Research point: Contemporary awareness 2

As directed, I have looked at a range of contemporary fine art photographers. As per the equivalent exercise on section 1 on documentary, I have found a few I really liked, a few I found interesting but not engaging and a few that I questioned the inclusion of for one reason or another.

José Ramón Ais

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 15.46.39
Semper Augustus, 2009 – José Ramó Ais

Just to look at them, his photographs are painterly, idealised landscapes, usually tightly composed and focusing on the flora in the foreground, and with an overall air of having been heavily post-processed.

He does however claim a conceptual underpinning – the notes from an exhibition read:

“The pictures are the result of elaborate conceptual, linguistic and aesthetic syntheses, for they conflate iconographic referentes taken from art history, mythology and beliefs with botanical eponyms derived from the scientific urge to classify.” (Martinez, date unknown)

Not really my cup of earl grey.

Zarina Bhimji

Bhimji specialises in photographing (and filming) places devoid of people, yet the resulting images always betray a prior human presence.

“Bhimji’s photographs capture human traces in landscape and architecture. Walls are a recurring motif, attracting her through their absorption of history as they become a record of those who built, lived within and ultimately abandoned them.” (Tate, 2007)

Cracked Earth, 2005 – Zarina Bhimji

Her work is the culmination of significant research about the places she photographs, yet none of this information makes it into the frame. It’s as though she absorbs the background context then throws it away, hoping that some of it will somehow inform how she takes the photographs. Narratives are very lightly implied but not explained or contextualised.

Adjectives that spring to mind: eerie, calm, absent, ghostlike. I was impressed. I’d like to see full size images in a gallery environment. One to watch.

Elina Brotherus

Previously researched here. Short version: some projects really connected with me and others did not – which is a risk with very autobiographical subject matter.

Calum Colvin

His own website describes his work best:

“A practitioner of painting, sculpture and photography, Colvin brings these disciplines together, utilizing the unique fixed-point perspective of the camera, in his unique style of ‘constructed photography’: assembled tableaux of objects, which are then painted and photographed.” (artist website, 2016)

Mute Swan, 1996 – Calum Colvin

There’s a lot going on in his pictures. They’re not photographs, they’re more paintings that use photographs. I get what he’s doing, but I find them a bit over-the-top myself.

Gregory Crewdson

Previously researched here. Short version: visionary, psychological, very cinematic. Good at implying a story but letting the viewer proved their own narrative. I like the end results but strangely am less impressed when I see how much work goes into them. I think he could make a good film director, or cinematographer.

Alexander Gronsky

Urban landscapes are his thing, more specifically the ‘edgelands’ as cities and their suburbs blend into countryside. The underlying conceptual basis for the work seems to be the expansion of humans beyond cities and how they impact the landscape, and vice versa. Humans are insignificant or absent in his large-scale works.

From Pastoral, 2008 – Alexander Gronsky

I’d like to see a full exhibition of his work, as I think it will work best large scale on white walls. Very still, contemplative, thought-provoking.

David Hockney

Like Colvin, Hockney is a (very great) painter who happens to sometimes use photographs. Not sure he deserves a place on this list.

Alfredo Jaar

A visual artist in a broad sense, and predominantly a filmmaker and architect. Another unusual choice for this list. Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist when it comes to photography as art…

James Nachtwey

On the face of it, this is a category error: Nachtwey is quite clearly a documentary photographer. However, his is – like Salgado and Delahaye – a form of documentary that crosses over into art, from both an aesthetic and presentational point of view. His skill for a striking composition belies an artist’s sensibility and eye.

Kosovo, 1999 – James Nachtwey

I found his images to be so beautifully composed that I marvelled at the photography skills over the content of the image. More traditional documentary photographers would have shot more straightforward images to emphasise the subject. I found Nachtwey’s images distractingly good-looking.

Jeff Wall

I previously researched Wall alongside Crewdson for Context & Narrative, and visited his last London exhibition. I found some of his earlier art-inspired work much more interesting than his recent output. In a comparison to Crewdson he comes off as second best in my opinion – there’s just something lacking that I can’t always put my finger on – it’s just a little underwhelming sometimes.

And finally, one (well, two) of my own favourites:

Broomberg & Chanarin

People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots), 2011 – Broomberg & Chanarin

For me the most imaginative and exciting photographers (or maybe more accurately, photographic artists) working today are Oliver Broomberg and Adam Chanarin. The pair have worked together since 1997 and their output is wildly eclectic. They are conceptual photographic artists par excellence, finding fresh ways of incorporating photography into their projects.

Their take on the Northern Ireland photographic archive from the ‘Troubles’ of the 1970s-80s was the brilliant People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground, of which the (Dots) project was particularly interesting (more here).

They’ve played with photography in other projects, such as Holy Bible (2013), a replica King James bible with provocative, borderline blasphemous photographs juxtaposed with the original text.

Also of note is The Day Nobody Died (2008), the result of their being embedded in British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Instead of taking photos of… well, anything, they celebrated a day of non-fatality by unrolling a six-meter section of photographic paper and exposing it to the sun for 20 seconds. “The results seen here deny the viewer the cathartic effect offered up by the conventional language of photographic responses to conflict and suffering.” (artist website, 2015)

The Day Nobody Died, 2008 – Broomberg & Chanarin

What I like about these two is that they are completely unafraid to experiment, yet photography is always at the heart of their work. They find extraordinarily innovative and tangential ways of incorporating photography into their projects, and for that alone I will always keep an eye out for their new work.

Sources (accessed 25/04/2016) (accessed 25/04/2016) (accessed 25/04/2016) (accessed 25/04/2016) (accessed 25/04/2016) (accessed 25/04/2016)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s