J. Shimon & J. Lindemann’s Real Photo Postcard Survey

J. Shimon & J. Lindemann’s Real Photo Postcard Survey Project on view through October 2, 2010. Also, Vansessa Winship in Gallery B. Portrait Society is located at 207 E. Buffalo Street, Fifth Floor of the Marshall Building, in Milwaukee’s

Historic Third Ward. Hours are Friday and Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. John Shimon and Julie Lindemann have been long-time collaborators, working together for nearly 20 years. They began shooting portrait commissions for this project in their studio in Manitowoc, WI about two years ago. Since then, they completed about 160 portraits, all done in the historic palladium printing process in a postcard format.

The exhibition includes the commissioned portraits as well as a body of postcard portraits from the early 1900s. A small catalog with a sample of six postcards (two of each to total 12) is available for $10 in conjunction with the show.

As the project unfolded , more and more people arrived in Manitowoc to stand on the tape line with very clear ideas of how they wanted to present themselves. Some brought dogs and props or wore special clothes. Each confronted the camera with his or her own ideas of what the moment might contain. A project blog was established to post the portraits as they were printed.

Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, where Shimon and Lindemann are professors in the art department, has generously provided a grant to fund some of the printing and framing of the work.

Shimon and Lindemann’s work is currently included in the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. A solo show of their work, “Unmasked and Anonymous,” was presented at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2008. Real Photo Postcard Survey Project

Vanessa Winship: Dancers and Fighters

In conjunction with this exhibition, Portrait Society is also hosting a companion show of work by London-based photographer Vanessa Winship.  Winship is well-known in international photography circles, but this is her first solo exhibition in the United States. She most recently won the distinguished 2010 PhotoEspana prize. She is showing a body of work called “Dancers and Fighters” featuring portraits of children taken in the Republic of Georgia,  where she has frequently worked. Vanessa Winship

Portrait Society Gallery is located in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward in the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo Street, Suite 526. It is open Thursday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.  Please contact gallery director Debra Brehmer for additional information at portraitsocietygallery@gmail.com or 414.870.9930. realphotopostcardsurveyproject.blogspot.com

An essay from The British Journal of Photography about Vanessa Winship

Truth and Beauty: Vanessa Winship

By Simon Bainbridge

(Excerpted from The British Journal of Photography, September 2008).

‘The Balkans is a fantastic place, but the burning … ‘ Vanessa Winship is speaking in mock dramatic tones, but of course there’s a terrifying truth behind her sardonic affection for the powder keg of Europe, still smouldering from its most recent bout of bloody ethnic warfare.

She knows the area well, having moved there with her partner and fellow photographer, George Georgiou, at the denouement of the Kosovo crisis at the end of the 1990s, and staying on in the region when most of the world’s press had moved on to burning pastures new. But though she’s chosen to spend the best part of the last decade living and working in Europe’s most enduring battle zone, Winship is not so much a conflict photographer as a lyrical storyteller, drawn to the Balkans and neighbouring Black Sea provinces because of their rich sense of cultural identity – a sense only intensified by the divisions in the territory.

‘For me, photography is a way of understanding the world, and of course politics comes into that. But I’m not a campaigning photographer, that’s not my agenda. I’m interested in what makes people tick – their fantasies and dreams. I’m interested in history and the way it’s told.’

History, she observes, depends on who’s telling. ‘My truth is my own reality, and someone else’s truth is their reality. And they’re both true. This is where conflict happens; when different peoples’ reading of truths are not necessarily the same.’

Borderland

Her passion for the region was sparked by a very particular obsession. ‘Going to the Balkans began with a fantasy relationship I had with Albania,’ she recalls. ‘When the Iron Curtain fell, there were all these images of places, often dreadfully poor, and in amongst them I saw a few pictures of somewhere really beautiful. Albania has an extraordinary history, with this dictator (Enver Hoxha) and very peculiar culture, but I wasn’t in a position to go there, so I looked at it from a distance. I joined the Albanian Society and I read Ismail Kadare, who’s this incredible novelist who wrote during the time of Hoxha. His writing is surrealist, and he was able to make this critique about the system he was living under in a very veiled and convoluted way, using mythology and symbols. It was this looking at things in a more layered way that interested me.

‘And, of course, I read about the politics, so when the crisis in Kosovo happened, I kind of had to go. My son was 18, so I felt I could leave, and it was in that context, having read about this strange place, that I decided to go.’

She knew she and Georgiou were leaving Britain for a long time, but says it was very much an open-ended journey. From Albania, they went to live in Belgrade, explaining that, ‘it would be completely unfair not to go and find out about these “wicked” Serbs, which of course they’re not’, then on to Athens before finally settling four years in Istanbul and embarking on long term project on the people and places in the countries surrounding the Black Sea.

‘I was thinking about this whole idea of border,’ she says, ‘and I’m still thinking about the separating of belief systems, where you belong and attachment to land and the fact that people are willing to die for it. It’s expressed in such a raw way in times of change.’

New direction

The first thing that strikes you about Winship’s photographs is their melancholic beauty. She has surely absorbed Kadare’s dense, textural layers and applied them with a sense of faded, Baroque grandeur. Each frame drips with Old World theatre, within which history is ever present, yet time seems to stand still.

Partly, she puts it down to her ability to be invisible. ‘I think it’s because I’m good at being quiet. I’m not very threatening. People talk to me quite easily, they feel comfortable. And I’m willing to stay around much longer than most people. But what I really want to do is have the viewer – me and everyone else – engage and take responsibility for their gaze. That’s partly why I’ve switched from this very passive capture of things passing through – though it’s not always like that.’

She’s referring to Sweet Nothings, a series of portraits of Turkish schoolgirls, captured in a much more deliberate way standing in front of Winship’s tripod-mounted large format camera. Captured on their way to class, sometimes for the first time, their dresses are embroidered with lace, flowers and well-wishing messages. Photographed in the rural Eastern Anatolia fringes near the borders of Syria, Iraq and Iran, where Kurdish separatists continue their fight for greater independence, the uniforms symbolize the Turkish state.

But this complex backdrop, and the obvious poverty of their lives, is almost irrelevant. They are simply and defiantly presented as children, photographed at an age when they remain largely unaffected by the mask of self-consciousness – their nervous grace before the camera more extraordinary than where they’re from, what they do, and what they stand for.

‘It was also about making the whole process much slower. I really wanted to create a space, and when you arrive with a (large format) camera and a tripod it’s a kind of event, it’s a small piece of theatre. I wanted it be an occasion, an event you could literally walk into. I could be very controlling in that way, but what actually happened in that space had nothing to do with me. And that was the real beauty. Yes, I set up a really structured way of making the images – the formality of the distance and so on – but actually beyond that, who they were and how they responded to me and the situation was completely out of my control. Maybe the reason why they touch people is the juxtaposition of the formality set against the girls’ vulnerability. That tension has really struck a chord.’

However, she riles at a recent suggestion that she aimed to represent the girls in any way. ‘The only thing I could possibly do is give them a moment. It would be preposterous for me to imagine that I’m giving them a voice. I’m not. That’s a hugely egotistical idea. Yes, I made them in the context of this campaign to get girls into school, and of course that’s a really important issue, but actually, in many ways it’s a much more personal connection.’

Monochrome future

She imagines she’ll stick with monochrome for the foreseeable future, convinced it’s still relevant. ‘I’ve always found it really strange that black-and-white has been associated with truth, because the world’s in colour,’ she says. ‘I like the idea of black-and-white because I’m making a statement that this isn’t the real world, it is a representation, and black-and-white does that very well. In the art world, we don’t ask, “Why are you drawing with a pencil?”, which is the equivalent of black-and-white. I simply don’t see why we have to equate it with the past.

It’s a typically uncompromising view from Winship. But while she’s sticking with black-and-white capture, she seems determined to continue where she left off with Sweet Nothings, defining a simpler, more purist approach.

‘I had to work really hard to make good compositions, it certainly wasn’t something that came naturally. But I’ve learnt that, and you have to free yourself from it in order to be the real deal. I’m still learning to lose the taught stuff, and these very simple portraits are the beginnings of getting rid of photographic gymnastics.’

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