Visual Art


Photography That's Staged and/or Not


courtesy of the artist

LEIF ANDERSON ‘A Minor Opiate.’

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In Leif Anderson's photographs of the city, it's unclear what's found and what's staged. One print shows a view of the side of a dingy building. A bunch of plastic trash bags are wrapped around and behind a couple of pipes. Maybe they got stuck there by chance, the way garbage lodges itself in picturesque ways. Or maybe the artist set up the entire thing. One of the bags looks lightly spattered with blood, like it contained something freshly, horribly murdered—something that has been, suspiciously, removed. Or maybe that's paint.

Anderson got his degree in art from the University of Washington, but he's been a skateboarder longer than an artist. In his first solo exhibition in Seattle, he already avoids the shopworn cues and conventions of street photography (or even purist photography that insists on "capturing")—while also steering clear of what can be the starchy self-consciousness of staged photography. One gets the sense that Anderson's pictures begin with questions and observations he has about the street landscapes he skates, then become ideas that he develops into plans for art-directing, and then that there's a whole third period that blends happenstance and decision making.

The images unfold similarly when viewed—in stages, and not entirely. Anderson tips his hand with some overtly funny moments—as with pieces of rotting produce lined up like a rainbow army—but we never know exactly how he's mixing what was already there. In weak/strong (2010), there's a pile of wood castoffs, an empty wine bottle still wearing its label that's been loosely spray-painted white, an orange earplug dangling from a blue string, and a rock. The pile is a puzzle. It's messy and looks random, but the tiny ends of the narrow strips of wood scraps appear to have been painted—by the artist? Who put all this stuff there, and what for?

A video of the artist's hand running along walls and bushes as he skates by them feels sweet and sincere, like a basic wanting to know and wanting to share what you know. A few years ago, Cat Clifford did something similar with a van, running her hands on its surface in front of the camera in order to join together the act of image-making with the act of actually, physically being there. Part of what seems to drive Anderson is the promise of an image to bring one place into another, and the difficulties that arise along the way.

Rodrigo Valenzuela, another UW art grad, is of the school that the landscape of photographs is other photographs. For his latest work, he wanted a break from documentary video projects, so he went all the way in the other direction. He asked people on the street to reenact famous pictures then digitally inserted them all into the scene together later.

One was Robert Capa's photograph of a Spanish Civil War soldier falling after just having been fatally shot. (The photograph was found to have been staged; if you're into photography and deception, chew on Errol Morris's new book, Believing Is Seeing.) Another was Hans Namuth's iconic portrait of Jackson Pollock drip-painting on the floor at Springs, New York. Valenzuela's versions are comedies. When a dozen "soldiers" in street clothes all get "shot" at the same moment (should "at the same moment" go into quotes, too?) next to a picturesque fountain at Cal Anderson Park, it's just funny. It's also a stealthy way of delivering information—what people were wearing, how they responded to the assignment—without being earnest.

In other photographs, Valenzuela throws himself against a wall in two separate pictures, then combines them into one picture with one body and two shadows. Or in others still, he falls forward off a ledge and is captured halfway down. You might think those were references to other famous pictures: Gary Hill's Wall Piece video, for instance, or Yves Klein's flight off a balcony. Nope, the artist said. But they are, if you see them that way. recommended


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alpha unicorn 1
“I think it's awesome.” ~ Avril Lavigne
Posted by alpha unicorn on January 18, 2012 at 10:59 AM · Report this
That "conversation" about staging in photography is as old as the hills-and twice as boring. In this age of "digital photo fabulousness" isn't everything altered or manipulated in some way in photography? The notion of forced sinister angles and intentions causing viewer speculation as to whether or not it is "blood or paint" or "is that garbage picturesquely placed or is placed there by chance?" is hackneyed and inane in that "Art History 101 essay kind of way". What should a viewers response be to that? "Oooooo scary, now I can really feel it's power, Jen!" or "WOW! pondering that garbage-y moment was heavy!" What??? And "starchy self-consciousness of staged photography" is just not compelling. It's ALL SO overpowering it just makes me cry out loud-"Who put all this stuff there, and what for?", seriously you guys, GAWD! I'm also definitely seeing Gary Hill and Yves Klein here, but question, if YOU did, then why didn't you really call it out properly in an appropriate critical context? Really it makes me cry out something more like..."I think it's awesome too, Avril"
And I'll say it again Jen, (for the hundreth time it seems) "If you want local art and artists to be taken seriously on a respected national level then, if and when you think it so, really put a relevant, intelligent, and WELL THOUGHT OUT critique together (backed up by thorough insightful references) that stands up to the rest of the art world's standards of assessment and thought AND opens everyone's eyes. This, instead of your imperious and often dangerous half-baked notions that do not establish or delineate a path to enlightenment and validation!"
Posted by northwest mystic on January 20, 2012 at 7:11 PM · Report this
@2 - thank you for saying that.

Jen, your enthusiasm is great, but please dig a little deeper & do some research (this goes double on any reviews/references to classical music).
Posted by thegoof on January 22, 2012 at 3:16 AM · Report this
I wish 4 culture had a gallery sitter on the weekends. Looks like a couple of great shows!

"I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored."

-Louis C.K.
Posted by Ladies and Gentlemen on January 22, 2012 at 10:14 AM · Report this
I like the interplay between the brik wall in the back and the sliding painting.
Posted by jannano on January 23, 2012 at 10:38 AM · Report this

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