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Binh Danh. ‘The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014 Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 10 x 8 inches / Frame: 14.75 x 12.5 inches
A recent move makes San Francisco my new hometown. As is my wont, I’m out and about trying to figure what’s happening here in the city. Late last year, I saw Binh Danh’s exhibition This, Then, Is San Francisco at Haines Gallery.
A few things struck me.
– First, the sky blues and sepias of make the work just lovely to view.
– Second, there seems to be an increasing nostalgia toward the city of San Francisco right now which is reflected in art-makers and photographers trying to preserve a view of the city – be that in books, stubborn alternative processes, comparative views of the city as it once was, or flat-out direct denunciations of money-driven change.
– Third, the scenes captured by Danh cannot be random and in fact some of them look quite political.
I got Danh on the blower to ask him about how and why the work was made.
Scroll down for our Q&A.
Click any image to see it larger.
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Prison Photography (PP): At first glimpse, the work seems as if it is about process and the joy of the surface. Does This, Then, Is San Francisco have the same level of political engagement typical in your other work?
Binh Danh (BD): You’re somewhat right. Of course, being an artists there’s always the joy of the image. But if you look deeply, there’s also some political messages. There’s pictures of gatherings and protest in front of City Hall.
PP: I saw the image of the rally held by mothers whose family members had been killed but their murderers never found.
BD: And even the photo of the city hall — on the lawn where people are sleeping, they look like dead bodies. Because of the medium, it looks like a civil war photograph.
PP: And the body shapes are identical.
Binh Danh. ‘City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘Hoa Phat, Little Saigon, Larkin Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
BD: I am alluding to these political spaces of the city.
PP: Did you grow up in San Francisco?
BD: No. I grew up in San Jose. For me, San Francisco was the place we went to for school trips. Even in adulthood, I see the city as a tourist. Each time I go there it is new. Every inch of the city is photogenic. And that goes way back. I enjoy the fact that This, Then, Is San Francisco is in conversation with those images from the nineteenth century when the city was being built.
PP: How does this relate to your previous work about Yosemite? It seems to make more immediate sense to use daguerreotypes to photograph Yosemite — what with the archives of Carleton Watkins and Edward Curtis. Their works were very political and tied to the myth of manifest destiny and ultimately controlling of the West.
BD: Both Carleton Watkins and Edweard Muybridge photographed San Francisco AND Yosemite. I’m walking in those giants’ footsteps. For me, San Francisco is the gateway to California – going as far back as the Gold Rush when people arrived, stocked up and then travelled on to the Sierra Mountains. Everything in Northern California flows toward San Francisco and into the Bay.
PP: One could conceptualize San Francisco as being at the foot of an elongated Yosemite Valley?! The Pacific Ocean is the terminus of the Sierra Mountains watershed.
Binh Danh. ‘Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plates: 25.75 x 13.5 inches
BD: But also looking forward. San Francisco is tied to innovation, accelerated movement, change and speed. It always has been. Of course, now, those things are associated so closely with Silicon Valley and the South Bay.
PP: But for the purposes of the international community, San Francisco is the epicenter of that.
BD: I wanted to document San Francisco in this moment of change. I didn’t realize Haines Gallery wanted to do a show. They felt I had enough work. But the project is not complete; it’s ongoing. I expect in 30 or 40 years I’ll go back to some of the same streets to stand in the same locations and make the same pictures with daguerreotypes.
Binh Danh. ‘Rigo 23’s Truth Mural U.N. Plaza at the Civic Center, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5inches
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco Camerawork, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall (Mother’s Day 2014) Rally for Black Youths Whose Killers Have Never Been Found by the San Francisco Police Department, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
PP: Why daguerreotypes?
BD: The daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.
PP: The reversal makes the viewer look a little harder, which is I think what all photographers want go their images?!
PP: There’s no shortage of spots in the city. How did you choose sites? I’d like to ask, specifically, about the TRUTH mural.
BD: When you do work with a commercial gallery, they are trying to sell work they are trying to move work. So, a lot of the more iconic San Francisco scenes are a little more successful in that [marketable] way. Some of the quieter scenes that might make there way into a future show or book.
I’m happy Haines picked the TRUTH mural piece. Rigo23 did that piece and what I like about that mural is that it faces city hall and confronts power.
PP: It was made in 2002 to commemorate the 2001 quashed conviction of Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, after 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. It was also a rally call for the cases of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (who died in 2014) who remained locked up.
BD: In my picture, the farmers market is ongoing in the foreground, so if you want, there’s connections to the central valley to be made. And to ethnic communities. I’m not sure if the viewer will pick that up but that’s the thing I think about when I’m making the work.
Binh Danh. ‘The Palace of Fine Arts, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘B and C Laundromat Barbary Coast Trail, Chinatown, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
PP: Do you have a favored image?
BD: The city hall image is my favorite image. I photographed a lot. I made all the images over the summer. I must have made 300 exposures and then I narrowed that down to 50 plates and the gallery selected 20.
BD: Not everything turns out, you know. I’d make 10 in a day and maybe one would hold a standard that I’m happy to share. Everyday I was driving from San Jose and up to the city making photographs.
BD: Almost all the people I encountered don’t understand the process, so to us it is a very foreign process. I think we take photography for granted so I hope I can help people think about image-making more. Maybe people will stop snapping away and take it slow?
PP: How did you learn the process?
BD: I learned just on my own. I found a 19th century manuscript and kept practicing and experimenting. Perfecting over the years. I began in 2001. Gave up and returned to it in 2009. Through the years I’ve made slow progress. I own the equipment, I make everything from scratch. I coat the copper plate in my studio and buff it. I’ve a van in which process on location. Back then, the daguerreotype was hard to do outside of the studio. That’s why most daguerreotypes are portraits. Cityscapes were rare — then and now.
PP: Thanks, Binh
BD: Thank You, Pete.
Binh Danh. ‘Sutter and Grant Streets, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Two years ago, I walked out of Chris Fraser’s In Passing, installed in Portland’s Disjecta gallery, and resolved that it was the finest contemporary art I’d seen in the town. In Passing drew your attention to colour, light and line. The sensory experience, for me, put Chris Fraser slap-bang-wallop between Bridget Riley and James Turrell. In Passing was a strict coda delivered to fondle the eyeballs.
What was you ask? I was simply an enclosed corridor around three walls of the gallery. Into the walls, at random moments were slits that ran from floor to corridor ceiling, on the inside-wall. Three bulbs — one R, one G, and one B — hanging from the roof beams dangled in the centre of the gallery and dispersed low level light to all corners of the room. So enclosed was the corridor, that the low level light sliced the darkness in thin rainbow strips. At one end of the corridor the gaps became larger and light as a result became more diffuse and reflected off the walls in a palette closer white light.
Note: All images here are of In Passing. Still a week out, I haven’t the foggiest what Revolving Doors looks like.
Fraser says that gallery goers can manipulate the walk in sculpture:
“Visitors will rearrange the space as they move through it, altering the architecture for future patrons,” says Fraser.
They’ll do that by altering the maze-like configuration that mimics the internal mechanisms of a camera.
“The structure and its design stand as a metaphor for the rapid demographic changes in SF Camerawork’s immediate Mid-Market neighborhood,” says SF Camerwork press release.
“The rich and well connected are moving in,” explains Fraser. “The poor and disenfranchised are being kicked out. A city must change to remain vital. But this transition seems particularly cruel. My hope is to highlight this disparity through an architectural intervention.”
Honesty and captivating beauty with a political edge, it seems. If Revolving Doors is even fractionally as accomplished as In Passing it’ll be one absolutely not to miss.
Revolving Doors is on view February 5 – March 21, 2015. The opening reception is this coming Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6-8pm
Mom Were OK, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
STRAUSS AT HAVERFORD
Strauss will be there too. Talking and everything.
Friday, January 23rd.
Drying Money, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
TV on Second Floor, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
This is my hometown, Toms River, NJ, 2012. © Zoe Strauss.
In Sea Change, Strauss traces the landscape of post-climate change America. In photographs, vinyl prints, and projected images, Strauss treads the extended aftermath of three ecological disasters: Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2005); the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Southern Louisiana (2010); and Hurricane Sandy in Toms River, NJ, and Staten Island, NY (2012). Lush and leveled landscapes; graffiti pleas and words of encouragement—Strauss’s camera captures lives decimated and dusting off: the fast and slow tragedies of global warming, the damage we can repair, and the damage we can’t.
I had no idea Strauss was working on a survey of disasterscapes in America. Following her 10 years of photographing in Philadelphia and celebrating the colours and characters of her beloved home city — and then presenting her photographs annually beneath Interstate 95 — it makes sense that Strauss would gravitate to the realest of struggles for real people at a time when real (climate) change is unleashing real events.
Sandy, Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophes left millions of Americans floundering, thousands dead, communities torn from the ground. In the immediate aftermath of such events, attention focuses on the official and governmental responses, but Strauss is more interested in the long tail of disasters and of informal vernacular responses. Strauss seems hell-bent on reminding us that after the camera crews leave, there’s still generations of rebuilding to be done (especially ecologically).
In Sea Change we see Strauss’ usual dark humor and restless documentation of the frayed edges of our nation. She’s holding up a mirror to the inconvenient messiness that we like to think we can deal with quickly and efficiently, but Strauss’ world is in a state of constant entropy, and it’s the invisible, the workers, the poor, the animal kingdom and the dissenters that lose out most when the shit hits the fan.
We all know that we’ve permanently altered our planet’s climate systems; we all know we’re on the hook. But we also know we can look anywhere-else, any time we want. And we know we don’t have to live on the Gulf Coast, or in the path of hurricanes. And we know that when things go south, we can turn our heads to the news and make a distant appraisal about whether the clean-up is happening quick enough or not, or watch some talking heads, or wag our finger at some government official.
Strauss’ victory in all her work — and particularly in Sea Change — is that she marries the visuals in her inquiries and her work so that they sync with her experience of the world. She is keeping herself honest through her photography. Perhaps Strauss can keep us honest too?
Foundational to Strauss’ work too is a deep respect. Zoe is irreverent, for sure, but she is also respectful of people. Entropy is going to happen; change is constant. People are going to win and people are going to lose, amidst change. That’s life. The degree to which people’s fortunes differ … and the degree to which people win and lose … and the degrees to which those statuses are kept permanent, that’s not just “life” though. It’s for us to decide how disaster will effect our collective in the long term. It’s for us to decide on the most equitable distribution of resources when many have literally been swept away.
When people fall down, we help them up. Rebuilding is everyone’s business. In Strauss’ world, love is the response to entropy and its disruptions.
Running: January 23–March 6, 2015
Reception and opening talk with the artist: Friday, January 23, 4:30–7:30pm
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by Random Embassy, Philadelphia, featuring essays by artist Zoe Strauss; The New Yorker contributing writer Mattathias Schwartz; Helen K. White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College; and a poem by Thomas Devaney, MFA, PEW Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry, Haverford College.
Oiled Water Coming Inland, Waveland, Mississippi, Early July, 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Billboard, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
We’ll Be Back, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Contact (my mate) Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions
Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041
Tel: 610 896 1287
Don’t Forget Us, Mississippi Gulf Coast, July 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Honore Feliciano de Souza is the current head of the Agoudas community and the direct heir of Chacha I (1754–1848), who was one of the foremost middle-men in the slave trade between the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Europeans, early 19th century. To honor their ancestor, the family seemingly runs a sort of memorial in Singbomey, where Chacha I is buried in the family cemetery. According to Honore Feliciano’s unlikely opinion, “the Chacha was not involved in such a slave trade as this. At the time when the Kingdom of Dahomey was killing people, he preferred to take them to Brazil to make them work. He was in fact saving people and that is the reason why today there is some admiration for him,” he says. “Nowadays, no one would want to be a Chacha. Being Chacha is facing many hardships. I haven’t chosen to be one. On October 1995, everyone gathered here and I was appointed Chacha VIII, I cried that day. It’s a life-long mandate.” © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
LEGACIES AND TRACES OF COLONIALISM
Culture is a complex thing, especially when it is emergent from centuries of violence, oppression and bondage. The Atlantic slave trade moved millions of bodies and reordered the geographies of peoples and their customs. There are as many histories as there were individuals who lived and suffered, were bought and sold.
Photographer Nicola Lo Calzo has waded deep into this history for his ongoing, serialised project Cham. For five years, he has investigated slavery’s legacy in Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe.
“From the destruction and the uprooting imposed by the Europeans, to the conquered and deported peoples, the history of slavery is inseparable from the odyssey of Western colonialism,” says Lo Calzo. “But it is also the history of resistance to slavery.”
Elements of resistance are visible in the myriad of visual cultures and traditions upon which Lo Calzo has turned his lens. There no longer exists clear icons or customs that are squarely of a single experience or people. Over the centuries, and at different moments, descendants of slaves across the Atlantic region have won freedom, moved and settled, mixed, revived ancient traditions, and reclaimed symbols of the slavery era. Everything, visual culture included, is in constant flux.
“I’m interested in exploring through photography how and why these groups re-appropriate their slavery past, the ways and manners by which they are transferring this memory to the next generation, as well as its impact on modern societies,” says Lo Calzo.
The founder of the David Akplogan Godonou Dossou family was a wealthy merchant of Gouns ethnicity, coming from Porto Novo. “Akplogan” referred to his function as cult minister under King Toffa. According to Mirabelle G. D., great great granddaughter of the founder, “at the peak of the French domination, he decided to change his name and give up voodoo”. Like most of the city’s rich merchants, he owned “mede”, literally “chosen people”, a dozen of domestic slaves, according to his descendant’s testimony. In this picture shot in the nineteen-twenties, at the height of his economic power, he is seen sitting in the main courtyard of his property. Porto Novo, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
In Buryan, Death embodies also the spirit of the slaves’ master, who is the founder of their community, Don Francisco Felix de Souza, known as the Chacha I. This double figure of the “Death-Master” is the protector of the hierarchy within the community, while becoming the oppressor of those who would violate it. Buryan perpetuates its original signification in confirming and consolidating the hierarchy and casts among the members of the community: the De Souza of servile ascent on one hand, and the De Souza of direct lineage on the other. Oiudah Beach, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Sitting in the center of the picture, Conforte, aged 30, now lives in this house built by her great-grandfather David Godonou Dossou, in the early 19th century. Like the majority of the merchant families, he owned Médé, literally meaning “chosen people,” a dozen of them according to her. These slaves were employed for domestic tasks; construction works in the family concession and in the palm oil plantations. This house is one of the highest examples of Afro-Brazilian architecture in West Africa. “Everyone wanted to abandon our ancestral property as we lacked resources and personnel,” says Mirabelle G. D., the great great granddaughter of the founder. “We’ve been brave enough not to let the house crumble down. The UNESCO has asked for the house to be maintained but we are still waiting for all the heirs’ approval.” Porto Novo, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Clement is a member of this family originally from Marseille, France. His ancestor, Olivier de Montaguere, was the nineteenth steward of the French Fort for Louis XVI. He arrived in Ouidah in 1776. He brought with him his wife and their three children, Joseph, Nicolas and Jean Baptiste and organized the slave trade with the French West Indies, He disappeared during one of his trips to the Caribbean and he is never returned to Ouidah said Clement Olivier of Montaguere. Their descendants still live today in the old compound of their ancestor. Unlike many other local families, they have no voodoo altars in their homes, and while claiming their European origins, they strictly observe the catholic religion. Today, in the family cemetery (where I got the pictures), the oldest tomb is to Nicolas Olivier de Montaguere’s. According to the tradition, Nicolas grew up with the king of Dahomey Agonglo (1789–1797). After his adolescence spent in Abomey with the king, he returned to Ouidah in his father’s family home when he continued to deal palm oil . Nicolas and Joseph’s descendants still live in the old compound of their ancestors. They have maintained a position of prestige in the society, and historically occupy important positions in the public administration. Ouidah, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Cham is made up of multiple chapters. Mas was made in French Antillas in collaboration with the Mas groups of Guadaloupe. Ayiti was shot in Haiti. The series Tchamba explores memory and experience in the African nations of Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
COMPLEXITY AND CONTRADICTION
During his work, Lo Calzo has encountered Creoles, descendants of revolutionaries, Voodoo practitioners and black resistance revivalists. Lineages and connections to past slavery are unique. Each generation that passes churns the mix. Lo Calzo, who resides in Paris, likes to use the French word ‘metissage’ when discussing the Cham. Metissage is a positive and politically-conscious term that celebrates diversity and the mix of race in culture.
“With all forms of creation and miscegenation, born as a result of the clash between the oppressed groups and the dominant system, the memory of slavery should be read and interpreted within this hybrid and metis universe,” says Lo Calzo. “It is characterized by ambiguity, mixture, juxtaposition and contradiction. I wish to make visible the connections — and also the contradictions — between these forgotten memories still living through the Atlantic world.”
To note the assimilation of colonial festivals, costume and figureheads is a potential political minefield. Yet, Lo Calzo is not celebrating the vestiges of Western colonizers. Rather, he is merely documenting them as fact. Sympathy toward, and faithfulness to, his subjects stories is Lo Calzo’s modus operandi. The African Yoruba and Nago communities in Benin and Togo have suffered especially, Lo Calzo has observed. So too, the Creole families of slave descendants in Guadaloupe.
Every evening after 6 pm, the group members meet each other in front of the headquarters, the old Fritz family store and they discuss politics, business, religion, and the next actions of the militant group. Pointe à Pitre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
The role of the rebel, the resistant, the “Slave maroon” is staged through a particular technical and musical choice. The masks are chosen very simply and made from natural materials. The aim of these technical choices is to result in a direct incarnation of history in the individual’s body, who can claim their multiple origins and reaffirm their putting down of roots in the Guadelupian ground. The body is then becoming a direct carrier for the Caribbean identity and history, which scalds and wounds are expressed in the flesh, through the corporeal moves, through the sounds of the chains and whips. Voukoum headquarters, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
Fritz Duncan is the group’s head as well as its religious leader. “After several years of thinking and of rejection by the other groups “a mas,” I created the group “An Bout a-y” (literally “at the end”), to pay tribute to the ancestors,” he says. The group claims to be part of the animist religion and it doesn’t participate in the Carnival. For this group, the Mas are a link between the world of the living and the dead enslaved ancestors. The group is part of the secessionist party LKP. Bas de Bourg, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
In the group’s symbolism, the bathing in the sea or river concludes the “charge” on «Mardi Gras», the last day of the Carnival in the catholic calendar. It is an emblematic moment that allows the members firstly to purge themselves from the “mas” to reclaim their individual identity, and secondly, to be reconciled with the “treacherous” sea and to reaffirm their relationship to the island’s history: the place of the bathing is just beneath the Fort Delgrès, a hotbed of the resistance to slavery. Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
Marcellus, alias Jean Jacques Dessalines with Adrien Jean Saint Vil, alias Charlotin Marcadieu, “Movement for the Success of the Image of the Heroes of the Independence.” Croix-des-Bouquets. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
ACKNOWLEDGING DIFFERENCE, HONOURING SAMENESS
Cham emerges from Lo Calzo’s interest in the concept of ‘Otherness,’ which is defined as that which is alien and divergent from prescribed social norm or identity. ‘Otherness’ is the identification, definition and social categorization often of a supposedly inferior group — and, usually, to oppressive ends — by a dominant group.
“Colonialism is connected with the ideological construction of racism and the invention of the ‘Other,’” says Lo Calzo, whose reflections upon physical ability, race, gender, sexuality and ‘Otherness’ have been consistent throughout all of Lo Calzo’s photography series such as Morgante, The Promising Baby, and The Other Family.
Whenever Lo Calzo travels he partners with local anthropologists, historians or associations. Recently, he worked with the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans and this month (August) he is photographing in French Guyana and Suriname with the help of La Tete dans les Images. Such allies are important as many of his subjects — especially those who live in societies with racial tensions — are reluctant or unable to speak about slavery. Still, Lo Calzo brings a respectful curiosity to the topic and presses the points.
“To think about ones own enslaved ancestry can pose identity, social and existential problems,” he says. “Who I am? Where do I come from? How can I integrate my family past in my present? What can I do to transmit this memory to the next generation? Why does society still looks at me through the outdated racial categories? What I can do to change it?”
The success of the Cham rests upon its breadth and the way Lo Calzo mirrors the complexity, and sometimes ambiguity, of history in his photographs. This complexity though does ask a lot of the audience. His greatest challenge is to tear down entrenched Eurocentric and Americentric attitudes which prohibit nuanced understanding of groups’ and nations’ uniqueness.
“We act and think through predefined categories of thought, without realizing these categories are daughters of colonialism and are no longer suitable for reading and interpreting the modern world,” explains Lo Calzo. “For example, in the western imagination, Haiti is a country of misery, a ‘neverland,’ a country without history. This dogma is obviously a falsehood created by the colonialist propaganda and integrated deeply into Western thought.”
Lo Calzo forecasts he’ll be making photographs for one more year to complete his complex statement. The entire project will be exhibited internationally in 2016, accompanied by book. The contribution is forever timely.
“The memory of slavery is a delicate subject,” says Lo Calzo. “The wounds of slavery are alive and present.”
In the water basin, a spirit named Lovana appears in the guise of a fish. The faithful come to pray around the basin, on Tuesdays and Fridays. A big party takes place there on September 5, the eve of the pilgrimage in Bord-de-Mer de Lemonade, to honour the Voodoo deity St. Philomena, also called “Lasyrenn” (the Mermaid). Today in Haiti, most of the Voodoo sacred places are located in the countryside, especially on the ruins of ancient colonial estates, which are thus affected by these community identity practices. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Modeste (in the framed picture) was deported as a slave from Ethiopia to Haiti, in 1781, to the land of Francis Testas, a sugar grower in the south of Santo Domingo. Testas last wishes read, ‘I order that all my negroes here with me, are free, are fed and maintained at my expense, until they have chosen if they want or not to return to the city of Jeremie […] July 13, 1795, seven and a half in the morning, Philadelphia.’ After five years of research between the United States, France and Haiti, and despite some opposition of her parents, Lorraine Manuel Steed was able to reconstruct the life of her ancestor Martha Adelaide Modeste, an African slave.” © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Preparation of the Mas-a-kongo déportaisyon, Voukoum group The phenomenon of the reinterpretation of the past and the African origin is clearly present in the case of the Mas-a-Kongo. This mask consists of coating the body and the face with a mixture of sugarcane syrup and soot collected in the chimneys of the sugar factories. Once again here, the elements have lost a part of their original meaning (referring to the cult of the bear or the savage man in the Indo-European carnival), to assume a new symbolism derived from the local context. Indeed, the Congo Mask is presented as symbolizing the African origin of the Caribbean people, because of its exacerbated black color. On the other hand, this image reflects of very occidental and colonial vision of the African savage. Nevertheless, this “Congo mask”, with its ambiguous origins, is considered the strongest symbol of the Antillean people’s Negro origins. Petit-Paris district, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
The fugitive slave — or maroon — occupies a central place in the Haitian universe. He is the ancestor of the fathers of the nation. The maroon is the assurance of an uninterrupted genealogy, despite many ups and downs experienced by the young nation, since its birth in 1804. It is survival, resistance and refusal to abdicate. It is Haiti and vice versa, the incarnation of the Haitian Revolution. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Theodore Taondreau is the manager of this group. The role of the rebel-resistant, the “maroon” is staged through a technical choice and a specific music. In the case of the “whipper” or “rope launcher”, the mask consists in coating the body and face with a syrup pack (sugar cane syrup) mixture, normally collected in stacks at sugar factories. Again, these elements have lost some of their original meaning (in reference to the cult of the bear or the wild man in the Indo-European carnival) to endorse a new symbolic meaning linked to the local context. Indeed, the “whipper” symbolizes the African origin of the Haitian people because of his exacerbated black colour. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Cross-posted to Medium on January 6th, 2015.
FERGUSON, THE ZINE
David Butow is raising cash on Kickstarter to fund the printing of a zine of his images made in Ferguson over the past 3 months. The images have been made, the edit done and the sequencing finalised. I’ve seen a PDF of Ferguson and it is a zine that is taut and emotional. It is also quite different from other projects I’ve seen coming out of Ferguson. Many of the scenes framed by Butow have multiple vignettes playing out in them all at once. They’re considered and crafted images. It’s both a photographers’ photography project and a statement relevant to all. It works as art and as political marker. It is relevant to documentarians and also, I think, will stand up to the test of time. Butow travelled to Ferguson twice — once after Michael Brown’s death and once after the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson. As well as 34 photographs, Ferguson also includes raw interview transcripts used in the grand jury deliberations. One offers a nuanced view of the neighborhood where the shooting took place and of Michael Brown himself. “The work goes beyond the violence to offer an intimate and emotional portrait of the community’s reaction – from conflict to prayer – and puts the meaning of what occurred in Ferguson in historical context,” says Butow.
Please consider backing this timely, no-nonsense, self-starting publication. Printed in California, using recycled paper and inks. 64 pages, 34 original B&W photographs. 8.5″ x 11″
Stuart Griffiths was a kid when he went to Northern Ireland, in 1988, as a fresh recruit of the British Army. His first Christmas as an adult was spent on base. He dropped a tab of acid.
In the book Pigs’ Disco, Griffiths details his time serving for queen and country, his fear, boredom and struggle see what could possibly follow. I wrote about the body of work for Vantage, the new photography “collection’ published by Medium.
“At the turn of the nineties, Britain reveled in rave culture. From Bognor to Bangor, loved-up youth danced until dawn in clubs and beyond. A decade before cell phones, pill-popping kids were convening mass-raves in farmers’ fields and empty warehouses by word of mouth.
If there was one place you’d think this euphoric wave could not breach, it’d be the barracks of the British Army. But you’d be wrong. Pigs’ Disco details Griffiths’ drug addled misadventures from 1988 to 1993 while stationed, for the most part, in Northern Ireland as a paratrooper with Her Majesty’s finest.”
Read the full story: Tripping On Acid While In Her Majesty’s Service (Medium)
The book Pigs’ Disco, by Stuart Griffiths is published by Ditto Press.
As some of you might be aware, I recently moved down the west coast from Portland to San Francisco. Just as I focused on local artists back then, so too I’ll be peppering Prison Photography with features of local Bay Area photographers.
Kirk Crippens is a long time friend. I saw his latest show on opening night and I thought it was responsible and heartfelt. I have never been to Bayview Hunters Point which is the focus of Crippens’ series The Point. I am curious but as with many of the outlying SF neighbourhoods, I’ve never had a reason arise to visit. Which says a lot in itself of boundaries within even the same city. Bayview is home to one of my favourite newspapers. The SF Bayview reports on prison issues when virtually no one else is seeing the abuses occurring in our prison system. That’s an aside; on to the article proper
While reflecting on the African-American community of San Francisco, James Baldwin once said, “This is the San Francisco that Americans pretend does not exist.” The Bayview-Hunters Point district is a predominantly Black neighbourhood and, for years, has been isolated from the rest of the city and cited as a significant example of urban marginalization.
While other photography projects focus on the tougher, negative aspects of Bayview-Hunters Point, photographer Kirk Crippens took a slower and more reflexive approach to his interactions with a neighbourhood he admittedly knew next-to-nothing about prior to working on The Point which is a collection of portraits and interior domestic scenes.
The Point is currently on show at San Francisco City Hall. It includes not only dozens of portraits and interior shots made by Crippens but also family photographs to those in his portraits. It’s a lovely balance and a special production for this exhibition The Point: Kirk Crippens in collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community (Nov 15th – Feb 27th, 2015).
The Point celebrates the generations who have called Bayview home — “the kings and queens of Bayview-Hunters Point” as Crippens describes them.
In early 2011, Crippens walked into the Providence Baptist Church, established in Bayview in the early 1940s. The congregation welcomed him, shook his hand, remembered his name. Crippens described his task of photographing the community to the pastor. Subsequently, meetings were set up with respected individuals of the community who worked with Crippens to realise a shared vision.
“At a time when San Francisco continues to grapple with the distressing trend of the out-migration of the African-American community, it’s more important than ever that we bring this exhibit to City Hall,” says Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco Director of Cultural Affairs.
Located at the southeastern corner of San Francisco, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was considered to be one of the last remaining San Francisco neighborhood left untouched by developers. However, with the completion of the Muni Metro T Third Street line in 2007, the first new light-rail line in San Francisco in more than half a century, and other plans on the horizon, Bayview-Hunters Point has recently become a focal point for recent redevelopment projects.
“Gentrification” is the word on everyone’s lips.
I wanted to find out a bit more, so I asked Kirk a few questions.
Scroll down for our Q&A.
Prison Photography (PP): What did you know of Bayview-Hunters Point before photographing?
Kirk Crippens (KC): Not much. Not until late 2010, when an email invitation to work on a project in the community arrived. I had an intuition I should accept the project. I began exploring the neighborhood, but my first photographs reflected my perspective of an outsider. I was wandering the perimeter of a community.
PP: What do you know now?
KC: I know ways to connect with a community. I needed to connect in a significant way in order for the project to assume some power and relevance. In early 2011, I walked into Providence Baptist Church. My life changed that Sunday morning; the Church became the lens through which I learned about and connected with the community.
I know about the beauty and solidity of the multi-generational bonds that run through the neighborhood.
Bayview-Hunters Point is the focus of redevelopment projects. The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a superfund site requiring years of radioactive pollution cleanup, is being targeted for 10,500 new homes and close to 4 million square feet of commercial and retail space. The Point is on its way to becoming another coveted San Francisco zip code. While the African-American community watches its neighborhood transform, gentrification threatens to undermine its way of life. Displacement is underway in this historic African-American district.
PP: The church was your entry point into the community. Do you think the people and homes that access point provided allowed you to make a representative portrait of the neighborhood?
KC: It would be hard for someone to make a representative portrait of any neighborhood, so I’ll answer no. What I have done is reflect a vibrant segment of the community. Is it representative, probably not? Is it significant, yes — this aspect of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood is not often celebrated or recognized.
Other photography projects focus on the gritty, troubled aspects that come from oppression and economic struggle, The Point is a collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point community.
PP: How has the work been received in San Francisco?
KC: I’m honored to say well. The exhibition opened at RayKo Gallery in September and was immediately booked by the San Francisco Arts Commission for a 3-and-a-half month exhibition at San Francisco City Hall.
PP: Your current exhibit at San Francisco City Hall features (beautifully framed) family pictures form the albums of the folks in your formal portraits. Why did you decide to pair the two types of image?
KC: A desire to connect further with the community. The director of the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, Meg Shiffler and I had a meeting to discuss ways to enlarge the exhibition. We took inspiration from a previous exhibition at the SF Library that featured family photographs from Bayview. We then asked my friends and contacts if they had historic and family photos for the exhibition.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity and interest that came from the community. In the end we added 60+ historic and family photos and interspersed them with large 36 pieces from my work. It changed the project into a collaboration.
PP: Change is afoot in Bayview Hunters Point, as it is in all of San Francisco. What do you think the future has in store for the community there?
KC: The future of The Point is being created during these transformative years of redevelopment. I suspect the community will look quite different in 20-30 years, and not all for the best. I don’t want to speculate on what will or might be, and I certainly don’t want the friends and adopted family I’ve found in Bayview to see their community displaced, but I see mighty changes underway and everyone is bracing for them.
PP: Thanks, Kirk.
KC: Thank you, Pete.
Kirk Crippens is an American artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had an early start with photography, inspired by his grandfather who kept a darkroom in his closet. Based in San Francisco since 2000, he began exhibiting in 2008. He was named a Top 50 Photographer in Critical Mass in 2010 and 2011, nominated for the Eureka Fellowship Program, invited to speak during PhotoAlliance’s Spring Lecture series at the San Francisco Art Institute, and was a finalist for Photolucida’s book prize.
Crippens has been an artist-in-residence at both RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco and Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. His portfolio Foreclosure, USA was recently acquired by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas and can be seen in their current exhibition State of the Art, Discovering American Art Now.
He currently serves on an arts board in Bayview Hunters Point. Providence Baptist Church has become his home away from home.
HERE PRESS has done it again; it has produced a book that allows us an irresistible glimpse into foreign space and psychology. 2041 is a collection of self-portraits, made by a man, donning makeshift burqas and niqabs, in his home in England.
The title 2041 refers to the name by which the man is known. “2041” made thousands of images with the express intent to share them online with fellow full-coverage enthusiasts.
“Using the camera to articulate a passion he has secretly indulged for decades, the artist appears dozens of times without ever disclosing his image or identity,” says the HERE press release. “Long before 2041 bought his first real burqa online, he began crafting his own versions from draped and folded fabrics in a rich array of textures and colours … ranging from the traditional to the theatrical.”
2041 is part of a connected online community of men and women from across Western Europe and the Gulf States. They are Christians, Muslims and without religion.
This is a gripping book and look into a world that cannot be fully known, nor can be fully verified. What is interesting, therefore, is that without identifiable subjects, the veracity of photography collapses. Or, at the least, we have to completely shift our expectations about what photography provides. The book 2041 is working on, and with, many levels. There’s a motivation by HERE to celebrate photography by revealing its limits and capacity. Despite a reliance on images to connect themselves, 2041 and his cohorts are inhabiting the unphotographable.
As such, 2041 is a playful but earnest exposé of the photographic medium as much as it is this small web of like-minded folks.
A similar type of mood persists in previous titles by HERE. Harry Hardie and Ben Weaver skirt the outer territories of our photo-landscape and delineate the edges. Edmund Clark’s Control Order House took us inside the ordinary domestic spaces of a terror suspect under house arrest. Power was described precisely by what was not photographed. Jason Lazarus’ Nirvana took us into grunge-infused personal histories; the photographs were just a foil to get subjects feting up about beautiful and traumatic pasts.
I, for one, am getting quite excited by HERE’s growing catalogue of ever-so-slightly-disconcerting photobooks.
Between the internet and the veil 2041’s anonymity folds and billows. He remembers the enveloping cassocks and cottas he wore as a choirboy. As an adult, he moved toward total covering. In the early millennium, 2041 his bought his first computer and plugged into an online community that shared his passion.
“What almost all [of the people covering themselves] seem to crave is transcendence of the physical self – or at least being judged on the physical – coupled with the excitement of observing the world unseen, safely cocooned in luxuriant fabrics,” says HERE. “This is the burqa seen in a celebratory light.”
Naturally, I have lots of questions so I dropped Harry at HERE PRESS a line. He put me in touch with Lewis Chaplin who is co-founder of Fourteen Nineteen, but more importantly co-editor of 2041.
Scroll down for our Q&A
Prison Photography (PP): Where did you first see and hear about 2041’s photographs?
Lewis Chaplin (LC): I first found these images almost four years ago, while researching emergent subcultures of fetishists/obsessives who were finding community and likemindedness through the internet. Many of these people use Flickr in particular to indulge in their private desires, and it was here that I found 2041’s images. I was struck by the rigidity, flatness and compositional skills that his images had. Compared to most who used the image more as a byproduct or vehicle to access their fetishes, 2041’s images seemed more like the images were performed for the camera and the camera only, for the sake of documentation, rather than for anything else.
PP: Is the book 2041 made in collaboration with the subject? If so, how did you make contact, build trust, ensure discretion?
LC: Yes, it is fully collaborative. Contact was made initially by Harry Hardie , who introduced himself as a publisher, and then I was bought into the conversation. I began a regular correspondence with him, which culminated in a face-to-face meeting and then visits to his house, where we collaborated and photographed each other, and I went through his image archives.
PP: Have all the pictures been verified? Can we know it is the same person under the burqas and niqabs in all the pictures? Does verification matter? Is not knowing something in absolute certainty one of the facets of the images and their use?
LC: I can verify 90% of them through their EXIF data, as we have had access to raw camera files. However, it is not necessarily the same person concealed. I think it is this lack of verification that is the titilating point of these images. Beneath the veil, your physical identity shrinks into a few gestures and outlines, and you can take on the form and countenance of another.
Even now there are images which Ben Weaver (HERE PRESS) and I cannot decide whether they depict our protagonist or others. To be certain though – this form of image-making is a firmly social practice, one based around solid online and offline networks. A few images in the book give this away, and were you to find 2041 online you would find images of me concealed, for example.
PP: Why did you want to make this book?
LC: Because I think that unlike many of the images made by people with strange interests on the internet, these images say something very complex about photography. What I like about these images is that there is that they are purely performative gestures – but yet they give nothing away. They reveal the presence of an individual, but not their likeness, or an accurate representation. Something about the concealment of desire, or the hiding of the true likeness of an object in these images actually feels like a very nuanced statement on photography, that at no stage in the process ever actually tries to use the camera to bear any details, or describe anything accurately.
PP: How many potential subjects and/or images did you have to choose from in making the book? What makes 2041’s images special — some aspects of aesthetics, or merely their availability?
LC: It wasn’t so much a matter of choice, more that these images asked for some kind of sequencing and exploring. There is definitely an aesthetic dimension of these images that is appealing – the composition and contrast between flatness and texture, the shapes are unlike others I have seen – and there is also a lot of time and effort that has gone into these. 2041 is also an actor, and a painter. You can see the influence of classical painting on some of his poses and crops. He is also akin to humour and self-deprecation, you can see it sometimes.
PP: 2041 wishes to remain anonymous. Obviously, as the editor, you’re a legitimate proxy to whom I can talk. I want to ask what 2041 thinks of the book?
LC: Let’s ask him once he has seen it!
PP: What do members of the online burqa fetish community think? What do you think they might think?
LC: I don’t think it has made its way through to these channels, but I would hope that what they see here is that we are not trying to ridicule or pass judgement through our scrutiny. This book I hope comes off as a sincere tribute to photography being used in a genuinely interesting way that talks about self-perception, the way images are used on the internet and so many other things, through the prism of a very personal, domestic and specific application of the camera.
PP: Do we understand what the burqa is and what it does?
LC: In these images the burqa, niqab or any other Muslim garment is a means to an end in some way. You can see in some of 2041’s experimentations that it is just about complete coverage through any means. He is not wearing a burqa in most images, in fact. The removal of physical presence is the goal here – it is never about using the burqa in a subversive or political way.
PP: Thanks, Lewis.
LC: Thank you, Pete.
2041, the book
170 x 240mm, 120pp + 6pp insert
72 photographs + 1 illustration
Offset lithoprint on coated & uncoated paper Sewn in sections with loose dust jacket
Choice of 3 cover ‘photo insert’ cards
Text, illustration & photographs by 2041
Edited & designed by Lewis Chaplin & Ben Weaver Edition of 500.