December 2010 Archives

Shivers

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(Tile)

 

DelmerBackYardTree-IMG_0013Asqbw.jpgCopyright 2010 Malcolm Ryder

Matter Facts

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Landscape means different things to different people, and the interesting thing about that lies in how quickly people are willing to bypass the landscape they know best for an idealized landscape.

Photography often helps to celebrate scenes in which the organization of object forms has been meditated and mediated to offer certain effects in a point of view.Given the idea of such organization, the picture will have either found it and selectively isolated it, or it will have constructed it graphically as a proposal -- saving its finding or its arguments, respectively.

But observation of the environment can also be given an arranged form through repetition such as the memory of a recurring scene. Scenes that become part of a place's visual "signature" are often not made to have that purpose but they nonetheless acquire  a fact-of-the-matter legitimacy from documentary attention. In becoming the key identifier of a place, these scenes simultaneously make a place more visually concrete and exotic. The scene does not ask for agreement with the visual preferences of the observer.

 

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Instead, both historically and in the current moment, it shapes the observer's attention to the place. This is the essential impact of landscape on the viewer.

To some extent, this fundamental property is announced and made comfortable by the use of recurring scenes in film or video, where the director's (or narrator's) intent is to "realize" a distinctive sense of place that makes the exotic familiar. But without the explicit artifice of watching film, we may compile a memory of pictures that individually hold spots as "takes" on the "places" of our own and of others.

 

Copyright 2010 Malcolm Ryder

Air Bag

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(Postcard)

 

 

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Copyright 2010 Malcolm Ryder)

The Architecture of Art

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When Julius Shulman, photographer, died in 2009 at the age of 98, he had given interviews since 2005 to both the New York Times and to W Magazine. Both times his photography was traced to the influence he had as a shaper of a public perception of Modernism, and both times he was cited for his intellectual autonomy about the architecture he photographed. Interestingly, in 2005 the influence of Nature on Shulman was highlighted, and Shulman disavowed being an artist himself or even having much interest in art as he felt satisfied by Nature.

Since we do not think of Modernism in architecture as being "natural", it is interesting to think that Shulman, unfettered by notions of "Art", generally compared the forms of architecture with the forms of nature. What we want to know is whether Shulman's use of film, light and camera position intentionally extracted, from within the observed architectures, design that made sense to him the way Nature makes sense.

Although celebrated as a champion of the acceptability of Modernism, he was equally famous amongst architects for disparaging what he considered to be failures in Modernism. Taken together, the two attitudes propose what may be the most important description of Shulman -- that he was essentially an architecture critic practicing criticism with his camera.

There is no reason why a critic of exceptional visual articulation should not be as effective, no less legitimate, in identifying, analyzing, comparing, abstracting and even remodeling the principal values of the studied architectural form. Shulman's ability to represent his observations and concepts proved to be both reliable and extraordinary, as well as holding up under having a life of their own, subject to scrutiny.

What may be the most important idea related to that is the awareness of criticism  in visual arts as a creative enterprise, in which the critic exercizes a collateral medium at the level of imaging (conceptualization ),  before the presentation vehicle has become decided exclusive to the medium selected by the subject artist. In reviewing Shulman photographs now, it is also worthwhile to consider that natural archetypes may have provided a compositional framework for Shulman's visual positionings of what was "right" about Modernist design. In this experiment, ideas of "natural" organizational principles would be sought in the Shhulman pictures, made evident by his own modeling of the visual components of the subject architecture. As a result, the architecture's overt sense of artifice would not be fundamentally contradictory to the sense of "natural", but instead the artifice would be seen expressing principles strongly typical of natural structures.

This proposed review is not an accusation or a suspicion, but just an experiment in the criticism of photography itself -- a type of architecture of art.

[Because Shulman photographs are prolifically reproduced in other reviews and online search tools, this article does not include additional redistribution of those images, and instead focuses on the point about criticism as a creative and multiple-media discipline.]