Archive for November, 2011

Agata Madejska – Contact

November 20, 2011

I first saw Contact by Agata Madejska back in 2009 as part of the exhibit Menos Tiempo que Lugar, which brought together German and South American artists making work that in some way had to do with the wave of bicentennials being celebrated across the continent. I remember at the time she didn’t have a site. For some reason I thought the work the other day and, lo-and-behold, the work is online. Contact shows photos of ruins in coastal, desert Peru as well as humble, present-day constructions which often look quite similar.

Agata Madejska - Puruchuco, Peru

Agata Madejska - Trujillo, Peru

I like the emphasis of the continuity between something that is celebrated [ruins, ancient culture] and something which is not [present day slums].

Camilo Jose Vergara vs. Doug Rickard

November 19, 2011

Camilo Jose Vergara - New American Ghetto

Doug Rickard - New American Picture

It’s interesting how Vergara, standing on cars and using a low-fi camera with a wide angle lens totally anticipated the Google Street View aesthetic.

New Work: Riverbank | Barranca

November 12, 2011

I’ve posted a new series on my website. It’s called Riverbank or Barranca, in Spanish.

Buenos Aires is situated along the Rio de la Plata. A small river embankment is the only topographical feature in an otherwise very flat city. I started photographing there because I wanted to make photos with vistas and elevation changes and there was no where else to go. Ironically, you can’t actually see the river from any point on the riverbank. Too much land has been reclaimed.

The photos in the work are ordered geographically, proceeding from north to south, essentially giving a tour of the city. As I started photographing the project, often at dawn or dusk, I began to notice traces of the Argentina’s history present in the cityscape. At a certain point I realized that the work is as much about politics [and economics] as it is about landscape.

Avenida General Paz

In the first photo, for instance, police randomly search cars as they cross the city limits. The city and suburbs are two different administrative entities, with different police forces. In an inversion of the typical North American urban model, in South America, poverty and crime are often concentrated on the periphery of the city. The checkpoints are a theatrical effort to calm the the city’s relatively wealthier residents.

National Library

Argentina’s national library is constructed on the grounds of a former 19th century mansion that was used as the residence of Juan Perón and which was then demolished following his ouster by the military in 1955. Designed in 1961 in a brutalist style by one of the country’s most prominent architects, it wasn’t completed until 1992, due to drastic changes in government and shortages in funding, particularly during the 1980s debt crisis.

Shell station below Autopista Arturo Illia

Argentina hosted the World Cup in 1978. It was accompanied by a massive public works effort by the then-military government that saw the construction of elevated highways across the city. Such works were often funded with loans from the World Bank as well as New York financial institutions flush with petro-dollars.

Malvinas/Falklands war monument

Plaza San Martin is the site of a monument honoring Argentine soldiers killed in the 1982 conflict over the Falkland [Malvinas] Islands. The war killed about 650 Argentine soldiers and about 250 British. Argentina was unsuccessful in asserting its territorial claim over the islands.

Economy Ministry with bullet holes

In 1955, Argentina’s air force dropped bombs on the Plaza de Mayo, the country’s principal square and home to the seat of government, in an effort to unseat the elected president, Juan Perón. About 300 people were killed and the façade of the Economy ministry still bears the scars from the bombardment.

Paseo Colon & Alsina

The graffiti which reads “Nestor Vive” refers to the deceased ex-president, Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007, a time in which Argentina was recovering from a severe economic crisis in 2001. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is the current president, having been recently reelected to a second term.

The other graffiti, “Macri = Facho” refers to Mauricio Macri, who is the mayor of Buenos Aires and a member of the opposition. ‘Facho’ is a local slang word meaning ‘fascist.’

Club Atlético

The military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 murdered about 30,000 of its own citizens. Various buildings were used as interrogation and torture centers prior to shooting the victims or tossing them out of airplanes. This area, at the intersection of Avenida San Juan and Paseo Colón, was one such center. It was known as Club Atlético although it was subsequently demolished to make way for one of the aforementioned elevated highways.

At first, it wasn’t my intention to take photos with so much politics and history in them. The thing is, these traces are present in an area that has had so much history pass through it, or happen upon it.

Granted, I’m cherry-picking the photos from the series with heavier subtexts. At this point I’m still wondering how to incorporate all this context into the work itself. I’m not a huge fan of long captions but I think that this background information is important to understanding the photos.

49 Ochava Solstices

November 2, 2011

I’ve recently updated my series, Ochava Solstice, to include a lot more corners. I took these pictures last summer [December] and this past winter [May – August]. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to have a large number of these “events.” I feel like it underscores obsessive quality and ultimate uselessness of this project plus it will look better when exhibited. I had been saying my goal was 50. I’m stopping at 49… I’ll explain…

But first, here’s a few new ones:

Ochava Solstice #9 - Concordia & Mariscal Francisco Solano Lopez

The majority of the photographs were shot in winter and so the trees usually don’t have any foliage. This corner, shot on December 3rd, was an exuberant exception.

Ochava Solstice #12 - Jufre & Acevedo

I had this building on my list for over a year before working up the courage to go photograph it. Located in Villa Crespo, the building was first abandoned mid-construction and then claimed by squatters who have finished the construction with rough, hollow brick. These types of buildings are known as Edificios Tomados or Ocupas, and there are a fair number scattered around the city. They are often perceived by their neighbors as centers of crime and drugs and usually there is a long history of the neighbors or the city trying to get the squatters evicted [Argentina has strong pro-squatter laws]. My fear was that I would be seen as an employee from the city, photographing the building, as part of some renewed effort to get the residents evicted. I was a little more hurried than usual but in the end nothing happened.

Ochava Solstice #19 - Lavalle & Billinghurst

This was one of the more challenging intersections because it’s such a busy area, near the Abasto shopping mall. There was a constant stream of cars and pedestrians. I took two photos; this one and one without the dog walker. I like this one better because it underscores the reality that I can only control the situation so much.

Speaking of situations I can’t control, the 2nd to last Ochava in the series is this one, which I’ve written about before.

Ochava Solstice #48 - Zapiola & Aviles

To summarize, a private security guard hired by the neighborhood didn’t want me taking pictures and so he stood in front of my camera. I waited until the moment when the shadow was in the middle, and took the picture anyway.

Also, in case you didn’t notice, the first and last ochavas are the same building, but shot on different days.

Ochava Solstice #1 - Caracas & Paez II

Ochava Solstice #49 - Caracas & Paez I

The height of the sun and hence the height of the shadow varies across the seasons. I wanted to include the same building twice but photographed on different dates to get across a sense of changing seasons. I then decided to order the shadows by their height and it just so happened that the first and last ochavas were the same building.

So why 49 buildings?

It’s got to end somewhere and it’s always a bit arbitrary as to when and why. Stopping at a square number [49] instead of a round one [50] seems as good a reason as any. This work is kind of about simple, universal shapes; the circle of the sun and its arc across the sky, the triangle, the most basic of shapes and symbol of human shelter. So why not a square?

Fifty is a round number only in a base-ten numerical system. A square number, on the other hand, is square no matter how its expressed. It’s a reflection of a physical shape in the real world and not a fluke of the particulars of Arabic numerals. I’d like to think this work has a mystical or archeological quality. I often relate it to the Aztec sundial or the Mayan pyramid of Chichen-Itza which shows a shadow in the form of a serpent on the spring equinox. Mystical is maybe the wrong word since I don’t believe in god or religion. It’s really about a fascination with the physical world and the order of the solar system. I’m not in the jungles of the Yucatan. These are ugly, boring buildings in quiet neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and yet, that quality, whatever you call it, is still there, if one is willing to stop and see it.