Featured post

Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022

  Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice .  Starts on Ap...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Brave New World of Photography: Day 2 - Lauren Simonutti

 I hate sex.

I remember reading Rob Hornstra’s ( who should be in this review of new work for his funding of the Sochi project) thoughts on newspapers and how limited they were. He was publishing a newspaper
and wanted to loosen things up. The problem is, he was confusing newspaper design with newspaper use.
“That's the problem we're facing, people are still thinking about the idea of it being an actual newspaper. You shouldn't. You should think about it as being a series of pages with which you can do whatever you want. Most of the newspapers I've seen are still fairly conservative.”

 So the idea with Hornstra’s newspaper was that you could open it up and sequence it, pin it on the wall and do what you like with it. So you could that with Rob’s newspaper, but not with your regular run-of-the-mill non-Sochi newspaper. 

I understand exactly with what Rob is saying, but these comments (which are a little out of context here)  gave me the feeling that Rob isn’t much of a newspaper man. I am a newspaper man. I buy a newspaper every day except Sunday. And when I buy a regular newspaper, I do a lot of things with it.
I sometimes buy photography newspapers – Aperture Photo Review, the Prison Photography catalogue are a couple of fine examples I have got this year. But I don’t do much with them. I read them, then carefully fold them up and keep them safe. 

The regular newspaper, with its normal conservative design  I do all sorts with. Most days I start at the back, then move to the front. I do the puzzles and write on them. My daughter gets them and blacks in the eyes of Cameron and Clegg, Obama and Kate. I share my paper, I pull it apart so others can read it (try that with an ipad) I cut things out (try that with an ipad), I put them on the fridge and the wall. I save articles and read them again. I copy them, I paste them in books. I’ve wiped my arse with a newspaper (and I know we’ve all tried that with an ipad), I’ve ripped them up to make confetti, torn them into strips for papier mache, lined cupboards and floors with them, used them to protect furniture from paint, wrapped food in them, made paper planes and hats and kites with them, oh the list is endless to the things I’ve done with a newspaper.
So when I think of a radically designed newspaper, I’m not that impressed because I know that the use is not going to match the design of a regular newspaper. 

So for radical design, I’m not going to look at newspapers, but at a maker of handmade photobooks. The Dutch are pretty much recognised as the masters of photobook design and this runs through to small print editions and the handmade object. So I'm not going to choose a Dutch bookmaker - I'll leave that to others.

Lauren Simonutti made handmade books that were filled with self-portraits. The portraits are a record to her mental illness, made around the house with clocks and cakes and staircases as props. Simonutti lived in Baltimore, the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe, so its fitting that there’s something darkly gothic about them. They are about being locked in, about a way of being that cannot be escaped, about being trapped with sounds and voices that can’t be escaped. But at the same time, there’s a life and a humour about them, there’s both a response and a kind of acceptance in the pictures – not enough of an acceptance though. Lauren Simonutti killed herself earlier this year. So for her handmade books, for having bells and feathers attached, but also for unblinking self-portraiture, I nominate Lauren Simonutti for both doing something new and doing something brave. I also get the feeling that Simonutti didn’t quite talk about her work in the way that you are supposed to if you are an artist, and she didn’t quite make it as you’re supposed to.

But this is the best of week, so while I’m running on a theme, I think I’ll add a couple of people. I just got Elina Brotherus’s  new book, Artist and her Model. One of her most recent series is called Annunciation. These pictures, as Susan Bright writes in her introduction, show "...a woman all too versed in being able to communicate and articulate herself but still having battles with sex, the pain of love and waiting for her life to shift... The photographs deftly illustrate how enervating the process of trying to conceive can be."
They are incredibly sad. Many, many people have made photographs of people crying, but very few of them move me, very few hint at any kind of interior life. Brotherus doesn’t cry, but the sorrow ( if it is sorrow) seems to reach out of the picture and clutch at one’s heart.

The picture below is one of Brotherus' earlier works, titled I hate sex.

 I hate sex.

Oh, and another one. Alright. Sally Mann, both for leaving the children behind and, over the period of a decade, making flesh live on the photographic page and making a visual representation of muscular dystrophy, the disease that struck her husband, Larry Mann. Marvellous and moving.


No comments: