Friday, November 5, 2010

Feature - Glen Erler

Glen Erler now lives in England but he grew up off the 15 freeway, near San Diego where he was born and lived here in LA for three years before crossing the sea. This has been a good year for Glen, having been shortlisted at Photo Fringe in Brighton and selected by Alec Soth for the 5th Curator's Choice over at Hey Hot Shot.

Copyright Glen Erler

I've chosen to select images from three series he made about this time growing up here and about this place that is Southern California. When I first came across the work, many of the images resonated with me, bringing back a rush of feelings and memories of my own childhood in the San Gabriel Valley, specifically summertime there. I'm very excited to feature the work for that reason, but also because it gives me a chance to further explore some things I've been thinking about over the past few weeks.

A little while back, 2point8 published a transcription of a speech that Gary Winogrand gave at MIT in 1974. The following interaction seems to have caught the fancy of a number of people:

[Audience Member]: You talked earlier about how you were dodging and burning to get an open photograph….

[Winogrand]: It simply means that in the shadow areas there should be information, it shouldn’t be dead, a hole in the picture, black. In the highlights there should be information, it shouldn’t be chalk-white.

[Audience Member]: Why not?

[Winogrand]: That’s what we’re talking about, were talking about, an “open print.”

[Audience Member]: Why do you say that though? I mean there are tons of people that consider themselves photographers who elect to have blacks with nothing in it..

[Winogrand]: Everybody is responsible for their own foolishness. And their own misunderstandings.


[Audience Member]: In other words, you don’t allow that ?

[Winogrand]: It’s not up to me to allow, or disallow. I don’t run the show.

[Audience Member]:But you are… you’re not controlling anything, but you’re making a judgment.

[Winogrand]: One the basis of what I understand, that’s all. I mean, just take a look in this room, ok? Who is wearing anything black? Take a look at somebody who is wearing black. There’s light on it, what color is it, is it black? Or is it grey? Is there a black in nature?

[Audience Member]: Yeah?

[Winogrand]: No, sorry. When the lights are out, when there’s no light, it’s black. Take pictures then, be my guest.

Now, this is Winogrand's subjective opinion of what a photograph should be and I'd venture to take that a step further and say it's his opinion of what a B/W photograph should be.

When it comes to color, I disagree. In this case, it's my subjective opinion of what a photograph should be and admittedly, that may be influenced or formed by the technology I've been working with or been viewing over the years. Give me a camera that has the same dynamic range as my eyes and maybe I'd start to favor more open prints. But maybe not.

Personally, I love the combination of colors with deep, true black. It conjures emotion and feeling that I don't get with, say, white or with a soft palette. Maybe that's part of why I mostly shoot at night. I saw 2 Jehad Nga prints while at M+B last week and at first, my friend and I thought they were lightboxes the way the black made the highlights and colors pop so much. More can be seen on their site here.

Copyright Jehad Nga

I've tried softening my blacks and I just don't like the look as much. I still like it, but not as much. I may be wrong, but I think Glen Erler would agree. His blacks are blacks and that's a component that I love about his work.

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Copyright Glen Erler

Now, someone who feels differently is Martina Hoogland Ivanow, who's work I came across on American Suburb X this week. I very much like her work but it's a different beast with a softer feel with more open blacks. She's chosen to lighten the blacks in her photos to go with that softness but you also see in the files (I haven't seen prints) a good amount of noise or grain resulting from that softening. Most noise and grain bother me. To me, it feels as if there is a layer of haze over her images.

It's a personal taste thing and well, art is subjective so you may have a different opinion on the matter and that's fine but I prefer true blacks in places like Glen uses in his photography both for the lack of noise and grain and for the emotion it conjures. I hope he'll excuse me for making an example here and for adding some of Martina's images below to his feature for comparison.

To copy Ed Winkleman's style, consider this an open thread on whether black should be allowed to be black in photography.

Copyright Martina Hoogland Ivanow

Copyright Martina Hoogland Ivanow

Copyright Martina Hoogland Ivanow

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