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Discussions Concerning Contemporary Photographic Art

Posts from — February 2010

An Interview with David Bram, Fraction Magazine

© Brian Ulrich, as seen in Fraction Magazine, Issue 11.

David Bram is editor, curator, and founder of the popular and influential Fraction Magazine, now in its eleventh issue.  Based in Albuquerque, NM, David keeps an active Facebook and Twitter presence and will be lecturing at FotoFest on the use of online media and photography on March 16.  We recently had the privilege of asking him a few questions:

How does the online delivery of images differ from delivery with printed media (books, magazines, etc.)?  And beyond the financial realities of publishing a physical magazine, could you talk about the decision to remain exclusively online?

The main difference between online and physical media is the way it is delivered. We are able to see much more work online than we ever would in a book store or magazine stand. Whether getting RSS feeds or following Twitter and Facebook, the amount of work being put online and sent around is huge.  Doesn’t Flickr have two billion photos on its site?  As for me,  I probably look at 75-100 websites a day along with a few dozen submissions.  This would be incredibly difficult without the internet.  The decision to keep Fraction strictly online is a financial one but also having minimal overhead allows me to make each issue as big or as small as I desire.  I am now considering a bi-annual magazine that will be produced via Magcloud or something similar.  Also, I am reaching about 5000 people per week.  I could never do this with a paper product.

There are a variety of photography magazines available on the market. What is the photographic niche Fraction Magazine aspires to interest or what sorts of readers is Fraction seeking?

Fraction is trying to be the site you visit to see the work of new artists who have yet to get exposure they deserve as well as very established artists who are showing off new projects.  I try to show work that fits together and work that is both strong in concept as well as execution.  I am looking for and publishing work that has yet to have great exposure to the world.  As for readership, I am looking for those who are looking for more than just pretty pictures.  They are looking for work that makes them think about what the photographer has created.

What sorts of criteria (personal or otherwise) are used to select the photographic work you publish in the magazine?

First and foremost, the work must be strong and somewhat provocative.  I don’t necessarily want it to “push buttons” but I do want it to be thought provoking. I also consider how much exposure the artist and the work have gotten.  If the work has been shown around a lot and has been on more than two or three sites, I probably won’t show it.  Mostly, I am looking for a portfolio that is thematically tight and technically perfect.  I am fortunate enough to have created something that artists like David Maisel and Phil Toledano want to be a part of.

One of Fraction’s stated goals is “to provide an alternative to the fixed gallery, and to continually examine the role that photography plays in society.”  As Fraction comes to its 10th issue, what new roles do you see photography playing in society, and which artists exemplify those roles?

With the advent of digital photography and the internet, photography is able to reach audiences that it could not only 15 years ago, if not 10 years ago.  We are able to see images from the war in Iraq or the destruction of Haiti almost immediately and completely uncensored.  Today, almost everyone has some sort of camera with them, whether it be a little point and shoot or a camera phone, pictures make it to the internet very quickly.  Ever notice how the local TV news asks you for your newsworthy photographs?

In Issue 10, which primarily is about people, I chose artists whose work showed various parts of our culture, from Jake Mendel’s Short Track series about auto racing, to Phil Toledano‘s The New Kind of Beauty which showed people who have extremely altered their physical appearance.  Both bodies of work showed people in a very caring, non-judgmental kind of way.

What reoccurring themes in photography do you notice from work submitted to Fraction Magazine.  And are those the themes most frequently published in Fraction Magazine or are there less common themes you prefer to consider?

The work that is submitted to Fraction varies in content.  Sometimes it is obvious that the person submitting the work has not looked at past issues and is submitting work that will never be included in Fraction.  As for reoccurring themes, it is very apparent that artists like Alec Soth have had a great influence on up and coming artists and well as some very established artists.   The ‘vacant landscape’ as well as what I like to call “the dude in the road” photograph is often included in contemporary work.  I feel that Brad Moore and Dave Jordano have had a bit of influence as well.  If you don’t think so, check out their work.  Also be sure to check out the original New Topographics photographers.  The ground breaking show that was the New Topographics (1975) has had more of an influence than people think.

I also see a lot of work that comes from an artist who think they have “hit it” because they are using a large format camera and a certain type of film.  As any art critic or college professor will tell you, the camera has nothing to do with what you are doing.  It might help you get to the conclusion you are looking for but it is merely a tool.  It took me a long time to realize this.

As for what themes I publish; I publish what I like and find the most interesting.  I only use a theme to coordinate an issue.

We notice that Fraction previously published book reviews and articles, but now only publishes images of photographic work.  How have you arrived at the decision not to include essays, reviews, exegetic works, texts or other parallel discourse?

Honestly, we stopped publishing reviews for two reasons: First, it was getting hard to get people to write reviews and keep to deadlines, and two, I personally hate writing reviews.  Issue 11 has a review of the show Versus, by Mary Goodwin, who is the Associate Director of Light Work.  She is an amazing person, writer and artist and someone who truly understands and appreciates what I am doing.  Also, Issue 10 had a group show about Lishui Photo Festival in China that was text heavy.  In the future, we plan to have more reviews and essays.  It’s just a matter of getting reviewers who can keep to deadlines and are willing to do some work for almost no payment.  Know anyone?

In addition to the submissions you receive, how do you stay current with what is happening in photography right now?

I follow about 50 blogs and I have been doing portfolio reviews where I get to see a lot of work. At each review, I see at least 25 portfolios on a one to one basis and then meet and see a lot of photographers during the course of the event.  Luckily, people respect what I am doing and want to show me their work.  Twitter and Facebook also play a part in keeping me in the know.  I use them both to make announcements and to drive traffic to my website and blog.  I almost never post important topics to Facebook or any other place.

With your vast experience as a reviewer in Review LA, a partner with Center on their yearly competitions, and a portfolio reviewer to FotoFest, in addition to other projects, who are the contemporary photographers, and what are the movements or ideas about which you are especially excited right now?

I love the new urban landscape photography that I am seeing more and more of.   Contrary to popular belief, I think there is a lot of really good work being posted to Flickr right now. Once you get past all of the crap, and search a bit, you can find some really original and edgy work on Flickr.  Fraction now has a Flickr group and I am searching for some work that I might not otherwise include in an issue.  But I do have plans for a Flickr group show that will debut in April. Unfortunately I am not sure there is a singular movement right now that is exciting me other than the one where artists are moving back to using film.  I seem to be reading a lot lately that for more and more personal work, photographers are choosing to shoot film and usually in the larger formats.  This is a good thing.

Many thanks to David for taking the time to answer our questions.  Be sure to visit Fraction and let us know if you get to meet or hear him at FotoFest (We will be there, but on a different week…)

February 25, 2010   No Comments

Critical Mass 2009

© Chris Sims

Congratulations to Chris Sims (exhibiting at SRO April 19 – May 15) for being selected as one of photolucia’s Critical Mass 2009 finalists.  One of last year’s SRO Exhibitors, David Taylor, also landed in the top 50.

Critical Mass is a great opportunity to get your work in front of all sorts of curators, editors, and professionals.  Make sure to look for the next registration at the end of summer.  They awarded two book winners this year and scoring in the top 50 is a great honor.

See the top 50 list here!

February 23, 2010   No Comments

Opportunities

There are numerous exciting opportunities available for exhibiting work right now.  Here is a sampling of five:

Philadelphia Museum of Art:  Photography Portfolio Competition 2010
The Center for Photography at Woodstock:  Photography Now
The Croft Art Gallery:  Self
James Madison University:  Photography and Literature
F-Stop Magazine:  Open Theme

These entries feature some fantastic jurors to put your work in front of… Enter as many as you can!  Good luck!

February 12, 2010   No Comments

An Interview with Jay Gould

550 Nanometers, 16 x 28'', archival inkjet print, 2005.

Jay Gould’s exhibition, The Participatory Universe, opens Monday, February 15, and runs through March 13, 2010.  We are delighted to be showing this work and recently asked Jay a few questions:

Please begin by offering a bit more detail about how and which scientific concepts inspire you and your work?

For many years, no matter what artwork I was working on, I would be reading about science in my spare time and even taking extra courses in conceptual science at the University of Wisconsin.  Mostly it was because I have always enjoyed the study of science and its line of questioning, but at this point I was not mixing art and science.  Eventually I made the decision to go forth and really put all of this reading and science studies to use with my own visual language. Initially this turned out to be a difficult task, and lead to lots of unsuccessful work. Though it was these failed experiments that lead to the work currently being shown at the SRO gallery.  When I began working on the Participatory Universe I was mostly interested in exploring my personal understanding of physics, primarily more contemporary ideas such as string theory and quantum mechanics.  However, I loosened up pretty quickly and let myself freely observe the world and explore whatever topic I felt suited the scene that had caught my attention.  To date, the fields of science that I primarily address are physics, math, geology, and biology, which I am constantly trying to relate with more personal stories of history, love, life, understanding and imagination.

As one who specifically integrates scientific topics into his photographic projects, YOU seem to go against the notion that art and science are separate discourses. Two articles on this topic that come to mind are: James Elkins’, “Aesthetics and the Two Cultures: Why Art and Science Should be Allowed to Go their Separate Ways” (2008) and Leo Steinberg’s, “Art and Science: Do They Need to Be Yoked?” (1986). How do you position your work against or within these arguments?

I’m not familiar with these two specific essays, however I gather that they present the common argument of whether science and art belong together.  I am a believer in the essential connection between the fields of art and science; that both areas are made up of explorers who rely upon tools to investigate things beyond our natural senses.  For example, a microscope investigates processes that are too small for us to see, while a brush may paint the workings of one’s imagination, and both methods are looking beyond vision, touch, taste and sound.  There is a common need for both areas to put ideas in terms that are more accessible, or more tangible.  Usually through metaphors or diagrams, both of which are harnessed by art and science.  It is still my belief that artists learn from scientists and vise-versa.  Since we are all out to communicate something, learning how each other does this, or better yet, helping one another can be quite fruitful.  There are lots of classic examples of this, my favorite being about the famous physicist Niels Bohr, who referenced cubism to better understand quantum mechanics.  Though cubism had nothing to do with quantum, he saw something in the language of art that became an excellent metaphor for what he was struggling with.

Personally I have always included scientist friends in the conversation of my work to hear their reaction and insight.  It has helped form how I work and supported my resolve that I’m not offending or mocking their studies too far.  Now I am going a step further by working with faculty and students of science and engineering at Louisiana Tech University, where I hope that our feedback and support of one another will be mutually beneficial.

Walking Throne, 16 x 28'', archival inkjet print, 2006.

With regards to the aesthetic experience of your work, what aspects of the objects you make do you believe come to the forefront, their contents, the formal aspects of their construction, their materiality/objecthood, or something else?

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that… and it’s a tough one.  For me, I’ve always worked with objects that have initially raised a question in my mind.  This might be that I don’t know what it is and therefore need to explore it with a photograph, or that I am in love with its form and want to give it further meaning by changing its context or adding a story to it.  Either way, I need to have a sense of wonder about an object, or a sense of what something could become with some manipulation.  Of course, it does depend on the image.  In some I am exploring what and object is and what its history might be, such as Fissure Erosion and Season Cycle.  In other images I am allowing an object or setting to become a backdrop for another idea, such as in Amino Acids or Bonds.  Through my interaction with these objects a story is developed that is meant to explore a question and give insight into my imagination and line of thinking.

Your work shares some formal similarities with John Wood’s. Who are some of the artists you look at or influence you in your research, and what in their work attracts you?

I am always on the search for work that might influence me, or typically make me jealous.  Photographically, I have always looked towards Robert and Shauna ParkeHarrison, Kahn and Selesnick, and Duane Michals, just to name a few.  They are excellent storytellers and have an aesthetic that matches their meaning, which I admire.  Conceptually, I love Joan Fontcuberta, Mike Mandel, and anyone else that takes advantage of the photograph’s relationship to truth and evidence. I am also influenced by the use of information design and artists who make viewing charts a beautiful and interesting experience.  So many of these artists are making work that isn’t about immediate understanding of a concept, but about spending time with a diagram and really figuring things out for one’s self.

You recently (2006) graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with an MFA in photography and started teaching at Louisiana Tech University in 2007.  How has the transition from graduate student to faculty member affected your work?

I’ll admit that the transition has left me with much less time and energy to work on personal projects.  When I’m making artwork I need to really concentrate and be left alone, and that is not something that happens easily when you are a teacher.  I am learning how to balance my time and let go of thoughts of school during the weekends, if only for a day at a time.  As I mentioned before, we are working towards forging some connections with the engineering and science departments here at Louisiana Tech; my hope is that these connections will create a foundation for making new work that utilizes some of the resources and connections available and pushes my collaborative concept further.

Many thanks to Jay for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to stop by the SRO Gallery between Feb. 15-Mar. 13 to see the show.

February 9, 2010   1 Comment