This past Monday, March 21st, photographer Michael L. Abramson died at the age of 62 after a long struggle with kidney cancer. The Chicago label Numero Group posted an obituary for Mr. Abramson, whose black and white photographs of 1970s era Chicago nightlife were part of Numero’s Grammy-nominated double album and book Light: On The South Side. In 2009 the New York Times’ “Lens” blog ran a lengthy showcase of Abramson’s photographs. There is something about the way Abramson photographed the press of bodies that makes everyone in his images look luscious and beautiful. He got right up close to his subjects – as a viewer, you feel like your own body is right in there too, smack in the middle of the action. Abramson’s family released a biography of the photographer after his death, which included this description of Abramson’s first encounters with the South Side clubs he would come to know intimately:
“A friend’s casual remark about the nightclub scene on the city’s South Side led Michael to visit, enjoy, and then photograph the people and nightlife. This decision established him as a serious artist, compared by more than one critic to Brassai, who photographed nocturnal Paris in the 1930s. At his first stop, Pepper’s Hideout, Abramson found himself the lone white guy in the club. Worried that he might make the other club visitors uncomfortable, he soon made for the door. As he left, a man yelled, “Hey, where ya’ going? Get back in here!” For the next two and half years Michael made frequent trips to Pepper’s and other South Side nightclubs. He spent his evenings snapping photograph after photograph – not of the musicians, but of patrons, many of them dressed to the nines, enjoying a night out on the town – and spent his days developing and printing the images.”
Do yourself a favor and spend some time this week looking at Abramson’s images, especially if you’re not already familiar with them. It’s clear the comparisons to Brassai are not at all specious.
Please take note: “The Woodmans,” the much-buzzed about documentary film by C. Scott Willis, has its Chicago premiere tonight at 6:15pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center and will be screened there daily through February 17th. We’ll have a review of the film up on the blog early next week. Francesca Woodman was a very promising artist who used her body, and those of other female models, frequently in her psychologically-charged black and white photographs. Woodman committed suicide in 1981, when she was still in her early twenties. What looks particularly fascinating about this documentary’s approach to its subject is its focus on the artist’s entire family unit, and hence the dynamic between the artist and her family, as a means of portraying the artist herself. Click on over to the film’s website for more background on the film; here’s the trailer, which really makes me want to run out and see it NOW:
Just dropping in to draw your attention to the fact that Caroline Picard is art:21 blog’s newest guest blogger. Caroline starts out with a bang with her interview of photographer Melanie Schiff. A brief excerpt follows; please hop on over to art:21 and check the full post out!
While always being aware of her work, Melanie Schiff snapped into focus shortly after I first heard about Ox-bow, the School of the Art Insitute’s residency program in Saugatuck, Michigan. Friends came back from a summer there looking a little wild. Melanie’s work–color-rich photographs of youths blending into trees, whiskey bottles glinting like a candle in a bath of morning sun–offers a portrait, not just of Ox-bow, but of a feral, post-adolescent youth. It would be inaccurate to distill her prolific energy into one characterization; her work is lush, well-composed and ever-sensitive to silky light. Those aesthetic concerns transcend specific subjects. In addition to empty skate-park landscapes and attic rooms, she has made self-portraits with bong hits, another with raspberry-nipples, another involves spewing water in the sun (always reminds me of Tony Tasset), or the one above, where she reclines in a sea of empty bottles glinting like a deteriorated Jeff Wall interior: these gestures position her-self-as-artist, approximately tied to a flanking landscape of, often exclusive, culture. Whether holding the Neil Young album before her head, or photographing a motel room once occupied by Kurt Cobain, her presence adds an idiosyncratic awareness to these cultural referents. In an effort to explore that affect, I asked her a series of questions, primarily about the camera and its gaze. This is one interview in a series of many that explores the self on either side of the camera, while thinking through the respective position of the artist. (Read more).
This week: Brian, Patricia and Duncan get into the mind of Lindsey White. They discuss the challenges of being a photographer in an image saturated-culture, light, magic, and the intimate details of White’s studio practice. Lindsey White is a San Francisco based photographer and video artist born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is the third interview in our series recorded at Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions as a part of Chris Duncan’s Eye Against Eye exhibition.
This week: Duncan and Richard talk to art superstar Luc Tuymans!
The following is shamelessly lifted from the MCA site:
Luc Tuymans (Belgian, b. 1958) is considered one of the most significant European painters of his generation and he has been an enduring influence on younger and emerging artists. Born and raised in Antwerp, where he lives and works, Tuymans is an inheritor to the vast tradition of Northern European painting. At the same time, as a child of the 1950s, his relationship to the medium is understandably influenced by photography, television, and cinema.
Interested in the lingering effects of World War II on the lives of Europeans, Tuymans explores issues of history and memory, as well as the relationship between photography and painting, using a muted palette to create canvases that are simultaneously withholding and disarmingly stark. Drawing on imagery from photography, television, and film, his distinctive compositions make ingenious use of cropping, close-ups, framing, and Luc Tuymans sequencing, offering fresh perspectives on the medium of painting, as well as larger cultural issues.
The artist’s more recent work approaches the post-colonial situation in the Congo and the dramatic turn of world events after 9/11. These series have led Tuymans to a sustained investigation of the realms of the pathological and the conspiratorial.