.
drkrm is now closed. Please visit our past exhibitions page for an archive of the gallery programming. drkrm still maintains exclusive representation of the LAPL Ansel Adams Collection. Fine art prints are available directly through us. For any additional inquiries, please contact us at email@example.com
Address: 933 Chung King Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Open Daily 12:00 to 6:00 pm
By Jim McKinniss
dnj Gallery announced today its upcoming exhibition, “The Faces of America”. This group photography exhibition will feature artwork by dnj Gallery’s artists. These artists explore various themes including self-identity, culture, and environment, while using an array of traditional and experimental photographic processes.
SHOW DATES: June 28 – August 30, 2014 Note that there is no opening reception for this exhibition.
GALLERY HOURS: Tues – Sat, 10 am – 5 pm
dnj Gallery is located at 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
By Jim McKinniss
The Leica Gallery Los Angeles presents for the first time in Los Angeles the exhibition French Kiss from Paris based photographer Peter Turnley.
Peter Turnley, a prolific and award winning photojournalist, has also continually photographed the life of Paris, his adopted home. His tender, humorous, and sensual view of Paris, offers distinct contrast to the stark realities depicted in his photojournalism. He has photographed extensively the life of Paris these past forty years and is one of the preeminent photographers of the daily way of life in Paris of his generation.
Turnley’s photographs have been featured in Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Stern, Paris Match, Geo, LIFE, National Geographic, The London Sunday Times, Le Figaro and Le Monde, New Yorker, and Doubletake. Turnley’s photographs have been published throughout the world and have won many international awards including the Overseas Press Club of America Award for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, numerous awards and citations from World Press Photo, and the University of Missouri’s Pictures of the Year International competition.
French Kiss – A Love Letter to Paris, Turnley’s new book was recently published in 2013. Peter will be signing his books French Kiss at the opening as well as teaching a street photography workshop at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles. Contact gallery for details.
The exhibition continues through July 5, 2014, with gallery hours Monday through Saturdays, 10am – 6pm and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm. Complimentary valet parking is available.
This exhibition runs through July 5, 2014
Leica Gallery Los Angeles
8783 Beverly Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048
by Jim McKinniss
The Fahey/Klein Gallery will be presenting the first exhibition from photographer Tom Bianchi’s newly released publication, Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1983 (Damiani, 2013). Bianchi’s Polaroid images document the people, parties, and shared moments that defined Fire Island summers during those years, providing an intimate look at the Pines, a small close-knit gay beach community fifty-seven miles from New York City. The beautiful austere barrier island became a haven for the emerging gay community. As Tom Bianchi describes, it was “built by those people who imagined a different world and set out to create it. We carved out the tiniest little place just for ourselves, where we could be safe and laugh and play with one another on the beach, and not have any negative judgment surrounding us.” (Tom Bianchi Interview, Vice Magazine, June 2013)
Partly due to its close proximity to a culturally booming New York City, Fire Island attracted “the best and the brightest” of the gay community- artists, writers, models, photographers, designers, and actors came to the Pines each summer. The island became known not only as a safe summer enclave for gay men, but an exuberant and celebratory one. The summers Bianchi documented were a golden age, and remain the last fleeting moments before the AIDS crisis laid waste to an entire generation of men. The dream-like Polaroid images of dizzying parties and sculpted bodies can initially seem superficial; however the real people in these images dancing, kissing, holding hands, and playing in the sun are friends, lovers, and men creating a community where for the first time, they were free to love.
Tom Bianchi began photographing on Fire Island with a Polaroid SX-70 camera which proved to be the perfect tool- unassuming and immediate. Many of his friends and subjects, who were still closeted and extremely wary of having their picture taken, felt comfortable in front of both Bianchi and his camera. “At first, I shot subjects without identity to ensure anonymity for those who needed it, focusing on atmosphere. As time passed, friends became comfortable with the smiles on their faces being recorded. I quickly saw that I had the makings of a book. People saw what I was doing and came to welcome me, camera in hand.” (Tom Bianchi, Introduction to Fire Island Pines) Bianchi’s Polaroids exist now as precious relics from another time. The Polaroids have softly bent corners and subtle signs of wear, reminders that these photographs have the unique ability of being born in the same moment they documented. The friends and lovers in these pictures held the actual objects in their hands as they created the moments the images capture.
The sense of joy is so palpable in the scenes from the Pines that it is even more devastating to comprehend how violently this time came to an end. Bianchi describes AIDS as a holocaust that devastated a generation, a horror that forced these men to change the very way they saw themselves. In the context of the devastation and the discrimination that followed, Tom Bianchi’s heroic role in preserving this time has provided a vital layer of cultural and social history. The love and camaraderie captured on Fire Island during those summers is a record of the life and vitality lost to AIDS, and a reminder in the years that followed of what needed to be regained.
Tom Bianchi was born and raised in Chicago, graduating from Northwestern University of Law in 1970. While working as a corporate attorney in New York, Bianchi began visiting Fire Island every summer, photographing, painting, and drawing on the weekends. After Bianchi’s partner died of AIDS in 1988, Tom turned his focus towards photography, publishing Out of the Studio, a candid portrayal of gay intimacy. Tom went on to publish numerous successful monographs. In 1993, Tom co-founded a biotech company to develop new H.I.V./AIDS treatments. Tom Bianchi’s work has been exhibited and collected internationally. Tom Bianchi now lives and works with his husband Ben, in Palm Springs, California.
By Jim McKinniss
I first met Claire Mallett at a book exposition at Duncan Miller Gallery in Santa Monica, CA and I was pleased to see her photos again the the reception for the Verge photographers three weeks ago at the Duncan Miller gallery on Venice Blvd. Her photos remind me of the work of Ellen von Unwerth.
Claire was born in the UK and she moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago. She studied Photojournalism and Film studies at University in Bristol, England where she received a bachelor’s degree. Claire has been focused on Fine Art projects for the past 5 years and she works with both digital and film formats.
The photographs that Claire showed at the Verge exhibition are from her “Shameless” project. I asked Claire to tell me something about these photographs.
Shameless is a collection of photographs that pay homage to a golden time of movie making in Hollywood known as “Pre-code”. From the advent of talkies until July of 1934 when a strict list of rules came into effect that restricted ‘immoral’ behavior and attitudes in characters portrayed in film.
During the pre-code era females in particular were portrayed in a magnificent manner. They were strong, independent, freethinking women. They took no prisoners and had no holds barred. They ran companies, threw out cheating husbands and sometimes just behaved badly with no apologies. Given that this was the 1930’s and the 19th amendment allowing women to vote was passed a mere 10 years earlier, in 1920, I find these actresses choices incredibly bold and brave. Also considering that, these days, feminism is considered a dirty word, I look to these movie stars for inspiration and strength. When I photograph women naked or semi-nude it is a process of self-empowerment for my models. Today women’s self-image is constantly under attack from heavily distorted imagery in magazines and the media. And so I look to imagery and attitudes of the past to allow ladies feel good about themselves again.
By Jim McKinniss
As you know, I’ve been highlighting members of the Los Angeles, CA based group of photographers known as The Verge Collective.
Today I want to introduce you to member Susan Swihart. Susan grew up in Newton, Massachusetts which is about 7 miles from Boston. She studied visual and media design at Northeastern University in Boston. There she also took some photography classes.
When Susan was 19 she spent the summer in Italy painting and making photographs. She says that this is where she fell in love with photography. After Italy and college she made a career in advertising. She became serious about her photography about 3 years ago.
Susan has photos from her project called “About Face” at the Duncan Miller Gallery on Venice Blvd. in Los Angeles. That is where I met her. Here is what Susan says about this project.
Sometimes two people start as one. They split apart, but continue to grow in parallel day by day, inch by inch. They develop separately and distinctly. They have different dreams and fears. Yet, to many, they will always look the same. Be interchangeable. Be treated as if they’re still one.
As the mother of twin daughters, I have been observing the phenomenon of their connectedness since birth. As a photographer and participant observer in their lives, I have set out to explore the psychological components, the similarities and differences, of my daughter’s union. Their realization that they are seen as one causes many different emotions. At times, they too will see themselves as a unit, but they will also wrestle with finding their own voice, identity and place. They pull, push and compete. Occasionally one pushes ahead and grows faster than the other. One is left behind, until it’s their turn to squeeze by. Most other times they cling to the comfort of one another. The comfort in same face confusion. An ally to hide with from the fame of their twinness.
It is a complex, but pure love for the person that was created at the same time. Head to toe in the womb. Side by side in life. And I want to be their witness and chronicle their unique journey into the world of individuals.
By Jim McKinniss
I’ve known Sarah Hadley casually for many months because we have attended the same artist receptions at galleries in Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA and at other galleries in the Los Angeles area. Sarah is one of the Verge photographers who had photographs at their opening reception on May 10, 2014 at the Duncan Miller Gallery on Venice Blvd in Los Angeles.
Sarah grew up in Boston in a very unusual place. Her father was the Director of the Gardner Museum in Boston and her family lived on the fourth floor above the museum in the apartment Mrs. Gardner’s had built for herself. She says it was pretty amazing to grow up in a replica of a Venetian palace with Titian, Rembrandt and Sargeant paintings downstairs. Sarah says it has definitely had a big influence on her life.
Sarah was a bit of a nomad after college finally settling in Chicago, where she lived for about 15 years. Five years ago she moved to L.A..
Sarah told me that she got a camera in 4th grade and started making photos right after that. She originally studied art history in college, but went back and got a second degree in photography from the Corcoran College of Art at the age of 25.
Here is what Sarah has to say about her work:
I think every photographer talks about the magic of seeing that first image appear in a tray of developer and of being hooked for life. I believe a good photograph asks more questions than it answers, and my photography is a way for me to constantly challenge myself to really look at the world around me. There is something intangible about the best photographs, something that reminds us of the moment between wake and sleep, and of the beauty that we see and feel but cannot describe, and of our own mortality. These are the kinds of images I try to make.
My current work revolves around the feeling of longing. I love to travel but want to be everywhere at once, even at home. I yearn for the past, yet love daydreaming about the future. I work in sepia and often blur the edges, both as a nod to antique photographs and as a way to draw more depth and feeling out of a black and white image. I want the places to seem dream-like and otherworldly, as if the place is both familiar and unknown. I used to be a street photographer, but at the moment I am drawn to the expanse of the ocean and the vastness of the landscape.
By Jim McKinniss
Jamie Johnson is one of the seven members of the Verge Collective which was formed through of the Duncan Miller Projects. As I wrote in the last posting there are six women and one man in the Verge Collective.
Jamie grew up in New York and attended NYU before moving to Los Angeles. She is a self-taught photographer who enjoys experimenting with different cameras and processes. She is part of a growing number of photographers who have started using old photographic methods, typically called alternative processes. One of the processes she uses is the early process called wet plate collodion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion_process
Jamie was recently featured in The Huffington Post:
By Jim McKinniss
I recently attended a photo exhibition by the Verge Collective at the Duncan Miller Gallery on Venice Blvd. in Los Angeles. Verge is a group of six young women photographers and, curiously, one male photographer. The photographers are Tami Bahat, Sarah Hadley Susan Swihart, Jamie Johnson, Marjorie Salvaterra, Claire Mallet and Rico Mandel.
All of the photographers in The Verge Collective are very talented and bring fresh and creative ideas to their work. Five of the women presented work that is very contemporary in both style and subject. The subjects of Sarah Hadley’s work are more traditional and that is reinforced by the fact that she prefers sepia tones. Rico Mandel’s work is black and white and focuses on the rhythms inherent in musical performances using a stringed instrument.
I will be showing some work from the Duncan Miller exhibition for each photographer over the next several weeks. Today I want to introduce you to Tami Bahat.
Tami was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and moved to Los Angeles when she was two years old. She began making photos when she was a teenager. She is self-taught meaning that she has no formal training but has taken various photo workshops. Tami told me that she started seriously focusing on fine art photography about five years ago.
My portraits are based on a deep love for people. I have had an immense fascination with them from the day I was born. I love the depth and complexity that resides in each and every one of us. My passion is to give my subjects the opportunity to reveal an inner piece of themselves, one that they may not normally feel comfortable enough to show. I love watching people transform into extraordinary art right in front of my eyes.
By Jim McKinniss