Photography and Art

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Early Images of Canada

Serendipity is one of my favorite things. Take yesterday for example. My son-in-law's mother and partner are visiting us from Scotland and I had the pleasure of taking them to Toronto's re-modeled Art Gallery of Ontario. The King Tut exhibit is the big attraction there at the moment, but I wanted to show them the permanent exhibit of Canadian art. This collection always gives me great pleasure, with its stunning Group of Seven paintings, especially those of Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson.

Tom Thomson - Sunset, Algonquin Park

However, this time around, we spent a lot of time in the Cornelius Krieghoff galleries. The AGO has a huge collection of Krieghoff pieces and they form an incredible record of life in the 19th century in and around Quebec. Critics would say that they are overly sentimental and many of the same themes are repeated, but we really enjoyed the details of habitant life that were portrayed in the paintings. Each one tells and elaborate story and you can spend several minutes looking closely at each one picking out the details.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Breaking up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning (The Morning after a Merrymaking in Lower Canada)

Krieghoff's works are full of life and action. Sleds tip over, dogs bark, horses buck, people shout and mayhem breaks loose. There are many of these scenes of habitant life. There are also terrific paintings of the first nations peoples camping, canoeing and hunting. My favorite picture is a grand painting of the passenger steamer Quebec heading across the St. Lawrence River with Quebec in the background. It was done in about 1853 and shows Quebec without looming presence of the Chateau Frontenac which was built 40 years later.

Later on in the day, I was browsing through the news stories on Google news and came across an interesting article entitled "How They See Us" at about a photo exhibit now on at the Stephen Bulger gallery . It's a collection of photos of Canada sourced from collections around the world, primarily from the New York Times archive. There are some wonderful images in the article documenting Canada's history as seen through the eye of a visitor and it seemed to fit with the theme of the day - learning about early life in Canada through images. Here's a link to the "O Canada" exhibit at the Bulger Gallery.

Moose Hunting: The Return (1866), by William Notman.

Perhaps it is fitting, given our Scottish visitors, that William Notman, a prolific documenter of early Canadian life, was a transplanted Scotsman. At any rate, our next stop on the tour will be the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Queen street for a good look around at these stunning photos of Canada.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eliot Porter

It's my birthday and my lovely wife gave me a cool toy (everyone should get a toy on their birthday!). It's a Kindle. Despite the hubbub about the iPad, I still think the Kindle will continue to sell very well. While the iPad is a jack-of-all-trades tablet, the Kindle is designed for one thing alone and that is reading. To that end, the screen is not back-lit and the type is lovely. It's extremely easy on the eyes and you're soon buried in your book as if you were reading it conventionally.

I explored the Amazon Kindle store looking for samples of neat stuff and downloaded a New York Times Sunday edition, a PC magazine and a Reginald Hill mystery. All good stuff. Then I thought I'd try a photography book and scanned the hundreds of titles on the store shelves. There were lots of erotic photo books (surprisingly) and lots of how-to books (that Scott Kelby must be making lots of dough), but very few books of photo art.

I did find one that looked appealing called Nature's Chaos, text by James Gleick and photography by Eliot Porter. Gleick writes about science and science fiction. In this book, he has collected essays on Chaos theory, fractals and how they describe nature. The essays are eminently readable and thought-provoking. Porter contributes wonderful photos of the colour and texture of nature to support the notion that nature is both chaotic and beautiful.

The bad news is that the Kindle is a black and white device, so these stunning colour photos don't really suit the Kindle at all. The good news is that Amazon provides a downloadable PC Kindle reader and I was able to download the book to my PC and view these wonderful photos on my colour screen.

Porter donated his life's work to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth Texas and quite a few of his images are online here.

While his works are very nice on a large colour screen, Porter made his mark as a dye transfer printer. For a description of this incredibly complicated process, there's a good article here. I'm not sure I would have the patience to produce prints this way (although some days when the print heads of my Epson 4880 plug up I'm not sure I have the patience for modern printmaking either). Dye transfer prints have a reputation for being extremely vivid and I'd love to see a Porter print in person. Maybe a trip to Texas would be fun.

A number of Porter's prints were made in east Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) in the sixties and seventies and we'll be going there in July. Some of his images are rather conventional pictures of animals, but there are some outstanding images like this one of people dancing. What a gorgeous, sensuous photograph! And the skin tones are delicious. I hope I can bring back one or two images of that calibre.

The Online Photographer is wrapping up a sale of Ctein's dye transfer prints in case you are wondering what one looks like. If you hurry you might be able to order one. I'm not a huge fan of Ctein's work (and he's probably never even heard of me), but I've been tempted to order a print just to see what a dye transfer print looks like. I think it's interesting that Mike Johnston and Ctein sell a ton of these prints when the whole emphasis is on the medium, not the art. It kind of reminds me of buying stereo demonstration records or the current trend in 3D movies like Avatar. Once you've gotten over the WOW! factor of the fidelity, you're still stuck with the print or the record or the movie. Why not buy art by someone you really like made with a more conventional process? Listen to me talking - the guy who's planning on producing two large prints on metal for his next show.

Fortunately, with Eliot Porter, you have the best of both worlds: the dye transfer technology and wonderful images. How could you go wrong with that?