Thoughts On My New York Trip

Saying that New York is busy and noisy and hectic in every way (at least for people coming from not-so-big towns as me) wouldn't probably surprise anybody.  It's interesting experience though. New York is like no other big city where I've been and I've been to some. I walked around a lot in Manhattan and enjoyed the vibe. I'm not much into major tourist attractions, although, of course, I couldn't resist the view from Empire State Building.

Here are my photography related thoughts and impressions in random order (I'm not yet talking about Photoville - that'll be a separate post):

I was really sad to learn the International Center of Photography was closed. As per the reviews they have very interesting collection and exhibitions.

Same goes for Aperture Gallery and several other I planned to visit - this time of the year seems to be the vacation period for galleries. I spent some time at Aperture bookshop though, a lot off interesting stuff there. I was about to buy Stephen Shore book (I like his street work), but decided it's too big and heavy to fly it over the Atlantic in my suitcase.

The first gallery that was actually open was Howard Greenberg Gallery which hosted Dave Heath and Brassai exhibitions. Black and white pictures, top of the line framing, museum glass etc. Having had several exhibitions myself I can now see details I couldn't before - anything from the width of the matte to the color of the walls to the even lightning. Valuable experience. And I liked the pictures too, although having looked at 60+ exhibitions during the couple of days it's very hard to say much about the photos. Classics.
(I remembered this later) Brassai's pictures were his drafts, showing the original photo with his crop marks - on one hand it was interesting to look at the original framing and how he cropped them later, yet on the other hand - would he be happy to present the drafts? I wouldn't, this is some kind of collector's wet dream, making the pictures unique, but not adding to aesthetics.

The next one was Lee Friedlander and Pierre Bonnard at Pace/MacGill Gallery. Perfected installation again, but when it comes to pictures, I remember Lee Friedlander by very different work. So the pictures of trees and bushes were not something I could easily connect to, sorry about that. Maybe we have too much of that in Estonia.

Sidenote: What was a little bit unexpected is how hard it is to find the galleries. If you're expecting beautiful street-level display, you're wrong. You have to know where you're going, have the addresses and maps ready and even then you probably have to ask from the reception on the ground floor where exactly is the gallery you're looking for. There were some street-level galleries with banners outside at Chelsea, too, but many were still hidden somewhere on the upper floors. So come prepared. I could've visited more, if I had done better homework.

The exhibition that touched me the most was Cig Harvey's "Gardening at Night" at Robert Mann Gallery. Beautiful pictures forming a stunning installation. There were around ten big pictures with high-gloss finishing (that resembled Diasec but probably weren't), another ten or so matted and framed, a few cinemagraphs (moving photos - google it if you're not familiar with the term) plus neon texts. Still, the pictures were the ones that struck me the most. They almost made me want to try color seriously again. Same goes for cinemagraphs - they screens were cleverly framed almost identical to the matted pictures, so when you step closer and find out it's moving - it does surprise. 

If I had to choose one word to describe the pictures, it would be poetic (as I've probably acquired my definition of poetic from the video about Lynne Ramsay films). It's all about small details and beautiful tones, there's no pretentious grand narrative (that's probably the weak link in my work - I need a reason, my pictures are my idèes fixes, but this is my way, no can do :)).

After seeing the exhibition, I bought Harvey's book under the same name, yes, Gardening at Night, without thinking twice (the only thing I regret is not buying a signed copy). Too bad the book format doesn't allow cinemagraphs, these were the cherries on the top, when looking at exhibition. And some of the reproductions are not as good as the exhibition pictures, but they probably never are.

I'm sure I visited some more exhibitions but seems like they didn't stick, I'm still navigating through the chaos of impressions, so if anything comes up, I'll add it to the post.

After digging through Aperture and Barnes&Noble photography books, I found that there was a small, dedicated photo book shop just a few blocks from where I lived - Dashwood Books. Small shop, but what a choice of photo books. Highly recommended, but I hope you don't happen to be there with the some girls gossiping their gay friend who got AIDS (seriously, it wasn't possible not to hear their conversation as they were loud).

Photoville 2015

I've been writing about this for quite a while already, but now it's official - my series Blood Unquiet is part of Photoville 2015 programming (as they funnily call it - programming means entirely different thing for the other half of me - the IT guy). The contracts are signed, fees paid, plane tickets bought and my pictures will start their journey towards Photoville already tomorrow.

Photoville is a "gate event" for me - this probably isn't a correct term, but I don't know a better one to describe an event that could change a lot, but is not guaranteed to do it. So on one end of the spectrum of possible outcomes is that my life goes on quietly just like it has until now or, on the other end of the spectrum is that I'll get a lot of invitations and exhibitions etc. I'd rather not speculate which way it goes, I'm used to keeping my expectations low and trying to produce work that pleases myself first.

It's still great honor to be among the exhibitions organized by Getty, Magnum, PDN and so on. I'm planning to visit as many exhibitions as possible myself during the time I'm staying in New York. Hope to find some time to cover it here too.

Exhibition Decisions Followup

During the preparations of my exhibition in the last six months I wrote a lengthy series of posts about different decisions I needed to take. Now I'm trying to analyze what worked and what didn't. Of course I don't know what the outcome would've been had I took different path, but in general I think I did a pretty good job even though I completely rethought some aspects just days before the pictures went to print.

Diasec vs showcase floater. I chose Diasec and I'm happy about it. For me, Diasec somehow represents the bleeding edge of printing technology although I do have much respect towards the classic matted and framed photos. In this case, Diasec made me able to print bigger which was necessary to fill the gallery space. Showcase floaters would have been more expensive and thus smaller.

Diasec vs anything else. I ruled out canvas pretty early, although I have to admit that after seeing Arne Maasik's Deep Sea exhibition, my attitude towards canvas changed a little bit. If the canvas in question has fine texture and is put onto quite shallow frame (not the usual 2-3cm deep things), it looks pretty good. Had I chosen the classic framing with passe-partout I wouldn't have been able to make the pictures as big, leaving the gallery visually empty again. 

Glossy vs matte Diasec. I chose glossy. Definitely happy about that, because matte version reminded me of ordinary photo paper glued to foam board. I might have to rethink that after Photoville, but that's then. I would have been able to afford non-reflective museum glass had I gone down the classic passe-partout route, but then again, I really wanted to try something I cannot afford without grant money.

Sizing based on photo importance. In the early stages I thought about this, but then realized it would have resulted four different sizes. That's obviously too much (for me to handle).

Sizing based on visual appearance - that is, make both portrait and landscape pictures all the same height. It probably looks nice in the gallery, but the pictures will have different visual importance, downgrading all portraits to B-pictures. I'm happy I was talked out of it just hours before the final commitment.

Sizing based on Photoville requirements - fit the pictures into 2,3x2,3x6m container taking into account the convenient viewing distance/picture diagonal ratio. It would have certainly resulted too small pictures for Tallinn City Gallery. But as I'm not yet back from Photoville, the jury is still out there on this one.

Overall sizing. I settled with 92x76cm prints which I consider optimal for the circumstances. Not too big, not too small. It would have been nice to have one really big print, but here my rational thinking held me back - I going to need to transport the pictures quite a lot after all.

Borders vs no borders. I chose to add 6cm white borders to the pictures. No practicalities here, I just like the way they look. Maybe this will have a practical aspect to it at other exhibition venues where the walls are not plain white.

Alignment. I tried two options - pictures aligned by top border and by upper thirds. When I did the sketchups in computer, it seemed that aligning upper thirds will make the visual appearance more uniform while aligning top borders gave too much visual weight to portrait pictures. When I finally went to install the exhibition into the gallery, the guys who design and install all the exhibitions there still suggested aligning top borders. I took their advice as when the pictures are at real distances from each other, this solution looks better and there're no problems with visual weight.

It sounds so natural and effortless now that it's all decided and worked out and my wife has even teared down the brown paper placeholders from our living room I made to try out different sizes and alignment options. It didn't come nearly as easily though, if I'd need to come up with a rough estimate, I'd say 200+  hours (over 50h comes from some 7 trips to Tallinn). And that's not counting shooting, editing and postprocessing.

B&W Pictures, Color Associations

I know this blog is mostly notes for myself rather than something that is widely read and discussed, so here's another note for mostly myself (although I still add some context so everybody else will understand it too).

At least three people told me after my exhibition at Linnagalerii (series "Blood Unquiet", there're also a couple of pictures from the gallery) that although the pictures are black&white in appearance, they didn't perceive them as being black&white. Instead, the pictures triggered colorful associations of their own childhood in the viewers.

The fact that the pictures did trigger associations at all is good thing - at least this is the way I think. Creating some emotional response in the viewer is certainly something I strive for.

One person asked me whether I intentionally altered between static and dynamic pictures when ordering them - although I had ordered them by my own associations, they seemed in perfect order for him. Another interesting thing I would have never thought about when just staring at the pictures alone (but it also means I probably haven't distanced yet from the pictures enough to look at them as a neutral visitor - I probably never will).

My Exhibition is Over

My exhibition at Tallinn Art Gallery is over. A week before the end, 1700+ people had visited it - exceeding even my most optimistic expectations.

All in all, it was hugely beneficial experience for me. And I'm already looking forward to the next one. Actually there're several exhibitions planned for the current year:

  • "Blood Unquiet" at Evald Okas Museum in Haapsalu in July
  • "Unfinished Stories" at ambulARTtoorium in July
  • "Blood Unquiet" at Photoville, New York in September
  • And I hope to show some new work in Pärnu in October

I'm very enthusiastic about the new work as I haven't been able to do much shooting in the last half a year or so. It's currently still at notes/drawings phase, but I'm hoping take the first frames very soon.

More on Print Sizes

This post is follow-up to Exhibition Considerations Part II, where print sizes were discussed.

I spent two evenings this week cutting out placeholders from packaging paper and taping them to the wall. My main concerns were to find suitable sizes and layouts that would work for both of the main venues (Linnagalerii and Photoville container).  I tried the following sizes:

  • I have one test print in landscape format at 100x80cm and I added 80x64cm portrait picture (actually just the paper cutout) to it. Landscape is definitely too big for Photoville container.
  • So I tried both landscape and portrait formats at 80x64cm. The sizes are fine, now the layout becomes questionable - do you arrange the pictures by tops or by bottoms? Tops is better, but I still don't like it.
  • Fine, let's try landscapes at 80x64cm and make the portraits match the height, so they would be 64x51cm. Layout is good, tops and bottoms match, but the portraits are just way too small for my liking.
  • There're not too many sizes in between, so I made some 90x72cm placeholders for landscape photos and 72x57cm for portraits. I found it to be just right. Not that I had too many options left, but still - I felt somehow very comfortable with these, especially in comparison to the previously discussed options that filled my other walls.

At some point after googling "diasec in gallery" I stumbled upon framed Diasecs - there're several options but I instantly liked just plain white border around the picture. Not a frame in classical sense (wooden frames are available too, but I don't fancy those), but rather something that separates the photo from the background. I discussed this with Artproof and they thought that it would be good idea for the Photoville containers where the background is rather busy. It also makes the picture area a bit smaller and improves the viewing experience from short distance.

After some experimentation I found out that at 90x72cm 6cm white border is the very minimum. I'd like it to be even wider, but then it starts eating too much of the picture area, particularly in case of the smaller 72x57cm portrait format. And it also changes the aspect ratio, so I have to do all my calculations from scratch.

I still want the long side of landscape to be 90cm, so that's the starting point. If the border is 6+6=12cm, the longer side of picture area would be 78cm. 78/1,25=62,4cm and 62,4+6+6=74,4cm. Note how the aspect ratio changes here - we started from 90x72cm which matches exactly to the 4x5 (and thus the division by 1,25) originals and end up with 90x74,4cm which is not 4x5 any more because we added the same amount to both sides. Applying the same to portrait format and using the new length 74,4cm (cause we want them to form a perfect row in the gallery) as the longer side of portrait format: (74,4-12)/1,25+12=61,92cm (62,4x49,92cm being the picture area).

So the (hopefully - you never know before it's done) final sizes would be:

  • 90x74,4cm for landscape format
  • 74,4x62,92cm for portrait format
  • And maybe - depending on the budget - we'll throw in one bigger picture to liven up the exhibition a bit

I'm hoping to solve the other dilemma - matte versus glossy Diasec - next week with a test print. More on this when I see it.

Exhibition Considerations Part III

Part III of the Exhibition Considerations is picking up where Part I left off (Part II was about determining the right sizes) - discussing finishing again, this time trying to take into account the venues where the project will be exhibited. These would be:

  • Tallinn Art Gallery
  • Photoville festival held in converted freight containers

First of all, these are two very different venues, but the one thing in common is that neither of them is very well suited for displaying pictures with highly glossy surfaces. Tallinn Art Gallery because of the first room where there's one big wall opposite to the windows and containers because the walls are light gray and close to each other.

I consulted with some people who confirmed my doubts and said that photos on Diasec are very demanding when it comes to the rooms where they're being displayed. I have a 80 x 100 cm test print on a high-gloss paper used in Diasec process taped to my living room wall opposite to a big window and I have to admit it's very hard to find a suitable viewing angle so that the reflections won't distract you. I explained in Part I why I chose Diasec (showcase floaters won't save me from reflections either and are even harder to transport and display in containers, matted prints under museum glass are just too ordinary), now lets investigate how to proceed from here.

After some googling I found out that there're several types of Diasec - the ordinary high-gloss version, the same thing just with matte acrylic (sometimes called anti-glare) and so called anti-reflective version (basically Diasec under museum glass). The last one is ruled out by price, that leaves me the matte Diasec.

When visiting Artproof we checked the test prints under frosted glass, mimicking the finishing of matte Diasec. It cuts the dynamic range of the prints noticeably, making the nice deep blacks a bit less black and probably the bright whites also a bit darker, but that's not so noticeable. But it also widens the viewing angle and cuts reflections.

I probably want to see a real example before making the final decision, but I don't think I have many other options to choose from.

Exhibition Considerations Part II

Today's post is about determining the sizes of my exhibition prints. This is how my ideas have developed. If you're here for the first time - Part I explains some background.

First thought - OK, I have 5000€ to spare, let's get the price for one square meter, divide 5000 with it and then divide with the number of prints and I'm done. For example, let's assume the price is 200€ per square meter of Diasec, so:
 5000 / 200 / 15 = ~1.7m² 
That would make huge prints - around 1.5 x 1.2m in size. This is a bit oversimplified, but enough to make the point.

I cannot discuss sizing without the venues where the exhibitions will take place. First of them is Tallinn Art Gallery (Linnagalerii), which consists of two fairly large rooms and is not very restrictive. The other exhibition - Photoville in New York - takes place in converted freight containers. The dimensions of standard freight container are 2.6m x 2.6m x 6m. So my theory doesn't hold up very well:

  1. I can't even fit all 15 photos into the container (easy workaround is not to show all pictures).
  2. Assuming there'll be people looking at both walls, the average viewing distance will be around 1m, which, for a 1.5 x 1.2m print is way way too close.
  3. Be assured that hauling prints of such size from Tallinn to New York is neither easy nor cheap too.

Obviously that's not going to work and I need to think of something else. Let's try to calculate the optimal size by viewing distance instead. The rule of the thumb is that optimum viewing distance should be around 1.5-2 times the diagonal of the picture. So if my smallest real viewing distance is 1m and we assume 1.5 as the multiplier (we're in eco mode, remember), it would make ~0.7m as the diagonal of the picture. That would make the print about 40 x 60cm (I'm deviating from the 4:5 ratio, but that's OK for illustration purposes). That does not make much sense from Linnagalerii's perspective nor will it fill my budget. This is supposed to be my big day with huge prints I can't afford otherwise, after all.

Next idea - let's make prints in two sizes, so that I can show, say, 7 big prints and 8 smaller prints in Linnagalerii, then make duplicates of the big prints equal to the smaller size and show them at Photoville. To be more specific, I was thinking about the following sizes:
100 x 80cm - the big prints, 7 pieces
80 x 64cm - the "small" prints, 8 pieces
The above set will be shown at Linnagalerii, then I'll make 7 more 80 x 64cm prints of the pictures that were previously big and show only the smaller sized set at Photoville. I can make all of them proportionally smaller if I don't fit into the budget. I even thought which pictures are more important and will thus be made bigger etc.

This was my working theory until last Friday when I went to Artproof for making proofs and to discuss sizing. What the guys there suggested is that the vertical size should remain constant - otherwise it won't look good in gallery. Thus I can make smaller and bigger sizes, but the division will be made whether the orientation is landscape or portrait. To give a visual reference of what I'm talking about:

█ ▐ ▐   █ ▐   █ ▐   █ 

It actually makes a lot of sense. It seemed so logical I was embarrassed I couldn't figure it out on my own. On my previous two exhibitions there were only photos in landscape orientation ☺

So I'm back to square one. I don't have a valid idea what the sizes should be to work for both venues.

Exhibition Considerations Part I

Long story short - I won Artproof Young Photographic Artist's Grant last year. The objective of the Grant is to create top quality exhibition of the artist's project. With 5000€ to spare and times already booked in top galleries of Estonia one can think that it's a piece of cake. Well, it's not.

First thing to consider is finishing. What I've tried so far:

Canvas. Actually not an option. I passionately hate canvas and cannot imagine my works printed on it. The texture reminds me big potato bags used when collecting them.

Good photo paper, matted, framed, under glass. This is what I've been doing all the time until now. I could afford museum glass with this budget and some really big sizes. But... been there, done that. It will surely be beautiful, but I'd rather want to try something I'll never be able to afford myself. Also, matted pictures have a size limit from where on they're not so good any more.

I visited Artproof production to see some of the examples they offer. The following are the two high-end options.

Diasec - photos are glued between a sheet of 2-4mm thick aluminium and sheet of highly glossy acrylic glass. I've seen several exhibitions printed with this technology and impressive it is.  The glass on top of it somehow makes the print super-realistic, the contrasts and colors pop. With good lighting it feels almost 3D. Choose a suitable picture and it's almost like a window to artist's reality. In some context, one could make an argument against Diasec that it has no frame - not relevant for me. My main problem with Diasec is also it's main strength - the high-gloss glass and all the reflections.

See Diasec at it's best in Kaupo Kikkas's Miner.

Showcase floater - photo paper is glued onto aluminium and then put into showcase where the picture seems to float (it's not fixed from the edges, but from the backside so that the fasteners aren't visible). It's beautiful, but somehow does not click for me. I can imagine color photos with this finishing, but not my black and white series.

Last year's winner Maxim Mjödov used this type of finishing.

So, for now my working theory is Diasec. I've been proofing and editing the series on an iPad, which is probably closest thing to Diasec you can have without printing.

Next up - sizes & venues.