Sergio Larraín and the Photoagraphic Experience

Who is Sergio Larraín? He is considered Chile’s greatest photographer (1931 – 2012) who made street photography “using shadow and angles in a way few had tried before.” The great French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, after seeing his London photographs, gave him an invitation to join and work for Magnum. He accepted this invitation. After a brief & meteoric rise as a photographer in the public eye for a few years in the 1960s, he became a meditation hermit in the mountains of Chile.

Many photographers believe that his photos hinted at what could’ve become an even greater career, and that his true contribution to photography is his exploration of the photographic experience. By photographic experience, I mean that sort of experience that is a pre-requisite for a great photo. The way Larraín describes it is as follows: “Freed of conventions… the images arrive like ghosts.” (Sergio Larraín by Gonzalo Levia Quijada, Agnes Sire et al., henceforth SL.)

...the images arrive like ghosts.

…the images arrive like ghosts…

How does one arrive at this preternatural state for doing photography, i.e. the photographic experience? In a letter written in 1982 to his nephew (from SL), he gives photographic advice akin to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

  1. Find the right camera: fits you, comfortable in hand, has only the features you need – no extras.
  2. “Act like you’re going on an adventure.” He suggests a city that is not a home town and doing what the Germans call a spazierengehen, a wandering about without a destination.
  3. Develop your photos. Throw all the prints away except for the best one. Put that one on a wall.
  4. Take a break. Study the works of others. Expose yourself to only good art. At this point, “the secret will slowly reveal itself.”
  5. Let nothing conventional distract you.
  6. “The conventional world puts a veil over your eyes. It’s a matter of taking it off during your time as a photographer.”

Then “the images arrive like ghosts.” The attainment of the photographic experience will lead to your good photos.

In my next blog post, I will being looking at Sergio Larraín’s book, Valparaiso.

Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke, Giving Valence to Film Flaws, An On-Going Review

How does one find a start for a photographic review? The first and only major blocks of text in Minutes to Midnight describe a UFO encounter by a set of witnesses. Will the photos be a fiction or a factual set. Will the photos be like the UFO, somewhere in between requiring interpretation?

In Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful he starts off with an analysis of Hegel’s turn of phrase for art: “a thing of the past.” How could Hegel say such a thing? Gadamer grapples with this and parsed Hegel as saying that art, gods and cultural significance used to be one. Christian, medieval art has this unity, although the god of Christ requires no architecture. (Matthew 18:20) Of our time (nihilism & many cultures in one state at each other’s throats – in a word, Balkanism), Gadamer must ask, “But what is all this compared to the alienation and shock with which the more recent forms of artistic expression in our century (20th) tax our self-understanding public?” (p. 7) Gadamer is asking this in 1977, a time of stagnation and malaise for the Western powers with conceptual art ascendent and eclipsing the “revolutionary” art of the 1960s. We still live in a time of “the conflict between art as the ‘religion of culture’ on the one hand, and art as a provocation by the modern artist on the other.” (Ibid.) (Perhaps a 21st century Gadamer might have written of our fractious time “religions of cultures.”)

In Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight we see the tension between this “religion of culture” as he is steeped in the tradition of street photography, and the provocations. Of the former he creates an homage to Robert Frank in Photo 22 of a car that is covered by a white tarp.

Trent Parke also provokes us by using film and focusing what in the 20th century were considered flaws: grain (most of the photos esp. photo 33) & motion blur (about 14 photos has this). The 21st century with its focus on hyper sharp images, megapixels and clean high ISO shots is anathema to what Parke has accomplished: giving film photography’s flaws a valence.

Grain occurs when a film is pushed or under exposed.

I focused on the aesthetics and style of Minutes to Midnight. In my next post, I’ll focus more on individual photos and how they relate to the UFO encounter.

A Highly Subjective Index of “Minutes to Midnight” by Trent Parke

This index of Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight is in preparation for a review of this great work published in 2013. Trent Parke saved up for 5 years to go on a road trip of Australia. During that time his partner got pregnant and birthed their son – both moments viscerally captured. Trent Parke used a high contrast black and white film with very rich, dark tones. Here is the index.

  1. Moths to light
  2. Children all with balloons except for one
  3. Beauty pageant contestants on cars
  4. Motion blur of pedestrians et alia on George St.
  5. A crowd
  6. Club Hotel Wiluna
  7. Aboriginal community? Some people lying on the pavement like dogs / with dogs.
  8. Diving into a reservoir
  9. A dragon fly caught on a spider web
  10. Guys driving in a car with an open beer container
  11. Kid’s wrestling
  12. Festival at night: XXXX Land
  13. Crowd under tree roots, motion blurred… has a Prometheus aesthetic
  14. Woman with infant; motor bike
  15. People at a beach; some reconnoitering from afar
  16. Dead cockatiel on road
  17. Child in a field
  18. Sydney Harbor with a blistering, lithium-like light reflected
  19. Soap bubbles in plaza
  20. White silhouette (famous photo)
  21. Street on a rail line
  22. Car covered in a white tarp (Robert Frank homage)
  23. White linens on a clothesline at night
  24. Child watching TV at night
  25. Overview / Aerial of a car kicking up dust through a curve in the road
  26. A marsupial jumping through the trees at night
  27. Man in the garden with leaves floating about (prelude to alien abduction)
  28. Spider webs, brush, twigs, barbed wire
  29. Horses at Twilight (ocf)
  30. Child with bloody elbow, screaming
  31. Dog with dead furry creature in mouth
  32. Bats with wings in flight back lit
  33. Two page spread: grainy silhouettes in park
  34. Burning kangaroo corpses
  35. Tree stumps
  36. Couple sleeping in the back of a pick up truck
  37. Dead, marsupial fetus
  38. Two page spread – black
  39. Night: bright white silhouette amongst leafless trees
  40. Raining on farm hands
  41. Kissing in a mosh pit
  42. Jellyfish
  43. Swimming / underwater
  44. Pregnant woman underwater
  45. New born in water
  46. Swing set with children at night
  47. Bats flying at night (long exposure with light trails and motion blur)