Some new photos up over at quangtruong.com. . .
I’ve posted some new photos over at quangtruong.com. . .
Everybody must take a look at this slideshow just published on the New York Times from photographer Christoph Gielen. . . frightening, stunning, beautiful.
I’ve posted some new photos over on quangtruong.com. . .
Greene Street, Soho, New York, as of this morning.
When I was a painting major in college, I didn’t give much attention to photography. I thought it was just, in the words of Scarlett Johannson’s character in Lost in Translation, “a phase that every girl goes through, you know, horses, taking pictures of your feet.” But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more intrigued by photography. I still have a hard time finding photographers that I like, but I find understanding and making photographs a challenging and interesting pursuit. Towards that end, I set up a little space on my other website, www.quangtruong.com, to explore some photographic ideas. Above and below are some of my first photographs.
There are times when one feels utterly powerless against greater forces: in a perfectly played but losing hand of poker; in the passing of a completely unremarkable milestone birthday; or watching the passing of another historical moment that seems to gain no ground for the very idea of an expressive humanity.
It pains one to see the tides of history sweep past unregarded citizens who were supposed to be its beneficiaries, and even more so when we had supposedly entered a new age where technological mediums rendered the oppressive techniques of the past obsolete. I wrote about this a bit in my review of the WWII-era surveillance film, The Lives of Others (2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), an excellent film.
My studies had been roughly focused on the intersection of architecture and media–or, slightly more specifically, between the intersection of film and architecture. My thesis is/was that changing modes of communication affect the way we inhabit, experience, and express space. This was borne from readings of McLuhan, Mario Carpo, Adorno, and extrapolated, used to explain the historical significance of architects such as Alberti, Le Corbusier, and Eisenman.
Early on, many people pointed to the significance of new media to seeming alter the course of history. But as this article in Slate, titled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized,” argued, the new technology cut both ways. The same technology that could enable people could also be disabling. Yes, twitter was used to report on occurrences and organize groups of people, and major international news providers using video from cell phones as primary sources was no longer remarkable. But the chaos from so many “tweets” actually increased the confusion, and the government reportedly began using surveillance along with web volunteers to identify and imprison protesters. And because of the lack of true anonymity on the internet (tweets and postings can be traced), many citizens feel powerless or afraid of saying anything. Which exactly how they were supposed to not feel. “The surprise isn’t that technology has given protesters a new voice. It’s that, despite all the tech, they’ve been effectively silenced.”
In other words, top-down oppression lives on, and the anti-hierarchical digitopia remains (at this point) another castle in the sky. Which can be seen as one of the oldest stories in the book. In fact, up until recently, the standard bearer for historical mass-oppression was China. Think of the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, or the Three Gorges Dam project. The effect of these historical drives towards “revolutionary” ideas on individuals is difficult to begin express, but I’ve probably seen no greater filmic attempt than Zhang Yi Mou’s To Live (1994), which I will review in a following post as part of my ongoing “The Future is Asian” film architecture series.
As I write in that review, the story of a small Chinese family through the middle Twentieth Century serves “a simple reminder of the evil that even good intentions can create.” It is an example of the attempt to affect change upon a certain scale, and how the scale and locale of our actions may be the most important thing we consider as citizens of a community. It nevertheless remains difficult to sit by, at whatever distance has been made possible by the contemporary medium, and read/watch/surf/blog/twit about the actions of a few which seem to bring strife to so many. It feels as if I am literally watching walls being erected between people, and knowing that so many hearts are being broken at once. What has changed?
The images throughout this post are from Shawn Rocco, a photographer who uses a cell phone as his medium. Yes, a cell phone was used to capture all of the above images (a Motorola E815, to be precise). More info about Shawn can be found on his blog called cellular obscura.
There is a show right now at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City that is sort of related to my current Film Architecture theme, The Future is Asian. It is called “The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia,” and the exhibitions’ webpage is here.
The quality of the Guggenheim’s gallery spaces notwithstanding, it’s appropriate that the exhibition is being mounted in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, for FLW himself was heavily influenced by Asian artists. He was an avid collector of Japanese painting and prints (at one point supporting his architectural practice by dealing in Japanese prints), and some of his works show a very distinct Asian influence. Below is his Imperial Hotel near Nagoya, Japan.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, however, wasn’t explicity featured in the “Third Mind” exhibition (you could argue that the museum itself was a sort of third presence in the exhibition). In fact, I think the one impression I was left with during and after the show was the impossibilty of the curatorial mission. Imagine you are to select 100 pieces of artwork that are supposed to demonstrate the influence of Asia (already a dubious concept) on America (another dubious concept). Who do you select? Who do you leave out? What constitues an “Asian influence?” A specfic sort of minimalism? Or a brand of expressionism? Or a strain of geometric patterning? It just leaves me wondering, What is Asian? What is American? And boy, the Guggenheim NY sucks for displaying art.
However, this isn’t to say the exhibition wasn’t worthwhile. Museums are always fun (at least to me, minus the fact that you have to trek all the way up to the Upper East Side). Though there certainly were some headscratching works, there were a handful of transcendent works from Agnes Martin and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as always, but whose works don’t duplicate well (you have to stand in front of them). Nothing Asian or American about it. Simply transcendent.
These small photographs on my blog don’t do it justice. See some great urban photography here.
I treat this as a bit of a secret, but one place on the interweb that I often visit for inspiration are the websites of Hedi Slimane. Slimane used to be a fashion designer, having led the studios of Yves Saint Laurent in the 90s and then going on to design for Dior Homme until he left fashion in 2005. It’s hard to really trace the lineage of certain modes in fashion, but most people who care about this sort of thing tend to agree that Hedi Slimane was a large reason for the contemporary emphasis on slim, fitted menswear (Raf Simons as well). Well, he’s retired from fashion design, which is both a horrible shame and maybe a great career move, and has focused on photography, exhibiting his photographs at several galleries recently.
There is something that I find incredibly beautiful in all of his images. They are simple and quiet, but I think they evoke a real and distinct sense of timeless urbanity (if such a thing is possible). Hedi works between New York, London, Paris and Berlin, but his photographs seem to be everywhere urban at anytime in the 20th or 21st centuries.
There was actually a time, not too long ago, when I really couldn’t relate to photography as an art. This was primarily when I was a painter, and maybe that explains it. If that is the case, then it has been my architectural education that has made me more and more intrigued by what photographs can and cannot capture. There comes moments every now and then when I feel like a good photographic sense is an invaluable skill for an architect.
Anyhow, the work of Hedi Slimane has been a constant source of inspiration for me over the years–probably more constant than any other designer in any field.