Posted by: zelly b. | April 16, 2009

Doll Face: Miles Aldridge at the Hamiltons Gallery

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a huge fan of fashion editorial photographs. There is just something about the combination of colour, the models, the clothes and the poses that tickles my aestheticism bone. And I know I can’t be the only one either because the fashion photography industry has been running strong for around a hundred years. There are people out there who follow (religiously, might I add) the latest issue of Vogue or Vanity Fair and have for years. Girls and boys everywhere grow up reading high fashion magazines and aspire to them despite any controversy that occurs within the fashion sphere. Photographers and models become celebrities in their own right because their works are consistently showcased in haute couture magazines such as these.

So what happens when you take those glossy images of models strutting their stuff in bright, beautiful clothing and stick them in a gallery setting? Can fashion editorial photography also contain some sort of (albeit loosely) conceptual idea? And is this ‘conceptualism’ only realized once these photographs are viewed in a gallery setting? Like a drawing or painting conjured from the artist’s mind, fashion photography starts off as an idea sketched out by the photographer before it is brought to fruition. True, there is a distinct commercial aspect to these photographs in order to sell a product, but it cannot be impossible to infuse a photographer’s conceptual intentions as well.

Miles Aldridge is one fashion photographer (among many) who has shown that this is, indeed, possible. Based in London, Aldridge (born in 1964) is well known for his breathtaking, surrealistic and mildly erotic fashion photography featured in countless fashion magazines such as Vogue, New York Times Magazine and Paradis.

<em>Blooming</em>, Vogue Italia, 2007

Blooming, Vogue Italia, 2007

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Date: Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Location: the OCAD auditorium

portrait of Roger Ballen (taken by Paul Ballen)

portrait of Roger Ballen (taken by Paul Ballen)

True to how I imagined him to be, Roger Ballen is as every bit as quirky and enigmatic as his photographs. His lecture at the OCAD auditorium was simultaneously vague and informative; vague, in that his lecture perpetuated even more questions from his audience; and informative, in the feeling that the veil of enigma surrounding these places has somewhat been lifted.

His stories are surreal.

Before my starry-eyed self stood a man obsessed with connections. Whether or not this is reflective of a general belief in the interconnectedness that exists within the known universe I may never know; but one thing is for certain: I left the lecture with an even deeper sense of awe for the man.

“Memory, like photography, is not exactly an objective way of remembering the past…”

Listening to his lecture was akin to being drawn into a good and gripping ghost story. These ghost stories, however, are far from fiction. I was suddenly transported into a place that exists only in my wildest nightmares, deep into a world where Pandora’s monsters have materialized into their very tangible counterparts and now roam about unabashedly. And so it would seem that the boarding house[*] Ballen so bravely ventured into has become iconic within the small South African community where he’s spent a good chunk of his career documenting. It is a place where criminals seek refuge, where scandal and injustice run rampant, where mystics, witch doctors, and spirits fill every known and undiscovered crevice. The results of his photographic journey have rendered visuals that come at you at all angles with these well-iterated philosophical questions: Where are we? Who are we?

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I first came across Alex Soloviev’s work during a group critique for the first of two group exhibition series titled Diction. Curated by local emerging artist Mahan Javadi for Index G gallery, this exhibition showcased conceptual renderings of random pages torn from a dictionary. The project was extremely open-ended; we were free to focus on either one word off the torn page, or all the words off the page itself. I was among the small group of artists chosen for this first installation of Diction, and it is through this show that I was first introduced to Alex.

Alex Soloviev

Alex Soloviev, 2009

Alex, myself, and Mariuxis fingers at Ynot Lounge, Summer 08. Candid taken by Alex himself.

Alex, myself, and Mariuxi's fingers at Ynot Lounge, Summer '08. Candid taken by Alex himself.

Alex and I were the only photo-based artists to exhibit in Diction; the other three artists – Danielle Williams, Jol Thomson, and Mariuxi Zambrano – presented their projects in video form. Mahan’s initial vision for Diction aimed to showcase only video works, but according to Mahan himself, he wanted to find a way to integrate my work and Alex’s work into the show somehow. During the group critique (which was held a few weeks after the show was to debut), I was immediately struck by Alex’s masterful sense of composition. His photographic style – clean, well balanced, extremely well-controlled, looked strangely and strikingly at odds with my darker, more chaotic digital manipulations. This is inherently what attracted me to his work in the first place; his bare-bones approach to photography is not marred by any add-ons, textures, and extreme colour variations. His photographs are sharp and crisp, void of any major post-processing save for a curves level adjustment here and there.

Like any photo enthusiast, it was a natural reaction on my part to wonder what dSLR Alex shot with. Imagine my surprise when he confessed that he shot with only a Sony DSC-600. A point and shoot?! To the seasoned pro, this may seem a bit blasphemous, but I did not see it this way. In fact, I think his work appealed to me all the more when his photo-taking process was revealed to me.

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