Carousel at the Porte Dorée, Date unknown. François-Joseph Luigi Loir.
FRANÇOIS-JOSEPH LUIGI LOIR, 1845-1916
Luigi Loir was born December 22, 1845 in Goritz, Austria and he died February 9, 1916 in Paris. He began his first formal art education in 1853 at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Parma. Ten years later he moved to Paris, where he enrolled to study with the mural painter Jean Amable Amedée Pastelot (1810-1870). Upon finishing his studies in 1865, Loir made his debut at the Paris Salon with Paysage a Villiers-sur Seine, for which he received high acclaim. Due to his studies with Pastelot, he also became a very popular ceiling and mural painter: one of Loir’s first commissions was to paint the murals and ceilings at the Chateaux du Diable in 1866.
Loir was a painter enamoured with the visual experience of Paris. After leaving the studio of his instructor Pastelot in 1870, Loir concentrated his oeuvre on scenes of the city. Although he painted views of Paris at all hours of the day, he excelled at painting at the margins of daylight, or when cloudy skies or misty rain create a cool atmosphere through which sparkle electric lights and sunny reflections. In his painting of the Carousel at the Porte Dorée, although the square is crowded with mothers, children, vendors and wanderers, a uniformity of tone creates a sense of calm stillness. One’s attention is drawn not to the movement of people, but to the flickering motion of electric lights. Glowing bands of yellow, red and orange jump against the violet-blue evening, balanced only by a slight warm light reflecting on the clouds. The bright transparency of the lights gives life to the rotating carousel or busy cafes that line the street, while the harmonious tone and dense atmosphere lend a pleasing stability to the view. (via Schiller and Bodo)
Protesters confronted riot police in front of a mosque in Giza. The demonstrations on Friday spread to several cities besides Cairo, including Suez, Alexandria and Port Said. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
EGYPT CALLS IN ARMY AS PROTESTERS RAGE
“The unrest in Egypt — fueled by frustrations over government corruption, economic stagnation and a decided lack of political freedom — came after weeks of turmoil across the Arab world that toppled one leader in Tunisia and encouraged protesters to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets.” (continue reading via NY Times)
Purchased by the pound from a local salvage yard, street signs from Reno, Nevada, were crafted into a one-of-a-kind fence.
SIGN OF THE TIMES Looking for directions on the road to sustainability? At Leger Wanaselja Architecture’s multifamily development in Berkeley, California, all signs point to green.
If you haven’t seen a Toyota Prius on the road, chances are you haven’t been on a road lately. The heralded gas-electric hybrid sedan, with its semifuturistic countenance, leads the world in hybrid sales. Toyota has already sold over 50,000 Priuses in the first half of 2005, outpacing the rival Honda Civic Hybrid by 40,000. If you haven’t noticed many Civic Hybrids out there, it’s not just due to disappointing sales figures, but rather because the Civic looks identical to its gas-guzzling older sibling. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s this: If you’re going to go green, it pays to be conspicuous.
But is the same true for architecture? “I think it’s actually the opposite,” contends Katy Hollbacher, program manager of the nonprofit organization Build It Green. “Green building is currently very similar to conventional building as far as aesthetics go.” However, in Berkeley, California, at the busy intersection of Dwight Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, sits a notable exception. With a fence made from street signs, awnings crafted from hatchback windows, traffic-sign siding, and a gate fashioned out of Volvo station wagon doors, the Dwight Way, a mixed-use urban-infill project designed, built, and developed by Leger Wanaselja Architecture, is nothing if not conspicuous.
“The response was overwhelming,” says architect Cate Leger, recalling the open houses held for prospective buyers of the condominium units in 2004. “It was a mob scene,” adds her husband and fellow architect Karl Wanaselja. “There was a line around the block.” Although the Dwight Way, with its unusual use of unusual materials, may not be the norm when it comes to sustainable building, the visibility of certain green elements made for lasting impressions and quick sales. Wanaselja reports, “The woman who bought the unit in front told us she changed her route to work so she could drive by every day to check up on the progress.” While green building has pull, especially in left-leaning eco-conscious Berkeley, the resounding success of overtly green Dwight Way (and the Toyota Prius, for that matter) suggests that perhaps the first step to turning around public opinion is to turn heads.
The architects also bent the signs into railings.
The project, which the architects conceived in two phases (a renovation, followed by new construction), began in 2001 when Leger and Wanaselja purchased a run-down building that was originally a corner store with apartments above. “It was this warren of rooms, where every possible space, even the closets, had been turned into bedrooms,” says Leger, touring one of the now sun-lit and airy 820-square-foot condominiums. “We got mail for 23 different residents the month after we bought it,” adds Wanaselja incredulously.
As soon as the building permits arrived, the pair, who also served as the project contractors, first divided the building into four units, keeping as much of the original structure in place as possible. Although the Dwight Way wears its sustainability on its eaves, throughout the renovation every aspect was considered for maximum eco-sensitivity. Windows were punched into the southern elevation, allowing for greater passive heating. The building was insulated with blown cellulose, which consists of shredded newspapers and phone books. Old-growth Douglas fir and redwood were salvaged during demolition and reused as windowsills, walls, floor patches, and custom doors. Embossed wainscoting, laying dormant under a century’s worth of plaster and bad paint jobs, was restored to offer a historical decorative touch. Terrazzo kitchen counters consisting of recycled glass in a concrete matrix were commissioned from Berkeley-based Counter Production. Low-flow dual-flush toilets and energy-saving Scandinavian kitchen appliances were installed to reduce utility demands.
While these features of the Dwight Way read like a green building checklist, Leger and Wanaselja cross into more experimental territory with their use of recycled car parts and street signs. Being the designers, contractors, and developers offered the couple a unique opportunity to explore their unique ideas. “It’s hard to get a client who says, ‘Do me a place with car parts and street signs,’ but we can do it for ourselves and people can respond to it,” Wanaselja explains. In the estimation of Build It Green’s Hollbacher, it’s a positive move that keeps items out of the landfill and saves resources that would otherwise be used on virgin materials.
Hatches from Mazdas create a unique railing in one of the condos. Large amounts of natural light spill in from the new skylights.
In a phase-one condominium, the glass rear hatches of Mazda RX-7s are used as protective railings along the stairs. Wanaselja, obviously no stranger to the salvage yard, goes into further detail. “I look for ones that still have some hardware so it makes it possible to attach to a building—the glass is tempered, so if you try and drill a hole it will break.” “But it meets code!” Leger adds with a laugh. In the bathroom, a closer look reveals that what seem to be ordinary glass shelves are in fact windows from Volkswagen Karmann Ghias. “Those are hard to find,” Wanaselja points out. Furthering the automotive dis-course, Porsche 924 hatches are used as awnings above many of the exterior entrances, and a gate to the parking lot is crafted from hovering Volvo station wagon doors.
Other salvaged materials come in the form of street signs, bought by the pound at the local dump. On the building’s south elevation these are reversed and brushed, creating aluminum scales that reflect brightly in the afternoon sun. Elsewhere the signs are bent into outdoor lights, stair railings, and eaves and fabricated into fences (in one case, reversed one-way signs create a peculiar homage to the picket fence).
The original lot purchased as part of phase one was large enough to accommodate another structure, so construction began on the ground-up phase two in 2003. For Leger and Wanaselja, building green doesn’t just mean using the right materials, it extends into living with smaller, more manageable spaces—a democratizing of resources. Sitting parallel to the renovated corner building, with a narrow garden and pathway between, phase two borrows from and evolves the design vocabulary developed during phase one.
It’s not unexpected, then, that the architects’ ecological approach extends to every aspect of the building. The concrete slabs employed 50 percent fly ash, a waste product of coal burning. The natural plaster walls were left unpainted and removed the need for caulk and trim. A system of dry wells was dug to keep graywater runoff onsite. Car parts and street signs make appearances throughout—as railings, shelves, awnings, siding, lighting, and fences.
Karl Wanaselja, with clicker in hand, redefines “gated community.” Acting as the contractor, he worked closely with a gate fabricator to assemble the unusual entrance. “I wanted to find an orange one,” he says, referring to the Volvo hatches, “but finding seven silver ones was hard enough.”
As developers, and green developers at that, the couple took a risk with the Dwight Way. “We were cantilevered way out there,” Wanaselja jokes as only architects can. “The number crunching was scary.” The response, however, has been overwhelmingly positive—a new renovation and infill project is already in the works. “It’s a way of expressing our values,” intones Leger, “and an outlet for our creative channels.”
For anyone who knows Berkeley, a place long associated with vociferous manifestations of counterculture, the Dwight Way, with its overtly green approach, seems a perfect architectural summation of the city’s values. Like so much in this island of blue (the political blue, that is) it’s hard not to wonder how the Dwight Way would be regarded were it built elsewhere: as a mere roadside curiosity, or as impetus for greater, more positive change in the way the public perceives housing? Leger and Wanaselja are positive it’s the latter. We’ll reserve judg-ment until Detroit unveils its first fuel-cell pickup truck. (via Dwell)
16TH ASIAN GAMES - DAY 4: CYCLING - TRACK
GUANGZHOU, CHINA - NOVEMBER 16: King Lok Cheung, King Wai Cheung, Ki Ho Choi and Ho Ting Kwok of Hong Kong compete in the Men’s Team Pursuit Final Track Cycling during day four of the 16th Asian Games Guangzhou 2010 at Guangzhou Velodrome on November 16, 2010 in Guangzhou, China. (via LIFE)
Top: Lightheaded Solo #11. Bottom: Lightheaded Duo #2 (diptych). Lynn Silverman
Born in 1952, Lynn Silverman received her BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and her MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths’ College in London, England. She has participated in many solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Australia, and the United States. In addition to publishing four books, her work may be found in public collections in the Australia and Great Britain. She currently teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
The photographs in Lightheaded record a bulb’s interaction with other actual or reflected lights, thus making it possible to explore the boundary between the various light sources. Through the action of light, this boundary becomes more fluid. The images generate a dialogue between such qualities as opacity and transparency, individuality and commonality amongst others. (via Lynn Silverman)
Susan Sontag, 1933-2004. 37.1 x 37.6cm, Gelatin silver print. Peter Hujar.
HIDE/SEEK: DIFFERENCE AND DESIRE IN AMERICAN PORTRAITURE
October 30 through February 13, 2011
This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. “Hide/Seek” considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment.
The exhibition begins with late nineteenth-century works by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent and charts the twentieth century with major works by such American masters such as Romaine Brooks, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The exhibition arcs through the postwar period with major paintings by Agnes Martin, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. It continues through the end of the twentieth century with works by Keith Haring, AA Bronson, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres about life, love and death during the AIDS crisis, and charts the vigorous reassertion of lesbian and gay civil rights in the twenty-first. (via National Portrait Gallery)
“I guess that’s what saying goodbye is always like—like jumping off an edge. The worst part is making the choice to do it. Once you’re in the air, there’s nothing you can do but let go.”—Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall
YOU ARE THE FLEET ADMIRAL OF THE NAVY IN WWI WHAT DO YOU DO?
You’re the Fleet Admiral of the Navy in World War I. Your ships are being sunk at an alarming rate by the devastatingly effective German U-Boat. The traditional camouflage isn’t working because your environment (sea and sky) changes with the weather. What do you do?
It’s not where you are it’s where you’re going.
World War I occurred from 1914–1918; back then sinking an enemy battleship was a three-step process:
Step 1: Locate your target’s position and plot its course. Step 2: Determine the ship’s speed and confirm the direction it is heading.
Step 3: Launch torpedo not directly at the ship, but where you think it’s going to be by the time the torpedo reaches the ship.
*Remember this is early 20th century warfare, weapons don’t travel at the speed they do today
So what’s your solution Fleet Admiral?
HIT THEM WITH THE RAZZLE DAZZLE
Forget about not being seen, that only solves their first problem. Focus on confusing them so they don’t know where you’re going. Then their torpedoes will be shot in vain because they thought you zigged when you really zagged.
British Artist and naval officer Norman Wilkinson had this very insight and pioneered the Dazzle Camouflage movement (known as Razzle Dazzle in the United States). Norman used bright, loud colours and contrasting diagonal stripes to make it incredibly difficult to gauge a ship’s size and direction.
It was cheap, effective, and widely-adopted during the War. (via Twisted Sifter)
1066 [Detail], 2010. Indian ink on wall. 2150 x 400 cm. Fiona Banner.
THE NAKED EAR
Much of Fiona Banner’s work explores the problems and possibilities of written language. Her early work took the form of ‘wordscapes’ or ‘still films’ – blow-by-blow accounts written in her own words of feature films, (whose subjects range from war to porn) or sequences of events. These pieces took the form of solid single blocks of text, often the same shape and size as a cinema screen. Banner’s current work encompasses sculpture, drawing and installation but text is still at the heart of her practice. She recently turned her attention to the idea of the classic, art-historical nude, observing a life model and transcribing the pose and form in a similar vein to her earlier transcription of films. Often using parts of military aircraft as the support for these descriptions, Banner juxtaposes the brutal and the sensual, performing an almost complete cycle of intimacy and alienation.
In her new exhibit, Banner looks at how we mythologize history, and our willingness to be seduced by those myths. Banner’s practice centres on the problems and possibilities of language, both written and metaphorical. From her ‘wordscapes’ to her use of found and transformed military aircraft, Banner juxtaposes the brutal and the sensual, performing a complete cycle of intimacy, attraction and alienation. (via Frith Street Gallery)
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER: CHICAGO STREET
As an accomplished street photographer, the late Vivian Maier discreetly chronicled life in Chicago’s Loop and surrounding districts for decades. Born in New York to European refugees, she eventually ended up in Chicago as a nanny to wealthy North Shore clients, but her passions ran much deeper. Over 100,000 negatives and more than 3,000 prints of her massive body of work were discovered in an estate auction shortly before her death in 2009.
While not much is known about Maier herself or her reasons for keeping her photographs hidden, this first exhibition of her work reveals a keen eye for observing the people and fashions of Chicago in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. (via Chicago Cultural Center)
The exterior of the house consists of sandblasted masonry and Ferrari shade sails stretched on a steel frame.
STARTIN’ SPARTAN When Jay Atherton and Cy Keener met in grad school at the University of California, Berkeley, they discovered in each other a rare constellation of common interests: minimalist architecture, rock climbing, and “not talking.” After graduation, Atherton moved back to his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, and purchased a downtown lot. Wanting to build a house, he asked Keener—a pro carpenter, then living in Colorado—to help with design and construction. Six months later, “His house became our house,” says Keener. “It became obvious the only way it would get built was if I shared the mortgage.” Atherton cackles: “I suckered him down here.” The roommates are now business partners: They founded a design firm, Atherton Keener, in 2007. On a 110-degree day, they invited us in for a tour.
Keener: When we first came to Phoenix, we realized: People move here for the “weather,” but you drive around and you see that everyone is either outside squinting or inside with their shades drawn tight. So we wanted to create a house that was still connected to the outside. Atherton: The house consists of three rooms: a bedroom on either end of the house and a living room in the middle. Each room faces a different direction, and each receives light in a different way. The west gets extreme sun exposure in Arizona, so we don’t have any openings on that side, except for the front door. The kitchen, laundry, and two bathrooms run along that wall and they are very compact, like in a ship or an RV. The hallway is a clear long path that connects everything, with a wall of translucent glass on one side and black plywood cabinets on the other.
Keener: Because of practical and budgetary reasons, we didn’t have the luxury of using crazy materials. Concrete block has been a part of building in the desert for a long time. The screen that wraps three sides of the house is just a standard thing you see everywhere down here—generally used to shade parking lots and kids’ playgrounds. The floor is concrete. The walls are drywall. Our interest was in using standard things on a relatively unremarkable site and creating something that was more than the sum of its parts.
Atherton: The design process was fairly rigorous and very slow. We were the clients and the builders and the designers, so we were really our own worst enemies. Instead of just going to Home Depot and buying everything, we tried to make as many things as we could by hand, so that they would agree with the rest of the house. We wanted to accomplish as much as we could with just a few materials.
Keener: Basically the only things in the house that we purchased were the plumbing fixtures and the appliances. We made all the cabinets—in the bathroom, kitchen, storage closets, and hallways—ourselves, out of plywood that we dyed black. For a while the sinks and tubs were going to be concrete. But it never felt right. In the end we made them by hand, out of marine-grade plywood and marine epoxy resin.
Atherton: One of the challenges we faced was that at some point, the design started to reject ideas.
The curving white wall in Atherton’s bedroom is optimally sited to capture shadows from the redbud tree outside his window. Pip, the dog, will have to content himself with concrete floors—at least until his housemates buy a couch. Or a rug.
Keener: It was important that the rooms be pure spaces. The curved walls are just there to capture the light conditions from the windows. We’ve been very meticulous about locating distractions—like closets or light switches—in the hallway. We wanted to make something quiet enough to receive what’s going on outside. It helps that we don’t carry a lot of furniture with us. Before we moved into the house we lost our lease on a rental and shared a five-by-ten storage unit. It wasn’t even full; it was like half full. People come in and they say, “Whoa, art would look so good on these walls.” But I’ve never felt like this house is missing anything.
Atherton: There are some unconventional aspects to the house, but we’re also using it as an architecture studio, and a pavilion, and a warehouse. If we’re interested in something, we can bring it in and experiment with it. When we were working on an art installation, we had two 300-pound blocks of ice in a tub in the middle of the room. At one point there were 800 yards of fabric piled up. We have a dog, and when we had all that fabric lying around, he loved it, he was like “Oh my god, it’s furniture.” And then it was gone.
Atherton: Our friends know that this house lacks a certain amount of comfort, but everyone adapts to what it does have. When people come over to eat, we usually sit on the floor—we keep it really clean—or outside. We’ve all adapted to what it means to not have a dining table. We don’t have a couch. It can be a bit of a problem. Like when we have our girlfriends over it’s hard to make them just sit on the floor or on a chair. And it’s very presumptuous to have the bed as the main piece of furniture in the house. One of the nice things about having a girlfriend is, she has a couch at home.
Keener: The house isn’t static. A photographer friend uses the place for fashion shoots. The other weekend we had 40 people in the living room listening to a classical guitar, bass, and flute trio. One night this woman played a solo piece on the violin in the dark, and the moonlight was bright enough to cast shadows on the screen from the oleander outside. It was so beautiful. We have been fairly open with sharing the house with folks and that’s been really rewarding. It always surprises me with how grateful they are and how pleased they are with the experience that they have here. I think that people appreciate being in something so clear and consistent. They use words like “peaceful” and “Eastern” and “meditative” and “calm” to describe the space.
Atherton and Keener review architectural drawings in their “living room,” which also serves as a work studio and performance space.
Atherton: There are lots of examples in history where an architect builds a home, and from that home, his ideas develop, and he becomes more fully realized as an architect. It doesn’t necessarily make the best or easiest home. But it does set a trajectory for future projects. We were both interested in building something that we could learn from. (via Dwell)
Following the death of his sister to brain cancer twelve years ago, Motoi Yamamoto adopted salt as his primary medium. In Japanese culture salt is not only a necessary element to sustain human life, but it is also a symbol of purification. He uses salt in loose form to create intricate labyrinth patterns on the gallery floor or in baked brick form to construct large interior structures. As with the labyrinths and innavigable passageways, Motoi views his installations as exercises which are at once futile yet necessary to his healing.
Salt is a ubiquitous commodity, as it is found in all of the oceans of the world, and virtually all cultures use some variant of it in their diet. What began as an exploration of the practices of Japanese death culture and its use of salt has now become a more philosophical enquiry into the importance of this substance to life on the planet. He likes to think that the salt he uses might have been a life-sustaining substance for some creature. Yamamoto is interested in the interconnectedness of all living things and the fact that salt is something shared by all. For this reason, when his salt-works must be disassembled, he requests that the salt in his installation be returned to the ocean.
A labyrinth may be defined as “a path with a purpose.” There is usually a beginning and an end point. A maze has intentional dead-ends and false starts. On the surface, it would appear that Yamamoto’s works fall into the category of a maze. However, he states that it is his wish that the viewers may use his labyrinth installations as a tool for meditation and an opportunity to reach some final point in their own thoughts. It is interesting to note the similarities between Yamamoto’s drawings and the circuitry of the human brain. Knowing of his sister’s illness, it is not surprising that there is a visual connection between the installations and the source of their inspiration.
According to the artist, “Drawing a labyrinth with salt is like following a trace of my memory. Memories seem to change and vanish as time goes by. However, what I seek is the way in which I can touch a precious moment in my memories that cannot be attained through pictures or writings. I always silently follow the trace, that is controlled as well as uncontrolled from the start point after I have completed it.” While working on these installations, Yamamoto says that he is only concerned with the “line,” and that the focus of his attention cannot waver from that. When asked about the lack of permanence of his works, the artist states “ It does not matter if the work lasts or does not last. I use salt. It lasts as long as it will.” (via Force of Nature)
Exiled Republicans being marched on the beach from one internment camp, Le Barcarès, France, March 1939. Robert Capa. THE MEXICAN SUITCASE Rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro SEPTEMBER 24–MAY 8, 2011 The Mexican Suitcase will for the first time give the public an opportunity to experience images drawn from this famous collection of recovered negatives. In December 2007, three boxes filled with rolls of film, containing 4,500 35mm negatives of the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and Chim (David Seymour)—which had been considered lost since 1939—arrived at the International Center of Photography. These three photographers, who lived in Paris, worked in Spain, and published internationally, laid the foundation for modern war photography. Their work has long been considered some of the most innovative and passionate coverage of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Many of the contact sheets made from the negatives will be on view as part of the exhibition, which will look closely at some of the major stories by Capa, Taro, and Chim as interpreted through the individual frames. These images will be seen alongside the magazines of the period in which they were published and with the photographers’ own contact notebooks. The exhibition is organized by ICP assistant curator Cynthia Young. (via ICP)
Photographer Kevin Cooley isn’t afraid of the dark. In fact, he’s almost like a cat, using the cover of darkness as his opportunity to go out and hunt – for pictures. He’s known for using the night sky like a giant canvass and a plethora of manmade light sources like paintbrushes to create stunning fine art and editorial imagery.
Cooley has used everything from the light of jet engines flying thousands of feet above his lens to flares shot into the depths of cold wintry landscapes to expose his photographs. His inventive techniques and striking aesthetic have brought him much success in the art world. In the past few years he’s landed multiple grants, artist residencies, solo exhibitions, major awards and scores of magazine clients.
We recently had a chance to sit down and discuss his career and craft. Our interview begins with the concept and creation of our featured image “Badlands 2,” a photo from his series At Light’s Edge. We continue on to discuss how Cooley conceptualizes projects, where he finds creative inspiration and his path of becoming a successful artist.
Seckler: Let’s discuss our featured image, one from your series At Light’s Edge.
Cooley: This image was created before dawn on a cold, snowy morning near the small town of Lyman in Southwestern Wyoming. To create the streak in the sky, I used an old military flare. After a long period of failed experimentation with model rockets, fireworks, and marine flares, I settled on military flares for two reasons. They are very bright and enjoy a nice long hang-time in the air of around 8-10 seconds. Second, I really liked their predictable trajectories, something which I wasn’t getting with the other methods I tested. The flares are all from various militaries in Eastern Europe and date from the late 1970’s and 80’s. I was surprised to find hardly any duds in the entire gross I used for this project.
Wind River Canyon, Thermopolis, WY, 2008. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: What was the technical process of creating this image?
Cooley: The camera I used is a Linhof Technikardan 45s with a 135mm Schneider apo-symmar lens. I remember that at the time, I thought I was shooting with Kodak Portra 160VC at an exposure of four or five minutes at f22. However, when I got back to the hotel, I realized that I accidentally shot Kodak Portra 400NC. I think this mistake worked out to my advantage in making the flare even brighter. I only had time to shoot 2 frames before I was visited by a state trooper who wanted to know why my car was stopped along the side of the highway so early in the morning. Luckily for me, it did not seem as he had seen two flares we had already shot off. But I thought it best not to take any more chances.
Seckler: Where did you come of with the idea for this series?
Cooley: From an emotional point of view, the series is about feeling lost in my environment and struggling to cope with the human condition. It’s also about feeling like the world can get the best of you and being lonely; it’s very existential. Loneliness is a theme I’ve been exploring for a long time. I often photograph alone; it’s a meditative experience for me. Mentally, I go to strange, sometimes subliminal, places. I guess it says a lot about me as a person, but it also speaks to the universal human condition. We all have to deal with the harshness of the world. Speaking from a literal point of view, the light from the flares is like a distress signal, a call for help, like you’re lost in a stark, unforgiving landscape. I shot those images mostly in Wyoming and Idaho during the depths of winter.
Seckler: Is there a metaphorical element to it?
Cooley: When you look at the pictures, you see a white streak and you might not necessarily know what’s going on. Is the flare coming up, or is it going down? Is it from outer space? Is it lightning? You know, I like to leave the images open to interpretation. I purposefully chose not to use red distress flares to make it more ambiguous.
2 Streets from High Crimes, 2001. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: Much of your work is done at night using only ambient light, where did this habit originate from?
Cooley: The very first project I did at night was a series called Night for Night, which is an industry term. It started when I came across an amazing-looking film set in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They were shooting A Beautiful Mind, and there was a gigantic oil tanker that was lit up. They weren’t even shooting the tanker; it was only a part of the background. I started to think about how light is used in film, and how much of it is not used, and what else is being lit on set. That thread sparked the idea that I should surreptitiously borrow hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide (HMI) lights from different films sets. Before I knew it, I was in Los Angeles for six months following various film productions.
Seckler: Did people ever wonder why you were stalking around film sets?
Cooley: Film crews in New York got to know me well. They offered me craft services, asked me if I was getting what I needed. I almost felt like a part of the productions. In Los Angeles, my reception was less well received. Even though I was blocks away from the set, and not interested in whomever was being shot—meaning that I was clearly not a paparazzo—I was not treated well. Sometimes, the cops that are paid to be on set would get involved. They’d say, “You know, actually, he can shoot here. It’s totally fine. He’s not even bothering the crew.”
Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France, 2004. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: How did your night shooting progress?
Cooley: Each project has been shot at night, but each one also uses a slightly different light source, the first one being the big film HMIs. Next, I did a project in Paris, France, during a six-month artist-in-residency program, where I used the lights from Bateaux-Mouches, tourist boats that travel along the Seine.
Seckler: Is your choice of lighting a matter of convenience or aesthetics?
Cooley: When I first started the Night for Night series I was looking for locations that were lit by massive lights, and I was thinking, what would I do if I had those lights for myself? And I realized that I didn’t know what I would do. It was more about seeking what was lit; the accidental occurrence of the experience intrigued me. When I photograph, I always feel most comfortable reacting to what I see, rather than setting up my own scenario.
Seckler: What originally prompted your interest in photography?
Cooley: I came to New York to go to the School for Visual Arts (SVA) in 1997. But I was shooting before that. Television has always been a major part of my upbringing. My family had televisions in almost every room. My father couldn’t sleep without a television playing. My mom slept in a different room, and she had a television. I had television in my bedroom when I was a kid. Television imagery is how I learned about the world. I think that it’s only natural that I became interested in capturing the world visually.
Down the Street From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2001. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: When did you start working professionally?
Cooley: In my second year of grad school we had a photographer join us who was a well-connected commercial, editorial photographer in Australia. Before I met him I was thinking only about being an artist. He introduced me to commercial photography. Since graduate school I’ve been trying to navigate between being an editorial photographer, a commercial photographer, and a fine artist. The first few years after I graduated I assisted and then I started doing my own projects, mainly the Night for Night series.
Seckler: Tell me about your work as an editorial and commercial photographer.
Cooley: There are aspects I like about editorial and commercial photography, but I don’t see how I could fully commit to either. I like making personal work, because I do whatever I want, and I can take as much time as I need. But I also like getting an assignment to go somewhere. I love traveling. I love having to go somewhere to find a picture where there’s not an obvious picture—like having the situation be pressured. I appreciate the challenge of representing a story or an editorial point of view.
Seckler: How do you split yourself mentally between commercial or editorial projects and fine art?
Cooley: I used to think I could do it all. I thought, I could go somewhere and shoot an editorial portrait in the morning, and then shoot something different in the afternoon and just always have a zillion ideas, but the more refined I got at doing what I wanted to do, the more distracted I felt. I find it really hard to turn one off or turn one on, to immediately switch.
Cité Window, Paris France, 2004. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: Tell me about how you conceptualize an idea for a series.
Cooley: It happens organically. I often go for long periods where I have no ideas. Once I start working on a series I eventually get to a point where I feel like I’ve got it, maybe after 15 or 20 pictures. I probably could push it, shoot for another year or so, but then I lose interest. I also go through short periods where I don’t shoot as much or I try things that don’t work and then I see something that suddenly sparks a new idea.
Seckler: It sounds like a very organic, even serendipitous process.
Cooley: I wish I could sit down with pieces of paper and access what I need, and that process is probably not any easier than what I do, but I certainly like to fantasize about it being easier. I’m not good at brainstorming. I mostly hunt for what I shoot. Last summer I started thinking about fireflies as a light source. I didn’t know how to get a bunch of them together, but I started looking into it and realized that there are fireflies in Cambodia that sync up and flash at the same time. I thought, that could be an idea. At the same time my wife found this place in Vieques, Puerto Rico, that has dinoflagellates in the water that light up at night when you move, so I’m going there to photograph them.
Longyearbyen Overview, 2006. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: When you have an idea, like using fireflies as a light source, are you thinking only about something that interests you personally, or are you thinking about an audience that may or may not like the work?
Cooley: I think about making a visually dynamic photograph. I want my work to end up in a gallery or be presented in a magazine, but I try not to work with those goals as my motivation. Where the work ends up, or if it goes anywhere, is not as important.
Seckler: In terms of making a living as a fine artist, is it difficult to rely on galleries to sell your work?
Cooley: My gallery closed in December, so it’s hard. I don’t have gallery representation right now. I don’t think anything in photography is necessarily reliable; it’s all a challenge.
Seckler: How did you get your first solo show?
Cooley: Artist Jen DeNike approached me to be in a group show. About a year later I showed the gallerist some new work and he absolutely hated it and told me if I wanted to be in the art world I should be more consistent. Then he called me on the following Monday and offered me a show. I was shocked. I said, “Really? I thought you hated the work.” And he replied, “Well, I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, so I guess I couldn’t hate it that much.” He had such a reaction to it that he spent the whole weekend thinking about it. I guess he felt if it captured his attention, then there must be something there.
LGA Landing Pattern, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, 2006. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: Is there an overarching theme in your work?
Cooley: The work is an extension of me, of my life, and my perception of the world. I think the world is a lonely, harsh, yet beautiful place, and one full of dualities, inconsistencies, and disasters. But in all of that, there’s beauty that I want to capture.
Seckler: Let’s discuss your motion work. Tell me about those projects.
Cooley: During my airplane series, I spent hours sitting near airports, watching planes take off, listening to birds chirp, watching boats go by, and I always felt like the photographs that represented that time didn’t fully reveal the experience of actually being there, which compelled me to shoot video. In a video you could get closer to the nature, especially near JFK, where there are waterways. There are birds flying, fish jumping, and it’s calm and serene. Then you suddenly hear a roaring jet come through and destroy everything. And then it goes away, and you’re back to nature. By using video I could definitely make my audience understand that there is nature, there is a human-made airplane, and noise. I ended up doing a bunch of videos, some in the same locations as the photographs, and I think they worked very well together.
Landings 24L LAX, Inglewood, CA, 2006. Kevin Cooley.
Seckler: Have the videos been exhibited?
Cooley: I showed them at my last gallery show. I think it only made it more dynamic to have both video and photography; it enabled a richer dialog. I feel like video has long been important in the art world, even though it seems like commercial and editorial photographers are just now starting to fully explore HD video.
Seckler: What’s next for you?
Cooley: I’m doing this project in Puerto Rico and then doing something with bioluminescence, with fireflies. I have no idea if it’s going to work; it could be a total failure. Next, I want to go out West and drive around, which really inspires me. In 2011, I plan to sublet my apartment, get a camper, and go away for six months and drive around North America. But while I’m still in New York, I want to do a project about fires. There was a seven-alarm fire in Chinatown several weeks ago, and it got me thinking, so I bought a police scanner and I’ve been listening to it, hoping to find some good stuff. (via The F STOP)