Disheartenend

If this blog is to have any value at all, I need to have the courage to write honestly. There are phases in my projects where I feel incredibly disheartened. I accept that the creative process is more than simple execution. The Sacred and Profane project has been with me for over a year now, and it continues to shift. What I thought initially to be a very strong direction now turns out to be a simple starting-off point. I mean that technically as well as creatively. The images I hoped to produce were reinterpretations of classic imagery, baroque in language but filled with a contemporary approach. After shooting like this for several months, I have found that I need to go beyond that.

I tried increasingly complex arrangements and settings, but I can’t seem to make that work, because they do exactly what I have always avoided – they are too expository, meaning they leave little room for interpretation; they tell a story, rather than serve as a doorway to the viewer’s own narrative.

But there are interesting details in each of these images. I am tearing them apart now, and pulling out the snippets that distill the idea. These crops are reduced to the essential elements, and lack the broader context of the original image. But my concern remains that I will be misunderstood, and I need to get over that.

There is an incredible desire to let my viewers know about the internal dialog which I find surprisingly intense, and the research I have done into this topic. These are not simple images that play with art history. I have never been able to separate my feelings from my thoughts. This has proven to be as much a strength as a weakness, but it has been the survival tool on which I have based my entire life as part of overcoming addiction, and illness. I need to be aware of my feelings so that they don’t take control of me, and over time I have come to take a certain pride in my emotions. I try to let them enter my images, not as the raw unprocessed vibe that paints every day a slightly different color, but rather the refined results that I’m able to arrive at after sifting through thoughts, concepts, and a general understanding of myself – and the people around me.

Yes, I know what that sounds like, but it works. There’s a reason I shot the Hopper’s American series the way I did at the time – each image reflects a moment just before or after something might have happened, and it’s unclear whether that is a good or a bad thing. That was very much on my mind at the time. The Hanjo story is a reflection of the choices people think they’re making about love when in relationships, and sometimes you have to accept the smaller loss over the bigger one… never knowing whether you will really know which one was the right choice.

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So if the Sacred and Profane images are now veering into sexualized images that focus on parts of the body, it’s not because I want to make fetishistic close-ups of arm pits, breasts, feet and shoulders, but rather because that is exactly where the vulnerability can be found. Those are the Achillian heels, the gateways to what is left of the Feminine in a visual language that to this day has been shaped by patriarchy.

But I need to accept that the images will be interpreted by my viewers as they choose.

More complex is the desire to create work that justifies itself intellectually, while still using a language of beauty. It still seems anathema to a large swath of people that those two elements are mutually exclusive. And a concept which can be grasped easily is suspicious to that same crowd.

I am disheartened right now. I feel like chucking the whole project, because I can’t come to terms with it… I can’t see the final project in front of me – the sizes, the paper types, the production, and whether it works at all. I look longingly at conventional fine art photography… those clever images shot in lonely locations that make me want to go on long trips by myself, or intimate moments caught amongst loved ones that make me wish for people in my life that would allow me to take their pictures. I want to work without large teams that need direction, I second-guess the people around me and wonder if they are committed enough, or creative enough to help me realize the images that are right behind my eyes, but that I can’t seem to articulate.

But that’s momentary. Believe me, these are not rare moments. They stare me down every time I need to select images after I shoot. But… they go away just as quickly, replaced by excitement for the next image and a new idea.

I have some new ideas, and they will be shot a week from now. There will be flowers and butterflies and sex and beauty.

Your God is Old

Your god is Old. He killed children
in Egypt, murdered lovers in the night,
swept sinners dead in a righteous wave.
He told Eve she would die
if she ate the apple, knowing
that he had already planted the seed
of the tree of Knowledge inside her.
He lied. He stole. He coveted.
Just because you create something,
doesn’t make it yours.

I will not be Job. If god tries
to tear down my house, I will
not weep. I will build it up again myself,
with my own hands.
That god is not my god. I am New.
I will walk with children.
I will love and learn to swim.
I will eat apples and drink coffee
and build towers.
I will wear flowers
from that old tree
in my hair.

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“Hagar waiting for Abram” – an image from a series I’m currently developing.

True Story

When she was younger she was a model. She had a mediocre career although she slogged on in the business for years. Her one great job ended with a sadly ironic twist. She had a beautiful figure. One day her agency told her a famous suntan cream manufacturer was casting for a model for their new global campaign. This campaign is famous. The image is iconic because it is always the same– a tanned statuesque woman with a spectacular body in a white bathing suit posed with her back to us while she looks out over some sun-holiday dream landscape– Greece, Morocco, Seychelles… That’s all: Goddess- figured woman with her back to us, wonderful sunny setting, and beneath the photo is the name of the product. She auditioned for the job and got it. The company paid her a great deal of money because the advertisement would be everywhere in the world– in magazines, on posters, buses… She was ecstatic. They flew her to Santorini with a famous photographer and a large crew. The resulting pictures were fantastic.

Within a short time her image was on display all over the world. She proudly placed the pictures in the front of her modeling “book.” The one of your best photographs that you carry to all castings to show potential clients your previous work so they can get an idea of how you look in different roles and poses. At one of the first castings after the pictures came out, she handed her book to the client. He turned to the first page and saw her suntan cream pictures. Smirking, he chuckled and shook his head. He showed the pictures to a man sitting next to him who smirked too. She asked what was wrong. The client said she was the third model who’d come in for that job with these same pictures in their book. All three women said they were the model in that campaign. Indignant, she said but I WAS the model– all you need to do is check with the company. He looked at her dismissively. “Do you really think I’m going to call them and make a fool of myself just so I can find out if that’s your *ass* in this picture?” She told me this happened frequently afterwards when she showed her book to casting directors. Few believed her because it seemed like every model with a nice body and her color hair in Europe was taking credit for those pictures. Her greatest modeling triumph didn’t help her dying career at all.

 – Jonathan Carroll

Sep20th_MG_0722_crop R2_sRGB smallerFrom one of my earliest studio projects, shot a long time ago. The story above is NOT about Barbora, obviously…

Objectification

There’s a struggle right now between celebration and objectification. My new project “The Sacred and the Profane” continues to edge closer to search for the Feminine, and less into an exploration of what I am recognizing as very patriarchal religions – the ones from Jerusalem.

After staging large elaborate scenes and images I find the details more interesting than the whole. But if I take certain key elements, will I be understood? Will a naked woman – or simply an exposed part – be mistaken for a misogynistic image? I’ve been completely misunderstood once before, I was startled by it at the time, but have worried about it so much that I have second-guessed my creative choices. I know as an artist I should be free of what people think of my work… but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge an awareness.

Also, I’m moving from the Narrative to the Abstract, or so it seems…

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… and there is this …

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… something like this …

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Thoughts?

Observations from an Exhibition

Milan Image Art Fair, known as MIA, just ended. I was featured as a Proposed Artist, and showed my Hopper’s American series.The fair has a unique format. There’s about one hundred booths, of which ninety are set up by galleries from around Europe. The kicker is that each booth may only showcase one artist. Those galleries who want to represent more than one artists arrange for multiple connecting booths. The remaining ten booths are granted to artists who are selected from a large number of submissions, and I was chosen early last year, before I had gallery representation. Between my selection and this recent show I found representation by CAMERA WORK, one of the top ten Photo Art galleries in the World. I discussed the opportunity with my gallery here, and ordinarily a represented artist does not host his own booth at a fair, but they felt it would be a good experience for me to go. Though I’ve been to many fairs as a buyer, fan, artist, and general aficionado, it is a different ball of wax entirely to experience that part of the art world first hand.

It’s not easy. The hardest part is standing there for eleven hours a day, talking about my own art. Most of the people don’t realize they’re talking to the artist directly, and the comments and questions run the gamut. My work is very good, and I got a lot of compliments. Many of the people who attend photo art fairs really know the genre, and it was great to hear so much validation. The nicest moment of course is being bought by someone who really understands my particular style. To be added to a collection by a collector who has Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman and Sandy Skoglund is a huge compliment.

More frustrating are the large huge number of hobby photographers who come to these fairs and want to talk endlessly about camera gear. They will bore you into the ground with questions about lenses, paper, and post-production issues, with virtually no interest in the artwork itself. But I’m professional enough, and can keep smiling and answer all questions.

Equally frustrating are the people who want to talk about naked models, without realizing that my work means something to me, that it’s more than just pretty pictures. The Hopper series is important to me, and all my work has happened in some personal way, whether it is obvious or not: The Hoppers documented a major change for me… I had a third son, we had moved from Los Angeles to Berlin, and most of all I was dedicating myself to this form of art. The images I created were about that moment just before or after something happened, with uncertainty over whether it was a good thing, or a bad thing. The images are melancholic and dramatic, because that is how I was feeling at the time. And as always, I use the language of fashion photography on purpose: it breaks down the image filter that modern people have acquired. So when occasional booth visitors dismisses the images as just “pictures of hot chicks” they completely miss the point of my work.

Of course there were also critical comments. Some of these had merit, and came from people who really understand photography. They focused on the complexity of the process, and the nature of the image. One I liked was a visitor who confided in me that he’d seen the artist’s newer work, and that it was even better than this older series. Others showed me elements of my work that I had never fully considered before, and that will flow directly into the newest series. A few told me in quite diplomatic but articulate ways why they dislike my style. It’s a matter of taste, and I respect their choices. But some of the criticism was quite off-center and tangential. Fortunately I’m a grown-up, and have honed my thick skin through online communities and other forums. But let’s just say that the hundreds of people who show up to a Photo ART Show with fully packed camera gear bags are not going to be talking about art and feelings.

The real reason to go is to connect with new galleries, publications, and collection advisors, and to build a list of people who are genuinely interested in my work. This part of the mission was highly successful. There were many galleries who came by to speak to me, or took me over to their booth to discuss their approach to art. But many of them don’t have the scale that I’m looking for. Simply put, I am very committed to my path as an artist, and I want to work with galleries that are equally serious about their business. But there were three galleries on my list before going to Milan, and all three conversations went very well. I expect a few interesting shows in the next eighteen months.

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I will say this… I am extremely grateful to a huge team of people that I work with. I know I made a major impact at this show. Call it hyper-confidence, but my work was some of the very best on show. I mean that in terms of creative content, execution, and technical efforts. Everything from my printing and framing, to materials, and of course the images themselves. I am coming home more sure of myself and my art than ever before. Call it pompous, but I like where my work is going, and those who know me will tell you that I spend plenty of time wrestling with my demons and self-confidence.

See you at Photo Tokyo in September  😉

Interview – Drome

Drome Magazine, Italy’s foremost art magazine, did a big feature on my Hopper’s American series. The magazine and website gets published in English as well as Italian, and having an Italian-language interview describing my work helped greatly during my art fair show in Milan last week.

Here is the Interview in English, though the opener must have been written in Italian first:

Deliberate, timeless, reduced to essentials. That’s how the German photographer Yoram Roth describes his style. On May 9th, he will exhibit his work at MIA – Milan Image Art Fair in Milan. He is one of the few artists able to use the language of fashion photography as a raw material. The glamorous aesthetic is just an element mixed with a narrative approach, aiming to create a story condensed in one shot and new interpretation of pictures. A method that is influenced by paintings, and that’s why the Hopper’s Americans project (2009) is an homage to Edward Hopper. Probably, what makes Yoram Roth’s style so peculiar is the skill in portraying a model without being focused only on her beauty or pose, putting in that way the concept on the back burner. On the contrary, he always succeeds in curbing the fancy nuances, paying all the attention to the feelings created. It happens in Struwwelpeter, the photographic recreation of a children story from 1846, as well as in Hanjo, the adaption of Yukio Mishima’s version of the 15th Century Noh play.

DROME: You live and work in Berlin, a city that influenced a lot of artists, musicians, directors and so on. Can you tell me how Berlin affected your work?
Yoram Roth: My images are staged and constructed, and they happen collaboratively. Berlin has a huge creative community, which makes it possible to create my images. There is a deep talent pool of people to draw from. The large movie industry here means there is a lot of set builders, stylists, and other creative contributors to work with. There are also endless actors and models who are willing to take chances. This is in part driven by the large artistic community. In a city where everyone is trying to achieve something new, something unique, something that has creative impact, the people in front of the camera are less likely to be governed by fear as they might be in New York or Paris these days. In the fashion and television centers around the world, a nude picture might ruin a lucrative contract, or a political statement is considered too risquée. The contrary is true in Berlin – the people want to create something provocative.

D: Could you tell me which aspects of fashion photography you find more interesting?
YR: I use both the mundane aspects of fashion photography, and the more ethereal. On the production side, I find myself working with models, hair & make-up teams, and lighting gear. That’s all pretty straight forward. But I love to play with the ethereal nature of fashion imagery. We have come to accept fashion models as the ideals of beauty of our time. Usually those images are created to help sell a product, to make the viewer believe that wearing these glasses, that suit, those shoes will take us that closer to heavenly perfection. It’s not unlike the depiction of saints in baroque painting. But when I use elements of fashion photography my goal is to draw the viewer in… but there is no product, no service that is being sold. It’s confusing at first. We have learned to develop a visual filter in our time. No generation in human history has been visually confronted with as much imagery as we have. So the mind must dismiss it as quickly as possible. Coffee machine, got it. Buy a car. Go on holiday somewhere exotic. We do this all day long. But when you come across my images, you stop. And you’re in the image. And you’re not sure why… and then you need to understand the feelings I’m depicting. And that’s where the image filter breaks down, which is why I use elements of fashion photography.

D: Who are the photographers you admire the most?
YR: My great role model is Gregory Crewdson, but I also admire the work of Izima Kauro.

D: You paid a homage to the painter Edward Hopper. Besides the narrative approach, what do you think you have in common with him?
YR: When I saw the Hopper retrospective at the Whitney two years ago (after finishing my homage) it struck me that Hopper didn’t really care so much about the subjects in his image, their purpose was really to embody an emotion. Most of his characters are emotionless. The drama is suggested, not told. In photography the expressionless image is less successful, in part because of our different relationship to imagery from a world filled with product images. Nonetheless I placed as little emphasis on expression as purpose, and focused on the body rather than the face. I believe I share Hopper’s desire for the image to be a catalyst to the story, rather than the story itself. On a simpler note, I am an adherent of color theory, and limited myself to a very specific palette of subdued colors in the series.

D: How can a photo become a narrative one? How could you tell a story through the images?
YR: It’s not impossible to tell a story with one image, but it’s ultimately not that interesting. I have studied a lot of art history, and much of the religious paintings coming out of the Renaissance right up to Neo-Classicism told simple stories. And although many of them are absolutely beautiful, they leave little room for personal interpretation. But that’s exactly the point where an image becomes interesting. If you can study a picture, and piece together your own story, then an image becomes narrative beyond telling a story. The world is filled with beautiful decorative pictures, but they don’t give you room to think for yourself.

D: Your images are laden with details. So, what’s the relationship between a picture and its details?
YR: I try to place elements that serve the narrative that gets constructed by the viewer. In my Hopper’s Americans series, I put media devices such as telephones and radios into almost every image, but also books. These provide the viewer with a context for the subject’s experience. Is she waiting for a phone call? Did he just hear something important on the news? What was she reading? But these elements also provides a way out of the image that isn’t physical. There’s always a window or a door, but a radio goes elsewhere. As a narrative photographer, the elements must serve several purposes, much like a painter places objects in his frame. They have to have symbolic value, they have to contribute aesthetically, and they have to be contextual.

D: On 9th May, you will exhibit at MIA – Milan Image Art Fair. Can you tell me your expectations and your fears about the show?
YR: Milan is known for good taste, so of course I hope to be particularly well received and successful. I’m worried about getting lost between so many of the big names that are represented there, but I take pride in being a part of it.

text by Gabriele Girolamini

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Originally published by Drome Magazine on May 8th, 2013

The Woman in the Mirror

I’m reading Camille Paglia’s “Glittering Images”, a book I recommend to anyone interested in art history and interpretation. It’s a series of short essays, covering about one hundred major pieces of art throughout history. The sub-title says it all: “A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.” Of course her essays all have her strong dissident feminist twist to them.

In describing Titian’s “Venus with a Mirror” she writes: The hushed spectacle of a woman gazing into her mirror has exerted a powerful fascination on male artists. Is she a puppet of vanity, or a sorceress in eery dialogue with her double? Most feminists reject the mirror as Woman’s oppressor, the internalized eye of judgmental society.

Or, as John Berger wrote in “Ways of Seeing”

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear.

One of my all-time favorite images from a session I shot a long time ago, featuring Angela.

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Self-doubt

Self-doubt can be a bitch. I have been working on my new series for almost a year now, and I have gone in a direction that I don’t fully believe in. I have experimented with narrative images that feature multiple characters, often eight or more people, and I find that they aren’t working yet. The images are extremely dense and staged, and they force a story, rather than suggest one. What’s confusing – as ever – are the disparate comments I am getting from my trusted circle. Some tell me the images that I don’t believe in are actually finally the first great images in the new series. Others like images that I don’t, or dislike the ones that I find aesthetically or conceptually good.

But I know what I want… and they aren’t it yet.

I’m looking back, and I’m trying to reconcile these images with everything that has happened. A year ago I was diagnosed with a crippling cancer and it changed how I perceive the world, what matters to me, and what I want to express artistically. My disdain for religion has not abated, but I have softened on it much the same way I will forgive a toddler for wanting to sleep with a favorite blanket. People need their superstitions, and at first glance there’s no real harm in it… while allowing us grown-ups a good night’s sleep knowing the simple ones have their comfort. Except of course that its bad parenting. At some point you need to ween your child off bad habits, and a child can only learn from parents and the people around it. Because on the larger scale these religious habits add up to cultures that are designed to clash, in their quest for growth they become the cause of war and death, and its lords rule as bullies who try to marshal their herds into separate pens.

My fascination remains with the Feminine. Our One-God religions fight to the death over who has the right form of worship of a very patriarchal God, while the Goddess has been entirely scrubbed from the culture. In 9th grade we all learned to quote Marx, we know that religion is the opiate of the masses. Drug addicts will come up with a hundred things that would make their life better. “if only I had a good job, if only she loved me, if only my parents had been nicer…” but the one thing that never crosses their mind to quit is the drug itself. Our monotheist cultures never stop to question the endless duality – Good vs. Evil, God vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and so on – to realize that we need to quit the teenage-boy God, that we are missing the Feminine.

So I am stepping back a bit and will focus on very simple images. Sometimes a visual-conceptual cleanse is necessary to clear the creative palate. Here’s a test image that I shot on Thursday. I like the light and the pose, but I want a few more elements in the image to give it some visual texture. It’s too simple right now, but I like that it is less narrative. I will reshoot this, the same emotion but a little more set to give the eye something to complement the main element.

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Interview – Stilbruch – German TV

One of Germany’s better cultural round-up programs is Berlin’s Stilbruch, an excellent weekly show that reports on cultural events going on in town and around the city. I was invited to provide context and offer differentiation between pornography vis-a-vis fine art nude imagery as part of Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie‘s new exhibition Die Nackte Wahrheit / The Naked Truth.
Be warned. It’s about nude photography in the early days. And it’s in German. And they used a funny walking sequence of me for some reason at the very end.

Here’s the museum’s blurb on the show:

At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides’ presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other, continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motion-study photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, ‘Free Body Culture’, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction.

The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in today’s exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.

MIA – Milan Image Art Fair

MIA, Milan’s Image Art Fair has become one of the major art fairs focusing on photography. It has a wonderfully elegant approach that is quintessentially Milanese. There are 100 booths, and each gallery may only show one artist per booth. If they want to feature more than one of their artists at MIA, they need to apply for a second booth.

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A small number of booths are reserved for featured artists that are selected from a very large pool, and I have been selected to show my work in one of those eight booths. Please come and visit me, either to buy one of my Hopper’s American series that I’ll be showing there, or simply to chat.

Private Preview is on the 9th, let me know if you are interested in tickets, I have a few left for collectors and those serious about photographic art.

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