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Book tackles conceptual issues in photography in a global era

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

LAWRENCE — In this Instagram age, according to Art History Associate Professor John Pultz, photographers face a seemingly dichotomous challenge: It’s both harder and easier than ever to make a good picture.

Easier because digital technology, as opposed to film and a darkroom, puts the power of photography into virtually everyone’s hands. Harder because with a camera in everyone’s hands and social media’s ubiquity, we’ve seen so many photos.

So how does a photographer with artistic aims stand out? In the case of Argentinian Leandro Allochis, it’s done with great care and preparation: the use of costumes, props and patterned overlays, among other techniques.

Pultz wrote about Allochis’ work in a new book titled “The Symbolic Body: Representation and Contemporary Body” (La Stampa, 2017). Pultz is one of six authors, each of whom wrote a chapter at the invitation of the artist. Pultz traveled to Argentina in September to speak at the BA (Buenos Aires) Photo festival and to meet Allochis. Pultz speaks Spanish, and the book is printed with both Spanish and English text.

Pultz said he jumped at the invitation, if only to broaden his thinking about contemporary photography.

“I know European and American photography, and I know little bits about other places, but I often don’t think about it in a more global way,” Pultz said. “This semester I am teaching a graduate seminar with my colleague, Maki Kaneko, called ‘Photography from Colonialism to Globalism.’ It’s my effort to get myself to think outside the habits I had been developing.”

Pultz said Allochis had read the Spanish edition of his 1995 book, “The Body and the Lens: Photography 1839 to the Present,” and admired Pultz’s writing there.

“He wanted a smart book about conceptual issues in contemporary photography with his work as the point of departure,” Pultz said. “He felt there was an absence of good writing in Argentina on conceptual issues tied to photography. By doing this book, it was making a contribution to what Argentina needed to move photography forward.”

Pultz was asked to write about a series of Allochis’ photos titled “Russian Layers,” in which the subjects were dressed as Romanoff-era military figures and modeled on portrait paintings of that time.

Atop the photographic images, Pultz said, “There are layers, bit of maps and diagrams on them, what looks to be schematic drawings maybe for electronics.”

“Allochis does not like the tendency of photos linked to documentary ambitions. He wants to free photography of that and let it move on to conceptual issues.”

Pultz said Allochis’ photos in the book “have a surrealistic quality to them, like Mexican telenovelas (i.e., soap operas) with their pumped-up colors and exaggerated acting. Like (Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel) ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ meets telenovelas. They feel distinctively not American. There is a kind of weirdness to the pictures, an over-the-top quality to their artificiality.”

Image: “Russian Layer #21” by Leandro Allochis. It’s from the new book “The Symbolic Body: Representation and Contemporary Body,” by Art History Associate Professor John Pultz.