“For over a decade, Simon Roberts has photographed events and places across Britain that have drawn people together in public, reflecting on the nature of our shared histories and communal experiences.
Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island brings together iconic images and many previously unpublished photographs, recording social practices and customs linked to the British landscape, as well as some of the economic and political theatre that has helped define recent history. ”
Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP
Benrubi Gallery · 521 West 26th Street, Floor #2 · New York City · New York · 10001
Legend has it that the “Potemkin Village” originated in an effort by Russian Field Marshal Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin “to conceal from Empress Catherine the Great the shabby state of the villages in the recently annexed territory of Crimea in 1787. Walter Moser, Chief Curator for photography in the Albertina, Vienna, one of the contributing writers to this tome, labels it “an anecdote most likely invented by Potemkin’s political adversaries”.
Starting in June 2015, photographer Gregor Sailer, who is based in Tyrol, Austria, traveled to Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, England, the United States, and China in search of Potemkin Villages or, differently put, “fake towns”.
In the Russian city of Suzdal, for instance, he photographs faux façades that were pasted onto rundown buildings (in anticipation of a visit by President Vladmir Putin in 2013). He also takes pictures in the city of Ufa, in the Ural Mountains, where in 2015, as Walter Moser writes, “entire streets were masked behind tarps and banners to make it look prosperous and well kept even in the glare of the limelight forced upon it by a Triple Summit of the BRICS states, Eurasian Economic Union, and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”.
Looking at these photographs puts me in a quandary: I know that I’m looking at fake buildings yet I do not see fake buildings. Moreover: Am I really looking at buildings? I’m looking at photographs of buildings that I have been told are not what they seem to be. In other words: I see what I believe that I see.
Photographs, by their very nature, can only show me what has been in front of a camera at a given moment. They do not inform me whether someting is real or not for what they record are surfaces. And precisely because of this I do find looking at these photographs fascinating – I do know that my eyes are fooling me but with the help of my brain I’m able to correct what the pictures suggest. Or, differently put, what I know about a photograph helps me to see it differently.
Some of these fake towns are however clearly recognisable as fakes such as, for instance, Junction City in the US that serves as a training site for combat operations. Or Carson City in Sweden, where the images are arranged in such a way that one firstly gets to see a frontal view of the façades and subsequently the same set viewed in profile or from behind. Unfortunately, the photographer does not provide any information why the fake Carson City was built in Sweden nor does he volunteer clues as to why he chose the sites pictured in this tome – the explaining of the context is done by three contributing writers. From Linde B. Lehtinen’s essay “Unreal Photography: Gregor Sailer’s The Potemkin Village” I learn that it is a vehicle-test area. On the internet I found this useful and intriguing information:
“Carson City—located in the real town of Vårgårda, an hour from Volvo headquarters in Gothenburg—is the world’s only purpose-built simulated city for testing active safety systems. It’s run by Autoliv, a Swedish supplier that researches and manufactures safety components for nearly every car brand in the world. (Autoliv’s major clients are BMW, Mercedes, and Audi; Volvo develops most of its own systems.) Instead of choosing a Swedish name for the “town,” the company was inspired by Nevada’s state capital, particularly that city’s near-abandonment after the gold rush. (Plus, Carson City sounds a bit like the name of Autoliv’s CEO, Jan Carlson.) Indeed, entering the 0.7-mile-long strip is like stepping onto the set of an old Western film; it’s a one-block ghost town.”
It feels weird looking at these sites for they do not only look somehow unreal – they are. And, at the same time, they are not – for everybody will take them for what they are: fakes. Take for example Thames Town, this very English town near Shanghai, which serves as a tourist attraction. Nobody will mistake it for the real thing – except probably French intellectuals like Jean Baudrillard who, according to Linde B. Lehtinen “posited that hyperreal worlds such as the ones that Sailer explores make the distinction between reality and simulacra less distinct, and that ‘illusion in no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible.’“ Well, probably not.
Contrary to Judith Lehner who (in her essay “Spatial Perspectives on the Potemkin Village of Today”) argues that Sailer’s “choice of motif raises not only the question of what is behind the façade, but also what the global interrelations with both the things and the people in this particular place are”, I do not entertain such questions but increasingly feel somewhat bewildered by these photographs that, the longer I expose myself to them, I perceive as illustrations of a rather strange variety of children’s playgrounds.
The Potemkin Village
By Gregor Sailer
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg Berlin 2017
Opening night – THURS DEC 7, 6-8pm
Artists include – Gary Heery, Graham Shearer, Toby Burrows, Tom Evangelidis, Paul Blackmore and many more.
Black Eye Gallery
3/138 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst, 2010
“Seeing Beneath the Surface with Nick Veasey’s X-Ray Vision. Everything is stripped down to the bare bone, plant or the raw metal or whichever components are included in the objects that are subjected to Nick Veasey’s X-rays. He captures everything from the beauty of Victorian clothes to the fragility of a flower, or, why not, the humorous fact that a host of well-known personalities share the same skeleton? Embark on an exciting journey..”
“In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Getty Center, the J. Paul Getty Museum announced today an exhibition of 20 works by renowned photographer Robert Polidori (Canadian-French-American, born 1951). Robert Polidori: 20 Photographs of the Getty Museum, 1997 is the first public exhibition of photographs showing the first installation of the Getty Center in the month leading up to its opening in December 1997.”
J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center
OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, December 7, 2017, 6 – 8 PM
“Landscape photography is uniquely wedded to the National Parks, and specifically to Yosemite. Many famous photographers have had a storied history with Yosemite– their work not only shares and celebrates the landscape’s grandeur, but also examines our relationship to wilderness and conservation. The contemporary artists selected for this exhibition bring new representation and varied voices to the genre of landscape photography, strengthening the rich relationship between the medium and Yosemite, while also blazing new conceptual and technical ground with their work.”
1011 Market St., 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
Opening reception, Saturday, December 2, 5-7 pm
“Julie Saul Gallery is pleased to announce the exhibition New Vision/ New Generation. Pairing well-known masters of photography with two young gallery artists who have inspired them, this exhibition will highlight the continuing influence of the past on the present. ”
Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, 6th floor, New York, NY 10011
“Steve Schapiro: Heroic Times will survey American milestones from the photographer’s nearly six decade career, with a focus on the 1960s and ‘70s. A number of the photographs are unpublished and on public view for the first time. With assignments from Life, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and many other publications, he captured iconic and humanistic images of politicians, celebrities, artists, and newsmakers in action.”
Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street, Suite 1406, New York
Cary Benbow (CB): Lets talk about your ‘Where Blue Birds Fly’ portfolio images submitted to this month’s issue about ‘Home’ – What is the background to this project, and how does the work relate to your other projects?
Homayra Adiba (HA): ‘Where Blue Birds Fly’ is a story of rooftops in Dhaka City. It’s deeply related to my childhood. The rooftop wasn’t just a place when I was a kid, it was almost a part of our home. Back in the 1990’s, every evening most of the people living in a building would go there. I hardly see that anymore. In the old part of Dhaka there are still people coming on the rooftops. Compared to the new part of the city with its growing apartment buildings and modern technology, we hardly have anytime to spare. We don’t visit the rooftops anymore. It’s striking to me that we don’t have any time to sit anymore, to look at the sky or the city! But then again, there was no Internet back then when I was little.
I wanted to capture those bits that are still there to relive the reminiscence of my childhood. I could sense that soon it’s going to fade away. I wanted to capture it before it’s gone. Especially in this way, this project is similar to my other work. I take a trip to my childhood, or I find where I really belong.
CB: How did you talk with the people in this project about photographing them? What aspect do they play in the images?
HA: As I said, it’s mostly about the place. Even without people, the work always talks about the people living in that space. You can make little stories in your mind – from broken Lego pieces, you could say there are kids who come here, or a pack of cigarettes would tell you someone comes here to have their moments to smoke. A garden could say somebody takes their time and has this hobby to grow plants… It could be a mother of two who takes time from her households.
In my two and a half years journey of capturing rooftops in the city, I found people are never comfortable with you if you ask for access to the building. They somehow think maybe you are from the media and unsafe to them. What I did is very rebellious (somewhat dangerous) – I went straight to the top of the buildings, if there’s no one I would take my time and have my moment. However, if there are people, I would be accepted – I look like them, I talk like them, and I am one of them. If I had to take pictures of them, I would always tell them why, and what I was doing, and they are mostly welcoming. But I would never jump into my photography right away – rooftops are the place that makes you slow down, you spend some time there, take a little moment from your busy miserable life. There is no rush. I would go and connect myself with the mood, slow down, untie my hair sometimes. Sometimes it took me several trips to go to a same rooftop to find the image I wanted.
But in this project, the edit you see contains the people I know, I am familiar with. Even though I went to hundreds of rooftops, I still find those pictures intimate because we know each other.
CB: This work is very personal in nature – how does your work make a comment on a universal level as well?
HA: Even though my work speaks of small places in Dhaka city, it also speaks to universal human emotions, and about time being grabbed by the moving responsibilities, technologies, belongings and changing nature of life.
CB: Is it relatively easy, or is it a struggle to be an artist where you live? Do you feel isolated in the larger photographic community?
HA: Human life is a continuous struggle. It doesn’t matter whether you are an artist or a plumber. It definitely has it’s cons, but there are little perks of living this life too. I think I like to be a little isolated but I definitely haven’t found a good fit where I am now. I have a long way to go before I get satisfied with what I am doing. There are still more stories I would like to tell, more mediums I would like to try.
Homayra Adiba is a photographer from Bangladesh. On her website she says: I am Homayra, born at dawn, somewhere in Dhaka city. I grew up there and see myself as a growing documentary photographer. My school, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute was one of the good decisions of my life.
You can see more work by Homayra Adiba at her website.