Anastasia Samoylova - Fine Artist

Anastasia Samoylova – Fine Artist

– Hello and welcome to
the i3 Lecture Series, hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts. We are thrilled to have
photographer Anastasia Samoylova as tonight's guest speaker. Ana was born and raised in Moscow, she graduated with an MA
from Russian State University for the Humanities and went on to Bradley
University for her MFA. Her artistic practice is best known for her bold re-purposing
of tools and strategies related to digital media
and commercial photography to interrogate notions
of environmentalism, consumerism, and the picturesque. Recent exhibitions include
Griffin Museum of Photography, Kinfolk Gallery, and Ping Yao International
Photography Festival. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary
Photography in Chicago and the Artsland Prize in Paris. In 2015, she was granted
an artist's residency at Latitude Chicago. Her work has been
featured in the New Yorker and Fall Magazine. Ana is currently based in Miami and we are so grateful that, notwithstanding Hurricane Matthew, can be here with us tonight. So please give her a warm
welcome to our lecture series. (audience clapping) – Thank you. Thank you Jamie. Is this working? Good, I'm good on sound? (chuckles) Thank you everyone so much for coming. I'm very excited to be here, and I'm excited that I have indeed escaped Hurricane Matthew. So I'm here to talk
about my current project, my most recent project
and current project, Landscape Sublime. And ironically I was escaping subliminy just a couple days ago. So today I will talk about this series. I'm going to interwine my
description of this project with some historic and
theoretical context. With references to other people's work and popular culture, all
of which are integral to this project. We will have time for
questions at the end, and if you'd like to ask something while I'm talking please
feel free to interrupt, interject and just ask. My talk is somewhat scripted because English is my second language, and I'm still, I just can't get over it, it's been eight years that
I've lived here in the States. But I'm very self-conscious about that. And my narrative is
not very linear either, so I'll go from topic to
topic like a conversation. Photography is both the
medium and subject of my work. My background might explain
a few things in this project. I didn't come into
photography from any kind of traditional photographic training. Actually, even my MFA is technically in interdisciplinary studio
art, not photography. My whole foray into photography
happened accidentally, as Jaime said, I was born in Russia and grew up in Moscow. But a year before entering college I was actually preparing to
major in political science. But I've always been
making things on the side. Little books with illustrations, and my weird hobby was
to build little houses out of cardboard, even as a
teenager I was making those. But anyways, I was preparing for my political science university for years. And a month before admission exams, I absolutely freaked out. And then I decided that I
was going to be very unhappy in life if I pursued anything but art. So in the early 2000's in
Russia, a career in art was something unthinkable. So I chose the next best
thing, something that could actually land me a job
later, which was design. I threw together a portfolio in a month for the entrance exams,
and it was really a miracle that I answered those art
historical questions correctly. The school that I
entered had a very strong Bauhaus influence. And the sequence of courses was actually prescribed for you, we didn't get to pick them. As students, we had
five years of painting, drawing, and we had to copy
works by historic artists including the avante garde
artists, who were my favorite. This is one of the examples you can see the influence of cubism
here in the painting by one of my favorite
artists Varvara Stepanova. It's interesting how something that preoccupied you so long ago,
so this was over a decade ago, in my teenage years, is
still in my subconscious. And it really affects the
aesthetic of the work I make now. I didn't actually realize
that until I was already far along into this
project, Landscape Sublime, and then found my old
paintings from college. This is an example, Forests. So you can see similar geometry
and flattening of space that's happening. Back to my university,
I ended up majoring in environmental design. And for most of our projects,
we actually had to construct models of various buildings and spaces out of paper and cardboard,
which is perfect for me. And after those miniatures were created, they had to be photographed for the record and for the grade, so I
photographed them with a digital camera. This was one of those
early mirrorless cameras, a whopping five megapixel
Sony, which was a huge deal. We had to take out a loan to get that one. But (chuckling) it was major. I mean journalists were photographing with three megapixel cameras and getting their work
published in Moscow. So that camera allowed me to see the image as I was framing it on the LCD screen, which was priceless. At the end of that process,
I always thought that pictures of my models
looked more interesting than the models themselves. It was so amazing to
see that transformation from a small utilitarian
object in front of my eyes into something of a scale
that's hard to guess. I was just fascinated with
the ability of photography to create an illusion like that. The transformation of a
two-dimensional piece of paper into three-dimensional
object that I made out of it, and then back into two-dimensional picture that shows something entirely
new, was mind-blowing. And here, some more examples
in a painting by Liubov Popova. That's about the same
period, 19, 18, 1920's, and this is my work called Storms. So the pictures of my buildings became, gradually became their own thing. With careful composing and lighting, I could transform an object
into a new and separate version in the picture. The power of that
transformation via photography was an absolute revelation, and I started seeing
photographic images differently. From that moment the idea
of any human-made photograph being automatic or unbiased,
became absurd for me. I became so acutely aware of the mechanics of that process. The things you could do by
mirror change of the viewpoint, focal length or lighting, this was when I realized
how intensely subjective photography was, and how much power it had over how we imagine the world around us, which we haven't seen
yet with our own eyes. We just saw the pictures of it. So I could transform my little model into an object of seemingly
different size and proportion. I started photographing obsessively, and even getting some commercial gigs shooting jewelry, food,
and other still life. Still can't say jewelry right,
it's just such a hard word. (audience chuckling) So, around the same time
I discovered photography as artistic medium, the first social media and photo sharing sites
came to life in Russia, so I embraced them fully. This was a time of Myspace and Flickr. I had a Myspace account. Not every museum and
gallery had a website yet, but many art organizations
had Flickr accounts with pictures of their shows
and works in the collection. And that's how I learned
more about photography. Flickr was rapidly growing,
fed by the expanding archive of user uploaded pictures. It was amazing to see
this huge number of images fill up the web so quickly. And I was a child, I was
sort of a teenager then, but I still remember when most
of those images were in print or on TV, and then suddenly,
they were all online. It was the web, where
the biggest accumulation of those images occurred. Photography became sort
of an escape for me. In my everyday life in Moscow, what I saw were concrete
high-rise buildings and millions of busy people. But I could come home and
browse through Flickr pictures of somebody else's life. Like somebody living in Hawai'i
and posting gorgeous views from their daily life that
looked so much better than mine. Of course, now it's no big
deal, but at that time, it was pretty amazing
to be able to do that. This was before social media
was available on phones, so you had to go home or to a place called the internet cafe, (chuckling) we had those, the creepy little places, to get online. So in contrast to urban Moscow, which was mostly grey and drab, for at least six months a year, landscapes on the web
were incredibly seductive and just irresistible to look at. Particularly after
Photoshop came into play and made everything even
more attractive and magical. About the same time when
I discovered social media, I started noticing stock
photographs of nature popping up everywhere. From product packaging at a grocery store, to computer desktops. Here's a little mini landscape everywhere. Is there even a plastic water bottle now without an image of mountains on it? Here's my Mountain Peaks
inspired by landscapes on plastic bottles. This is one of the earlier,
among the first images in the series. I've often been asked about
this strange background that's fairly consistent
throughout the project, and the reason is, I started this project at an artist's residency, where I asked for an
isolated space where I could light my sets without
interfering with other people, other artists' lighting. And then I got a space in the
corner with a massive window, so full-sized window, and
it was window, table, me, and the end of it. So I had to really incorporate
that window into it, and it worked out perfectly
because it was boarded with anti-hurricane corrugated plastic, which is what the background is, so it's actually daylight right there, since my photographs are always backlit because there was sun pretty
much throughout the entire length of the day in that spot. And then I thought that this plastic would become a perfect grid, it's like a grid onto which I
would build my compositions. Kinda like lined paper for architecture, something that provides that structure, and visual element. So that grid provided the scale and also hurricane protection. 'Cause the area was prone to tornadoes, and there was a tornado there eventually. Landscape also inspires fabric patterns, and here's a little sampling of those. Here are some ponchos, this
is my reality right now, that I live in Miami. So this is actually, this
entire project became prophetic, be careful what you wish for. I worked with so many tropical landscapes and now I live in one. Here's my Magical Tropics,
which it's a straight photograph of palm tree prints and studio props. Again, you can see that hurricane
window in the background. – [Audience Member]
Was the one before that a straight photograph too? – There are all, yeah, all of
them are straight photographs. Yeah, it's mirrors and gels,
and I'll talk about that, yeah. Tabletop and window and
hurricane protection. Does anybody remember this photograph? Yes, yes. – [Audience Member] I
know the photographer. – Great, perfect, yes. This is one of the most recognizable landscape representations out there, so it was taken in Sonoma County in 1996, before the area was
converted to a vineyard. I remember it very well, because it was on my first
computer back in Russia. Childhood memories. And here it is more recently
on Google Streetview, the actual spot. See the difference? And with the accessibility
of image editing software, tourists and photographers
made use of those tools. And skies became bluer,
and grass became greener, and everybody was expected to
retouch their photographs now, including landscapes. Here's my photograph titled Greener Grass. So it's built out of
pictures of grass and skies I found on public domain sites. The colors are very intense
and often hard to print, I print in the studio, I
have a little Epson printer. But I try to retain
that intense saturation in the final image. The goal is to remain true to my sources. But I believe that my process
is as much a collaboration as it is appropriation. That's because I'm not using copywrited or authored images. My project is not really
about the idea of authorship, but more of the idea of
an anonymous collaboration with image makers who
consciously share those images for public use. I find my images on
public domain websites, on Flickr under creative commons license, if anyone's familiar, so
this is where photographers release their images to
be not only looked at, but to be used somehow, so I use them as, I feel like I give them new life too. And free stock libraries. There are some microstock sites who have free archives, there are
free images that you can take images from. There is no single trajectory by which I choose the type of nature images I use. It is mostly intuitive, and based on what inspires me at the time. – [Audience Member] Are any
of the pictures that you use in your models that's been taken, are any of them ever yours? – Oh yes, yes, there are some of mine. – [Audience Member] Could
you repeat the question? – Are any of those
photographs, I can repeat it, are any of those photographs that I use in my isolations mine? Absolutely, as we are
friends on Instagram, and so we see that (laughing) I am constantly taking photographs, it's just phone snapshots
and I have a multitude of little snapshot cameras. At the time where phones
were not so powerful enough to take decent photographs, and now you have all this
little point-and-shoots, so I use them as well, but yes. It's thousands pictures
that I take every month, I have to dump them all somewhere, I have all this hard drives for. (laughing) Yes, so some of them are my own. And some of them are found. So, for example, what inspires me, it could be anything, maybe
some of you remember the story officially the most expensive photo ever. Six and a half million, or at
least it was advertised as, a six and a half million
Phantom in Antelope Canyon, the photographer Peter Lik incorporated. So this entire enterprise
is also an inspiration, here is a color version
of the same photograph, but this one is called Ghost
and it's cheaper than Phantom. I don't know if it's because
the less poetic title, or black and white sells better. And then, of course here's some
other photographer's gallery of Antelope Canyons, that you
can buy right on the website, you just add 'em to cart and checkout. And here is my Flickr,
the Flickr image search for Antelope Canyons. So then I was, I had to make a Canyon. So it's Canyon out of
public domain pictures. There's a specific way that
those canyons are photographed and retouched, and there
isn't much deviation from that standard. Of course there are books
written on the subject, on how to photograph
landscape all over the world. These are some just local examples pertaining to the American landscape. The covers usually include mountains or at least some kind of water. Usually slow exposure. This is a screen cap
of Google image search for landscape photography. Note that on top, landscape, Google actually organized
it into categories, so you can filter out those landscapes based on the most popular ones. And notice how intensely
vibrant those colors are. There's also a black and white
category among the top five. Then there are trees,
mountains, beach, and flowers. And I have versions of those
as well, I have Flowers. This little flower was actually, there are five different
versions of that flower that I found on the web,
it was recolored digitally. So you never know what the original was. It could be any of those. And then I believe that images
like those from that search already have a permanent place
in our collective memory. Everybody knows how vacation photos from a tropical beach look like. And this one is again prophetic because I live near the beach now
and still take pictures of it all the time. So we expect to see certain
places photographed certain way, especially when it comes
to popular places like, for instance Yosemite. Here you can see just a
small selection of guides on how to photograph Yosemite
and exactly where to go. And below here is a photo, which one of the photo
workshop teachers posted to PetaPixal site, and it
shows the photographers photographing the firefall. But apparently it only includes about 30% of the photographers who
were present on that spot at that day of the phenomena. There's a little Ansel Adams right here with his large format camera on top. The original, a Yosemite photographer. This is a photograph by Roger Minick, who focused on tourism and
its cultural implications. This one is from his
series called Sightseers. His interest in photographing
sightseers actually began when he was invited to teach at the Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite. Susan Sontag was the first
to address photography through the prism of tourism
in her book on photography. She pointed out that photography
has significantly altered the perception of the world, turning it into a society of spectacles in which the reality is
overpowered by photographic images. So then the world becomes touristic. Something that exists
for visual consumption. When I was studying art back in Russia, I learned about American photography from lectures on major
representative artists like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and perhaps because of
the emphasis on Adams as the major representative
of American photography, the first location that I wanted to visit when I moved to the States was Yosemite. Once I managed to get to Yosemite, it was just not the Ansel Adams' Yosemite. Not to say it wasn't gorgeous, even despite the ever-present tourists and garbage everywhere, but
it was simply different. First of all it was not black and white. And second it was just too
chaotic, it was too 360. I just had a different Yosemite in mind based on the pictures that I've studied. So this is a color photograph of found black and white
images of mountains. I also find it interesting
that we still keep converting our images to black and white,
even though the native space in digital photography is color. So my preconceived perception of Yosemite and the experience of the actual
place just didn't match up. It wasn't less amazing, it
was just a different place. In Landscape Sublime I work
with existing representations of specific places. I'm not interested in
documenting the actual landscape, but I want to investigate the way we might imagine landscapes
based on the existing images of those places. The development of photography
and tourism industry was happening simultaneously. And it's kind of hard to
imagine one without the other. The driving force behind such widespread popularity of photography was of course the first cheap camera. That really revolutionized
the industry in 1888. You probably all know, the Kodak. So in the late 1880's, Kodak launches its easy-to-use and
affordable Brownie camera, that was marketed to middle class families and to women in particular,
as the main record-keepers of family life. Everyone knows the Kodak girl. So Kodak basically
single-handedly popularized tourist photography, which I
think is among the predecessors of all image sharing social media now. Among the memorable
Kodak slogans, the catchy this one, "A holiday without
Kodak is a holiday wasted." How true is that these
days with Instagram? It could be Instagram's slogan. And yes, I can say from
first-hand experience now, that I can see the beach from my studio, that visitors spend as much
time photographing themselves and their surroundings as they do interacting with each other
and with those surroundings in other ways. Although I think that
photographing and sharing is also inseparable from
living and experiencing them. I think this was a Google
search for vacation. And this is my image called Paradise. I have a little papaya now. I had to figure out a way to eat, incorporate them into my diet. So back to Kodak, Kodak quickly realized that the company's success
was in making photography maximally user friendly and accessible. And it provided all the
tools guaranteed to produce predictably pleasing results. So it set up the famous
Kodak Picture Spots all over the nation. And these spots served as this fail safe picturesque background for family photos. By 1939 Kodak had placed
6,000 scenic spot signs across the United States. By 1939, that's before Disney I think. Now with Disney there's way more. So with the invention of photography visiting new places was now accompanied by the insatiable search for the picturesque. And specifically for the photogenic. And major landmarks were photographed from every possible angle, but also from the main angle of course, the frontal view, or
whatever side proved to be the most familiar. This is a series called Archiv by Berlin-based artist Joachim Schmid. Which is really what it
is, it's a straightforward collection of found snapshots
and commercial photographs gripped by the subject they depict. Schmid changes the context
of vernacular pictures by presenting them as art. With this work he
emphasizes that photography is actually much more than art. There are all these other
implications of photography, that are largely neglected
by the galleries and museums. He prefers a very democratic
way to present his work, in a book form, just
simple low-budget books. Here's another project
inspired by this phenomenon of tourist photography, you
probably know Corinne Vionnet. These are images from series
called Photo Opportunities. So Vionnet overlays hundreds
of found images of landmarks with one another to
produce this composites. When asked about what propelled
her to start the project, she recalled her trip to Pisa in 2005 when digital cameras
were becoming widespread. She saw tons of tourists photographing the Leaning Tower of Pisa,
and then wanted to check back home how many images ended up online. Which was of course thousands. So then she started overlaying
them with one another. This is one of my favorite
photographers, Martin Parr, and you can see the performance
that tourists put up with those landmarks. So why do people keep taking pictures if pictures of things they
are about to photograph already exist? Going back to Sontag, she mentions that tourists taking pictures,
and suggests that these photographs help
people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. So, do we take pictures
to prove our presence? That's a rhetorical question among the many I'm going to ask. And I tend to ask those myself. The concept of replicating
the same popular views is not new. It came to be way before social media. In the 16th century Italian
landscapes became so marketable that some northern
European artists, painters, who never actually went to Italy, would nonetheless paint Italian
scenes from imagination. Or by copying the existing
paintings of Italian landscapes. Even though they didn't have
the firsthand experience of the place, these painters had an idea of how an Italian
landscape might look like based on the variety of art
works already available. And similar to that, having
seen the existing images of popular destinations in
postcards and on screen, many photography enthusiasts
are eager to reproduce the familiar view. This is my Flower Fields,
again I've never actually seen a field in the wild like
that, only in parks. And the more popular the place, the more photographs of it exist. And the stronger is a feeling
of familiarity with that. Since we are so immersed in images now, without even looking for
a specific photograph of a certain location, we can imagine how those places look like. And then previously seen
photographs come to mind and formED a unified picture in memory. That final mental image will be comprised out of the most memorable pictures that are most widely circulated, or just so remarkably beautiful that they become more memorable. Also you can test out that phenomenon by closing your eyes
and trying to visualize something like lightning. Since we have seen so
many images of lightning frozen in motion by cameras, we have no trouble visualizing
the little branches that come off lightning, of
that main stem of the charge. But in reality you rarely experience that. In reality it's just a burst of light. And here's Lightnings. Yeah, we rarely get to
see that clear outline. – [Audience Member] I
just wanted to ask you, when you organize your work, privately in your own archive, do these response to larger categories, do you have a whole category
just called Lightning and another one is
called Flower Fields, or, can you, if you're gonna get to that later in your presentation that's
fine, but I was just curious how the architecture
of your project works. – That's a great question,
and it's all when, actually the way it started, I will get to it a little bit, and then remind me of that question so I can go back to that. Yeah, it started with philosophy and there's certain examples in landscape in the 18th century that were
used to illustrate the concept of the sublime in
contrast to the beautiful. So they were categories
for the sublime, like lightning would be a sublime
category because it's, it's fearful and it's grand. And then something like pretty flowers would be just beautiful. Yeah, for instance I've never
seen an actual iceberg still, but if I were to think of one, I would imagine a sparkly
bright blue, big mass of ice, with clear blue sky of grand proportion. And that image is based on, it has formed from the
pictures that I have seen on the web and in print that
are associated with icebergs. Like the images from a
recent story of a lawsuit between two iceberg pictures. An enhanced photo of iceberg
was submitted to a contest, the one on the bottom left, maybe you've heard of the story. And then a lawsuit followed
when a photographer claimed that the original photo, top
right, was stolen from her, enhanced in Photoshop, and
then unfairly won something in that contest. Well then in turned out the image was actually
taken on the same cruise from the same boat from
somebody who was standing shoulder, from another
woman who was standing shoulder-to-shoulder to the
woman who won the contest. (chuckling) Yeah, and then, it took a
long time to figure that out. (audience laughing) A lawsuit for a contest. Also though, the problem
with plenty of these icebergs do not look like this. But the images of drab-looking icebergs don't end up in mass circulation much, so they don't immediately come to mind. And here's my icebergs. It was a very hot summer and I really wanted to work with ice in some form or another. Yeah I'm interested not so
much in the actual landscape but in the perception of landscape, the personal and collective
idea of the environment shaped by the existing
images of that environment. Among the questions I'm
trying to ask with this work, is whether the large number of retouched pristine landscapes creates
a sense of false security and invincibility of the environment to changes caused by human activity. Will that imagined picture
formed by the memory, after seeing so many images,
trick our subconscious into denying what the reality might be? This is a photograph from
a crowdsourced project, Alpine Observations, where
people submit their photographs of different views. And you can see the melting icebergs, you can see the progression
here of the years. The landscape is, I'm
quoting Wolfgang Sachs, "is the construct of a
society that no longer has "an unmediated relationship
with the soil." The concept of a mediated
environment is important to the way I approach photography. Going back to where I
started in photography, it didn't take me very long to understand that there's no such thing
as a non-constructed image, or so to say, straight photograph. The process of assembling
a still life for me is a metaphor for the
memory that blends pictures of different elements of the scene into a sort of collage environment. When I think of a desert,
I imagine the sand, the bright blue sky, and
dark shadows in the dunes. And in some way visions of anything are just the raw material
for a kaleidescopic picture that is comprised by the mind. Which is the effect I'm trying to recreate with these compositions. The majority of images I see I access via phone or computer. On the one hand they seem immaterial, but on the other hand a
photograph on a computer, on a computer monitor has a little, very small thickness. The size of the minuscule grade of lights that make up the screen. To emphasize the photograph
surface and edge, and most importantly its limits, I make the prints of each image, which I then used as building material. Printing out an image of
landscape from the web creates just another
copy of the original file which can be altered in any way. And so I do that. This is Mountain Chains. I believe that with the actual landscape, a similar process happens
when a photograph is taken. It becomes just one more copy of the view taken from a static viewpoint, prone to manipulating and altering. Taking a photograph of an environment enables the photographer
to reduce that environment to manageable scale, to tame and domesticate it in a way. In my work I want to reference
this act of capturing and scaling down of vast space by printing the sourced images according to their size on the web, and emphasizing their postcard-like scale in contrast to the environment
that I place them into. And the way I make my set
ups is quite intuitive. I start with blank canvas,
in this case you can see the same hurricane window,
and there's a tabletop. I place the main picture
that sets the theme, and then build up the composition
by adding more elements until I feel like I need to
stop or it's getting worse. So it takes hours and sometimes days and I make videos, they
are time-lapse videos, so all those hours I shrunk
into fractions of seconds. Let's see if it works. So you can see everything is hanging. Not all of them end up in the series. Some are just experiments that stay, and some of them are just videos. This is a canyons. Yeah, so you can see the build up, it starts from there and then I gradually
figure out my lighting. I use flashes, even though
it probably is slowing down the process, because I want to see, I want to be surprised
by how light reflects off those shiny surfaces. This is the glaciers one. The more stages it went through the more sporadic and
frenetic is the video. So then that hurricane window, I had to actually bring it with me, after the artist residency I felt like it was such an important element that I asked them for the window. And then when I moved from
Chicago area to Massachusetts I brought it with me,
the hurricane window. So I still have it. Definitely gonna come in handy in Miami. And this is the black and white mountains, it's all, it's actually color, you can see a little bit
of my shirt reflecting here which was a smart move. And then I covered it up of course. These I liked how this it's a wrapping paper,
like a wrapping foil, how it reflects light onto
this dark construction paper. I had a lot of those I'm not gonna show, but the cubes are one. And then there were accidental
cars behind that window occasionally so I had to skip a few frames. This one took longer. So yeah, on one hand, photograph
faithfully records reality, but on the other hand, a
photograph is essentially a combination of shapes and tones within a clearly defined
frame, a rectangle. The photographic jargon includes the term Landscape Format, as
opposed to a vertical one. By printing out the images in traditional rectangular format and then modifying them to accentuate the
geometry of those prints, I'm stressing that a
photograph is not defined solely by what it depicts. But also by its own shape and surface, as well as the context
in which its presented. The geometric shapes
that those prints form are meant to further emphasize the calculated composition
that's at the base of the premediated scenes
in those original images. This is a photograph called Autumns. So at the core of this
work are several conflicts, unanswered questions, like found image versus created image, a straight image versus composited one, landscape versus still life
and natural versus artificial. Photographing the set ups
for me is not necessarily a means to an end, but
rather a process of recording something that unravels with time, just like in traditional
landscape photography. In my photographs the world
is comprised of pictures, it's fragmented, folded, and distorted. At the same time the
constructive reality is sleek, and it's meant to be attractive to achieve that look of
employing a variety of scenarios from advertising photography. So I used different little
spotlights to bring out the detail. These landscapes turned
objects are meant to be glittering and theatrical, like products in a store
window during holidays. The internal illumination the fact is the result of that backlighting,
the hurricane window, and multiple flashes. The light comes from several directions, flattening out some areas and bringing out the three-dimensionality in others. So the goal was to turn the
familiar banal landscape prints into dazzling desirable objects, at the same time suggesting
the inherent irony of such collections. The lighting had to be special, I'm pointing to the inherent
ability of photography to seduce yet distance
the viewer from the view and to present objects for
visual pleasure and consumption, be it a human figure or a landscape. I think that every
photograph transforms space in one way or another. So at least to some extent,
a photography creates a new construction of a place. The act of framing a
photograph may already construct a new place. So photography does more than
present places and landscape, it also creates imagined geographies. Or in other words, it
shapes perceptions of place based on the images found
in the collective archive. The images also create
a certain expectation of an experience that can be
had in those picture places. So in my project I'm
investigating the area of tension between truthfulness and
those imagined geographies. By the way, imagined
geographies is not my term, this was coined by Edward
Said, a critic on Orientalism. In the 18th century, a
special device was used for looking at landscapes. This is called claude glass, which is basically a blackened,
a little small mirror, slightly convex in shape. It has a dark surface, so you
could handhold that landscape, and this was meant to help artists, at the time painters and tourists, find the most picturesque
view for sketching and then later painting. In 1899, just a few decades
after photography was invented, an addition of Photograms of
the Year journal wrote that, "At the present time, there
are probably more photographers "than painters with the
true and indistinctive "appreciation of the beauty of nature." Of course compositions
of those photo landscapes would copy paintings. Like here on the left you see Nevada Falls by Albert Bierstadt the painter. And on the right you
see Ansel Adams' image. Notice the framing,
the composition itself, the foreground, middleground, background. The picturesque is
understood in relationship with two major aesthetic categories. Which are the beautiful and the sublime. Back in 18th century,
philosophers Kant and Burke take up and develop the
idea of the sublime, particularly in a contrast to beautiful. For Burke the sublime is present in grand and intimidating objects,
where the beautiful remains with small and little pleasing ones. In this terms Ansel Adams'
photographs are sublime, while floral photography
would be just beautiful. These are my Cascades. And then I wanted to create
the maximally flat image and I made this one,
the results inspired by seeing multiple windows
on my computer screen with all those images. So I wanted to recreate that effect and really flatten out
the space on that window. This is Carleton Watkins. There's a lot of effort that actually photographers did in nowadays put into recreating images to look like that. This is a sorta accidental find from 2013 is a photographer. And you can see this is a
quote from their website, there's a lot of effort being put into doing this whole thing. So it's processed in Photoshop CC using new Tony Kuyper's basic
luminosity masking techniques, converted to black and
white using gradient map, sharpen it using the Sharpen
2013 action Don Margulis' Picture Postcard and
then tone it using curves adjustment layers in tone curve. But all this editing is
nothing new to landscape, it's been around since almost
the invention of photography, you probably have seen this
image by Gustav Le Gray, this is multiple
negatives, so two negatives spliced together for more dramatic sky. Let's see, and this is
comparable to the painting by Gustav Courbet. I should've found the earlier version. But again, see the similarities, so the romantic landscape,
the drama that's happening. This is my photograph
called Crashing Waves. And in search for the sublime
I went onto volcanoes. Any picture where there's
edges and surfaces will transform even the grandest view into finite frame with
pictorial elements inside. It can be a gorgeous and seductive view, but when it becomes a
photograph, it's an object. Its size reduced to a size
of the print or screen. So while a landscape in real life can have the attributes of the sublime, a photograph of that
landscape reduces that view into an object, therefore taking it out of the sublime category. But for me, where sublime does come across is in the infinity, in the infinite number of nature-themed images
and beautiful landscapes that are being produced and shared online. I think that alone deserves
the sublime category. It is an infinite number,
and it's ever-expanding. The technology sublime has replaced the metaphysical sublime. In the era of Burke and
Kant, people looked to nature for experience of the sublime, but the natural world
today has been modified and commodified for tourists
and recreational experience. So can something familiar still elicit the sublime experience? Or have premediated images destroyed the authentic experience? Again rhetorical questions. This is Blood Moon. I think it was in the spring last year, there was a blood moon
phenomenon that just kept popping up on my Instagram, and I could see it from
the window and on Instagram at the same time, so then I
had to make work out of that. It's just not the same experience when you can hold a coffee
can with that mountain in your hand, by the way,
this is actual Ansel Adams on the coffee can. You know the story where he was, he sold his image to be used on a coffee. Oh, I'm not an expert on the story, but his photograph actually ended up, and he signed it off, so he was aware, it's not a stolen image,
that it was gonna be used to advertise coffee. It was literally on the coffee can in this actual authentic Ansel Adams. My work is filled with references
to landscape photography. Not so much landscape itself. The images are not meant to
show the vastness of place, but the degree of control
over an environment by simulating one on a smaller scale. These are some tree
photographs, Fox Talbot, 1840's, and fog. Then Harry Callahan, multiple exposure. Trees and fog Google image search. I can never pass up an
image of tree and fog, so I had to make Trees in Fog. So the land is mediated
to us through photography, and we relate to the land
through the images we see. Those imagined geographies
have real consequences because they tend to blur the distinction between the reality and the perception. They constantly fabricate idealized views and postcard places. And landscape as photograph
and photograph as landscape, Shelly Armitage asks, "Is the Grand Canyon "still the Grand Canyon
when photographed by serious "and by the amateur photographer?" And these are Flickr groups
for canyon photography. Some have over a thousand members. From the tourist perspective,
the question would be why photograph something that's ugly? And then the critic's question would be why photograph is that
way, it's too beautiful to be taken seriously. Each question indicates that
the sense of the subject is lost because of
culturally or aesthetically conditioned expectations about
the landscape's proper style. In our age it's also appropriate to ask, why photograph that if this exact view is already available in
multiple literations? But at the same time, who can
pass up the full size rainbow? I always photograph one,
if you see one, pull over. I wanted to share with you
my big news this summer, my first book came out. Thank you. (audience applauding) Thank you, it's a limited edition book, published by In The In Between Editions. It is a limited edition book and I signed all 200 copies of it here in New York, so they're available. And Stephanie Amond, a
writer based in San Francisco wrote an essay for it. It's right here. So it's this little book. The publisher and I met at a conference and it was, so kinda like Joachim Schmid, it's a very affordable little book. But to finish the lecture,
I'd like to quote Stephanie who wrote an essay for the book. "The sublime is colonial
in its central conflict "about the appropriation of beauty "and the conquering of nature, "but also in its orientation
toward the mother market. "The picturesque lubricates consumerism, "disseminated in the modern
period on paper media, "flat and shiny, and in
plastics of mass appeal. "The formally elaborate
installations in Landscape Sublime "are a material reminder
that photographic saturation "means contending with
all that the image takes "and leaves for dead." That's it, I condensed a little. (audience applauding) Thank you. – [Moderator] We have
time for a short Q&A, I'll pass around the mic. Please use it for the video, it won't make your voice louder. – [Audience Member] You talked quite well in your own experience
about how all these images that you saw before you
went out to the landscape kind of didn't match
up with the landscape, and how they kind of effect
your view of the landscape. How 'bout your own images when you've gone and made one of these, and then
you go back out on a beach, or go back out to where
there are mountains, how do you think your own
images change your view of those things? – You mean my images from
this series, these ones? Or my Instagram images? – [Audience Member] I
really meant these images. – These ones.
– Yeah. – Well.
– I didn't mean it to be that hard. – As I mentioned, I see
photograph, any photograph, as a construction. It's its own thing, it's
to me never a reality. It's a constructed
reality regardless of how truthful it is to the
environment being pictured. So that changed when I was
photographing those models, back in college years. You could just see it
right in front of your eyes how lighting and composition
and viewpoint changes the perspective on things, and it's the same with landscape. – [Audience Member] The place
where I really noticed that was when I too had one of those little early point-and-shoot
cameras and you could see the image on the back, and
not only did it change, 'cause then you could compare it to what you were looking at, and then when you pressed
the shutter it froze. And it changed again, because
at first it was a video and then it changed into
a single thing like that. I'm trying to think of what
landscapes are gonna look like after I've seen your work,
which I really like, by the way. – Well thank you. – When I go back out in 'em, because I'm a landscape photographer too, so that's a big part of what
happens in my work is that I'm really curious about
how much the landscape becomes a different kind
of experience where I've, after I've photographed
it and then gone back out to look at it again. – That's a great point, and with this work I guess I had too many questions, and then as a visual artist
you tend to just channel them through work that you make. And still none of those
questions are answered, even after I've made this project, I've been making it for
three years, now it's four. There's still old questions. But maybe I'm just gonna leave it at that, there's just gonna remain questions. – [Audience Member] Questions
are more interesting than answers. – Than answers, and did you
notice by the other little thing with those point-and-shoot
cameras it was a revelation to see that change of perspective
in the flattening of space that happened on the screen? And now with digital cameras
that shoot raw and jpeg, I usually photograph both simultaneously, even on the little, I have this
little Sony Alpha something, and you can see the change right there from raw, it tries to
fix your image into jpeg, so it's way more contrasty,
and the colors have shifted, and then the perspective,
it changes the warping. – [Audience Member] He asked
all the great questions about landscapes and change,
that was a lotta the things I wanted to ask about. So I'm gonna go a little bit
more in philosophical side. As far as your emotions,
so when you see a place, and it's not exactly what
you thought it would be, and then you go in to construct
it, how are your emotions, how are you dealing with the emotions of what it was in reality and
then what it's gonna be in your constructed reality? – That's a good one. I guess… Well it helps me, the first step, the printing of those images. Well I guess the first
first step is traveling, so I travel online and
I look for those images and that takes hours and
that's a very fun part of it. I feel like I've been to a place. Like in that hot summer I
wanted to work with ice, so I sought icebergs and those mountain ranges
that are covered with snow. So I would find those,
save them in folders, and then I sort of look
through those images. It's an intuitive process,
and then I print them out so it does help me
domesticate them in a way, and tame them, now I can
have them in my hands, I can hold those objects. And then figure out the
plasticity of those, figure out the geometry, and
some of those follow the lines that are present in the images themselves, like they follow along the mountain peak. So there are different
lines and shapes that I use. I try not to go overboard,
especially with mountains, they're usually vertical. And then I create that new environment. And the creation's
meant to be the metaphor for the constructedness
of the original place. I don't know if it answers
the question at all. – [Audience Member] The
first part he was asking what is, how do you feel,
is it the photograph find– – [Audience Member] Tell us how she feels. – How I feel, right. (audience member speaking off mic) Right, and I feel like
now this is an environment of black and white mountains. Which I think is more true to the genre, rather than going and
photograph a mountain, converting it to black and white. So now there's this, its own thing, it's this environment. And then this is the Paradise environment. And the Forest. So it is sort of a fragmented space, maybe because it still remains a question. – [Audience Member] Thank you. – [Audience Member] I had a question. First thank you so much,
I really like your work. And second is, when you first
start talking about your work, you spoke about escape. Like trying to change our reality. You still working thinking that way? Do you always have this
in mind or not anymore? – I think so, yeah, 'cause
I've lived in Moscow for that period of time, and that got me thinking, and that got me
sort of escaping online where I was seeking those
images and following some people who were posting images of their life. And then I moved to, actually
when I moved to the States, I moved to the Midwest, and
I lived there for seven years in a relatively small
town in the Chicago area. The environment of which was
not very inspiring to me, it's mostly cornfields and soy fields. So I continued looking, and this is where the artist residency was. So I was even in a smaller space. But I think that the isolation also helped put things into perspective,
I was not too distracted by beautiful views outside,
so it didn't make me go wonder around. But now things might change a little bit in this weird tropical place I'm in. It's quite inspiring actually, Miami. Yes. – [Audience Member] Hey, I'm just– – Andy. – Hey.
– Hey. – No I'm just kinda curious why, why did you use Said as
your reference, because you just never mentioned that before, and there's just kinda outta nowhere because Orientalism is,
it's a book about how it was, his view about
something very foreign. – Oh that was just the
reference to a term, so I don't claim that I invented the term, that I didn't in fact imagined. – [Andy] No, I just don't know. – This is like a little
quotation basically. – [Andy] Oh, okay. – Yeah, I'm not gonna go into Orientalism 'cause it has nothing to do with the work, but the imagined geographies idea, he was the one who started using it first. And there are multiple people theorizing on that subject now. – [Andy] Okay, cool. – Did you have a question? – [Audience Member] Yeah. Hi.
– Hi. – [Audience Member] In
your black and white piece with the mountains, if
you go back to that. In your book, if it's published in a book, you're looking at a two-dimensional page. When you construct this,
based on the video you showed, you're looking at a
three-dimensional item, like a set. When you have an exhibit,
do you exhibit the set? – No, it's the flat picture. – Just the flat picture?
– Right, and the idea, it might change with a
slightly different work that I'm making now. – [Audience Member]
Have you ever considered exhibiting the set
– Yes of course, of course. – [Audience Member] 'cause
I think it's really, I think it'd be actually more interesting to see the depth that you're creating in reality instead of looking at it in a two-dimensional format. – In this case, the idea was,
as I explained my background, the construction of an
illusion that we then believe. So it had to stay the
two-dimensional photograph, a straight photograph
rather than composite, that we still would believe. Even though this is clearly an illusion, but you still believe that
this environment existed and it was there. So I don't want to show the miniatures, I mean they're tabletop,
they're one-to-one when I print them. But I think it would break
that spell of photography. – [Audience Member] How large is that set? – This is about 32 by 40 inches. And so I print them to scale. I used to actually, now
that I photograph with a bigger resolution camera, but when I just started
the series three years ago, I had to photograph them
vertically in panoramic format so I had to stitch two
or three or four together for the resolution. Which is ironic because that's how a lot of landscape photographers photograph, so they can
get a higher resolution and higher detailing of
that Ansel Adams detail. – [Audience Member] So
there's no hierarchy, you're not deciding, so they're all, is that working? – Yup. – [Audience Member] Okay, so,
they're all one-to-one scale? 'Cause that was the question
I had, was how do you decide how large to make your
prints when you're pulling from this democratic web which is really we're looking at them based
on the size of our monitors. So, but you just answered the question. – Right, and that's why
I also kept that grid. Initially I printed to the grid. So those lines in the background, the distance between the
lines always stayed the same in the print. So if it was a smaller installation, then it stayed that way in print. I have 16 by 20, 24 by
36, and then 32 by 40. So three size, and they
only come in one size, because it's one-to-one. – [Audience Member] So
as camera technology gets better and better,
eventually possibly the resolution for your
camera will actually exceed the size that you can print. So then you'll suddenly have this decision to make.
– I'm gonna go all Jeff Wall on that. (all laughing) Backlight them. There's somebody has a question. – [Audience Member] I'm curious, Your use of this, at least for me it seems very rooted in cubism
and synthetic collaging, I'm kind of curious how you, your position on that and your use of that in relationship to landscape which is the opposite of geometric. I just wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about that. – Yeah, it is a way to
emphasize that artifice. And a way to fragment the space, and a way to also sort of
fragmentize this familiar representation of landscape. So that's why I'm trying to
shove landscape into still life, and I like that tension. And some of it was
inspired by plastic bottles with mountains on them, get
eventually smushed together and you see the distorted landscape. So in the beginning some of it was that. Sort of how those objects
eventually deteriorate. And that's why I wanted to cut it up and sort of splice it back together. It is a pretty aggressive
act, but it's also quite playful, like a
child's play with cubes. It's both, it's complicated. Did you have a question? – [Audience Member] Is
this project ongoing, and if it is do you see it
evolving in another direction? That's one part of my question. The second part of my question is some of the examples that you presented of people taking photographs of the tourist sites with people in them. Your landscapes, maybe this
is why they're sublime, or unpeopled landscapes, is that a possible direction for you, or is there a reason, what is your reason for keeping them unpeopled? – That's a great question. Because for the most part,
those painters of the sublime, so the whole tradition of
the sublime landscape is void of people and people
were provided just for scale, as their miniature figures,
so I'm kind of following that tradition of sublime landscape. I do have one, I'm just so organized. There's one here. I have a duck. (audience laughing) So two, so it's moving in different, yes, it is an ongoing project but it was put on pause for awhile. I'm looking to new directions,
I'm looking more into not just the landscape, the
categories of landscape itself, but also the way that
landscape is approached and the shift to that happened with those black and white mountains. Why turn the convert
them into black and white if they were in color initially? And then things like for instance, why photograph
everything in gold now, or why go out at 5am in the morning? So I'm interested in how those
landscapes are photographed as much as what is actually
being photographed now, so I'm moving towards that. Ducks, more and more elements too. Yeah, tourists maybe then. – [Moderator] Alright well that's really all the time we have tonight. Thank you so much Ana. Great lecture.
– Thank you, Jamie. Thank you, thank you for coming. (audience applauding)

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