Saturday, September 02, 2006

Discussing the Photographs of Brian Lesteberg

Today, Raul's blog Heading East cited Brian Lesteberg's photographs. Raul wrote that Brian's photographs from North Dakota strike him as unmistakably and viscerally American. He said he loved the clarity and sensitivity of his vision. I looked at the images and thought they had a great sense of place so I sent an email to some photography friends asking them to take a look at Brian's images and to write about them.

Billie: Do these have a sense of place or not? And a statement about an American way of life that is foreign to most of us.

John: Absolutely. Very nice prairie work. I've been there, only a little north when I lived in Alberta. We went hunting and lay under tarps on the prairie. This is the North. The South of the North, but the North. Geographically a large part of the country if not populous.Thank you for the introduction. I haven't seen a Texas photographer in the same vein, but we must have some.

Billie: You are right I don't think I've seen a whole project by a Texas photographer that covers the whole deer/duck hunting thing. But it sure is a cultural event here in Texas. I would bet that the project could be approached in two ways. The Big City Good Old Boys who hunt with all the latest equipment and vehicles on expensive leases and then the guys who grew up in small town Texas and hunt out on the farms.

Chip: I would say these pictures reflect a sense of traditional prairie hunting culture, especially as I remember it from my four years "down the hill" in South Dakota. It is a way of life, and for some, a necessary part of subsistence. And they certainly describe the austere wintry landscape of the plains.But what I see underneath these images is a pretty passive and distant art school aesthetic coming from a guy who says he's been inside this hunting life all of his. He seems reluctant to confront, or at least depict, the killing and instead dances around the edges of blood sport. These are pretty sanitary pictures as they might show up in the Sunday Times Magazine, safely aestheticized. At least in the 1991 snapshot he and his father are holding the kill. I say this as an observation more than a criticism. As we prepare to show Agency VII's war photographs from the Congo at the APG Gallery here in Atlanta the issue comes up (one that Bobby A. has raised before) about whether artfulness can dilute rather than clarify the essential statement of a photograph, especially one that addresses physical or political brutality and death. So I would say these pictures are cool rather than warm; static rather than dynamic; removed rather than involved; considered rather than felt, and timid rather than courageous, descriptions that seem to apply to a lot of the photography I see these days.

Billie: For some I guess it is a "blood sport" but as you say for some it is a necessary part of subsistence. I had not thought about the fact that we don't see the guts on the ground but is that necessary to understand what is happening? Isn't it more intriguing to see the decoys, the signs for the "slaughter" houses, the"stuffed" birds. Do I actually have to see an African woman being brutalized and raped to understand the anguish of her look at 8 month pregnant and being told her pregnancy is the result of rape. I guess I prefer the Art School aesthetic to seeing the horror that can be inflicted on the world. With that said, I'm not touting these as great or documentary....but they hit me this morning as an observation of our culture that is foreign to me and yet in Texas it is deeply ingrained.They did make me stop and think. And now your comments are also making me think. I wonder if Lesteberg grew up in this culture, left, and now is back and what he is feeling is some conflict with the old and new. What seemed commonplace as he was growing up now seems a bit bizarre. He is seeing his "common place" with new eyes. Chip, not disagreeing with your observations, just continuing the discussion.

John: (To Chip) There is something to what you say, but I don't think it is fair to ask him to be you. He isn't there. That's not his bag, and he never says it is. Quite the opposite. I think what you are making is an argument against the man rather than the work because you have a disagreement with the underlying premise. That he is not an urban, urbane, edgy shooter is not because he is not an artist of merit. People who have no disagreement with blood sport have no sense of dancing around the edges. They don't have any edges. Every testosterone fueled magazine is full of bloody trophies. No reason for him to repeat that. I would call Brian's stuff lyrical and sympathetic to the ethos. He also seems to be a meat hunter rather than a trophy hunter. Billie makes a great point about Texas hunting. There isn't as much of a contrast in ND because cities like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio are not close enough.

Gordon: Great description, Chip. Your ideas fit what I experienced when I looked at the portfolio---I was attracted to form and line and they could have been taken in almost any context (though I did like the "Deer Head Collection Site" sign next to the hand-painted "DEER" sign---are the deer supposed to know to walk right in?). I couldn't help but have Les Krims "Deerslayers" images in my head when I looked at Lesterberg's. I got to see what I wanted to see. I like deer (although I do think of Lyme disease when I see the animals) and I didn't have to see them splayed out. But, if more blood and guts were depicted, would we criticize him for trying to shock? I have to say, though, I am a bit envious that Lesterberg came up with such a project at such a young age. Just think what it will look like in 10 years.

Paul: but has always been like that. people don't push. they like to stay in the comfort zone. the zoners' photos are as a group pretty darn warm and fuzzy. of course you are going to give me a dozen example of zoners photos that have some edge but generally we are traditional landscapes or nudes on a blanket. no blood, their guts still inside, no erections. sally mann's husband in the pool with an erection - that's edge. stephen's photo of the couple on the blanket - a photo of design and light - no edge. but stephen likes it that way. he wants it that way. just like that guy and his sanitized hunting photos. (About confronting) .....couldn't it also be equally as true that the photos are what he has chosen - that the photos are what he likes, not the edited down safe magazine photos that you suggest he aimed for. i'm only saying that chip's photos would have been straight ahead, in your face, edgey, right into the bloody guts on the snow. but this fellows photos aren't chip's photos. does that make sense?

You: Did you look at Brian's photographs? What do you think?

Article on Brian: PDNonLine
Brian's Professors: Alec Sloth
Kathrine Turczan
David Goldes
Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth
Brian Lesteberg
Brian Lesteberg

1 comment:

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