Friday, February 20, 2009

Genealogies: The view from above

I thought I'd start with a form I've been thinking about, a kind of family tree/genealogy of images. All summer long, while working on my Tel Aviv Project, I was obsessed with extreme views from above, be it rooftops, hills, whatever. It was as if I had this visual idea in my head which I had to find somewhere out there. This is one of the first photos I was happy with early on,

in that it showed me, in a sense, what I was looking for. It should be said that much of the fun and interest inherent in photographing, at least in how I do it, is the discovery of a new vision from one's own photographs. This photograph, Ayalon Highway #3, came towards the end of the summer, and certainly comes close to what I had in mind when starting out:

Later last year, once I'd begun sorting through my work from the summer, I started reading Kirk Varnedoe's excellent "A Fine Disregard: What makes modern art modern". There's lots to talk about relative to photography in Varnedoe's book, but his last chapter goes into some detail over precisely this obsession I had over the summer with overhead views. Varnedoe charts the origins of this view in modern art, beginning with Caillebotte's Boulevard seen from above, 1880 This painting was shown in the Impressionist exhibition of 1882, and one critic's response to its extreme perspective was that "such a thing is ultimately meaningless, if only because to work properly the painting would have to lie on the floor and not hang vertically". Nowadays of course we see such views on every other frame of a TV show, so are completely unaware of its initial strangeness. Varnedoe goes on to compare this critic's response to Pollock's subsequent drip paintings , i.e. of painting with the canvas on the floor! Some of the photographs Varnedoe discusses really felt very close to what I'd been looking for, and it was both encouraging and discouraging that they'd been done in the twenties. Here are a couple that stand out,

Alexander Rodchenko's Assembling for a demonstration and Moholy-Nagy's View from the top of the Berlin radio tower.
Later in the year I found Gerhard Richter's site, and went through a retrospective of his which I'd seen in 2003. Among the paintings which I'd "forgotten" from that exhibit were a number of aerial city views, done in his blurry photo-realist style:

Now these were paintings I hadn't seen or thought about in years, though I did see the exhibit several times. But the minute I saw them again this year, I realized they had been in the back of my mind this summer, forming that sense of an ideal image I had in mind when I went out photographing. At the time I saw them, I was just starting out doing serious photography, and was certainly not interested in them for their subject matter or their approach to the subject. I simply loved Richter's work, and these three were certainly among those I lingered over.
I should say that what initially got me interested in views from above was working with Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee from the rooftops of Chicago skyscrapers.

Michael had done similar work in his Toledo project back in 1980, which has been compared to Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie The allure of the high vantage point is fairly obvious, especially for anyone interested in abstraction. Almost anything looks interesting from above, if only because we're so unused to the perspective. There's a similar balance between the familiar and the unknown, as there is between abstraction and realism. This is all to say, of course, not that I went out with this prefabricated list of images and ideas but I've tried rather to relate some of what I was looking for to similar works with similar motivations. I'll let the images speak for themselves.
Postscript: In answer to some comments over at the Large Format Forum:

I limited my scope basically to my immediate sphere of influences and connections, wasn't really trying for an art-historical perspective. Varnedoe does that perfectly, and looks at Nadar's views from a balloon. I don't go into any detail in my photo essay, but Varnedoe's main point is to challenge the idea that this perspective was something new made available by technology, i.e. hot air balloons. That's a basic approach of the book as a whole, to argue that the point of such new interests in modern art has more to do with their meaning as artistic expression rather than as expressions of a new social or technical fact. As he says, anybody who went to the top of Notre Dame and looked down got the same effect hundreds of years before anyone started painting or photographing from that perspective. So the real question, the interesting question, is why all of the sudden people did.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Photographs in Onward '09 and Fraction Magazine

One of my photographs, "Alexander River", was recently chosen to take part in a group show, Onward '09. This show was juried by Peter Barberie, photography curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and will be up til March 22 in Project Basho's Gallery, in Philadelphia. Please stop by their web gallery and take a look, there's some very good work up. You can read a review of the show here.

Also, a new online magazine, Fraction, has just put up their Apug group show and my photograph "Old Bus Station, Tel Aviv" was included. Thanks to David Bram for putting the show together, and here's hoping it'll become an annual event.

Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and Welcome,

My name is Gabriel Benaim, and I'm a fine art photographer. I recently launched my own website, and decided I'd keep a blog to go with it, and to keep an online record of whatever else I'm interested in. In addition to photography, the visual arts and literature form a major part of my life, and I will be sharing and documenting here some of those interests. In a previous life I was a doctoral candidate in philosophy, and there are vestiges of that life still lingering, and will probably make an appearance now and then. At the moment, the writer Guy Davenport has resurfaced as a major player in my daily reading life, and through him I'm starting to read Thoreau's and Kafka's journals. I will be periodically introducing choice aspects of Davenport's work, together with my glosses and cross-references, in an attempt to entice new readers to try this little known master. In the plans also is a brief photo-essay of my time spent with Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee last summer, when I assisted them in photographing the City of Chicago for a commisioned project. So stay tuned, and do stop by and take a look at my website,