Call for Entries - AAP Magazine #8 / Street

Ben Altman: Site/Sight and Memory Mechanism

Ben Altman: Site/Sight and Memory Mechanism
Ben Altman: Site/Sight and Memory Mechanism
The first time I saw Ben Altman's work was at Filter Photo Festival in Chicago. Altman had so many projects that we had to whittle it down to just a few in the short 20-minute review session. I learned many things in this first brief meeting... one was that he was from upstate New York, like me. And he had a project that bordered on obsession. Ok, really it is obsessive. Unlike me, the photographer was working on a long term project documenting his Land Art style meditation on mass graves, performed in his back yard near Ithaca. Now, this is not a light subject to jump into in the first paragraph, but it links with another of Altman's series, also not for the faint of heart.

First though, "The More That Is Taken Away" is, in the artist's words, "a multi-year backyard meditation on genocide and the mass grave as spectacle, performed in three acts. For the first part I cleared and marked out a rectangle, nine by sixty feet. Within this outline I cut and formed trenches, ramps, and steps, using hand tools - and sometimes just my hands. I worked unaided in all kinds of weather. The shapes evolved ad-hoc. After nearly a year I began to remove the internal forms, which now exist only as images, leaving a pit almost five feet deep. During the first year I lost weight, to the minimum recommended for my height. Each year I have repaired winter deterioration and worked on further shaping. The project includes a crude watchtower built from salvaged lumber. I photographed the earthwork as it developed, as time and weather changed it, and as I repaired and rebuilt it. I recorded the entire action in HD video and sound.

The second stage was one of photographing myself repeatedly in the pit over the winter months, together with video of arriving and undressing, also repeated many times along the length of the excavation. To begin this stage, I shaved off my long hair, which grew back over the period of the performance. I also lost weight again, having regained what I lost earlier. Both processes provided a time-line to this stage. I use 8x10 format for the still photographs.

The third stage is to fill in the pit, burying life-size prints of the self-portraits, and to landscape the site."


Ben Altman - Act 1, Year Four, November #2

Ben Altman - Act 1, Year Four, November #2

Ben Altman - Act 2, #15. Year 4, November; and Act 2, #2. Year 4, November

Ben Altman - Act 2, #15. Year 4, November; and Act 2, #2. Year 4, November

Well, since we can't go to Altman's home to look out at his land and the pit (I'm guessing he doesn't have neighbors who are watching him and wondering what is happening), he is having a video and photography installation of "The More That Is Taken Away" at Ithaca College's Handwerker Gallery opening at the end of October 2016. Photographs from this project are also scheduled for a Jan/Feb 2017 show at the Sol Mednick Gallery at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, run by Harris Fogel.

Also while in Chicago, I had a chance to view Altman's project, "Site/Sight." When I initially started looking at these images, I thought, "Oh, it's another portfolio of people using their phones." And then I looked more closely. No, they weren't just tourists photographing iconic sights. All of these people were at memorials and sites that commemorate episodes of mass violence. Altman saw this happening and pulled out his 1940s 4x5 press camera. The people in his images are strangers and mostly unaware of Ben, despite his large camera. What is fascinating to me about the pictures is the vintage lens and the shallow depth of field he uses...the background is out of focus and often vignetted, in some cases it looks like it's swirling (I have an old Linhof Technika from the early 40s with an uncoated lens and I've seen the magic that can occur). The difference between the stark, crisp reality on the tiny screens of the subjects' phones and small digital cameras and the dream-like quality of the rest of the picture frame is captivating. And disturbing. Like here is something beautiful, but wait, no, the photographer (Altman) is purposefully blurring the images so we can't see the distinctness of place. As Altman is photographing with large format color film and printing large enough (22 x 27 inches) that the hands and phones are close to life size, the images are beautiful and lush and yet the images at the end are unsettling. Again to quote the artist:

"Raising a device between oneself and a site of atrocity can be seen as distancing and reductive. However, an impulse to manage and diffuse what these places mean is understandable and perhaps necessary. The memorials themselves invite engagement but also obstruct it, depicting the appalling, chaotic events they represent with unwarranted coherence or with the blankness of preserved artifacts. There may even be a gift shop. The sites and the photography each suggest questions: how to see these places; how to empathize with the unknowable experiences of the people who were caught up in the events; how to understand the ways in which past horrors configure our present world; how to live with our knowledge."

Ben Altman - Entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Death Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum. Oświęcim, Republic of Poland

Ben Altman - Entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Death Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum. Oświęcim, Republic of Poland

Ben Altman - Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany

Ben Altman - Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany

Ben Altman - Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Potočari, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ben Altman - Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Potočari, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ben Altman - Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington D.C., United States of America

Ben Altman - Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington D.C., United States of America

Ben Altman - Ryozen Kannon Memorial to the Dead of the Pacific War. Kyoto, Japan

Ben Altman - Ryozen Kannon Memorial to the Dead of the Pacific War. Kyoto, Japan

Ben Altman - Goddess of Peace Statue and Peace Park with Reflecting Pool, Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre (Rape of Nanking). Nanjing, People's Republic of China

Ben Altman - Goddess of Peace Statue and Peace Park with Reflecting Pool, Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre (Rape of Nanking). Nanjing, People's Republic of China

Ben Altman - Tree Used for Smashing the Heads of Children, Cheoung Ek Killing Fields. Phnom  Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia

Ben Altman - Tree Used for Smashing the Heads of Children, Cheoung Ek Killing Fields. Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia

Ben Altman - Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Hiroshima, Japan

Ben Altman - Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Hiroshima, Japan

Ben Altman - Eternal Flame Memorial to the Military and Civilian Victims of the Second World War in Sarajevo. Sarajevo, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ben Altman - Eternal Flame Memorial to the Military and Civilian Victims of the Second World War in Sarajevo. Sarajevo, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ben Altman - National September 11 Memorial and Museum. New York, United States of America

Ben Altman - National September 11 Memorial and Museum. New York, United States of America

Ben Altman - Czech National Cemetery, Theresienstadt Concentration Camp Small Fortress. Terezin, Czech Republic

Ben Altman - Czech National Cemetery, Theresienstadt Concentration Camp Small Fortress. Terezin, Czech Republic

Ben Altman - The Columbine Memorial. Littleton, Colorado, United States of America

Ben Altman - The Columbine Memorial. Littleton, Colorado, United States of America

Ben Altman - Field of Empty Chairs , The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Oklahoma City, United States of America

Ben Altman - Field of Empty Chairs , The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Oklahoma City, United States of America

Ben Altman - WWI Cemetery for German Soldiers. Neuville St. Vaast, Belgium

Ben Altman - WWI Cemetery for German Soldiers. Neuville St. Vaast, Belgium

Ben Altman - The Ring of Remembrance WWI Memorial and French National Cemetery Carillon. Notre Dame de Lorrette, France

Ben Altman - The Ring of Remembrance WWI Memorial and French National Cemetery Carillon. Notre Dame de Lorrette, France

Ben Altman - Guard Tower, Majdanek Concentration Camp. Majdanek State Museum, Lublin, Republic of Poland

Ben Altman - Guard Tower, Majdanek Concentration Camp. Majdanek State Museum, Lublin, Republic of Poland

Ben Altman - Stairway of Death, Mauthausen Concentration Camp Quarry. The Mauthausen Memorial, Austria

Ben Altman - Stairway of Death, Mauthausen Concentration Camp Quarry. The Mauthausen Memorial, Austria

Deservedly, this work is being shown in numerous places.

In addition to a recent solo exhibition at Light Work in Syracuse, the project was chosen for the Houston Center for Photography's 2015 Fellowship. After that exhibition, the show traveled to Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles.

On a different note, Ben Altman seems to have a diverse collection of film cameras and he has one for every occasion. I was delighted and surprised to find him enter RayKo's annual plastic camera show a few years ago with some images from his project, "Memory Mechanism." These are large panoramic, multiple exposure Holga camera film strips printed as perfect platinum/palladium prints. I liked that the chaotic images of family reunions and rituals were printed in the most noble of printing processes.

Altman's family and friends are spread over several continents and multiple marriages. People gather from their disparate lives for weddings, funerals, going-away parties, or a visit to an ancestral village. Altman photographs these rites of passage, and smaller occasions and reunions with toy cameras, most notably the medium-format Holga. The final images are sometimes a long section of a roll of film, sometimes a shorter contiguous portion of a sequence of exposures. They are panoramas created by incomplete frame advances (easy to accomplish with that plastic dial that you have to wind to advance the film) and accidental double exposures. The image falls away at the edges, so the overlap of one frame on the next provides blending and more-or-less correct exposure across the film. Memories are incomplete, overlapping, and obscure. And so are Altman's resulting images, though the moments captured and combined in them are electric and charged, bride and groom walking right through the crowd and sky and castle in a multiple exposure dream. By far, one of the most creative and exceptional uses of the plastic camera I've seen. I'm looking forward to seeing what this prolific photographer turns his camera towards next!

Ben Altman - Moving-to-America Party for Nephew Robbie. Wiltshire, UK, 2006

Ben Altman - Moving-to-America Party for Nephew Robbie. Wiltshire, UK, 2006

Ben Altman - Barbecue with Old Friends. South Devon, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Barbecue with Old Friends. South Devon, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Sixtieth Birthday Party for High-School Friend. Bristol, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Sixtieth Birthday Party for High-School Friend. Bristol, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Life Celebration Party. South Devon, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Life Celebration Party. South Devon, UK, 2011

Ben Altman - Funeral Reception. Manhattan, NY. 2010

Ben Altman - Funeral Reception. Manhattan, NY. 2010

Ben Altman - Cleaning Family Gravestones on Thanksgiving Weekend. Cinncinatus, NY, 2009

Ben Altman - Cleaning Family Gravestones on Thanksgiving Weekend. Cinncinatus, NY, 2009

Ben Altman - Dinner at Beach House with Old Friends. Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 2013

Ben Altman - Dinner at Beach House with Old Friends. Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 2013

Ben Altman - Stepson's Wedding. Oakland, California, 2007

Ben Altman - Stepson's Wedding. Oakland, California, 2007

Ben Altman - Wedding Reception. Manhattan, NY, 2012

Ben Altman - Wedding Reception. Manhattan, NY, 2012

Ben Altman - Nephew Min's Wedding. Hampshire, UK, 2006

Ben Altman - Nephew Min's Wedding. Hampshire, UK, 2006

Ben Altman - Son Toby's Wedding to Emily Barton. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2014

Ben Altman - Son Toby's Wedding to Emily Barton. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2014

Biography:

Ben Altman's work was selected for the Houston Center for Photography's 2015 Fellowship, the 2015 Critical Mass Top 50 and other recent awards and grants. He has exhibited at galleries, museums, and festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, North Carolina, Indiana, Rhode Island, Texas, many in New York State, and in UK and Poland. His work is available from Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

A half-Jewish naturalized U.S. citizen of British origin, Altman trained as an artist by studying Physics, towing icebergs, racing sailboats, and working in commercial photography. His work explores intersections of history, politics, home, and the contemporary world. He uses photographs, video, installation, and participation.


  Ben Altman
Stunning Photo Websites on SmugMug
Sponsored Link
 

More Photography News

News
Back to Rome of 1969, John R. Pepper
Back to Rome of 1969, John R. Pepper
After recent exhibitions featuring emerging photographers, RAW Streetphoto Gallery is opening its new season on September 13th with a solo exhibition...
  Read More
News
Shane Balkowitsch makes portraits of Swedish environmental activist and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg
Shane Balkowitsch makes portraits of Swedish environmental activist and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg
On Tuesday, October 8, North Dakotan wet plate collodion artist Shane Balkowitsch had the chance to make several portraits of Swedish environmental...
  Read More
News
Getty Museum Acquires Photographs by Laura Aguilar
Getty Museum Acquires Photographs by Laura Aguilar
The Los Angeles photographer Laura Aguilar, who died last year at the age of 59, created work that explored her own identity, challenged traditional...
  Read More
News
Book: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai by Mark Parascandola
Book: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai by Mark Parascandola
Mark Parascandola, a documentary fine-art photographer based in Washington, D.C., is interested in how photography and the movies shape our...
  Read More
News
Documentary Photography Reconsidered: History, Theory, Practice by Michelle Bogre
Documentary Photography Reconsidered: History, Theory, Practice by Michelle Bogre
Documentary photography is undergoing an unprecedented transformation as it adapts to the impact of digital technology, social media and new means of...
  Read More
News
Book: Flight of Spirit, The Photographs of Anne Noggle
Book: Flight of Spirit, The Photographs of Anne Noggle
In the history of photography, Anne Noggle (1922-2005) stands alone among the great American photographers for her powerful, wry portraits and...
  Read More
News
Results of
Results of 'The Poetry of Shadows' curated by Sandrine Hermand-Grisel
Being asked to jury "The Poetry of Shadows" was a difficult but fascinating experience. Thank you for allowing me to discover so many incredible...
  Read More
News
Joe Vitone: Family Records
Joe Vitone: Family Records
Do not miss the beautiful exhibition "Joe Vitone: Family Records" at the Akron Art Museum until October 27, 2019. Family Records is an ongoing series...
  Read More
News
26th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy award for war correspondents
26th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy award for war correspondents
From 7 to 13 October Bayeux will be hosting the 26th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy award for war correspondents. The town, the Department of Calvados, the...
  Read More
News
Book: MASK by Chris Rainier
Book: MASK by Chris Rainier
Ever since the dawn of human civilization, mankind has been in search of the sacred and a profound connection to the spiritual world. For countless...
  Read More
Photographers
Award Winning UK Photographer Jack Latham documents Iceland
Award Winning UK Photographer Jack Latham documents Iceland's most controversial unsolved double murder
British photographer Jack Latham and his Sugar Paper Theories photography project documents one of the most controversial murder cases in Iceland's...
  Read More
Events
Marking Time Exhibition celebrates the Bay Area Photographers Collective
Marking Time Exhibition celebrates the Bay Area Photographers Collective's 20th Anniversary at Harvey Milk Photo Center Gallery
The Bay Area Photographers Collective (BAPC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to peer learning and a diversity of photographic styles, will present...
  Read More
Stunning Photo Websites on SmugMug
Sponsored Link
Join our newsletter
Be up-to-date with call for entries, deadlines and other news about exhibitions, galleries, publications, & special events
 
AAP Magazine#8 Street Photography Contest
 
Discover the 7th Issue of AAP Magazine
All About Photo Magazine showcases the winners of AAP Magazine Competitions
 
 
 
David Bailey: SUMO
Sponsored Link
 
TAKES U TO THE NEXT LEVEL
 
Since 2005, your guide through contemporary art from a French perspective to let you make exciting choices