Sunday, October 31, 2010

Risa Morales presents Mauren Brodbeck

Sifting through photographers from books in the library can be fun.  Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming... so many names, so many different types of photographs.  I recently came across a book called reGeneration, presented by the Aperture Foundation.  This book claims that it has found the upcoming and soon-to-be-influential photographers of the next 20 years.  How could I resist opening it up and taking a look?

 The photos above are by Mauren Brodbeck, a woman born in Switzerland who went to the Art Center of College Design here in the US, and the Vancouver Film School in Canada. The blurb in the book about her is as follows:

"[She] examines the built spaces that are created inside cities by photographing buildings that are considered ordinary parts of the urban landscape... objects that are both present and absent, neutral masses that occupy space, but never attract the attention of passers-by.  By pointing her camera at structures that could be called insignificant, she transforms them into sculptures with a powerful visual technique that she has developed, using blocks of monochrome color that are sometimes present in situ and sometimes created afterwards by blocking out the buildings.  Mauren Brodbeck believes that the medium of photography has a part to play in renewing the way that we look at the often banal-seeming world around us."(44)

My first reaction after both seeing the images and reading the blurb is: "Whaaa?"

 First, I have to point out, Brodbeck didn't develop the technique of masking.  That's been around for QUITE some time in other mediums. It's even been used in photography. Second, making a 3-d object appear flat, featureless, and all one color does not turn it into a sculpture.  It turns it into a flat, featureless color swatch.

But the thing that sticks out to me MOST about these photos is this:
Brodbeck takes boring photos of boring things.  The angles of the photos, the subject of the photos... they're all pretty boring (and this is coming from someone who *loves* architecture).  Then, she takes these boring photographs, picks what sometimes seems like an arbitrary object in it, and paints a solid color on it... usually in some sort of digital medium (EG Photoshop). She doesn't use the mask to create anything fanciful, or use the boring photos to sneak in something that the viewer might miss (like people making funny faces peeking out from windows that are so far away they're almost obscured)... or, I don't even know... just... anything that is interesting.  No.  Just a mask of color.  How does this make a "banal-seeming world" seem any less banal?

Bleh.  This is what photography is going to be in 20 years?  I'll be the weirdo with photos of me in an aluminum foil cap fending off pasteboard aliens with a spatula.  At least that'll give people something to laugh at, and won't bore them to death, even if it won't get my name in a book of "influential photographers."

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