October 26, 2009

Surrealism and Neo-Imperialism at the Photo Plus Expo

I photographed this model at a vendor's booth at the Photo Plus Expo in New York City as a photographer talked about the virtues of a certain lighting system.

I wondered what it is like: to be a model, to be on display, to be gawked at, to aim sultry looks at camera toting photographic trade show visitors.

With this multiple exposure, my intention was for her torso to become background texture.

When I later realized I did not know her name, I went back and asked the photographer. He replied: "No idea. I never asked her." Now the headless torso becomes a metaphor for treating women like objects.

I encourage my students to take in all manner of art and photography, as what you look at affects what you see. The "Look" from my blog's title refers to this process.

As for me, I have been looking at a book of surrealist photographs. My layered offering below (all done in camera) was inspired by these artistic explorers from last century.

Along with women, common subjects of promotional imagery at the show were colorful, traditional people from around the world. Fresh from teaching a class on photography and ethics, I pondered issues of exploitation while I contemplated documenting the situation.

I then attended a seminar by Tim Hetherington, who showed multiple forms and styles: stills, videos, art, documentaries, installations and photojournalism. His intellectually rigorous talk went far beyond the mechanics of shooting both stills and video (the billed seminar topic), to touch on concepts ranging from neo-imperialism to homoeroticism.

My resolve bolstered, I went back to shoot on the trade show floor.

As the story goes, photographic pioneer George Eastman was to take a trip to Santo Domingo. The camera outfit at the time, he said, "was a pack-horse load." Mr. Eastman never took the trip, devoting his life instead to creating easier methods of picture taking. His company became Eastman Kodak.

Had he made it to Santo Domingo, I wonder what kind of images he would have come back with.

© 2009 John Nordell


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