Photo and Caption by Michal Duchek
A fascinating culture of the Igorot people brought me and my girlfriend to Kalinga. Head-hunting ceased decades ago, however, the motifs of Kalinga tattoos and the way they are being tattoed remains the same (charcoal and an orange thorn). We decided to visit this beautiful tribeswoman who is the last Kalinga tattoo artist. After a few days, long hours spent on buses and jeepneys, we were lucky to find a local guide Francis who brought us to Buscalan. We were overwhelmed how hospitable and friendly she is. Her natural beauty and her tattoo tempted me to ask her for a pose outside her dwelling.
Location: Buscalan village, Kalinga, North Luzon, Philippines
By Kailee Bradstreet
Calavera x Kim Saigh x Keep A Breast
On Tuesday June 3, surf inspired swimwear label Calavera will show their support for young women from all walks of life by launching a limited edition tattoo print swimwear collection, designed by renowned artist Kim Saigh of television show LA Ink. For each suit sold, 50% of proceeds will be donated to The Keep A Breast Foundation in an effort to raise substantial funds to support the foundation’s educational recourses and community outreach.
Two styles of the limited edition print will be available online at Urban Outfitter in the retailer’s fitness and outdoor apparel division, as well as Without Walls, and the Calavera website. To launch the collection, Calavera will host a cocktail event and film screening at creative design agency space, Nouvelle Vague (701 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA) on Tuesday, June 3rd, from 6pm to 8pm.
The campaign focuses on the concept that “every woman’s body is a work of art,” and to relay that idea, Calavera has created a short video filmed by renowned photographer Alberto Guglielmi portraying the story behind the limited edition tulip print.
PRESS RELEASE – Venice, California, Tuesday May 20, 2014 — Surf-inspired women’s active swimwear brand Calavera is set to launch a collection of limited edition tattoo print suits, designed by renowned artist Kim Saigh of television series LA Ink. For each suit sold, 50% of profits will directly benefit the Keep A Breast Foundation, supporting their mission of breast cancer eradication by educating young people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins.
In order to support Keep A Breast, Calavera Founder Anna Jerstrom recruited the talents of renowned tattoo artist Kim Saigh; the result is a feminine and iconic floral print, inspired by the significance of this charitable partnership. In the lead up to the launch, Anna showed her commitment and passion for the program, by having Kim Saigh tattoo the signature print on her torso.
The pink, black and grey tulip motif will be available in two styles; Calavera’s best selling “Siren” bikini top (USD $65) and the one-piece “Leotard” suit (USD $126). From June 3rd, both styles will be available for sale online via the Urban Outfitter’s fitness and outdoor apparel division, Without Walls (withoutwalls.com) and the Calavera website (calaveraswimwear.com).
“Regardless of size, shape or scars, every woman’s body is a work of art. My hope is that women will wear these swimsuits with a sense of empowerment, beauty and strength,” says Calavera Founder Anna Jerstrom.
Calavera also joined forces with renowned photographer Alberto Guglielmi, to produce a short film that visually portrays the story behind the limited edition print; from being tattooed on Calavera’s founder, being body painted on to the chest cast of a breast cancer survivor, and finally being created into a one-piece swimsuit, worn by actress and avid surfer Tanna Frederick. Professional longboarder and esteemed photographer, Kassia Meador concludes the video with an important message reading, “every woman’s body is a work of art.”
About the launch event: To launch the collection, Calavera will host a cocktail event and film screening at creative design agency space, Nouvelle Vague (701 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA) on Tuesday, June 3rd, from 6pm to 8pm. Limited edition temporary tattoos of the Kim Saigh print will be applied to guests and the short video produced by Alberto Guglielmi screened for the first time. A customized piece of breast cast art, molded from the survivor featured in the video (casted by Shaney Jo Darden and painted by Kim Saigh) will be available via silent auction. Breast cast art is an ongoing initiative developed by Keep A Breast; taking formation plaster casts of women’s chests, and developing them into customized works of art. DJ MisterG will be playing the night’s tunes, while refreshments will be supplied by Vita Coco and Bon Affair spritzers. A “Cirque Du Soleil” aerial performer Sarah Moser will welcome guests, performing tricks in the Calavera leotard suit.
This is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between Calavera and Keep A Breast. In September 2013, Calavera hosted a “Surfing for Survivors” event at Santa Monica beach, throughout which Keep A Breast cancer survivors took to the waves, with the same vigour and bravery they used to manage their illness.
Shaney Jo Darden, KAB Founder says of the partnership, “Calavera and The Keep A Breast Foundation are two innately aligned brands, brought together by their similar missions to inspire and support young women. I hope this tattoo print suit will be worn as a reminder for women to stay active, get educated, and be empowered.”
Started by Swedish investment banker-turned-surf obsessed swimwear designer Anna Jerstrom, Calavera is a technically driven, stylish triumph. Built for riding Kauai’s curls, beachside yoga in Bali, sunning in Santorini and everything in between, these bathing suits don’t budge. In creating Calavera, Jerstrom has applied design innovations to fill a large gap in the marketplace: performance swimwear for women that can handle the most rigorous environments yet is feminine and flattering enough for the most relaxed. For more information please visit the Calavera website, Facebook and Pinterest.
About Keep A Breast:
The Keep A Breast Foundation™ is the leading youth-focused, global, nonprofit breast cancer organization, with mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations. Keep A Breast provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment. For more information about Keep A Breast please visit the website, Facebook, and Twitter.
About Kim Saigh:
Kim Saigh is an American tattoo artist and TV personality. She has been tattooing professionally for over 16 years and is best known for her work as a featured tattoo artist on the TLC reality show, LA Ink. Kim previously owned tattoo shop Cherry Bomb Tattoo Studio in Chicago before appearing on the show and now currently works at Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles.
About Nouvelle Vague:
The launch event will be held at Nouvelle Vague, a unique creative talent agency with 25 years of experience in photography, motion and illustration. Recognized by the Sony World Awards and the International Photography Awards, the agency remains at the top of its league. For more information about Nouvelle Vague please visit the website and Instagram.
By Jason Gale
Jimmy McManus slides up his shorts and points a laser at his inked thigh to show how he can blast off unwanted tattoos.
The part-time electrician began offering the service at Chapel Tattoo in Melbourne eight months ago to address a byproduct of the global body art boom: tattoo regret. Removing the skin designs has become a roaring trade, with one in seven people expressing misgivings — some enough to spend thousands of dollars for several searing laser sessions.
‘It’s a painful reminder to choose your tattoos a bit more carefully,’’ McManus, 30, says of the procedure he’s just demonstrated on his leg.
Chapel Tattoo isn’t the only studio to begin offering to undo its handiwork, entering a new line of business as ultrahigh-powered lasers pioneered by dermatologists make the procedure safer and more bearable. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery estimates its practitioner-members did about 96,000 removal procedures last year, 52 percent more than in 2012.
“Tattoo removal is big business,” said Andrew Timming, an associate professor at the University of St Andrews’ school of management in Scotland. Tattoo parlors doubling as removal shops are “a brilliant business model because it creates its own demand.”
It also drives growth in laser devices. Revenue from sales of aesthetic equipment by publicly traded companies expanded 20 percent annually from 2009 to 2012 and is now worth about $1.25 billion, according to Cutera Inc. (CUTR), a supplier of laser and light-based medical devices from Brisbane, California. Israel’s Syneron Medical Ltd. (FDG) says it’s the industry leader, with 28 percent of the global market.
One in five U.S. adults has a tattoo, according to a 2012 online survey of 2,016 Americans by the Harris Poll. That’s up from 16 percent in 2008. Many may end up changing their mind. Thirty-seven percent of people with inked skin regretted it after about 14 years, according to a survey of 580 people in the U.K. published in a letter to the British Journal of Dermatology last December.
A message from Kate Hellenbrand:
TODAY is the DAY!!!
PBS SPECIAL airing TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. here in AUSTIN, Central Time~
Available on line thru their website tomorrow for the rest of the world to see.
This isn’t some crappy “reality” TV SHOW. This is a respectful overview of the real art of tattoo. It’s PBS, people!
I’ve continued to turn down “Ink Disaster” and “Tattoo Titans” and all the other crap thrown at me that is made up and disrespectful to my glorious art/craft. Thankfully, I held out. I am proud. And even though haters will pick it apart, I say: SUCK IT!
I am almost excited enough to buy a TV (which I don’t have) and subscribe to cable (which I won’t do) so gratefully I’m going to watch at Chris Kirkpatrick’s home with his lovely wife Christine. He’s the client
getting the girl with the cobra that you’ll see.
LEMME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
And we have some photos up on the website: www.artsincontext.org
and also on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ArtsInContext
My favorite style tends to be illustrated realism, not even sure if that’s an actual style haha.
By Aya Lowe
The Spanish conquistadors who landed in 1521 dubbed the Philippines the Islands of the Painted Ones after the heavily tattooed locals. Nearly 500 years on, tribal tattooing is almost extinct. Aya Lowe met the islands’ last practitioner and those trying to keep the tradition alive.
For more than eight decades, Whang-Od has been inking the headhunting warriors and women of her Kalinga tribe.
Using the traditional “tapping” style, dating back a thousand years, she hammers ink into the skin using the spike of a calmansi (lime) tree attached to a bamboo stick that has been dipped in wet charcoal.
The simple designs are evocative of the nature around her in the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – outlines of centipedes, trees and snakes or basic geometric patterns such as diamonds and squares.
These, she says, are “earthly messengers from the gods [that] protect you from enemies or bad spirits”.
Not for the light-hearted, this slow, primitive method is extremely painful and would have been endured for short periods only. Large tattoos might take several months to complete.
However, at 94, Whang-Od – whose own skin is etched with a variety of designs – is likely to be the last of her kind.
Training her niece
Tradition dictates that skills can only be passed down family lines. Having lost the love of her life at the age of 25 in a logging accident, Whang-Od did not marry again and bore no children.
“It can’t be passed on to anyone else,” she insists. “It has to be within the same family because if someone else who is not from the same bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected.”
However, the young in her village are not keen on adopting the body work of their elders. Though she is training her niece to carry on her work, Whang-Od says that her young relative is more interested in her studies to become a teacher.
The preservation of tribal tattooing may, however, lie thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, where a group of dedicated members of the Filipino diaspora has been working hard to ensure the tradition is not lost.
Tatak Ng Apat na Alon, which translates as “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe”, was formed nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles by Filipino-Americans.
Their name is a reference to the “waves” of immigrants who came to the Philippines.
The group has grown to become a global community made up of hundreds of people with Filipino heritage looking to revive the tattooing traditions of Filipino tribes by having their designs etched on their skin.
“People are sacrificing their skin to revive this ancestral form of art and make sure it is not forgotten,” says Elle Festin, the co-founder of the community.
“The only way you can find proof of designs is through oral history and artefacts. The only way to stop it becoming obsolete is by reviving the designs.”
Having left the Philippines as a teenager, Mr Festin said his journey into the world of tribal tattooing became a way for him to connect with his own heritage, something he felt he had lost growing up in the US.
“Filipinos in the Philippines don’t need to define themselves, but for the Filipino diaspora many are looking for a connection back to their heritage,” he says.
“It’s more important for them to define themselves as Filipino in a foreign country.”
Tattoos were a prominent feature among pre-Hispanic tribes of the Philippines. They acted as a corporal roadmap designating people by tribe and rank, acting as a protection charm or medal, or as permanent make-up.
Dr Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist in the Visayas region of the central Philippines, says traditional tattooing practices had vanished in the region by the 1700s because of the presence of the Spanish military and the influence of the Church.
But in Mindanao, an island in the country’s far south, and the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – the home of Whang-Od – the practice survived because of the area’s remoteness and warrior tribes who successfully defended their ancestral homelands from foreign invaders, like the colonial Spanish.
People who receive a tattoo have to be of Filipino heritage. The artists work closely with their clients to research their family histories and life events to create a design.
“We were very careful about how it grew and who our tattoo artists were,” said Mr Festin. “We didn’t want it to go viral and turn into a trend like Polynesian designs. We wanted to encourage curiosity to getting people talking about the meaning behind the markings.”
In 2008, Mr Festin made perhaps the most important pilgrimage in his career as a tattooist when he returned to his homeland to visit Whang-Od and the Kalinga tribe.
“When I first met Whang-Od I was afraid of what she would think of my designs, especially as they were modified from original form,” he said.
“But she was impressed with my tools and asked me to tattoo her. You could tell she was experienced by the way she lay down and stretched her skin.”
While the sight of a fully tattooed man or woman is becoming a rarity in the Philippines, it is this small dedicated group of enthusiasts, far across the ocean, that is keeping the art form alive, hopefully for many decades to come.
About the author: Based in Manila, Aya Lowe writes business, travel and human interest stories around South East Asia and the Middle East.
Donate to Rick Lee Peters and his family as he continues his fight against Cancer. Please help provide him peace of mind in his final days.
Rick Lee Peters received his Masters of Fine Arts with Honors from The University of Kansas. But who needs a fancy piece of paper to notice the true talents of this man. One peek at his repertoire is a clear display of a truly wonderful, creative and talented man who our Universe is preparing to take away due to Cancer.
He began his battle about a year ago and we all had hopes that he would pull thru this routine procedure. The other side of the curtain must need some funny, bright new personalities and probably some new artwork!
As Rick prepares for a battle that his body no longer has control over, his family – his beautiful wife Jill, his son Tim and daughter Aimee, his grandchildren and a long list of loved ones and friends take comfort in being able to see and speak with Rick, and share encouraging hugs during these final days. His good humor helps everyone ease thru an extremely heartbreaking and difficult process.
Of course – with any medical battle there are costs involved. Not only the hospital and treatment bills, but cost of living expenses, final resting costs, and the stress of being able to provide for loved ones once that fateful day has come. One of Rick’s requests is to have a simple heart shaped headstone -even the most modest design is worth a mint.
Rick has provided this World with laughs, smiles, love and brightness – not only thru his amazing being but thru the beauty of his artwork. Whether you knew him in person or not – his paintings and sketches will spread a smile across your face and in your heart.
Skip the line at Starbucks and donate that $5 to someone who really matters. No amount is too small or too big. Every little bit helps. Please donate and share this fundraiser with others.
Thank you and much peace.
For donations, please visit: http://gfwd.at/1oQHJQO
Lastrites.tv: A NEW and Online Community
New York, May 2014 – Last Rites is excited to announce the launch of its brand new website, Online Community and Forum. Lastrites.tv will serve as the umbrella site for both Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery, uniting the two separate meccas for the dark arts under one roof, alongside the birth of the Last Rites Online Community. Although Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery will still exist independent of one another, we hope this new site will make it easier for our patrons to enjoy all the talent and beauty under one roof, similar to our space at 325 West 38th Street in NYC. Our intention is to provide a digital space to serve as a comprehensive community of like-minded individuals that have a true appreciation for the dark side of art.
We’ve designed the structure of the website to make your journey simple yet visually stimulating as you peruse all facets of the dark art world that is Last Rites. Our main navigation gives constant access to Last Rites Tattoo Theatre, Last Rites Gallery, the Last Rites Store, Forum and Online Community. Each category gives you access to drop down menus allowing you to choose which component you wish to explore. Further, we have integrated social media streams, videos, appointment forms, a forum and tons of images for your viewing pleasure! It is our hope that our patrons will browse and interact with the art and one another on our platform through our Forums and Online Community.
Paul Booth truly wishes to unite friends, fans, and enthusiasts from both the Fine Art and Tattoo worlds. His inspiration and aspirations can now be accessed through the free Last Rites Online Community and Forum. The Online Community will allow visitors to create their own profiles, photo and video albums, chat, and interact with the website fully, including commenting and liking on artwork and pages. The Forum will offer a wide array of subjects to ponder and discuss, also accessible from logging on to the Online Community. It is our hope that these avenues of discussion and social sharing will allow you, without the restricting guidelines of censorship, to explore, contribute and embrace the dark arts.
Lastrites.tv is also mobile friendly and easily accessed from all smart devices. We hope our site proves to be ergonomic and a haven for all friends, fans, and enthusiasts.
Last Rites Gallery
325 West 38th st #1 NYC
By Kevin Miller
This video by the Sunrise morning show in Australia has a lot of people upset, and for good reason. There’s too many ignorant statements to count throughout this segment, but the woman at approximately 1:00 takes the cake. She starts off comparing tattoos as a fashion statement, and then she informs everyone they’ll regret their decision to get tattooed. Oh, and she also discusses how men don’t find tattoos attractive and pokes fun at one of the tattoos they show as a visual example.
I tried to figure out who each one of these women were by using the ‘Meet our Team’section on the Sunrise website. Unfortunately all of their face lifts and botox sessions make them blend together.
I already sent my feedback to Sunrise using their Contact Us section on their website, and I would encourage you to do the same. Let’s tell Sunrise and theirs ‘news team’ what a bunch of ignorant assholes they are.
A tattoo exhibition? You mean, not in the corner of a tattoo convention? In a real museum? Well, it’s for real, and it’s happening now in Paris, at the Museum du quai Branly, which is quite famous for showing high quality exhibitions, usually specialized in anthropology and ethnology. And it is now showing “Tatoueurs, tatoues” (or “tattooists, tattooed”).
Of course, having a few tattoos myself, and being both interested and a bit educated in tattoo history and techniques, I had to rush there, and report back on what this exhibit has to offer:
The exhibition was curated by Anne & Julien (who’ve been involved in the modern art scene for many years now), and advised and directed by famed French tattoo artist Tin-Tin. The goal of the exhibit, as explained by Anne & Julien, is to show how tattoo, which has existed since ancient times, has changed, developed, disappeared, and been reborn to the art we know today.
In the first part, named “from the global to the marginal,” the exhibition tells the story of tattoo throughout history, and society. You can view a mummified tattooed arm from Peru, antique tools, and amazing portraits of Algerian tattooed women. This part also explores the role of tattoos in the navy, and in prisons with, among other things, a short movie that I highly recommend: “La peau du milieu” (1957), showing the “underground” side of tattoo, at a time when the meaning was much more important than the style, which was, well, rather poor.
Then, you enter the marginal and colorful world of sideshow, circus, freaks, and…traveling tattoo artists. As a transition, there’s a very interesting “Wall of Fame,” displaying a timeline of tattoo culture, including laws, techniques, famous tattoo artists, and famous tattooed people.
The exhibition goes on with a focus on tattoo in Japan, North America, and Europe. The Japanese selection shows some stunning paintings, tattoo projects, photos of tattooed people, videos, a photo of a tattooed skin taken from a dead man (gulp! I first didn’t notice it was only a photo); other incredible artifacts include a kabuki costume painted so that it looked like a tattoo when worn by the actor. In the North America and European selections, there were more photos and prints of tattooed people, and interestingly, a copy of Samuel O’Reilly’s patent for his tattooing machine (and some modern day machines as well).
Moving through the exhibit, at this stage, museum goers now view works made by tattoo artists exclusively for this exhibition: 19 artists worked on “tattoo project” paintings, and 13 artists tattooed silicon body parts to great effect.
There’s also an exploration into the revival of traditional tattoo in Oceania and South-East Asia, displaying some impressive masks and head sculptures (I was especially impressed by those), traditional tools, as well as modern tattoo projects. There’s further cultural discussion of tattoo in China, the Latino and Chicano cultures in the US, among others.
At last, the exhibition ends with the “new generation” of artists, such as Yann Black and the “Art Brut” movement in tattooing, as a nod to the future of the art.
To read the rest of this article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/05/tatoueurs-tatoues-musee-du-quai-branly.html
Tattoos by Hanumantra Lamar
Modern Body Art, Birmingham
By Victoria Hansen
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) — It’s been five years since Sharon Dempsey took the shower that changed her life. She bent down to pick up a razor and immediately felt it, a lump beneath her breasts.
“My tumor was right under where they pull it up so it never made it on to the mammogram screen,” said Dempsey.
She quickly called her doctor.
“I said, ‘Dr. Scott, I felt something I’ve never felt it before. It doesn’t move.’ I went in to see him on Monday and by Friday I was already lined up for surgery,” Dempsey said.
The moment is still vivid as she makes what she hopes is her last doctor visit.
“I’ve always before I’ve had any of my procedures, I do research about it and there’s not a lot of research out there on how they do the tattooing,” she said.
At 55, Sharon is about to get her first tattoo — make that two tattoos.
“I wasn’t nervous until my son told me it was going to hurt, and then yes I was nervous,” she said.
Dempsey lives in Irmo, but has come to The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction in Mount Pleasant to have most of her work done. Here, Dr. James Craigie took fat from her belly to build new breasts
“Tummy tuck and like the ladies at work say, I’ve got 18 year old boobs,” said Dempsey.
But that’s not all. Dr. Craigie even managed to create natural looking nipples from Sharon’s own skin.
“Well, we take the skin that is there and we turn the skin on itself,” said Dr. Craigie. “And we fold it up and we actually make the nipple from that skin.”
The nub of skin certainly looks like a nipple, only it lacks texture and color. There is no areola, just pale skin.
That is where medically trained tattoo artist Kimberly Kay comes in. She greets Dempsey for this final appointment, walking her through every detail.
“I will mark you in the area that will be the size of the tattoo, and then we’ll do color matching against your chest,” she said.
Together, Dempsey and Kay decide the size and shape of her new nipples. They use stick ons to trace.
The next decision is color.
“She said normally your areola matches your lips and that is why she wanted me to remove my lipstick so that she could match it,” said Dempsey.
Like an artist, Kay pops open small pots of color — pink, beige and brown in so many shades.
“She basically takes a little pot and she just starts mixing the color and then she puts splotches on your skin,” said Dempsey.
Once the perfect combination is created, Kay cranks up the tattoo needle, but not before giving Sharon a little numbing medication. Dempsey does have some sensation still in her chest.
“She does a basket weave when she does the tattooing. She goes this way and then she goes this way,” said Dempsey.
“There are different techniques,” said Kay. “It’s not exactly drawing. We have to actually put it into scar tissue.”
Kay pushes the tattoo needle hard, but Dempsey doesn’t flinch. She’s been through so much more.
“I’m just thankful that I’m here,” she said.
Kimberly finishes with some contrasting colors for a more realistic look.
“I’m going to spot do just brown and actually just do a brown ring around the base of the nipple to create the shadow effect,” Kay said.
She hands Dempsey a mirror and the reaction is immediate: “I look normal again, I mean it looks normal to me again.”
Dempsey will no longer have to be reminded daily of what cancer has cost. Her new tattoos cover the physical scars that will eventually heal. Mentally, she’s ready to move on.
“Well my tattoos are symbolic. My tattoos symbolize that’s the end,” said Dempsey.
“I made it. It’s over, yeah. I did it.”
By Nick Baxter
Last year I started collecting my thoughts on the continual debate in my head about what art is, and how it can be (among other things) an effective form of communication. That effort was and still is intertwined with the process of further understanding my own art, and all other art, as well. In hindsight, I thought the initial writing (here and here) was a bit unfocused, and since it was also incomplete, I took the time recently to revisit those blog entries and rework them into a more cohesive essay.
The final part of that essay, as mentioned in the second of those prior blog posts, is about my belief that photojournalism can be viewed as a creative art form, possessing an almost-accidental form of raw beauty capable of inspiring other works of art (such as many of my own). This critique of photojournalism introduces broader questions about the “unintended” as art, and–for now–completes my investigation into the sneakily complicated debate “What is art?”
In the future I’ll post the final version of the essay in its entirety, but for now here is the “part 2″ continuation of those prior blog posts.
Photojournalism and the Unintended as Art
In the last 100 years, photojournalism has become a fixture of our visual landscape. On the surface, it’s simply defined as the use of images to tell a news story or to report on current events. In this role, the photos are not art, and their photographers are not acting as artists, which means their images are typically held to strict ethical standards of honesty, impartiality, and objectivity. But these attributes are graded on a scale that becomes increasingly inexact amidst the complexity of postmodern thought and the digital age of endless reproduction and re-appropriation. This is the point at which the question “What is art?” becomes relevant and fascinating to me, when applied to the medium of photojournalism.
I’ve always appreciated the naïve purity of an image that’s been produced with no pretense of art, utterly uninhibited by the finicky shackles of artistic rules or the whims of unreliable muses like inspiration. In this open and wild space, artistic qualities and natural beauty are given the chance to emerge on their own, unintended and raw, like the strongest of weeds in a perfectly manicured lawn, and photography seems to be an ideal medium for this phenomenon. This element of chance can produce quite powerful images, capable of communicating intensely to the viewer while remaining—and precisely because they remain—firmly grounded in the truth of reality “as it happened.”
And so the commonplace photos we’re bombarded with through ever-increasing media saturation begin ostensibly as visual data comprised only of ‘facts’ or neutral information, yet end up loaded with symbolism, embedded with the perceptions and beliefs of their creators and audience after becoming the subject of this artistic line of inquiry.
In studying art history, it seems this afterlife of the journalistic image became much more possible in the wake of the Dada movement, when artists (including photographers) carved out new niches for their work beyond mere decoration or commemoration of important people or places. Art in the 20th century became increasingly deconstructivist, philosophically charged, and conceptual in nature, filling multiple roles while having its meaning manipulated by the increasingly complex worldviews of both creator and audience1.
Because of this evolution, just about anything could be considered art in the right context, meaning that most contemporary art now resides as much in the blurry, ambiguous realm of provocative ideas as it does in the realm of traditional craft. Hence a museum visitor might encounter an exhibit of random paint splotches that, beneath its completely underwhelming, childlike appearance, contains a metaphor referencing complex political or psychological theories learned by the artist through years of intense academic study.
This can be maddening to the viewer who simply wants to marvel at a skillfully executed object of beauty, or it can be liberating for those who want to engage in debate, controversy, or social change through the arts. My own art has always attempted to straddle this fence by incorporating the best of both worlds: technical, precise handling of paint in the realism tradition, yet depicting modern subject matter and informed by the angst and alienation of postmodern philosophies. It is my belief that photojournalism in the modern age, thanks to that 20th-century process of expansion and deconstruction, straddles a similar fence, one separating objective observations from subjective beauty and meaning.
This ability of the journalistic photograph to transcend genres is confirmed in the academic community by the fact that “Breaking News Photography” is a Pulitzer Prize category. This prestigious yearly award started in 1917 as a way to honor impactful achievements in American journalism, literature, and music. Winning photographs are resurrected as art objects, receiving appreciation for their poignancy and beauty—a second life of sorts, after their initial purpose or function in the journalistic media has been served.
This second life also takes the form of photo essays, curated and arranged into cohesive narratives, which are now commonly presented in art and lifestyle publications, fine art galleries, and museums throughout the world. Depending on the intentions of the photographer and exhibiting institution or publication, as well as the sensibilities of the viewing audience, these photographs may be appreciated for their communication about the world events that comprise their content, or for their artistic qualities—or both.
In his 1995 essay about the modern age of photojournalism, writer Richard Lacayo wades into the debate surrounding artistic subjectivity and meaning:
“Photojournalists tend to stay aloof from talk about camera aesthetics. There is something about dodging gunfire in Beirut that discourages ruminations on style, understandably enough. More to the point, no one who catalogs bloodshed or poverty wants to be thought of as yet another vendor to the senses. Some news photographers spend half their lives chasing wars; who can blame them if they reach for the door when they hear the word art? …The stereotype survives: artists have visions; journalists have assignments. They may both think to themselves, ‘I am a camera,’ but each means something different.
“Yet aesthetic questions have a moral dimension. Color is pretty; misery is not. How does one keep the simple appeal of color from confounding the full range of meanings a photograph may convey? If pictures of genocide come to us in the muted pastels of a GAP ad or the vivid hues of a rock video, how does a photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”2
While the moralist in me sympathizes with this sentiment, the artist and rebel in me, raised in an age of cynicism, desensitization, and ambiguity, views adjectives like ‘palatable’ as mere subjective opinions, impossible to resolve into an absolute truth for all to agree on. Human culture is so diverse that practically anything could be considered palatable art, by someone. And so I answer Lacayo’s question with another question: “Why should the photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”
I want to ask this question not because I enjoy atrocity, but because I am capable of the postmodern complexity of holding multiple feelings and competing appreciations within me simultaneously. In this case, that multiplicity includes the horror and revulsion at the tragic events occurring in our world as well as the aesthetic delight at the spectacle of color, shape, line, emotion, symbolism, and meaning on vivid display, emerging somewhat accidentally (and perhaps with more purity) through the photojournalistic medium.
As if to concede this very point I’m making and pay homage to the “What is art?” debate, the author goes on to admit, “The most capable photojournalists…have learned to incorporate the unruliness of color into a deliberate statement. …Barbaric rule can operate in the broadest daylight, suffering can happen in sensual settings, a place can be cruel and inviting at the same time.”
And so we see that through the inescapable conduit of subjectivity, passive observation becomes intentional communication, and thus, photojournalism can also be the highest of art forms, loaded with inspiration for artists working in any medium. I’ve always appreciated the best journalistic photography for this transcendent ability, the point at which the happenings of this world become awe-inspiring images, and the deepest truths contained in the human condition are put on poetic display.
So once and for all, “What is art?” This question may never be fully answered. But with an integral approach and an open mind, artists and viewers alike can use this line of inquiry to enrich their experience of reality, to deepen the communication that is the purpose of all art, and to find beauty everywhere, even where it may be unintended.
1The Situationists of the 1960s took this evolution to the extreme, espousing radical anarchist views on art that embraced destruction and merciless re-appropriation of all imagery, in the service of transforming society and conscious reality into a powerful and playful dialogue with the present moment.
2Lacayo, Richard. “IV: Resurgence 1980-1995.” Eyewitness: 150 Years of Photojournalism. New York CIty: Time, 1995. 166. Print.