“A celebrated fashion and costume designer, Han Feng began working in photography several years ago when colleagues and friends complimented her on her eye for the medium and challenged her to pick up a camera. A close friend, American photographer Lois Conner, helped her learn the fundamentals of the camera, and before long she was making landscapes in her hometown of Hangzhou, China. When the pandemic hit, she turned to combining meaningful and ephemeral objects from her kitchen and studio in New York. Conner as well as other artists and curator friends quickly noted that she had found her photographic voice.”
ROBERT KLEIN GALLERY
“Bremner Benedict’s project is an artistic investigation, part art, part research, into the springs of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Mojave, Great Basin deserts, and the Colorado Plateau. The critical importance of these deserts and their ecologies in the face of climate changes and population pressures is considered by many to be making their survival precarious. By visually interpreting the science, Benedict’s intent is to raise public awareness of the potential of water scarcity. ”
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
400 North Ashley Drive · Cube 200 · Tampa, FL 33602
Tickets are available by visiting: https://www.fmopa.org/online-reservation-only/
“In a year when millions of Americans poured into the streets demanding changes in police strategy, training and deployment, the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) believes a crucial part of the conversation should be Joseph Rodríguez’s photo series and just-released book, LAPD 1994.”
Bronx Documentary Center
“Bowman was awarded the 2020 Aperture Portfolio Prize for her series What Had Happened (2019–ongoing). Aperture’s creative director, Lesley A. Martin, praised the series for making “excellent use of the pleasures of photographic space, described in elongated tonal gradations of black, white, and maximum greys balanced against compositions etched sharply by California-noir shadows—Robert Adams meets Maya Deren in the Los Angeles suburbs.””
Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York
126 Baxter Street · New York, NY 10013
Marcus Xavier Chormicle is one of our featured artists in the Portfolio Issue 2020 #104. The work from his project, Still Playing with Fire, is a photographic series made in Las Cruces, New Mexico, his hometown, which interrogates the violent history of the region and the effects this history has on the people still living there today. I had the opportunity to interview Marcus on this project and his work for this issue.
Cary Benbow (CB): Who are the people that appear in your photographs? Are they more important than just being a figure in the frame?
Marcus Xavier Chormicle (MXC): For this project, nearly everyone is family, and everyone is part of my community. They’re the most important people in my life, so their value lives far beyond any image I could make. I feel that way about anyone, but especially my family and my community. They created me, so I approach my work and myself as not just a representation, but a reflection of them.
CB: Why did you decide to pursue photography?
MXC: I had always been obsessed with memory and how my family recorded our communal memory through family photos. I would spend hours looking at those photos, and listening to the stories that accompanied them. I had always felt compelled to create similar work. When I had the opportunity to go to college I wanted to pursue photography, and ultimately decided that it was the one thing that really brought me joy, which left me no choice but to follow that path.
CB: That said, what was your start into photography?
MXC: My start in photography goes all the way back to looking at family photos with my mother and grandmother. I think that was a formative experience for how I viewed the world and my family, as well as how I interacted with them. From there I would beg to use my grandmother’s camera at family parties and gatherings to photograph my cousins and our dogs. That’s when I was very little and throughout the rest of my life I wanted to chase that. When I was 16 my father and grandma pitched in to get me a beginner digital camera; that’s when I first really felt like a photographer.
CB: What else do you like about it – why make photography your choice of expression?
MXC: What I like about photography, versus any other medium of expression, is that you’re actively and openly interpreting a singular perspective. With mediums like painting or sculpture, you create something from nothing, from a lump of clay or onto a blank canvas, which is what makes those mediums exciting to me, the creation. But with photography, you’re creating something unique from the world as it already exists. You’re taking the light from 1/250 of a second, and making a statement that this particular fraction of a second is worth looking at. That the person, place or thing is worth looking at, and that the moment deserves to be thought about for a longer time than it actually existed in front of you.
CB: Why do you photograph, or what compels you to make the images you create?
MXC: It provides me a way to interact with the world in a unique way. Through photography I am able to explore emotion, memory and perspective while engaging with my surroundings. I am compelled to make my work so I can help assert the artistic and cultural value of the people and places around me. Photography is a means to project an internal world on to the external, and it’s an easy way to convince people to engage with it.
CB: Why did you choose a quasi-documentary style for the work in your ‘Still Playing with Fire’ project?
MXC: When I went to college I studied journalism, but I quickly found out that I really didn’t buy into photojournalism, or the idea of what much of documentary photography represented. I worked as a photojournalist for a few years while in school, and I love photographing people, even people that are very different from me, but I hate the idea of representing someone’s image if it’s in the service of someone else. Not that work needs to be activism, because I think most of us photographers who feel that way about our work are just kidding themselves, but I wanted to make work that was first and foremost for the people in it, and for myself in a way that was honest. I decided to return to the roots of my fascination with photography and photograph my family. Documentary style is what I was attracted to, and how I had been trained, I also felt it was a complimentary style in which to approach my family, to create space for interpretation in a setting that felt comfortable and certain to me.
CB: You write on your website that your work is about the intersection of class, race and history – can you comment on how you depict these elements in the way you do?
MXC: ”Still Playing with Fire” is about understanding and processing the generational trauma passed down within my family. It’s about trying to make sense of events and feelings that have recurred again and again in my family. So much of our lives are determined before we even step into them by the circumstances around, for better and for worse. Understanding how class, race and history define our lives and how we’ve been taught to relate to each other has been key to me for figuring out how to move forward, how to get better as an individual and hopefully as a family and community.
CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?
MXC: Currently I’m working on exhibiting “Still Playing with Fire” and trying to maintain community art in Las Cruces. I’m establishing a gallery in memory of my late cousin Cristian Anthony Vallejo in Las Cruces, and working with the artist Saba to grow the Picacho Arts district. As far as photo, I don’t currently have a new direction as far as a project, but I think that will find me when I’m ready anyways.
CB: Where do you draw inspiration, or who are your photographic inspirations?
MXC: I try to look at as much work as possible, some favorites I’ve already mentioned, Rivas, Lange and Parks. Other essential photographers for me include Sam Contis, Carlos Louise Bernal, Wendy Red Star, Guadalupe Rosales, Laura Augillar and my friends Juan Brenner and Daniel Ramos. I’ve been lucky to be mentored by people like Liz Cohen, Mark Klett and Benjamin Timpson who’ve contributed a lot to how I approach photography. People such as Elle Pérez, Dawoud Bey and John Edmonds have all been thought leaders for me as far as how I approach the sitters in my work, it’s from reading about them that I came to conclusions about the power of photography to assert artistic and cultural value to the subject. Beyond photography, Fritz Scholder, the Latin Playboys and Star Wars have probably been some of the greatest influencers on me.
I hope my work fits in with these influences; I think everyone I listed has impressed something important on me, and I try to fuse elements of everything I’ve taken away from them into my work.
CB: In a related style of photographic work or style, what do you feel are the obligations of a photographer covering human rights issues? Do you feel this theme is related to your project?
MXC: I used to love advocacy projects, but I’ve really fallen out of that love with most of them. I think Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks are two of the only photographer’s whose human rights projects I still enjoy looking at, not to say that I don’t take issue with some of the images, I think Parks’ work in Brazil is one of the most significant projects in that vein, it’s powerful, moving, beautifully made and full of decisions I would like to avoid in my own work. I think a lot of it comes down to audience. I don’t want to make a life of sending photos back from Brazil to be looked at by Americans, or really vice versa. Josué Rivas’ work at Standing Rock is probably my favorite contemporary work on a human rights topic, his book “Standing Strong” is incredible, I bought it twice, once more myself and once for my uncle. That project is important, an outsider could look at it and see that, but it was made to celebrate and hold space for the people who were there defending the land and their family, and I think the images in that project must be the most significant to the people who were there, who actually felt the emotions that viewers of the work, like myself, who weren’t there, could only imagine.
As far as my own work, I do believe that it could have cultural or emotional value to others, people who grew up like me, near me, or who have similar life experiences to me or the family in photos, but I try to start with acknowledging that the work is first from my singular perspective and second for the benefit of my family, by creating a record, holding space for them, and hopefully as a means of asserting their experiences as important and worthy of being seen for more than 1/250 of a second.
Marcus Xavier Chormicle is a lens based artist from what is currently the Southwestern region of the USA. His work focuses on family, memory and the intersection of class, race and history in the Southwest. He recently returned home to Las Cruces, New Mexico to work as an artist and focus on community engagement and education and currently works with the Picacho Arts District, a community driven arts institution which focus on uplifting and empower the people of Las Cruces, as well as the New Mexico State University Art Museum as a digital marketing specialist with a focus on bringing community groups that have not typically been included in institutional settings within the art world.
In 2020 he founded the Cristian Anthony Vallejo Memorial Gallery at the Garcia Building in Las Cruces. Dedicated to his younger late cousin, the gallery aims to create a space for artists whose work drives cultural and communal conversation that goes beyond art for-the-sake-of-art to generate real change on a communal level. Beginning in 2021 the CAV Gallery will hold exhibitions and host artists, as part of the Barrio Mezquite Artist Residency Program, which focuses on providing emerging artists with work space and the means to create professional level marketing materials to promote their practice.
These pics are simply gorgeous! To me, they are a perfect unreal aesthetic pleasure. Unreal? What was photographed is real! Right but that is not the way these photographs appear to me – the equivalent of McDonald’s ice cream: totally artificial, and tasting great!
Ian Volner, in his accompanying essay “Unreal City: The Urban Sublime of George Byrne,” explains that when Byrne returns from roaming the street to his computer “he then laboriously sifts through these sharp, contrast-heavy images, and choosing elements from various of them he starts to meddle, using photographic software to cut, paste, re-color, and generally monkey around.” No wonder his pics look unreal! That they should, as Volner claims, also disclose “a deeper truth about the cities we inhabit and how we inhabit them” I do however consider nonsense for by highlighting the surface you make any underlying depth (“a deeper truth”) insignificant.
George Byrne, born 1976 near Sydney, Australia, arrived in Los Angeles on September 23, 2010. “I remember looking out of the plane window and being taken aback by the scale of the urban sprawl, the vast tracts of shimmering, dusty pink-grey suburbia. Even from way up there, I thought it looked strangely beautiful. Later that same day, driving through the streets of L.A. for the first time, I was transfixed. There was so much light that the streetscapes seemed to become two-dimensional, angular cutouts. Shadows dissected the open space and figures occasionally floated by like ghosts. It felt free, wild, and open. Laid out in front of me in that moment, I saw what would go on to form both the basis of my artistic practice and the essence of this book.”
“Whoever it is,” writes Ian Volner, when referring to who took these pics, “they are certainly not a native of the place, since they seem to linger in certain quarters and pore over minutiae that Angelenos themselves would regard as only too essential, too echt Los Angeles.”
Had I not been told that I am looking at photographs of L.A. (not all of them – a few were taken in Miami, Palm Springs and some other places) I would have probably not known. As far as I’m concerned they could have been taken pretty much everywhere. But probably not for, after all, most were taken in L.A. (as seen by an outsider, who states): “The images are me, they are both my conscious and subconscious, they are my attempt to instill order in chaos, beauty in decay, and hope in a sometimes hopeless world.”
I must admit I’m somewhat at a loss to see how these images could instill order in chaos or offer hope for the sensations that they generate in me are of a different kind – I seem to almost intuitively know that this is not the real word, that this is a fantasy, that this is toyland. And, I love it!
Looking at photographs is personal, it will depend on a variety of factors – educational background, preferences, dislikes as well as moods – including one’s attitude. And, while for many years my interest was mostly in documentary photography (the story behind the picture), I’m nowadays much more focused on the surface, the composition, the framing.
It is George Byrne’s eye for framing that intrigues me; what he chose to put into the picture pleases my eyes. There’s a master-framer at work here!
And then there’s the light and the colours. Pure kitsch – and so real! Sunsets in the Southern Californian desert pop up in my head, colours so unreal that they couldn’t be true – but they were real! Similar sensations I experience when spending time with George Byrne’s excellent Post Truth that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. There is only one reservation that I have and it concerns the title – I regard it as uninspired, misleading, and wrong.
by George Byrne
forward by Ian Volner
Atefeh Farajolahzadeh is one of our featured artists in the Portfolio Issue 2020 #104. The work from her project, Still Moving, stems from “a performance that is a result of hours and hours of walking through both urban and natural landscapes, visually exploring ideas of being and not being, belonging and not belonging. It is where the present and the past, reality and dream, consciousness and unconsciousness become interwoven. The resulting photographs translate and transform the landscapes of my imagination based upon deeply personal experiences, to meld these internal sensations through the way photography records movements, colors, and lights.
Drawing upon my background in literature and my interest in narrating a story, I’ve created a character – a persona that obliquely represents me – who provides brief pivotal points of focus that grounds the work in reality amidst the intangible and the unknowable.” (From Farajolahzadeh’s Still Moving Artist Statement)
Cary Benbow (CB): What kind of background do you have in literature? Why/how does this inform your photographic practice?
Atefeh Farajolahzadeh (AF): My interest in literature is perhaps rooted in my family’s passion for Persian literature and poetry. When I was a teenager, my sister introduced me to a writing community that young and talented writers met weekly to share their writings with each other. Later, while I was very young, I published a story in Golestaneh, one of the most prestigious literary magazines in Iran. Even though I studied visual art, and my focus is currently on this field, writing has never been separated from my practice. I employ text frequently in my video work, and writing gives me a creative space to bridge between still images and moving images.
CB: How do you describe your photography to someone who’s not familiar with it?
AF: If I explain in one sentence, I’d say it’s the expression of the experience of being elsewhere. And to clarify where the elsewhere is, I should say it can be a physical space or an inner space.
CB: Can you please explain the idea behind your images submitted to this issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how are they significantly different?
AF: The images I submitted for this issue are a part of a photography and video series titled Still Moving, which is driven by personal experiences as an immigrant. Moving to the US and leaving my country of origin created another state of being for me, the state of floating between two different places and, simultaneously, being neither here nor there. This new experience of longing and suspension drove me to wander in the city, countryside, and nature in search of a certain space in which to be grounded.
While drifting in a metropolitan area like Chicago or even nature, I kept asking myself, is photography capable of creating a psychological space that mirrors the state of mind and emotions? And how can my surroundings become transformed into a photograph that does not signify anywhere specific? I believe this project is evolved based on these two questions or idiosyncrasy.
About your second question, the significant difference between this project and my other works is that this time I tried a new form. For this project, my focus was on creating a visual language that could communicate in an abstract and non-referential way.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
AF: It’s a tough question. My answer might be a little bit general, but I feel everything that triggers my curiosity and lingers me to look at it longer. It can be either a soothing photograph or a disturbing one, a documentation of an event, or a fictional representation of that. It should be able to communicate sympathetically, educationally, intellectually, or aesthetically.
CB: Who are your photography inspirations, and how do they influence you?
AF: Among many inspiring photographers, Harry Callahan is perhaps the most. He photographed people, buildings, and nature, three different themes that all look equalized at the end. They are a true reflection of the way he saw the world: an expressive and poetic connection between human, natural and man-made environments.
I should also mention some filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman and Stan Brakhage, who I’ve been influenced by.
CB: Who are the people that appear in your photographs?
AF: For both Still Moving and my previous project, I worked with my Iranian friends in the US who had faced some similar immigration experiences like myself. I mostly shot inside their homes and private spaces. Sometimes we wandered together in search of a landscape that could visually be a good fit in my project. While shooting, I was conscious that the people in the photographs are indeed my friends, but the camera has the power to make anyone uncomfortable. So, it’s always been important to me that they feel comfortable and express themselves through the gaze and posture.
CB: Do you see your work as a way of documenting your experience versus commenting on them?
AF: Absolutely. I don’t think my work is commenting on or criticizing something. It’s the documentation of my inner vision in an expressive way. When we talk about a documentary work, we expect it “carries a trace of its referent”- something evidential that provides data about what exists in front of the camera. I think my work meets this definition yet in a different way. I see it as the documentation of something that is not tangible but can manifest itself, and the camera has this potential to reveal it by color, light, and movement.
CB: Is your work born from your personal experiences, or from a broader perspective?
AF: I think the work is not about personal experiences, but it is driven by personal experiences, at least in my still images. Let’s be honest: I don’t think anyone looks at my photographs and immediately points out it’s a work about the immigrant experience. I’ve always asked myself how the viewers can read these photographs with this little context provided. I believe that some impulses determine what to see in the world and how to see the world. And I think these impulses are not somewhere apart from ourselves, they emerge from our everyday experiences. These photographs are the translation of those impulses, and their language is simple to interact with the viewers and remind them of a feeling they might have experienced as well.
CB: There are elements of nature, wildlife, landscape, man’s interaction with nature in your work – why do you depict these elements in the way you do?
AF: This approach comes from my interest in sequencing and editing different kinds of footage from disparate sources to bring diverse parts together and form a whole. Also, the deeper reason is that all these elements are so familiar to us and exist everywhere around the world. I was interested in using these elements to transform them visually or conceptually into something unfamiliar or least familiar. As you know, a picture of a red tree is yet a picture of a tree whose leaves turned red. But if we juxtapose it with another object, it communicates differently. The red tree is no longer only a tree; It carries another meaning as well. I approached humans, nature, and man-made environments with this notion. My point was to create a place that includes all these familiar elements and simultaneously creates detachment.
CB: Do you keep a journal? Do you keep notes or write about your ideas behind the work?
AF: Keeping my diary is a huge part of my practice, and I even used some parts of it in the text for my video works. Anytime I get back to reread what I wrote in the last weeks or months, I face a series of thoughts that are heavily charged with emotions and intellectually discussed. Most of these materials remain private but, at the same time, make me creative to manipulate them in a way to be sharable with others.
I also record my voice while driving alone on county roads. It’s an inspiring and sometimes silly way to collect a stream of spontaneous thoughts, which might spark new ideas.
CB: Does the political environment of 2020, or the pandemic influence your current practice? What has your experience as an Iranian in America been like as a visual artist?
AF: Fortunately, the ritual of everyday walking in nature has not been yet disrupted by the pandemic, and even this meditative and calming activity helps me to deal with this turbulent time. The negative effect of the pandemic on my work is that it’s been hard to communicate with new people. I often get inspiration and content for my writing through random and everyday interactions with people I meet, but currently, it’s not feasible.
I also want to add that what the coronavirus has brought us is kind of similar to what the immigration bureaucracy does. Social distancing is not a new concept for many immigrants and refugees; They get stuck there for many months and years. I, myself, could not see my family for five years because of the travel ban.
To answer your second question, it might be required to work here longer than the time I’ve spent here as a visual artist. But based on these few years of observation, I admire the tendency that people desire to see one’s unique story and perspective through her/his art, which encourages embracing individualism and personal style.
Atefeh Farajolahzadeh is an Iranian immigrant visual artist who employs the media of photography, video, and writing in her practice. Her current project is to explore the idea of being elsewhere and the psychology of being in-between (the place of origin and her new place). Her work oscillates between abstraction and representation, fiction, and non-fiction.
Farajolahzadeh received her MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been selected for Ground Floor 2020, Hyde Park Art Center’s biennial exhibition, Chicago; Filter Photo, Chicago; Ohio University art gallery; CICA Museum, South Korea; among others.
How wonderful!, I thought when glancing through the pages of this book and experienced what I do not recall to have ever experienced when spending time with a photo book showing people: I liked every single one of these photographs, without any reservation. That might have to do with the fact that the ones portrayed are children who are simply themselves and not conditioned to pose.
The foreword of Mary M. Burke, professor at the University of Connecticut and author of ‘Tinkers’: Synge and the Cultural History if the Irish Traveller conveys useful historical background, highlights Jamie Johnson’s modus operandi and states: “The subjects of Johnson’s work challenge our easy assumptions as to what makes a child happy, culturally-assured and free.” While I’m not sure that photographs – these two-dimensional reductions of a three-dimensional reality that neither sound nor smell – can do that, the infos that accompany these pics certainly help to see things in perspective.
The words contributed by the children of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, Ireland, I thought immensely refreshing and very much to the point: “I much prefer living in a trailer than a house even though it’s more space in a house, because living in a trailer makes me feel more like a proper Traveller.” Or: “We don’t sit at computers and play games all day; we are always running about.” Or: “Traveller kids are lucky ’cause we live in nature and have ponies.”
For one reason or another Huckleberry Finn came to mind who, to me, basically stands for independence and his own reference system – and the children portrayed seem also to possess an independent spirit and a reference system of their own. Do I see this because I know that they spend a lot of time outdoors, because I imagine them to be somehow wilder than often overprotected children, because I assume them to be different from the regular ones?
“I see only what I know” Goethe said, which is, precisely, why photographs need to be explained. “In Johnson’s images, Traveller children present themselves in terms of what is important to their own aesthetic and cultural values,” Mary M. Burke explains. Also: “… it is striking that empathetic images of Travellers do not appear to be produced by any major Irish photographer: Johnson is based in Los Angeles.” That however does not surprise me; I think it to be fitting that an outsider photographs outsiders.
“Travellers are members of a historically nomadic and non-literate ethnic minority that has existed on Ireland’s margins for centuries. As a result of decades of pressure from the Irish authorities, Travellers today tend to live in houses in Irish towns and cities, though some still ‘halt’ (settle seasonally, either legally or illegally) in caravans or other mobile structures for some or most of the year in both serviced and unserviced sites on the urban periphery. Nevertheless, and because of the distinct cultural practices the tradition of travelleinng accreted over many generations, the term ‘Traveller’ is applicable even when the nomadic way of life has effectively been abandoned.” This special spirit, it seems to me, can also be detected in the children portrayed in this tome.
The photographs are all black and white and radiate – I can of course only point out the sensations that I was experiencing – an emotional intensity that I instinctively associate with something raw, natural, and very much down to earth.
Growing Up Travelling: The Inside World of Irish Traveller Children
by Jamie Johnson
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg 2020
Presented artists: Ladislav Postupa, Emila Medkova, Vilem Reichman, Antonín Gribovský, Jan Hajn, Rupert Kytka, Jaromír Kohoutek and Ivo Preček.
“Czech photography has a rich avant-garde tradition, within which photo-artists used various experimental techniques. Their works reflected the subjective feelings of the creators as expressive, structural, and often hallucinatory images. One of the first post-war photographic groups in Czechoslovakia was the DOFO photo group from Olomouc. The influence of the group’s creations, with their seriousness, relevance and quality, has transcended national borders and contributed to the wider European art scene.”
Zieglergasse 34, 1070 Wien
Jan Arrigo, Hilary Bachelder, Mariana Bartolomeo, Gary Beeber, Ronald Butler, Zelma Covington, Frederic Crist, Lisa Cutler, Catherine Fairchild, Louise Fiore, Peter Foiles, Dean Forbes, Myles Gallagher, Nadide Goksun, Maureen Haldeman, Mark Harris, Bootsy Holler, Nicole Horvath, Linda Hosek, Elizabeth Kayl, Carol Lawrence, Michael Mathers, Julie Moore, Paul Murray, Marc Nathanson, Robert Pabst, Brian Pannier, Lance Pressl, Van Pulley, Gary Ricketts, Christine Ruddy, Wendi Schneider, Anita Seltzer, Carl Shubs, Melanie Tinnelly, Ken Trevor, Jim Turner, Karen VanderVen, Inge Vautrin, Sam Wang, Suzanne Theodora White, Alan Wieder, Suzanne Williamson, Jonathan Wolff and Beamie Young
SE CENTER for Photography
116 East Broad St.
Greenville, SC 29601