current issue

 

32: weak systems

On Site review: other ways to talk about architecture and urbanismContains things you will never find anywhere else.

back issues

31: mapping | photography

30: ethics and publics

29: geology

28: sound

27: rural urbanism

on site 26: DIRTonsite 25: identity online

onsite 24: migration onlineonsite 23: small things online

read onsite 22: WAR online

On Site 22: WAR has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

read onsite 21: weather online

read onsite 20: museums and archives onlineonsite 20 individually archived articles

onsite 20:museums and archives has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

read onsite 19: streets onlineOn Site 19 has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online.

onsite 19 individually archived articles

read onsite 18: culture onlineonsite 18 individually archived articles

onsite17 individually archived articles

who we are

Entries in photography (63)

Thursday
Mar012012

aspect and prospect

[Jardin des] Tuileries : Mai 1906. N ° Atget : 5371. 1906. Photographie positive sur papier albuminé d'après négatif sur verre au gélatinobromure ; 21 x 17,5 cm (épr.). [Cote : BNF - Est. Eo 109a bte 1 ; n ° micr. T038908] \ Opaline 039802

Hossack mentions that before she went to the Tuileries, she looked at how Atget, Brassaï, Doisneau and Kertész had viewed the gardens.  One of Atget's images records the erotic curve of marble against sky, the bending of the figure to the curve of the railing separating the civilised from the relative mystery of the woods.  

The companion image looks at it from the other side, where all of a sudden we are aware of all the flimsy clutter of park life, the statue just one more piece of furniture.

Jardin des Tuileries : Mai 1906. N ° Atget : 5369. 1906. Photographie positive sur papier albuminé d'après négatif sur verre au gélatinobromure ; 21 x 17,5 cm (épr.). [Cote : BNF - Est. Eo 109a bte 1 ; n ° micr. T038907] \ Opaline 039801

Wednesday
Feb292012

Leslie Hossack, les Tuileries

Leslie Hossack. Waldeck-Rousseau Monument, Tuileries, Paris 2009

Leslie Hossack's photograph of the Waldeck-Rousseau Monument in the Tuileries.  As she notes, the gardens were designed by Le Nôtre in 1664, formal, rigourous, allées and monuments, swept gravel rather than humid lawns.  

Clearly she took the photo from the back, from the wall behind this monument.  Always looking at things to capture information about the thing itself rarely records how one gets to the thing, which in this case, is more interesting to us today than is the over-wrought statuary. 

Monday
Feb202012

Jon Rafman: what google sees

Jon Rafman. Google Street Views, 2010

Jon Rafman. Google Street Views, 2010

I was very sloppy with this post a couple of days ago: got the dates wrong and hadn't thought too deeply about these images.  What I quite liked about them was that they themselves had no meaning: caught by a camera programmed to photograph the street in nine different directions every ten feet or whatever it is, they simply are raw information. 

Jon Rafman chose, out of billions of such raw images, a collection that he ascribed some sort of role to, simply by selecting them.  Many of the people caught in many of the images know they are on camera and act up for it, others don't notice.  There are many traffic accidents that seem to have happened just as the Google van went by.  The stone house and the roadway, above, are simply beautiful ideas, which is why I selected them out of the hundreds on Rafman's 9-eyes.com.  There are so many selection filters one could apply, it turns viewers into search engine filters themselves. Which is of course how we all negotiate our own worlds.

 

Thursday
Jan122012

Beth Dow, Powis Castle

Beth Dow. Terrace, Powis Castle, Wales. Platinum palladium print 18.5"x 16" image on 24" x 20" Weston Diploma paper. Edition of 25 + 3 Artist Proofs

Wednesday
Jan112012

Björn Braun, tree, material

Björn Braun, Untitled, 2009. Meyer Riegger, Karlsruhe/Berlin.

From an article in Frieze:

'collages – usually unframed and mounted on the torn-off covers of hardback books'

'works use only what can be found in the original pictures: he cuts and tears things out, reforming or repositioning them in the finished piece.'

Monday
Jan092012

Zander Olsen, Tree/Line

Zander Olson. Untitled (Cader), 2008

Wednesday
Dec142011

Fred Herzog's Vancouver

Fred Herzog, Robson Street, 1957. Ink jet print, 51 x 34.6 cm; image: 45.9 x 29.5 cm. CMCP Collection. © Fred Herzog.

From the blurb on the Fred Herzog page at MOCCA: 'Herzog's passion for photography resulted in a large body of work depicting Vancouver during the postwar era, at a time when capitalism and consumer culture was burgeoning'.

And another:

Fred Herzog, Robson Street, 1958. Ink jet print, 51 x 34.6 cm; image: 45.9 x 29.5 cm. CMCP Collection. © Fred Herzog.This image was in the Globe & Mail book review section last week as there is a book out of Herzog's work: Grant Arnold. Fred Herzog, Vancouver Photographs.  D&M, 2011.

Herzog was German, worked as a seaman after WWII and in 1952 emigrated to Canada when he was just 22.  He became a medical photographer, and taught at UBC and Simon Fraser.  Herzog has a huge following in Vancouver as he documented a city unrecognisable now.  But I can recognise the prim little lady waiting for the bus, her hat, her gloves, her stick and sensible lace up shoes.  My childhood in Victoria was peopled with such tidy creatures who dressed to go downtown. Of course, downtown then had butchers and cake shops, lunch counters and ladies' dress shops. No malls, few cars, excellent bus service, a kind of public propriety on the sidewalk.  The fellow who has wounded his chin badly while shaving and wearing an undershirt on the street, and smoking, and having a sprained wrist: clearly a doubtful presence at the edge of our little lady's world. But at least he had shaved to go out.  Stubble was a signal that one had really given up.

Thursday
Dec082011

wood matches and plastic lighters

The remains of an albatross © Photo: Chris Jordan - http://www.chrisjordan.com

Went to buy some matches yesterday, looked all over the supermarket, none to be found.  Asked, told that all 'smoking paraphernalia' was over in the gas bar.  Trudged through the slush to the gas bar, asked for a box of matches: what a strange request.  The girl had to find a ladder to get them from a locked top shelf.  I could buy two huge boxes or ten little boxes, no the packages can't be divided.  
I said, this is winter, we light candles and kindling; matches aren't smoking paraphernalia, they light fires.  Here is the answer: people use disposable lighters or, for candles, those long butane filled wands.  

Which is better for this world, a match made of wood or cardboard, or a lighter made of plastic, metal and lighter fluid?

Midway Atoll is located in the North Pacific Gyre, one of five floating continents of plastic litter and chemical and organic waste.  Midway is an albatross colony: pieces of plastic, about the size of disposable lighters evidently look similar to squid, the main component of an albatross diet.  This plastic is eaten and then regurgitated to feed albatross young.  Who die.  The corpse decays and as it was stuffed with plastic, a tidy collection of matter incapable of decay is left on the beach.  

Plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller and thus is ingested by smaller and smaller animals.  Who die.  And while we seem to be able to sample the debris in each of the oceanic gyres, there is so far no solution for its collection.

The photo above is by Chris Jordan, who has made a film about Midway.  I heard about it on Radio Netherlands' Earth Beat a few weeks ago. 

Wednesday
Dec072011

Louis Helbig: aestheticising the unconscionable

Louis Helbig. Bitumen Slick N 57.19.28 W 111.25.44 Syncrude Aurora North

Helbig writes of the image above: Booms confining bitumen floating near the edge of Syncrude's Aurora North tar pond.  This is where industry suffered its most serious massive public relations setback in the spring of 2008 when someone alerted the public and the authorities to flocks of ducks landing on its surface.  In this particular incident about 1,600 ducks were killed.  Syncrude was convicted in 2010 of breaching both federal and provincial environmental reglations.

He has a series of aerial photographs of the oil sands region, and although his view is activist, as one can see from the captions, the images are beautiful.  How is it that our visual acuity has been trained to find abstraction so sublime.  Context is removed and we gaze at such images with the appreciation other eras gave to flowers or girls with pearl earrings.  This is precisely what is so dangerous about the removal of context, scale, consequences and facts.  They are removed.  

We need people such as Louis Helbig to keep explaining not just his photographs, but the abstract nature of the oil sands enterprise itself.  Whatever it does there is a diagram on the map with pipelines dotted in to Texas, maybe to Prince Rupert and on to China.  It is a series of mirrored glass office towers in Calgary and Houston. It is every plastic bag we throw hopefully into the recycling bin, it is the cloud of exhaust everytime we start our cars. 

Tuesday
Nov292011

Fernando Brízio at the Antigo Convento da Trindade

From EXD'11 in Lisbon.  Click on the image to go to David Pereira's beautiful sequence of photographs of this exhibition.

David Pereira, photographer. Don't Look Back | Fernando Brízio | Desenho Habitado | Antigo Convento da Trindade

Thursday
Nov102011

Donovan Wylie 2: the architecture of war

Wednesday
Nov092011

Donovan Wylie's Kandahar outposts

copyright Donovan Wylie, Magnum. Observation Post. Exact location unknown. Kandahar Province. Afghanistan, 2011

Although Canada was part of ISAF and in Kandahar Province until just this summer, we rarely saw where they were.  Rick Mercer went to the base at Kandahar, stood in front of Tim Hortons, we saw ramp ceremonies, CF members sent messages back to their families at Christmas on CBC, but it was all in the bright lights of tv cameras and the cleanliness of the main base.  Even news reports of the poppy fields being destroyed were as beautiful as poppies are.

Donovan Wylie, a Belfast photographer, was embedded with the Canadian ISAF contingent and funded through the Bradford Fellowship 2010/11 from Bradford College, the University of Bradford and the National Media Museum, located in Bradford.  His series of photographs of FOBs is on display at the National Media Museum until mid-February 2012, and will be published in an accompanying book. 

Forward Operating Bases are just that: the forward part of the line, observation posts usually made of hesco bastions, and very, very vulnerable.  This is the Afghanistan in which our forces did their tours, and in which 158 died: dusty, brown, lunar, lonely.  We, in Canada, were never shown this environment.  Our various ministers of defence never walked into these outposts on IED mined tracks.  They never lived there.  

One of the characteristics of WWI and the horror of its trench warfare was the eternally cheerful letters from the front sent to families back home. And when those who survived finally did make it home, they never talked about it.  After seeing Wylie's photographs, I feel that we in Canada were let down by our national media, who also sent cheerful reports from the front.  Why is PTSD as epidemic as it is?  Perhaps it is because hardly anyone is talking about what happened. 

Tuesday
Oct252011

Isabelle Hayeur: Underworlds

Isabelle Hayeur. Lampsilis.

Isabelle Hayeur has been photographing bodies of water since 2008 – as she says, 'the turbid waters of navigation canals, troubled waters of dubious, uncertain origin'.  

So often we register changes in rivers, lakes, oceans and wetlands from standing head height, rarely from the water itself, in section.  Hayeur's images record the death of so many waterways de-oxegenated through pollution at a massive scale.  Rather than the glittering reflective surface that is so deceptive, her work takes us below to a world both disturbed and disturbing.

Tuesday
Oct112011

Taysir Batniji's Watchtowers

Watchtowers (Israeli military miradors in West Bank, Palestinia), 2008 serie of 26 photographs B&W, digital prints, 40 x 50 cm (photo Dieter Kik).
Taysir Batniji is showing a series of photographs this year at Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 which investigates the relationship between art and politics. Batniji's series, Watchtowers, consists of watchtowers on the West Bank border with Israel.  There is a project of witness here, the recording of the watchtowers' existence, and there is a formal project, the typology of the watchtower, and there is a project of photography, the implications of the processes and products of the Bechers, their watertower series in particular.  

Water Towers (Wassertürme), 1980. Nine gelatin silver prints, unique, approximately 61 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches (155.6 x 125.1 cm) overall. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 1980 Bernd and Hilla Becher

Batniji describes the watchtower project:
Significantly, the project registers the attempt (or the situational difficulty in trying to attempt) to follow the Bechers’ method. The particularly perilous conditions of these photographs render them compromised. As a Palestinian born in Gaza I am not authorized to return to the West Bank, so I delegated a Palestinian photographer to carry out these photos. They are out of focus, clumsily framed, imperfectly lighted. In this territory, one cannot install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take the time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait days for the ideal light conditions. Aestheticization becomes a vivid political challenge, both in the creation of these photographs and in their reception, as these images challenge viewers to see these functional military constructions as sculptural, or as a part of a formal architectural heritage.

Aestheticisation is such a danger and must plague all photographers in war situations where the camera both sees and makes beautiful simply because it isolates a dynamic and horrific scene in a detached and calm image, and the calmness, and our inevitable space-time distance as viewers from the scene, sanctifies it somehow.  The janus-face of documentary photography.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Giulio Petrocco

 

Giulio Petrocco, photographer. Juba, 2011Giulio Petrocco  took the photographs for Joshua Craze's article on Juba, South Sudan in On Site 25: identity.  Petrocco is an Italian photojournalist who places himself in dire and dangerous circumstances: see for example, his work from Sana'a, the Yemeni spring which becomes progressively more violent, or a curious site: a neighbourhood in Queen's which was built on a swamp and was a mafia dump.

 Through Petrocco's lens the third world seems to exist anywhere there is struggle.  One wonders if the first world is a definition of sleep walking with plenty of rights and lots of food.  

He keeps a running commentary on his blog What I Learnt Today.

Joshua Craze is an essayist based in Juba, Southern Sudan. With Meg Stalcup, he investigated counterterrorism training in America, which was published by the Washington Monthly.  Now maybe I am a naïve first world sleepwalker, but I found this study really upsetting – not that there is terrorism and counter-terrorism, but the massive distortions of identity and affiliation that can get one so easily killed.  His piece for On Site wasn't quite so dismaying. It was about South Sudan, new country, no identity other than tribal groups which have animals as totemic markers.  There was a perhaps spurious plan to rebuild Juba, the capital, according to a plan the shape of a rhinoceros, the totem of the current power group, the eye being the seat of government (and no doubt a great site for future protests – a Tahrir Square in the making).  Frankly, I thought it looked reasonable as a plan.  As reasonable as any other kind of abstract diagram upon which to base a city. 

The distance between this idea and Juba's reality as shown in Petrocco's images is indeed vast, but the plan is so hopeful, so clean, so deceptively simple.  For something of the complexity of this area see Craze's piece on Abyei in The Guardian.

Proposal for the rebuilding of Juba, South Sudan, 2010.

 

Tuesday
May312011

Rouleau, Saskatchewan

George Hunter. Rouleau, Saskatchewan 1954. CCA Archives.

Rouleau, Saskatchewan (1903), photographed from the air by George Hunter in 1954.  This is the classic image of a prairie town, located within the Dominion Grid (laid down between 1879 and 1884), wood grain elevators lining the tracks, the world of Who Has Seen the Wind (1947), a train stop on the SOO Line (to Chicago) built during the wheat boom that ended sharply in 1910.  Lots of dates, but all within the space of fifty years.

Rouleau, Saskatchewan. Google Maps, 2011Rouleau on GoogleMaps.  Not a lot has changed.  Rouleau is in the infamous Palliser Triangle, an area (officially a semi-arid nutrient-rich steppe) deemed by John Palliser, who surveyed it in 1858, to be uninhabitable because it didn't support trees.  The whole area suffered greatly during the droughts of the 1930s, but nearby is Claybank Brick Plant, now a historic site.  The clay was particularly suited to firebrick, used to line fire boxes in train and ship engines: CPR, CNR and RCN all in expansion mode up to WWII  – voracious clients for firebrick.

From 2003 to 2008  Corner Gas was filmed in Rouleau.  The iconic Saskatchewan rural wheat town was the physical fabric that supported a vision of Canada as a friendly but sometimes sharp-edged community, funny, pathetic, brave, funny, ridiculous, heroic, funny, everyday.  Corner Gas was the Canada that we like to carry about within us, without actually living there.  

Rouleau's slogan is 'Saskatchewan's First 1 Million Bushel Town!'  Does this mean much to any of us not from a farming background? No.  Does Rouleau care?  No.  Is this a brand?  No.  Does this say a lot about Rouleau?  Yes.

Thursday
May262011

Gerster 2: land prints

Gerog Gerster. Harvest, Idaho, 1988

Is ploughing, cutting and threshing so individual that their patterns act as a fingerprint?  Something like the individuality of a welder's seam?

I would hazard that these are fields not part of the Dominion Survey, or in the States, the Land Ordinance Act, both of which divided the land into a 6 mile grid, implacable and immutable.  Such fields are square, ploughed squarely, unless there is a slough, or an erratic, or some awkward bit of topography in the way.  Or maybe farmers just get bored.

Well, no. The point of contour ploughing is to increase water retention in sloping soil and to prevent water erosion, survey grids notwithstanding. So something indicates the need for water conservation in these fields.

Gerster seems to have returned to this area, eastern Washington and Idaho many times.  Almost all his work, which is from all over the world, is about the interaction of industrial practice with the landscape – the mark of man, the hand, the machine and the land.  

Georg Gerster. Lentils, USA, 1980

Wednesday
May252011

Georg Gerstner: land

Georg Gerster. Felder im Palouse, USA, 1979

Okay, done with the hand for now, the closest landscape we have.  Georg Gerster, German photographer, did a lot of aerials from helicopter and small planes from the 60s to 90s.  Beautiful photography, National Geographic stuff, very photogenic landscapes.  The one above, found in his photo gallery on his website, is a ploughed field in eastern Washington State, near Palouse, shot in 1979.  

Wonderfully graphic, one does have to ask why it is so.  Looked up the area around Palouse on Google Maps and found that on the western slope of the Rockies it is indeed highly topographic, contour ploughing raised to land art.

We have a call for articles out for issue 26: dirt.  Land is dirt, dirt grows crops, crops determine planting and harvesting with large machines these days, those machines make patterns and we find them often enchanting.  


Google Maps: Palouse Washington USA

Monday
May092011

civic identity

Michel Lambeth. Kensington Market 1955

Susan Crean's project on Toronto, research for a book, starts with this statement:  I’m looking for the city that is part of all our lives. Not just the one that exists at City Hall, or in books at the TPL, but the city we carry around in our heads.

In the context of the current issue of On Site: identity, it occurs to me that the gap between what we know and feel as individuals and what we are told is important to know about a place – its brand, its economy, its heroics – is a huge crevasse, a significant alienation.  My instinct is that this gap should be bridged in some way, but the official city reading is shooting off at such a speed that I don't think we can catch up.  Where does this leave us?  Looking at the details, despairing at the 'big picture' and eventually realising that we don't live in the big picture.  Physically, perhaps.  Intellectually, maybe.  Emotionally, no.  The tendernesses in Susan Crean's Toronto are in the past, brought forward to the present by telling the stories.

On Site recently had an article about a large community garden, kitchen and market in a Toronto park, where the sun appeared to continually shine, children were fulfilled, adults wore interesting shoes and glowed with a green organic fervour.  This is the potential of Toronto, to have such a park. The woeful miscalculation of the ascendence of the right wing of the Liberal party with Ignatieff at the helm is also the potential of Toronto.  I am incapable of reconciling these two things as they play out on the civic terrain of the city.  They are narratives that never meet.  

The language of each narrative – the vocabulary, the syntax – is almost unintelligible so freighted are both with ideology, righteousness and history.  Is there a Toronto, or a city anywhere, whose meta-narrative can encompass all fractions and factions?  This is the task of city administrations, supported by media and marketing.  Susan Crean's project pierces the ambiguities and lacunae of official histories by asking for personal considerations of what Toronto is, and it seems this is a story that can only be told in details. 

Thursday
Apr212011

Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington. Still from Restropo, 2010.Tim Hetherington was a British news photographer who made a career covering conflict for news organisations and for Human Rights Watch.  He was not a removed observer behind the camera, but an engaged humanitarian who intervened either directly or through a sustained commitment to struggles such as the Liberian civil war, and the current Libyan war in Misrata, where he was killed on April 20.

Current estimates put the death toll in Libya between February 16 and April 21 as two and a half thousand opposition and eight hundred Gaddafi loyalists.  It is an ugly war with executions, lynchings, rapes, mercenaries, untrained troops, betrayals, lies and human shields.  The death estimates indicate the asymmetry of this war.

Restropo, from which the above still is taken, was a 2010 film about US forces in Afghanistan, in the Korengal Valley.  The image could have been from many or any war: dugouts, trenches, blasted landscapes, small indications of soldiers trying to stay human. Photo-journalists, such as Hetherington and Chris Hondros, also killed on April 20 in Misrata, or Rory Peck killed in Moscow in 1993, reporters such as Orla Guerin – they are witnesses, for us, at great personal sacrifice.