Sadly the exhibition was one of those “No Cameras Allowed”. I did sneak one of Edoardo Di Muro’s Freiheit für Namibia. Solidarität mit der SWAPO (from the Antiimperialistisches Solidaritätskomitee für Afrika, Asien und Lateinamerika, Frankfurt am Main, 1976) because SWAPO. I don’t know they were something my father mentioned, or just because he was South African I would see them mentioned in the news and pay attention, but SWAPO is definitely a name I remember from Apartheid.
There’s a couple of other special exhibitions on right now that are likely Kameras verboten! so now’s a good time for me to start pestering the museums for special privileges, which might mean a future proper blogging of both these exhibitions.
These days, Dasniya calls me mid-week:
“Hey, D! Where are you?”
“Berlin! I just got back from [place]”
“Excellent! You here this weekend?”
“Nah, I’m off tomorrow morning to [other place].”
And repeat next week.
Last week she was in Mainz, this week Helsinki. Right now, yes! For the Helsinki Shibari Festival, where she’s teaching a rope/shibari/bondage workshop this weekend. In Helsinki? Go. It’s called Wellness to Torture. How could anyone not want to go to a workshop called that? Also another one called Japanese Dreams, where she goes into butoh and bondage.
In Berlin, not in Helsinki? Her Tuesday morning workshops are running all October. And she was in Oliver Riehs’ new comedy Der Affenkönig, on at CineStar Kulturbrauerei from next week.
And what was best! Gab was in town! (So we had pizza and beer beside Urbanhafen.) A single photo (of three photos from Dasniya) of last week’s public outing of the first section of Black Metal 1 at Autokino. Seems to be getting somewhere. And now back to working on my own.
I’ll be performing an excerpt from Black Metal 1 this Thursday at Autoteile in Kreuzberg at Eat More Bondage // Film Evening. All the details? Yes!
Film Evening // Eat More Bondage
– a short film evening on ropes and bondage
21h, Thursday, 28th July
Doors open at 20h, performance at 21h, and films + beer directly after.
AUTOKINO ist ein privater Vorführort für Filme Videos VJ-Performances und Crossover Media.
We all know that a varied diet is good for one’s health, and being in a monodiet is not only adverse to wellbeing, but in the long run increases the risk of health hazards. It is the same with art, films and bondage. A diverse portfolio of possibilities will be good for your appetite, for your health, your view of the world and for your eyeballs.
Having this in mind we put together a short-film evening having bondage/shibari as main topic, but with special focus on non-mainstream views and experiments, which break or bend gender/performative/traditional/humour/aesthetic/other stereotypes.
We are still putting the program together, so feel free to send your suggestions… DIY productions are specially welcome.
Films confirmed so far (list under construction):
Black Metal 1 by Frances d’Ath
Let Go by Mischa Badasyan
I/XXI by Aida Jara
Slowdance (trailer) by Harvey Rabbit
Remember Gay Love Story by The Strange Life of the Savages
Fight and flight by Proa Proeza
Cuerpas&Cuerdas (Bodies&Ropes) by Missogina, Proa Proeza and Maria Mutebox
Disembodied voices. Home Altar eternally altered. You wont believe what happens next.
Building on the recent body of work Desktops, Emile Zile’s performance creates narratives from computer screen captures, search term collages and algorithmic portraiture to explore human mediated communication and the circulation of digital images.
And here’s the video from the showing of Black Metal at Wiesenburg Halle on Sunday, April 24th. 33 minutes of bedroom metal idiocy plus mediæval chick music (that’d be Hildegard von Bingen).
I haven’t actually watched this all yet, just a quick cleanup edit (it was a showing, a bit of start-stop) – and thank you Dasniya Sommer for pointing camera very nicely at my highjinks. I tend to video most of what I do when I’m working, so I can be my own choreographer / director, and in the context of my residency in Wiesenburg Halle, this was just another day and first attempt at stringing everything together plus having a few people watching. Some of it I like; some of it I’m ambivalent about – writing through the whole thing is for another post.
Music-wise, yes, that’s Burzum; yes, he’s a white shit fucking Nazi. Other music was Gorgoroth, curiously not with Gaahl on vocals, as he is somewhat a primary part of this piece and his solo work, Trelldom has been fully thrashed while I was in Wiesenburg. More Gaahl; less Varg. And yeah, a conversation about black metal and Nazi fuckery is one I am both having with myself and putting aside. Also Sunn O))). And at the end, Hildegard von Bingen, who is metal as hell. Which is to say, the audio is a semi-placeholder.
Anyway, enough bollocks. Here’s the video of me, black metal bedroom. (It’s 462mb, so prolly not a good idea to slay it on your mobile phone or crap internet.)
Sometime in November, Hans emailed me and asked if I’d like to help build him a new website. “Of-fucking-Course!” He arrived in Berlin shortly after for two weeks, where we sat in Alte Kantine Wedding every day for quite a few hours. We started with putting together a framework for each project, and once that was up, I linked him to my laptop web server, him sitting on my right adding all the text, me bashing out code.
It took a pause from January ’til early-April, then another ’til May 15th, when we fiddled with the DNS and splurted it out into teh Interwebtubez: SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck.
Hans was someone I heard about when I was a student, They Kill We (Eat, Eat, Eat) the name in my head when I was bunking off to the library and reading Ballet International. I thought it sounded like the coolest shit out, and knew I was going to move to Europe to be in the middle of all that. Hans himself I met on my first trip to Europe, as a DanceWEBber at ImPulsTanz in Vienna where everything I’d imagined and hoped for on the continent was ten million times better. I didn’t do Hans’ workshop—stupid uninformed decision—but along with meeting Anna Tenta and Ivo, getting drunk with Hans on an all-night, cross-Vienna bender (I dunno, it might have even been two or three nights … those last few days …) was the formative experience for me at the festival. And that’s amidst seeing Jan Fabre / Troubelyn, Emio Greco, doing workshops with Frankfurt Ballet dancers, generally 6 weeks of unrelenting Mind=Blown!!!
I got to work with Hans on my final arrival in Europe, again at ImPulsTanz. He, Anuschka, Ivan, and Estelle snuck me out one evening for surprise Viennese birthday celebrations. I started regularly going to Brussels; it became a mandatory pleasure for drinking and eating, talking for hours together.
And I always thought his old website, the one he’d hand-built in iWeb—images with picture frames, odd sounds, text scapbooked around in different colours and sizes—I always thought that was one of my favourite websites ever. Because it looked like him; when you arrived, it could only be him.
When Hans asked me to design and build his new site, I said straight away, “I fucking loved your old site, it needs to be somehow like that, how it looks, the feeling of it.” We ransacked his scrapbooks (so many scrapbooks!)—one thing Hans is very good at is archiving, every work had at least enough, and for the more recent ones, far far more than we could possibly use. Then we got serious and dry: How to build a site that can be arranged in myriad ways while also having a manageable editing interface?
Ja, of course it’s in WordPress, and of course I used Advanced Custom Fields. Early on, I realised Flexible Content in ACF was the way to go. CSS gives amazing power to change design and layout, but not the order of things; jQuery and PHP can do that but not in a simple, flexible, drag-drop, non-code way that’s part of the editing process. Flexible Content fields for text, images, video, quotes, whatever could be dragged into any order; then I added some selectors for images, to change their alignment and size, which was the final key in building a structure that could result in a design where every page is somewhat different. Headings and the work info sidebar are exceptions to this, though it would be trivial to extend the structure to shift those also around wherever.
Then there was things like the coloured squares next to work titles, generated from categories and slapped together in some probably unholy mix of PHP, jQuery, and CSS. Or the video page. When Hans saw how videos are laid out in the WordPress admin editor, a grid of thumbnails, he said, “Yes. I want that! Can I have that?” It turned out to be pretty easy, just overwriting the standard WordPress video playlist shortcode for the video page in a function (using the admin editor code as a template), then arrange it all pretty like. The background images are just taking FlexSlider, stripping it down, then again using some styling.
What else? The randomly cycling quotes? Also ACF, PHP, some jQuery, including collision avoidance detection so the quote doesn’t run under the menu. And the menu uses an extremely nice piece of jQuery, BackgroundCheck, to compare the background colour to the menu and swap between light, dark, and neutral states so the text colour remains contrasty (not always but enough that I thought it was worth using).
The font is Klartext Mono from Heimatdesign via Fontspring … Oh! and the index page quote was a placeholder that remains for now because Hans liked it. It’s from Mechthild of Magdeburg.
Medieval POC has a post today about one of the works I photographed in the Gemäldegalerie. It’s not a photograph I’m especially happy with, suffering from a lot of reflection and over-exposure along the upper half, especially visible in the closeup. My fault for not buying a circular polarising filter. But! Not writing excuses here.
Mpoc (yeah, I actually say, “Em-pock” in my head) compares that photo, Sebastiano Ricci’s Bathsheba with the one on Wikipedia. The latter is much darker, slightly more saturation, and bonkers amounts of contrast. So here I am, writing about photographing art and what I try and do.
Let’s dispense with the assumption I have a fancy camera (as much as I’d love a Canon 5D (Mk III, DS, whatevz) or … OK, I shut up). I took many photos I love, and learnt masses about photography with my Sony Ericsson K750c, a now ten year old unsmart phone; went from that to a Panasonic LX3 which taught me masses about working with a fully manual camera, and then to my current LX7. The LX series, not quite a compact camera, nor a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, though when I first picked up a 5D Mk III, it was strangely familiar. I shoot mostly in Aperture mode, occasionally in Shutter if the light is too dim and I think I can get away with fixing a dark image (nope, not bloody likely). I use Available White Balance because even if the artificial lighting is the same in every room, the colour of the walls, the size of the room, even the position of the painting on the wall mean I’ll end up with something far further from reality if I try and be fancy and set it any other way. Oh, and I shoot in RAW. Probably the single thing that makes the most difference.
Having a stupidly amazing f/1.4 lens wide-angle lens (24-90mm, 35mm equivalent) means lens distortion, so I set the zoom around the middle, walk back and forth until I find the right framing (filling the frame with a bit of space to allow for cropping), then usually walk around again to find somewhere without reflected light glare. Being pedantic here, I hold my camera with both hands, like a two-handed gun grip, use the electronic level, and breathe out. I take as long as I like before squeezing the shutter, because half a millimetre off on the monitor corresponds to “OMG! WTF?!” once it’s on my laptop, and because museum lighting is deceptively dim so even with all that f/1.4 it’s a dance between limiting ISO to 400 and trying to keep exposure time faster than 1/30s. Describing it like that sounds slightly disturbed, but all of this is habit. This year already I’ve taken 4000 photos and probably half of them I’ve gone through this dance.
If I’m shooting details, I almost always use square format, otherwise I swap between 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9, whatever fits the painting or sculpture best. Something I’ve also been trying recently, and not quite sure if it makes things better or worse, but certainly allowed me to get presentable images out of the Alte Nationalgalerie is using exposure lock. Rather than letting the camera automatically set the exposure (and simultaneously white balance) on the painting, which particularly in works with a lot of dark colours or varnishing end up looking nasty, I set and lock the exposure on a neutralish spot on the frame and wall to one side, then move back to the painting. All this is of course relying on the LCD being remotely accurate to what the camera is doing. It’s not, but over the years of using these and other cameras, I have (I pretend to myself I have) a vague idea of the correspondence between what I’m seeing and what the camera sees.
What else? For particularly long or tall or large works where distortion is an issue (when a painting finishes 4 metres above my head, it’s an issue), or where reflection or light hot spots make a single image messy, I take multiple images and make a panorama from them later. Lots of work, yes, which is why the museum visit itself is not even half the process. But it is a museum visit. I’m going to see art just like everyone else, and part of that deal is not to be an obtrusive wanker, with or without a camera. I spend far more time looking at the pieces, reading the captions, listening to the audio guide than I do taking a few snapshots.
Home and sorting. I’m still using Aperture despite Apple canning it. Photos (the iPhoto replacement) doesn’t cut it, even though I only use Aperture for managing and not editing. Then to the Photoshop! I don’t do anything in RAW conversion, probably I should learn, but I find the tools in Photoshop itself better for the task.
The first thing is taking care of lens distortion. Even the sad mess of Hendrick Heerschop’s Die Mohrenkönig Caspar (it’s worse in the gallery) scrubs up surprisingly well. Usually a bit of vertical (and occasionally horizontal) alignment, removing barrelling, and slight rotation brings even what look like hopeless cases into line. Then there’s the skew transform to fix up the corners, and occasionally warp transform for asymmetric barrelling and pinning. It’s a lot of unavoidable manual work. I’ve tried plugins that claim to automate somewhat or speed up the process but the results are sad.
Cropping time. I always crop out the dark edges where the painting frame has left a shadow, they cause too many problems in the next steps, and anyway, doing this fifty or eighty times per museum when I already have a tendency to take things too far, it’s not like pissing around over 20 pixels is going to do the end result any favours. All this is only for the full painting or sculpture; for details photos it’s straight to ‘colour balancing’.
Inverted commas, yes. Photoshop’s default automatic contrast, tone, and colour balancing work on the assumption that skin colour is Teutonic. (Or it’s an automatic “LOL! Blackface!” generator, in which case, my bad, works perfectly.) Going manual is honestly no better (because the same algorithms underlie the process). Anyway, I try and do as little as possible, seeing I’m not working on images photographed with a colour chart and so only have my poor memory of the artwork to work against. First thing then, duplicate the layer. Knowing what I’m going to do later, mostly the auto contrast I can get away with, and auto tone about half the time (and half of that needing its own duplicate layer to wreak ‘balancing’ on). Auto colour though, oh am I laughing. Its interpretation of gilt, which there is no shortage of in mediæval art is something approximating copper when it’s oxidising and turning green. Then I drop the edited layer’s opacity down to zero and scrub back and forth until I’m not too appalled. Mostly between 27 and 36%, though depending on the conditions as high as 63%. It’s reasonably minimal. I’m trying to clarify what the camera saw, compensating for its slight under-contrast and colour softness, rather than making something up from my memory, or creating an idealising artifice. Sometimes it works, sometimes it turns everything to shit.
Save as tif, close, next. Repeat until finished. Unless …
Sometimes parts of images even without reflection end up with odd, horribly blown-out parts, or the upper half or one upper corner is significantly lighter. In that case, it’s duplicate layer time once more. I’m going to mangle things. I use curves and the ‘darker’ preset. Often twice. Then a layer mask to hide everything, and brush back in only the upper part. Then that opacity-scrubbing thing again until I work out approximately where the stygian upper parts match the original lower parts. More brushing and erasing on the layer mask, and repeat with more layer as necessary. There are some improvisational tricks I pull to deal with extreme reflected glare also, but eh … it’s kinda desperate and the whole time everyone in the painting is whispering, “Just fucking buy the fucking polariser already. Fuck’s sake.” and giving me the side eye.
It feels somewhat mindless, but without the luxury of being paid to do this, setting up softboxes, using colour charts, amazing camera and lenses, doing the editing next to the painting on a balanced monitor, the whole doodaa, this is what it takes me to turn what often look decidedly average coming out of the camera into something occasionally I look at and know what I’ve done isn’t fooling myself, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s what it was, that’s what I felt when I looked at it, that’s how awesome it was, that’s fucking art.”
Comparisons. First: Sebastiano Ricci’s Bathsheba as I photographed it, followed by my edited version, followed by the version on Wikimedia. (I’m not sure mine’s an improvement over the original RAW, but the real painting is nothing like Wikimedia version.) I’m often surprised how little contrast and how soft the colours are in so much art, and how seductive it is to bump but the contrast and saturation. Second: Hendrick Heerschop’s Die Mohrenkönig Caspar. A truly beautiful painting made nearly worthless by its glass covering and being hung opposite the windows, so all the subtleties in the dark golds and browns of his clothing, in his skin, in the background even, are lost.