Monthly Archives: February 2012

What Fancy Glasses Do.

1. Fancy Glasses, looking by the window on a rainy day. 2. Fancy Glasses at work (but on a Mac, of course). 3. Fancy Glasses like fashion. 4. And art too. 5. They like to gather with friends, but also sometimes 6. they prefer to stay alone. 7. Or just to sit on a bench.


Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage

Annie Leibovitz is widely (and fairly enough) considered as one of America’s best portrait photographers. Over her career as photographer for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair she captured the greatest musicians, actors and artists of the boomer generation.

Leibovitz’s portraits tell about famousness, beauty, and power. She is known for her ability to make her sitters become physically involved in her work, and her trademark technique involves the use of bold primary colors and surprising poses. Even if you do not know her name, it is very likely you already contemplated some of her most famous shots: The Rolling Stones’ tour in 1975, the famous nude session with John Lennon and Yoko Ono hours before Lennon was killed, the American Express and Gap campaigns, Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk, or Demi Moore pregnant and naked on the cover of Vanity Fair.

But there are no people in “Pilgrimage”. No celebrities, no models, no V.I.P.’s. The exhibition is about something else entirely. It actually shows the legendary photographer pursuing a more personal project. For once, she wasn’t on assignment, and chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. `

Nevertheless, you can feel that the photographer’s fascination with icons continues. But in this case, they’re historical and personal ones. Following the footsteps of her own heroes, she went to their homes, studios, or also places that evoke their spirit. She photographed the things that are most representatives of their owners, from the television Elvis Presley shot out in a fit of pique to the gloves and hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated For instance. A series that is quite moving is the one where she photographed Sigmund Freud’s reclining couch, draped in a Persian rug, as well as his collection of books on sex and psyche by Havelock Ellis. One can picture the doctor’s patient lying there and speaking, or Freud elaborating theories about unconscious. It has a solemn, almost spiritual feel.

And this is why I have mixed feelings about this exhibition: it shows a surprisingly ghostly, almost chilling collection of object and places. The dead idols are still present in the photographs, and to me it was somewhat disturbing. The feeling of loneliness, quietness you have watching the photographs is strengthened by the fact the artist is quite “out of the frame”. You do not feel any kind of her artistic presence: no irony, no pose, no sense of humor. It is clear Leibovitz took those pictures for herself, but at the same time they do not say a lot about her personally. As her public, I think I had a hard time understanding what she wanted to say, if I did at all.

Helmut Newton

KLAUS BEHR (Born in 1941)

Helmut Newton behind  «They are coming», Berlin, c. 1985. 28 x 35,5 cm.

Helmut Newton is not only a world famous photographer, but also one whose art contributed to change the mere concept of fashion photography. His provocative signature shattered the common perceptions about women’s fashion, if not about women. But he is also a very controversial character, what makes him yet more interesting to be looked closer.

Born in 1920 in Berlin, he grew up in a privileged family. He attended the American School of Berlin, but was expelled when his fascination with photography, sparked by a camera bought when he was 12, overshadowed his interest in class.  He started his apprenticeship with Elsie Simon, known as Yva, a famous nude –portraitist photographer, until he was forced to flee after the start of Hitler’s pogroms in 1938.

His parents managed to secure him passage on a ship to China, but he stopped off in Singapore, where he got a job at the Straits Times newspaper. He later joined Australia, the Australian army and became an Autralian citizen. In 1948 he married actress June Brunell, who would remain his partner for more than 50 years until his death.

Neustaedter changed his name to Newton, opened a small photo studio in Melbourne, and soon began contributing fashion photos to French Vogue in 1961, a magazine that he made his own for a quarter century. Over the years, Newton also contributed to magazines such as Playboy, Queen, Nova, Marie-Claire, Elle, and the American, Italian and German editions of Vogue — his stark and provocative style setting a new industry standard.

His studies of nude women became his signature and the self-obsessed and often distant poses of the models frequent caused polemic in the art-world. He won the sobriquets “King of Kink” and Prince of Porn” in the 1970s after the publication of his erotic photo book “White Women.” Robert Sobieszek, photo dept. chief at the L.A. County Museum of Art, noted to the L.A. Times: “His work was never dirty … but he stretched the boundaries of what a fashion magazine looked like.”

Helmut Newton Newton defied convention, but his talent was awarded by the highest distinctions: In 1990 he won the French “Grand prix national de la photographie.” In 1992 he is made “Officier des Arts, Lettres et Sciences” in Monaco. In1996: he receive a commendation to “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres” by the French Ministry of Culture. In 2000, there was a large retrospective for his 80th birthday in the New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie) in Berlin that travels to London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow and Prague, among others.

Helmut Newton died in Los Angeles driving is Cadillac, in 2006.

HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)
Big Nude III: Henrietta, 1980.

His row of oversize prints of naked models, “Big Nudes,” has perhaps become his best-know work. This one is my favourite. Newton is often criticized for the image he gave of women, as fashion/sexual objects. But in my opinion, this picture is the entire contrary. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, and this is how I came to be interested in Newton’s work. The stance of the model is pure beauty, strength, and confidence: planted on her two legs, firm on her high heels, she stares at the photographer and seems to challenge him with her clenched hands, her bombed torso. She is absolutely naked, which should make her vulnerable. Though, she rather looks like she could kill bare hands any troublesome man. And you cannot escape her, because the foreground is totally absent and the eye has nothing else than her sculptural body to rest on. This is reinforced by the strong contrast and exposition and the black and white. The low angle, too, is powerful and was probably carefully chosen to get this low glance and general impression of heights.

They’re Coming!, 1981.

Once again this picture shows that Newton valued dominant femininity. The high-heeled shoes, the strong upshot, the light, neutral background against which the contours of the women stand out, all strengthen the impression of the threat, expressed in the title. The charm of the two photographs resides in their character as a diptych: only in terms of such a thesis and anti-thesis does the theme develop its full interest. Helmut Newton was without a doubt a witness of this time when the corset (the one of slimness) was reinvented and was now being recommended once more to women. To me, these photographs also say: “if you want these clothe to look nice on you, you must be like that under them.”

HELMUT NEWTON, for Vogue, 1967.

This photography is part of a serie realized for Vogue in 1967 with model Willy Van Rooy. It is highly entertaining and theatrical, and in so far representative of Helmut Newton’s treatment of fashion images. It is impressive with this idea of movement, and because of the risks the model might have taken to get this result. Although, it looks like both the model and the plane are about to end their race on the photographer. Whatever the issue was, I think there is a lot of humour and irony of this picture, contributing to its charm.


Website of the History of Photography:

Also, an interesting point of view on Helmut Newton, on the blog of one of his model, Willy Van Rooy:

People for good


It’s a pleasure to meet you. We’d shake your hand but there are obvious limitations here.

We’re People for Good. And our goal is to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time. It may sound ambitious but it’s easier than you’d think. In fact, you could help make the world a better place right now. Just by doing something nice for someone. Rest assured, we’re not asking for money, we just want you to donate a little generosity.

Join the movement now and pledge your support.

Benetton’s Semiotics, or the Make-Love-Not-War-Buy-Our-Clothe Campaign.

Last November, in Paris, the Italian clothing chain Benetton launched its rather controversial new campaign. Untitled “Unhate”, it was designed by the brand’s in-house communications agency Fabrica. It is composed of six photomontages showing global leaders kissing: President Barack Obama locks lips with China’s Hu Jintao and with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez; Pope Benedict XVI embraces Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy kiss each other, as well as the supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong Il and President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak; finally Israeli Prime minister Benyamin Nétanyahou is shown tenderly kissing the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. All united under the same message, in white letters in the upper-left corner: “UNHATE”. In smaller and in the lower right corner, one can see the logo of the brand, and the message “Supports the Unhate Foundation”.

The elements and principles of design are used to amplify the visual effect of the kiss: the political leaders’s heads occupy all the space, so there is a strong focus on what is actually going on in the picture. This is actually emphasized by the size of of the ad itself. Furthermore, there is a clear symmetry revolving around the lips, which confers balance (in the sense of equilibrium) to the composition. Colors are vivid, with strong contrast and exposition on a blurred background. The photomontage is made-up to show movement; and the characters, with their eyes closed, their lips tightly stuck and their heads slightly bent, truly seem in the middle of a passionate kiss.

In each composition, one can distinguish two main signifiers, which are the leaders represented. Alone and apart from their counterpart, they are connoted with the idea of power, of representation of their country or religion. But they have been carefully associated, and once put together, they signify “opposition” (for instance, the Pope and the Imam), “discrepancy” (with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy), if not “enemy” (with the leaders of South Korea and North Korea). Thus, putting these people on the same picture amounts to evoking the paradigm of cultural, political, or national barriers. And those paradigms themselves appeal to some so called “narratives”, defined as pre-conceived stories or familiar sequences of events rooted in the public’s mind1. Here, we face the story of the opposition with the “other”, which leads to intolerance, which leads to hatred, which lead to war, and so on… And the strength of this ad is to blow those paradigm, and totally reverse their message by uniting the opposite leaders into a kiss: sign of love, intimacy, trust, and in this context, peace. The message is straightforward, and evokes another well-known narrative: “Make love, not war”…

This ad is doubtlessly very powerful. It mostly relies on provocation, but it is really effective and clear in carrying a message of tolerance. Of course it is highly controversial, and it can even be shocking for the audience. The Vatican had the picture showing the Pope taken out of the Campaign, and some Catholics said to be offended by such a use of his image. On the other hand, Benetton received no other complaints. Indeed, it is hard to blame such a message of peace. However, there is something one might ask here: What exactly is the point of this ad? To carry a message of tolerance? Or to sell clothes? Sure, Benetton’s gets the public attention. But the question is whether the brand be rewarded just for making controversy? As Christina Passariello and Jennifer Clarck ask, “if you shock them, will they buy?”2. Which leads to the only important question, whom answer will depend on your identity: will you judge this ad by its efficiency on shoppers, or by the power of its message? I cannot help but love this ad very much. However, it is not going to make me buy Benetton either…

2Christina Passariello and Jennifer Clarck, “Benetton Retries Provocation”, The Wall Street Journal,Thursday, November 17, 2011.

A study of Japanese Art & Design at the Freer Gallery

In the Western world, aesthetics is considered to be the branch of philosophy that is concerned with concepts of value and beauty as they relate to the arts.

Aesthetics, in the broadest sense, may be thought of as a world view, a view that may be markedly different in other cultures. Because of possible differences in world views and aesthetic stances of non-Western cultures, it is important to set aside Western aesthetics as criteria when making judgments about non-Western art.

The aesthetics of Japan developed in a unique fashion, partly because of its isolation from the world.It is only then, over the centuries, that interactions with foreign cultures influenced the traditional arts and aesthetics of Japan. For example, the Japanese made no distinction between fine arts and crafts prior to the introduction of such ideas by Europeans in the 1870s.

The Japanese aesthetic is nature-based and concerned with the beauty of studied simplicity and harmony with nature, expressed in every aspect of daily life. This concept of harmony in all things is called wabi-sabi. But since it represents a comprehensive Japanese world view, it is difficult to explain precisely in western terms.

To sum-up, wabi-sabi express a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is the beauty of things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional. It correlates with the concepts of Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of transcending ways of looking and thinking about existence.

Now, let’s try to understand this very peculiar world view through what we consider to be the Elements & Principles of design.

Hokusai, Kisoji no oku Amida ga taki “Amida Waterfall on the Kiso Road”, circa 1832.


Hokusai plays with our minds through the notion of point in this print: on the one hand, there are two “point of focus”: a little scene on the left, where two men admire the view from their spectacular “vantage point”, and the main point of focus, the round hollow of the waterfall which evoques the “round eye” of Amida, Buddha of Boundless Light. This symbolism haves recourse to the notion of Gestalt, or “psychology of the form”, as the nearly perfect circle of the hollow is intended for the viewer to complete it in his own mind.


Suzuki Ozamu (1921-2001), Japan, Kyoto, 1987.


This piece of ceramic, which emulates the form of a Japanese thumb, has a very simple and pure line design. The peaceful structure is all about its smooth, horizontal and vertical lines which give it an harmonious shape. Horizontal lines evoke rest and stability, and the slightly longest vertical lines, spirituality.


Takiguchi Kazuo (b.1953), Stoneware with matte glaze, Japan, Kyoto, 1996.


This sculpture is tailored from a single sheet of clay, and the artist smoothed away all traces of fabrication. This process result in a full, smooth, three-dimensional sculpture, whose organic shape evokes the forms of a human or animal body. The way it occupies space, with its full, few and gathered body parts, demonstrates the notion of “positive form”.


Activities of the Twelve Months of the Year, by Nishikawa Sukeyuki, Japan, Edo Period, 18th Century. Handscroll, Ink on Paper.


Japanese scrolls such as this one read from right to left and provide an ideal format for design such as this representation of the activities of the twelves months of the year: Indeed, the chronological arrangements of motifs follows the linear movement of the eye through the composition. As the reader unroll the the scroll,  he is “acting” the work of art, which creates intimacy between the “public” and the work itself.


Landscape with Flowering Vines, Japan, Momoyama or early Edo period, early 17th century. Six panels folding screen; Ink, color, gold and silver on paper.


The series of panel exposed at the Freer Gallery perfectly illustrate the symbolic power of color. Indeed, the extensive use of gold in large-format Japanese paintings, such as folding screens and sliding panels, is not merely decorative: Gold not only reflects daylight or lamplight, imparts a translucent quality to the clouds and landscapes depicted. It was also strongly believed to have a protective power, which explains why it was so much used.


Kitamura Junko (b. 1956), Kyoto, Japan, 1993. Stoneware with black matte slip and white slip inlay. 


The pattern of this ceramic is composed of hundreds of hands-carved stamps. The repeated marks, inlaid with white liquid clay against the dark surface, resemble undulating strings of tiny bead. This composition confirms in some way the theory according to which there are a limited number of pattern, this one would fit the “flow pattern” category.


Incense Cabinet, Edo Period or Meji Era, 19th Century.


This incense box relation to texture is particularly interesting: Indeed, the finish so closely resemble a gleaming metallic surface that it almost appears to be the work of a goldsmith rather than a lacquer artist. However, it is only made of lacquer on wood… It is easy to be fooled, isn’t it?


Heron and Willow, Hanabusa Hitcho (1652-1724), Japan, Edo Period. Ink and color on paper.


The visual equilibrium of this composition, in other words, its “balance”, is provided by the position of the Heron. The tiny branches and the frail foot of the bird give a feeling of fragilness. However, as the body of the bird is symmetrically standing on this foot, which follows the axial vertical line of the panel, it seems firmly settled.


Kongorikishi, Kamakura Period, early 14thcentury, wood.


This dramatically posed figure is paired with an other which faces this one on the other side of a corridor of the Freer gallery. These sculpture were originally created to stand guard at the entrance of a temple, and represents the “benevolent kings” who are said to have protected Buddha. Their exaggerated proportions are certainly designed to inspire fear, and to evoke strength and power: Not only are they incredibly muscular, with wide eyes and mouth, but they are also way taller than a human being.


Hokusai, Handscroll with Miscellaneous Images, Edo Period, 1839 overall dimensions of scroll 37.2×1434.


Hokusai’s work gives special attention to placement and arrangement of object and space within the format of a picture, which confers a peculiar rhythm to his compositions. This is an other example of Japanes scrolls, which creates a timed movement through the work of the artist: the eye follow the elements one by one, and those are regularly spaced and repeated to create a sense of regularity and repetition.


Utagawa Torohayu, A Winter Party,  (1735-1814), Japan, Edo Period, Hanging scroll mounted on panel, Ink, color, and gold on silk


The scene displayed in this piece represents a party in an elite restaurant. However the attention the artist payed in depicting the background of the painting, the emphasis is put on the different figures, first,  through the contrast of their clothes’ vivid colors and the winter garden’s neutral colors and smooth hue. Secondly, by placing them in a central and symmetrical position.