Claude Iverné exhibit, “Bilad es Sudan,” at the Aperture Gallery

The exhibit opened on September 15 and is closing on November 9. I know, I’m late in reviewing it. But it’s not too late to see it. There are only a few pictures available online, if you want to see the whole thing you have to go there in person and look at the prints. (The Aperture Foundation is heavily invested in the concept that real fine-art photography has to have a physical non-digital manifestation.)

Claude Iverné, a middle-aged French guy takes a bunch of pictures of people in Sudan. Why is it considered Great Art worthy of an exhibit at the prestigious Aperture Gallery?

1. Mr. Iverné had access to exotic and photogenic people, in this case poor people from Sudan. Remember that no one is interested in pictures of regular people and regular places in Western countries, there are countless zillions of photographs like that. Art curators want to see something different and unique.

2. Real photographers are never supposed to talk about their gear, it’s considered uncouth, and there’s no mention of it anywhere at the exhibit, but there’s evidence that Iverné used large format film cameras, and that had to have impressed the curators who probably know what gear was used even though us regular gallery visitors aren’t allowed to know. Any schmuck can grab a DSLR and take hundreds of thousands of pictures, but it takes real effort to travel around Sudan with large-format gear and film.

The prints have a very old-fashioned look to them. All of the prints are very dark, the black and white prints have low contrast. There’s no HDR stuff, no amped-up contrast and sharpening. It’s the opposite of what most photographers posting DSLR photos to Flickr are doing.

3. There’s a social justice angle involving the plight of Sudanese refugees. Liberal curators love that stuff.

Nothing written here should be taken as criticism of the exhibit, I’m just trying to deconstruct the difference between high-brow fine art and the typical dreck that gets posted on the internet.

Aperture Magazine and really expensive watches.

On the back cover of most issues of Aperture Magazine is an ad for really expensive watches. By really expensive, I mean watches that cost more than $10,000. So someone thinks that the kind of people who read Aperture have $10,000 or more to spend on a watch.

That certainly can’t apply to professional photographers, which is a low-paid profession. Most professional photographers are lucky if they can afford $10,000 for a used car.

Nature photographs are not considered real art

Looking for an interesting read? Check out Niall Benvie’s article in which he complains that nature photographs aren’t considered to be real art.

Yes, he’s right about that. I would rate animal photographs as the most kitsch genre of photography, with nature and landscapes coming in second.

One of the author’s points is that a painting of the same subject would be considered worthy of display in an art gallery but not a photograph, but I would point out that, even in the medium of painting, animals and then landscapes are considered the least worthy of being considered real art. If you visit any serious museum of contemporary art, you won’t see any paintings of animals or landscapes. Although yes, the genre is still popular in certain types of art galleries because there will always be rich people who like looking at landscape scenes on their walls (objectively, a landscape is a lot more pleasant to look out every day than the vast majority of what’s being pushed as contemporary art), and a painting is a more sophisticated way of showing off a landscape than a photograph. But at the more edgy and serious art galleries you would find in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, or the Lower East Side, you won’t find landscape paintings there either.

The golden age of landscape painting was in the late 1800s when guys like Albert Bierstadt showed off huge canvases of scenes from out West where few would have the opportunity to travel by themselves. Before airplanes, before motor vehicles, before there were very many roads of any sort, you had to get to those places on horseback. While Albert Bierstadt’s paintings are on display in the most prestigious museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if you painted like him today, it would not be considered museum-worthy. The curators at the Whitney Museum would laugh at you. (Although Bierstadt-quality paintings would definitely sell for decent money at art galleries that deal in that genre.)

Where’s the EXIF info?

When visiting a highbrow type of photography gallery such as Aperture (see my previous post about the Aperture 2017 Summer Open exhibit), what’s sadly missing is any information about what camera and other gear was used to take the pictures. Among this crowd, it’s considered uncouth to talk about your gear.

In most cases, even if you go to the photographer’s website, there’s still no information about gear. I am sure they teach them to hide their EXIF info at the Yale School of Art.

Most of the photos look like they could have been taken with a Canon Rebel and a kit lens. (Except for Jon Henry’s 4×5 large format photos. Their depth of field is too shallow to be a Canon Rebel kit lens.)

2017 Aperture Summer Open: On Freedom

I visited the Aperture Gallery today and looked at the exhibit which just opened on Thursday, the 2017 Aperture Summer Open: On Freedom, curated by For Freedoms.

For Freedoms is a platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action for artists in the US. Founded in January 2016, For Freedoms aims to model how art and discourse can urge communities into greater action and participation.

Two of the portfolios featured found images, and they seemed to me to be digital art rather than photography, but I suppose that Aperture is trying to expand the definition of photography.

Most of the portfolios show those who are conventionally considered underprivileged: blacks, gays, people in debt, and lower-class whites from Toms River, New Jersey. Plus a new category of underprivileged that I have not previously seen: Islamic terrorists (or rather men who were released from Gitmo ; maybe technically they are called “enemy combatants”).

In a photography trend that I’ve long observed, black subjects are always shown with dignity (going back to Robert Frank’s famous photobook The Americans), but the lower-class whites from New Jersey are shown in extremely unflattering poses. If you click on the link and look at the photos that are available on the web page, you will see exactly what I mean.

One of the portfolios is from a project to photograph every Planned Parenthood location in the state of Ohio. While abortion itself is a very politicized topic, the buildings in which the clinics are found are just nondescript buildings in unexceptional neighborhoods.

My favorite collection is the one that I photographed, which has a portrait of a person, in debt, taken in their home, and next to the photo is a handwritten statement of the amount owed and how they got into the situation. I like the idea of including something personal from the subject of the photo. Too much photography is just the photographer’s point of view. In this case, there was an attempt to give the subject of the photograph some participation.

What I think is missing from this exhibit:

1. Lower-class whites photographed with dignity.

2. Photographs of wealthy privileged people. This is a subject that I find generally lacking in photographic as well as sociological circles. Everybody wants to photograph or study poverty, but why is no one interested in wealth?

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The Aperture Gallery is located in Manhattan on 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. This exhibit is on display through August 17th.

A fine art photography exhibit

No one considers the typical photos taken by the typical middle-aged white guy in the United States, in other words the typical photography gearhead, to be art-worthy. Art needs to be original or at least exotic.

These photos of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were spotted at a cultural institution in Staten Island (an area of New York City that’s really far off the beaten path). Don’t worry, there wasn’t any “cultural appropriation” taking place, the photographer (Omar Imam) is Syrian himself.

There is never any information at these types of art exhibits regarding what camera the photographer used. I didn’t see anything about this photographer’s photos that couldn’t have been done with a Canon Rebel and an 18-55 kit lens (however I have no idea what camera was actually used). Fine art isn’t about the gear. And real artist photographers don’t talk about their gear.

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The “Call and Response” exhibit can be seen at the Alice Austen House in Staten Island through September 3, 2017.