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‘OWL SCOUTS’ LOST IN THE WOODS: TODD BAXTER’S PHOTOGRAPHS

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If you’ve ever been lost in the woods, you might have come to the realization that nature is not a benevolent force. It looks down upon you with supreme indifference if, for example, you drop your flashlight into a burrow or fall into a cold stream. These are just two things that happen to the boy and girl “Owl Scouts,” subjects of this show. Chicago-based Todd Baxter hired the boy and girl, dressed them in their inventive scout uniforms (the boy’s incorporates a fox pelt) and used digital processes to create many of the scenarios that boy and girl stumble into. To say that these photos are staged is a little like saying Rembrandt or Caravaggio used models. That is, these photos, like the finest paintings, grab you and shake you and almost render any discussion of technique (flawless as it is) pointless. There is a narrative and cinematic force to — as well as an archetypical current running through — these photographs. Everything cumulates in a tragic climax that wouldn’t ring true if there were any hint of irony or shock for shock’s sake.
– Dan Grossman

After studying photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of New Mexico, in his hometown of Albuquerque Todd Baxter spent two years After studying photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of New Mexico, in his hometown of Albuquerque Todd Baxter spent two years teaching photography and art in the Albuquerque public school system. A recruiting call from abroad only two years into his teaching career found him traveling to Muscat, Oman where he taught for another two years at the American British Academy and explored the Middle East, Asia and Africa in his free time. Upon his return to the United States in 2002, Todd began freelancing as a designer and art director for many of Chicago’s advertising agencies, eventually working full time as an art director at Cramer Krasselt. It didn’t take long before he had officially started his own business and by 2004 Todd Baxter Photography was in full swing servicing a variety of agencies and editorial clients.

Todd Baxter main site

Todd Baxter on Facebook

NIGHTMARISH PHOTOGRAPHS BY PIETER HUGO

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I mean, do you honestly think a portrait can tell you anything about the subject? And, even if it did, would you trust what it had to say?

South African Pieter Hugo’s striking photographs of contemporary Africa, infamously referenced by Beyoncé Knowles and Nick Cave’s Grinderman music videos, have garnered global recognition. His work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The FOAM Museum of Photography, and The Museum of Modern Art. With even a passing glance at this young artist’s curriculum vitae, his influence on contemporary art and photography is clear.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1976, Hugo is a self-taught documentary photographer. His images are created using a large format camera, a bulky piece of equipment that does not lend itself to the surreptitious photographer. His work hinges on a personal interaction and connection with his subjects. “The power of photography is inherently voyeuristic,” he said in an interview with The Independent last year. “But I want that desire to look to be confronted.” And yet, he is “deeply suspicious of the power of photography.”

The most well known book The Hyena & Other Men (2005-2007), documents a group of performers in Nigeria and Lagos who work with hyenas, baboons, and pythons. Hugo’s Nollywood (2008) a commentary on Africa’s film industry, is described by critics as “overdramatic, deprived of happy endings, tragic; the aesthetic is loud, violent, excessive; nothing is said, everything is shouted. ”Permanent Error (2011) studies a dump in Ghana where the obsession with gadget iterations—the tech industry’s “planned obsolescence”— is exposed in a narrative of global wastefulness. Although each of these evocative series asks us to reassess the perceptions of our world, Hugo’s Hague collection questions photography itself: its limits as well as its increasingly complex methods of representation.

The nature of Hugo’s subject matter has been criticized as sensational and exploitative of the “exotic other” — a criticism of documentary photography dating back to its inception. “My intentions are in no way malignant,” Hugo says, “yet somehow people pick it up in that way. I’ve traveled through Africa, I know it, but at the same time I’m not really part of it… I can’t claim to [have] an authentic voice, but I can claim to have an honest one.”

PIETER HUGO official site

Guernica

 

‘YAKUZA’ BY ANTON KUSTERS

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Anton Kusters is a Belgian documentary and fine art photographer. He is one of the only people who has ever gained access to the criminal underworld of Japan. In his book ‘Yakuza’ the reality of this highly notorious gang is exposed in a moody, shadow-filled noir aesthetic. We see them at meetings, strip clubs, bathhouses, and performing strange rituals. All the members are dressed in suit and ties, usually black, which further solidifies the perception of this group as classic mobsters. Most fascinating is their relationship to tradition and ritual, the tattoos, which mark the members for life, are code for their rank among peers.

Anton Kusters official site

D. at PW

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