Saturday, 13 November 2010
Ralph Gibson (b. January 16, 1939, Los Angeles, California) is an American art photographer best known for his photographic books. His images often incorporate fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition.
Ralph Gibson studied photography while in the US Navy and then at the San Francisco Art Institute. He began his professional career as an assistant to Dorothea Lange and went on to work with Robert Frank on two films. Gibson has maintained a lifelong fascination with books and book-making. Since the appearance in 1970 of THE SOMNAMBULIST, his work has been steadily impelled towards the printed page. To date he has produced over 40 monographs, his most current projects being "State of the Axe" published by Yale University Press in Fall of 2008 and "NUDE" by Taschen (2009). His photographs are included in over one hundred and fifty museum collections around the world, and have appeared in hundreds of exhibitions.
Gibson has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1973, 1975, 1986), a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (D.A.A.D.) Exchange, Berlin (1977), a New York State Council of the Arts (C.A.P.S.) fellowship (1977), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985).
He was decorated as an Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1986) and appointed, Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2005) by the French government.
His awards include: Leica Medal of Excellence Award (1988), "150 Years of Photography" Award, Photographic Society of Japan (1989), a Grande Medaille de la Ville d'Arles (1994) and the Lucie Award for life time achievement (2008).
Gibson also received an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Maryland (1991), and a second honorary doctorate from the Ohio Wesleyan University (1998).
He has worked exclusively with the Leica for almost 50 years.
Gibson currently lives in New York and travels frequently to Europe and Brazil.
An Interview with Ralph Gibson
By Chris Maher and Larry Berman
19 June 2001
Featured in the February 2002 issue of Shutterbug Magazine
Chris/Larry: Let us begin with a question about your vision. Your work has an extraordinary balance in it, a certain kind of energy to it. Can you tell us about your state of mind when you are shooting?
Ralph: Well, for the longest time I have known that photography for me is not directly linked to an external event. For example if I say that tomorrow there’s going to be an execution at 12 o’clock. You get there, we can all win a Pulitzer prize. If you get there at 12:01 you miss your shot, as it were. So, what I wanted to do, is be able to make my perception of anything become the subject itself. And for this reason I’ve attempted to take pictures of simple things, you know, like a cardboard box, or a chair, or a spoon. Very humble objects. I’m not terribly drawn towards the epic event. I’d like to make something totally insignificant into an object of importance, by virtue of how photography works.
Chris/Larry: How much of your shooting is actually planned? How much is spontaneous? How much do you pre-conceptualize what you’re going to get versus just working with the subject and the light and just responding to it?
Ralph: I know an image when I see it, but I never know what my next photograph is really going to be, necessarily, unless I’m working on a project. I have several projects currently under way. I’m working on Berlin at night on a thing called “I am the Night”. I’m also working on a project for Gibson Guitars entitled “Light Strings” with my friend the guitarist Andy Summers. This will be a book and a traveling exhibition. So, in a case of something like that I know what the subject matter will be. Or when I’m doing nudes for example, I know that tomorrow at 3:00 a model is coming to the studio. However, I’ve recently been invited by the Mayor of Strasbourg in Alsace to come this fall to make twenty photographs of the area. This will mean that I’ll be entirely at large, as they say. I’ll just be drifting around and I will respond to what I think and feel, and one picture will inform my next one, and I will follow the tone. The same thing as when I lay out a book. I make a couple of double page spreads that seem to have a certain kind of emotional tone, which I then follow in subsequent spreads.
Chris/Larry: When you’re walking around shooting, say, twenty pictures of an area, what kind of equipment do you bring with you? What is the technology you use to capture your images?
Ralph: It’s very simple. I carry two Leica M’s. I have two M6’s and I usually take three lenses. A 35, 50, and 90. And one body has color, one body has black and white. I might take a 135 in the case of Alsace because they’ll probably be some landscapes and I’ll want to flatten them. So I will use the long lens. But I really believe that the problem for me is for me to perceive something clearly, and it doesn’t matter where I am. I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been all over the world and I come back with the same photographs (laughs). It appears that wherever I go I tend to bring my vision with me.
Chris/Larry: You do capture an energy that is unique to the area. Like in your pictures in Japan, there was a certain energy that came through those, which I thought was a bit different, than in your European work.
Ralph: When I think of energy I think more in terms of composition, a certain tension on the surface of the image. I’m very much the formalist in photography. I’ll take a picture of anything in an attempt to compose it within the proportions of the golden means (the 24x36mm proportion) just to see if I can compose it perfectly. And I think that the energy to which you refer to has more to do with these issues.
Chris/Larry: When you use Leica rangefinders, is there a different type of visualization because the way the camera’s viewfinder is designed? When you shoot do you crop at all, or is it all in that frame?
Ralph: I have spent forty years working with the Leica rangefinder. The rangefinder enables one to see what’s outside of the frame as well as what’s inside of the frame. You make a decision predicated on the presence and/or the absence of various aspects of the subject. With a reflex, the camera determines what is seen, and half the time it's out of focus. One could follow a reflex around the world and focus it from time to time until it came across a picture. With a rangefinder you see something, you make the exposure and you continue to look at what you’re seeing. The rangefinder is ideally matched to the perceptive act, the personal act of perception. I only use a reflex for extreme close-ups.
Chris/Larry: You have a very tight, formal kind of design to your work. Do you ever use a tripod?
Ralph: I rarely use a tripod, unless I’m in the studio with a long lens shooting a nude with a long exposure. I rarely use a tripod and I rarely crop. And even if I did, I wouldn’t admit it (laughs).
Chris/Larry: Well, when you’re actually shooting, do you go through a lot of film, or are you very conservative in the way in which you make your exposures?
Ralph: I don’t bracket, if that’s what you mean. I’ve discovered that when I was shooting Kodachrome or something that I’d have to bracket because of the extremely short latitude of material. But now, with these very sophisticated color negative materials, they are much more forgiving. There’s a meter inside the Leica. I use it in the broadest most general sense of the word. I usually center weight it and I put it on whatever color I consider to be the most important part of the subject in the photograph. In black and white I hardly pay any attention to it at all.
Chris/Larry: I was thinking of the dynamic of working with the subject. You work with shadows in an incredibly dynamic way. Shadows are very critical to the power of your pieces. Do you play with the shadow by movement and changing….
Ralph: For example if you’re going to make a drawing, you take a paper and a pencil and add lines, add marks, until you finish your drawing. It's additive. When I make a photograph, I move in closer and I take things away, and I take things away, until I get everything out of the frame except what I want. Therefore my process is considered subtractive. Now part of this subtraction has to do with casting things into deep shadow. I eliminate a lot of unwanted material, activity into the shadow area. And in so doing, create a shape. Instead of just being a variation on light, for me shadows become cut forms, they become shapes. And I discovered this by photographing primarily in bright sun and exposing for highlights, which is pretty easy to do. Most people struggle to get detail into their shadows. I was never interested in that kind of photographic expression particularly.
Chris/Larry: Your work really takes advantage of the 35mm film dynamic range, with its characteristic graininess and tonality. How has the changing of materials, the newer films with finer grain, effected you? Have you pretty much stayed with the one film and developer combination?
Ralph: I’ve used Rodinal since 1961. I use Tri-x almost exclusively but occasionally, sometimes I get in the mood to use Fuji 400. But either one is the same to me. And for my night work, I’ve been very happily working with Fuji Neopan 1600. But they’re all souped in Rodinal. I develop all my own film myself, personally. And I also base the fact that I develop my film personally means that there’s going to be certain irregularities in my agitation. And I have discovered that, in these irregularities there is some creative input. I don’t want my film to be developed too well, too cleanly, too smoothly. I don’t want that slick look. I’ve had a life long relationship with grain. You know I originally started out as a photojournalist when I was young. I’ve always felt that grain gave texture both to cinema, as well as photography. I’ve used it for any number of reasons for the entire length of my career. It’s almost harder to get a grainy image nowadays than it is to get the shot.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
1. what’s your philosophy?
I believe that what goes around, comes around. (Not that I never do or say the wrong things, but I think that when you try this, you’re already accomplishing a huge part of what Karma is about) I also don’t want to look back on life thinking anything that starts with ‘would have - could have or should have.’ And that’s a hard thing to accomplish, but I try. On another note, do you know the book ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ from Foer? It almost felt like reading my soul, for example this line: ”I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything”. It’s not a philosophy, It’s sad, but true, and I recognize myself in it. I do realize that means I should (ha there is the ‘should’) change something about my philosophy, but again, it’s not that easy.
2. in your ‘west usa’ series, you managed to capture landscapes and life/death with such a raw clarity, was your approach to these subjects different from your other work?
I started the trip after a few months of printing black and white and spending heaps of money, so I had no other option than using my digital camera. I did shoot one roll of film, but over a thousand digital ones in those 3 weeks. It’s easier to photograph digital, but I feel less connected to what I see, when I do so. I feel less and that’s why I stick to film. Probably because of the fact that I didn’t use film, it was easier for me to photograph, for example, that dead deer. I knew that if it would be too hard for me, I could delete it as soon as I had it. With film, it’s there, I can’t throw away film, so it would lay in your drawer, your room, your place, your life. It could be haunting in a way. Anyway, those weeks were the best weeks of my life. I’ve often said ‘let’s go somewhere unknown tomorrow’, but until january 2009 I never actually did it. It was beautiful, I’ve never been more grateful than I was then.
3. how many places have you traveled?
Not that many until last year, when I went abroad for a year. I shared a room with Sabrina and in that year I’ve been to quite some beautiful places in the US. New York was one of them. I loved the city, and admired how one could feel so at ease in such a big city. Ok, we woke up everyday by 7am to see New York awakening instead of rushing, but I still felt great there, while usually I prefere calmer places better. Another place I went to was Zion, where I forgot my heart, it’s so beautiful, the people were almost surreal. I don’t mean dreamlike, but beautifully down-to-earth, and not putting themselves but nature first, I must return there one day to pick my heart up again, and stay there for a bit. And become more like them.
4. a lot of your recent posted work is black and white. is there an aesthetic reason for this? do you self-develop/print?
I miss colour terribly, but I just started studying photography in Sint Lukas, Brussels, and since our first year is black and white only, I barely/ don’t have time to shoot colour. I love black and white, printing it is nicer than colour, but it don’t think it’s as much my cup of tea as colour is.
5. the way you find your compositions and your light are remarkable, how often are these photos made on days that you go out specifically to take photos as opposed to days where you are just out and have a camera? do you always carry a camera with you?
Most of them are taken on days where I accidentally have my camera with me. Accidentally, because I rarely have it with me. I wish I would take it more often, but I’m not a ‘decesive-moment’ photographer, so I’m not really needy of doing so. Unless I’m bored, or I have schoolassignments. Then mostly they’re made up in my head already, and selfportraitures. But I seem to love the ones taken on moments that were a coincidence of beauty, best. Light, discoveries of places, the clothes one wears that day, the way someone bends forward…
6. how do you feel about your photography? what part of you does it fulfill or drive?
Gosh… I like them, in that way that they’re memories. I have trouble remembering good things in life, I seem to forget them too easily. And my camera helps me with memorizing. And the images I took, whether they’re made up in my head first or not, whether they seem hopeful or melancholic or painful, they’re always about things that happened to me, things I felt or saw, and I’m happy they did, because they’re about life as I live it. I don’t think every image has an amusing story with it for strangers, but they do make me feel when I see them again. And some people seem to feel or see that for themselves, even though they weren’t there themselves. That’s fulfilling for me.
7. where do you see photography in your life in the future?
For myself, everywhere, always. I really can’t be more specific.
8. one photographer/artist that everyone should check out right now?
Friday, 26 March 2010
Wendy Bevan is a fashion photographer. She doesn't use £2K Canon DSLRs and arrays of flashguns. She shoots on good old Polaroid, and styles in shades of circus-burlesque. Kind of a paradox, since fashion is all about bleeding edge newness, and all of her photos look like they've been stored in an attic for sixty years. Somehow though, it works, and it's wonderful - her CV includes shoots for Russian Vogue, Italian Marie Claire, The Independent, The Observer, Nylon, V Magazine, Qvest, POP Magazine, I-D and more. Eish!
Tell me about your equipment. You shoot a lot on Polaroid, right? What's the attraction?
I have a really simple set up, and most of the time use natural light. I don't believe in overloading shoots with unnecessary equipment. The beauty is there already, and my job as a photographer is to find it and capture it within an image. That doesn't necessarily mean more equipment is needed.
I love the magic of the Polaroid, and the instant beauty that I am able capture within each sheet of film is unique every time. It allows me to work freely and express the most intricate of details subtly. Indeed I have an affection for the format. It is wonderful. The properties of the film naturally evoke the feeling of nostalgia, through its dream-like qualities.
And they've just announched the Polaroid factory is going to be reopened! Hoorah! What else is going to be IMPORTANT in 2009?
One item of clothing to erase from history and another to cherish please.
I'm surprised that flourescent Lycra has become a trend again. It was wrong the first time round - surely we realised then? The corset should always be treasured, and heels.
Rate the following in order of importance: model, setting, pose, styling.
This is difficult! A great shoot is the combination of all of these things being perfect, and a fantastic team. But, i'd say A) Setting B)Styling C) Model D) Pose.
What's been your most interesting/weird/innovative shoot, assignment or collaboration?
In the early days when I first started shooting, I think I was probably a bit more experimental. I used to dress models in very abstract creations that I had made, and then photograph them. There is always a sense of chaos behind the scenes, which I couldn't work with out! Every collaboration turns out to be interesting and different from the last.
What are you working on at the moment?
Several projects. I am going away on a trip soon to Key West, shooting for Italian Marie Claire, which I am really excited about. The shoot is based on 50's pinup imagery.
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Todd Hido (b.1968, Kent, Ohio) is an American contemporary artist and photographer. Currently based in San Francisco, much of Hido’s work involves urban and suburban housing across the U.S., of which the artist produces large, highly detailed and luminous color photographs.
Saturday, 30 May 2009
The Vancouver-based painter and illustrator—who has forged a successful career translating his fascination with human behavior into beautifully dense character portraits—can best be described as a sort of visual anthropologist. For the better part of a decade Tour has catalogued and archived an oddly fascinating gallery of characters assembled from scraps of truth and fiction gathered from everyday life.
“I would describe it as a visual diary of characters and personalities,” says the 29-year-old Toronto-born artist, in reference to his work. “My approach is different every time. But yeah, I steal parts of different things and bring them together—interesting people both real and imagined, and animals and objects that they connect with that are visually appealing. I think my most successful work has a definite mystery to it that lets the viewer interpret their own story.”
While viewer interpretation does play a major role in the way Tour’s work is received, personal connection is equally as important. The abundant emotional content built into each of his pieces is at once intimidating and mesmerizing. In one portrait a bald old man with squinty eyes, crow’s feet, and a beak-like nose peers out from behind a pair of oversized black-rimmed glasses. His gaze is skeptical but fixed, as though he’s sizing up an unseen adversary. Another depicts a woman, sullen, sitting by herself beside two deer and an old typewriter—crimson-colored flowers scattered at her feet. The expression on her face is cold and detached, and the bowed arch of her spine seems to reveal an excess of grief.
Tour’s uncanny ability to capture these minute gestures and waning expressions with his feverish strokes and emotive lines forms the foundation of his distinctive style. Most importantly however, his choice of subjects is what intimately informs the direction of each piece. Rarely are the men in his portraits handsome or confident, instead they appear corpulent and misguided, emaciated and overwrought—too concerned with their own neuroses to be bothered by the notion of societal norms.
Tour’s female subjects, however, are portrayed in a much different light. Flaws and imperfections are, for the most part, hard to discern at first glance. Pouty lips and long sensual necklines punctuate attractive, symmetrical faces. Thin arms and long slender legs appear designed intently for Fashion Week runways. But closer scrutiny, particularly with regards to the eyes, hints at a more complicated reality lurking beneath each subject’s surface.
“It’s all in the eyes,” Tour explains. “If the character is looking right at you they want your attention, look away and they take you with them. I try to make the females look strong and fragile—one emotion for each eye.
The human figure has always been my thing,” he adds. “As a kid I always started my drawings from the eyes and worked outwards—they always seemed like the most important part of a person. [Then] I got really serious about drawing [while] in high school—I was constantly doodling—and just haven’t stopped.”
Friday, 29 May 2009
One afternoon in 1971, I skipped my 10th grade classes to hitchhike 30 miles to a mall in Rocky Mount NC on interstate 95. Heading north to get back home, a beat-up old car full of young NYC glam girls returning from Florida stopped for me. I piled in and was immediately captivated. Theirs was a world known to me only through magazines and movies. They told me stories of rock stars they knew and had sex with. They had weird haircuts. Vinyl hot pants, cut-off shorts, halter tops and plafforrn shoes barely concealed their vitality. I sat there in the back seat; crammed between two cute "older girls" (they were eighteen or nineteen) with my mouth hanging open like the hick that I was.
I had already been exposed to photography at this time by my father. As editor of the local newspaper, his job included taking photos of the events he wrote about. -Throughout my adolescence, I accompanied him on night-time assignments to photograph rural news events like car wrecks, drownings or political rallies. In my young mind, "got to go and get a shot" meant an adventure was in the making. My father encouraged my interest by teaching me how to make a camera from a can and how to use the darkroom. I immediately began developing my voyeuristic tendencies.
Now I'm a hick living in NYC. All the photographs in New York Girls (with a few exceptions) were taken in one of the two apartments I've had there since 1979.
My first apartment / studio was a six-room railroad at 529 E.13th Street between Avenues A and B. In this building were three apartments that bagged and distributed heroin, two shooting galleries and several other young artist types like me that moved there for the cheap rent. I converted one room to a darkroom and three others to a workspace where I shot photos of all my friends for use in little Xeroxed magazines I produced. In 1983, I purchased a Super-8 movie camera for five dollars and began documenting my friends acting out "statements". I dragged my projector around to local clubs, showing my early shorts before bands or as wallpaper for huge acid parties. These films featured Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, Lung Leg, Cassandra Stark, Sonic Youth, Tommy Turner, David Wojnarowitcz, Karen Finley, Audrey Rose, Clint Ruin and others. We became, thanks to Nick's manifestos and my photographs, visible as the "Cinema of Transgression". The characters in my films shot up drugs, pierced or cut themselves, beat each other up, sucked each other off, killed their parents, raped youngsters, etc. over harsh soundtracks produced by my friend Jim Thirlwell. The most popular of these films, FINGERED, was also the most controversial. At screening after screening, both in the States and abroad, I was routinely booed off the stage, attacked or shut down. Yet, the first time Lydia (the star and instigator of this movie) and I sat down to watch the finished product, she looked at me and said "This isn't hard enough". To me, making these films was like taking a big, fat, smelly dump then standing back and watching people marvel over it.
Around 1987, my lifestyle caught up with me. I got rid of most of my possessions, gave up my apartment and fled to San Francisco. One year of hiding from myself and running around every night with various scary petty criminals sent me running back just as quickly to New York.
Since 1988, I've been living on 3rd Street between Avenues C and D. One thing I'd managed to hang onto throughout my "dark period" was my cameras. I began doing construction work in the daytime and shooting photos whenever I could. Film Threat Video picked up the films I'd been self distributing for years and made them available all around the world. The notoriety I'd established with these films helped me when it came to finding new models to work with. Most of the photos in this book trace me "re-claiming my camera eye" as I've tried to find a replacement for the blood spattered imagery I'm generally known for.
I eventually began producing movies again and made a few rock videos but realized that my true interest is in taking photographs. For me, nothing compares to the experience of building an environment with light then adding a living person as an unknown to make a temporal image. All photographers take pictures so they can tell themselves "I was there". New York Girls shows where I was for the last fifteen years.
The models are New York girls by my definition. At some point, they have all lived in Manhattan, drawn by that yearning for excitement and lifestyle intensity that motivates everyone that moves there. I don't think that there are any Manhattan natives in this book. Some of the women came from nearby Long Island and some arrived from as far away as Japan but they all became New Yorkers by spending time in the downtown scene looking for fun.
Richard Kern in conversation with Matthew Higgs: New York 2004.
MH: I believe your father was a photographer?
RK: Not exactly. My father was the managing editor of a daily local newspaper in North Carolina. He was someone who took photographs out of necessity: all the reporters doubled up as photographers, my father included. So calling him a photographer would be, I guess, a stretch. He would simply go on an assignment to cover a story and have to take some photographs whilst he was there. I grew up in a very dull paper-mill town in the South: a place with just one movie theatre, so my father being both a newspaper editor and occasional photographer seemed, at least to a child, like an exciting job.
MH: Did you accompany your father on his assignments?
RK: Yeah. He would take me along from time to time. I spent a lot of my childhood sitting around waiting for him to get finished whilst he was took pictures of people at the local Moose Lodge. Occasionally there were a few interesting trips: like the time he took me to a drowning, or to car crashes, and the time we went to a Ku Klux Klan rally.
RK: Around six or seven years old.
MH: Do you remember having any interest in photography as a child?
RK: When I was in Fifth Grade, as part of a science project, my father showed me how to make a pinhole camera. He showed me how to load and process film, and how to take pictures. As a kid I always built model cars, which I was always winning trophies for! I would photograph scenes as if the models were racing down a road, except it was just a set up on the rug in my bedroom, so they weren't really that convincing, but when you are a kid it really looked like the real thing!
MH: What music were you listening to?
RK: The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, and then later the The Ramones. At that time you would go to a party with your Ramones record and put it on and the other people would want to kill you! That kind of reaction just doesn't seem possible now, but at the time it was for real.
MH: When did you move to New York?
RK: Around 1978, or 1979. I had an eight month lay-over in Philadelphia , where I continued putting out the fanzines. Which, when I think back on it, was a direct extension of what my father was doing: he was basically doing a 'fanzine' for my home town - which is what a local newspaper was. When I eventually got to New York it was a whole different thing. I still made fanzines though: I would just leave them lying around everywhere, and people would just stumble across them. The only contact information was a PO Box number.