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Polly Gaillard
Polly Gaillard
Polly Gaillard

Polly Gaillard

Country: United States
Birth: 1965

Polly Gaillard is a fine art photographer, writer, and educator. She is part-time Professor of Art at Furman University and has taught photography workshops and college courses for more than ten years including summers abroad teaching American students in Prague, Czech Republic, and Cortona, Italy. Polly received a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. She has exhibited her fine art photographs nationally and published a limited edition artist book, Pressure Points, with a foreword by actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Polly's photographic skills traverse contemporary art, documentary, portrait, and traditional photographic practices. She lives in Greenville, SC with her daughter.

You, From a Distance
Making portraits in a pandemic is challenging if you like to get closer than six feet to your subject. Frustrated by an inability to work at close range, I began to make portraits on my computer screen via FaceTime and Zoom by photographing friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, and my daughter at her father's home. This collaboration with others is particularly rewarding, especially when I've put the camera down, and we sit screen to screen discussing the changes in our collective worlds while checking in to make sure the other is okay. Each person has been generous in showing me around their homes to find the right background and light. They move furniture, take pictures off the wall, change clothing to create the right contrast, and position their laptops or phones so that I can take their picture at just the right angle. I sit behind my screen watching them do the work that I so desperately want to do as I experience a heightened sense of ambivalence, the love of "seeing" others, the distaste for lack of physical control over the situation.

At times, the process calls for a third person to hold the camera phone, sometimes that assistant is a six-year-old girl, a father, a husband, or a cousin. During the awkwardness of the portrait session, there are moments of laughter when cats photobomb the sitting, a mother walks in the room wanting to reclaim her office space, a dad saunters by with a laundry basket, a sibling or grandchild screams from an adjoining room, and many phones crash to the floor from their perch of prime picture-taking position. We laugh together across connected distances about the absurdity of the situation and that I am trying to make a meaningful portrait amid unpredictability. Strangely, I find the absurdity satisfying; everything feels peculiar at this moment in time.

For a more technically astute photographer than myself, the lack of technical command over making screen portraits would be unnerving. In essence, the image is blurry if the Wifi connection isn't clear. There are uncontrollable color shifts due to monitor calibrations; a moire pattern may appear because the screen is refreshing, and the perspective of the body can distort if the phone isn't perfectly parallel to the subject. I won't elaborate on how the highlights and shadows clip. The image noise and pixelation can drive you mad if you don't accept it as divine intervention. I find myself wanting to jump into the scene and move things and bodies, hold reflectors, close blinds, and refrain from making my subject do the heavy lifting. However, I sit behind the computer giving direction to "look to the right, chin down, eyes up, come closer to the camera" and then I embrace every technical flaw as if it's a gift. The power I have over the subject and the limitation I command over the image humbles me. The vulnerability I feel in putting these imperfect images into the world is tempered by the realization that we are all powerless in the face of this pandemic.

You, From a Distance reflects the way I have experienced life during the Covid-19 pandemic- a personal feeling of distance and loss but with a desire to hold onto normalcy of making pictures, albeit without influence over the outcome. I am interested in these new ways of seeing each other and being together without being together - I look at you on my computer, in return, you look back at me through a phone or laptop while you can also see yourself in the frame. Who are we looking at - ourselves or others? The intersection of gazes is countless at times; it excites and confuses me. The process of looking and seeing divided by screens changes everything I have learned about image-making. The portraits become my memory of shared moments across time zones with distant faces; the four walls of my house expand into the space of others' homes. The intimacy I feel with the subject ironically is far greater than the portraits I make in-person in a time before social distance. In the span of one month, I have virtually traveled to five countries, five states, and homes nearby in South Carolina. Although more than the required physical distance is maintained through these portrait sittings, the mutual human connection is undoubtedly rich with meaning and unlimited possibility.

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Andreas Gursky
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German photographer. Shortly after Gursky was born, his family relocated to Essen, and then to Düsseldorf, West Germany in 1957. Gursky’s parents ran a commercial photography studio, but Gursky had no plans to join the business. He attended the Folkwangschule in Essen (1978-80) with a concentration in visual communication and the goal of becoming a photojournalist, but was unsuccessful with finding work. Encouraged by fellow photographer Thomas Struth, Gursky entered the prestigious Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf in 1980 and in his second year began studying photography under Bernd and Hilla Becher. Although the Becher’s preferred black and white photography, Gursky only worked in color, and with the help of his friends set up a color darkroom in 1981. By integrating the “systematically objective and rigorously conceptual”* documentary style of the Bechers’ photography with his taste for color, Gursky began to explore the contemporary culture of the world. Gursky had his first exhibition in 1981 featuring his series Pförtnerbilder (1981-5), a collection of works depicting pairs of German security guards. After graduating from the Kunstakademie in 1987, Gursky focused on photographing urban landscapes, both interior and exterior, and began to increase the size of his large format prints. Gursky had his first solo gallery show in 1988, at the Galerie Johnen & Schöttle. A rise of interest in the international art market for photography paired with the growing popularity of the Becher’s circle brought Gursky much commercial success. Gursky began the infamous May Day series (early 1990’s) in reaction to the biggest economic slump of recent history. A combination of the collapsing stock market with the growth of a dynamic drug-addicted rave scene inspired this photographic compilation. During this time, Gursky traveled to a number of international cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Cairo and Hong Kong in order to photograph the masses – busy stock exchanges, manufacturing plants, industrial-looking apartment buildings, crowded arenas and swarming clubs. Gursky was one of the first contemporary photographers to use new digital photo editing techniques on his large format photographs. In 1999, Gursky created 99 Cent, the first in a series of photographs of discount stores, which “was quickly recognized as one of his most important works and placed in major museums around the world.”* Gursky’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2001, which included the work May Day IV, confirmed him as one of the greatest artistic visionaries of his generation. Source Sotheby’s, London
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Ren Hang (Chinese: 任航; March 30, 1987 – February 24, 2017) was a Chinese photographer and poet. During Ren's incipient career, he was known mostly for nude photographic portraits of his friends. His work is significant for its representation of Chinese sexuality within a heavily censored society. For these erotic undertones, he was arrested by PRC authorities several times. He received the backing of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who included Ren in his 2013 Netherlands show, Fuck Off 2 The Sequel, and curated the photographer's 2014 exhibition in Paris, France. Ren's erotic, playful and casual yet provocative expression gained him worldwide fame. Ren was born in 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, Jilin province, in northeastern China. In 2007, in order to relieve the boredom of studying advertising at college, he bought a point-and-shoot camera and began shooting his friends. As a self-taught photographer, he said his style of photography was inspired by the artist Shūji Terayama. 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This, along with the fact all bodies were slim, lithe and relatively hairless, made the impact of his photographs more impressive. His work communicated a raw, stark aesthetic that countered taboos and celebrated sexuality and it was this contemporary form of poeticism in a visual context in which Ren Hang expressed themes of identity, the body, love, loss and death. Nudity is not a theme in art that can be widely accepted by the Chinese older generation. Ren Hang's works are sometimes misinterpreted by the public as pornography. Although some have written that Ren Hang used his photographs to challenge Chinese cultural norms of shame around nudity, he did not believe he was challenging the stereotype and leading a revolution. For him, nudity and sexuality are natural themes which he used in his work. "Nudes are there since always. We were born nude. So talking about revolution, I don't think there's anything to revolutionize. Unless people are born with clothes on, and I want to take their clothes off, then I think this is a revolution. If it was already like that, then it's not a revolution. I just photographed things on their more natural conditions." He said he was not trying to liberate nudity and sexuality since he believed that the Chinese young generation was open-minded and less affected by the old-fashioned cultures. When Ren Hang talked about the question whether the topic of sexuality was still a taboo in China, he said: "I don't think it's related to our times, these are individual cases. Like how to say it, I think it depends on different people, it doesn't really relate to other things. I was not in the whole parents told you that you can only have sex if you get married era. The time after I grow up was already over that period, it was already different like everyone was already more relaxed."Source: Wikipedia Flesh, corpses, souls and bland flashlights, all composite into seconds or milliseconds of lights and shadows, projecting onto the film that never knows how to lie. Focus gathering and the shutter releasing, connecting his unpretentious, rebellious, wild and free perspectives towards the naked human body. The images look so natural, yet fun and unexpected. One soul after another all blossom like a newborn baby, urging to crawl out of his mother’s womb, dying to be redefined. In this era that we live in, being censored by the Chinese government has almost become a stamp of approval for contemporary artists. Ren Hang, a young man with a mature look and tanned skin, hair as short as a Chinese soldiers’, always carrying an irresistibly cute and innocent smile on his cheeks. He is, perhaps, the sole artist and photographer with the most edgy outlook towards the naked human body. Ren Hang continues to stress the fact that he is “boring“. Especially when asked about those basic questions of his inspirational origins and meanings behind the photos, he always just smiles naively, shakes his shoulders and says, “I don’t really know. I never really thought about it.” Perhaps he is such a paver, heading towards the direction of happiness and creative freedom without realizing the pathways he has left behind. You might find him confusing and puzzling, but he has the ambience of such kindness that you would always trust that no evil can come out from him. He is merely a pure form of naked human beings. Source: ITSLIQUID
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