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Akihabara Metro Station, TokyoDSCF0001_small

Business girl on her way home.

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The power of reading

When paintings and sculptures depict a man or woman with a book, this usually signifies that they are studious, saintly, noble and wise – persons of substance. Kertész’s approach is different. Apart from one semi-surrealist shot of Peggy Guggenheim, with an open book in the foreground, he has no interest in the great and good. The Bowery bum retrieving a newspaper from a wastebin; a woman kneeling over a text in a Manila market; gondoliers, circus performers and street vendors snatching time between work duties to peruse a book or magazine – Kertész’s subjects are often people you wouldn’t expect to see reading. What the camera captures is their thirst for knowledge or hunger to escape their circumstances. One memorable image features a boy sitting in a New York doorway in 1944, amid a heap of newspapers left there to alleviate the wartime shortage (“Paper is needed now! Bring it at any time,” reads the poster behind him). Times are hard yet the boy looks perfectly happy: amid the detritus, he has found a page of comic strips.

Whereas books are traditionally thought of as an indoor pursuit, most of Kertész’s subjects are caught reading outdoors. The venues aren’t just parks and beaches. There’s a whole sequence of images taken in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 70s, showing people reading high above the street, on tenement rooftops, penthouse balconies, metal stair-ladders and window ledges. Enrapt as they are, the readers seem indifferent to the chimneys, ventilation pipes and washing lines that surround them: away from the crowds, each has found a space to be alone. The setting is tough and urban. Yet there’s a spiritual quality, too – reading as a stairway to heaven.

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Cape Cod. July 4th, 1947
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USA. Massachusetts. Cape Cod. July 4th, 1947. Independence Day. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

“This woman explained to me that the flagpole over her door was broken but ‘on such a day as this, one keeps one’s flag on one’s heart.’ I felt in her a touch of the strength and robustness of the early American pioneers.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Ecoutez voir Hervé Guibert

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Comment rendre hommage à un écrivain qui fut aussi photographe : par le texte ou par l’image ? Par la voix. Ainsi en a décidé Vincent Josse, journaliste culturel à France-Inter, admirateur d’Hervé Guibert qu’il n’a pas connu. Son Hervé Guibert, l’écrivain-photographe (1 CD de 54 minutes, 25 euros, naïve), est une merveille de délicatesse dans l’empathie. Les jurés de l’Académie Charles-Cros ne s’y sont pas trompés qui viennent de distinguer ce “projet sonore”, ainsi qu’il se présente. Il s’agit d’une mise en ondes d’extraits de certains de ses livres, Suzanne et Louise, L’image fantôme, Le protocole compassionnel, La photo, inéluctablement, Le seul visage, lus par Juliette Gréco, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Grimberg et Cyrille Thouvenin, sur une musique originale de Dominique A. Si ces livres sont connus et facilement accessibles, les entretiens de l’écrivain avec Roger Vrigny ou Gérard-Julien Salvy le sont moins, pour ne rien dire des quelques feuillets inédits conservés dans ses archives à l’Imec, sur le début de biographie qu’il aurait voulu consacrer à Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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Photo de Martine Franck/Magnum

A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie (Poche) de Hervé Guibert

A life in cinema: Abbas Kiarostami

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Warmly courteous behind his trademark dark glasses, he apologises for being preoccupied with rehearsing Juliette Binoche next door. Certified Copy, to be shot in Tuscany this month in French and English, will be his first feature to be filmed outside Iran. On the walls of MK2, the French company that co-produces his films, is some of his photographic work of zig-zag roads and snow-covered landscapes. (His visa problem meant he also missed the opening of an exhibition of his photography last month at the Purdy Hicks Gallery in London’s Bankside.)

He developed an interest in photography in the 1970s from scouting for locations in the Iranian countryside, but has exhibited his work only since the 1990s; its global sales have helped to subsidise his films. “I film normal-life subjects in natural settings that some people would consider uncinematic. But what I want to show is nature itself, as the truth of life.” He avoids human figures in his photography, and considers it a “purer” medium than cinema. “The moment of the picture is one of personal truth, not of a story. I feel something in a landscape and want to capture it; only that moment is shown.”

Also a screenwriter and poet, Kiarostami has in recent years made video installations such as Sleepers, of two sleeping lovers, for the Venice Biennale in 2001, and Forest of Leaves (2005) at the V&A. For him, art can reframe even the trivial details of life, spurring us to take a fresh look at them. Films such as Close-Up (1990), which dramatised the case of an unemployed print worker arrested for passing himself off as the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makmalbaf, blur the line between fiction and documentary. His frequent intrusion of the filmmaking process forces viewers to question the boundaries between reality and representation, truth and fabrication, life and art.

His most recent film, Shirin, will be screened at the Edinburgh film festival on 19 June, with a UK-wide release a week later. A bold experiment, it is 90 minutes of close-ups of more than 100 women – including a headscarved Binoche – as they watch a film based on a 12th-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi about a love triangle involving an Armenian princess and a Persian prince. Light from a screen flickers on the women’s faces; their expressions alone create the drama.

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Coup de cœur: Kiarostami on Digital Camera (Voice-over in English)

Bildbauten

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The series of images with the title “Bildbauten” deals with the effect and the claim to credibility of images of architecture that appear to be photographs. It further questions the medium “photograph” as a documentary piece of evidence depicting reality.