Lee Grant – Photography Blog

Archive for July 2008


with one comment

Continuing my obsession with human endeavour and the way we arrange our domestic and social spaces, I’m finally looking at Motels. Well, I’ve already started but am looking to work collaboratively with my friend and fellow photographer U.K Frederick (whom I mentioned a few posts ago), who is writing her thesis about the car in popular culture.

We are due to photograph the Embassy Motel in Deakin, a Canberra icon which sadly will be knocked down to pave the way for, you guessed it, more ugly apartments. Prime real estate of course and in a fairly exclusive suburb, it still retains all the charms (and most importantly, dagginess) of yesteryear.

I’m actually excited about working creatively with another artist. I’ve generally avoided this in the past as I like to work alone, you know “in the zone dude”, but I have a hunch that this collaboration will be a fruitful one. We work along very similar themes but with completely different viewpoints which is all the more amazing since we actually have very similar aesthetics too. Plus we don’t shit each other. Can’t get better than that hey?

Anyway, will undoubtedly have some work to post from this venture over the next few weeks. Here’s a few teasers in the meantime:

Room 241

Motel parking lot

Motels are bizarre kinds of places and from my limited research to date, they come in all flavours, shapes and sizes. Misty Keasler did a nice series on Love Hotels in Japan and her compatriot, Alec Soth’s genial oeuvre on Niagara is also situated in forlorn and antiquated Canadian motels. There’s something kinda dirty about these love motels which is really attractive but I think kind of sad too because they seem to represent a forbidden space where the lonely or isolated share fleeting moments of intimacy that they don’t seem to find in their everyday lives. Only the furniture stays the same… and perhaps the routine staining of bedsheets…..

Love Hotel, Japan (courtesy Misty Keasler)

Fairway Motor Inn, 2005 (courtesy Alec Soth)

Now, I wonder if there are any no-tell motels around here?

Written by Lee Grant

July 28, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Pieter Hugo

leave a comment »

There has been a bit of buzz surrounding Pieter Hugo on the web. He has just collected the Discovery Award at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival in France (which runs from 8 July – 14 September). And I think for good reason, as you can see:

Londiwe Wendy Mkhize, Pietermaritzburg, 2005

The Honourable Justice Unity Dow

Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005

Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara,Nigeria 2005

Sheila Ward Smith, Sea Point, 2006

Jan, Martie, Kayala, Florence and Basil Meyer in their home

Pieter and Maryna Vermeulen with Timana Phosiwa

(All images courtesy Pieter Hugo)

South African art dealer Michael Stevenson writes succintly about Hugo’s work:

“Hugo has photographed people in diverse contexts across Africa who he feels have a distinct presence and bearing. Hugo, in his photography, is willing to take the risk of confronting the troubled and entwined history of Africa and photography, and take images that are forthright and direct. His work is characterised by an unapologetic desire to look; at the same time, he negotiates a direct dialogue with the subject in his photograph. He looks, but what is equally significant is that he is looked at. Perhaps it is the combined energy of the photographer and the photographed that gives these images, and their subject, their commanding presence.”

What I find personally interesting about his photographs is the subject matter, almost as much as how he frames it. Coming from Africa, there is little shortage of exotic, shocking and interesting visual material. And ultimately, what he chooses to look at and photograph, is.

Elizabeth Biondi of the New Yorker responds to Hugo’s work thus: “Some people have said to me that Pieter’s subject is so dramatic that it would be hard to take a bad picture, but you know, a photographer chooses his subjects, and that too, is an im[portant part of having a great eye. Photographers go where their instincts lead them and then try and work out their fascination for the subject through the photographs they take. That’s what Pieter’s doing but in an extreme kind of way. He has a vision and he pursues it relentlessly. He has what it takes.”

Good to know.

I wonder though about Gerry Badger’s idea of “the quiet photographer”. Badger suggests that it is more a question of voice. The quiet photographer “focuses upon modest rather than determinedly grand subjects, eschews quirky tricks of technique or vision, and (perhaps crucially) presents the work in a modest way”. (Excerpted from How you look at it: photographs of the 20th Century)

Also good to know. I’m not quite sure whether Hugo fits into this category though? Perhaps Africa has its own set of rules? Certainly as an admirer of his work who has never been to Africa, this might be the case. Even then, the images scream for attention for their sheer surreal subject-matter. Ultimately I think that Hugo is trying to locate a sense of his own belonging who “as a white South African doesn’t really fit into the social topography of his own country”. I know from my own experience that when you start to really look at your own surrounds, where you live and have grown up, things always appear stranger than before. Perhaps this is why some of us choose to photograph? To better understand who we are. In Africa, it seems, Hugo simply has a much bigger palette to draw from.

A Vivid Spectacle

leave a comment »

Just got back from my Melbourne jaunt where I took virtually no photographs (well OK, I did make time to photograph the Tin Wong Palace for my Oriental Dinner series), and I must say it was nice to take a break from all things photography related, since the last few weeks have been chockas with the official opening of the inaugural Vivid National Photography Festival. Lots of openings along with a very full 3-day conference at the ANU was enough to exhaust even the most stamina filled photography enthusiasts.

But it was a great start to the event. I think perhaps though I will have to be selective about the shows that I go to between now and October as there are a lot and frankly too little time to see them all. It’s excellent to see the love there is out there for this medium despite some of the difficulties photography seems to be facing at the minute (eg. censorship and associated wowsers and that boring old debate of whether or not it even constitutes art etc…). The following Stateline video clip gives you a bit of an idea of what’s happening over the next few months (and yes, after a bit of self-cringe I’m sharing with you anyway…… Martyn is great as usual, love the ASIO comment!)

A tropical touch, MK’s (from the Oriental Dinner series featured in the exhibition Suburban Zeitgeist)

Am also keen to check out the Head On exhibition at M16 Artspace in Fyshwick. I was shortlised for my image The day Meg wore a dress (posted before on this blog) which has ended up in a slide show alongside a few other photographers I know and a few whose work I admire, so its nice to think I’m keeping good company in this regard!

One thing I have realised – though this could be hindsight speaking because it didn’t feel like this at the time – is that I’d like to keep curating photography exhibitions (full-on but very satisfying!). Already cooking up a few ideas for a couple of group shows, hopefully with very clever, fellow photographer and co-curator U.K Frederick, so keep your eyes open!

Dinosaur Clash by U.K Frederick (from The Dragon, the Smurf and the Wardrobe series featured in the exhibition Suburban Zeitgeist)

Written by Lee Grant

July 21, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Magnum’s New Girl on the Block

leave a comment »

The weather right now is miserable: cold, wet and pissing down with rain. Shouldn’t complain really, given that we are supposedly experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. But it doesn’t do much for motivation. It sure is soporific weather……… I just want to lie down and sleeeep……….

But not before sharing the work of one of Magnum‘s newest new nominees, English photographer, Olivia Arthur. Her website is packed with consistently strong images that belie her youthful 28 years (they’re getting younger and younger every year!). At 28 years of age she has collated an impressive portfolio of images that explore the politics between Eastern and Western cultures and the effect this has had on the emancipation of women. She focuses particularly on Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. Here are a few teasers:

All images courtesy Olivia Arthur‘s website

I likey! Even more impressively she has managed to be fully self-funded (albeit with the help of several grants and awards) and as she discusses on the Magnum blog, this has allowed her a particular freedom whereby she has “had very few guidelines and conditions to follow. This freedom has been amazing for me because it has meant that I have been able to get right into it and let the work unfold as it goes along. It also means that it doesn’t necessarily fit into the regular format of photojournalistic stories, and it has not always been easy for me to get it seen.

I’m very pleased to see that Magnum is putting their money where their mouth is in terms of supporting new, emerging talent, men but increasingly women (though they still have a rather piss-poor gender balance). Last year’s round yielded the photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti whose work is quite sublime and for me this direction from such a key player as Magnum is good news. It’s important that agencies like Magnum make tangible, projects that have their roots in a bit of struggle and self-reliance. I think that this is especially true for women (particularly older women) who often miss important opportunities because of familial commitments and/or financial pressures. (Yes I harp on but I’m frustrated by what feels like a lack of opportunity in Australia when compared to abroad.)

I do believe however (if you happen to find yourself in this boat) that it is very important to keep struggling. Belief in the importance of what you do seems to me to be crucial to the possibility of future success. For every person out there that finds your work boring, there will be another who finds it amazing………. Mmmm, just read that back and I sound like a self-help manual for stumped artists! But I know, that some of you know, what I mean.

Anyways…….. I’ll leave you to ponder Olivia’s gorgeous photographs. It’s time now for my snooze.

Written by Lee Grant

July 7, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Shameless Self-Promotion….

leave a comment »

Well, yes I’ll admit it’s a little self promotive but who cares! If you don’t know about it you won’t come will you!? Anyway, finally after many headaches and near nervous breakdowns, the exhibitions Suburban Zeitgeist and Parade are about to be hung! I forgot how full-on it is to show in exhibitions!! It’s kinda like giving birth…. after a while you forget the pain and are stupid enough to want to do it again!!

Anyway, I’m sure there’ll be a few dramas between now and then but hey, I’m at that point now where you just have to go with the flow man……

Besides, school holidays next week, kids are off on adventures and I get to play and photograph my heart out. Plus being opening week of the Vivid Photography Festival, there’s pretty much an opening on every night next week! Bit of a flashback to the old days when we used to crash Sydney openings all the time…. and not necessarily for the art! Uni student tradition really, plus we could pretend to be cultured! ­čśë

Anyway may see some of you there?

Written by Lee Grant

July 2, 2008 at 5:16 pm