Elene Usdin in EYEMAZING Magazine
© Elene Usdin
Elene Usdin is member of collective Hartland Villa. She is an illustrator who has been published in several magazines worldwide and has created some lovely children’s books. But now it’s her photographic works, her self-portraits, that are drawing attention.
Take her image Matelas for example. Her body, self-entangled in mattresses, is here for us to explore. Her self is somehow always illusive; not all parts are be revealed in a single moment but rather over time in flowing movement. She’s not giving much away: her face is often partially concealed, sometimes completely behind a generic plastic mask, eyes sealed shut. Bare walls… and no furniture except mattresses used like armour surrounding the body, protecting it from our gaze.
Beds – or more accurately, mattresses – are the foundation. But often they are divorced from their function: either stacked on top of one another, or placed as if propped up against a wall, or set up vertically. The mattress as a site of a much assailed and private activity is decontextualized only to be reinvested with ambiguous content. A mattress leans against a wall, as if seeking a state of rest. Its awkward pose causes its internal architecture to manifest itself: its surface erupts in a constellation of cascading rivulets and regular tactile protrusions, a profile rather alien to the idea of rest. The tone and somewhat battered air of the image appears to indicate that this is a mattress that has done its earthly duty, and is now inexorably invested with the memory of those who reclined and/or dallied upon it.
Self-portraiture came about almost incidentally for Usdin, when she was travelling to Marseille in the South of France in 2003. In the intimacy of the hotel room, Usdin created a universe for her boyfriend and us to enter, the hotel room as a site filled with narrative potential. Familiar yet foreign, a hotel room combines experiences of both intimacy and anonymity. The intimacy can be almost eerie as she divulges herself to the world, to us, to him. Using the mattresses, the mask as armour to cover what is left of her being.
Self-portraits can be carefully staged to show an audience only what the artist wishes to project, or deeply revealing, inadvertently displaying feelings of anguish and pain. Usdin is self-studying her self, remembering the past, releasing her emotion. Whatever way she chooses to construct her images, she is forced to study her own persona both physically and emotionally. Self-fashioning, she associates her images with certain items of clothing, hairstyle, furniture, or scenery, these choices reveals a unique perspective on the artist’s view of herself.
Throughout the century, women artists have been appropriating, inverting and challenging the modes of self-portraiture, which reinforce the masculinity of the artist in both myth and history. This has been a necessary exercise for women who wished to represent themselves as ‘the artist’, since the standard means by which this was signified were defined in ways exclusive of women. In some cases, it was enough merely to show yourself with the tools of the trade to subvert convention and declare yourself an independent woman. At other times, more active parodies and pastiches of the tropes associated with the artist myth were needed to find a place from which the woman as artist could speak. Whichever tack was taken, women’s representations of themselves, which engaged with artist definitions altered those definitions and the very ways in which self-portraiture as a genre can be read. The more fragmented or fractured our experience in the world the more disjointed our reflections. “My images,” she states “are like lucid dreams, incidental, like a game, words in a poem, staging the body and re-appropriating the space the canvas the objects around it.”
Usdin has subsequently explored this technique further while working with the collective Hartland Villa, as part of an ongoing series she has transformed, transvestites herself into various dramatic heroines, vulnerable variations of seemingly mundane and mute objects.
The accoutrements of daily life are, of course, everywhere infused with her body and human echo, objects designed to contour themselves to her shapes and needs; Usdin reiterates a relationship, and suggests a parallel psychological echo, an intimation of anthropomorphism that is very absorbing and true. In a way, looking at her work is akin to the experience of watching an apartment building being emptied, where for fleeting moments there are glimpses into rooms totally stripped of human presence, but still imbued with human drama. The results of an inquiry such as this might be purposefully inconclusive, but are heady with possibilities.
Text by Sophie Ekwe Bell
© All pictures: Elene Usdin
mars 8, 2008
Photographers, on the Other Side of the Lens
By PHILIP GEFTER. Published: March 2, 2008. The New York Times
Henri Cartier-Bresson holding one of his photographs in the documentary “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye,” by Heinz Butler.
“MY passion has never been for photography itself,” Henri Cartier-Bresson says in the documentary “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye,” by Heinz Butler. The passion he describes instead is for “the possibility of forgetting yourself” while taking pictures, and “of capturing in the fraction of a second the emotion of a subject and the beauty of form.”
Photographers — how they work, what they shoot, and their sources of inspiration — are the subject of a weeklong documentary series that begins Monday night on the Sundance Channel. The documentaries, made over the last decade by 10 independent filmmakers and assembled for the series, feature a broad range of photographers including William Eggleston, Tina Barney, Helmut Newton, and Robert Mapplethorpe and his mentor Sam Wagstaff, among other lesser-known artists.
The series doesn’t aim to be comprehensive, but by providing a casual introduction to a number of notable photographers with snippets of insight about who they are and how they take pictures, “the onion is peeled just a little more about their muses, their influences and their collaborations,” said Laura Michalchyshyn, executive vice president for programming and creative affairs at the Sundance Channel, who helped select the documentaries for the series.
While the challenge for each filmmaker was to document the creative process of their subjects, the photographers’ approach to their work varies considerably, and so each film reflects the essence of its subject. In “Tina Barney: Social Studies,” the filmmaker Jaci Judelson draws specific parallels between Ms. Barney’s upper-class background and the world she photographs, underscoring the vital connection between her life and her work. In “William Eggleston and the Real World,” Michael Almereyda used a hand-held camera to capture and transmit the furtive manner in which Mr. Eggleston walks down the street and in and out of stores, taking pictures of everyday objects that would typically escape our notice.
“It’s innately weird,” Mr. Almereyda once told a reporter when asked about the process of filming a photographer. “But after a while it was like following someone on a safari. There’s this ongoing suspense — when and what is he going to shoot?”
As photography has become an increasingly sought-after commodity in the art market, turning many photographers into celebrities, the film series diffuses the mystique somewhat by showing the everyday working methods that vary from one photographer to another. Some take pictures of the world as it is, relying on the spontaneity of the moment; others construct the pictures they take by scouting locations, setting up elaborate equipment and arranging their models. Only the use of the camera and the final object — a photographic print — seems to unite the profiled photographers.
And as the films show, it is impossible to separate the photographers from the pictures they take. Known primarily for large-scale color photographs of her extended upper-class American family that she took in the 1980s, Ms. Barney is shown in the film talking with her sister about the Balenciagas they wore to their respective debutante balls in the 1950s; the family’s first crossing to Europe on the ocean liner Liberté; and the guests, including Truman Capote and Rex Harrison, who would visit them on weekends at their summer home on Long Island.
Then the film follows Ms. Barney from Manhattan to Newport, R.I., to Europe, where she arranges and takes a series of portraits of European aristocrats. “I start phoning people and say, ‘I’m Tina Barney,’ ” she says in the film. “ ‘So-and-so gave me your name. Can we meet?’ ” At the end of one phone call in which she arranges to meet a potential subject, Ms. Barney asks, “Do I call you Princess?”
The resulting photos might be likened to salon paintings — formally composed portraits in settings rich in the details and fabrics of the subjects’ high social position.
For his part Mr. Eggleston is portrayed as eccentric and somewhat obsessive. In one sequence he is shown driving to his home in Memphis when he pulls over to photograph a dilapidated house. Taking pictures both inside and outside the house, he appears to be shooting at random, but because the filmmaker inserts finished prints of the shots he is taking into the film, the logic of Mr. Eggleston’s choices become clear.
Helmut Newton, the notorious photographer of high fashion and elegant kink, is the focus of “Helmut Newton: My Life,” by Gero von Boehm. The film presents the stylishness of Mr. Newton’s life, which wafts among Los Angeles, Berlin, Monte Carlo and Paris. At the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles Mr. von Boehm films Mr. Newton in the hotel’s laundry room explaining why he photographed nude models leaning against large stainless steel washing machines. In Monte Carlo Mr. Newton directs an elaborate fashion shoot on the waterfront. “Keep your bottom in the air,” he shouts to one model from behind his camera.
Mr. von Boehm, to his credit, includes footage of Mr. Newton, who grew up in Berlin, discussing his flight from Nazi Germany as a young Jew, and cites the connection between the bold graphics of Nazi imagery, which fascinated the photographer visually as a boy, and the graphic look of his own controversial photographs.
There is so much photographic imagery in our daily lives that you might say we scarcely even notice. But one interview in the Cartier-Bresson documentary points out both the historic value of photography and the emotional effect of a single photograph. Arthur Miller responds to a Cartier-Bresson picture of Marilyn Monroe taken on the set of “The Misfits,” in 1961. She’s wearing a simple black dress; her hair is pulled back under a smart little hat with netting; and she stares pensively away from the camera. “Beautiful,” says Miller, who was married to her when the picture was taken. “This was the first day of shooting. She is not simply posing for a picture. She is preoccupied with something. And so she is very alive in the picture. Her basic intelligence is in that picture. It’s a very introspective picture. It’s her. It’s the way she was.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 9, 2008
An article last Sunday about a Sundance Channel series of documentaries on photographers included an outdated title supplied by a publicist for Laura Michalchyshyn, who helped select the documentaries that would be broadcast. She is executive vice president for programming and creative affairs — not executive vice president for programming and marketing.
mars 23, 2008
Vanity Fair's iconic images, from soulful to glossy
By Suzy Menkes - Published: March 10, 2008
© Condé Nast Publications Inc./Image Courtesy George Eastman House.
Edward Steichen's portrait of Gloria Swanson, taken in 1924.
LONDON: When the society critic Cleveland Armory said in 1960 that Vanity Fair magazine was "as accurate a social barometer of its time as exists," the modernist publication had already been dead for 24 years.
Who could have imagined in the 1960s that the early 20th-century project of the dynamic and visionary publisher Condé Nast would have a renaissance in the 1980s - or that its later images, from the blonde ambition of Madonna to the puffy prettiness of the child star Drew Barrymore, would open the floodgates on celebrity culture?
"Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008" at the National Portrait Gallery in London (until May 26) is a glamorous record of social, political and show business history. It includes the historically famous such as the aviator Amelia Earhart or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And if the magazine's first incarnation, from 1913-1936, seems more noble and artistic, the later images by Annie Leibovitz get into the soul of characters who thought - like Robert De Niro with his wrinkled brow and crumpled ennui - that they were being captured in a flattering portrait.
The exhibition is a feast for the eyes and for those who relish a century of star spotting. But the images should really be viewed with the informative catalogue, which puts the work into context. Thus you can relive the shock waves that radiated like the ultrasound from the pregnant stomach of Demi Moore, photographed by Leibovitz in 1991. The portrait marked a moment when a woman proved her right to celebrate fecundity.
What makes a great portrait? Between its launch in 1913 as "Dress and Vanity Fair" to its demise in 1936, the magazine was, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, a contributor to the catalogue, "the Jazz Age machine." He also claims that it created for the 20th century the concept of changing decades, each with definitive characteristics, as opposed to the royal reigns of previous historical periods.
Nast and his art-loving editor Frank Crowninshield tapped all the great photographers, from Edward Steichen through Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz to the more romantic Cecil Beaton. Steichen's 1924 portrait of Gloria Swanson, her silver-screen glamour made mysterious with black lace, set a tone for images which, without aiming to be penetrating or painful, had something under the varnish.
The energy of the Jazz Age (and, as a subtext, its embrace of black achievement) seems to be bursting from the frames in three 1935 portraits: "Bojangles" Robinson with his shiny shoes leaping in George Hurrell's image; an athletic Jesse Owens photographed by Lusha Nelson and a young Louis Armstrong (Anton Bruehl) wiping the sweat from his laughing face.
How far did the photographers push the accepted norms to create an arresting image? When Hurrel posed Jean Harlow in all her platinum blondness leaning on a lion's head with open jaw (1934), the sexual frisson was as obvious as in the later image of the model Giselle Bündchen, doing a Lady Godiva, her naked thighs gripping a white horse (Walter Chin, 1999).
Terence Pepper, co-curator of the exhibition, analyzes in the catalogue the early 1920s combination of modernist design with a "literate voice, lively attitude and sharp wit."
The early innocence and artiness translated into a more knowing style after Tina Brown, editor in chief for Vanity Fair's renaissance, repositioned the magazine in the 1980s. Politicos, Hollywood types and even royalty - in the decorative portraits of Princess Diana by Mario Testino - put their best sides forward without revealing their souls. Only when Mary Ellen Mark catches the sorrowful eyes of Liza Minnelli (2001) or when Leibovitz shows the sisterly discomfort of a hard-as-nails Jackie and Joan Collins (1987) is there a sense that Vanity Fair is more than a Hollywood fan-zine.
It seemed eager to buff up the status quo and offer a heroic vision of Arnold Schwarzenegger's muscles on a mountain (Leibovitz, 1997) or Rupert Murdoch as a lone sailor by the same photographer (1994). Julianne Moore, as if painted by Ingres, her naked back flowing from gilded drapes (Michael Thompson, 2000) gave an arty gloss to what is now a highly successful celebrity magazine.
When did character morph into celebrity, making the fame game the focus of magazine photography? Maybe it was latent from the very start, since the 1913 version included snapshots for a "Hall of Fame." Pepper, who selected from the extensive Condé Nast archives the 150 portraits on show, calls Crowninshield a "cultural catalyst." The same could be said of Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair's current editor in chief. For however staged and superficial groups of Hollywood stars might seem, the portraits in this compelling exhibition often reach iconic status, defining for posterity a vision of today's shooting stars.