Photolucida Wow Picks: Pavel Maria Smejkal

Reading a recent issue of GUP Magazine featuring vernacular imagery, there is an article that references a piece that Dutch photobook publisher, designer and vernacular photography collector Erik Kessels exhibited. In this show, Kessels appropriates images shot by a motion detector camera set up in the woods of Texas which capture many unsuspecting deer. The images, which resulted in this exhibition and the book In Almost Every Picture #3, were not taken by Kessels and were not originally produced for the purposes of art. Kessels signed his name to the images because he use them as artworks. He took them from their original context and allowed them mean something else to himself and viewing audience. 

Although this brings up a question of copyright protection, if such a thing were to be applied to these vernacular images, it also brings to mind the allowances included in the US copyright law. Artists are allowed to build on the work of other artists to create original works. That is how art evolves. With that allowance, artists like Pavel Maria Smejkal can create. In the project Fatescapes, Smejkal uses iconic, war-time images that have been so ingrained into our collective visual catalogue. These images have become so iconic that that what is in the frame, and therefore the before and after, have lost their meaning as originally produced. The strength of the message is diluted the more that the images are viewed. Smejkal's removal of the human element forces the brain to search for the image as previously viewed. Because of this search through memory, the strength and original feeling evoked by this iconic photo is brought back. By removing this essence of the original photo which has started to weaken by multiple views, Smejkal has created a new image which revisits the original purpose and voice of the photographer as the time passes from that event.

Pavel Maria Smejkal

"In my last work I am interested in historical contexts of human history, widely recorded by photographic medium in the last three centuries, I am interested in the medium itself, in its representational function and image as such. Getting off the main motif from the historical documents, from the photos which became our culture heritage, our image bank, a memory of nations, a symbol, a propaganda instrument or an example of some kind of photography, a template for making other images, in the time when almost all these photographs were reinterpreted by many authors of following generations from many points of view, with the knowledge that some of them were staged or their authenticity is disputable, I place questions about their sense, their meaning, their function and their future. I am interested in possibilities of photography in the time when analog process is over and I am asking what is next in the world waiting for change… "--Pavel Maria Smejkal on the project Fatescapes


Photolucida Wow Picks: Traer Scott

The exploration of the natural history museum diorama is nothing new, but Traer Scott's newest project adds another dimension to this exploration. There is always a voyeuristic aspect to viewing through the lens and the same feeling is evoked when looking into the diorama with taxidermied animals mixed with artificial plants and imported environment. It is all there for our viewing pleasure. In this project, Scott includes the humans trapped within the frames of the image in contrast with the animals. Interestingly, Scott captures what looks to be fear, awe and indifference in the people who pass by the reflective glass.

"In 2008, during a long anticipated visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I accidentally created an intriguing image while “snapshotting” their dioramas. A reflection of my husband, inadvertently rendered in the glass and framed behind a large ostrich, gave me pause. A few months later, I began to frequent diorama exhibits around the country to furtively capture these narratives. It is both exhilarating and humbling to be the creative catalyst for these truly alchemical images which are set against a century old stage and born of random timing and fractured light. "Natural History" is a series of completely candid, in-camera single exposure images which merge the living and dead, in an effort to construct allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature. Ghost-like reflections of modern visitors viewing exquisitely rendered wildlife dioramas are juxtaposed against the preserved subjects themselves, their faces molded into permanent expressions of fear, aggression or fleeting passivity. After a century of over-hunting, climate change, poaching and destruction of habitat, many of these long dead diorama specimens now represent endangered or completely extinct species" -- Traer Scott


Photolucida Wow Picks: Jamey Stillings

Jamey Stillings
In 2009, I went on a family vacation where we drove to California and en route back from that state, we decided to drive over the Hoover Dam. I was not familiar with the new bridge being constructed over the Dam and was amazed and awestruck as we drove around the bend to find this structure which would ultimately be 2,000 foot long with a 1,060 twin-rib concrete arch about two-thirds the way through construction. The structure is functional and artistic. 

A few weeks later, Jamey Stillings stopped by my office. We have known each other for years as we live in the same city and, obviously, are interested and employed in the field of photography. Jamey brought a Magcloud publication that the had printed on his new project on the Hoover Dam By-Pass Bridge. Already seduced by the physical structure, I wanted to see and know more. Jamey had access that many photographers were not allowed and was dedicated to this project for years. The resulting images incorporate the vast aspects of natural environment and the will and intellect of humans to work around the physical barriers that nature puts in the way. The bridge now officially called, Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, opened October 19, 2010 and Stillings work is showing at the Springs Preserve and continues through January 23, 2011. 

"How a structure and its creation are documented greatly impacts how it is remembered in history. Construction of the bridge downstream from Hoover Dam is unique both for its historical importance, by its proximity to the dam, and for its technical achievement, bridging the Black Canyon over the Colorado River with the longest concrete arch span in North America. The bridge challenges us to examine the juncture of nature and technology on a scale that is both grand and human. When I first encountered the bridge at Hoover Dam in March 2009, it immediately captured my imagination. Watching the bridge's construction, especially at night, is both inspiring and magical. The photo essay, which is evolving from this initial encounter, allows me to meld photographic and aesthetic sensibilities with a reawakened sense of childhood curiosity and awe. Photographically, the bridge as subject is creatively and technically challenging, dynamic and transitory. Over the past year, I have returned to the bridge again and again. As it evolves, each visit requires fresh perspectives and visual inquiry. This opportunity to spend extended time with a single ‘subject’ has brought a depth of visual understanding both to the approach and the resulting body of work. The overarching goal of the Bridge at Hoover Dam photo project is to acknowledge the collective talents and labors of those building the bridge and to place the bridge within the historical and aesthetic context of Hoover Dam and the American West"-- Jamey Stillings

View the entire project's website.


Looking for Designers

I have decided to start a series of posts with individuals and companies who design quality photobooks. I have an email from one designer requesting a post and I thought it would be a nice feature for this blog. If you have a great designer to recommend for this feature, please email me melanie (at) melaniemcwhorter.com.

Photolucida Wow Picks: Christopher Churchill

My third top pick for Photolucida is Christopher Churchill. I found this work fascinating as I look at the work before the statements and I often enjoy guessing what the work is about. I was quite surprised that the 10 images used to represent his work here we under the theme of American Faith.

"American Faith is an exploration into the inherent human need to be connected to something greater. It documents faith as a universal part of the human experience and the various ways this is manifested throughout the United States. I began this project in 2004 at the height of political and cultural tension in a post September 11th America. The topic of religion was fueling intolerance, bigotry, nationalism, and negatively influencing our societies perspective of its self. Personal faith had been tied to religion in a way that inverted the hierarchy of the two. It’s meaning was redefined to describe radical religious actions and righteousness rather then the universal commonality it brings to humanity. In our migrant society there is little opportunity for meaningful interaction with others. It is these elements that caused Americans to see faith in enormous groups rather then the individuals who make up our society. While the reasons for making this work would evolve these initial observations served as the impetuous for me to begin. I had decided to travel through every state in the country, photographing strangers and collecting stories of their experiences in being a part of something greater. Always in a visceral, fluid way, never planning where to go, I would place my own faith in a certain random process. I would abandon efforts of trying and instead allow events to inform each other. I began to collect physical evidence in images and recordings of there being a larger sequence of events in the world. Testing my own faith in this process everyday. One event would influence another and I would slowly work my way into an almost predestine path of mariachi bands and Hutterite colonies. As this project ends and its relentless beckoning fades, I am humbled to be the ambassador of these stories and images."-- Christopher Churchill


Photolucida Wow Picks: Alexandra Arzt

I know the work of artists like Robin Schwartz, Colleen Plumb,  and Amy Stein (Amy even won one of the Photolucida book awards) have worked with the idea of human and animal interaction and the intermingling or intersection of one in the lives of the other and vice versa. I obviously enjoy this genre even picking Nicole Jean Hill's portfolio Home Turf for a brief interview for NPR's The Picture Show. Alexandra Arzt's work is similar in some ways to the aforementioned portfolios, but it expands on the fetish nature of the animals in these humans' lives. Whether living or stuffed, adorned or wild, breathing or inanimate, many of Arzt's animal and human representations seem artificial, awkward or just a bit unusual. Arzt states about this project Human-Animal: for a brief interview on

"These are photographs of real people and the animals, objects, and places that belong to them. I am fascinated by the similarities between life forms and how alike our basic drives and behaviors are. Though the basic physiology of mammals is extremely alike from organs to skeleton (even a barnacle has a mouth, intestine, penis) there is something indefinably different about each species. Even as I find the affinities between life forms intriguing, the boundaries between humans and other animals also interests me. I am not simply referring to the large brains that endow humans with culture, logic, self consciousness, and advanced language or our bipedal movement or opposable thumbs. To me, the indefinable difference is the mystery of animal perception that humans are only able to access through imagination and theory. In her book Adam’s Task, Vicki Hearne describes inter-species interactions as when each individual “knows for sure about the other…that each is a creature with an independent existence, an independent consciousness and thus the ability to think and take action in a way that may or may not be welcome (meaningful or creature-enhancing) to the other.” When we see another living creature, we can never truly know how they perceive us or their environment." 

Read more of Arzt's statement and see more of her work on her website.


Photolucida Wow Picks: Christopher Capozziello

For the judging of Photolucida's Critical Mass, the jurors get to score the entrants with four different scores. The best of which is Wow. It is difficult to define what Wow is exactly even though you are given a definition by the staff of Critical Mass. My decisions were based on strength of the entire project. If every image was strong, in my opinion, it often got a Wow. If the concept of the work was different from anything I have seen before or took a theme or concept that I had seen and expanded upon that idea in a totally different, it often got a Wow. Out of 170 photographers, I selected 10 people who received the top score. It might seems like a ridiculous way to communicate an appreciation of an artist's work, but you have to have a way to show your appreciation for this artist's efforts. I can hardly buy all my favorite chocolates (nor do I really need to do so) much less all my favorite images. So for a show of my appreciation, I will post a few images from each artist with a small statement about why his or her work seduced me by pulling my heart strings, giving me some good eye candy or forcing me to actually use my brain. Today's selection is from Christopher Capozziello

"Initially, photographing my twin brother was not something I set out to do; but over the years, one picture has lead to another, and a story has emerged. The time I have spent photographing him has forced me to ask questions about suffering and faith, and why anyone is born with disease. Nick has Cerebral Palsy. Born with this neuromuscular disease, he is able to walk and speak and function on a fairly normal level, except for the fact that at any moment his muscles may spasm and cramp. When this occurs, his body becomes contorted, and he is unable to talk. A cramp may last minutes, or hours; sometimes his body is cramped for days. The pictures have been a way for me to deal with the reality of having a twin brother who struggles through life in ways that I do not. CP has kept Nick from many common things in life that most may take for granted: playing sports, holding a job, learning to drive, having a girlfriend. One of the hardest parts of being Nick’s twin is living my life, knowing that most of my experiences will forever be out of his grasp. Suffering raises countless questions. From time to time, someone will ask if I ever feel guilty for ending up the healthy one. I do. I look at him and think that it could have been me, and am constantly reminded and aware of his struggle. I wonder why he has to be the one who struggles on a moment-to-moment basis. It stirs up this process of grieving that never seems to end, like one long lament. Nick recently underwent Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery. For the first time in our family’s lives, we wait with great anticipation and hope that things will change for him. The doctors say that while the surgery may not completely stop his muscles from cramping, it may significantly decrease the effects of the cramps on his body. Already, Nick has seen improvement, lifting everyone’s hopes and expectations."-- Christopher Capozziello
View all of the Top 50 from Critical Mass