Alexandra Catiere

Here, Beyond the Mists

Essay by Natasha Christia

In the photography of Alexandra Catiere there is a subtle light burning, something akin to a frail but persistent memory that cannot be fully restored. Through these pictures, shot mainly in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, we encounter the remains of an agonising perception – unfinished and rapidly consumed. Something intrigues us to return to her work again and again, relentlessly trying to recover now what it felt like before, and yet also strangely as if felt for the first time. Like a speech running after the lights are dimmed, Catiere’s photographs trigger within us a sense of something irremediably lost but still somehow present. An abrupt flash-bolt, they mark a primal moment of photographic genesis, in which everything surges forth from the depths.

Catiere’s photographs carry the audacious transparency of a glance that announces its own partiality. Far from being instantaneous shots capturing merely the mundane aura of a city and its people, they are loaded with a timeless, dignifying gentleness that successfully bridges the space between wonder and understanding. In the image that introduces her only book to date, a truck abandons the scene, rendering as its sole protagonist a slender male figure. Ethereal and almost reduced to a black spot, the man counterbalances the emptiness of the composition while reinforcing, in his staunch immobility, the impression that the meaning infused in the picture – essentially metaphysical at heart – is in fact encountered elsewhere, outside the frame.

By the same token, doors and windows are frequently left half-open in Catiere’s photographs. There is always a way-out drawn by a photogenic light, a vanishing point that marks the path to a spiritual after-world beyond apparitions. In a good many portraits, the subjects appear as if they are on the verge of turning into somebody else. Or moreover their awkward poses suggest the possibility of an inner transformation. In the scenes of natural surroundings, the light mixes with the particles of the atmosphere, diluted amid the falling snowflakes that draw a profile of trees, humans and cityscapes. It is precisely this very moment, when the picture seems completely devoid of content, when its surface becomes an indefinable blank surface, that intrigues Catiere. Paradoxically, this moment of indecisiveness bestows upon us a reminiscence, only to take it away afterwards. It offers us the past as a coherent and plausible whole, but then dissolves it abruptly in the midst of the image, consumes it like a flame, leaving it incomplete, vague, mute.

The famous fog that lies like a blanket over the Saône river couldn’t be a better backdrop for the dreamful but contained imagery of Alexandra Catiere. Here, Beyond the Mists, the title chosen for the work, serves as an apt statement of purpose. Far from being mirrors of the world, her images are sparkles, fugitive apparitions. They are blank reflections of missing idols – of what we long for from the past but are unable to recover in the present; of something that, in its painstaking departure and absence, becomes properly ours. Loss is not the question here, nor is there space for drama or free melancholy. It is rather all about a sort of decaying vital information we carry in our genes and about what we can make of it.

Light burns everything in these pictures. Light as evoked in the darkrooms of the first pioneers, light as the mystic force of the first heliographic experiments and their alchemical processes; glass negatives, plates and contact sheets. Even so, this young artist does not stick to the rules for her prints do not seek perfection. On the contrary, as if by a series of deliberate accidents, they push the limits in terms of contrasts, tonality and nuances, fostering a manner of expression that is distinctly contemporary.

While informed by the subtle and intimate lexicon of black and white imagery, her pictures conjure a space devoid of solid statement. Eschewing creative ties and affinities with her generation, her works go further to integrating the old and the new into an unvarnished map of personal sensibility. Catiere approaches her subjects, but also maintains an honest distance from them. The encounter between the photographer and the world around her is an ephemeral celebration steeped in empathy and honest exchange.

As a result, Catiere recollects, through her imagery, diverse emotions and moods, constantly evoking the circles of life, birth, childhood and ageing. The way she chooses to conclude her book – from Burgundy, France she goes back referencing her hometown Minsk, Belarus – reinforces this feeling of integration to the chain of an ever-changing historical reality. On the last page her book we encounter a tiny image that shows the statue of Nicéphore Niépce at a distance. Lost in the mist, could this represent a last homage to one of the fathers of photography ahead of a future that will be distinct photographically? Or is it, perhaps, the tangible record of a reminiscence diluting in the passage of time?

By turns gentle and haunting, Catiere’s photography raises awareness of the fact that memories do decay and that they lose their original shape and coherence. All that is left is to look at and discover the beauty beyond the mists – a beauty, proper to the living, pure and immaculate at heart, that will stand over the patina of time.

Born in 1978 in Minsk, Belarus, Alexandra Cartiere initially began experimenting with photography at Minsk State Linguistic university. As encouraged by her mentor Youi Kuper, Cartiere moved to New York in 2003 to complete a certificate programme at the International Centre of Photography. She then worked as an assistant to internationally renowned photographer Irving Penn.

In 2005, Cartiere was listed as one of the twenty most promising emerging photographers in New York, and as a result participated in the Art & Commerce Festival, a travelling exhibition that began its tour in D.U.M.B.O, NYC. Since then, Cartiere has been named as an emerging star of International Photography in American Photo magazine, 2005, and exhibited at photography festivals in France, Japan, Italy and Spain. In 2006 she received a Silver Camera award from the Moscow House of Photography.

In 2009, Pobeda Gallery, Moscow, presented the work of Cartiere at Paris Photo and went on to showcase her new series at VOLTA6 in Basel in 2010. Cartiere was the artist chosen for the first BMW residency, a liaison established between BMW Art & Culture and the Museum Nicéphore Niépce in France. The work produced here, with the support of the museum, alongside a publication published by Trocadéro Editions, was featured most recently at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2012. In addition to her art practice, Cartiere works as a fashion photographer, and has had her photography featured in Dazed & Confused, Liberty Magazine, The New Yorker and T Magazine (The New York Times).

All images courtesy of the artist. © Alexandra Catiere

Paul Graham

The Present

Special book review by Gerry Badger

How do you follow a shimmer of possibility, rightly voted the best photobook of the last twenty-five years at Paris Photo 2011. The truth is, you cannot, but Paul Graham is obliged to, or give up making books. It is unfair to bring the question up, but life is unfair. However, I shall try not to compare The Present with shimmer. I shall try to review the new book as if the last one never happened, although the odd reference might be necessary, particularly as they form part of Graham’s American book ‘trilogy.’

What have you got with The Present, a much anticipated volume? We have an exploration of certain questions that have occupied Paul Graham before, both photography’s relationship with time, that is, the ‘present’, and the nature of photographic narrative, or in this case, with non-narrative, as Graham would have it.

The premise behind The Present is nominally simple enough. The book consists of pairs, sometimes trios of pictures taken on the streets of New York, the images in each group taken more or less simultaneously, one a few seconds after another. None of the photographs could be described as ‘decisive moments’ in the street photography sense, where every element of the image is in perfect synchronisation, thereby creating a formal, if not an actual drama. Of course, his pictures are moments, and certainly decisive because the photographer has captured them, and more importantly selected them, but in imagistic terms Graham is aiming at a kind of divine ordinariness.

And in so doing, he is implicitly critiquing the decisive moment mode. Not for him the fake theatricality of the perfect street shot, which, as Lincoln Kirstein (back in 1938) believed “sensationalises movement, distorts gesture, and caricatures emotion.”

The Present is not about how traditional street photography freezes life and creates drama where in essence there is none, but is about the experience of the street, in particular how the process of seeing and comprehending things on the street can be represented more faithfully in photographs.

For example, take the book’s opening diptych. We are about to cross Delancy Street, in downtown Manhattan. We cannot see the other side of the street because a large truck delivering Heineken beer has paused, straddling the pedestrian crossing and obscuring the view. A moment later, the truck has cleared, but smaller vehicles have taken its place. The crossing is still physically blocked, but the view uptown to a distant Empire State Building has been opened up.

That is the picture’s substance – a view uptown is blocked and then cleared. Actually this is probably the most ‘dramatic’ image pair in the book. Most feature one or two figures who come into focus or disappear in the next picture, to be replaced by another – or not as the case may be. The groups are taken at the same location, but each time the viewpoint shifts subtly, as if we are walking along, and the various figures move in and out of our notice, just as they do as we encounter them in actuality.

But why not make a short movie sequence to recreate this kind of city experience? Asked this by Liz Jobey in The Financial Times, Graham replied that “a lot of film, I find, is neutered by the tyranny of narrative”, the necessity to have ‘a storyline.’

Here, Graham is perhaps being a little disingenuous. I know what he means, but if you put two photographs together, you inevitably create, or at least hint at a narrative. I have written above that we were about to cross Delancy Street in Graham’s diptych. We weren’t. There is nothing, beyond the hint of the pedestrian crossing, to suggest that. I have projected my own narrative on to the two pictures.

A photographer cannot stop that, nor should he. But what Paul Graham is exploring here, is a fragmentary, illusory, highly elliptical kind of narrative, almost a non-narrative. He always has. His photobooks, from New Europe onwards, could be said to be about the poetics of narrative rather than narrative itself. He certainly is no straightforward ‘story-teller.’

The overwhelming intent in The Present is to describe experience and its photographic description in a fresh way – undramatic, but true to how we comprehend the street. I am actually standing at a London bus-stop as I write this. People are walking past me. I look up briefly from my notebook and I catch a glimpse of them, or I look down again and they pass by in a blur of peripheral vision. Graham has caught that feeling. It might not be spectacular, or even pretty, but it is true.

However, I suspect that in a gallery, it is a different matter. In an interview posted on his website, Graham talked about the nature of photography versus photographic ‘art.’ And, whilst not denying the “big bang for your bucks” impact of the large single picture – the Gursky syndrome – he pleaded for the more modest art of Robert Adams, the sequence, and the photobook.

But Graham has done both – the book and the wall, so to speak. And this, I feel, is the real difference between shimmer and The Present. I have seen shimmer in both its manifestations, and while those sequences work on a wall, for me shimmer is first and foremost a bookwork. I did not see The Present exhibition, but my New York spies tell me that the prints were large and spectacular, confirming what I suspected from the book. With large printed diptychs, one would have a better chance to get ‘inside’ these pictures and ‘inhabit’ their spaces, thereby obtaining a fuller sense of the visual and psychological experiences they are conveying.

That conjuring up of lived experience is what the best photography aspires to do, to be about both how we exist in the world and about picture making. The second is as important as the first. When asked once why he took photographs, Garry Winogrand replied, “to get my rocks off.” Paul Graham tries to do this in every project he tackles, the ratio of the first impulse to the second differing each time.

Ok – to come back to being unfair. The Present might not be another shimmer of possibility, but it is still better than at least 95% of the photobooks published this year.

Paul Graham, born in 1956, was among the first photographers to unite contemporary colour photography with the documentary genre in the 1980’s. His early works, including A1 – The Great North Road, Beyond Caring, and Troubled Land were pivotal in reinvigorating and expanding this area of photographic practice, by both broadening it’s visual language, and questioning how such photography might operate.

In 2002 Graham completed a shimmer of possibility, which went on to be voted the best photobook of the last 25 years at Paris Photo 2011, and is the second instalment of Graham’s American trilogy which also includes American Night and The Present.

Graham’s work has been published, exhibited and collected internationally and he has received numerous awards including the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2009 and the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2012. He is represented by Pace MacGill (USA), Anthony Reynolds Gallery (UK), Les Filles du Calvaire (France), Carlier | Gebauer (Germany) and La Fábrica Galería (Spain). Graham lives and works in New York City.

All images courtesy of MACK. © Paul Graham

Esther Teichmann

Drinking Air, and Mythologies

Interview by Brad Feuerhelm

Brad Feuerhelm: Could you explain to us your process as it revolves around the ephemeral additions to the work. Do you reference images from eighteenth and nineteenth century French schools of paining? I see a beautiful symmetry between you, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Yet, I also have a feeling of loss when I turn from your work. Is this a projected issue of mine, or does the fictional/non-representative slough of images best sum up these aspects of the viewer’s projection? Are you my remote viewer when you make these images?

Esther Teichmann: Usually I do not refer directly to reference material and I have not really worked directly from specific works. In the recent artist book I worked on, Drinking Air, I included material that I am influenced by, pairing images afterwards and playing with juxtapositions.

All my work is set within a fictional space, which is closer to how I see the world with closed eyes. Whether within the studio, in sets or in bedrooms, or even jungles – all the spaces have the magical feeling of the tents children build, light filtering through coloured blankets transforming reality. The spaces inhabited within the films and images are womb-like liquid spaces of night, moving from beds to swamps and caves, from the mother to the lover in search of a primordial return. In some way, all the images are more about myself than the subjects depicted – they are always bodies I desire, bodies close to me, whether family, lovers or friends. The lover and the artist turn their beloved, their subject, into an object, and within this shift a kind of violence occurs, complicating this meeting further, drawing the other, now object, into an auto-erotic, fetishistic relationship. The condition of artist and lover is one of projection, of idealised and imaginary, narcissistic image; this representation is now one’s ‘truth’, the imagined and real no longer separable.

I am drawn to works, which explore human relationships and look at desire and loss as bound to one another. I am fascinated by what we can never know about the bodies and subjects we desire, about the mother and lovers’ lives before we knew them, and the people they are when not with us – it is within this context that I am interested in the fantasy of the other. Throughout my practice there is the slippage and confusion between loving an image, a fantasy in place of it’s subject. It is the violence, the shame and the necessity of momentarily putting the work, the image, before the person, that haunts me repeatedly. For an instance I love and need the image so much more than this other standing before me – it is their image I am grasped by, their image I am transfixed and engulfed by as they themselves recede, becoming invisible. This very gentle undoing of the other, of transforming them into image and object, is a demand for them to give themselves up to me and to the image.

BF: Can you elaborate whether your interest in photography is specific to the medium? And why? I know you also make video, which in some way, I believe relates directly to the still image in your work. The film is very still, and has these lucid and dark moments in twilight or dusk culled from the edge of sleep or the liminal spaces between. The videos certainly have the sense of static from a still, yet underneath is this continual pulse. It is a quiet pulse, but it lives differently. Can you explain the shift to film works? It suggests a certain sort of narrative development perhaps more obtuse in the still works from Drinking Air.

ET: My relationship to the photographic image, whether still or moving, is less connected to the idea of delivering transparency or of a copy, rather, the camera and image function here as metaphors for subjectivity, memory and desire. The real is transformed from one thing into another in a magical totemistic process, fracturing any claims of the photograph as evidence. Momentarily photography delivers the perhaps universal and timeless desire to become one with another, sought within the lovers’ embrace. I fall into the image, into the projected, miniature crystalline glow of the body I will lose.

The apparatus makes this possible, makes loving pictures and picturing love a vertiginous extended moment of absolute proximity and distance at once. Image has replaced the actual loved body, flesh fallen away in place of this more exhilarating fiction. Photography here is an apparatus of fan­tasy driven by desire; the desire of the artist, the subject and the viewer. Within this story (within the film) and these images of love, the work of art remains within a perpetual process of becoming, the bodies of desire never quite imaged or captured, forever eluding the present, always already lost.

In my sketchbooks I have always written fictional texts alongside the image making, and drew on top of and extensions of the photographs to plan further set constructions and new images, then realized this was as much the work as the ‘final image’, so began including reference material, collages, etchings and painting into photographs and film pieces with voice-over narratives in my process. This crossover between the photographic and other media is something I have always worked with and perhaps is a reflection of the works I am drawn to and look at within my research.

BF: A sense of femininity also pervades the work. Would it be possible to draw a line between the themes of ageing, mothers, and environment? The matriachical figures seem to be the most comforting, the least ominous, the least directed of your sitters. Is this interpretation of clarity within the mother figure something you intended on?

ET: The maternal body as lover, as home and origin echoes throughout the work, at times almost invisibly, yet is always there. The mother’s and lover’s bodies evoke the illusion, that to survive without the existence of the other would be an impossibility. Both bodies remind us precisely of our own separateness; exactly at the point of contact with the other, we become most acutely aware of our own skin, our own boundaries. These ideas of an impossible return, of grief and a sense of inherited homesickness, return us to the womb, to the original home of mother and beyond. This image of otherness hails the maternal as an image of escape, a place to travel to: backwards and towards.

BF: Speaking of origins and the idea of all things returnal, could you give us some insight into your own family and beginnings?

ET: I grew up in Weingarten, a village in southern Germany in the Rhine valley near the French border. My mother is American, my father German – they still live in the same house we were born and grew up in. Both were academics although not within the arts (literature and engineering), so our house is filled with books and we didn’t have a TV (quite tragic for a child when everyone else does). Reading was one of my escapes from the world, as was cinema which I went to often from an early age with family or friends, (as well as swimming, saunas, spending days and evenings at the lake with my best friend floating on lilos and talking for hours, dancing, driving through the night with my high school lover).

Our house is a big renovated farmhouse in southern Germany with lots of open space and a barn and workshop with endless material to work with. My mother loves restoring furniture and saves everything, so all sorts of broken things were rescued and dragged into the house, making for great props for building structures. I used to make things from the remnants on the floor in my father’s workshop. I still love looking through the cloth trunks and cellar to find props for shoots. You can endlessly rediscover forgotten things. My sisters and I are really close and we always slept in one bed in my little sister’s room (even though we each had our own room). They now have children of their own and are incredibly open and generous with making me a part of their experiences of motherhood, which has been an incredible part of the last few years, an intensity of love which is so unexpected and overwhelming. The physical relationship to them and to my mother, and the slippage between being mother, lover and sister is present within all my work. I go back to my hometown regularly and make part of my work there, using the swamp and cave landscape as a backdrop to stage narratives within.

Esther Teichmann was born in Germany in 1980. She was listed in Art Review’s top 25 artists in 2005, the same year that she received a MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art where she later completed a PhD project. She currently lives and works in London as a senior lecturer at the London College of Communication/University of the Arts London.

Teichmann’s work has been exhibited and published both within the UK and internationally. She has had group exhibitions in London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Mannheim and Modena, as well as solo shows in the UK, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. Her photographs have appeared in ArtReview, Bedeutung, Dazed & Confused, The Guardian, Wallpaper*, Time Out, Source, O32C amongst many others. Her work has also been featured in Francesca Gavin’s book, 100 New Artists, published in English by Laurence King and in Germna by Prestl Verlag and she has just published her first monograph, a limited edition book titled Drinking Air.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Esther Teichmann

Regine Petersen

Stars Fell on Alabama

Essay by Lucy Davies

Stars Fell on Alabama is the first chapter in Regine Petersen’s series on meteorites, titled Find a Falling Star. It is a configuration of archive press cuttings, eye witness reports, interview transcripts, genealogy and found images, fleshed out with quiet, contemplative photographs taken in the field.

She began the project in 2009, having chanced on the story of the Hodges meteorite. What began as an investigation into a single stone, though, has branched into a lightning rod touching memory, history, magic and mortality; human relationships and religion; race, slavery and colonialism. It also considers the practice of storytelling itself – whether an author/photographer can tell a story without casting their own shadow over its content.

Meteorites are pieces of asteroid, leftovers from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. They are highly prized by scientists, who find in their solid, iron and stone mass clues to the infant universe. Of the several thousand that make the fiery plunge to earth each year, most are lost in the sea. Others become cosmic dust and disperse, but each year a great number make contact with the ground. Most fall without consequence. Most that is, not all.

On 30 September 1954, an eight pound meteorite fell on a house in Sylacauga, Alabama. It crashed through the roof, bounced off a console radio and hit 31 year old Ann Elizabeth Hodges on the hip while she was napping on her sofa. A photograph from the time included in Petersen’s anthology shows the woman with two policemen. Her brow is furrowed, her hands nervous, and no wonder. As well as extensive bruising, the incident brought a Special Forces investigation to her door, a flurry of media attention, a bidding war, a lawsuit, divorce, betrayal and a breakdown. This is the event on which Petersen’s project pivots, although as we shall see, its remit is much wider.

The rock, still boasting the tar it picked up en route through the roof, now resides in the Alabama Museum of Natural History, where Petersen travelled as part of her research. The curator removed it from the glass case. “He said ‘you can touch it, you can take it in your hands’ and I knew he was looking at me and I thought, I have to feel something now, I have to connect to the history of things, and it was just impossible. Later though, when I photographed it, it was quite different,” Petersen explains.

Petersen has compiled eyewitness accounts from the time, detailing bright flashes and fireballs smoke, television interference and bicycle accidents. In Phoenix City a woman thought it was a flying saucer: she “saw a man get out of it.” The disparity that exists between these reports is something that came to fascinate her. “People misremember. It all starts with an idealised story that sounds a little bit like a fairy-tale and then you go below the surface and it gets more and more complicated.”

She also includes the transcript of an interview with Ann Elizabeth’s husband, conducted in 2005. Eugene Hulitt Hodges was out when the rock hit his white-frame house, and returned to find some 200 reporters on the scene. He spent months fighting his landlady in court after she sued for possession. Collectors lost interest, so he used it as a doorstop for a while, then Ann Elizabeth donated it to the museum, against his wishes. They divorced a few years later, both citing the meteorite as primary cause.

In the transcript, Eugene is questioned about the events. The interlocutor, ‘Bill’, is visibly massaging his subject’s answers, disagreeing with him: “The way I remember you telling me is…Here’s what I remember…Here’s what I know and you tell me…”

‘Bill’, though, had a motive. He wanted to make a film, but the catchy plot he wanted wasn’t what Eugene remembered. “I had the feeling he wanted to direct the events,” says Petersen. “But I’m not critical. I’m in the same position: I want to make a story, to find out what happened, but I learned it’s absolutely impossible. People forget a lot and they idealise a lot.”

To compensate, Petersen decided she needed to find truths of her own first hand, with her camera. She photographed the muddy earth of the impact site. She rented a car and drove to Talladega forest, the local junkyard, defunct marble quarries. Sylacauga is known as ‘Marble City’ and huge chunks lie everywhere in the dust. “I liked the idea of the two coming together; the thing from space and the marble from the earth,” she says.

Strange things began to happen. On the day she visited the cemetery to find Eugene’s grave (he had died two weeks before she came to Alabama) men were assembling his gravestone. Ghostly patterns appeared in the depths of the forest. When she visited an old slave plantation a dog with one blue eye and one brown came out of nowhere and sat in front of her. “The photographs I took are like apparitions. It felt like everything just came towards me of its own accord.”

The day following the Hodges incident, a 60 year old farm hand named Julius McKinney discovered a second fragment of the meteorite in the middle of a dirt road. His mule shied away from it, and in the dark he thought it was a snake and left it alone. It wasn’t until he heard about Ann Elizabeth Hodges that he retrieved it, but because he was black, and this was Alabama, and the Civil Rights Act was still a decade away, he hid the rock under his bed, frightened he wouldn’t be allowed to keep it.

Several months later he told his postman, the only ‘official’ person he knew. He arranged for McKinney to meet a geologist, who in turn helped arrange a sale to the Smithsonian. The money furnished McKinney with enough to buy a farm and a car outright.

Petersen includes cuttings from the Ironwood Daily Globe, and Avondale Sun, the last including a photograph of the McKinney family, with the “black-colored pearl”. She also includes a photograph of the original negative, retouched crudely by the newspaper with white paint to cover the extreme poverty the McKinney’s lived in. In 1954 Alabama, people liked their reality watered down.

Also included are accounts from an 1833 fall large enough to be visible all over America, including Alabama. “I like these layers of history,” says Petersen. Prophet Joseph Smith recalls “the long trains of light… like serpents writhing…it seemed as if the artillery and fireworks of eternity were set in motion to enchant and entertain the Saints, and terrify and awe the sinners of the earth.” A slave recalls her “tellin’ some of the slaves who their mothers and fathers was, and who they’d been sold to and where…they thought it was Judgement Day.”

It is the way in which Petersen’s work swings gently between religion, science and superstition that provides the golden thread binding it together. Her own magical thinking for example, or Julius McKinney believing “the Lord gave [the meteorite] to me” and a postcard sent to Ann Elizabeth Hodges from a church in Bellevue, Kentucky pleading for the rock. Inserted between Petersen’s photographs of anthills and cotton plants and discarded snapshots in the dirt are scientific images of planetary bodies far away in the night sky, as she switches ably back and forth between microcosm and macrocosm. The fragility of human life in the face of the cosmos lurches into view.

Next, Petersen will travel to Calcutta, where a collection of meteorites has been kept hidden for years after locals tired of seeing their space loot packed off to the Natural History Museum during the years of the Raj. She has already been to a town in Westphalia, Germany where three children witnessed a fall in the 1950s.

Petersen has no idea how far the project will take her. One thing is certain, she has rich pickings ahead. It’s impossible not to be fascinated by these stories, which contain as much rich detail about human fallibility as the rocks contain about the beginning of the universe. “I don’t think my friends feel the same,” says Petersen. After all these years, they say ‘Ah, the meteorites again.’”

Born in 1976, Hamburg, Regine Petersen received a Diploma in Communication Design & Photography at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg in 2006, and went on to graduate from the MA Photography course at the Royal College of Art in 2009. Petersen has had her work exhibited internationally including at the House of Photography, Hamburg; Museum Folkwang, Essen; James Hyman Gallery, London; and Aperture Gallery, New York.

Her most recent and ongoing project Find a Falling Star, has been nominated for the National Media Museum First Book Award this year. It was exhibited in 2011 at the Lunar Planetary Lab in Arizona, complimenting the Southwest Meteorite Collection; at Galerie Jo van de Loo, Munich; and most recently at the B2 Institute, Oracle, USA with Geoff Notkin.

Petersen’s work has been featured in publications such as Photographies, Material and Camera Austria, and she one the National Media Museum Bursary. She was a finalist of the Saatchi New Sensations Prize 2009, and has most recently received funding from the Arts Council Hamburg, as well as been shortlisted for The Discovery Award as part as Les Rencontres d’Arles 2012.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Regine Petersen

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Stirring Around in a Discordant Cabinet of Curiosities

(Inte)review by Anouk Kruithof

Anouk Kruithof: On a high wooden table something small and cute attracted me and drove me towards it. It was a little book wrapped in semi-transparent pink paper, inviting to be unpacked. The high table was part of the furniture at TEMPORARY OFFICE in Arles, France, which was a gathering space organised by Self Publish, Be Happy, The British Journal of Photography Journal and Hard Copy. This temporary office functioned as a venue for presenting new publications and organising lectures around photobook-making and publishing. I started unwrapping and what appeared was a small mint-green cardboard booklet bound with black tape with an actual polaroid placed on the cover.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin: This mint-green colour has followed us around. It’s a particularly South African colour. Many of the homes in the countryside were painted partly in this colour. It’s also the colour of prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Both places we’ve spent time in for professional and non-professional reasons.

AK: The Polaroid contained an image of two hands making some gesture. With both hands I was holding the book, touching it, turning it around. It felt like an object; the physicality became stronger by taking out the Polaroid, which was a queer experience. My hands mingled with the two hands on the image. It was almost like making contact with a book in a human way. Wonderful. Underneath the Polaroid you find a hidden phrase of Fernando Pessoa “If the heart could think it would stop beating?”

AB & OC: This is something like when you have those tiny moments of lucidity and everything feels like a foolish and pointless charade. Those moments freeze you up in horror. Luckily they pass and you’re able to carry on.

AK: The nicely printed and perfectly bounded little Polaroid book made in collaboration with Bruno Ceschel is the first edition of the SPBH bookclub, which offers a series of three photobooks per year, made exclusively for its members. Each volume contains a series of never-seen-before photographs. In this case, excluding the Polaroid on the cover there are 59 of those hidden treasures. I thought about Polaroids naturally often being untitled. Can you describe them in one word?

AB & OC:

1. Whiteness
2. Rose
3. Bambi
4. Aunty Ethny
5. Dead
6. Drawing
7. Child
8. Army studio
9. Mother
10. Jewish transvestite
11. Image of a nation

AK: Nelson Mandela laughing. Nelson Mandela’s image is always very powerful. In this image you observe the lack of proper construction in glaring contrast with the laughter, which makes it so excitatory, for that I need more than one word please….

AB & OC: Mandela’s wax limbs were being cleaned when we came into the Museum to Apartheid, which is a scrappy little place in the corner of the largest casino in South Africa. The image of Mandela is sacred property, and also closely controlled by the country’s copyright laws. So this image really disturbed South Africans, perhaps because it alludes to the faltering mechanics that have emerged in post-apartheid society. Mandela’s legacy is not entirely secure in a country reeling from waves of violent xenophobia and electrical outages. In the UK the Observer Magazine were planning to run it on their cover, but it was pulled at the last minute. Perhaps it just felt too transgressive.

12. A meter
13. Lights
14. Flowers
15. Immigrants
16. Bones
17. Her bones
18. Singer
19. Gabriel Orozco’s head
20. First Aid
21. White dog
22. Blue bomb
23. Yellow bomb

AK: The spread with Polaroid number 22 and 23 is extremely alarming because of the shuffle in seductive aesthetics and Thespian content. I set my eyes on two sculptural bread-houses. I am thinking of rocks, bunkers, German-healthy-but-too-heavy-to-carry-bread. While I am aware it’s a suicide bomb from the Chicago series.

AB & OC: We were feeling like counter insurgents in a wasp’s nest.

24. Bad idea
25. Another bad idea
26. Ceiling
27. A moral dilemma
28. An actor
29. Women
30. Boy
31. Painter
32. Still life
33. Prisoner
34. Girl
35. Dark girl
36. Heroin
37. Heroin
38. Vertigo
39. No. 10
40. Anthropology
41. Claustrophobia
42. Fig
43. Guardians against evil
44. Jaguar
45. Inventor of mobile phones
46. Cul de Sac
47. Lilies
48. Lights
49. A pact with the devil
50. Cul de sac
51. Kevin
52. Man
53. Portrait
54. Reproductive organs
55. Home
56. Face
57. Mask
58. Neck
59. Prison studio

AK: As well as the images inside, there’s also the actual unique Polaroid on the cover. The edition is 250, which means in the case of this book there are 250 different Polaroid’s of ‘situations’ with those two hands. Within the context of your work I immediately started thinking about what these gestures of the hands would mean? Maybe there is a secret message behind them in some sort of sign language which would only reveal itself, when you place all 250 books next to each other in a long line through the picturesque streets of Arles? It’ll stay as a shiver of possibilities, because the distribution of the publication by the bookclub scatters the answer behind the secret ‘hands’ Polaroid collection in the universe of the different owners i.e bookclub members.

AB & OC: Together all the books would make a zoo or impossible creatures. Something like a Borgesian nod.

AK: The idea of Bruno Ceschel, founder of SPBH, is that the books flowing out of its book club must be very intimate, experimental and off-beat. Something like a little secret. I know you both agreed on this idea and therefore this book is prosperous. To me this is a memoire of loose fragments of your close collaboration, the travels you made, the interaction with the encounters you had. It’s lovely and, at the same time, an obscure cabinet of curiosities. Because of it’s mystery it makes your brain expand and tickles your emotions. But on the other hand, it is also just another book with images in it, which is contradictory with the project-based conceptual works from recent years. It feels less anonymous, less objective. Even self-portraits and your own body parts play a role in this book…

AB & OC: It’s true that this is our least conceptual book. And we also allow some of our personal experience in – there is a Polaroid of Adam’s mother included. And we appear too. In the past we have resisted this. In part because there’s two of us and we’ve prized the anonymity. There is never any sense of who took which picture, and it’s never mattered much to us. That’s still the case. But with the Polaroids it was different because they contain traces of us; we used each other to test lighting and trial ideas. So this part couldn’t be surgically removed. The green portraits were taken in a hotel room in Madrid after smoking a gram of heroine.

AK: If you consider writing an (Inte)review as akin to preparing a dish, here are three ingredients: Book+Polaroid+SPBH. I just need some assistance with stirring.


AB & OC: For a long time, the book was the goal. In our minds images lived on pages.


AB & OC: For over ten years the Polaroid functioned in exactly this way for us: As an exchange, a physical exchange, we quite literally left a trail of Polaroids behind us wherever we went (actually not always because we’d often get attached to them). But the function of the Polaroid was more than this, more than a gift. It offered the possibility of Feedback – a phrase developed by Jean Rouch, the French ethnographer and film-maker. Rouch made his ethnographic films in collaboration with his subjects. He refused to uphold the traditional hierarchy of power between the observer and the observed. Once he had produced a first edit of a film, it would be screened on location and comments would be incorporated into subsequent edits. It was not a token gesture towards collaboration. His films evolved out of this process of feedback and discussion. Likewise we have used Polaroids in this way, to break down the one-way flow of power between us and our subjects. But there is a flip side to the story, because the Polaroid also robs us of something precious, which is blindness and the possibility of accident. In May we visited a remote part of the rainforest in Gabon, central Africa, in order to observe a pygmy village perform a traditional ‘eboga’ initiation. Perform is probably the wrong word, because despite the use of masks and costumes, these initiations bear little relation to the notion of theatre. We didn’t have Polaroid, or even a digital camera, and therefore couldn’t share our pictures at the time. And this made the whole process much more opaque. There was no hope for feedback. But that blindness was also refreshing. The process and the results are somehow more threatening and more mysterious.


AB & OC: If anything the self publishing phenomenon suffers from an acute case of nostalgia; many of these projects could quite easily be websites, or something else that we haven’t discovered yet instead. Their bookness feels arbitrary.

AK: I have some difficulties with the side effects of the Polaroid. Let’s call it ‘romantic blemish’, because it’s too easy and too beautiful. I think you do too.

AB & OC: Polaroids do produce their own category of errors and it’s certainly possible to fetishise this, which is less interesting.

AK: But let’s end this interview with the urge of this book and dank je wel for your collaboration.

AB & OC: This book is a simple goodbye to a material, a process, a smell we used to live with every day and no longer have. It’s a small selection of a much larger archive of our Polaroids, many of which were made as tests rather than finished images. This archive of unfinished images is now complete, because we no longer use this technology. There is an emphasis right now on the photograph as object – and Polaroids – being Things – resonate. But that’s not where we are coming from exactly with this book. It also co-incides with our interest in ‘process’, which is in partly the theme of our next show. The unfinished, damaged, poorly exposed, poorly composed poorer sister to the final product just feels a hundred percent more engaging; this unfinished quality gets so much closer to an authentic experience, and the messiness of our ideas.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin are South-African born, London-based artists who together produce photographic work that explores the documentary and ethnographic traditions of photography. They regularly teach workshops and give master classes, as well as lecturing on the MA in Documentary Photography at LCC in London.They are the recipients of numerous awards, including the Vic Odden Award from the Royal Photographic Society and continue to works for a number of magazines including The Guardian Weekend and The Telegraph Magazine.

Broomberg and Chanarin have produced nine monographs to date, their most recent being War Primer 2 (2011), published by MACK Books. The pair have exhibited within numerous group shows, including at Saatchi Gallery, London; FOAM, Amsterdam; and at the Les Rencontres d’Arles, France. They have also had solo exhibitions at Paradise Row, Dusseldorf and London (2012, 2011); Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg (2011); and at Photomonth, Krakow (2007). A forthcoming exhibition of their work, ‘To photograph the details of a dark horse in low light’ will be on display at Paradise Row, London from 12 September to 25 October, 2012.

Their work is represented in major public and private collections internationally, including at The National Portrait Gallery, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, International Center of Photography, New York, Musee de l’Elysee, Switzerland, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Saatchi Gallery, London. Between them, they also sit on the Board of Trustees at Photoworks and The Photographers’ Gallery, London.

All images courtesy of Self Publish, Be Happy. © Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Eva Stenram


Exhibition review by Louise Clements

Parc des Ateliers, Arles, France
02.07.12 – 23.09.12

One of the highlights of my visits to Les Rencontres d’Arles is the section of the festival dedicated to the Discovery Award exhibitions, housed in the giant, dusty, former train sheds of Parc des Ateliers. For ten years Maya Hoffman’s LUMA Foundation has supported both this prize and the Contemporary and Historical Book Awards. Focused on photographers or artists making use of photography it is selected by a different jury of five individuals from different photographic fields every year, who nominate three artists each to exhibit their work as potential candidates. Their selection of work is not always new to the field but does often serve to highlight a zeitgeist or status quo in contemporary photographic practice in as much as it mirrors what those particular photography professionals are most enamoured by at that time. The jury’s criteria is to nominate ‘work that has been recently discovered internationally or deserves to be’. Each photographer has a separate area to exhibit their work and the festival audiences at the opening week are invited to vote on who deserves the 25,000 € prize which is later awarded in the Roman outdoor ‘théâtre antique’ to sell out audiences near to 10,000 people. The anticipation and discussions around who is the most deserving nominee is part of the Arles opening week experience. It stimulates debate and facilitates the formation of often polar opposite opinions on what contemporary photography practice is relevant reference today.

Anticipation was one of the one of the most arresting aspects of a series of works nominated by Olivier Richon, Professor of Photography at the Royal College of Art, by Eva Stenram titled – Drape. Introducing the work in his curatorial statement, Richon writes: “Eva Stenram works with photographic images conceptually, paying attention to what forms an image. The digital is a tool for reading and reappraising an analogue image. She reveals aspects of the picture that have been overlooked. She occludes the main subject of the image in order to produce a contemporary version of Parrhasius’s veil, where bodies are either erased or partially concealed. Neither collage nor montage, the photograph here becomes a new keyhole that triggers our desire to see.”

Vintage, pin-up photos are the inspiration and direct material for the series, the title of which, Drape, interprets the work in relation to the subjects in the images – the women who literally drape themselves around the set but also in terms of the curtains that conceal them. All of the images are subtle,black and white interiors shot in a similar style with each woman, or so we assume, positioned in front of a window. The artist’s intervention in the image is to extend the curtains to conceal the head and torso. The images remind me in someway of certain works by Louise Bourgeois, namely the disaggregation of body parts, controlling the material and the information that is exposed. They especially recall her drawings where she would combine half woman-half house, a birdcage with legs and so on.

Stenram deliberately focuses on the lower body or arms while removing the reciprocal gaze from the subject by veiling the head and torso. Through the impossibility of eye contact we are free to leer, unmediated as voyeurs. We can survey the details in each image unencumbered by conscious relations or responsibility to the other, thereby objectifying the body and the potential for fetishism. Simple graphic and inanimate hands, feet, ankles become more tantalising when isolated for examination.

The square format images in Drape are reproduced and manipulated, re-appropriated from the analogue original to develop additional layers of meaning. They reconfigure the structure of the image, reducing the information and shielding like in a strip tease, almost playfully censoring the once naked body, which is enveloped by the new digital curtain. Lack, according to Lacan, is always related to desire and is what causes it to arise. The relational psychological effect of the objectification of the body can be read in many directions; Lacan’s theory on the gaze explores the idea that the subject loses some degree of autonomy upon realising that he or she is a visible object. But the images are vintage, re-appropriated by an artist and the individuals remain anonymous. So where does that leave us?

Francis Hodgson, Photographic critic at The Financial Times, also highlights another subtle contradiction that is present in her work. In his paper, he writes that the work is “gently feminist, as if it were an attempt many years later to undo the presumed exploitation of the models.” He goes on to add: “Yet, at the same time, we can see that these pictures replace one kind of teasing by another: we can’t quite see, we want to peer. We want, in effect, to peek under the newly enlarged curtains a bit.”

With theatrical wit we are made to wait uselessly for the performer to come out from behind the curtain, to fulfil desires, to meet our gaze. However, as much as we desire this unveiling it remains unrequited thus we are left satiated by the image itself, examining each fold in the fabric, the partially covered body and its shadow beneath. The subjects are set in domestic space, perhaps alluding to 1950s or 1960s’ interiors, with deliberately posed models in classical, confident postures and with groomed bodies. Quite different to the images later associated with the home, of bored housewives and readers’ wives. These women confidently perform for the camera in a set with banal décor.

Stenram’s work differs from other collage that often mixes with the unfamiliar to create unusual collisions of form and content. These images are extended within themselves to conceal information and reduce the exposure of the subject. The manipulations are sophisticated, clear in their precision and reproduction of the material. Physically and tonally, they are convincing whilst subtly surreal. The lengthening of the curtains offers a simulacrum, a likeness, a representation through photography, which in itself is a copy of the real. Jean Baudrillard famously explained that a simulacrum is not only a copy of the real, but can be a truth in its own right, the hyperreal. Stenram’s hand in the image creates a rupture in the scene – a glitch that develops an uneasiness. It disrupts our belief in the image, but makes it no less believable.

Born in Sweden, Eva Stenram studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art. She has exhibited internationally, including shows at the V&A Museum, Zendai Museum of Modern Art (China), Museum of Contemporary Art Teipei (Taiwan), Seoul Museum of Art (South Korea) and Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (India). Her work has featured in several magazines including Architectural Review, Blueprint, Source, Succour and The New Statesman.

Eva Stenram worked as a lecturer in Fine Art, Photography and Video Art at the University of Bedfordshire from 2006-2010 and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Creative Arts, Derby University, Glasgow School of Art, Southampton Institute and the Arts Institute at Bournemouth.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Eva Stenram