Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Disciples- James Mollison

Photo: James Mollison- The Disciples

I recently caught James Mollison's book The Disciples and was reminded of the work of two other photographers: one was Richard Avedon and his group portrait of The Chicago Seven, the other, David Yellen and his Too Fast For Love heavy metal portraits. The latter covers similar material and is a revealing essay of music fans and groupies done on location. The Chicago Seven portrait (along with several other Avedon's B&W group portraits) is a more formally lit studio production. 

Photo: James Mollison- The Disciples

James Mollison's The Disciples mirror and combine the aforementioned work while providing several distinct differences. First off, like so many of Yellen's, they're funny as hell- ever the moreso. Mollison's individual portraits are seemingly taken at different intervals and locales, only to be stitched together in post processing into panoramic "group" portraits- unlike Avedon's iconic photo where the group was photographed in three adjoining photos taken in one session. Mollison's color photos lack the scholarly studio gravitas of Avedon's B&W portraits; the use of color along with the often garish costumes are almost cartoonish, and more naturally lend themselves to humor- the stitched portraits even tend to read like like cartoon strips.

Photo: David Yellen- Too Fast For Love

At first this somewhat turned me off; by mashing them together thus, he was weakening and sublimating the power of each individual portrait- and there's many a strong and powerful portrait to be found amongst them. Perhaps if he shot in B&W, it would have lent the work that certain aura of gravitas that would have made them go beyond the cartoon and into the realm of "serious" portraiture. He would have then had the best of both worlds together in every shot. Yellen's location portraits, humorous as they may be, still retain a documentary edge that proclaims- yeah, they're funny but it's serious shit all the same. 

But a curious thing happened. Instead of dismissing them in rapid fire fashion as the mere cartoon strips they first appear to be, I found myself looking more and more at them- comparing, contrasting, noting individual differences and similarities. In short, I was spending quite a bit more time on them than I ever thought necessary. After I let go my self imposed "artistic" limitations and preconceptions, I began to enjoy them even more. Maybe this particular coffee table presentation is exactly what this subject matter demands! It certainly caught my attention then, and continues to do so now.*

Photo: Richard Avedon: The Chicago Seven

PS- You can purchase James Mollison's The Disciples in two distinct sizes- and the smaller is a bargain! I just recently broke down and bought Destroy This Memory by Richard Misrach- not because I had lingering doubts as to how good it was, but because it was simply so damn big and ungainly. I had been hoping that Mr. Misrach would release it in a new, smaller size- but after hearing him speak on video about that project, I realized he was very set and particular about how his work was to be viewed and distributed, and that sadly, along with wall sized prints, the overly large photo book is here to stay.

PPS- Mollison's Where Children Sleep is another fascinating essay/book well worth a look...

*Besides, what the hell do I freakin' know? I've been trying to balance equal and varying amounts of humor and "gravitas" in my own work for decades, and what do I have to show for it- a lifetime contract with Blurb.

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