NICE & INTERESTING

At the end of 2012, students at SVA in a class taught by Alexandra Brez and W.M. Hunt responded to a challenge of selecting and wrtiting about "25 Great But Unknown Photographs". The contributors include Ryan Bianchi, Nick Bologna, Nick Blumenthal, Ashley East, Ashley Harte, Rachel Kessler, Arianna Meli, Estefany Molina, Monique Pelser, Lauren Poggi, Mat Sliwa, Ilona Szwarc, Shakirah Tabourn, and Francesca Tamse. The title for this site "Nice and Interesting" comes from the admonition NOT to describe anything as either nice or Interesting. Their thoughtful choices and insightful texts follow.
5 ∞ reblog
Mikhael Subotzky (South African, b. 1981) “The Mallies Household, Rustdene Township, Beaufort West”, 2006, chromogenic color print
Selected by Ryan Bianchi

Bright yellows, greens and oranges give the illusion that the tone of this photo might be a happy and playful one, and perhaps in reality, it is.  However, as a viewer, it is difficult to know this and only with the interactions and doings of these subjects can one form an opinion on what is taking place.  There’s what looks to be an open bottle of wine or some other type of alcohol on the table as well as a cloud of smoke either from a cigarette or something more sinister.  From the looks of it, the scene is of a household with apathetic parents leading from a series of bad examples.  A girl who can’t be more than twelve or thirteen is seen smoking and sharing something with the outstretched hand reaching for a taste.  Amongst this hazardous behavior is a child who seems to be neglected by its mother as it sits helplessly in her arms.  The room in which this all takes place is dilapidated and forsaken giving testament to the idea those in a lower socio-economic environment lead a more imprudent way of life than those who are more fortunate.
0 ∞ reblog
Terence Koh (Canadian, b. China 1977) “Mercuris”, 2011, chromogenic color print
Selected by Ryan Bianchi 

The simplicity of this image is what grants it the ability to be a strong and alluring one.  What looks to be a mound of dirt takes up the majority of the frame and is encompassed partially in light and partially in shadow.  There is very little contrast present, leaving the image cast primarily in a typical and boring grey.  The color of the wall and floor are of slightly varying tones with no visible beginning and end, almost seem to blend into one another.  Among this almost singularly toned image is a surprise that has the ability to change one’s perception of it entirely.  Exactly halfway down the angled side of the pyramid lies an oddly tiny black sphere that looks to be a human head.  Whether intentional or not, Koh’s addition creates an aspect of levity that is a welcome addition to the surrounding atmosphere.  It gives it another dimension for the viewer to ponder over and begs the question, “Why?”.   Perhaps it’s simply one of those characteristics photographers chose to implement in an image, almost gratuitously, because they want to.
2 ∞ reblog
Nicholas Nixon (American, b. 1947) “Susanne Richardson, Boston, Massachusetts”, 2006, gelatin silver print
Selected by Ryan Bianchi

Once the shock value of this image passes, only then is one able to begin to examine it critically.  The most jarring aspect of Nixon’s photograph is the pure anguish he has captured with the patient’s facial expression.  One doesn’t need the extra information of a breathing tube or hospital gown to understand that this is someone who is gravely ill because of all the other clues that support it.  However, after taking the breathing tube into effect one sees that is is wrapped tightly around her neck almost like a noose, foreshadowing her untimely demise.  Sunken eyes, a skeleton physique and desperately thinning hair make for a recipe of disaster that is clear as day.  The absence of color successfully allows the viewer to not get distracted and is then capable of seeing the pure emotion within the frame.  With close cropping, Susanne Richardson’s pain-ridden face forces one to connect with her and then consequently become empathetic with her dire situation.     
2 ∞ reblog
   Ikko (Ikko Narahara) (Japanese, b. 1931) “Two Garbage Cans, Indian Village, New Mexico”, 1972, gelatin silver print
Selected by Ryan Bianchi
   Without even dissecting Narahara’s image of these two usually ordinary objects, it is impossible to not notice just how distractingly beautiful the tones are throughout it.  The range from back to white is immense and the contrast only adds to their intrigue.  This image would be extremely successful based on these characteristics alone but there’s even more to be fascinated by.  As if by magic, two trashcans, each of different tones, are suspended in mid air in the center of this image and there is no explanation as to how or why and oddly enough it doesn’t seem to matter.  The desert landscape that surrounds these two floating objects is so quiet and unassuming that this occurrence is a welcome idiosyncrasy.  One can’t help but notice the similarities between a cinematic, slow-motioned “coming to blows” and how these two metal bins come into contact with one another.
1 ∞ reblog
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American b. 1953) “Igor”, 1987, chromogenic color print
Selected by Ryan Bianchi
Known for his highly cinematic and expertly detailed images, diCorcia’s “Igor” seems a little less “perfect” than some of his typical photographs.  Despite the rather banal and uninviting tone the colors in this image make up, there is still humor to be found and it comes in the shape of fish.  While there are many oddities that can be seen on a New York City subway, one wouldn’t think that a plastic bag with a goldfish could be so intriguing.  What sets this scene apart from others is the man’s expression in conjunction with his newly purchased pet he holds ever so nonchalantly.   His body language reads relaxed, like he doesn’t even know he has a fish in his hand, he looks completely disconnected.  And perhaps he is, from his surroundings at the very least; like so many of us are when we take public transportation.  It’s evident that he could care less about this process and seems to be daydreaming about his final destination in anticipation of arriving.  All the while clutching a bag full of water and a single fish, to do what with, no one can know.
2 ∞ reblog
Malick Sidibé (born 1936 Mali)
Christmas Eve 1963
93 x 96 cm
Gelatin Silver Print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
Malick Sidibé is known for his back and white photographs of popular culture in the 1960s in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Throughout his career he focused solely on taking candid photographs of the local youth going about their business. This great photograph is a beautiful portrait of a brother teaching his sister how to dance on Christmas Eve in a typical Malian courtyard.
 
Conceptually Sidibé’s images document how Malian youth culture grappled with the new influences of living in a big metropolitan city.  How the youngsters were exposed to western culture and moved away from their own traditional roots.  This is evident in the clothing the young man is wearing, he wears a suit and tie (a colonial uniform) and soft leather shoes.  The title of the image, Christmas Eve, indicates that Sidibé is pointing out a cultural event, which is not commonly practiced in Mali.  Christianity was brought to Mali by the French and only approximately five percent of Malians practice it.  Mali is a secular state and supports the freedom of religion however most of the country is Muslim and Islam is traditionally practiced.  Mali is a progressive country in the sense that women are free to participate in political and economic society and most women do not wear veils.  
 
The images Sidibé took of the youth are typically intimate and this portrait of a brother teaching his sister to dance is no different.  The two dance absorbed by their activity; he has a little smile as he leads her steps and she reciprocates the smile and follows him. Both siblings look at each other’s feet on the stone floor.  The young woman seems free in her light summer dress with her bare feet. Another woman sits on a garden chair on the edges of the open dancing area, her hands are clasped and she watches something going on outside of the photographic frame.  The dress she is wearing is made of traditional Malian textiles.  She is also barefoot.
0 ∞ reblog
Lukas Felzmann (born 1959 Zurich)
Untitled From his series Swarm, A photographic archive of the flock movements of migrating blackbirds2002
Print size unknown 
Gelatine Silver print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
From Lukas Felzmann’s book Swarm, this Untitled image completes the series of 25 great but unknown photographs.  It is a black and white landscape photograph taken from a far distance depicting a swarm of blackbirds in migration over the marshes under the Pacific Flyway, which is a major north-south route for migratory birds over America.  
 
This image conjures a Nanci Griffith folk song called Gulf Coast Highway where she sings of a freelance manual labourer who says that …when he dies he’ll catch a blackbird’s wing and he will fly away to heaven come some sweet Blue Bonnet spring…  
 
The Blue Bonnet is the Texas state flower and a token of that region and further more marks the coming of spring.  The arrival of the flowers mark time and are also symbolic of Texan identity as that is the only place in the world that they grow.
 
The flock of blackbirds, captured here in this image, are locked into a form which looks both put together and broken up by small dots. It makes one think of how birds swarm together and rely on each other, how they move through space and use the wind currents.  They, like the Blue Bonnets, mark time as they flock every year almost to the day.  The swarms also show movement and flow, despite being frozen in a photograph, the group of birds is dynamic.  
2 ∞ reblog
Guy Tillim (born 1962 South Africa)
Kamajoor (hunter) militias, Koidu Sierra Leone 2001
85 x 59 cm
Digital pigment print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
Guy Tillim is a South African photographer who has worked predominantly in conflict areas on the African continent.  This image from his series of young child soldiers in Sierra Leonne is a great and disturbing black and white portrait photograph.  The young child soldier looks older than his years because of the experiences he has had to endure in his life.  The sense of authority and maturity in the boy is conveyed by way he is standing, holding onto his automatic weapon. Tillim has cropped the image and angled the camera so that the boy looks slightly down into the lens giving the sense that the boy is looking down at the viewer from a position of authority.
 
It is a frightening image yet it draws one in; giving a viewer the opportunity to get close to a subject that one would ordinarily not go near.  A viewer can get as close as possible to the print and examine the texture of the skin, the head dress, the fabric of the boys clothes and the metallic surface of his gun.  A viewer can look at the eyes of a killer and a victim - of war and his environment - and not be threatened.  
 
Being able to get so close to the boy makes one aware of the photographer and how Tillim got himself into this environment, how he engaged with the young soldiers and how he would have had to conduct himself to get the boys to trust him, pose for him and give a part of themselves to him.  It brings to mind the question of whether the boy is aware that his portrait is in galleries, that collectors own a copies of the image and have them hanging in their houses.  With these questions in mind the portrait becomes even more poignant and speaks of who has the authority to look and to take and assign value.
 
3 ∞ reblog
Photographer unknown
Model of the Moon, Field Columbian Museum, Chicago 1894
Size unknown
Gelatin Silver Print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
This beautiful image is a vernacular photograph taken to document an installation of a model moon at the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago in 1894. The museum is an educational and research institution using interdisciplinary study to combine the fields of Geology, Botany, Anthropology, Paleontology and Zoology as a means of understanding the nature of conditions affecting environmental and cultural exchange. 
 
However this knowledge is irrelevant because this photograph, stripped of colour, is a poem. 
 
It is about space, about man in relation to the moon, the moon in relation to the room and the two locked in isolation for eternity in the frame of the photograph.  The scale of the moon in the room and the man; a third of the moon, slips this image into fiction as it brings to mind European myths of how a thieving man was banished to the moon and doomed to circle the earth forever. 
 
It is about time, how time, like the moon, has phases and then becomes a metaphor for life and death.  And with this in mind one is reminded of the power of the photograph; it’s ability to freeze moments, which contain details that memory abstracts.  The poetry is in the detail in the wooden floors, the surface of the model moon and the posture of the man with his overcoat and his hat, with his hands behind his back and his facing forward. The poetry is also in the questions about why he is dressed like that? What is he doing there?  Is he waiting for someone?  The answers of which are left open for reflection.
4 ∞ reblog
Vincent Bezuidenhout (born South Africa 1978)
‘Cause you just can’t get enough 2011
100 x 80 cm 
Archival pigment print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 Bezuidenhout’s photograph of the inside of a mall is difficult to contextualize.  This scene could be found anywhere in the capitalist world; it is a generic consumer landscape that talks mostly about sameness.  However there are one or two small indications that point to a location.  Looking for these clues the viewer is reminded of that children’s game called: Where is Wally.  At very close inspection at the top right corner there is a South African flag and above it a Dros sign, which is a local chain of bars in South Africa.  However this would not mean much to someone unaware of these signs particularly with the ubiquitous MacDonalds.
 
The title of the photograph is funny and ironic. There is so much, too much, presented and available but it is designed to generate more spending and more shopping, more consuming and more dependency on this system. The massive McDonald’s sign over arches the food court and miniaturizes the people sitting at the table.  There is an overwhelming amount of visual information in the image however Bezuidenhout composes it in a way that the form and lines make sense and the eye can easily read and navigate the scene moving from the foreground up into the middle ground and along the picture plane.   
 
This image plays with scale in a way that demands a second look and closer inspection in order to make sense of what is going on. From a distance it looks like a smaller scene and then when one becomes aware that there are figures sitting at the tables the scale of the place becomes apparent.  At that moment so does the idea of the opulence and excess that comes along with mass consumer culture become blatantly apparent.
0 ∞ reblog
Jo Ractliffe (born 1961 Cape Town South Africa)
End of Time 1999
33 x 33 cm
Silver gelatin print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
Ractliffe’s square format black and white photograph of a dead donkey is profoundly beautiful and sad.  It stays with a viewer. The close-up, tightly cropped picture of the head is taken from the angle where the photographer is obviously standing over the corpse of the donkey like a forensic photographer would document a murder victim.
 
The title of the work, End of Time, and the date 1999 refer to the turn of the millennium when there was speculation of the Y2K and there were heightened apocalyptic feelings.  Symbolically the donkey is associated with Jesus and carrying the Christian prophet.  The image is a token of the artist’s own questions about time, phases of life and existential questions.  
 
The medium format photograph renders beautifully the texture of the ground and the of the donkey’s hair.  It is evocative and draws one into the image to stare like one would of a close-up portrait of a person.  There is a momento mori quality and one cannot help but look deeply into the image with a morbid fascination.  Momento Mori translated means that you must remember you are merely a human and you are mortal.  In early photography death portraits were taken of the recently deceased to show that the person lived but also died.  
 
0 ∞ reblog
Patrick Wokmeni (born Cameroon b.1985)
Untitled From the series Les Belles de New Bell 2006
30 x 40 cm
Digital inkjet print
Selected by Monique Pelser 
Wokmeni comes from New Bell, a populated neighborhood of Douala, where he roams the street at night photographing alternative cultures in post-independent Cameroon. He is a flaneur an idler walking the streets at night witnessing the beauty and sadness in debauchery, decay and social crisis.
 
This photograph has a from-the-hip quality.  The image is skewed and harshly flashed giving it the snapshot aesthetic.  In this great and subtly provocative photograph he has captured a woman, who works in the nightclub as a prostitute, gesturing at him.  A strong on-camera flash illuminates her as she stares deadpan at him and at the camera.
 
Wokmeni’s photograph is a great example of the power of the gaze - of a loaded gaze. How the photographer is looking at and taking from his subject and how his subject is the object and the product of that gaze and she returns it. She is looking directly back at him aware of her own power. This interaction makes one intensely aware of his presence as a man and as a photographer.
 
The image is aesthetically strong with the red couch and graphic triangle patterns on the wall, which are repeated by the triangle formation made by the way in which she is sitting on the couch.  But while it is a strong image aesthetically it is also a sad image.   There is a power of sadness in her bare feet and silver toenail polish, the way her hand is placed on the couch and how her white high wedge shoes are placed and cut off. 
0 ∞ reblog
Sammy Baloji (born 1978 in Lubumbashi, D.R.C)
Allers et Retours 2008
90 x 111.8 cm
Digital Inkjet print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
Sammy Baloji’s work focuses on the effects of the colonization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Previously the DRC (a country which is rich in minerals but is one of the poorest countries in the world) was a Belgian colony and mining outpost.  Baloji has been making work at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, in Belgium, using anthropological depictions of traditional Congolese people made by colonial subjects and working with the collection of human remains kept in the museum. 
 
Baloji photographed the skull of a Congolese man in the same way an archivist would photograph a specimen. The use of the grid is a hard and systematic way of looking, pointing to a scientific way of documenting. Doing so he is commenting on how photography has been used throughout history to develop the way in which people are looked at and has been used to establish a kind of authority over the subject.
 
This is powerful because it is impossible to see that the skull belongs to a Congolese person; the skull is quite literally stripped of the defining factors, which make up race and creed.  Instead one starts to look at the form of the skull, the curves and contours of its structure and become aware that it looks like everybody in the world’s skull.  
0 ∞ reblog
Michael Tsegaye (Ethiopia b. 1975)
Future Memories 2009 
40 x 40 cm
Gelatine Silver print
Selected by Monique Pelser
 
Michael Tsegaye’s image, of a skyscraper under construction in Addis Ababa, is representative of the constantly shifting surface of the African landscape.  Currently China is investing in the development of infrastructure in Ethiopia. The old city is systematically being torn down and replaced with major skyscrapers, bridges and other such structures.  Since the early 2000’s Tsegaye has been documenting the changing city marking how the previously independent Ethiopia is slowly being financially colonized by China.  Ethiopia is the only African country on the continent that was never previously colonized.  It has been self-governing throughout its history.  As China has been moving into the African continent in search of resources to mine for industry, it has been supporting the development of third world countries generating, good will and debt so that it can draw from these resources as a way of sustaining their massive production rate.  Ethiopia is a country very rich in minerals.  
 
In the 1980’s and 1990’s during the famine in Ethiopia the United Nations and other aid agencies like UNESCO started to move into Ethiopia.  The media agencies of the Western World started to focus on the idea of the poor African and aid began.  The media used images of starving Ethiopians as a tool to generate sympathy and proliferate the idea that the country could not support itself and its people and that the entire country were starving.  This is not the case.  While there was a famine, it affected a community in the North of Ethiopia and not the entire population as is generally understood in the West. The United Nations and UNESCO was sent to Ethiopia and subsequently over the past two or three decades the country has slowly been managed to allow the mining of resources by other countries.

At face value the image of the tower being built represents the development of the city, the eucalyptus scaffolding points towards the Chinese method of building and it shows growth and development.  However the image evokes the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel, where a tower was being built for man to reach heaven. 
0 ∞ reblog
Calvin Dondo (born 1963 in Harare, Zimbabwe)
New German Family 2006 
60.2 x 3x 85 cm
Digital Inkjet print
Selected by Monique Pelser
Calvin Dondo spent time living with families in Germany who had adopted African children.  He photographed them when they were young and new to the family and then over the past few years has returned to the families to re-photograph them.  In this image he has captured two children who are dressed in traditional German clothing, in lederhosen.  This is an inversion of the expected image of ‘the African’ dressed in traditional wear.  The image is about and the kind of layered, mixed cultural identity that has developed in diaspora the world over. 
The young boy and his sister are centered in the frame, as full body portraits and Dondo has taken the photograph horizontally rather than vertically. The image sits firmly in the tradition of formal anthropological portraiture, in the manner that the children are arranged to create a composition, the girl clasping her hands and both facing the camera so that the viewer can get a good look at their faces.  It captures the boy at a time in his life where he is much shorter than his sister but having her sit on the stool they are the rendered the same height.  The relationship between the two figures is strong and one questions whether they are biological siblings. 
Dondo’s photograph is absurd.  The young children, representing a new emerging, vital generation dressed up in an old fashioned traditional outfit representational of a country with a history which is deeply problematic and seeped in a history of ethnic cleaning and radical racism. This absurdity confirms homogeneity and the idea of the Western Parent Figure.