Dawning of a New Age of Digital Photography at AIPAD Show
New York dealer Robert Burge, who specializes in 20th century photography, described this year’s three-day AIPAD fair, which concluded April 7 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, as “more buoyant than previous years.”
“Contemporary photography is always a tougher sell than well-known vintage work,” he said, “but people were buying, writing checks. There was less talk about spousal approval…”
Now in its 33rd year, The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) annual exhibition attracted 82 dealers from around the country and a smattering of foreign cities, including London, Paris, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Osaka, and Jerusalem. The show traditionally has strength in fine, museum-quality vintage prints, but the show-stoppers this year were primarily contemporary photographs, many the product of digital manipulation, which seems to have moved into a new phase with gimmickry giving way to photographs that more closely resemble fine art—and are stunningly beautiful. The images are fresh and original and, indeed, visitors responded with their wallets.
Dealers in vintage prints, however, such as Hans P. Kraus Jr., Bruce Silverstein and Daniel Blau, certainly did not disappoint. Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photography in New York regularly shows important work of early photographers, such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Gustave Le Gray, Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Charles Nègre. This year, the gallery exhibited a stunning print by French photographic pioneer Gustave Le Gray of a three-masted yacht of Emperor Napoleon III in the Le Havre harbor for $290,000. The yacht is reflected in the still waters of the harbor; the print is pristine, as if it was developed yesterday, instead of in 1856.
A famous vintage print by Depression-era documentary photographer Walker Evans of a painted advertisement on a barn, 666 Cold Fever (1936), was offered by Bruce Silverstein Gallery in Chelsea for $60,000. The same print is in the Metropolitan Museum’s photographic collection. And Daniel Blau of London exhibited a large collection of prize-winning journalistic photographs from the 1930s to the 1970s, including such classic images of the burning of the German air ship Hindenburg over New Jersey in 1937 and Slava Beder’s famous photo of a Vietnam War vet being greeted home by his family in 1973.
“These images are wonderful—but we have seen them before,” said New York dealer William Floyd who was at the fair shopping for clients. “I think Damion Berger’s dramatic fireworks pictures are some of the most exciting in the show.”
Berger, a British photographer, who was once an assistant to fashion photographer Helmut Newton, has been working for several years on a series of fireworks celebrations from around the world he calls Black Powder. He uses a large format camera, long exposures, and shifts the image in and out of focus. He digitally creates photographs from negatives by printing a facsimile enlargement of exposed film. The result is a kind of visual poetry in black and white of fiery trajectories and tumbling embers, some more abstract than others, with no reference to place. Black night is rendered white; the white fireworks explosions are black, just the opposite of reality—so one would never actually see in the real world the dynamic images Berger has created. The largest prints in the series, 87” x 68”, are being offered by Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, for $25,000-$32,000. Seven prints from the Black Powder series of various sizes sold at the show.
“I think what is drawing people to Damion Berger’s work is the play of light,” said Ashley Rice, associate director at Lisa Sette Gallery. “Some of our clients say the work reminds them of William Turner’s romantic landscapes.”
In a similar vein, French photographer Thierry Cohen and American urban journalist Stephen Wilkes are interested in using digital technology to manipulate time and explore cityscapes in a unique way. Like Berger, they create images that the eye will never be able to see, which seemed to be one of the themes of this year’s AIPAID show.
For three years, Cohen has been working on a project to show what major cities of the world would look like at night without light pollution. It’s called Villes Éteintes (Darkened Cities). He photographed each city at night, noting the precise time, angle, latitude and longitude of his exposure; then he searches for that precise night sky again, as the world turns, in a location like a desert or a desert plain where he can photograph it without the halo of urban lights. Cohen digitally combines the two images, creating, for example, the familiar view of Manhattan with the Brooklyn Bridge—with the backdrop of an ethereal and beautiful night sky, full of stars and the Milky Way. The photographs in the series document of what we have lost in building large cities at the same time reminding us how much we need the inspiration of the stars and glimpse into the infiniteness of the universe. Danziger Gallery in New York is selling limited editions of Villes Éteintes, the largest prints, 40” x 60”, offered at $17,500 to $26,000.
Journalist Stephen Wilkes, known recently for his photos of the devastation after hurricane Sandy for Time magazine, bends time in a series of photographic explorations of cities he calls Day Into Night. He takes a corner of a city like New York—for example Times Square or Coney Island—and photographs it from one fixed location over the course of a day. He then culls the 1400 or so images down to 50 and digitally combines then to create a view of how the spot would look over the course of a day, as morning light gives way to the soft colors of late afternoon and finally the cool night sky. It is a narrative of a day in the life of a city in one image—which, or course, would be impossible to create without the new technology. It is nonetheless painstaking work and it takes Wilkes weeks to complete a single image. On display at the show was a large 50”x 78” composite image Wilkes created of President Obama’s 2013 inauguration from a 50-foot high tower looking down the national mall. Monroe Gallery of Photography of Sante Fe, NM, is selling 25 limited edition prints of the inauguration for $25,000 each. Two of Wilkes’s smaller inauguration prints, 36”x 50”, at $15,000 each, sold at the recent AIPAD show.
British photographer Antony Crossfield, whose work is being represented here by Klomching Gallery in Brooklyn, is interested in using digital photography to explore new territory in renditions of the male nude. Crossfield, a student of art history, particular the work of Francis Bacon, digitally combines two bodies in a photographic series called Foreign Body so that viewer is not sure where one body ends and the other begins.
“I depict the body not as a protective envelope that defines and unifies our limits,” he has written, “but rather, a place of interface between subject and other.”
The work is as disturbing and ambiguous as Bacon’s paintings are. What is the relationship between the two figures in Crossfield’s Screen (below)? Are they lovers? Or is this a young man and an older version of himself? The 29” x 26.4” photograph, displayed at AIPAD show by Klomching and selling for $3,000, caused many people to stop in their tracks as they wandered around the display booths at the armory.
Cig Harvey, 39, a British-born photographer now living in Rockport, Maine. who has a strong international following, is exploring another kind of digital manipulation. It’s a combination of a still photograph and video that Robert Klein Gallery in Boston, who represent her, is calling a “videograph.” (Other types of photo/video combinations are known as “cinemagraphs.”) Ernie in the Truck (2008) is a still photograph Harvey took of a young girl starting out of he back of a truck in a snowstorm. This year she added a subtle video screen over the photograph, animating the snow, so that that it indeed appears to be snowing in the still photograph. The videograph is in a slightly thicker frame than the still photograph and is connect to an electrical outlet with a thin wire. As long as the videograph is plugged into the outlet, it will appear to snow forever in the picture. The works is a kind of hyper-reality, an un-freezing of the moment in which the still picture was taken. Klein sells a 14” x 14” still image of Ernie in the Truck for $3,500; the 12” x12” videograph of Ernie in the Truck for $9,500. One of Harvey’s Ernie videographs sold at the AIPAD show.
Another trend in this year’s AIPAD show in addition to the new explorations into digital photography is “lensless photography” or “photograms,” which involved the use of photographic material—but not the actually taking a photo through a photographic lens. Alison Rossiter, who studied photographic conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2003, has been interested in this technique for a while and has produced very ethereal, minimalist photographs without a lens that have been widely collected by many museum, including the National Gallery in Washington, the National Gallery in Canada, J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Rossiter collects expired photographic papers and then uses light and developing chemicals to “draw” on the papers, creating largely abstract compositions that reveal the qualities of the particular papers. She is represented by Yossi Milo in New York and these photographs or photograms sell for anywhere from $2,000 to $12,500. I asked Yossi Milo to explain the appeal of Rossiter’s work.
“There is a special quality about it,” he said. “It is fresh and it is part of the minimalist trend in photography right now. But at the same time, collectors and museums know that Alison has been working for over 40 years and that, as a conservator, she knows the history of the photographic process and the character of papers. There is thus a historical context to her work that is appealing—a back to basics.”
For me, personally, I found myself attracted to the booths at AIPAD displaying more traditional photography. No digital magic. No manipulation. Just the eye of the photographer catching something special—which for me usually means a moment between two people illuminating a relationship or an insight into character. Elinor Carucci, a young Israeli photographer now living in New York, does this for me. She is represented by Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York and her work has been collected by The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her photography is intimate and personal, nuanced and textured. She explores the faces of her family the way Sally Mann did with her children but Carucci points her lens not just at her young children but also her parents and grandparents and husband. She is fascinated by skin and tears and even a drop of milk that comes out of a nipple. She says she is protective of her family and sometimes does not pick up her camera to capture a particularly poignant moment, but we have nonetheless an extraordinary portrait of her life in good times and bad.
As we move more and more into a digital age of photography, my hope is that the medium does not abandon its core strength in simply and poetically illuminating life the way Carucci’s work does.
© 2013 Louise Levathes