Genesis by Sebastião Selgado is a big book by a master photographer. He spent eight years traveling the world to capture a huge amount of black & white photos. The book expresses the idea of the world after the creation in the book of Genesis. This world is wild and raw and varied.
Mr. Salgado was already known for traveling the world to capture amazing sights, presenting them in nuanced black & white. From the mining pits in Brazil to the oil workers in Kuwait after the first Gulf War, he has not shied away from difficult self-assignments. Somehow he manages to capture the sweat and the sweet of these environments of turmoil.
This book ranges all over the world – Antarctica, Patagonia, Madacasgar, the African plains, the American badlands, the ocean, the mountains, the marsh, the jungle, the river, the trees, the coast. There is danger and beauty. Above all there are layers and details. Although the concept of the book is the new world, what is shown is not new. Grand Canyon displays its depths. The gulls are established on the cliffs as are the crocodiles in the river and the penguins on the ice. Yet the photos show a clean place. This is a world without traces of history.
Part of this metaphor of the world after Genesis is the people that live simpler lives. Here too there are layers of detail and variety. The photos are similar to those Edward S. Curtis took of Native Americans in the early 1900s and even a bit of Irving Penn’s Dahomey. The photos are documentary but also warm to the subjects. There are no judgements or snarky winks or cloying sentimentality or charitable superiority. The tone is one human looking at another. It is fitting for Salgado to include photos of these people. There is grandeur and danger and curiosity and wonder, just as there is for the landscapes and animals and plants and ice. The planet earth is a marvel captured by a master with great depth.
I went to Joshua Tree National Park last week for the very first time. It was magical. It was hot and dry and very worthwhile.
Over the weekend, Totally Rad was one of the sponsors for an Instameet in La Jolla at the cove. We had sponsored a previous meet in Santa Monica, but I couldn’t get to that one. La Jolla Cove is nearby and I had the time and the inclination to do some photography, so I went.
What I found was surprising in a good way. Here were a bunch of mostly young people using digital tools in an interesting way. Instagram is part of the world of social media. But I use it just for photography and sharing photos and looking at photos. These people use it to be social. They meet new friends online via Instagram and then meet them in person at events like Instameets. For them, it is Facebook with cameras.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm. Mostly people are exploring fun ways to take photos of each other and document the whole event. This is lifestyle photography as a social interaction. So cool. So not what I had been expecting. As a maker of tools, I had been waiting for the time when I’d find out what new and different things the next generation did that was their own thing. This was a peek into that. People just being creative with what they have at their fingertips.
Of course, at the end of the day, I am more photographer than socializer. So my focus shifted back to what I wanted to do with my digital tools. The tide pools in La Jolla are a familiar place. So it was not too inspiring and was hard to find photos that I wanted. Even still, it is hard to beat a day of creativity and new experiences.
My artistic drive restarted about 12 years ago with figure and portrait drawing. I got my first digital camera around the same time, so it only made sense that at some point they’d converge. My drawing skills by that point were not improving, but my photographic skills were getting better and better. As I started looking into figurative and nude photography at the time, my eyes found the images of Mona Kuhn.
The casual posing of the subjects is immediately engaging. So is the realization that these people are completely comfortable in their own skin. This level of comfort and familiarity between the subjects and photographer was something new to me. Mona Kuhn’s body of work is more than just nudes. There is also the techniques she uses to create the images. She likes narrow depths of field, which render most of the figure as blurred abstracts, with slices of sharp detail.
Photo LA is a photo gallery show in Los Angeles each January. I could not make it the first year I heard of the show (I was probably too busy working at the time). Mona Kuhn’s debut as a fine art photographer was at that show. Her prints were selling for about $500 and her first book by Steidl had not been published yet. I did make it to the next year. By that time, it was too late. She’d been priced out of my budget for art. The print prices had quadrupled and more. Large, beautiful color prints were at several of the gallery booths (M+B Gallery and Flowers Galleries) at the show.
Mona Kuhn has pursed her interest in the figure. She has released a few more books. Each improves. With her photography, Mona Kuhn is exploring her own background, interests, and techniques. While in Brazil, she started adding more nature and environment images to the books, in addition to the nudes. “Bourdeaux Series” continues this exploration by setting all the figures in a room in Bourdeax, France and including images from around her rented place.
This book sits well on my shelves of photo books with her previous books. She does not seem as interested in narrow depths of field, but still captures images of people at home in their own skin. The nudes are casual and comfortable and beautiful in their ordinariness. Each could be someone you might know. My own efforts with the subject of the nude is different than Mona Kuhn’s, but her images have had a big impact on mine.