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Photography Exhibition Brings International Attention to San Diego

Above: First Place Winner in the Art of Photography Show. "A Stranger 53 Years Old" by Benoit Paillé

As many of you know, I love photography. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to sit and listen to Charlotte Cotton, the curator and head of photography at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, talk about where photographic art is at this particular juncture in history. She was in town for the opening of the Art of Photography Show, currently on view at the Lyceum Theater and for which she served as the sole judge. The show features 111 winning photographs chosen from a pool of 16,000 entries from around the world. Yup, that's right. She looked at 16,000 photographs! I enjoyed her talk so much, I immediately booked her on These Days. You can listen to the interview here.

I wanted to share some of the winning photographs with you. The first place prize was given to Benoit Paillé from Montréal, Canada. His photograph titled "A Stranger 53 Years Old" is just incredible (featured above). Paillé's subject lives in an apartment on his street, but they didn't know each other. Paillé approached him and asked if he could take his photograph. Paillé is used to making such requests of strangers - he's been photographing elderly strangers for some time. The man agreed and suggested they take the photograph in his own apartment. Once inside, the man, who'd recently lost his mother, took off his clothes and chose to sit in a child's chair for the image. Without knowing the backstory, the photograph conjures up feelings of loneliness and vulnerability. Once you know the story, the image becomes a powerful statement from someone (the stranger) who is suffering, but brave enough to share his grief.

The photo gallery to the left includes some of the other images in the show, but I encourage you to go see this free(!) exhibit of compelling photography. Cotton said that when you do such a broad call for submissions, you expect to get work from photographers at different stages of their practice. She noticed a common sense of wonder and even romanticism in much of the work, which must have been refreshing to her, coming from an institution like LACMA where she interacts with a lot of conceptual photographers and art students who tend to make work from a different mindset. I think you'll recognize the romanticism, but you'll also see wit and beauty and technical prowess.

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Avatar for user 'GeorgeR'

GeorgeR | September 3, 2009 at 11:10 a.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

As much as I can understand the push for non-cookie-cutter images, the winning photographs are not that great. They are interesting, but not really thought provoking or inspiring.

If these are the winners, should we assume that the rest of the exhibition is even less interesting?

I can applaud to the curators of the museum for their effort to promote something so ubiquitous as photography, but perhaps you should let the people judge the images and not a panel. After viewing the winning entries I have very little desire to see the rest, and this is truly unfortunate. I imagine Charlotte Cotton was hoping for a different reaction.

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Avatar for user 'aarynb'

aarynb | September 3, 2009 at 12:09 p.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

So...the second place winner has an entire series in the show? She has four out of the 111 photographs selected from a pool of 16,000 and one judge felt her "Bureaucrats" series was not only worthy of inclusion at the expense of other artists but also award winning? The first of her four isn't even in focus, which works for some shots but in this one, I think it's sloppy.

I have to say, I am not compelled. The first place winner is terrific. But I sort of have to agree with GeorgeR on this one. I'm not feeling the impulse to run down to the Lyceum.

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Avatar for user 'StevenChurchill'

StevenChurchill | September 4, 2009 at 1:25 a.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

Dear George and Aarynb,

Angela Carone's enthusiasm and upbeat response to seeing the Art of Photography Show is in line with the feedback we received from scores of people these last few days. There were over 1,000 attendees at our Opening Reception on August 29th, and there was standing room only at Charlotte Cotton's talk on the 30th. The comments we heard at both events were extremely positive. The First Place winner was purchased the opening night, and many told us they appreciated the emotional depth and intensity of Benoit Paillé's photograph. We normally exhibit about 103 framed prints, so including two series' (upping the total to 111) did not come at the expense of other artists. We bought extra gallery wall partitions in order to accommodate the additional images chosen by Charlotte Cotton. All of the "Bureaucratics" prints are in focus -- compressed JPEG images on websites aren't known for their clarity. In conclusion, the thing I wish to most emphasize is: go see the exhibition in-person and view the actual framed prints for yourself. Many of the prints are very large, and in our view, are quite stunning. I feel that Charlotte's selections come together as a very cohesive body of work. She was incredibly insightful about perceiving the true substance of these images.

Steven Churchill

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | September 4, 2009 at 8:41 a.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

Hello everyone!

I’m thrilled to see the start of a fruitful conversation on photography. To that end, GeorgeR and AarynB, please do go to the show and check it out (it’s free!). I suspect that in the 100-plus images you view there, you’ll find something valuable. If not, there’s immense value in sharpening your own critical view on photography. If you do go, please pop back over here and tell me about the good and the bad. I’m anxious for your opinions.

As far as the winning photographs presented here, I’m interested to hear more about what you don’t like. I know this is a subjective enterprise, but I’d still like to understand where you’re coming from (I love a good chat about these things). I’ve said why I’m so impressed with the 1st place photograph, though I could go on and on about why that image works on so many levels.

As far as the “Bureaucrats” series, here is why I think it works so well. First, I admire the photographer’s decision to observe and capture these men and women while traveling. He could have easily resorted to the many photographic clichés of travel photography. But instead, he was sensitive enough to a story, an experience, rarely documented. He then made a series of aesthetic decisions about how to capture the world of bureaucrats – at their desks - the very environments where they spend their time and where the average person interfaces with them. You can learn so much about these countries and the yeoman’s work of bureaucrats from these images: the lack of technology, the stacks of papers, the desk itself – I find the environments so curious. Similarities and differences emerge. You know, we see a lot of environmental portraiture in the media today, from the grand (President Obama with his feet on his desk) to the more prosaic (the coal miner in the mines, or the corrections officer with a cell door behind him). But what about the middle rung - the height of mundanity? I also think there’s some real humor in these images. You have to laugh at the impenetrable face of the subjects – you’ve seen it before at the DMV, the financial aid office, city hall. So part of the appeal of this series for me is that I haven’t seen this subject approached quite this way before, and executed so well. (It’s likely been done, like everything has, but I haven’t yet seen it). That’s my more than two cents…again, I’d love to hear from you.

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Avatar for user 'GeorgeR'

GeorgeR | September 5, 2009 at 12:17 p.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

I will voice my opinion on the photographs if you are interested:

1 - the winning image

a) Technique - no creative lighting (just natural light through the window). While not a problem in itself, as natural light can be quite beautiful, it still comes short of being interesting. Maybe the same shot at night with colorful neon lighting coming through that window would make for a much peculiar image. Here lighting is even, shot is well exposed, properly focused...but a well exposed and focused shot of anything can be made. These properties do not provide for anything extra-ordinary.

b) Location - old, but clean kitchen. Could be great background for 70s or 80's style shot. Here is just looks ordinary (see also comments below)

c) Subject - subject is definitely unusual for many reasons - shape, size, details of the body, etc. But when I look at it - two things jump at me: the subject itself and the background. They look like they have nothing to do with each other. Two completely separate images. When I look at the picture, see the main subject - i get distracted by the background. In a well done photograph your eyes should focus on the main subject and not be distracted. The rest of the image should be supplementary but not feel as it is a completely different subject.

2 - “Bureaucrats” series
a) Subject - great idea by all means. Big plus for creative thinking on the subject and turning it into a series.

b) Execution - rather uninteresting. Looking at them I can not even tell that it is a bureaucrat in the image if it wasn't for the name of the series.

Take Russian mulitia (police) officer: it looks staged. Where is the cord from this ancient phone on his desk? If he works in police force - he should be buried in papers like an Indian woman in the series. I'm not saying it is actually staged - but it feels that way.

Look at her other pictures - If the fact that some of them are not centered can be forgiven - the fact that they are not leveled is rather disturbing. That speaks of poor technique.

I do give him a lot of credit for actually doing this project and i think he deserves a lot of respect for this. Just not sure this should be among the winners.

You want “Bureaucrats”? In Russia or its neighbor Ukraine there are so many of them. And some are so much more (interesting) than the poor soles stuck in these images. Take mayor of Kiev in Ukraine - person who owns almost 4 million dollars in exotic cars while the regular folks suffer in the terrible economy. Or India - where “Bureaucrats” are flushed with gifts from western countries for taking away land from peasants and turning it over for factories.
Even you yourself made a great line extending this series to DMV in the states, but do you really think this is something worth looking at on the photograph when there are so many other great opportunities for stunning, thought provoking images?

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Avatar for user 'GeorgeR'

GeorgeR | September 5, 2009 at 12:17 p.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

( I hit the character limit, so had to do two posts)

3 - Sleepover
Besides bright colors - I do not see what the photographer was trying to convey. Young adults who don't do sleepovers at their age any longer were asked to undress and pretend? Well, why would the author want to convey THAT feeling? Why do I think so? Maybe because I see a couch and something that looks like a hospital bed in the image. Maybe because it would be hot and impractical to sleep in such arrangement. And if the feeling he was really aiming for was the artistic look at the modern youth - perhaps it would require a better execution that would show where they are at and why all the mess?

Please understand me right - I'm not knocking down the images or the effort that went into them. I just don't think they are representing the kind of photographs that should be chosen as the best of the best from across the world.

Many people do not think of photography as something of great value due to the fact that everyone nowadays is a photographer. An old medium format film camera or cellphone - people do not make distinctions. They see it as something that is easy and generally not of great value.

But great photographs are out there and are of great, if not monetary, then cultural value.

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Avatar for user 'GeorgeR'

GeorgeR | September 5, 2009 at 5:39 p.m. ― 7 years, 6 months ago

Just noticed how many typos and auto-corrections gone wrong have slipped into my posts. I apologize for this, but don't see a way to edit the post.

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