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Consternation Over Winning Photograph in the Olive Cotton Award in Australia.

In Photography News on July 26, 2017 at 3:58 AM

Consternation Over Winning Photograph in the Olive Cotton Award in Australia.

This is a provocative image. I surmise in amongst multiple reasons it was chosen to be the winner was to – provoke. Creativeness, diversity, innovation, and vision in photography should be without boundaries – this is without question. This photograph goes some way to pushing the creative boundaries of photography. You know ‘Space the last frontier,’ go where no man (should be woman as well) has been before stuff boundaries!

                                          © Photograph by Artist Justine Varga

Winner of the Tweed Gallery’s $20,000 Olive Cotton Prize for photographic portraiture was a controversial choice by judge Shaune Lakin [Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra]. The photograph (above) is titled ‘Maternal Line’ and is by Justine Varga.

At this point, it is useful to ask a couple of questions; the first being, does this specific photograph succeed in doing that – being stellar? The second and more pragmatic for many here is the stinging question is, is this a portrait photograph? The answer to the first question lies with the individual viewer given the inbuilt subjectivity of photography itself. There is no x+y=z answer. The second question is also difficult to answer. It is though one needs first to ask what a portrait is? A portrait is defined as a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders. No face, head or shoulders here? Though, more broadly a portrait is a representation or impression of someone or something in language or on film or television or in this case – photography. The latter is where we enter the twilight zone. It is plausible that this photograph ‘Maternal Line’ can loosely be defined as a portrait. I think especially because as I understand it, photographer Justine Varga lovingly collaborated with her grandmother in making it. It is a ‘representation’ of her grandmother, and representation can qualify as a portrait. In a very human way, I am touched by Varga’s collaboration with her grandmother in making ‘Maternal Line .’ Saying that I wonder if the final work is as compelling as the collaboration and methodology that produced it in the first place?
As mentioned earlier within the context of those ‘go where no man (or woman of course) has been before frontiers’ of photography; curators, judges, picture editors et al. at times could be more balanced in avoiding choosing photographs that are biased towards methodology and philosophical underpinnings. Yes, the methodology and philosophical underpinnings of a photograph are paramount but not at the expense of dumbing down the aesthetic, and emotion of a photograph. Equity of both methodology and aesthetic produces the most potent and powerful photographs. Any University first-year art photography student can write a three thousand word piece on why the close-up photograph of the wine stained piece of shag pile carpet s/he has photographed is ‘art’ with intellectual and philosophical justification and authority. This is basic 101 University art photography stuff. But the important question that needs to be asked is, is it an accomplishment as an aesthetically evolved and emotionally charged photograph? Does it question us and inform us, delight us and disturb us, make us laugh or cry, extend our understanding of what it is to be human and be part of humanity? Further, still, does it emotionally wound us and remind us what it is to be alive? I wonder? Perhaps in some way it does in a ‘quite’ way or is it that ‘the story’ of the methodology is more compelling in this case?
Could it be that the aesthetic of the ‘Maternal Line’ doesn’t equal the intellectual and philosophical maturity that went into making it? Perhaps this is at the core of the consternation concerning ‘Marternal Line’ winning the Olive Cotton award?
Provocative? Clearly so but at what cost? Generally put provocation at the cost of devolving an evolved aesthetic and emotion is narrow in vision and counterintuitive. Personally, am I provoked by the actual photograph? I I am emotionally moved when considering the intamacy and emotion surrounding the story of making the photograph. But and again, provoked by the actual photograph itself? No, a flat line. I don’t ‘feel’ anything, and that is a problem.

~ JP

External Link: ABC NEWS

External Link: Sydney Morning Herald

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The Controversial Mr Gilden

In Ethics, Street Photography on August 15, 2015 at 5:43 AM
Gilden has always been a controversial figure.
Vice Magazine recently published Gilden’s photoessay titled ‘Two Days in Appalachia’. Controversy followed the publication of Gilden’s photographs and Gilden’s modus operandi is yet again under question.
PhotoShelter’s Allen Murabayashi has published an interesting piece at PhotoShelter Blog that encapsulates all the protagonists involved  in the ongoing controversy.
Gilden’s work has always had an element of  ‘does the end justified the means’?
His work is raw and unforgiving not unlike the man himself.
Roger May’s questions if Gilden has empathy or indeed if that his work has a complete absence of empathy – is a good one. I hear some empathy in Gilden’s rhetoric in the way he speaks about the people people he photographs during the short film linked in the interview. Observing Gilden photographing on the streets of NY, I see him range from zero empathy and peak at a modicum of empathy. At one point he is telling a passing woman to put her scarf on so she won’t get cold then almost in the same breath commenting on another woman’s boots as “fucking ugly”. In part this displayed empathy or lack of it could be attributed to the random task at hand – street photography.
two-days-in-appalachia-0000687-v22n7-600-1435773723-size_1000Harlan, Kentucky, Saturday, June 6. Destiny, Amber, and Serenity at the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival.
© Photograph by Bruce Gilden 
I think the comments (in the comments section below the Vice interview)​ from r​etired Social Worker Sharon Hurley a native Appalachian are incredibly insightful. They remind us all as photographers about how credible or not our documentation of people can and isn’t once our pictures are published.​ Sharon says, “His work is not reflective of the softness and peacefulness of life but of the harshness. Technically, his work is excellent and evokes reaction. Obviously, he does not care that the images he presents is not representative of an entire community whether it is in Japan, Detriot , London or Appalachia​”​.

two-days-in-appalachia-0000687-v22n7-765-1435773764-size_1000Saturday, June 6. Tammy at the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival. © Photograph by Bruce Gilden

​Back to the video featuring Gilden: Gilden is heard saying that he finds some of his photographs beautiful. Further that if he didn’t photograph these people they would go unnoticed. Indeed, he recounts a conversation with one of the women he has photographed in the most unforgiving way. He says that she says (after he shows her the photograph he made of her) that she thinks he made her look beautiful in the photograph.
So is his work devoid of empathy? As always the question is both complicated and subjective.
And within the preceding context of complexity and subjectivity — personally — I questioned whether Gilden’s photographs leave the people he has photographed with their dignity uncompromised? Of course, dignity is also a complex and highly subjective notion. Though and said objectively most people are innately aware when they have not treated another person with requisite respect.
Interestingly, dignity and empathy are at times interconnected. It could be suggested that it is difficult to leave the people one has photographed with their dignity intact without first showing them empathy.
~JP

Exclusive book signing at Ballarat International Foto Biennale, August 22.

In Photography News on August 11, 2015 at 5:30 AM

Stephen Dupont will be signing copies of his new book published by Steidl titled Generation AK: The Afghanistan Wars 1993 – 2012. This will be a first time signing of the book. Go along to the Art Gallery of Ballarat on Saturday August 22nd between 2pm and 3pm to purchase books. Stephen will also have some of the last limited edition copies of Piksa Niugini available and more of his books. 1510687_117759638564598_746103430785015757_nAlso Stephen and myself are taking bookings for our next workshop event in Havana, Cuba Dec 6th – 11th. Click here  for further details.  All enquires to jack@jackpicone.com and stephendupont@bigpond.com