In: Documentary

Alys Tomlinson | Dead Time | 2004 – 2006
June 23, 2023

Alys Tomlinson | Dead Time | 2004 – 2006

“I like to remember things my own way.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”
(from Lost Highway)

I’ve recently begun rewatching the third season of Twin Peaks (I mention this as Alys Tomlinson has spoken of Dead Time with allusions to the painter Edward Hopper but also that ephemeral notion of the Lynchian landscape): there’s a scene where Shawn Colvin’s version of Viva Las Vegas is a soft and enchanting soundtrack to the unfolding scene, and I happened to be listening to that song as I was perusing Tomlinson’s Dead Time series online. Vegas is, they say, a place where time is fluid, or can be lost or doesn’t exist in the same manner as elsewhere….

Tomlinson’s scenes are more Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway than Twin Peaks, with harsh artificial light casting edged shadows and revealing a sinister tableaux. Some critics have spoken of how time in the Lynchian universe – especially in Twin Peaks – is non linear, and Tomlinson’s images have an eerie familiarity (I’ve also travelled long distances by car and spent evenings in motels that, in recollection, blur together into one continuous banal experience).

There’s an element of the same unsettling darkness and emptiness that Steve Laurie employs in some of his images that also invite us to see them as film stills and create our own narratives for them. Tomlinson’s ‘America’ is empty, hard and bright. Swimming pools – usually sites of social interaction and enjoyment – are harbingers that seem more nefarious, here.

“For the past few years Alys has been photographing empty swimming pools at night in the UK and abroad. The images explore a twilight world of the in-between: a blurring of day and night, light and dark, the open and the enclosed, plenitude and absence. Whether municipal or members only, the pool is a space shaped by its patrons. Captured out of use, these familiar spaces stand outside time. Curved light breaks up the horizontal rigour. The comfort of transparency gives way to reflection and shadow. What is cedes to what could be, and the ordinary is transformed. The geographical location of each swimming pool is kept secret. Shot at dusk or at night, the pools take on a detached, almost melancholy, emptiness, and suggest a sinister feeling that something has happened, or is about to happen.” (from here)

Alys Tomlinson’s site can be seen here (she’s an award winning photographer and the diversity of her work speaks to her acumen with a lens, both formally and conceptually) and her IG is here. She has produced a book of these images, as well.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Hifa Cybe | Girl with the Gas Mask | 2020
June 3, 2023

Hifa Cybe | Girl with the Gas Mask | 2020

I have heard the languages of apocalypse, and now I shall embrace the silence.
(Neil Gaiman)

Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath the clear blue sky?
(Goodbye Blue Sky, Pink Floyd)

I am convinced – though I’ve had difficulty tracking it down – that I read a line in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, where one of the characters is talking of how, during the Russian civil war between the Whites and the Bolsheviks, it was a time when children only survived by eating the flesh of the dead (my memory of this line, even if invented, is quite visceral, and that intersects with some of Hifa Cybe’s work about memory – the veracity of it in personal narratives – too).

The quote I begin this piece with is – as some of you will know – from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and this song always struck a chord regarding how in post WW II Britain a hoped for peace gave way to the Cold War, and that the idea – the fear – of an impending nuclear apocalypse – that we might bring about our own ending in a previously unimaginable manner – suffused a generation of children, as dour and suffocating and infecting as the bombs that ravaged people during WWII, and that do so still, now, perhaps forever….

I have little to actually say about Cybe’s artwork here : it’s power, simplicity in contradictions and the anxiety it induces are so intensely visual, so well executed, that my words would simply be a barrier to the viewer’s immediate engagement with it. An image like this also exposes the trite self aggrandizing act of Ai Weiei’s ‘reimagining’ of the image of drowned infant Alan Kurdi that in 2015 became the defining symbol of the plight of Syria’s refugees.

There is one thing to consider, though, in light of how Cybe’s research and artworks delve into trauma, especially in terms of memory and childhood. Here, in Niagara (as I make this post at the beginning of Pride month), we’re seeing the latest iteration of hatred against LBQT+ people, with a recent bilious spurt of it from a catholic school trustee : surely I’m not the only one who finds the rank stench of that hypocrisy, from a cult that has harmed so many – and so many children – too much? With this in mind, and looking at Cybe’s image, I am also reminded of friends I grew up with, in extremist religious environments, and that this scene might be a more exact psychological representation of their experiences, and tools of survival….

Luiza Jesus Prado, known as Hifa Cybe, is a transdisciplinary artist born in Guaratingueta, Brazil. She uses artistic tools such as photography, performance, video art, installation, sculpture, painting, new media, body art, music and drawing along with physics, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Cybe’s research is specifically on memory and the artist often explores topics of violence, sexual trauma, sociopolitical issues and minorities within Latin America.

This image is from a larger body of work under the aegis of Photo Homeostasis – Reprocessing Memories of Violence. The quote I began this essay with – from Neil Gaiman – is also the closing salvo from one of his stories in Endless Nights, which speaks of survival and even strength in the face of trauma.

Much more of Hifa Cybe’s artwork and research can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Rich-Joseph Facun | Little Cities | 2022
May 26, 2023

Rich-Joseph Facun | Little Cities | 2022

…it takes an ocean of trust in the kingdom of rust…
(Doves)

The Cuyahoga River won’t kill you no more.
They cleaned it up back in ’74.
Well, you might get sick – but welcome to Ohio.
(Luke Doucet)

 

As I get older, there are some memories that still have an unexpected vivacity : and living again in the city and region where I grew up offers an odd looping of recollection, with elements of nostalgia – and the opposite of that, which might be cynicism or nihilism – informing and deforming my thoughts.

When I first encountered Rich – Joseph Facun’s images – specifically his Little Cities series – I felt transported back to my late teens and early twenties and shuttling back and forth between Windsor / Detroit and St. Catharines, seeing the underbelly of the rust belt wonderland. Specifically taking the train, and thus getting glimpses of smaller urban spaces across Southern Ontario that are often unseen or unconsidered, simply spaces to traverse on the way to somewhere else, not ‘valid’ to be ‘seen’ but as a space to be left behind or to be traversed with your mind – and destination elsewhere.

Facun’s scenes are part of a story that unfolds amidst the post-industrial United States – and these are spaces I’m familiar with from Niagara or the Windsor / Detroit region, that might be a ‘kingdom of rust’ or the ‘rust belt wonderland’ : a detritus of past ‘progress’, leavings of history that we might ignore or not acknowledge but that are literally part of the [memory of] landscape.

In Little Cities Rich-Joseph Facun “guides viewers on a meandering meditation through Southeastern Ohio by depicting the vernacular post-industrial landscape. In their quiet formality, the images call to mind past dreams, present disillusionment, and gently nudge us to look beyond what can be seen on the surface. Through recurring motifs, Facun excavates remaining signs of the Indigenous communities who once called this region home. In mankind’s hubris, we want to believe we shape the land we live on. Facun’s photographs remind us that the landscape contains memory, and it is witness to our misdeeds.” (from here)

Rich-Joseph Facun is a photographer of Indigenous Mexican and Filipino descent. His words : “His work aims to offer an authentic look into endangered, bygone, and fringe cultures—those transitions in time where places fade but people persist.

The exploration of place, community and cultural identity present themselves as a common denominator in both his life and photographic endeavors.

Before finding “home” in the Appalachian Foothills of southeast Ohio, Facun roamed the globe for 15 years working as a photojournalist. During that time he was sent on assignment to over a dozen countries, and for three of those years he was based in the United Arab Emirates.”

More of Facun’s work can be seen here and his IG is here. He has produced a publication for Little Cities, and I encourage you to spend some time with his Black Diamonds and 1804 series. Facun reminds me of Mary Ellen Mark‘s assertion as to how “photography is closest to writing, not painting. It’s closest to writing because you are using this machine to convey an idea. The image shouldn’t need a caption; it should already convey an idea.”

~ Bart Gazzola

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Dorothea Lange | A family of drought refugees from Abilene, Texas, on the road in California | 1936
May 4, 2023

Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) | A family of drought refugees from Abilene, Texas, on the road in California | 1936

“The depression was making people disappear.

They vanished from factories and warehouses and workshops, the number of toilers halving, then halving again, until finally all were gone, the doors closed and padlocked, the buildings like tombs. They vanished from the lunchtime spots where they used to congregate, the diners and deli counters where they would grab coffee on the way in or a slice of pie on the way out.

They disappeared from the streets.

They were whisked from the apartments whose rents they couldn’t meet and carted out of the homes whose mortgages they couldn’t keep pace with, lending once thriving neighborhoods a desolate air, broken windows on porches and trash strewn across overgrown yards. They disappeared from the buses and streetcars, choosing to wear out their shoe leather rather than drop another dime down the driver’s metal bucket. They disappeared from shops and markets, because if you yourself could spend a few hours to build it, sew it, repair it, reline it, reshod it, reclod it, or reinvent it for some other purpose, you sure as hell weren’t going to buy a new one.

They disappeared from bedrooms, seeking solace where they could: a speakeasy, or, once the mistake of Prohibition had been corrected, a reopened tavern, or another woman’s arms—someone who might not have known their name and certainly didn’t know their faults well enough to judge them, someone who needed a laugh as badly as they did.

They disappeared, but never before your eyes; they never had that magic. It was like a shadow when the sun has set; you don’t notice the shadow’s absence because you expect it. But the next morning the sun rises, and the shadow’s still gone.”
(Thomas Mullen, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers)

I have a tendency in my research to fall down rabbit holes: this is often shaped by history (my interest – which has manifested on this site – in post Soviet artists, for example) and of late The Great Depression has been a point of interest. My enjoyment of horror intersects here, so I will confess that I came to the author that I quote liberally above (whose book follows two brothers whom are bank robbers during the Great Depression, harshly factual and researched, but they find they are resurrected each time they’re killed in one of their robberies) through Daniel Knauf’s Carnivàle series. But, like another writer has pointed out, improbability and violence overflow from ordinary life, and the Great Depression was a time more, perhaps, malleable than most, as many assumptions were fractured irreparably…

And the horrors experienced by many from the Crash of 1929 through the Depression were ‘unimaginable’ to many, until they became commonplace, and now, it seems, have been forgotten. This is similar to how we forget that Lange’s subjects are not just icons but actual people who lived, suffered and died.

To many, Lange’s work requires no introduction. Many of her photographs are so stitched into the fabric of a communal history that they act as signifiers for collective memories. Nonetheless: Dorothea Lange “was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.” (from here)

I return to Mullen’s book that had flavours of horror, but not in the way I expected, as it was more historical than ‘supernatural’ horror:

“Ten feet behind them, standing at the base of an arc light and looking in the opposite direction, was a young, balding man who Weston supposed was the father. The man looked as if he were trying very hard to become invisible.
When you bump into an old acquaintance on the street, you ask him how he’s doing. He tells you a story and then you tell him your story, and both of you are trying to see where you fit within the other’s. Your story says: This is the way the world is, and I’m the center, over here. But if the other guy tells a different story, with the world like this, where the center’s actually over here, then you realize that you’re way off to the side.
This man did not need to be told he was off to the side. He clearly realized it.”

More of Lange’s work – both her iconic images of The Great Depression and her later work that was more local but considered the same issues of justice and equality – can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Lana | Transformations by Ruth Dick
June 1, 2022

Lana | Transformations Photos by Ruth Dick Lana Series, Before, Image 3 - Photo by Ruth Dick LANA | TRANSFORMATIONS   Photos... Read More