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Pictures copyright: 2007, Peter Marshall unless stated otherwise.
All pictures here were taken with a Fuji FInepix F31fd digital camera. .

A Walk in Bielsko-Biala


   

At the Church of Divine Providence 


 

 

 

The election is on Sunday

 
 

 

 

The Biala River. 


 

 

 

Ksiasnica Beskidzka where the Walter Rosenblum and MIchael Kenna shows were held.

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FotoArtFestival 2007


I collect the things I'll need for the afternoon from the hotel and decide to take a walk past the splendid Church of Divine providence before turning back towards the bridge over the Biala river and the Ksiasnica Beskidzka in Slowackiego and the school next door that that also housed some of the exhibitions where I had arranged to meet Kate before going to lunch at the Prezydent hotel.

For me the "Message from the Heart" from Walter Rosenblum was the most powerful show of the festival. My feature on him is unfortunately missing from the 'Wayback Machine', although you can access my piece on the New York Photo League there.

Its an occasion that has a tinge of sadness, as Walter died in 2006, otherwise he would have been here to see his work on the wall. But both his wife, the prominent photo-historian Naomi Rosenblum and his daughter, the outstanding film-maker Nina Rosenblum (her films include those on her father and on Lewis Hine) are due to arrive in Bielsko today. You can see work by all three on the Rosenblum Photo web site.

What is amazing about this work is that Walter was only 17 when as a young Photo League member he took the Pitt Street pictures here, inspired by the advice of Sid Grossman who taught the documentary workshop at the League. Although there were many great pictures later in his life, these still seem to me his strongest collection of work, in some ways summing up his whole career at its very start.

In 1938, he became friends with both Lewis Hine and Paul Strand through the League, and both men were important as mentors, strengthening his ideas about photography and widening his cultural and photographic horizons.

His relationship with Strand perhaps shows most strongly in some of his fine portraits, and also in the work from Gaspe, which I later learn from Naomi was a kind of late honeymoon, for which Paul Strand lent them his car.

There is also a picture from '105th Street', a family arranged along the house-front, which has strong which, although clearly different, has strong resonances in Strand's Italian family in Luzzara, in his 'Un Paese' ( Walter's version has a scooter rather than a bicycle.) Rosenblum's 105th St image was made in 1952, while Strand's classic work came the following year. It was an influence that flowed in both directions.

One of Walter's great achievements was in capturing the great joy of children playing, in images of games on the street and elsewhere, perhaps most elequently in his image of a girl on a swing, a great feeling of freedom as she stretches out close to horizontal, the chains of the swing echoed by those of the bridge in the background.

But my favourite image perhaps remains the animated group in front of Chick's Candystore in Pitt St. A group of men stand around passing the time of day, while as bookends to the storefront are at left a woman seated on a chair, looking cold and staring grimly away out of picture, and on the right a small black child leans forward to the edge of the frame, his bottom towards the group.

A man's hand floats apparentlly free of its owner in surreal fashion in the centre of the image against the black of the doorway as he makes a point, while inside the shop another hand - perhaps Chick's own - appears reaching up apparently towards the name on the glass, next to it a hat, but faceless.

NEW POLICY
MORE
     SHOW!

reads a sign in the bottom right of the shop window, and I think it can only refer to this picture.

(The following day I came back to view this show again, together with Naomi and Nina - see later in this diary.)

A fine monograph of Walter's work was published in Dresden in 1990.

Landscapes

I first saw Michael Kenna's work in a show on Richmond Hill in I think 1976, and looking at it now in the room next-door to Walter Rosenblum's pictures it was interesting to see how little both Kenna's approach and my opinions seemed to have changed little.

There were many elements in common with the Chinese work I had viewed earlier in the morning. Islands, water, mist, distant mountains, strong simple composition.

Back then I'd thought it showed superb technique, but was somehow too simple, too dramatised, too decorative and was likely to sell extremely well. It did, although he had to move to the USA and get deeply into limited editions to do so*.

To be fair, he has refined his technical skills considerably. But immaculate though many of his conceptions are, I find the artificial tonalities and slight pink lith of the lighter tones soon palls.

There were a few images that interested me. I think we share a love of fine trees. I liked particularly a snow-covered example surrounded by a circular hedge and the outstanding work of this show for me was a simple winter silhouette of a fine specimen taken in slight mist, set in a formal garden on a frosty morning. Elegant but unforced, it was an image I would gladly hang on my wall.

(* I've always felt there was something inherently evil about the idea of limited editions in photography, or rather something inherently anti-photographic. We have a medium that allows almost infinite reproducibility and I think should work with it, and not get into the world of marketing. But then I long ago chose idealism over riches.)

Father and Son

I'd met Jose Luis Ra ota the previous evening but had only the vaguest memory of the work of either him or his father, Pedro Luis Raota (1934-86), despite having written in the past about photography in Argentina, although I'm afraid to say I had mentioned neither of them.

When I saw the work on the wall however, there were several pictures that I recognised. You can view both on the Raota fotografia web site.

I only had time for a quick look at the show, and wrote about it later during the festival.

Franco Fontana

Fontana (b1933) is another photographer whose work while sometimes of interest is not entirely to my taste. An over-fixation with pattern is perhaps not a great asset for a photographer, although it does produce images with impact and popular appeal. One or two of his landscapes are indeed attractive, but a whole wall is overkill so far as I'm concerned.

More to my liking were his pictures from various American cities - Lost Angeles, Houston, Chicago etc - in which a single female figure is seen from behind as the only person in an urban environment. At least in some of these I felt a slight sense of menace.

In the 'Presenzassenza' series also, his use of shadows also adds a little sinister depth to some of the images.

Time for Lunch

I'd arranged to meet Kate in the Fontana show at 1.30pm, but before she came, Sarah Moon arrived and we exchanged greetings. She too was going to lunch, but wanted to look at the pictures, and Kate and I, being hungry, left her there saying we would meet at the Prezydent.

(continued on next page.)

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

FotoArtFestival Diary 2007

Peter Marshall

Bielsko-Biala, October 18-28, 2007

FotoArtFestival Diary 2005
FotoArtFestival2005 on the Wayback Machine

FotoArtFestival - Official Site