Tag Archives: Martin Taylor

Exhibitors aim to level field in San Francisco

Exhibit: Photo San Francisco, Fort Mason, San Francisco, Calif. 21-24 July 2005

By MARTIN TAYLOR
Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Fotophile.com) —Photo San Francisco 2005 is officially over. So what was the event like? As a mere mortal without the collecting budget of Elton John I offer this perspective.

The venue itself at Fort Mason was well laid out, lit and had an uncluttered feel despite the throng of exhibitors and dealers. The experience of seeing framed prints hanging on the wall of a museum is, however, altogether different compared to that of seeing the said same prints hanging on the wall of a dealer’s booth. The thing that makes all the difference is that little sticker on the wall next to the print; the one that tells you how out-of-your-league that master print really is.

A nice Berenice Abbott was going for $5,000; a decent size Diane Arbus or Andre Kertesz started at around $14,000. I saw three different prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico going for $10,000 and up (many times up) depending upon how much Ansel Adams had to do with the specific print. A tiny but unique William Eggleston print could’ve been yours for $9,500; apparently I should really consider buying now before I’m priced out of the market next year (I didn’t dare ask how much the large print of Morton, Mississippi [man on bed with gun] which I really liked was). It didn’t take much effort to find prints offered on the wrong side of $100,000.

After a while of walking round the booths one Cartier-Bresson starts to look like another and you grow accustomed to being sized up by dealers who can quickly work out if you are serious, or a serious waste of their time. Among all the business, however, there were several highlights of which the following are but three:

The View From Here is an organization thatrepresents visual art by artists who are visually impaired and blind. A strap line like that sounds like a novelty but a few moments in their booth and you knew that their artist’s work could stand alone without any gimmick. Michael Richard, one of the photographers represented, was on hand and more than happy to discuss his work with visitors. Legally blind, he uses various magnification aids and a slow, dedicated work flow to produce high contrast, architectural pictures. Beyond the stark beauty of his work, there is the added depth of Richard trying to share with his audience his unique vision.

Lumas Editions Gallery was one of the few exhibitors not to inspire severe sticker shock. At first their large booth looked liked any of the other galleries specializing in contemporary photographers, but when you examined the prices it did cause a double-take. After seeing similar looking prints commanding four- and five-figure prices, $600 for a large, signed print ready to hang looked like a printing error. Lumas is a German company trying to fill the void between reproductions from a museum store and the single, or very limited, edition prints carried by established galleries. Lumas represents 50-plus photographers and has hundreds of different prints available in both open editions and limited editions of 75 to 150. Browsing through their catalogues you recognize many Aperturealumni as well as a smattering of classics. Lumas should be applauded for attempting to take the elitism out of owning good photography by making impactful prints affordable to many more photography enthusiasts.

Instituto TerraSebastião Salgado has to be admired, not only for his work, but for putting his money where his mouth is. While many artists talk about trying to change the world through their work, Salgado has actively sought out practical ways in which he can do just that. With his wife Lélia he set up the Instituto Terra to restore a part of the rain forest and to promote ecological restoration and environmental issues.

Photo San Francisco 2005 should be praised for promoting and making a beneficiary of the event such a topical and relevant cause.

 

‘Revelations’ provides a broad view of Arbus

'Diane Arbus Revelations' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
‘Diane Arbus Revelations’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York runs through 30 May 2005. [Copyright © 2005 Bruno J. Navarro]

Exhibit: ‘Diane Arbus Revelations‘ at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 25 October 2003 through 8 February 2004. Exhibit continues at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, February through May 2005; Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, June through September 2005; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, October 2005 through January 2006; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, 9 July through 8 October 2006).

By MARTIN TAYLOR
Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO (Fotophile.com) — I had thought that I was the only photography enthusiast in the Bay Area not to have seen “Diane Arbus Revelations” at SFMoMA. It had seemed that everyone I met who is even vaguely into photography was raving about the exhibition. With the fixed deadline that the exhibit ends next weekend, I finally made the trip downtown on Sunday morning half expecting the gallery to be deserted.

How wrong I was.

The place was packed with punters, like me, trying to see the collection before it moved on. Of course, I know Arbus’s importance, influence and reputation as the Sylvia Plath of photography. I also know her work from books, though there’s a huge difference between a reproduction and a wet print, framed, hung and lit in a museum and I was interested to see how the show compared with the hype.

First off, the collection of photographs used in this show is unparalleled. I’ve been to shows of famous, big name photographers where you can tell that the curator has scraped together just about enough photographs to constitute an exhibit. The Arbus show appears uncompromised by the photographs available. Everything there covers all aspects of her life’s work, from her earliest to last days, from her “greatest hits” to lesser-known shots I’ve never seen anywhere before.

The organization of the show, also, is exceptional. Some work is organized by theme, others chronologically with “library” sections focusing on specific aspects of her life and work. This show was not just thrown together to make a buck off the Arbus name but seems to have been assembled with understanding, appreciation and care. Along with actual prints, the exhibit makes use of pages from Arbus’s notebooks, letters and even the contents of her study. It’s interesting to see her influences from the books she had on her shelves and the photographs of other photographers that she had displayed where she lived and worked.

The show also contains some of Diane’s cameras displayed in glass cases like religious relics. I tried not to be an equipment geek but I couldn’t help it and, I’m ashamed to say that my pulse quickened more as I approached her battered old Rollei than it was affected by any of the prints hanging on the walls. Here sits the actual camera she used, at once so normal and familiar and, at the same time, some how endowed with something of its now departed owner. Here sits the camera I had read about her fighting to learn to become familiar with when she switched from her grainy 35mm SLR for the resolution benefits of medium format film. And there, in the next case, is her old Nikon F!

As with most shows, there were niggling issues I wish could have been addressed. First was the lighting. Compared to the bright photography gallery a floor below, the Arbus gallery felt dark and dingy. I don’t know if this was to invoke a feeling for the twilight world Diane Arbus is famous for inhabiting or because of the value of the prints required protection from harsh light. Dimmer lighting isn’t in itself a problem as your eye rapidly adjusts, however, I frequently found that I was able to cast a shadow on a print I was looking at; this could be a little distracting.

Also, the quality of some of the prints were not always of gallery quality. Some seemed to be work prints which are nice to see but I wish that they had been labeled as such. Some seemed to my untrained eye incredibly dark (not only in content) and I would be interested to know if this is how the artist had intended them or if they had deteriorated over time. Speaking of the artist’s intentions, a good percentage of the prints where not produced by the artist herself. Of course, I like to see prints by the artists themselves as that seems to be the purest form of the artist’s vision. You can’t help wondering when you see a print produced by an acolyte how much they have filtered the original artist’s intention.

I did enjoy the few contact sheets included in the show. I don’t know about you but seeing contact sheets of influential photographers always gives me hope especially when they reveal how human their creator was. Then, among a few blurry, overexposed, accidental double exposures and some plain uninteresting frames you see the magic moment. A single frame or two that reveal the genius of their creator. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got the uninteresting and technically inaccurate shots down so, perhaps I will see a magic frame in my own work soon.

Overall, “Revelations” was well worth finally braving the crowds to see. I came away feeling privileged to have been allowed into a life and an extraordinary body of work. Of course, the controversy of her work continues as well as the question about how much Arbus exploited her subjects to reveal the mundane in the freakish and the freakish in the mundane but try not to let that cloud your impressions. You come away appreciating the purity and single mindedness of her vision and celebrating that Arbus left this large body of work behind while, at the same time, bemoaning the fact that she is no longer with us to continue her exploration with contemporary subjects.