In: black and white

Jane Evelyn Atwood | TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000
November 25, 2022

Jane Evelyn Atwood, TROP DE PEINES: FEMMES EN PRISON, 2000, Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, France. (OUT OF PRINT)
Jane Evelyn Atwood, TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, England. (OUT OF PRINT)

“Curiosity was the initial spur. Surprise, shock and bewilderment soon took over. Rage propelled me along to the end.”

Too many times – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I have heard some well meaning dilettante assert that ‘art should be about beauty’ or ‘should only uplift us.’ In terms of that space where photography intersects with ideas of art and documentary – and not to mention history – something that comforts you is most likely wrong, if not simply pablum. When I’m sharing images on social media, there are some photographers I hesitate to post works from (as photography still carries the weight of being more ‘real’, thus can ‘offend’ as well as see yourself banned from those platforms): Gilles Peress is one of those, for his unflinching lens in places from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia (“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures”), Gordon W. Gahan (specifically his images of the Vietnam War), Donna Ferrato (I was lucky enough to experience her groundbreaking series Living with the Enemy decades ago, in Windsor) or Martha Rosler (her House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home works that had their genesis in response to the Vietnam War (c.1967–72) but that she ‘revisited’ in 2004 and 2008, ‘updating’ them to Iraq and Afghanistan).

But the text I’ve selected for a Library Pick is something that is not ‘there’ but ‘here’, and in that respect is often – easily, repeatedly – ignored.

Jane Evelyn Atwood’s “monumental work on female incarceration, published in both French and English, took Atwood to forty prisons in nine different countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States. The access she managed to obtain inside some of the world’s worst penitentiaries and jails, including death row, make this ten-year undertaking the definitive photographic work on women in prison to date. Extensive texts include interviews with inmates and prison staff as well as Atwood’s own reminiscences and observations. The prize-winning photos in this book, including the story of an incarcerated woman giving birth while handcuffed, established Jane Evelyn Atwood as one of today’s leading documentary photographers.” (from her site)

Atwood has always used her camera as a means to tell stories too often not even dismissed but denied, and she has granted a level of dignity and consideration to those whom are too often not considered human but detritus.

A good friend is a theologian, but of the liberation theology vein: I enjoy talking with them, as their righteous anger is only matched by their ability to quote that repeatedly translated and edited text with a sense of the public good. I mention them as they once pointed out that in the New Testament, only one person was promised a place in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, and that was one of the criminals being crucified at the same time as Jesus.

In a more modern sense, I might cite Lutheran Minister (and ‘public theologian’) Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s contemporary addendum to the beatitudes, which include ‘Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working.’

Atwood published ten books of her work and been awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Grand Prix Paris Match for Photojournalism, the Oskar Barnack Award, the Alfred Eisenstadt Award and the Hasselblad Foundation Grant twice.

More of Atwood’s work can be seen here.

Like several of the books I’ve recommended, this is one I came across in my local library.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Elaine Ling | Baobab #31 – 2010, Madagascar
November 19, 2022

Elaine Ling | Baobab #31 – 2010, Madagascar

Ce qui embellit le désert, dit le petit prince, c’est qu’il cache un puits quelque part…[What makes the desert beautiful, said the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well…]

It is an odd feeling to encounter the work of an artist, seeing how prolific they are and be enamoured of their practice, then discover that they passed a few years ago. I’ve often had the same experience with authors (I have a habit of finding the work of a writer that is new to me, and consuming all the books, and it’s an empty sadness when you realize they won’t be creating any more).
This image is one from a series titled Baobob, by the late Elaine Ling (1946-2016). At her site it is the final series presented, from an extensive and enthralling body of work.

It can be read as having the quality of an epitaph: these massive, seemingly eternal natural ‘monuments’ that have survived her, and will likely survive all of us.

In that manner I have of being ‘too subjective’, Baobob trees remind me of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince (1943): to me, it’s a melancholy story, about loss and death, with touching moments of truth that have contributed to how it – despite often being considered a story for children – speaks to many adults, like myself.

“Seeking the solitude of deserts and abandoned architectures of ancient cultures, Elaine Ling…explored the shifting equilibrium between nature and the man-made across four continents. Photographing in the deserts of Mongolia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Timbuktu, Namibia, North Africa, India, South America, Australia, American Southwest; the citadels of Ethiopia, San Agustin, Persepolis, Petra, Cappadocia, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Great Zimbabwe, Abu Simbel; and the Buddhist centres of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Tibet, and Bhutan; she has captured that dialogue.” (from her site)

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux [Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye].

On the first of August, 2016, Elain Ling lost her battle with lung cancer: her brother – Edward Pong – has indicated that he intends to continue to foster her legacy, through the maintenance of Ling’s site.

It is an impressive space with much more about Ling’s life and work – and many more of her moments from her life and around the world – that can be enjoyed here. C’est véritablement utile puisque c’est joli [It is truly useful since it is beautiful]. 

All quotes in italics are from Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince .

Elaine Ling was also a recently featured Artist You Need To Know, in AIH Studios’ continuing series. You can enjoy that here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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HAUNTED | DREAMING | CITY | STEVEN LAURIE
December 30, 2022

HAUNTED | DREAMING | CITY | STEVEN LAURIE HAUNTED | DREAMING | CITY | STEVEN LAURIE @_steven_laurie_ @stevenlaurie_bw Steven Laurie Photography... Read More
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
Why Black and White Still Matters – An Essay
December 6, 2021

High culture has pretty much disappeared along with the dress code.

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Christina Z. Anderson – Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice
June 25, 2021

Christina Z. Anderson
Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice
A Focal Press Book, Routledge

Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice is THE book you need if you want to learn how to create stunning cyanotype prints. Written by Christina Z. Anderson and available online, it offers detailed notes on formulas, papers, digital negatives and the actual process itself, as well as highlighting the work of contemporary cyanotype artists. Anderson is also the author of similar books on gum prints and salted paper prints. I’ve included 2 of my test images using her processes below. ~ Mark Walton

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Liz Potter – Everything is going to be okay
September 22, 2021

Liz Potter’s series of panoramic self-portraits should be viewed while listening to an Aaron Copland playlist. Like the great American composer, Potter captures the expansiveness of the American frontier, or what’s left of it. She pits her everyman heroine against its searing heat, its beautiful skies and its unforgiving majesty. Small and alone, she confronts it with courage and humility, and does not fear failure or setbacks.

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Patti Smith – Land 250
June 3, 2021

Patti Smith
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Currently Out of Print, copies available on Amazon or at specialty bookstores.

Patti Smith Land 250 is a collection of images taken by the legendary musician/artist/poet using her beloved Polaroid 250. The 250 camera creates instant images using polaroid (and later Fujifilm) peel apart instant black and white or colour film, whose production was discontinued in 2016. The camera is unforgiving, relying on a small electronic sensor to automatically set exposure, leaving the photographer only to select focus and composition. Smith plays it like a violin, coaxing romantic, sonorous photos of everything from a taxidermized bear to the gravesite of Yeats.

There is a beauty in the photographs that comes from both the subject matter she chooses but also inherent to the time period in which the camera was created. It is a tool of the 1960’s and reminds us, like all photography, of things past, frozen for an instant and captured for posterity.

~ Mark Walton

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Metro Station Crowd 1, City of Shadows, 1992
April 20, 2021

Alexey Titarenko, Vasileostrovoskaya Metro Station Crowd 1, from City of Shadows, 1992

I was twenty two when Titarenko captured this image, a freshly posthumous portrait of the USSR – and that was nearly forty years ago. The Cold War, as we knew it, was over, but the uncertainty, both for the bustling passengers of the once and future St. Petersburg, after its decades as Leningrad, and the rest of the world, is encapsulated in this image. Titarenko is an acclaimed photographer, not least for how after “the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 he produced several series of photographs about the human condition of the Russian people during this time and the suffering they endured throughout the twentieth century. To illustrate links between the present and the past, he created powerful metaphors by introducing long exposure and intentional camera movement into street photography. The most well known series of this period is City of Shadows.” More of Titarenko’s work can be seen here. 

~ Bart Gazzola

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Homage II
April 20, 2021

Angela Reilly’s Homage II was one of those magical experiences where art can just overwhelm you. Sitting in a pub in Glasgow on my first night ever in the UK, a series of 5 portraits hung around the room had my full attention. From a distance I thought I was looking at photographs, but close up, it was so much more. You can practically see the blood coursing through the swimmer’s veins trying to warm her up. Angela won the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Award in 2006 and shows regularly in the UK.

You can find Angela on Facebook, and on Instagram.

~ Mark Walton

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