The Dramatized Image

Guest Blogger Evan Johnson

“Truth has to be made vivid, interesting; it has to be ‘dramatized’…”
– documentary filmmaker Trinh Minh-Ha

Minh-Ha speaks of the need to dramatize truth in documentary film. Having recently viewed her film Surname Viet, Given Name Nam (1989), I thought about the ways in which this dramatization of truth might apply to photography. In the film, Minh-Ha adapts a highly reflexive technique in telling the story of Vietnamese women before and after the war. She stages readings of first-person accounts with actresses and juxtaposes text and spoken word on the screen; all in order to reveal the constructive nature of the filmmaking process.

Although Kathryn’s new series “The Great Divide” is a far cry from post-modern feminist documentary, Minh-Ha’s claim has an interesting connection to Kathryn’s new work. The photographs in the series all engage in a “dramatization” of the truth. Through the Argus and pinhole camera hybrid, Kathryn transforms our everyday surroundings into something unexpected and appealing. The railing 9th Street bridge becomes a shadowy ladder. The awning over the Pavilion transforms into biomorphic shadow on the ground. The visual truth of our everyday experience is invigorated and transformed through the camera. It encourages us to question our aesthetic experience of our surroundings and to look for that “dramatic” element.

Art in Context III

By Guest Blogger Rachel Swartz

The tropics were a favored subject of the early moderns, a fascination that has spilled over into popular culture. The lush, exotic watery blues, sandy whites, rocky yellows and leafy greens of the Caribbean and Pacific islands were well-suited to the frenetic style of artists such as Paul Gauguin (see Tahitian Landscape, above). Kathryn’s 2006 work shares the same deep attraction to the rich sensuality of the islands, but her piece is unique in that it captures an image common in contemporary advertising photography, one that has come to represent relaxation, luxury, and attainable exoticism, but challenges this very motif through its compositional framing. The palm fronds gently caress the sand, rather than reaching towards the sky; there is no sign of industry, save for two boats and a windsurfing board that seem to suggest a provincial use of land rather than a commercial one. A creator is not wholly present, creating the sense that the viewer himself has stumbled upon this idyllic, quiet place devoid of human contamination, save for the lucky who stumble upon it.

"I feel that the artist should go about his work simply with great respect for his materials."

By Guest Blogger Evan Johnson
The importance of the camera itself is central in thinking about Kathryn’s new series, “The Great Divide”. Using a pinhole camera and the traditional development process, the role of both tool and method are highlighted in a manner altogether different than with digital. Sculptor Alexander Calder wrote in 1943:

I feel that the artist should go about his work simply with great respect for his materials. As the painter must be conversant with his colors, their pigments and vehicles, so as to produce something which is not contrary to the laws of chemistry, so the sculptor must have a feeling for the materials he uses, whatever it may be , use it in accordance with its strength & nature.

When I look at this series, Kathryn’s experimentation with the pinhole speaks to a strong understanding of her materials. Calder says that a painter must speak the language of his colors, pigments, and tools. So to must a photographer master the conversation between light, shadow, line and camera. Be sure to join us for “The Great Divide” at McGuffey Studio 27 on April 3rd(5:30pm-7:30pm)!
ps. A new Calder sculpture will be installed in front of UVA’s Peabody Hall this weekend, check it out!

*quote and photo courtesy of the Calder Foundation.

Art in Context II

By Guest Blogger Rachel Swartz

These two pieces of art have little in common visually, but when deconstructed to their meanings and influences are a perfect pair. Shepherd Fairey’s ubiquitous, now-iconic Obama graphic is an exercise in the reduction of elements and a subsequent increase in the arresting power of the work; so is Kathryn’s recontextualizing photograph of the Lone Sailor statue at Golden Gate Park. The precedents for Fairey’s work have been discussed at length – the maybe-plagiarized AP photograph, communist posters, Michael Anderson’s “Big Brother” from his 1956 version of 1984; from all of these influences he extracts the most powerful elements to create the image that we all know today. The expressive eyes, calm forehead, and concerned mouth are all expressed in a few loud punches of color – iconic and loaded ones at that.

Kathryn’s photograph is a similar exercise in minimalism. You see the statue from the back, so the expressiveness of the face is hidden from us, but his popped collar and hat detail his persona. The composition is off-kilter, showing no sense of place or weight, disorienting and confusing the viewer, who is thrown into a one-on-one audience with this now arresting and terrifying figure. The man in the corner seems to be commanding some kind of zealous tourist army; the stark colors and molded wind in the statue’s coat send chills of winter up the viewer’s spine. Just like Fairey’s Obama, Kathryn’s work is able to instill a strong emotion with readable historical reference points into the viewer’s mind with a sparing use of space.

Art in Context I

Perhaps more than any art movement in history, nature ruled the world of the Impressionists. Light was of huge importance; they painted outside, en plein air, and strove to capture the sensations of illumination and warmth that radiate from the sun through pure, unfiltered color.
Compare this work from Kathryn’s “Journey” series with Monet’s Landscape at Vetheuil. The obvious, coincidental similarities in subject matter and composition lessen with deeper contemplation. While devoid of human figures, both works allude to the relationship between space and nature through their point of view. Monet’s work sits comfortably, from far away and slightly below; we can see the painter standing where we view the work, dabbing paint on his canvas. The medium of photography allows Kathryn’s point of view to hover slightly above her picture, god-like; there is no sense of time in the composition, except for faint and far-off telephone poles, hinting to civilization on the other side. In Kathryn’s piece the river floats eerily into the road, conflating the viewer’s sense of reality, just as Monet’s farmhouses grow out of the fields of wheat on the hill.
An untrained criticism of photographers would be that there is no great skill involved. The comparison of these two works proves this wholly false. The lighting in each is expert, with Monet’s well rendered and Kathryn’s well timed; the colors in each highlight the warmth of the afternoon sun and the humid mist. Most importantly, both compositions are derived from their choice of subject matter chosen with a trained and inspired eye.

Rachel Swartz
guest blogger/intern