Category Archives: Popular Culture

Athena Intanate: The Caress of Nan Goldin

Photo by Nan Goldin

 

Text by Athena Intanate, Copyright 2020

.

The Caress of Nan Goldin

.

For me it is not detachment to take a picture. It’s a way of touching somebody – it’s a caress” – Nan Goldin

Documentary photography, it seems, has died.

The advancement of photoshop and other image-altering apps has decidedly marked the onset of increasingly manufactured images. Even those taken to inform are buffed and staged to an inch of perfection. The Adnan Hajj controversy has metamorphosed, repeating itself in various incarnations from print to editorials. Reality seems to have traded itself in for aesthetics; candid slice-of-life captures are a dying breed.

But with Nan Goldin, whose work so delicately takes you by the hand and envelops you in them, you seem to remember what it feels like to be human, purely and unadulteredly. Since her very first published works of transvestites and transsexuals in 1973, Goldin has arguably cemented her place as one of the defining documentary photographers of the 20th century. No subject matter is too dark, too complicated, too taboo to untangle for her – through her lens, the world is made accessible, open to everyone to peer into, and asked to understand.    

Nan Goldin’s expansive career began when she was first introduced to the camera at 15, in 1968 (Hals in The New Yorker, 2016). Still bearing the grief of her sister’s recent suicide four years before, Goldin found solace in the camera, with its ability to capture not only relationships but also political issues in what was popularised as the snapshot aesthetic.

“My work originally came from the snapshot aesthetic,” she says, “Snapshots are taken out of love and to remember people, places, and shared times. They’re about creating a history by recording a history.” (Goldin in Britannica Biographies, 2012)

Goldin’s work attests to such a sentiment, with works of sheer rawness capturing intimacy, her own relationships, the opioid crisis, the HIV crisis, and the queer community. There appears to be a filmic quality to some of them; Goldin herself stated that fashion photography powerhouses Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton influenced her immensely (Westfall in BOMB magazine, 1991). Her self-portrait Nan and Brian in bed (1983) is one such example where theatricality is present. A self-portrait of her and her lover at the time, golden lighting seeps through a blinded window, illuminating the smoke from the titular Brian’s cigarette. His half-turned profile seems aloof, tired; Nan, curled up in the sheets all in black, looks on in longing but also sadness. A heartbreak story appears to be unfolding before the viewer; it is, just as she said, a creation of history “by recording a history” in the most poignant way.

.

Photo by Nan Goldin

.

Other works of Goldin, however, are taken in a much more documentative manner, reminiscent of works by Diane Arbus, August Sander and Larry Clark, all of whom she has cited as inspiration (Westfall in BOMB magazine, 1991). One such example is Yogo Putting on Powder (1993). Taken on one of her trips to Bangkok, this is an example of Goldin’s broader work documenting the LGBTQ community, with particular focus on transvestites and transsexuals. From her Asian Drag Queens series, the viewer is given a clear-cut view into the ritualistic act of putting on makeup. The titular Yogo is dressed in nothing but jeans and a belt, and sits perched on a chair. Clothes are haphazardly hung up in the background, a behemoth of sparkle and ruffle and glitter while Yogo, almost nonchalantly, powders their face in a compact mirror. A blurry elbow protrudes in the left of the photo, indicating the presence of another person.

.

Photo by Nan Goldin

.

Goldin, in her pursuit of capturing emotion and the pathos of love, found a way to document even the most mundane in sentimental exposition. This is similarly seen in the tender embrace in Teri and Patrick on their Wedding Night (1987), or the tight clasp of The Hug (1980), or her own representation of opioid abuse in Aperture Drugs on the Rug (2016). Goldin’s works are annotative, captures of the relationships she saw around her (as well as of her own), but at the same time evocative, perhaps making her one of the best documentative photographers of all time. While she uses her photographs to demonstrate realities, often in her push for activism, Goldin makes you forget that you are viewing an exercise in instrumentalism. You are looking, instead, at the depths of human nature in their purest, raw forms. Her work seems to plunge its hands into the viewer, reminding us that we are looking at something incredibly human. It is humans, baring themselves wide open to other humans, offering the chance of relief in the splinters of recognition.

And what a joy, what a privilege, Goldin makes that process.

.

Bibliography

Als, Hilton, (June 27, 2016). “Nan Goldin’s Life in Progress”. The New Yorker. Retrieved online March 27, 2020 at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/04/nan-goldins-the-ballad-of-sexual-dependency

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britanica (December 09, 2019). “Nan Goldin”. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved online March 27, 2020 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nan-Goldin

Westfall, Stephen (1991). “Nan Goldin” (Interview). BOMB Magazine. BOMB Magazine. Accessed online March 27, 2020 at http://bombmagazine.org/article/1476/nan-goldin

.

About the Author: Athena Intanate is a freshman enrolled at Haverford College, Class of 2023. To access additional articles by Athena Intanate, click here:https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/one-day-at-a-time/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Photography, Student Life, Women

Cindy Ji: Artist Report-Sandy Skoglund

Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

 

.

Artist Report by Cindy Ji, Copyright 2020

.

Sandy Skoglund

.

Sandy Skoglund is am American photographer, sculptor, and installation artist. She is known for creating surreal installations and photographing them without creating the space with digital technology. Bright and bold colors and sculpted life size animals set in a domestic setting acts as a motif in her photographs. Created with the Cibachrome process, the aggressive colors contrast greatly with the aesthetic of black and white photography, giving the images an unreal atmosphere. Skoglund took several months to create the set for each image, and used her neighbors as models. As Anne Reverseau writes in AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, Skoglund’s work perfectly symbolizes the hybrid practice of contemporary art; for her, sculpture is the starting point for organizing a space that she transforms into an installation, and which photography records. The photographic medium is vital, allowing a variety of materials to be brought together, contained within one creative process. Her works therefore exist in two forms: the installation and the photographs.”

One of the most renown pictures of Skoglund’s is Radioactive Cats. An old man sits by the table as the woman looks for food in the refrigerator. The man and the woman wear grey monotonous clothes in a grey room, in which the furniture looks broken and the walls unfinished. In that grey room, lime-green life-sized cats fill up the room. Those cats took over the room. The cats are on the floor, on the table, on the fridge and so on. It’s hinted in the title that cats turned lime-green after being exposed to radioactive materials after the atomic bombing. And, as a result, the people struggle to eat and survive. Skoglund’s photograph ridicules a possible devastating situation and turns it into a parody. The lack of color, food, and decorations in human households, compared to brightly colored, lively and healthy cats allow us to imagine a world ruled by radioactive cats. The photograph also makes fun of our physical and mental fragility to survive in a hypothetical post atomic bomb world.

.

Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

.

The colors and humor in Radioactive Cats is bold, and it immediately takes us to another universe created by Skoglund. This is an interpretative photograph which requires the viewer to investigate elaborate details, and to imagine a post apocalypse world run by radioactive green cats. It’s dark and humorous. When talking about this photograph, the laborious process to make this image needs to be appreciated and mentioned again. The originality of the surreal set and Skoglund approach to photography makes her one of the most important contemporary artists, sculptors and photographers in modern time.

Similar to Radioactive Cats, Germs are Everywhere, is another surreal photograph that shows Skoglund’s humor. A woman sits on a chair with a drink on her hand in a living room. The color of the room is bright green and an overwhelming amount of chewed pink gums are stuck all over the wall, furniture, chair, and even in her drink. The woman does not seem to notice existing gums in her room. The intimate and domestic place is not a place for germ infestation. The woman’s posture and the setting of the photograph remain as our everyday life. However, chewed gums which represent germs, are visible. The photograph creates a very disturbing atmosphere and makes us question invisible bacteria and germs that exist in our private spaces. It’s a nightmare coming to life. This photograph, therefore, allows us to reflect the world that we live in. Even though this photograph was made in 1984, looking at it in 2020 feels very relevant as the pandemic outbreak changes people’s behavior and lives.

Another domestic scene can be seen in Revenge of the Goldfish. This is a photograph of a blue bedroom invaded by orange goldfish. Skoglund’s choice to work with two opposing colors is noticeable in this photograph as her previous work did. The blue room elicits the room as a water tank. The water tank, instead filled with pet goldfish, trapped two humans. The orange goldfish in the room float in the room, rest on bed, and play with the bedroom lights. Revenge of the Goldfish has many similarities as Radioactive Cats and Germs are Everywhere; as the viewer starts to recognize and identify Skoglund’s motif of bright color, surreal conceptual images, sculpted animals, which all take place in a domestic/household setting. Skoglund brings an unfamiliar concept and color pallet to familiar and intimate space, and transforms it into something humorous, bizarre and intriguing.

.

Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

.

The next image does not take place in a domestic setting, but the way that the photograph is composed feels very familiar. Spirituality in the Flesh is a photograph of a sculpted female figure wearing a blond wig and a blue dress. The person that the figure represents feels familiar and natural. However, her skin and the walls and floors behind and underneath her is fully covered with raw meat. In the process of making the image, Skoglund bought eighty pounds of raw hamburger to cover the figure and the walls. The texture of raw meat is stomach-turning. Vivid handprints on the wall are heightened by the cleanliness of the figure’s blond hair and the blue dress. Human’s flesh became an animal’s flesh when creating a life size human figure. The ‘flesh’ we use to imply our skin because ‘flesh’ refers to dead raw animals. It’s gruesome and jarring but seeing familiar food items in a completely different environment makes it hard to take one’s eye off of it.

.

Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

.

Last but not least, Skoglund’s Walking on Eggshells, is a photograph of a beige colored bathroom where bathroom tiles are replaced by eggshells, and filled with rabbits and snakes. Two nude models face their back as they walk toward the sink and the bathtub. The footprints are shows as remnants of fragmented eggshells.  are visible left footprints on floor. Unlike Skoglund’s other work (Radioactive Cats, and Revenge of the Goldfish), the color palette used in Walking on Eggshell is limited and muted. Because of this, the formal quality and the composition of the photograph is highlighted. Once again, the viewer sees the recurring theme of the domestic scene, sculpted animals, and surreal quality of the set. Elaborate decorative tiles of hieroglyphic imagery on the wall completes the surreal quality of the image. As mentioned in the title, Walking on Eggshell, the models walk on figural and literal eggshells. Skoglund’s play with visual imagery and idiom is humorous and brilliant. Both in figurative and literal sense, it’s anxiety provoking to think about walking into a bathroom covered with egg shelled tiles and rabbits and snakes.

Sandy Skoglund’s meticulous way of making photographs needs to be praised and recognized as brilliant artists, sculptor, and photographer. She merges two mediums in intricate ways and incorporates her humor to marry familiar and unfamiliar concepts in one space. For these reasons, her photographs are very much praised as one of the best contemporary artworks in America.

Bibliography

Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs : an Introduction to Understanding Images 4th ed.    

Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Bloomfield, Paul. 2008. “Sandy Skoglund: Radioactive Cats.” Exhibit 29 (5): 39–39.

Reverseau, Anne. n.d. “Sandy Skoglund.” AWARE Women Artists / Femmes Artistes.

Accessed March 30, 2020. https://awarewomenartists.com/en/artiste/sandy-skoglund/.

“Skoglund, Sandy.” n.d. Grove Art Online. Accessed March 30, 2020.

https://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000097698.

.

About the Author: Cindy Ji is a Junior at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2021. To access additional articles by Cindy Ji, click here: https://tonyward.com/flower-show/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, commentary, Current Events, Environment, Friends of TWS, Haverford College, History, Photography, Student Life, Women

Huiping Tina Zhong: Remebering Iceland in the Time of Pandemic

 

.

Photography and Text by Huiping Tina Zhong, Copyright 2020

.

Remembering Iceland in the Time of Pandemic

.

At the beginning of 2020, no one could have foretold what happened in the past several months. The COVID-19 has become a global pandemic, and as a result I am trapped in my apartment, not being able to go anywhere outside these enclosed white walls. After a 14-day self-quarantine in my room because I show some symptoms of a cold, I begin to yearn for the grand exterior, the vast, open world that is behind my 1 m2 window. I recall that I have a ton of  left over photos I took when I visited Iceland two years ago, and I’ve been procrastinating over editing them. I pull them out, and once more, I’m fascinated by the beauty of that experience. The icy mountain peaks, the blue water, the hazy steam of the blue lagoon, the ashy color palette of white snow, pale yellow grass, cyan sky and light gray tarmac road. Going through these pictures, it pulls me back to that dreamlike land—the land of ice and fire.

Iceland has been my dream destination since my middle school years. I’ve seen countless dramatic photos of the grandiose landscape and colorful sky of Iceland. However, when I arrived at Iceland together with my long-time friend from middle school, the Iceland that I imagined was not exactly the same as what I saw. Because it was winter when I visited, the days are short (from 11am-3pm) and daylight is quite dim. Wintertime is not a popular tourism time for Iceland, hence for most of the time, our tiny bus of 10 people was the only vehicle traveling in the grand color field of light gray, icy-blue, pale yellow, and white. Standing in front of the silent snow mountains and the roaring waterfalls, I felt incredibly small and insignificant. However, at the same time, I felt an incredible connection with nature, therefore I hope my lens can capture the misty, brisk and quiet air of Iceland. In some of the shots, there is my friend facing away from the camera. In some of the shots, there are no people, or there is only a person in the distance. The reason for this choice is that I wanted the camera to be simply an observer of a traveler, of a land, or of a distant memory.

.

About The Author:  Huiping Tina Zhong is a senior majoring in Art History at Bryn Mawr College. To access additional articles by Huiping Tina Zhong, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/stories/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Haverford College, History, lifestyle, Photography, Student Life, Travel, Women

Cindy Ji: Visiting the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show

 

.

Photography and Text by Cindy Ji, Copyright 2020

.

Visiting the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show

.

The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society featuring stunning displays by the world’s floral and landscape designers. This year, the PHS Philadelphia Flower show had multiple elegant displays and floral demonstrations from all over the world, as well as interactive and educational activities for children and families. Even though the weather was chilly and cloudy outside, the vibrant lights and colorful flowers welcomed the visitors.

I have been scrolling through photographs of flower installations and extravagant arrangements of flowers and have been waiting to go to the show since last March. I was excited to see installations and flower gardens in real life. When I walked into the flower show, I was surprised by the amount of people inside the show. Everyone was holding a phone or a camera taking photographs of the displays or taking pictures of themselves in front of the flowers. People were in lines to take photographs and people were mindful of not getting into each other’s frame as if there was silent agreement that everyone helping each other to take a good picture. Because of this, while beautiful flower displays allured my eyes, I wanted to capture the moment in the flower show and document the people around me. The experience of flower show would not be complete without taking photographs of flowers surrounded by a large group of people.

My photographs document and capture that moment during the flower show. They are a photographic survey of the people visiting the flower show. They visually communicate what people are doing in the show, and the usage of photography in people’s life. The purpose of photographing flowers for most visitors is to document their experience of the show and to remember how beautiful the flowers and displays were. When I was taking photograph of the people, they were so focused on photographing their own picture that they didn’t even recognize my presence. I was almost invisible, and a lot of people assumed that I was taking photograph of plants as well. Everyone was a photographer and tried their best to create beautiful photographs. My long-awaited trip to the flower show was different than I thought but seeing so many different people enjoying flower displays in various ways turned out to be a memorable experience for me.

.

About the Author: Cindy Ji is a Junior at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2021.

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Haverford College, lifestyle, News, Student Life, Travel, Women

Joy Bao: Imagine a Summer’s Day

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

 

Photography and Text by Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

Imagine a Summer’s Day

.

“Back and back we are drawn to steep ourselves in what, perhaps, is only an image of the reality, not the reality itself, a summer’s day imagined in the heart of a northern winter.”

Don DeLillo, White Noise

Funny enough, I never finish reading White Noise. It was one of the books I shoved in my suitcase before going on this trip on the last days of 2018, and traveled with me to the Caribbean sea. I did not plan for the trip at all. In fact, I was originally planning to spend a quiet domestic Christmas in Long Island with my uncle’s family, and maybe also go to Manhattan to see the Rockefeller tree. It turned out that they were going on a cruise trip with a few other families, and I just joined them, kind of at last minute.

We first went to Puerto Rico, and then got on board, stopping at different islands for the next week.  San Juan is a colorful city, but once we were on the cruise ship the color scheme was lowered to mostly green and blue—the ocean, and trees on islands when we pulled in to shore.  Traveling with several families is not my favorite thing, especially when I do not know most of the people and do not have any internet connection. I remember a lot of not-really-mean-it conversations and awkward laughs. It was particularly easy to get tired of socializing, and maybe just people in general.

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

Looking back, I think that is why most of my photos shot during this trip focused on nature and architecture, instead of people.

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

The summery Caribbean weather was everything that a New York winter was not. I tried to capture that by showing these wide, open, and quiet places. 

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

The trip started and ended in Puerto Rico. After getting off the cruise ship, we spent another two days in San Juan. It was a popular winter getaway destination so the atmosphere was quite tourist-y, but there were always some quiet and peaceful corners besides all the noise and colors.

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

We went to the seaside one day, and I realized I could never get tired of the ocean—people, highly possible and already happened; ocean, never. It is mysterious and calm, unpredictable but inclusive. I looked at the sea. I looked at the sun shinning on the water’s surface at the end of a narrow tunnel. I looked at lovers, families, friends who were looking at the sea just like I was.

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

I looked at the sea. It was the last days of 2018. I was wearing a t-shirt and flip flops, and could feel the warm breeze on my skin. I looked at the sea and I thought, this must be a summer’s day imagined in the heart of a northern winter.

.

Photo: Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

.

About The Author: Joy Bao is a senior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Joy Bao, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/habitat/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Haverford College, History, lifestyle, Photography, Student Life, Travel, Women