Sunday, April 01, 2007

Photography

On Wednesday of this week (today being Sunday) I saw the best art show I've ever seen in this city. Of course, this is Vancouver, and the beauty tends to be outdoors in mountains and the ocean, not indoors in galleries here. Nonetheless, I've never been more impressed by any show I've seen in this city in more than 30 years of visiting its galleries than the photography of Fred Herzog, currently on exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Before seeing Fred's photos, I visited the exhibition on the first floor, called Acting the Part. Staged photography. I'd seen a part of this show at the National Gallery in Ottawa in September. Then as now, what impressed me most was the film made of Las Maninas, called "89 seconds in Alcazar, 2004" the wondrous Velasquez painting in the Prado which was the highlight of my last trip to Europe. The film follows the actors (people, a dog) getting into position as if they were the King of Spain and his courtiers posing for Velasquez. Largely silent, except for the odd whisper, rustling of material and people moving around. I wondered what the film would mean to someone who'd never seen the painting. Probably not much.
There were a lot more staged photos in this show than its preview at the National Gallery. The 3D daguerrotypes from the 19th century I found particularly interesting. Warren Thompson's self portraits as an arab, a hunter and a thinker from 1855, the year my grandfather was born, flashed me back to his era, so long before the motion picture came into being. The 4-photo episode Little Red Riding Hood reminded me of little photo stories Fumiyo and I used to do in the 70s. Mrs. Turtledove's new French cook, from 1902, retains its hilarity over the generations.
The top floor has some abstract work by B.C. Binning. I assume BC doesnt stand for British Columbia. Colours screaming, shapes babbling like Alice in Wonderlands' Talking Cards. I exited quickly, downstairs into the Herzog show.
My first impression: what weird colours! He was shooting Kodachrome slides, not the usual black and white of art photography of the era. I wondered if Kodak hadn't perfected the film back in the 50s when Herzog started shooting. Reminded me of the images my parents took in that era with their movie camera- saturated colours that seem not of this earth, not lit by our sun. I'm not sure if I got used to the colours or the film got better in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes I'm not sure if the colours I'm looking at are a result of the film or the natural lighting of that distant era. There's a shot of two boys wearing red cowboy hats- must be moving cows on a different planet. A photo of an ocean liner called Princess Patricia 1967 evoked that scene in Fellini's Amacord where the townspeople go to see the visiting ship. Flaneur Granville 1960 is my fave. And then another shot is. And then another. It's like going to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. The word "favourite" no longer applies. The Marine Bldg? Best use of fog I've ever seen. And unlike Acting the Part, the fog wasnt produced just for the shot. The family on lawn, 1959 with the curious cat looking on is another I can strongly relate it. I'm continually amazed at his composition, yet none of this is staged. OK, these are chosen from 80,000 pix he's taken walking around Vancouver for more than half a century so of course we're only seeing the good ones. One shot of the orange facade of a downtown building and the orange front of an oncoming train against washed out, almost colourless scenery: CPR tracks 1971. The orange draws you in, as if it were an actual orange hovering before you as you starved. A mannekin wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and a hat and shades in a store window from 2006 shows that Herzog still has the eye. Maybe that's my favourite.
The National Film Board of Canada used to make great flicks. Particularly shorts. I'd heard of the flick Manufactured Landscapes, so I rented it last night. It went well with the Herzog show, as its opposite. The flicks starts with long, long shots inside and outside Chinese factories. Almost as boring to look at as it must be to work there. The flick follows a "famous" (why?) photographer, mostly in China, capturing landscapes altered by our hunger for energy and newness. Lots of mines, containers, ships being deconstructed in India, but mostly China. The bonus tracks to the DVD were much more enjoyable. No wonder I hadn't heard of anything or seen anything by our film board in decades. If this is the best they can do now, maybe they should take up something else instead of film making. Plumbing perhaps?

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