As you might know, I have long been looking into Germany's complicated recent past in order to better understand what it means to roam the world as someone born there. Over the course of the past decade (or so), I noticed that there was a noticeable uptick in German photographers looking at Germany's past and present. I had always been puzzled by the fact that unlike painters, say, or writers, German photographers had been reluctant to deal with World War 2 and the Holocaust. But it seems that a younger generation of German photographers has come to the conclusion that it was time to do make their own country the focus of their work. Therefore, I decided I would speak with a number of these photographers to learn more about their motivations and biographies, in part to be able to place my own into that context.
This is not a real picture. Or rather, it's a real picture, but it doesn't show a real person. I generated the picture using the full version of Dall.E, the AI based image generator that was made publicly available a little while ago.
While my interest in AI is limited, I was curious about Dall.E's capabilities. Up until now, what has been shared underwhelmed me. It looked too much like a second-generation surrealism.
Furthermore, while individual images are interesting, it's when they get placed into a larger context that the real fun starts. So I spent quite a bit of time on having Dall.E generate its own versions of the photographs in my book Vaterland.
The above is the only picture produced by Dall.E that I think is more interesting than any of mine (even as the imaginary woman appears to suffer from the same affliction as David Bowie: look at the pupils to see what I mean).
To find out a lot more about my experiment, make sure to check CPhMag.com tomorrow (3 Oct 2022).
A few years ago, when the St. Mark's Book Shop still existed, I ran into Carolee Schneemann there. She was one of the very few artists I would have actually dreamed of running into, but I was too self-conscious (and shy) to approach her. At the time, I only knew of a fraction of her work. How and/or why she was an amazing artist and what her work means was explored by Philippa Snow in a must-read article that was just published:
One of Schneemann’s greatest, most enduring skills was her ability to take the status of the human body, and the female body in particular, as pure flesh, and to transform that status into something powerful and illuminating rather than demeaning or depressing.
Schneemann often used her body like a Trojan horse—think of Interior Scroll (1975), where she appeared nude before an audience before drawing a text, tightly-rolled into a cylinder, from her vagina. “I don’t take the advice of men who only talk to themselves,” she read aloud. “Pay attention to critical and practical film language – it exists for and in only one gender.” In pulling the material from inside herself, she literalised the idea that every woman, even one who stands before an audience naked, has an interior life, and an interior monologue that might be vituperative and critical even when her exterior looks alluring. ‘I do not ‘show’ my naked body,’ she wrote, irritably, to a friend: ‘I AM BEING MY BODY.’
Speaking of which... I think for some reason I forgot to note in my recent emails that Natalia LL died, a feminist Polish artist who managed to get censored under the Communist regime and in democratic Poland (under its current far-right government). You can find an obituary here.
If you want to see Consumer Art, one of her most well-known pieces, you can watch a video here (it shows fragments of the 1972, 74, and 75 versions).
Danielle Jackson wrote a long piece about Deana Lawson that you absolutely want to read. Starting out from the fact that Lawson "has worked, since 2007, almost exclusively with people she describes as low income or working class", Jackson sets out to describe how and why this poses a major problem: "Class dynamics are insufficiently articulated in the discussions of Lawson."
She ultimately arrives at this:
I don’t believe a person must be photographed the way they want to be seen. And in no way do I believe that social realism, or even empathy, is the only admissible artistic position towards the victims of middle-class collapse. But I do wonder, politically, as ruin advances ever upward, how long can this kind of mystification be sustained. Such misperceptions of the near-majority leave us deeply unprepared to face our current crises. I fear the unknowability of entire groups has settled in just as people need to see each other clearly.
... and this (my emphasis):
Two days later I am balled up in bed, immersed in the sentencing of a serial killer who targeted economically vulnerable Black women in New Jersey. Among the four victims were community-college students, pregnant women, sex workers, and the unhoused. As I Google photographs of these women I notice the banality of their dress: tame button-downs and fuzzy sweaters, clean makeup and bright smiles, modest headscarves and neat dreadlocks—on the whole, not so different than the photos Lawson takes of herself. I think about how different they look from the unending fantastical projections placed upon their social class, and how seldom their real world is mirrored back.
If you're teaching photography at a masters level, this is a must-assign essay.
As Jackson notes, parts of the discussion also apply for other photographers who take pictures "to depict communities facing social and economic marginalization". It is a discussion we desperately need to have in more detail.
With that I'm going to conclude for today. It's time to go for my daily walk. I hope you had an enjoyable weekend.
As always thank you for reading!