Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crit: Andrea Costa

Andrea asked nicely, and so I am finally getting around to looking over his work! We've collaborated slightly, so I have a personal bias here, but I think it's fairly slight.

Andrea has a Zenfolio site and I'll look over a couple portfolios he's got up. One of the problems with a portfolio website like zenfolio is that they tend to degenerate into disorganized, or at any rate not sensibly organized "notebooks" of stuff. We see Andrea has a group of pictures around a lens, groups of pictures around camera types, that kind of thing. While useful for Andrea, I don't consider it "best foot forward" as it were! No offense meant, these things are doing double duty as a personal notebook and a public face, there's not much to be done about that.

However, there are two portfolios that are clearly designed as groups of pictures that go together for the sake of the pictures, and let's take a look at these.

The first one is "24 Origins" which I think is a really well designed project. 24 very similar pictures of the artist's feet, in the same shoes, allegedly taken in 24 different time zones. I confess that I am dubious about whether Andrea actually did that much traveling to get the pictures, but if he did, well done on getting the similarity of look in all 24 pictures!

At first glance this looks like a fairly stupid vanity project. And let's be honest, I am not setting out to prove that it's not. Still, the conceit of 24 time zones, 1 common element (Andrea's feet), is a good one. Looking more closely at the pictures, we see that what we're really looking at is straight-down photographs of texture and pattern as found on the ground. Now, we see this sort of thing (without the feet) all the goddamned time too, and generally I don't much like it. You can point the camera straight down almost literally anywhere and get this sort of thing. "Process" it up to look "polished" and there's a class of people that will click Like over and over.

But Andrea has done one better than that, and it's that step that makes it, I think, worth the while. He's sequenced these pictures really really well. I mean, it's possible that he chucked them down in random order and that I am simply finding pattern where none was intended, but I really doubt it. Watch how the textures and patterns flow.

Each photograph has a strong connection, in terms of texture or pattern, to both the previous picture and the next one. Sometimes the pattern in the previous picture even appears to be "scrolling off" to the left, to bring in a new pattern.

Without the feet this would read as deadly serious Abstract Art, and would likely fall apart under the weight of its own conceit. With the feet, we can take it more lightly, as an exercise in whimsy, and I really think it works.

Is it Important Art? Certainly not. Is it a bit twee? Yep. But it works. There's real charm to it. This would be perfectly charming and appropriate printed and hung down a long hallway, perhaps. One by one, the pictures are mildly witty, mildly artistic, inoffensive and easy to look at. And then they reward a slow amble down the hall with a cup of coffee in hand, picking out the flow of pattern.

And now the second portfolio, "The Thin Veil" which appears to have been judged already by heads no doubt wiser than mine. Nonetheless, I will offer my thoughts.

The first thing we note is that there are massively strong graphical elements pulling the whole project together. A heavy vignette, loads of grain, and an interestingly soft tonality in the pictures themselves which conflicts with the heavy blacks the vignette brings in. I quite like the look. Also, I heartily approve of selecting a strong look, any look, to bind the pictures together.

The look creates a strongly dreamlike feel, which is supported and emphasized by the long exposure times yielding motion blur, and often the subject matter.

The subject matter is all over the place, and I cannot detect a theme as such. I see a lot of pictures which could easily be deeply symbolic (two dice on the dash of a car, a silhouetted airplane, trains, reflections, a shaggy pony grazes, statuary). Two photographs of the same street fair (?) taken hours apart might mean something. A few of the pictures don't seem to yield and strong sense of "a symbol" to me, but most of them feel symbolic. Symbolic of what? I don't know, and I don't think it matters.

Possibly, even likely, the locations would be meaningful to a local. If, as the surrounding text perhaps hints, these were all shot in the same city, it's reasonable to assume that there's some sense of that same place throughout. Certainly much of the architecture looks similar, and the overall flavor is, even to this American, distinctly European. It feels even to me that these certainly could have been shot all in the same square kilometer, on the same day, but I don't feel an inevitability there. They could also, I feel, have been shot weeks and countries apart. Which may or may not be the point?

In any case, I feel that this is a somewhat stronger portfolio in terms of being Important Art although it's still leaning too heavily to my eye on graphical elements rather than any deeper "meaning" whatever I even mean by that. Not to suggest that I would weaken the graphics -- I would not. Rather, strengthen the "meaning" somehow. "The Thin Veil" does, I think, a genuinely masterful job of evoking a sort of dreamlike, almost hallucinatory sensation. These could easily be images (I use that word deliberately, and not as a fancy way of saying 'picture') drawn from a dream of the city.

What is lacking, to my eye, is a stronger sense of what I might feel. Do I (or does Andrea) love the city? Fear it? Was this a good dream, a bad dream, or a dream that we learned something from?

All in all I was happy to look at these pictures. I looked them over pretty thoroughly a few weeks ago, and went back today to find that I liked them even better today than before. I think the work is well done. It doesn't blow my socks off and excite me the way new work occasionally does, but it's leagues better than 99.9% of what's out there. "The Thin Veil" earned its award, and deserves it.

As for the rest, I confess that I didn't even click on most of the other portfolios!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for having spared the time to write something about my work. Some notes and explanations:

    Yes, the majority of the site is just a collection of photos with a lens or a camera in common, I've told to myself for a while to reorganize everything but I'm a lazy person...

    About the two project you talked about:
    The first was born from a funny idea I had while looking at my feet, and the ground beneath it, during a photowalk. They are not taken around the world but in many different locations all in the range of around 100 miles from
    where I live, during a three-week span of time. Then I choose the 24 that I liked the most, and arranged them in a "logical" (to me) sequence of textures and lines, like telling a tale of a voyage; in this respect, it seems I have done a good job. BTW, I mounted the prints and I had them put up for a month in a friend's pub here in Grosseto, and they also tought that the final result was very enjoyable to look at, while drinking a beer and listening to some music.
    All in all, the aim of this project was just to have something pretty to look at.

    The second was a project inspired to me by the works of japanese photographers in the late Sixties. I decided to photographs many of the usual and well-known places of my town in a way much different of the "postcard"
    style aimed to tourists, something that would convene a deeply unreal feel to whoever was watching them. The photos were took in a 2 months span of walking daily around in the historical part of Grosseto, in a radius of less than
    a mile. I deliberately left to the onlooker the choice of what they felt - I also have the shots print big and put in a 10 days exposition in a local gallery, and I was pleased by the fact that someone found in them a feel of reassurance recognizing the places, while others said that "the town now seemed much more threathening" or "sad"...

    I confess that I like very much an abstract style for this type of photos and I'm using it very often (even if I don't know if it works really well), I've just uploaded another project I have done during this winter holidays...
    In the end, photography to me is the way with which I try to share with others toughts and reflections about the world, and start a discussion about it.