Wednesday, May 01, 2013

desuetude in photography

this photo of an abandoned farmhouse in SD is by me
bloggy friend celkalee sent me a link to some stunning (if a bit over-processed) photography of abandoned places by dutch photographer niki fejen. some of the the photos were featured yesterday on huffington post. i initially thought the photographer was a woman and it's weird how i had a different feeling about the photos before i found out fejen was a man. fejen calls the style urbex (urban exploring) and he likes to wander places you're not supposed to go (i like him already).  he makes me want to visit chernobyl even more than i did before. (note: i have chosen not to post any of his photos here (it seemed impolite) - please visit his website to see them.)

but as usual, the photos have me thinking. i find them, with their HDR style, to be over-processed and despite the subject matter, too slick. tho' at the same time, they are rich and lush and i linger at each one, taking in all of the details of the desuetude. but the processing gives me pause as to their authenticity. i have to wonder if some of them aren't staged.

errol morris devoted an entire chapter of his book believing is seeing (which i highly recommend, it's a must-read if you like to ponder photography) to a photo of mickey mouse amidst rubble that may or may not have been staged by photographer ben curtis in lebanon on 2006. morris does an exhaustive analysis of whether the photo was staged, even interviewing curtis, who says it was not. he also sensitively explores the feelings such photos bring forth in us and the meanings we instinctively ascribe to them and how they can be used to manipulate public opinion. it's a discussion of authenticity and staging that's worth reading. but i digress a bit from fejen's photos. and i recognize that if they are at times staged, it means less than if photos of war are staged.

as i looked through the gallery on fejen's website, some of the photos just rang with a false note for me. was that moss on the bed in photo no. 11 really that green or has he dialed it up in photoshop? photo no. 36 - i have to wonder if that bowler hat was really there on the back of the chair, or did niki pick it up and place it there for the shot? the wheelchair in no. 44 and no. 45 would seem to indicate proof of staging. the open doors, affording a peek in to a jesus statue down the hall in no. 46 seems a bit too perfect. the way the chairs are carefully lined up in no. 122. and the doll with the gas mask on in the chernobyl set, did she really have that on and was she really sitting on that chair? but does any of this matter? anytime you raise your camera and take a shot, you're making choices about what's included and what's not and you are, in a sense, manipulating the scene. it's part of the medium. i think when it bothers me is when it causes the photo to ring false.

i also find it a bit annoying that for the most part, the photos are not labeled as to where they are taken, tho' i recognize that abandoned hospital near berlin that so many have photographed. i wonder why he has chosen to do that? i look at them and the first thing i wonder is where it's at. is he afraid we'll all jump on a plane and go take our own pictures? or does he think it lends meaning for us to imagine for ourselves where they are? me, i just find it rather irritating.

i am, however, a sucker for a dead piano (no. 28, 33, 36, 146, the organ in no. 58) - there is such aching beauty in those. and i still remember the first one i saw and photographed, in an old castle along the banks of the volga river. unfortunately, it's buried somewhere in a box somewhere in this house and i cannot locate it at the moment, so i can't show it to you. 


paris parfait said...

I can't look at his photos or appreciate them, as they are way too over-processed for my taste. They remind me of the late Thomas Kinkaide's "chocolate box" paintings too "perfect" and "idealised" to be real. Can't stand HDR photography; it's as though the photos have been hyped up on speed and all the natural beauty and reality stripped out or enhanced beyond recognition.

paris parfait said...

But this man's photographs touch my heart and the story behind his passion for documenting the people in his community really resonates:

Anonymous said...

I think that often photographers takes photographs for themselves. The composure, exposure and post processing are all at their whim. Sometimes I feel as though social media and the ease with which content can be shared sometimes takes away the pleasure of a really good photo taken for it's own sake.

celkalee said...

Now THIS is why you are so good with the camera! I just saw interesting photo's! :) :)