Sunday, October 17, 2010

PDX Badger

"Photography doesn't kick ass, but it can take names."

—Gerry Badger, 10/13/10

Don't ask me what that quote means exactly, but you have to admit it's catchy. I've been stewing over that and many other thoughts stirred up by Gerry Badger since seeing him speak Wednesday at Portland Art Museum about The Pleasures of Good Photographs. In fact it's been a full week of Badger. Last weekend he was at Blue Sky for the opening of his Berlin photographs, his first solo show in over three decades of shooting.

Near Tiergarten S-Bahn Station, Berlin 2007

Before the Blue Sky show I'd never seen any Badger photos (a Google Image Search turns up almost nothing). Where has this guy been hiding? His photos are great (the web versions shown here don't do them justice).

By his own account Badger approaches photography the same way he does writing. When he starts an essay, he doesn't know where it might go. He just follows his thoughts as they take their natural course, and at the end Voila!, he's connected x to y.

Köpenickerstrasse, Mitte, Berlin, 2008

He photographs in the same manner. He walks around with a 4 x 5, no preconceptions. He follows his vision as it takes its natural course without knowing exactly what he's looking for, until he finds his camera where it belongs. It's a bit of an ADHD approach, with heightened awareness.

The resulting images are quiet photographs, to use one of Badger's own terms, and probably likely to turn off many casual viewers. At first glance they seem to depict nothing important and the decision to point the camera in one direction versus another seems arbitrary. The sites he chooses are generally a mess, layered with trees, industrial artifacts, brambles, wires, graffiti, etc. What to focus on? And how can it fit together visually?

It's only after longer study that the economy and precision of these images begins to shine. Far from being arbitrary, the exact camera position is inescapable. The photos are put together like jigsaws, as precise as Uncommon Places and as densely layered as architectural drawings.

Skalitzerstrasse, Kreuzberg, Berlin, 2008

In his gallery talk Badger called Friedlander, Atget, and Evans his holy trinity of influences. Perhaps that trio could be translated as precision, soul, and vernacular? All are present in Badger's photos.

Anyway, it reminded me of Christopher Rauschenberg who used to describe his own photos as "on the corner of Friedlander and Atget" until he realized that corner didn't exist. Friedlander was the apex of sly trickiness and Atget was a primitive savant. They're at odds. But maybe with Evans as the third axis, that nexus does become possible. With those three at your back the potential is there to make photographs which indeed kick ass, not to mention taking names.


Zisis Kardianos said...

If Friedlander, Atget, and Evans are his holy trinity then his holy pentad must surely include John Gossage and Robert Adams.
His writings on them express a genuine admiration and you can trace hints of them behind his own photography.

Blake Andrews said...

Yes, Gossage and Adams aren't far behind. He was with Gossage while shooting most of his Berlin project.