Dafna Talmor’s spellbinding landscape series encourages a more active way of looking from the viewer
You can immediately tell that this collection of imagery isn’t a literal depiction of a place. But how they’re crafted – so spellbindingly weird and off-kilter – might remain a mystery. These are the works found in Dafna Talmor’s Constructed Landscapes, an ongoing project conceived through a unique process of slicing and splicing. The work is housed over three sub-series and developed over 10 years, the result of which is a collection of remodelled environments shot over various locations in Venezuela, Israel, the US and UK. What’s interesting, though, is its merging familiarity and the unknown; maybe you’ll recognise a tree or lake, before it slowly it morphs into an experimental yet staged recreation.
Dafna is an artist and lecturer based in London whose work spans photography, video, education, fine arts, curation and collaborations. Her works have been exhibited wildly, and her pictures have been included in private collections internationally as well as public, including Deutsche Bank, Hiscox. Through her practice, she tosses all preconceptions of the photographic medium in the fire and asks us all to question the role and methods behind taking and constructing an image. Constructed Landscapes does just that as it features transformed colour negatives, alluding a version of utopia – somewhere far away from a concrete reality.
In terms of the process, Dafna condenses multiple frames and collages the negatives. It’s a technique that enables her to re-centre the focus point of the photograph, placing more emphasis on the technique of layering and assembling, rather than an obvious subject matter. By doing so, elements from differing frames crossover and interact with one another, causing fragments to collide and, in essence, create a new version of itself. In somewhat of a succinct summary of her alluring methodology, this is how her hypnagogic photographs are formed.
However, Dafna’s work goes far deeper than the intriguing process. In fact, the series references moments of photography history, such as pictorials processes, modernist experiments and film. Wonderfully allegorical, this opens up a dialogue about the role and study of manipulation, pointing the viewer at the crossroad of the analogue and digital divide. Yet aside from the questions that will arise, the work is simultaneously a beautiful merging of fact and fiction where burnt out hillsides, rusty toned bushes and treetops are combined. It’s a vision; one that transcends the 2D image into site specific vinyl wallpapers, spaces, photograms and publications. Not to mention the numerous exhibitions, including a recently closed show at Tobe Gallery in Budapest, accompanied by a book.
Speaking of the works involved in this show, Dafna writes in the release: “Site-specific interventions have consisted of several iterations of a flatbed scan of a clear acrylic board – used to cut my negatives and protect my light box since the inception of the project – as source material. Over time, I became interested in the object beyond its practical function and the way in which the residue and traces of the incisions allude to the manual process in an abstract yet indexical way. Like a photographic plate, the embedded marks represent the manual labour and passing of time, acting as a pseudo document that continually evolves with each new incision.”
“Besides a series of spatial interventions, the cutting board has been used to produce several editions of direct colour contact prints to date,” she adds. “Alluding further to its subtle transformative nature, one could say the colour photograms bear a more analogous relationship via the preservation and reproduction of the one-to-one scale of the incisions. When printed, the orange reddish hues are in dialogue with the red flares – consequently transposed and scaled up from the cuts on the negatives – in the main exhibition prints.”
“Through the various components of the project, an intrinsic element of the work is embedded, suggested and explored within the photographic frame in a myriad of ways; diverse forms of reproduction, representation and notions of scale that get played out aim to defy a fixed point of view, in terms of how images of – and actual – landscapes, are experienced and mediated. Inviting the viewer to move in and out of the frame, aims to encourage a more active way of looking and perpetuate a heightened awareness of one’s position as a viewer.”
Robin Graubard’s debut book is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the USSR
Besides the long, paisley dresses and other vintage fashions, there really isn’t much dissimilarity between today and the events documented in Robin Graubard’s Road to Nowhere. The first major book of the photographer published by Loose Joints, Road to Nowhere is a stark documentation of Eastern Europe during the 90s following the dissolution of the USSR, conceived through a diaristic manner in which Robin bore witness to the Yugoslav War, Bosnian genocide and Kosovan uprising. She journeyed to Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and others, lensing and telling stories of hardship, suffering, war and hunger. And what with Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, these pictures show that history does indeed tend to repeat itself.
Road to Nowhere features primarily unseen imagery shot over the 90s, yet the visuals themselves appear timeless – they could have been taken yesterday, just a few years back or even decades. She worked solo and sought out stories that were close to her heart, revealing the difficulty of these lived experiences and powerfully juxtaposing them with the emerging subcultures of post-Soviet life, such as those seeking joy and normalcy amongst it all. Chores, games or dancing at a concerts are therefore comparatively sequenced alongside the deteriorated urban landscapes and buildings impacted by shelling. It’s a devastating depiction of conflict, but equally one of resilience.
With a career spanning 40 years, Robin’s work is often seen merging the autobiographical, editorial and documentary. She came of age in the counterculture and punk scenes of the 60s and 70s in New York, set against the urban backdrop of revolt and rebellion. She worked as a photographer at a newspaper; there was a strike and it was shut down. Consequently she bought a flight to Prague and met a group of women outside a UN building, who were discussing how no one was covering the war in Sarajevo. Receiving the press credentials from Newsweek, she set up base in Prague and stayed for three years.
“I photographed the war in Yugoslavia, oil smuggling in Rumania, runaways and orphans living in train station tunnels in Bucharest, and a school for girls in Prague,” she writes in the book. Proceeding to travel alone throughout the Balkans, she’d met families, lovers, translators, bus drivers and soldiers. In Belgrade during 1995, for instance, she spoke with a group of soldiers, some “dogs of war” who were the “most elite Serb and Russian mercenary soldiers on the front line”, she writes. “They seemed young and bedraggled.” She spent time photographing them and they were posing with peace signs. “Most of the soldiers in the picture died during the war.”
Robin was often on the front line and at the heart of conflict. Not only did she experience heavy shelling at night in her apartment while in Sarajevo, she also had a near miss when a bullet shot past her head during check in. “The man at the front desk seemed to be in some sort of trance and just ignored it,” she pens. On one occasion, she was walking to the hospital in Sarajevo through what was sniper alley, accompanied by a translator who’d been shot four or five times. Usually walking around on foot through Sarajevo, Robin recalls, “Somehow, I made it out”.
An impactful debut from the photographer, Road to Nowhere sees 130 photos compiled over 228 pages. The book is published by Loose Joints.
A group exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery explores decades of social change in the US
In the 60s, a project entitled America In Crisis was released into the world conceived by photographer Charles Harbutt and Magnum New York’s then-bureau chief Lee Jones. Featuring imagery from 18 photographers, the show, book plus accompanying short film and installation explored the issues prevailing in the country at the time. This was decades ago and little has progressed, point blank. In a new revisiting at London’s Saatchi Gallery, an exhibition of the same name sheds light on social change in the US with a group exhibition of 40 leading American photographers such as Bruce Davidson, Zora J Murff, Kris Graves, Stacy Kranitz and Mary Ellen Mark. Multiple similar themes from the work proceeding have been brought to the fore: inequality, racism, poverty and the demise of the American Dream to name a few, which are coupled with the more modern-day markers like Covid-19 and the rise of Black Lives Matter.
Curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris and Tara Pixley, the exhibition – which runs until 3 April 2022 – illustrates many deliberate comparisons towards the original project. This includes the same chapter structure as before, with titles such as The Streak of Violence, The Deep Roots of Poverty and The Battle of Equality making appearances. It also consciously sheds light on a diverse and contemporary presentation of photographers today, featuring honest and thought-provoking imagery from those who are actually embedded in the stories – like Zora and his mixed-media narration of power, race and privilege, or Stacy Kranitz who’s spent years documenting a community in Appalachia. Below, I chat to Sophie, one of the show’s curators, to discuss the danger of repeating history and the wavering power of the image in today’s digital world.
Can you tell me about the parallels between the new and old exhibition with Magnum Photos?
Clearly, things have changed. I studied history and history of art college, but in my day and age, you were told that there was an idea of history of progress. Maybe it’s just getting older, but it all becomes a bit circular after a while.
In 1968, it was a massively tumultuous year globally. Charles Harbutt felt there was an opportunity and a need to create the original project, and it was that same period of time leading up to an election that he and the Jones had the instinct it was going to be quite a pivotal moment.
We’ve used the original framework, but we involved all chapter headings except one; a chapter on the unwanted Vietnam war in 68. We didn’t replicate that into the contemporary project, because we felt that there isn’t an unwanted war or any contemporary equivalents. Now, you could say Afghanistan, but honestly, we felt that there was so much going on with the domestic policy issues that we were addressing, that to bring that in would have made it too complicated.
In 2020, there was the unlawful killing of George Floyd, and that was really the catalyst for the explosion on the streets of Black Lives Matter. And there’s Covid-19, which was a very different experience to the original exhibition. There are a number of different catalysts and contexts. However, the core premise is the American Dream versus reality on the ground, and the long form issues within, the founding of America, the slavery and the issues around equality; all of these things are long-form issues. The Deep Roots of Poverty being another section that addresses the fact that, despite it being such a wealthy country, there’s a lot of people below the poverty line. So there were a number of things that we felt still resonated 50 years after the original project.
How do you think photography can impact social change? And how does this exhibition highlight that?
I don’t think photography changes things by itself. I think the days of believing in that are long gone. We all take photographs but it is a very slippery medium; I think it can be re-contextualised in lots of different ways. That’s what the third room deals with – the fact that people tell stories with photographs that sometimes shift the meaning of that image completely.
What I do think, though, is that because it’s a recognisable medium, we all know how to take pictures and there’s a way to gain a better understanding the world around us. I think it is a language, despite its mutability, and it does inform us about and gives access to points of view; it’s all about acknowledging that it provides a window into different perspectives on the world.
I think there’s also something to be said for the still image. There’s so much visual noise out there; we’re all hopelessly addicted to our phones. I think there’s something quite meditative about standing in front of an individual picture and just engaging. I really feel this is a project to be seen in the space that it’s shown. It gives you time to pause for thought. It’s also telling that there’s a lot of different strategies within the show from the individual practitioners, in terms of how they choose to communicate using their photographs.
What would you say are the key takeaways for visitors of the exhibition – to educate, to steer away from the noise of the digital world?
It’s interesting to see how history can repeat itself. I don’t want to oversimplify, but I want people to be more conscious of how they read images, the power of photography and the importance of it as communication as well as an artistic medium.
Some of these earlier images would have been viewed by the original audience in 1969 as news photographs, and now they’re almost iconic, which I hate as a word. But something like Bruce Davidson and the Selma Marches, they have such a power as images; they’re almost talismanic because they’ve been reproduced multiple times. Then the reboot was referenced a lot during the Black Lives Matter protests pre-2020 as a kind of seminal protest image. Photography is an incredible, aesthetic medium. I want people to enjoy the layers of the show and how we encounter photography. The top line is to engage with the issues that have allied between both eras, but also to be conscious of photography, how we encounter it and read it and to do it in a considered way.
America in Crisis, organised by Saatchi Gallery, opens from 21 January to 3 April 2022. The exhibition is curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris from Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and academic Tara Pixley. Tickets from £5. Members go for free.
Jodie Bateman’s empowering series raises awareness of the difficulties Muslims face in the West
Jodie Bateman, a photographer who grew up in Earlsfield, London, converted to Islam in December 2017. During this period of her life, Jodie began questioning the stereotypes often pinned with being Muslim and living in Western society. Deciding to record these experiences with her lens, Jodie commenced work on My Hijab Has a Voice: Revisited – an authentic and autobiographical series that both challenges and empowers her subjects. Within the project, she takes predominantly self-portraiture with the odd portrait tossed in for good measure, placing herself and younger sister in the frame as they replicate historical paintings, those that often objectify women. The work is captivating, poised and provoking for the ways in which it demands attention from the viewer; she hopes to share a new perspective, to realign the stigma and to raise awareness of the difficulties Muslims face in the West. Below, I chat to Jodie about her journey into photography, her experiences with converting to Islam and what she strives to achieve through her imagery.
First, it would be great to hear about your journey into photography, what inspired you to pick up a camera?
I first fell in love with photography when I discovered my mum’s boxes of photographs as a little girl. She used to have loads of photographs printed from the little disposal cameras; she always had so many of them and I was always mesmerised by the photograph as a document or object. I remember holding it, looking into its information and then, when I got my first camera phone as a young girl – I think I was around 13 – I started shooting made up shoots with my sisters. That’s how it started. I knew from then on that I loved photography and taking pictures, so I decided to study it at college and so on.
What stories are you hoping to share in your work?
So far, it’s been a personal story about my journey and experiences, especially around the hijab and converting to Islam. Through my work, I’m trying to put a different narrative out there. I hope to take this further in the future and share other Muslim women’s experiences with the hijab too; I just want people to see it from our actual point of view and direct from our voices.
Can you tell me more about your personal experience with converting to Islam, and how this impacted your photography?
It changed my whole style. I found myself, and I realised the stories I wanted to tell and the issues I felt were important to me had changed. It’s had a huge impact on how I feel and how I am able to use photography. It’s such a powerful tool to be able to tell stories and raise awareness of issues, and being able to have your own unique voice with it.
What’s it like photographing your family, are they happy to be involved? How do you want to represent them in your imagery?
It’s easy because I am so comfortable around them, so I can really just be myself and be free in directing my project how I want to. I’ve never actually gone out of my comfort zone and not shot my family, but they are happy; they’re used to it and they like to take part and support my work In any way.
I guess it depends but, for my project, my little sister is like my muse. I have also done documentary photography with my family, representing them as they are at home as well as our relationships and bonds with each other.
Can you pick out a couple of favourite shots and talk me through them?
This image is my favourite image from my recent project My Hijab Has A Voice: Revisited. It’s inspired by the painting La Grande Odalisque; it was known for being unnatural in how the nude woman is painted, and in my image she is posed in a similar manner but fully veiled. It may seem unnatural, as paintings and the objectification of women started as being fully nude only for the purpose of pleasing the male viewer – so it’s about reclaiming our bodies. Being fully veiled mimics these types of paintings whilst also showing the beauty in being veiled; our bodies concealed from eyes seeing us in this objectified way.
In this second image from my project My Hijab Has A Voice: Revisited, myself and my sister are fully covered. She is laying on my lap and we are connecting; it’s not sexual, it’s supportive and there are books which convey the message that, as a woman, I am educated. I always get asked if I converted for a man or if I was brainwashed, as if a women cant make an educated decision to be a certain way. it also mimics paintings, as usually they leave bits of information around like mirrors and brushes to convey this vain message that women are in competition and compete against each other.
The last image is another favourite of mine again from my project My Hijab Has A Voice: Revisited. I am holding her head, her hair is out and we are both covered wearing black. This image concept is based around the idea that all women suffer from being told what to wear; whether we are being forced to cover or being forced to uncover, we are constantly being managed by men. This image is like a symbol of support from women to women, no matter what race or religion or how we dress. We should stick by each other and not against each other.
What are the key takeaways for your audience?
I hope it’s a positive reaction and that they are interested in listening. My message is that, as a woman, I can be educated enough to make my own decisions. I don’t need to be influenced by a man, that Islam is not what the media portrays and if people take time to listen to Muslim women especially, they can learn a lot and see a more meaningful side to our stories.
DelMonico Books’ new publication asks us to rethink the world through art. Its curator, Chara Schreyer, tells us more
In a new publication from DelMonico Books, the viewer – moreover the whole of society – is tasked to see the world through a refreshed lens. Entitled Making Strange: The Chara Schreyer Collection, the magnanimous tome collates nearly 250 artworks that span over 100 years, formulating a deep and comprehensive study brought to us by Chara Schreyer, the curator of the project. Compiled over three decades, Chara examines the definition of perception, where we, the audience, are encouraged to rethink the everyday in accordance to the trailblazing and irreverent work of French painter Marcel Duchamp plus the Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky and his conception of ‘making strange’.
A multitude of works on this topic are brought to the fore, including Andy Warhol, Glenn Ligon, Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman among many others. The book is edited with text by Doulas Fogle, Hanneke Skerath and includes a foreword by Chara Schreyer with an introduction penned by Fogle. Additionally, the tome features newly commissioned essays by Geoff Dyer, Briony Fer, Russell Ferguson, Elena Filipovic, Bruce Hainley, Eungie Joo, Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Annie Ochmanek, Jenelle Porter, Joan Rothfuss, Lynne Tillman, and Mika Yoshitake.Below, I speak to Chara on the topic of the collection, how she curated such a vast project and the specific ways in which art can be used to change the course of history: “We all really need to be challenged today whether it’s by visual artists, poets, or musicians. The world needs artists to shake us up.”
What inspired you to start working on this book and collection, was there a reason or moment that sparked it?
Regarding Making Strange, I was motivated to commission a book about the collection for two reasons: one, the works in the collection are spread out over five different locations, so I was curious about what the works that are not in the same house might say to each other when brought together in a book format; and two, I realised that, one day after I’m gone, these works will be dispersed with a number of them promised to museums, and so on. I wanted to have a record of their intimate relationship with each other together in this collection before they one day go on their own individual journeys to new homes.
Having worked with the collection for 30 years, what challenges or surprises did you encounter?
One of the most interesting things for me in seeing the works brought together in Making Strange were the serendipitous synergies and unexpected conversations that came about from bringing these works together virtually in a book format. I really loved seeing how the authors Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath brought very different kinds of works together under provocative curatorial propositions. It was really thrilling, for example, to see Ruth Asawa’s hanging wire sculpture Untitled S.437 (Hanging, Seven-Lobed, Two-Part Continuous Form within a Form with Two Small Spheres) (1956) in a chapter called ‘Minimalism and Its Discontents’ with Donald Judd’s Untitled stack (1969), Catherine Opie’s landscape photograph Untitled #5 (Icehouses) (2001) and Felix Gonzalez Torres’s light string sculpture Untitled (Tim Hotel) (1992). And there are many more surprising moments in the book.
What was the curatorial process like over this period; where did you source your artworks? What did you seek to include and what didn’t you?
The motivating factor in all my collecting has always been one simple idea: I’ve always wanted to collect works by artists that changed the course of art history. Early on, I worked with an advisor with whom I had a fantastic curatorial relationship. We purchased a number of core works in the 1990s including an example of Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) that was once owned by Andy Warhol (who is also in the collection), a classic stack by Donald Judd and Robert Gober’s iconic Deep Basin Sink (1984) which turns the Duchampian readymade on its head by recreating an unplumbed sink fixture completely by hand. In a sense, everything in the collection flows from, around, or into the work of Duchamp. Even Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove, two American modernist painters we would never think of as ‘Duchampian’, were friendly with and often showed together alongside Duchamp at the time. But it’s not just Duchamp’s contemporaries. The lineage extends in all sorts of ways up through the likes of Andy Warhol to younger generation of artists from Kaari Upson, Glenn Ligon to Rirkrit Tiravanija.
What artworks can we expect to find inside, can you pick out a few favourites or key pieces?
As I always say, choosing your favourite works is like choosing between your children. It’s really impossible as you love them each in different ways. With that said, I do find myself continually enamoured with Eva Hesse’s Top Spot (1965) and Robert Gober’s BasinSink (1984). Is Top Spot a painting or a sculpture? It pushes itself outside of the boundaries of the canvas into the space that you’re inhabiting. Hesse exploded the boundaries between sculpture and painting and did it as a woman in an art world still dominated by men in the 1960s. Gober’s sink also asked all the right (or maybe wrong?) questions. It is proudly hand-crafted as opposed to machine made. It was created as a non-working sink with all the melancholia that this suggests. It’s ghostly. As the artist created it in the middle of the AIDS crisis its lack of functionality also became a metaphor for the individuals whose bodies were no longer working correctly and who ended up losing their lives to the disease. This work has so many levels.
In many ways though, the spiritual guiding force of the collection (and of the book Making Strange) is Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) as it is a collection/retrospective in its own right with its miniature reproductions of the artist’s major works including his ready mades. In some ways, this work, which is the inspiration for the title and first chapter of Making Strange, is the defining core of the collection. Many other artists in the collection can be seeing as operating in the conceptual wake of Duchamp.
The topic of defamiliarised art is an interesting one. In what ways can art help us rethink the world? How can this be applied to a modern context?
I think a lot about many of the women artists in the collection and the way in which they’ve made the body strange, from Hannah Wilke’s vulvic ceramic sculptures, Renate Bertlmann’s photograph of the tips of two condoms that seem to resemble a pair of knees to Alina Szaponikow’s lamp sculpture Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips) (1969) with its alien-like disembodied mouth or Louise Bourgeois’s abstracted marble female torso Harmless Woman (1969). Each of these artists was working in a way that we might call defamiliarised. They really questioned the role of the female body in culture and how we objectify it. They made the body strange in a way that challenged us to rethink our relationship to gender. It’s clearly an extremely relevant way of looking at the world still today. In the end, I love art that has that edge that makes you get out of your comfort zone. We all really need to be challenged today whether it’s by visual artists, poets, or musicians. The world needs artists to shake us up.
How do you hope your audience will respond to this book, what can they learn?
I really hope that the readers will enjoy seeing the art historical connections between the various works in the collection. I also love how Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath edited the book as a series of visual essays. The works speak to each other and have conversations that run parallel to the wonderful commissioned texts on individual works in the collection by 14 art historians, curators and critics around the world.
Making Strange: The Chara Schreyer Collection is available here.
David Godlis’ new book captures a community of Jewish retirees on the balmy coastline of Miami Beach in the 70s
Miami’s South Beach has continued to be an enduring subject throughout the history of modern photography. Its sandy coast and the people that inhabit its shores, beds and promenades have captured the attention of many image-makers over the years, especially that of its declining elderly Jewish community. A prominent example is Andy Sweet, an American photographer known for his documentary work and momentous Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980. And now, David Godlis – a street photographer based in New York – has released his very own book on the subject, titled Godlis Miami and published by Reel Art Press. He, like Sweet, has captured a community of Jewish elders from the 70s, those of whom are bathing and basking in the heat of the famed coastline as they enjoy the late years of retirement.
Aged 22 at the time, David set out from Massachusetts to Miami Beach with the intention of visiting his grandma who lived near Ocean Drive. During the 10 days spent there, he had a profound realisation; in January 1974, he learnt how to take good pictures. “Not other people’s – mind,” he writes in the book’s introduction. 60 rolls of film later and he unearthed not only a collection of fascinating, humorous and touching photographs, but also a new way of documenting life around him. Two years later, for instance, he’d go on to capture punks for his series at the venue CBGB, documenting a piece of history as he’d capture, without a flash, the crowds swarming to see the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and Talking Heads in the bustling New York music scene. The capital has long been a consistent subject of David, but here, we’re seeing a new turn for the photographer; a documentation of the magical – almost fictional – scenes of Miami Beach.
A decade prior and David made his first visit the to beach. He’d take the train with his mum, and later planes and jets; he’d go fishing with his grandfather while his grandmother entertained herself in the background. It was more than exciting for David at the time, who goes on to describe his past memory of Miami Beach as being likened to a “Jewish Disneyland”. He writes on the matter: “When I returned to Miami Beach in 1974 with a camera, all these memories of Florida came flowing back to me. As I tripped the shutter over and over, taking pictures on those beaches I had walked upon as a little kid, everything clicked. Pun intended.”
The book begins with a gold-tinted vision of what appears to be David as a young boy, proudly holding a fish in his hand. A page flicks by and the work turns monochrome, revealing four years’ worth of imagery and the candid, almost intrepid, moments of his characters. Throughout, you’ll find men cooling down in the shallows; ladies resting on benches; palm trees adorning the pavements; dog walkers; Bingo players; tanners; strollers; sleepers; and theatre-goers. Everyone here in David’s matte and contrasted world are revelling in a restful point in their lives, where leisure matters more than most other things. It was a thronging community at its peak, and little did David know that, the next time he’d visit, it would all disappear.
“In 1985, 10 years after I shot these photographs, I returned to Miami Beach with my wife, Eileen,” writes David’s introduction of this pivotal moment. “I took her down to Ocean Drive to show her where they were taken and was astonished to find that most everyone was gone. I don’t think even in my early 30s I understood how fast time flies. Of course, many of the retired people I shot pictures of were dead 10 years later. But also many of them had been driven out by the Mariel boatlift of 1980. You can see what became of Ocean Drive in the bathroom shootout scene with Al Pacino in Brian DePalma’s Scarface. So Eileen and I stayed a little further up Collins Avenue the year. And I had to be very careful taking photographs on Ocean Drive that my camera wasn’t stolen.”
In the 70s, around 80% of the population on Miami Beach was Jewish, peaking in the 80s to around 230,000 inhabitants. Miami at the time also saw the influx of Caribbean and Cuban immigrants, the latter were emigrating to the US from Mariel Harbour which resulted in much of the Jewish community moving north. The community declined and many of the older generations had passed. So when David revisited the beach and expected to see the once-thriving community he laid eyes on years before, he was surprised by the emptiness and speed in which the community had vanished.
Much has changed since then, and David is a witness to this transformation – Godlis Miami is respectively a documentation of these shifts. He’s seen the disappearances of spots such as Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a Jewish delicatessen founded by Wilfred “Wolfie” Cohen who also launched three of South Florida’s most famous eateries. Meanwhile he saw how The Yiddish American Vaudeville and Hoffman’s Cafeteria became nightclubs. “But not all is lost.” he continues to state in the book. “In 2017, when I last returned to Miami Beach, I stayed in the little Century Hotel, looking pretty close to how it looked in 1974 when I first came upon it. I walked around to see where most of these pictures had been taken. To dream the dream I had photographed 40 years earlier. And I could still see it all. Even my cover girl in her cool Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses. The ocean and palm trees have a way of making those dreams come true. If only for a 1/125th of a second.”
Godlis Miami is published by Reel Art Press. RRP £29.95 / $39.99 / €33.12
What role does fashion play in society? A new exhibition at Antwerp’s ModeMuseum explores
Fashion is a mirror of society, often reflecting the shifts in attitudes, ideas, tastes and preferences that evolve throughout the years; it’s a Zeitgeist. An early example harks back to the hemline, with skirt lengths shortening along with the fight for women’s rights and equality. While in more recent times, the influx of globalisation and the internet – and thus the immediacy of information and access to goods – has also altered our perceptions and ideals of identity, meaning that, on the one hand, fashion choices have become more liberal, conscious and sustainable, while the other is quite the opposite (taking fast fashion into account). Then there’s health crises, a pandemic, economic inequality and social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo signalling to a change in a global society. But what is fashion’s role amongst it all, and where does it sit in the recent world?
Posing this very question is a new exhibition titled E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition. Presented as part of the reopening of ModeMuseum (MoMu) in Antwerp – which opened its doors on 4 September – the exhibition is curated by Elisa De Wyngaert and features works from Helmut Lang, Walter Van Bierendonck, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Raf Simons, Versace and more. A time capsule of sorts, E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition, looks at how fashion has “served as a visual signifier of contemporary instabilities, concerns and emotions since the 1990s,” explains Kaat Debo, MoMu’s director and chief curator. Below, I chat to Kaat about the role of fashion and how it can evoke real change.
What does emotion mean in the context of this exhibition and in the wider sense of fashion?
The choice for the title E/MOTION was motivated by a need for genuine emotion. Over the past 18 months, we’ve all had to work, live and create from home and a large part of our lives took place online. Also, designers have been forced to work digitally because of the pandemic. We wanted to research whether there’s place for genuine emotion in a digital world. We felt the need for real human interaction and the wish to integrate a live aspect in the exhibition, which is difficult within the static context of a (fashion) exhibition. We invited director, performer and countertenor Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe, in collaboration with the opera house in Antwerp (Opera/Ballet Vlaanderen) and the exhibition designers (Jan Versweyveld & HuismanVanmerode) to create a live performance for the exhibition. A challenging but also very exciting experiment.
In order to reflect on the future of fashion, as well as on the recent past, we conducted numerous interviews with fashion students and established designers during the pandemic. The designers gave their personal views on a wide range of subjects: what impact does the digital (r)evolution have on their creativity? Are fashion shows important? Can fashion evoke genuine emotions? What is the importance of craftsmanship, local production and sustainability? And what do you hope for the future? Fragments of these interviews formed the basis for this performance, that will be the closing installation in the exhibition. The performance will be brought 20 times during the entire exhibition period (September – January).
Fashion has long mirrored certain shifts in society. Can you tell me a bit more about this, and how fashion responds to particular events?
Over the last three decades, we have borne witness to unprecedented globalisation, which has had its impact on the creation, production, dissemination, communication and consumption of fashion. More than ever before, it has pushed fashion into the barriers of its own complex system and made it a stage for international political crises, from the Gulf War in the 1990s to terrorist attacks at the start of the new millennium, as well as for financial crises and recessions, the ecological crisis, and such health crises as the AIDS or the current Covid-19 pandemic. Fashion always reflects the prevailing zeitgeist, from social and economic inequality to global social movements, including Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. How have these evolutions impacted the way we see and perceive emotion, success, beauty, creativity, authorship and collaboration? And how has the role of the fashion designer changed in all this upheaval? Some examples…
90s recession: Against a backdrop of recession, a deflated job market and pessimism about the future among the younger generation in the 1990s, the Heroin Chic look became popular in fashion imagery. Fragile-looking models with messy make-up and drugged expressions appeared not only in photography, but also in fashion shows. The emergence of the look was linked to the Junk Culture of contemporary movies about addiction, such as Trainspotting (1996). The embrace of heroin and unhealthy body images in fashion drew vitriol. After the turn of the millennium, the Heroin Chic look was replaced by a tanned, toned and – in contrast to its predecessor – ‘healthy’ looking body.
Health crises: Our fear of death and disease during the past three decades has been further fuelled by various epidemics and pandemics, including HIV, swine flu and Covid-19. These health crises also affected the fashion industry. In the early 1990s, Benetton, the Italian fashion brand, ran controversial advertising campaigns referring to the AIDS crisis; while Martin Margiela created t-shirts for charity to encourage open conversations about AIDS; and Walter Van Beirendonck included rubber pieces as protective shields and printed messages about safe sex in his activist collections. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the face mask has emerged as a symbol of the crisis.
Terrorist attacks: The euphoria of entering the new millennium ended abruptly in September 2001. The repercussions of the terrorist attacks in the USA were complex, violent and disruptive, changing the course of world politics. The attacks occurred on the fourth day of New York Fashion Week, making fashion journalists the first to report them. Though incomparable to the tragic loss of life, the financial impact of 9/11 forced many independent designers to file for bankruptcy or to look for outside investment. Another challenge occurred when, against the sudden trauma of 9/11, some of the Spring-Summer 2002 collections were reinterpreted by the press and buyers as inappropriate and insensitive. Some fashion photographers faced the same issues when a few editorials had to be cut at the last minute. In these, models were depicted falling from buildings or looked like survivors covered in dirt; they suddenly seemed too close to reality.
Military references in fashion were often in direct response to pervasive images in the news about war and terror. In the last two decades, a series of terrorist attacks in European cities led to increased military presence. The surreal experience of encountering soldiers in camouflage uniforms – previously out of context in cities – heightened a sense of unease and fear. Directly or indirectly, these ongoing emotions of anxiety and terror prompted fashion designers to investigate the dichotomies between feeling protected and feeling threatened, between soldiers and female warriors.
Can you give an example of what’s involved in the exhibition and how this relates to the theme?
One of the exhibition themes is dedicated to the digital evolution and the internet. In this theme, we present a chiffon Versace dress, that was worn by Jennifer Lopez in 2000 during the Grammy Awards. People all around the world Googled her photo. This sudden peak in the search for a specific image was the reason Google Images was invented. The look became a metaphor of the ever more powerful symbiosis between fashion and celebrity culture. Twenty years later, Jennifer Lopez appeared on the Versace runway in this very dress.
What can the audience learn from this exhibition?
I hope the exhibition will inspire and move our visitors, as well as provoke conversation about fashion culture and its impact on society.
E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition is on show at MoMu from 4 September 2021 – 23 January 2022
Kemka Ajoku’s new series captures migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era
A photographer of fashion and portraiture, Kemka Ajoku – who’s born and raised in London – strives to rewrite the stories of Black British culture. Done so through a mix of personal projects and commissions, Kemka has documented all sorts of meaningful tales from the locals of Lagos, busy in the tasks of their everyday jobs, and the beauty of brotherhood in the post-adolescent stage of life. Each picture he takes reverberates with purpose and passion; he’s a storyteller of truth, and someone who employs visual art as a tool for spreading his messages.
Over the last year, which has been a difficult one for many, if not all, Kemka has managed to find a sense of fulfilment. Not only did he graduate at the end of 2020 form a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he also arrived back home and broke away from the educational system for the first time in his life. “I felt free to creatively understand more about who I am,” he tells me, “looking back at my lineage as a guide to learning more about myself, having never given myself the space or time to truly be introspective.”
A period of self-awareness and contemplation, Kemka’s ventures out into the ‘real world’ arose alongside the arrival of the pandemic. Coupled with the increase in racist hate crimes and injustice the globe, he began to question his role as a photographer, “a Black British photographer for that matter.” A sense of responsibility emerged: “a need to document the life of my people both in Nigeria and the diaspora,” he says. “To me, this was more important than taking a pretty photo. And so, a paradigm shift took place within me, a shift which led to me working with more intentionality, giving more meaning to the work with the hopes of lasting the test of time.”
This matured sensibility has manifested into his latest photo series, titled Finding Common Ground. Months in the making, the body of work is currently exhibiting at Wrest Park as part of the England’s New Lenses project with Photoworks, in partnership with English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud programme. In comparison to his previous series – although motivated in their own right – Kemka has never worked with such drive and ethos. “I sat down and really articulated what I wanted to achieve before picking up my camera.” A lengthy bout of research and exploration later, he came to learn more about the migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era, “a story that me, my parents, and their parents are part of.”
The photos involved are therefore contemplative, powerful and historical. Shot in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, the location protrudes with British heritage as it’s built atop the style of an 18th Century French Chateau. He cast a selection of his friends to sit for him, each representing a specific demographic within the Black British community. Referred to as “characters”, Kemka explains how each of his models’ personas have been developed from “watching British Blaxploitation films from the 70s and 80s; films such as Black Joy, Babylon Burning an Illusion and Pressure to name a few.” To accentuate this, Kemka worked with stylists Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndoimu and Lingani Noah who assisted with adorning the models in Black British clothing lines from both young and more established labels.
“The styling for this project was broken into two parts, highlighting two generations of Black British citizens,” adds Kemka, “from the tailored style of the late 40s and early 50s, to the more relaxed and youthful looks of the 70s and 80s. Fashion is an important part of British culture, used in a way to express identity with the community one associates themselves with. Many fashion nuances migrated from foreign land have interwoven with British styling over recent years, and this integration of style was a focal point in styling the models.”
Observing the completed works and you’ll notice how the poses or gestures appear to have been caught in a freeze frame – recording not only that moment in time,but also an experience and learning exuded from the photographer who’s captured them. “The intention with this work is to artistically depict an important era in Black British history (not in a common documentary photography fashion) that will have longevity long after I’m around,” he concludes. “Thinking back to my intentions as a photographer, one thing I revert to is the legacy my work will have for other Black British creatives, looking for a reference upon which to build their creative career upon.”
The LA-based photographer talks us through his captivating series documenting the Mennonites of Belize
In the late 1950s, when the first Mennonites arrived in the Caribbean country of Belize, they did so with one main intention: to live without influence from the outside world. They moved to be undisturbed, continuing customs in farming and agriculture – growing crops like potatoes, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, papaya and more.Some have also said that, in recent years, the German Mennonites in Belize produce over 85% of poultry and dairy products in the country. They are also known for their skills in carpentry, traditional clothing and language; a vast majority speak Plautdietsch, while some speak Pennsylvania German, English and Belzean Spanish.
Jake Michaels, a photographer based in Los Angeles, first came to learn of the Mennonites of Belize as he was working on a series for The New York Times, looking at the culture of dress worldwide. “I had a few images of Mennonites from northern Mexico saved in my reference folder,” he tells me. This sparked a few conversations with other photographers around the topic, and before long he was introduced to the community. In 2018, C. 1950 was borne – a documentary project that turns an honest and respectful lens onto its people and age-old traditions amidst an increasingly modernising world. Here, I chat to Jake learn more about the series, now published by Setanta Books.
What did you learn about the Mennonites of Belize; did you know much about this community beforehand?
I had some knowledge beforehand of the Mennonite culture as I did not want to arrive and assume anything about them. I focused on the Mennonites because I found their traditional dress and culture captivating in the juxtaposition of a jungle setting.
What was the process like while photographing this project, where did you visit and stay?
Although my time was brief, it was very impactful on my work and my process going forward. I slept in a hotel about an hour away from the villages because that was the closest lodging to the community. I found that removing myself from the surroundings allowed my mind to reflect on the day and make better images the next.
After gaining access to the community’s families, was it hard to gain trust, or were they open to being photographed?
I had conversations with each family and the pastor from the villages. I feel the people’s engagement was just as meaningful as the photos themselves. Everyone I encountered was very hospitable and open to the project.
Did you spend much time getting to know your subjects, or were you more of an observer?
Every family was a different experience. Some I played games with, looked over books with, or just shared a meal. Photographing a community like this, it is essential to share as much as they give.
Can you share any stories from working on the project?
One of the most impactful parts of the project was my ability to be present and not looking towards the next shot, engaging in the present instead. With the pace of my normal day-to-day, it was essential for the work to be present.
One of the experiences that stood out in my mind, was when one of the families I had a Saturday night meal with gave me their horse and buggy to try out. Without any guidance or hesitation, they said, ‘here you go’, and handed me the reigns. The horse knew what to do, so that took the pressure away. The experience of driving the horse through the dirt road gave me a brief glimpse of their point of view, and gave me a better sense of the visual landscape.
What’s your main goal with c.1950?
My main goal was to create a body of work that reflected what I had seen in the project, and document the Mennonite people and their culture as we all become more of a global society.
A new book published by Edition Patrick Frey looks at the life and legacy of Georg August Zenker, a German botanist and gardener
Botany, by definition, is the study of plant life and biology. And those who take up the title of a botanist therefore seek to understand the science of this field, studying all sorts from flowers and fruits to plants, fungi and algae. Some of the earliest moments in botany hark back to herbalism and humanity’s efforts (and success) to identify medicinal, edible and poisonous plants, while later times ensued a western desire to collect and preserve botanicals for science, technology and knowledge. It also has a rich history in colonialism, too, where in the early modern world, botanical science was vital to the economy, and the environment was harvested and exploited for monetary gain.
Georg August Zenker is a widely known name in the natural sphere. A German gardener and naturalist, he worked at the botanical gardens in Leipzig and Naples before travelling as a researcher to Africa in 1886 on behalf of the Italian government. He was also a colonial servant, put in charge of the Sibange Farm, and later worked as a preparator – responsible for the installation and de-installation of museum exhibitions – at Yaoundé Station in Cameroon, during which he would collect and cultivate native plants. According to the paper Zenker, Georg August (1855-1922), he was the only European on the Yaoundé Station, and he was cut off from outside contact due to hostilities between tribes of the Botanga coast and those of the hinterland (a German word for a settlement behind a coast or shoreline). In 1895, he quit the colonial service to return to Germany, but it wasn’t long until he returned back to Cameroon as a private citizen, founded a plantation and colonial-style house in Bipindi and grew coffee, cacao and rubber. In 1922, he passed away from problems with his kidneys.
Zenker left behind a legacy in the natural world (some of which is controversial), and his time spent in Cameroon involved collecting botanical, zoological and ethnographic items, which were then transported back to the western world in a number of Museums, mostly in Germany. He gained wide recognition for his work, and various African plant species were named after him, such as Agelaea zenkeri G. Schellenb., the Anthericum zenkeri Engl. and the Diplazium zenkeri Hieron. But it’s not just the fauna and species that bare his name years after his passing; he’s known to have lived a polygamous life at the station with several African women, some of whom had his children.
And now, his name and life has become the subject of a new book Zenker, created by two Berlin-based photographers Yana Wernicke and Jonas Feige, and published by Edition Patrick Frey. Looking at the history and repercussions of the German botanist and gardener, the project came about following an enduring interest in the topic. Yana, for example, had visited Cameroon for several months after school, which is where she became aware of Gorg and thought to focus her graduation project on his story while they were both still studying photography. “In 2013, we went to Cameroon and met the Zenker family for the first time,” says Yana. “We quickly realised that the story was too intricate and complex for a graduation project.” In 2016, the duo had visited the Zenker family once again in Bipindi and decided to take things further. “We were fascinated by Zenker and the contradictions both within his person as well as his actions. We were curious to visit his villa and meet his descendants, who still proudly carry the Zenker family name.”
Proceeding to photograph Gorg’s family in parts of Cameroon, Belgium and Germany, Zenker compiles real-time imagery of the present day along with interviews with his descendants, a biography of Zenker, as well as materials from Berlin museums and letters that Zenker had sent to Paul Matschie between 1896 and 1920 – Paul is the director of the mammals department at the Berlin Zoological Museum and one of the main purchasers of Zenker’s collections. “These letters near perfectly cover Zenker’s time at the Bipindihof, from its construction up until Zenker’s death there in 1922,” explains Jonas. “In the book, they are interspersed with out photographs from present day Bipindihof, paralleling two narratives that share the same place but have happened at very different times.”
In terms of the museum tables specifically, this archival addition illustrates the many items he preserved over the years, some of which bare his title and can be viewed in museums today. In Zenker, these tables only depict a fraction of the work that Zenker had collected: “The lists raise many important questions about colonial booty, provenance, restitution and ownership,” notes Yana. Recent times have addressed these questions in the many, with the likes of Jonathan Jones penning in the Guardian how British museums “cannot any longer coldly keep hold of artistic treasures that were acquired in dubious circumstances a long time ago.” These lists in Zenker are not exhaustive yet still remain astonishingly large, depicting not only the collection (or smuggling) of plants and species taken from their native habitats, but also the killing of animals to then be prepped and sent off to be cased in museums. It’s a reminder of this period in time, detailing the extent to which colonialism and its violent, wealth and knowledge-craving ways were perpetuated throughout Europe.
Other pages of the bookare more illusive than factual; there’s a photograph which apparently shows Zenker posing with a group of Cameroonian businessmen. “Most of the photographs we knew of Zenker were of the typical colonialist sort, depicting him, as the superior human being to the Cameroonian workers surrounding him,” adds Jonas. “We were fascinated by this image because it seemed to subvert those depictions of power. We later learned that the man in the photograph might not actually be Georg AUgust Zenker, but that this might be wishful thinking on the part of the Zenker family. In the book, we included the photograph regardless and contrasted with other photographs of Zenker so that the viewers themselves might decide to enjoy the fact that this question might not be answerable or that a definitive answer might not actually be desirable.”
This picture in some ways sets the tone for the entirety of the project. It may or may not be a picture of Zenker, and it leans onto the idea that there’s still so many unanswered questions about him, his legacy and the work he occupied. Not to mention the fact that colonial history is so intrenched in the timeline of botany that it begs to question where we would be without it (for the better?), and that the aftermath of its antics are still being felt today. “Having worked on this project for a number of years and still wanting to look into every detail of the story, we realised at some point that we would never be able to understand everything,” shares Yana. “In fact, some of the enigmas and paradoxes we encountered are now an integral part of the project. In many ways, the book is about highlighting the many open questions rather than giving definitive answers.”
“Germany’s colonial history has not received a lot of attention in the past,” concludes Yana. “Up until a few years ago, most Germans would not have known that Cameroon was once a German colony and we are glad to see that the discourse on these matters has reached a new level in the last few years. With our project, we hope to bring attention to the fact that there are still very real consequences of German colonialism and that these consequences need to be examined in detail and in all their complexity.”