Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What We Lose by Smiling

"The Architect Hans Heinz Luttgen and his Wife Dora", 1926, August Sander, Tate Gallery

AUGUST SANDER was a German photographer, active mostly between the two World Wars. His personal goal, unusual for the time, was to create a collection of 600 portraits of ordinary people in their environment, to be called "People of the Twentieth Century". Stopped short of completion by the chaos generated by Hitler, these photographs nevertheless stand as a wonderful portrayal of people captured simply but evocatively in the midst of their everyday lives.

One certainly notices how almost no one is smiling. Does this mean they are unhappy?

We tend to think in our culture that smiling is success. All those ads by banks, of customers smiling and looking into their laptops and presumably seeing how their investment portfolio is growing. For some reason they always have a coffee mug beside them. The smiling face is ubiquitous in our culture, at least in the media. 

Do the people in Sanders photographs look grim? Or meditative and thoughtful? How would the photos look if they were smiling?

Old portraits, whether photographic or in oil, almost never had smiling people. So when did "Say Cheese!", first raise its smiling head.? When did we start to equate not smiling with being unhappy or grim? When did the mystery in another's eyes become hidden behind a generic, forced expression?

The film Baraka has many wonderful shots of people gazing into the camera, unsmiling. Stare into the faces of Sander's subjects, and the initial sense of a grim look dissolves. There's something soulful, moving, about looking into the eyes of another human with no reference to any emotion or communication. Just experiencing each other's existence in a moment of present being.

"Master Mason", August Sander, Tate Gallery

Friday, 12 April 2013

Terrigal Sandstone

Currently on display at Arcadia Gallery, about 25 photos I took one afternoon near Terrigal Beach, north of Sydney. I'm really pleased with all these photos, nature did an amazing job of weathering the sandstone into some amazing shapes and colours, and I just ran around for an hour at low tide snapping it, all in one location. The only difficult part was later, dealing with the sunburn I got while I was having so much fun.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Just finished reading The Shipping News. Great book.

It was recommended to me by a cousin I met recently in awesome Tasmania, that being an island off the main continent of Australia. Seems my cousin is fascinated by Newfoundland, that being an island off the coast of my continent.

Never thought that much about Newfoundland, although I did notice that all the Newfies I met in Toronto seemed to be lively types with a good sense of humour.

So I've been thinking about the island, and discussing it with a Toronto room mate of mine from a long standing Newfoundland family of Irish origin.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism ads are quite something, and my friend raves about the beauty of the land. But he calls the society "dysfunctional and fucked-up"  and says he'll only go back for funerals. He talks about alcoholism, rampant sexual abuse and back stabbing. Blames the isolation, poverty and extreme conditions (oh, and the Catholic Church).

So which is it, the smiling people making wooden boats in the ads, or the haggard faces in David Blackwood's prints? 

Not sure I care right at the moment, think I'll read some novels by Newfie writer Wayne Johnston and The Outport People by Claire Mowat, while I save some money to head out there myself.  I sense something awesome right on my doorstep.