Friday, July 29, 2011

ABSENCE OF SUBJECT - The Images of Michael Somoroff & August Sander

The Pianist by August Sander
(Venice, Italy) The extraordinary German photographer, August Sander, was renowned for capturing images of human beings during the early part of the 20th Century. Now, New York photographer and commerical director Michael Somoroff has erased Sander's people, leaving only the background. Together these images were the subject of the exhibition Absence of Subject curated by Diana Edkins which closed on July 15, 2011 at Galerie Brigette Schenk in Piazza San Marco. From the website:

The Soldier
August Sander
The exhibition includes forty silver prints, ten platinum-palladium prints and seven videos by Michael Somoroff as well as forty August Sander original photographs. Somoroff appropriated selected images as an homage to the legendary German photographer August Sander's collective portrait People of the 20th Century. In each of the images, Somoroff has erased the subject of Sander's photograph retaining only the background. 

It was not easy to be a photographer in Germany in the 20th Century, and Sander suffered enormously for his art. It is only due to Sander's cleverness, determination and strength that we are able to view his photographs today -- that, and the dedication of his grandson and cultural heir, the photographer Gerd Sander, who created gelatin silver prints from the originals. From Wikipedia:

"Sander's Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century. Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers' Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander's book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed. Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to a rural area, allowing him to save most of his negatives. His studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid."

The Soldier
Michael Somoroff
Michael Somoroff also comes from a family of photographers. His father was the celebrated commercial photographer, Ben Somoroff. From Wikipedia:

"Somoroff was the first artist invited to exhibit at The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, and notably the only artist since Barnett Newmanto have an installation on the grounds. In 2006 Somoroff created a large-scale outdoor sculpture Illumination I for the Chapel. Somoroff’s work has been exhibited in major art fairs such as Arco, Art Cologne, Basel Art Fair, Art Miami, Armory Show, NYC., Fotofest Houston and Photokina among other venues. His nudes, portraits, and still life images are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Houston Museum of Fine Art, Texas; and The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


To learn more about Michael Somoroff, you can visit the Facebook page.

Pastry Chef
August Sander
First I viewed the photos of August Sander, who had the unique ability to capture the souls of his subjects.  Then Michael Somoroff took those souls away.

Pastry Chef
Michael Somoroff
It was a bit shocking, I have to say, to see the photos without the people. I had the good fortune to view the exhibit with Don Guarnieri, the onsite producer, who actually gave me far warning that the images might be startling. Don is the co-producer of Josh Fox's "Gasland," a film that won the Sundance Award Special Jury Prize and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; he also produced Somoroff's Illumination


From the curator, Diana Edkins:


Small Town Women
August Sander
"Michael Somoroff has erased the subject retaining only the background. Seemingly a limited subject matter, here Somoroff has made it limitless without boundaries. By incorporating an ingenious technical approach to both the still photographs and the narrations, Somoroff creates a narrative caught in space and time. In light of the extraordinary wealth of technology available to contemporary artists, Somoroff relishes in the notion that one can alter reality at the touch of a computer button." 


Small Town Women
Michael Somoroff
To put a whisper of life back, Somoroff then created videos out of seven of his photos. He added a soft breeze, which made The Pianist, the Sander image you see at the very top, especially haunting. You can view the videos here:


Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Gerd Sander, August Sander's grandson and the man responsible for the gelatin silver prints, and Michael Somoroff:

Blind Children at their Lessons
August Sander
SANDER: I've always believed that good work is good work and it doesn't lose its intrinsic worth. I understand the concern and the fear with the art world saying oh, well, you know, this is not en vogue right now because it is too esoteric, too religious, too emotional or too personal or whatever. People will say that because it will remind them of exactly that truth.

SOMOROFF: Yes, I know, it's frightening the responsibility we have to ourselves and other to be honest and face our shortcomings. On the other hand it's our choice to really be human, i.e., humane beings. It is our ability to be vulnerable with one another, to be authentic in any given moment, to share; it is our potential to create a world that looks compassionate...

The last Somoroff image is entirely black.

Ciao from Venice,
Cat

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