Irina Popova responds to Pussy Riot

Irina Popova was one of the five selected winners in last year's My Own Wilderness competition with her documentation of a young Russian couple trying to raise a child amid the chaos of drug addiction. The work received intense criticism when it was first published. The series pushed the boundaries of voyeurism, exploitation, and morality within the genre of photo-documentation. 

When the Pussy Riot trial was receiving heavy news coverage earlier this month, I thought about Irina Popova and wondered how she was reacting to these events. Was she documenting this story? In fact she was, and sent me a series of images from the past two weeks in which she spent protesting the verdicts.

Irina Popova, Balaclava (2012)

PH/arts:  Tell me what is going on in these photos.

Popova: This mask is called a balaclava and is used to cover the face to protect from cold, sun, or for anonymity. After the protest action of Pussy Riot singing the "punk prayer" against Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour it became the symbol of modern Russian protest and activism.I started wearing it on the day of the court verdict as an action of support and solidarity. I wore it in the intercity train, metro, streets and near the court building during the demonstration. After I knew that the girls were condemned for 2 years in prison, I decided to wear the mask as the solidarity and memory act every day, and at least for some time in the public space until they are freed. This is my individual action, but it can happen to become a mass movement, and I expect the balaclava to become in fashion this season. 

Irina PopovaBalaclava (2012)

PH/arts: Was there any risk to you in wearing it out in public?

PopovaWearing it can't be officially forbidden as a part of clothing. I was arrested only once, while putting flowers on the memorial of those who were killed during the August Putsch of 1991 - the fighters for freedom which is disappearing now. I was released 2 hours after the arrest without any formal charges.

Irina PopovaBalaclava (2012)

PH/arts:  Do you have any personal connection to Pussy Riot?

Popova:  I know one girl personally, Ekaterina Samutsevich, we studied in the same art school (The School of Photography and Multimedia in Moscow).

PH/arts:  After one or two days of intense news coverage in the US, this story has been quickly forgotten. Has it continued to receive coverage and reaction in Russia?

Popova:  Not much has happened since then, people forget the news very quickly.That's why i decided to conduct my solidarity action every day.

PH/arts:  Thank you Irina. Keep us posted on this subject and be safe.

Irina Popova's web site

Liese A. Ricketts

I recently had a conversation with Chicago based photographer Liese A Ricketts about her series 13, which will be exhibited at the Chicago Photography Collective in September. 

The human face has infinite fascination for me. Although in life we observe a face, with its fugitive identity momentarily, we are allowed through the photograph to scrutinize expression and gesture in a way normal human interaction does not allow. This series is titled 13, as I photographed 13-year olds whom I taught over a five-year period. I only imaged my students during the school day when we both had a moment free to relate to each other in the environment we share. “Why thirteen?” you may ask. Perhaps it is because thirteen was a magical time in my life. I was so excited to be a new teenager, an age group with cult-like status. I was happy to be at the top of the middle school heap. Everything seemed possible.
For over thirty years I have taught photography to students who are thirteen to eighteen years old. Each year I age; the faces of those before me remain young. I am amazed at the striking and radical change between 8th grade and freshman year. Each year I observe the changes that happen with their bodies, attitudes, and abilities. The freshness, openness, and translucency of my young students’ faces soon change to something else

Cathy, from 13 by Liese A Ricketts

Ivan, from 13 by Liese A Ricketts

Nathan, from 13 by Liese A Ricketts

Safiya, from 13 by Liese A Ricketts

PH/arts: Tell me a little bit about the process. I see that your photographs are printed on metal. Looks like a metal frame as well. Are they tintypes?  

LR. They are printed digitally on metal prepared for my printer. I print them myself. The frames are made of wood. They are what I call 'contemporary tintypes'. 
What is wonderful is that I do not have to work with toxic chemistry (which frankly terrifies me) to produce images that relate and resonate with historical processes. I was poisoned badly in the 80's as a grad student using alternative processes, got acute dichromate poisoning. I am very cautious about the materials I use and the materials I teach, something I feel is my responsibility, an important one, as a teacher and photographer.
PH/arts: Is there any connection/relationship between your process and the subject matter?

LR: I believe the connection exists within me, as well as in the nature of the medium.
I am, and always will be, fascinated by early photography, its roots, the reason photography exists, its cultural permeation and its constant permutations.  I also love to research and use different materials. I enjoy digital printing, as well as the darkroom, and I don't see a reason to only employ one tool, or to consider one tool superior to another. 
The portrait is what allowed photography to grow as an imagemaking medium, the first democratic form of representation. So, these portraits of young people were my students over a five year period. I have over 100 final platinum prints from this series as well. In that time, I aged as the faces before my camera remained young and translucent. Now they have aged, some are in college.That is the magic of our medium. We can stop time, allowing the moment to live again, as well as to see it as a moment forever lost. 

PH/arts: In your statement you refer to the "cult-like" fascination with teenagers. I recently saw the Rineke Dijkstra exhibit at the Guggenheim. Dijkstra's work is so deeply involved in the documentation of facial and body changes over slices of time, especially with young people. Do you think this combination of nostalgia and stopping time plays a factor in the teen-cult in photography?

LR:   I am not sure about the current aspect of teen photographs; I was referring to the cult status of teenagers which occurred after WW2. Before then, sociologically, the concept of 'teenager' did not exist.  Adolescents were considered much like adults until after the war. The cult now exists among teenagers. That is a real phenomenon, not a photographic one. 
Certainly, Dijkstra and I both share common ground, intimacy with a young person that exists during the taking of the photograph and then is experienced by the viewer through the image. All portraits allow us an intimacy we do not experience visually in real time. It is socially inappropriate to stare at another's face too long, perusing wrinkles and fuzz; only photos allow us that forbidden pleasure.  

PH/arts: Do you see any parallel to the cult of alternate/antique photo processes?

: Certainly there is a turning to media and technology to discover different ways of creating photographs. The camera phone and accompanying apps make images that now fill gallery spaces, along with wet collodion images of contemporary life. Anything goes. Time will tell what floats and what sinks. As 21st century citizens, we are very visually literate. I think we like to look at images that look different from what we have seen. Color is having its comeback, due to digital. I like looking at everything. A good teacher always needs to want to see more.

PH/arts:  Thank you Liese. Best of luck with your upcoming show.

Liese A Ricketts was included in the 2011 exhibit and book My Own Wilderness. She is currently a member of the photography faculty at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Her work has been widely exhibited and published. 
Here is more information about her upcoming exhibit.
And here is a link to her website.

Call For Work..."Self-Contained"

PHOTO/arts MAGAZINE is pleased to announce its second annual juried photography competition.

Lake Superior (2011)

About the theme:

If something is Self Contained it is said to be complete in itself; fully independent. Someone who is self contained is thought of as being reserved and in control. We may or may not equate self containment with self contentment. Perhaps a very thin line exists between self containment and self confinement. Just some things to consider. I am open to a wide range of explorations on this theme. Release that inner formality and self control. Breathe deep. Scream loudly. Show me what this theme is all about.

I am inviting photographers to submit up to five images that illustrate a response to the meaning of Self Contained. The best images will be presented on November 3rd in PHOTO/arts MAGAZINE as an online exhibition and will also be published in a photobook.

And this year there will be prizes!!

1st Place:     $200 gift certificate to Blurb Books

2nd place:     $100 gift certificate to Photo-Eye Bookstore

3rd Place:     $50 gift certificate to Freestyle Photographic Supply

Deadline for Entries: October 1st, 2012 (There will be no extensions!)

Notification of winners: October 20th, 2012

Publication of winning entries: November 3rd, 2012

Publication of Book: Early 2013

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submit up to five images related to the theme Self Contained. All formats are welcome including film, digital, color or B & W. If you send more than one image, they should all be part of a single series. Please do not send multiple images showing different interpretations of the theme.

2. Do not send large sized files. Please send files at a maximum of 1200 pixels on the largest side.  Please attach your files to an email message, do not send .zip files or similar file sharing methods.

3. Please name your files with your own name like this... JaneSMITH_01 JaneSMITH_02 etc.

4. You may send a short bio about yourself, but please note that bio's will have zero influence on the selection process. The pictures you send in are what matter, not where you went to school or how many exhibitions you have participated in. So keep those bio's short and sweet!

5. Send a brief statement describing how your images define and interpret the theme. This one does matter!  A statement is not required to participate in the competition, but it really helps.

6. By submitting images you are agreeing to allow publication of your work on PHOTO/arts MAGAZINE, and in the Blurb photobook to be published in 2013. You retain all copyright and ownership of your work. All published work will identify you as the photographer.

7. There is no entry fee. The Blurb book will be sold at the author's price (no profit added). This is a profit-free competition designed to enhance the democratic nature of photography.  This competition does not distinguish between professionals and amateurs, young or old, etc.  All are welcome to submit.

8. Winners will be selected by Christopher H. Paquette, Editor of PHOTO/arts MAGAZINE. Prizes will be sent to selected winners after publication of the book, and will be sent no later than January 31st, 2013.

9. Send Images, bio, and statement to:

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective

Rineke Dijkstra : A Retrospective
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum
New York, NY
June 29- October 8, 2012

Over on the Flak Photo Network, a couple days before I would see this retrospective, I posted a simple query... "Has anyone seen this exhibit yet?" I wanted to hear a few reactions to Dijkstra's work. Maybe get some insight into things to look for because I was generally unfamiliar with anything beyond the Beach Portraits and a tiny amount of The Krazyhouse. For readers unfamiliar with the Flak Photo Network (FPN), it is a discussion group on Facebook created by Andy Adams, founder of The idea behind the FPN is to encourage thoughtful and extended conversations about contemporary photography inside a modern social network setting. Facebook is the perfect venue for that to occur and at the date of this writing, the FPN has just under five thousand group members. Photographers are an opinionated bunch, as I'm sure anyone who has ever been part of a local photo club can attest. Imagine a global photo club and you will get an idea of the debates and discussions that often occur on the FPN.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by the mini fire storm that erupted in the comments responding to my question. You can read the comments yourself by clicking the link above. I'm not going to respond directly to any of them here in this review, but the discussion over the merits of Dijkstra's work became quite passionate from both sides of the aisle. The liveliness of this discussion really whet my appetite in anticipation to see the full career spanning presentation of photographs and videos presented at the Guggenheim Museum. Not only was this a first visit to the Guggenheim for me, it was also a first face to face meeting with photographer Andi Schreiber. Andi was one of the five selected winners featured in last year's My Own Wilderness exhibition and book. We have stayed in touch after that, especially via the FPN, so it was nice to have a chance to meet in person and check out this exhibit together. (She is, by the way, every bit as nice and wonderful in person as she is online, not to mention being a knowledgeable student of the photographic arts).

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (2012)

The architecture of the Guggenheim is such that one is unaware of a beginning or end. A spiraling cork screw  with various offset gallery rooms; the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective is exhibited throughout the entire building in multiple galleries on all levels of the museum. The seamless flow of the museum serves to enhance those same qualities within Dijkstra's work. Many of the series presented in this retrospective are studies in the nature of time. Exploring subtle changes that occur unnoticed before our eyes and in the mirror on a daily basis, and the unique ability of photography to wave the evidence of these changes in our faces. Dijkstra's time based works range from spans of many years to just several days. Her ongoing Almerisa series began in 1994 with a single photograph of a young Bosnian girl at a Dutch refugee center for asylum-seekers, and has grown as Dijkstra continued to photograph her regularly for more than a decade, as she became a young woman with a child of her own. Dijkstra has taken portraits of new initiates to the Israeli army, photographing female soldiers in their uniforms after induction and then again in their civilian dress. The Olivier series (2000–03) follows a young man from his enlistment with the French Foreign Legion through the years of his service, showing his development, both physically and psychologically, into a soldier. Dijkstra is brilliantly talented in the use of time based portraiture, and I found the Almerisa and Olivier series to be among the strongest work presented. It is gut wrenching to see the transition of Olivier from innocent youth to hardened warrior in three short years. Only a photograph can capture this dramatic evolution, and Dijkstra's genius is in her easily overlooked and under appreciated use of consistency, allowing us a soft illusion of time warp. There is little to distract us from absorbing the essence of these subjects, slowly and seamlessly. The results are enchanting.

Rineke Dijkstra
Olivier, The French Foreign Legion, Camp Raffalli, Calvi, Corsica, June 18, 2001
Chromogenic print, 90 x 72 cm    
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra
Almerisa, Asylum Center Leiden, Leiden, Netherlands, March 14, 1994
Chromogenic print, 94 x 75 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

The same is true for Dijkstra's usage of serial typology. In 1992, she started making portraits of adolescents posed on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine. These Beach Portraits are the images Dijkstra is best known for and are presented in the lowest level gallery along with portraits of new mothers photographed soon after giving birth, and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring. The new mothers are presented on a wall directly across from the bullfighters. The bullfighters proudly display the blood of death while one of the young mothers seems to be completely unaware of a small stream of her own life giving blood running down her leg. Here Dijkstra presents us with the essential nature of the moment. The lack of any artifice is achieved via physical exhaustion of the portrait subject. This concept originated from a 1991 self portrait Dijkstra took after spending several hours in a swimming pool while rehabbing from a bicycle accident. Dijkstra attempts to find a magic moment that exists between self-consciousness and natural indifference. She often quotes Diane Arbus, who said..." Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can't help people knowing about you." Arbus called this place the "gap between intention and effect"(1) and Dijkstra continually seeks to place her subjects within this gap.

Rineke Dijkstra
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
Chromogenic print, 90 x 72 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra , New Mothers
from Concientious (2005)

Perhaps the most fascinating (if not disturbing) presentation in this retrospective is the twenty six minute two-channel video projection The Buzz Club. This video was shot over a span of two years, but seems as if it all takes place in one or two nights. A voyeuristic trip through beat clubs in Liverpool, UK and Zaandam, Netherlands, the film is rhythmic and hypnotic, alternating channels in sometimes subtle minimalism, and at other times oddly off sync. The club kids dance as well as smoke, chew gum, and drink beers (often simultaneously). Whereas the adolescents on the beach appear vulnerable and awkward, the kids in The Buzz Club exude confidence and power. Dijkstra has entered their world and they are in control. Dijkstra captures this world in her familiar usage of extended timing and anticipation. The video is excruciatingly slow at times, revealing much more of a photographic nature than the fast pace typical of video. Patience is required for viewing all of Dijkstra's videos. Five are included in this retrospective, ranging from a charming single channel video of a self-conscious young girl lip syncing to a Back Street Boys song, to the 2009 four channel HD video The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee). 

Rineke Dijkstra
The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL, 1996–97
Two-channel video projection, transferred to HD, with sound, 26 min., 40 sec., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra
The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL, 1996–97
Two-channel video projection, transferred to HD, with sound, 26 min., 40 sec., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

One of the best results of my query to the Flak Photo Network were from the members who posted links to reviews and articles previously published about Rineke Dijkstra. I have used these after seeing this retrospective as a way to process my reaction to the work and to gather research for this review. I'm grateful for the FPN on so many levels. It has been a valuable resource for information and camaraderie. Here is a list of some of the links I found interesting...

(1)  Quote from "Why Photography Matters As Never Before" by Michael Fried  (Yale Univ. Press) 2008  pg. 208