Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Polidori and Katrina

As Katrina has been on my mind alot for the last year and obviously this week, it was not such a surprise to learn that Robert Polidori has a new series of New Orleans centered on the disaster. The pictures are due for exhibition this fall at the MET. There is a short interview with the photographer at Art:INFO. Several knockout thumbnails are included of homes decomposing in the aftermath of the storm throughout this past year. They are beautiful, horrifying and fascinating works. Poverty and decay seem to have a way of preserving the strangness of the "past". Polidori has some interesting insights into artmaking and photography.

Here's a sample of the interview:

Something that has always struck me about the high level of detail that you’re talking about in your work is that it allows you to make your pictures more telling in psychological terms.

Yes, I think so. When images are soft, they just remain evocative, or in your imagination. You get a mood, and it remains on the emotional level. The viewer has to put more of him or herself into it. When there is more detail, it’s like that old expression: There’s no fiction stranger than reality. Reality will compose the most extreme paradoxes and contradictions and adjacencies, which can’t be understood.

So detail gives you more mental work to do. There are more things to look at, which suggest more and more questions. All that mood is still there anyway, so it’s like the double-punch effect. It’s a question of keeping the mind occupied while the emotions are being silently manipulated on the back burner. I just think it makes for a richer experience. And it has the added value of being a more accurate historical record. So you have something for everybody.

And how does that relate to the pictorial sophistication of your images?

I’m not one of these artists who’s making art about the processes or the rules of art-making. I’m not interested in that. I think that that’s been gone through, and I think that it’s one dimensional. It’s not about art-making. However, there are aesthetic principals there, pictorially speaking. The grammar of my pictorialism comes from pre-Renaissance and Renaissance perspective, because all of that stuff is built into modern lenses. So that is assumed in the technology that I use.

What would you say was your basic reason for taking photographs?

I don’t take photographs because I love doing it (though I don’t hate it). Some photographers are in love with the process of taking a picture. Psychologically, I’m more interested in the situations that taking the picture puts me through, and what it forces me to witness. I really do it because I want that picture. It’s like I’m collecting evidence, like a detective looking to solve a case. I don’t mean that literally, but I use it as a simile. It’s a thing about phenomena and asking questions. And answering some, but not answering all of them.

Yes, I see that. It’s like you were saying earlier about reality’s paradoxes. It seems to me that this is what makes these New Orleans pictures so poignant. Each image presents the evidence of someone’s neat and ordered life that’s just been turned upside down.

Yes, it’s imploded. I’m interested in interiors, and I have been for a long time, simply because they’re indices of individuals’ personal values. They tell you a lot about the individual. Like I’ve said before, to me interiors are both metaphors and catalysts for states of being. You can take a portrait of somebody, and you might have a feeling looking at their face, but you know less things about them by looking at their face than you do when you look at the way that they compose their own interior space. What interests me are their values.

image: Robert Polidori


geoffrey said...

very interesting, and i agree with a lot of his points. I feel the same way about photography, or the act of taking a photo... i don't really give a shit about the photography part if it. I also feel the same way about art a lot of the time, while still more inclined to be process oriented, i just don't care about the "is it art" or "what is beauty" arguments at all anymore. But what i think is most interesting, is a comparison of this to the stuff that National Geographic just did on New Orleans with a tilt shift lens ( i mentioned this on Steven's blog) where the photographer played on emotion by blurring most of the field. You can see an example of this in the latest shoot i just did on my blog (i was going for that effect however). I think it is manipulative. But so is photography in general... and that is where i disagree with him. Photography is no more historically accurate (no matter how large or small the aperture) than anything else, and far less than painting. If a photo is worth a thousand words, a painting is worth a million. All said and done however, i think it is invaluable that people are down there shooting all of this, as long as we are aware of the aestheti-fication of tradgedy. long comment... just had coffee.
I also highly recommend this link:

highlowbetween said...

G - I'm with you. Its the road. Where purpose of the process is not itself but where it takes you - literally and figuratively. How does it relocate me and therefore change me and open me.
I have to say I'm big on the long exposure time as a concept and process as it is photography that comes closer to objecthood. You know - stealing the spirit ;) I think he's getting something of the place that is genuine, perhaps its the lack of a light set up and more or less just shooting what you happen upon. Of course the choices are the manupiulation but I'm going to agree with him that there is so much of another person(ie. myriad details) within the space obsevered that it may actually nullify the artist's initial choice of subject. That it is expansive as opposed to the initial composition choice. Regardless, I also like how this work seems to marry qualities from his Chernobyl series with that of Havana. The imploded society that was living next door to its very own demise illuminated by the sort of "frozen in time" aesetheics of a colonial port city living with depleted economic resources.
I agree it is essential that so many artists - and citizens in general- have documented this through the visual arts and some pretty powerful vlogs. It will be ultimately cause change. As far as the aestheti-fication of tragedy? Well that's a big topic. I'll argur National Geo does that more than an artist such as Polidori but I think all artists contend with an attraction to the macabre -or decay perhaps. That's a big discussion I think in itself.

eye-drops said...

What a good interview. I like what he says about detail... because what he is really talking about is consciously being specific ... all of that detail points you closer and closer to a specific person and situation. It's not about generalized, abstract ideas of tragedy. This is something I've been concentrating on a lot in my own work this summer... not that you would know that, though, because I'm a terrible blogger. ;)

Hey- have either of you read Susan Sontag's book "Regarding the Pain of Others"? It is about atrocity photography. I have read it twice now and have been trying to bring together some thoughts on it for a post but it is quite a complex one to sort through and is taking me forever. If you are interested in the depiction of tragedy... as well as another take on the difference between photo and painting/drawing in this regard... you should check it out.

highlowbetween said...

Eye-Drops, I'm glad you picked up that book. Know one I know has so far and I've always meant to. One book I have read is The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry which actually may be a great resource for you as it deals with language and torture. Was written in the '80s but I've though I should reopen it considering the current state of affairs. The details thing sticks in my craw as well as I'm increasingly thinking about what that means. Its why I like photography to begin with. Its the punctum that Barthes so gracefully talks about in Camera Lucida. There is something to all of that. Still this is big territory to mine - some large questions loom with this idea of the detail and by extension the tragedy thing.
thanks for stopping in - so now do a post on that book ! so we don't have to read it ;)

geoffrey said...

i read excerpts from that and it rocked me. I also read an interview with David Hockney not so long ago where he was discussing these topics and also that book, and said he was through taking photos forever because they lie and nothing is truer than painting and blah blah blah.... Anywho, there is a lot there for sure. It does get my mind spinning, especially that Sontag book.

I was trying out several different ways of looking at these photos. Trying to see what it was without the tragedy. If i could. "Here is your stuff, your world that you created... Now here it is after its been under water for two weeks." There is obviously more to it... This Pompeii effect. More than just a memory of something that happened, it is like making something out of Playdoh and then flattening it or rolling it into a ball. The colors and the shapes are still there, though skewed now. Part of me thinks we are drawn to these ruins because they so reflect our own memory or subconscious. Only fragments, or hints, small bits of reflected light that overlap. Ripped textures collaged. The image is crisp and detailed, but mother nature has blurred the rest. A detailed photo of distortion.

eye-drops said...

Yes, yes, the punctum!

Polidori's photos... they have punctum (puncta?) all over the place. Which of course is something the best paintings & drawings have, too. Right?

Have not read "The Body in Pain" yet but it is on my list.

OK, OK... I will finish the Sontag post! Thanks for the motivation.

highlowbetween said...

oi - so much to delve into but I have to catch a bus to beantown. Can we resume this on Sunday?

eye-drops said...

Yes, Sunday...

Hey Geoffrey - In the meantime... Where was the David Hockney interview you mentioned? Sounds interesting. I don't know that I agree that painting is any more true (or less a lie) than photography. In fact I'm fairly certain that I don't agree. But need to chew on that awhile.

geoffrey said...

yeah... i've been trying hard to find that interview too! damn... i'm not sure how much i agree with it all either, but his arguments were very interesting and a bit persuasive... and of course we would have to narrow down the scope of what is called painting probably. I think in the end they might both be telling truths in their own ways (while of course telling some lies too ;) ... illusions might be a better word. I'm not sure. What i do know is that as i have been thrown into the world of photography in the last 6 years of my life, i have found myself following a lot of the path that Hockney speaks of in his interview that i can't find. Almost neurotically buying any old or broken camera i could find to see what image could be made with IT. And going from high end digital to plastic toy Holgas, i was on a search for something... more "true". But again, like painting it is about finding the right brush to make the right mark for the work i think. Which Polidori has done here, in my opinion. There is so much here to talk about, my typing feels silly compared to what is going on in my head. i guess what i am saying is that for me personally, my photos just still don't get to that level that painting can reach. I don't know if they ever will, and it leaves me dissatisfied and hungry in a way. I also see how a photo reveals a memory, but then chokes it at the same time. Like taking a cookie cutter to the flattened Playdoh i mentioned earlier, cutting out a shape, and the throwing away the extras. Painting can potentially cut the same shape, and keep (at least a bit more of) the extras.

By the way, Carrie and I loved your photo in New American Painter. We know that expression so well... we miss you!!! (yes, i did include that last part to counter everything i just said...)

eye-drops said...

I wonder if this is the interview?

David Hockney: We Can't Trust Photographs

Sure seems like it could be. I only had time to skim it for now though. More later this weekend.

(BTW Thanks for checking out New Amer. Paintings... it's funny -- a propos this conversation -- that my representation in there does not include any paintings at all)

geoffrey said...

(falls to knees, raising hands to the sky screaming) where is the truth???

: )

it's not the same interview but it's pretty much the same stuff. Sontag was brought up in the one i read, and though i couldn't finish this one, i didn't see her name...
the points are interesting though. in camera lucida Barthes talks about what photography did to history. and now we have what photoshop has done to photography... por ejemplo:

thinking more about Polidori... who's work would seem so detailed... and near the truth. I'm sure he took a great many photos, and at some point had to look at contact sheets to decide which were "best". I wonder what the criteria were? And before that, he had to choose what to shoot, or "frame" with the camera. "Framing" is a whole nother thing to get into... which part of our flattened Playdoh object do we decide cookie cut and keep, and what do we decide to leave out? Looking through the lens, moving it a hair to the left to keep that one thing in the photo, and two hairs to the right to lose something else.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I found your blog while looking for possible blog names for myself. Well, you got there first. Interesting stuff. You may be interested to see the Polidori slideshow on the New Yorker website from last year. It's here...