Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

Happy 2013 everyone! My year has started off very busy, hence the lack of posts, but I hope to get back on the wagon as I have lots of fun new things to share. I'm going to start by sharing the work of photographer Vivian Maier, whose work I was introduced to through a lovely book given to me for Christmas called Vivian Maier: Street photographer by John Maloof.

Maloof stumbled across hundreds of thousands of negatives of Maier's in 2007, which she had apparently "kept secret  for over fifty years". A nanny by trade, she lived in big cities and documented city life, but never showed the images to anyone.  In the past couple of years, though, Vivian's work has become something of a sensation due to the quality of the work, the period it is documenting (primarily 1950s and '60s America), and the incredible number of images. It seems both impossible and romantic that this woman who was not trained as an artist nor a photographer should have such amazing work and also have kept it all to herself.

  Self-portrait  of the artist

You can read more about her story at the links above (or wait for the film Finding Vivian Maier), but I just want to comment on what I find inspiring about her work. First, it appears she was making art for art's sake - not for shows or fame or anything like that. And because she was taking photos only for herself, she seems to have the freedom to choose whatever subject matter she wants and in doing so manages to capture some really intimate and fascinating subjects. For example, she has this picture of a dead horse left in the street. Part of my fascination with this gruesome scene is that it gives a window, albeit a black and white one, into the streets of post-war America, when horses were still commonly used as transportation even in big cities. But I also think the photo says something about the artist (for trained or not, the quality of her photographs confirm that she had both an artist's eye and artistic talent), about the types of things she felt worth documenting. In a way many of her photos of every day occurrences remind me of Norman Rockwell illustrations, but often grittier and less optimistic.

I also really like that even though many of her photos have people in them, none of them are posing. They often seem unaware of her presence -- which is somewhat odd to me considering that cameras were much bigger and more rare than they are today -- except for this lady below, who has such an awesome expression of disgust.

Another reason I identify with her work is that Vivian was a professional nanny, and from my brief stint as a nanny I know that it can be quite a lonely profession with a lot of down time, especially if the child is young. During that time it is easy to get bored, but Vivian seems to have used whatever moments she had to take hundreds of photos of the big cities (New York and Chicago) in which she lived. I wonder if she ever shared her photos with the children in her care?

Lastly, while most of the photos have a person or an animal as the subject, I, of course, love the photos with interesting framing of architecture. I don't know what Vivian felt when she framed this shot, but amidst the interesting shapes and overlapping lines I see the buildings as a stand-in for people or relationships that appear so strong yet can crumble and leave a giant hole. Of course I'm reading into the psyche of someone we will never know, and perhaps that is the thing that strikes me most about Vivian Maier's photographs: that they make me want to have a conversation with them and create a connection with the woman behind the camera.


Behind-the-scenes of Jordan Matter's Dancers Among Us

I shared some images from photographer Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" series a couple of months ago.  Now check out this behind-the-scenes live action:

I won't lie, I am really taken with this work.  I think it's an incredibly successful merging of concept with artistic execution.  And I don't think I will ever get tired of looking at his new combinations of amazing dancers in often humorous "skits".  It reminds me that life is beautiful and humans are amazing.  Matter has just released the book version, also titled Dancers Among Us, which includes the story behind capturing each image.  I, for one, am excited to get my copy!

(I'm not sure if the embedded video is working properly, so here's the link to the video too)

Cindy Sherman shows her face(s) at SFMOMA

I find it very interesting and informative to see the arc of an artist's entire career, and it's a rare event among contemporary artists unless the artist has the good fortune of having a retrospective show.  The Cindy Sherman exhibit on view at the SFMOMA through October 8th affords such an opportunity by displaying her work from 1975 to present.  What really struck me about Sherman's arc is her remarkable consistency in subject matter. While I might get bored or frustrated with a subject and move on to the next thing, Sherman seems to delve deeper and find another way to represent her subject.  She does this through innovative portraiture, including simulating movie stills and Old Masters' paintings. All of her work has to do with the portrayal of females - in art, the media, film, fashion, etc. - yet her manner of doing this is subversive by her being both the (heavily disguised) model and the photographer.     

Another interesting thing to me is that by portraying so many different "types" of female - the diva, the plain Jane, the 60s housewife, the socialite - Sherman herself defies being typecast and throws light on the fact that the way one looks does not make up one's identity. It also seems to reflect on how women see themselves; how we try to remain young, beautiful, sexy. Yet beneath all that make-up and plastic surgery, there's a whole other person.


I was really impressed with Sherman's devotion to her craft, which involves her expertise as a photographer in staging the scenario just right, but also her skills as a make-up artist, including the use of prosthetics, and as a method actor. Her attention to the details - making sure the tattoos, the painted on eyebrows and the freckles match her character just so - show her devotion to her craft.  It really is a remarkable exhibit.


One of my favorite pieces was actually an early one - a stop-motion video titled Doll Clothes (1975). It's simplicity belies it's ingenuity. As someone who grew up loving to play with paper dolls, there's a nostalgia Sherman taps into while also highlighting many of the themes she went on to explore in her later work. She has, impressively, come full circle,  and yet it's not over: I'm sure there's much more good work to come.

Art shows beating the heat around Austin 4: Multiplicity

Multiplicity: Photography by Malia Moss @ UP Collective, opening TOMORROW - August 11  

Opening reception Sat. Aug. 11, 7-10PM. Open to the public, find out more.

I've already had a sneak preview to the show, so I can vouch for it. Having recently seen some not-so-impressive photography, I have been a bit jaded about young people's photography, but Malia's work is a breath of fresh air. I think this is partly due to her commitment to her very time-consuming and painstaking process of digital manipulation which could very easily become stale and/or mundane, yet it doesn't.  Her use of one subject, whether it be an animal or a human, repeated dozens of times in the same setting becomes a kind of story-telling, albeit a strange one.  By placing herself, just once, in each photograph Malia becomes the omniscient narrator to these tales.

I didn't know when I first saw this series that they were about living with chronic anxiety, but when I found that out I saw how completely Malia has created a sense of anxiety in each frame.

Lastly, I have to add a shout-out to UP Collective, the host of this show. If you haven't been yet, you should. UP is becoming a happening place to view some really amazing emerging artists; and if you have been before, you'll be blown away by the new gallery floors! Hope to see you there.


If I Could Dance and Other Tales: LAST CHANCE to see my work at Jerry's Artarama

Show comes down Monday, Aug. 13th, so go check it out.


Jordan Matter's Dancers Among Us

I love to see people dance. Not necessarily just anyone, but rather those people with natural ability and/or the raw precision and spectacular muscles of an athlete. It's amazing what the human body is capable of doing and expressing, and a well choreographed performance will highlight just that. As Jordan Matter says in his artist statement, dancers "bring to life what we feel but are unable to express physically."

I was first introduced to Matter's work when someone forwarded me an article in The Telegraph about his 2009 shoot in New York City. I was struck by these images in which world-class dancers dressed in regular clothes to "blend in" perform extremely difficult, gravity-defying dance moves in a public space (from commuter trains to libraries).  It's rare to be able to pause and share such a beautiful moment, because obviously the dancers are in motion, yet that is precisely what Jordan Matter's photographs do.  He has continued this project,  titled "Dancers Among Us", in many cities and it's a breathtaking and beautiful endeavor which I find most inspiring. You have to just look at the photos to understand:

I recently read Matter's artist statement, and was pleased to learn that his inspiration for the project came from watching his own kids play, and remembering those moments of passion, imagination and ability to stay in the present moment that we seem to lose as we grow older. I suppose that's what all artists, no matter what their medium, try to do to varying degrees --> recover that sense of wonder in the ordinary. Matter states his hope for his children: "I want them to be free from self-consciousness, to discover the deep happiness of impassioned lives, and to find the serenity to be truly present. These photographs communicate my dreams for them more powerfully than words alone-- relish moments large and small, recognize the beauty around you, and be alive!"