November 21st, 2012
Pilgrims en route to Lhasa
It takes a lot of work to capture a good photo. Last month, Michael Yamashita was sitting in a Hong Kong bookstore, clicking through slides of pictures from his new book, Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa, a five-year project that documents the incomparable beauty and changing face of Tibet.
He arrived at a photo of several young men dressed in leather aprons, heavy mittens, plastic covers on their shoes, making their way down an empty road high on the Tibetan plateau. One of them was lying prostrate on the ground, another rising to his feet, others walking forward. They were pilgrims making an arduous month-long journey to Lhasa.
“To get this frame that’s perfect, with one guy on the ground, another rising, other standing, I must have had to walk half a mile backward,” said Yamashita. “And it was raining.”
Later, I asked him how far he has gone to get a single shot. “I wouldn’t risk my life, but it’s all about getting the picture,” he said. “You’ll do what you have to do.”
Yamashita is no stranger to legwork. In 30 years of taking photos for National Geographic, the American-born photographer has retraced the footsteps of Marco Polo, Ming Dynasty explorer Zheng He and the Japanese poet Basho. His travels have taken him to nearly every corner of Asia; his photos have spanned the gulf from film to digital.
Now he is one of the last remaining photojournalists from an era when photographers commanded big budgets for ambitious assignments. “I’m the last of a breed,” he says.
October 28th, 2011
Top: Istanbul airlifted to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro;
Bottom: São Paulo set in Cappadocia
Imagine this: you’re walking down a side street in Midtown Manhattan and turn onto Fifth Avenue, facing uptown. But there, instead of the void of sky that usually greets the vista north toward Central Park, a massive mountain blocks the view, crowned with an uncharacteristic religious symbol. Then it strikes you: you’ve seen this rocky mass before. It looks every bit like Rio de Janeiro’s Corcorvado peak, topped with its famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. And that’s because it is Rio’s Corcorvado mountain — moved right into the heart of New York.
Welcome to the world of Ciro Miguel. The São Paulo architect spends his spare time dreaming up landscapes in which familiar urban landmarks from around the world collide. The images he’s kitbashed together are his own; most involve elements from his home country, Brazil, or New York, where he was a graduate student. Others encompass his world travels. It’s in the way Miguel’s collages represent the places and ways many travel now, in fact — reflecting trends in trade and politics driven by globalization — that they can be seen as more than mere dreamscapes, representing connections and evoking experiences that have become very real.
April 18th, 2011
November 29th, 2010
Amsterdam civilians were machine-gunned by soon-to-be-retreating German soldiers when they formed a large crowd to await the city’s liberation in 1945. Here the dead and injured haunt modern Dam Square.
Amsterdam’s Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse lives history. The company for which she works as a historical consultant, Historisch Adviesbureau 30-45, specializes in digging up archival material for clients pertaining to “daily life in the years 1900-1950″. In addition, Jo confesses in her Flickr profile, she has “a 1930s lifestyle,” donning clothing from the era and “attending 1930s theme parties”. Even her house has been carefully decorated to look not a day older than 1943.
But Jo is more than just a professional researcher and history buff. Beyond her archival sleuthing, she’s engaged in a number of reconstructive and interpretive projects that bring to life historical material in the present day. One is an effort to recreate 1920s Berlin as an environment for the virtual world of Second Life, allowing users to immerse themselves in the German capital’s long-gone prewar heyday.
In 2007, Jo embarked on what might have seemed like a more conventional project — she took her camera around Amsterdam, capturing street scenes from the same vantage points as old photos she’d found of the city under Nazi occupation during the Second World War — in addition to the archives, she’d located many of the shots in flea markets or on other Flickr members’ accounts. What she did next was less conventional: Jo fused the then-and-now shots into singular collages, juxtaposing ghostly remnants (and residents) of the occupied city with representations of the present day.
November 25th, 2010
Melbourne’s Chinatown as shot with a camera made from a duck
Earlier this week, I paid a visit to Martin Cheung‘s studio in the Cattle Depot Artists’ Village in To Kwa Wan. I was there to speak to him about his work with pinhole photography, a medium that uses crude, handmade cameras to record images that often look as rough as the devices that made them.
We spoke for awhile about Cheung’s fascination with pinhole photography. It’s meditative and not as aggressive as conventional photography, he told me, and it forces you to consider the process of taking a photo rather than the result. He showed me how to make a simple pinhole camera with paper and tape. Then the conversation turned to ducks.
Cheung studied art in Melbourne, where he also worked in a Chinese restaurant as a waiter and kitchenhand. Nine years ago, in his final year of study, Cheung had a thought: “Roast duck is such a symbol of Chinese cooking, so I wanted to see how the duck saw Chinatown.” So he bought a roast duck and turned it into a pinhole camera.
November 21st, 2010
Penn Station, New York, 1958
Three years ago, people were still complaining that photo-sharing websites like Flickr were home mostly to “thousands of pieces of shit” — few good photos, endless amounts of clichéd snapshots that nobody really wants to see.
Since then, of course, Flickr has proven its worth by attracting plenty of good, serious photographers, and inspiring many more to improve their work and learn more about photography. It has also become something unexpected: a window into the past. Recently, a number of organizations, including Library of Congress, NASA and the Ville de Montréal, have put portions of their photo archives on the website, taking advantage of its user-friendly format and ready-made connection to social networks.
Private individuals have followed their lead, giving old film photos new life. One such photographer is Nick DeWolf, a American engineer who lived in Philadelphia, Boston and later Colorado, and who never left home without a camera. For decades, starting in the 1950s, he documented almost everywhere he went. After DeWolf’s death in 2006, his son-in-law began putting his photos online.
There are now more than 43,000 images in DeWolf’s Flickr photostream, with 20 more added each day. Among these are scenes of everyday 1950s, 60s and 70s life in cities like New York, Boston and Hong Kong, shot with the passion, curiosity and loose focus of an amateur.
June 19th, 2010
Change is a constant in most cities, and it’s no surprise that a decade can yield dramatic alterations to a specific street or even storefront. Take this slice of San Francisco’s Mission Street, photographed by Eric Fischer, creator of the locals v. tourists photography maps, which he captured in 2000 and again just last year.
In 2000, the block was showing evidence of prosperity. The millennium bug hadn’t shut down “Y2K Furnishings”, despite its ominous name. And the space next door is decorated in retro-50s futurism, reflecting a latent desire to resurrect that decade’s optimistic streak. But what Y2K didn’t do to San Francisco, the dot-com bubble’s burst ultimately did. In 2000, Y2K Furnishings was already having a going out of business sale. Today, save for one floor of the building it formerly occupied, the entire block looks mothballed.
The story of Y2K’s block is fairly rare, but it’s not wholly unique. It demonstrates one way in which cities have defied the narrative arc of unremitting, sometimes totalizing gentrification that U.S. cities have been said to confront throughout much of the 2000s. At worst, the last ten years of gentrification have been more mild, and less sweeping, than many critics have assumed.
June 10th, 2010
We’ve always known there is a gulf between the city as experienced by tourists and the city lived in by locals. Now we have a fun visual representation of that divide. Using various types of data from Flickr, one user of the photo-sharing website, Eric Fisher, has created maps that indicate the spots photographed by tourists and those shot by locals. Local photographs are blue, tourist photos red and undetermined photos yellow.
There are some problems in the methodology. Whether a Flickr user is a local or a tourist is determined by whether they photograph a given location over a long period of time (like a local would) or in just a few days (like a tourist would). That seems fair enough, but not everyone geotags their photos, which could possibly skew the results one way or another. One person who obsessive geotags all of his or her photos could have a disproportionately large representation on the map. You can see this in Vancouver, where one person’s geotagged cycle routes are prominently displayed.
Still, just by looking at the maps you get a strong intuitive sense that they are close to reality. In the Montreal map, tourists overwhelmingly stick to Old Montreal, St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Olympic Stadium while locals take photos throughout downtown and the Plateau, with an especially notable cluster of local shots around Lafontaine Park, Maisonneuve Park and the Botanical Gardens (which, interestingly enough, are right across the street from the Olympic tourist hub).
May 11th, 2010
Hong Kong isn’t a very graceful city, but that’s the word I would use to describe its corner buildings, which meet a junction with smooth lines and subtle verve. Buildings with rounded corners are friendly and sensitive to their surroundings, like a courteous houseguest, and they bring to mind the beautiful corner buildings that define the landscapes of many Spanish cities.
The German photographer Michael Wolf has documented many of Hong Kong’s corner buildings in a series inspired by the relentless cycle of urban destruction and construction — most of will soon be redeveloped into tall, inelegant buildings with crude architecture and contempt for their surroundings.
March 18th, 2010
We’re in an age when every other person is a wannabe Walker Evans, and every single object and person in the city is a potential subject for self-reflective urban photography. (You know, the kind you sometimes see here.) Washington, DC artist Alexa Meade takes that situation to its logical extreme by turning her photo subjects into living, breathing acrylic paintings.
In one of her works, she paints a man and sends him into the buses and metro stations of DC, where he stands out like, well, the subject of a painting that somehow jumped out of the frame and began walking around. Though I’m not sure Meade meant to comment on street photography, this particular work delivers a giant wink to the genre by turning her subject into the romantic, photogenic everyman that he was destined to become.
March 8th, 2010
Kohei Yoshiyuki was walking through a Tokyo park one night in the early 1970s when he noticed people having sex in the bushes. Then he noticed people spying on the people having sex. That must have been when he decided to get his camera. Using infrared film and flash, Yoshiyuki followed and surreptitiously photographed the voyeurs who were peeping on copulating couples.
“My intention was to capture what happened in the parks, so I was not a real ‘voyeur’ like them,” he said recently. “But I think, in a way, the act of taking photographs itself is voyeuristic somehow. So I may be a voyeur, because I am a photographer.”
Yoshiyuki’s photos were first exhibited at a Tokyo gallery in 1979, and published in a book the following year, but only now have they been collected in a new English book, The Park. The photos been getting quite a lot of attention because, as Philip Gefter notes in the New York Times, they raise questions not only of voyeurism but of surveillance, which is of particular concern in this age of omnipresent CCTV and Great Firewalls.
January 4th, 2010
Photo by Matthew Logue
The density of urban slums once drove city planners and social workers mad — and, in some cases, still does today. But perhaps because of the vicious crime that followed mass abandonment of cities like Detroit, or the specter, for the first time, of an entire city’s virtual erasure in the wake of Hiroshima, the empty, depopulated city has inspired more horror in the last sixty years.
In the original (1953) film version of The War of the Worlds, Los Angeles is almost completely evacuated to await its doom. The philosophical 2001 film Vanilla Sky opens with a nightmare sequence in which the main character wakes up to an empty Manhattan. Alan Weisman’s recent book The World Without Us detailed precisely what would happen to the built environment over time if people really did disappear from cities.
Limited disappearance has even been used as a tool to stress the catastrophic consequences of a particular category of person vanishing, as in the 1922 Austrian novel and subsequent film The City Without Jews (a shocking anticipation of Nazi anti-Semitism), or the 2004 film A Day Without a Mexican.
These apocalyptic precedents are what first came to mind upon first encountering photographer Matthew Logue’s new collection, Empty L.A.
April 7th, 2009
Videographer Keith Loutit is spending a year filming Sydney in tilt-shift time-lapses, such as this one of the city’s Mardi Gras celebration, above. What does Loutit’s reduction of urban life to miniature tell us about the city he’s working in? And what does tilt-shift photography say about humanity and its built environments? Is it speaking to the individual’s subjection to a grander design? Or does a format that makes people, vehicles, and cities look like models mean to say something about the artificiality of society, about the constructed nature of culture?
Most of Loutit’s videos focus the city’s primary public spaces, its harbor and its beaches. Yet his Little Sydneysiders are no more subsumed to the grandiosity of nature than they are lost in the crowd of the urban carnival. Rather, their lives revolve around a harbor and ocean that have been more or less tamed and harnessed by the city around them – relatively harmless even in the most extreme circumstances, as this dramatic rescue video illustrates. Below is a montage of a busy day in Sydney Harbor, as crisscrossed by boats, ships, and ferries as any square in New York or London is by pedestrians and cars. Appearing like playspaces for tiny toys, Sydney’s watched and controlled public realms appear to be just what Loutit titles them: “bathtubs”.
November 30th, 2007
Tobu World Square’s model of New York. Photo by Naoya Hatakeyama
When I was a kid, my grandparents would take me on vacation to Victoria, BC. The highlight of the trip—for me, at least—was always a visit to Miniature World, an odd little museum tucked into the north wing of the Empress Hotel. There, I would race past dozens of dollhouses, castles and spaceships to the museum’s centrepiece, a giant model railroad. I liked it not for the trains, but for the cities: tiny recreations of everything from Victoria to Halifax, strung along the tracks like beads on a necklace.
My curiosity with models was revived last month by Naoya Hatakeyama’s exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Scales, which runs until February 3, 2008. Hatakeyama, a Japanese photographer whose work has dealt in large part with the relationship between nature and cities, was asked by the CCA in 2003 to turn his lens to three different scale models of New York and Tokyo. In the twenty-four photos that came out of the project, Hatakeyama questions, with curiosity and humour, the relationship between architecture, photography and our perceptions of reality.
Two of the models depict New York. One, found in the Windows of the World theme park in Shenzhen, China, is a strange, cartoonish vision of the city, a dilapidated landscape of crooked, colourful buildings. The model seems haphazardly constructed, like the set of a cheap disaster movie. In one photo, an approach to the Brooklyn Bridge abruptly ends in mid-air. The bridge itself is cracked and disjointed, cars scattered across it as if there had been a massive earthquake.
New York in Shenzhen’s Windows of the World
In sharp contrast to this is the model of New York found in Japan’s Tobu World Square—as detailed and realistic as Windows of the World is abstract. If you didn’t look too closely, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was the real New York. Hatakeyama, shooting in black and white, has created the illusion of reality, evoking the strongly-shadowed, iconic Manhattan of the imagination, or at least in the famous early twentieth century photos of Alfred Stieglitz.
The point here, however, is not to fool us, but to give us subtle hints that we are, in fact, looking at a model, an idealized vision of New York. Despite the cars and pedestrians on the streets, even the graffiti painstakingly drawn on the walls, there is a strange lifelessness about these buildings, their windows empty like dead eyes. In one shot, the side wall of the Plaza Hotel is inexplicably blank. In another, we see a ballcap-wearing man looming between skyscrapers like some bizarrely mundane giant.
Hatakeyama’s photos of the third model, an aerial view of a huge and incredibly detailed rendition of Tokyo, are presented as a black-and-white triptych. It’s hard to tell that the city depicted is not, in fact, the real thing.