It's been a while since we had a rock n' roll celebrity in the gallery for an exhibition. As a matter of fact, although we have had shows for photographers/artists who have taken photos of rock stars, we have not actually featured the rock star as artist! As of August 2nd, that is about to change. And what better time to kick off one of the most important music festivals in the country than Lollapalooza!
We are excited to introduce the paintings and collages of a former member of one of my favorite rock groups of the 70's and 80's, JOURNEY. Robert Fleischman, lead singer and songwriter, penned the lyrics for some of the most recognizable songs of the 70's, "Wheel in the Sky" along with "Anytime" and "Winds of March" on the multi-platinum Infinity album.
The best part of showing Robert's work is that he was actually an artist before he became a rock star. We often find that artists are multi-dimensional in their talents to express, create and take our breath away in ways we don't expect. "World in My Eyes" is just that, a poetic vision of the world that takes a journey into a myriad of places, from sun, sky, stars and constellations to figures that are flying into space or falling out of space; to the symbolism of fruit, birds, dancers and whatnot all reaching for something. My favorite part is the reaching. What is there in life but to continue to stretch ourselves, to aspire to, to jump or fall into our lives. Robert's characters are all going or returning from somewhere. Past, present, future? Who is to tell?
With a gentle and introspective presence, his work shows a strength that makes me want to write odes to the oranges and apples in his artfully composed images created on his smartphone. Yes, I said SMARTPHONE! Many of the images were fashioned on that magical, mystical communication device that many of us have become addicted to. How? Don't ask me. You can ask Robert on Wednesday evening when he debuts his works at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary.
Until then, I will be listening to "Wheel in the Sky" and "Winds of March" looking forward to hearing more about his voyage from Chicago (yes, that is where they found him) to the world. And what a world he lays before us. It's all in the music of his eyes...
WORLD IN MY EYES
Opening Wednesday, August 2nd
David Yarrow's 'MANKIND' just sold at Sotheby's annual photographic auction for a record breaking $78,000.
READ HIS INTERVIEW WITH SOTHEBY'S MAGAZINE BELOW.
David Yarrow has a photographic career spanning more than thirty years. From his origins in sports photography, in recent years he has travelled the globe documenting the most remarkable aspects of human nature and the animal kingdom with his distinctive eye. Famous for his 'close-up' approach, Yarrow has explored some of the most dangerous environments on earth. One of his monumental landscape works, Mankind, is offered for sale in the upcoming Photographs sale at Sotheby's in London on 19 May. We sat down with him to discuss nature, pushing boundaries and North Korea.
MF: How did you first get into photography?
DY: I started when I was about 15 or 16, I started photographing one or two little small amateur horse events in Scotland, and what I'd do is I'd take pictures of all the competitors, get their addresses, and send out proofs of the prints to them all. Then I would develop them in my own dark room. I’d just be photographing any sport and trying to find ways of monetising it by selling it to the competitors. I then started doing a bit more professional sport, and in 1986 I got invited to photograph the World Cup Finals in Mexico. I ended up working for the Times there, which was a great thrill. I wasn't very good, but I managed to get a very big picture of Maradona in the final, which saved my bacon. Throughout this I was studying economics at university, where there was a bit of parental pressure, so I ended up getting a job in banking rather than going to work for Allsport, but I always kept it going, in a non-professional capacity. Landscapes, people, wildlife – anything I found to be of interest. It's been an integral part of my life for 35 years.
MF: You're very well-known for your images of animals in their natural habitat, and also your conservation and charity work. However, you've spoken about your frustration at being described as merely a wildlife photographer. Is that term is too limiting?
DY: It's a combination of several things: firstly, the picture going up for auction at Sotheby's is about humanity. That's what fascinates me. I'm about to head to North Korea to start a project there, again, photographing people. I remember once speaking to Dennis Stephenson when he was on the board of Tate, he said to me of all the forms of art in the world, the one that least engaged him was wildlife photography. When I asked him why, he said: "it can be a little bit too literal". But I think my approach to wildlife photography is to see it very much as art rather than recording a moment
MF: You have a very distinctive style that is reminiscent of classical modernist photography, with images ranging from the purest white to the deepest black – and a strong emphasis on composition. Are there particular photographers throughout history that have resonate with you?
DY: There are many photographers that have inspired me, and cinematographers as well. I've – always been a big fan of Ridley Scott, and Emmanuel 'Chivo' Lubezki who shot The Revenant recently. One reason I made a bit of a name for myself is getting very close to the animals and making sure I'm working with wide angle lenses rather than telephoto lenses. Robert Capa told us: "if your picture is not good enough, you're not close enough". That's obviously a line that resonates greatly with me. I think in terms of composition it's so important. I've just got back from Africa actually and I think it's now something that becomes reasonably naturally to me, but I try and get as close as possible.
MF: Why do you always work in black and white?
DY: There are three reasons: Firstly, it's timeless. Secondly, it's art rather than reality. We live our lives in colour and sometimes I think it clashes with the colours in real life. I just feel this is aesthetically stronger. Sometimes I find that working in Africa, the expanses of brown don’t come across as well in a colour photograph. The black and white is more arresting. Thirdly, a photograph's like a piano. You should be able to use all 88 keys on the piano and go from the rich blacks to the full whites.
MF: Let's talk a bit about your work Mankind — a highlight of the forthcoming Photographs sale. How did this image come about?
DY: I often say if I can take three or four big pictures a year, that's my goal. The big pictures are ones you can look at for a long time. Photography is not about the camera, it's about access, it's about being in the position to take the picture. I wanted somewhere biblical in scale. I do a lot of research before arriving somewhere, and in doing my homework I realised the topography of the cattle camp in South Sudan is very flat. Therefore, to get a sense of scale I had to have a point of raised elevation, which the landscape was not going to afford me. It's quite dangerous and complicated to get there anyway, but I knew I had to take a ladder with me. Wading it across the Nile in three feet of water was certainly an interesting experience! I was the first white photographer there for many years, and I was helped by a Norwegian aid organisation and the police to secure my safety. Once I'd gifted the locals with cow medicine for their cattle then I was greeted warmly. You can't just turn up – if you do you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. I knew I wanted to work on a large scale image, and lots of things changed for me after I made Mankind. There are a lot of cameo stories within it so you can look at it for hours and still see new narratives.
MF: You've seen some incredible scenes during the course of your career. Has there ever been anything you've found difficult to photograph, whether thematically or logistically?
DY: I don't photograph war. I don’t want to enter into that debate as to whether a photographer should put his camera down and help a wounded person, or whether he should continue to do his job. I work with animals that sometimes have been injured through poaching, and there have been experiences where I have seen rhinos hacked to within an inch of their lives. But I think it's really important to document that as well, to raise awareness. I have been to some tough places, but I get an additional thrill from going to a place I know no other photographer has been. We live in a time of content overload, but to be able to offer new perspectives on a place is exciting.
MF: What do you think about 'fast photography'? Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days on their smartphone. What has technology done to traditional photography?
DY: I wrote a paper on this a few years ago, because I could see that reportage, editorial photography was going to lose its value purely because there was so much content around. There will be more pictures taken this week than in the whole history of film photography. If you're an affiliated photographer for an agency, you're going to earn less and less money a year, unless you're taking exceptional content. The upside of the digital era is that you can do retrospective feedback immediately. It's a process which film couldn't do because you would be away for three weeks and wouldn't know what you'd taken. So there are clear advantages on digital. I think the debate on whether film is more purist than digital is a little bit handbags at dawn! A camera's a camera and it's about what you see and what your heart and soul feels, rather than worrying about the technical merits of film against digital.
MF: What is next for David Yarrow?
DY: I have numerous shows coming up this year; in Oslo, Amsterdam, Chicago and Toronto – but it's also very important for me to make time to actually take the pictures. I will be going to North Korea, and also travelling to arctic to work with polar bears again. North Korea interests me greatly because it’s so hard to get in to. I think they are very pleased that they can invite someone who is not going to do reportage, documentary photography – but art photography. I don’t have any preconceptions, but I won’t be trying to make a statement. I will be visiting factories and traditional places of work, all very much under the close supervision of the officials, and making images a little bit like LS Lowry's matchstick men; small people against the vast grandeur of the buildings. Ultimately, my work is about telling the human story.
MAIN IMAGE: DAVID YARROW, MANKIND, 2014. ESTIMATE: £15,000—20,000.
Two years ago a man walked into my gallery and told me that I had not seen photography until I saw the works of someone named David Yarrow. He pulled out his iPhone and said, "THIS IS REAL PHOTOGRAPHY." I have to say, it was one of the most moving images of human beings and animals I had ever seen. The image was called "MANKIND." It was a photograph taken in "the rawest place on earth" as David Yarrow puts it, South Sudan. Yarrow had written, "I had a preconception of the image that I wanted to return home with – something that conveyed the raw enormity of a Dinka cattle camp in an elemental and biblical setting. Something timeless and vast. Like a Rembrandt, I wanted people to be able to look at the picture for hours and find new stories each time. I was indeed the first photographer to visit this 25,000 strong cattle camp, which was close to the heart of the civil war last year, and I felt a responsibility to get it right."
It was not until I saw Yarrow's work on Instagram two years later, when I thought, what the heck, I am going to send him a note and tell him what a fan I am and would he consider showing his work in my gallery? Not ten minutes later, I received a call from my friend, James Ashcroft, in London (who introduced me to Terry O'Neill), asking if I had had heard of a wildlife photographer named David Yarrow. He told me he was on his way to David's studio to visit and wondered if I would be interested in his work! Seriously, I cannot make this up. I nearly dropped my phone and the rest is history.
Soon after, David sent me a note from Africa where he was shooting in a fishing village in Nigeria called Makoko, a slum neighborhood in the capital city of Lagos. It was called the Venice of Africa, except that it was one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the world.
In his note, David shared his experiences in Makoko. "Last December, inspired by some aerial footage taken by the renowned Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky, I first started exploring the ground level creative possibilities in Makoko, the largely inaccessible floating slum town aside Lagos. Ground level is actually an oxymoron as there is no ground to speak of in what Burtynsky himself called the “hyper-crucible of globalisation.” (note the spelling is the British, not American English)
"To enter Makoko is emphatically “the road less travelled ” and even the Nigerian Government doesn’t seemingly have the answer as to how many people live there - it could be 100,000 , but it could be 200,000. It maybe dubbed the “Venice of Africa” - but with huge irony - there is no wealth or sophistication here, ostensibly just poverty, crime, sewage and waste.
Makoko is not safe - it is effectively a no go zone for the “Yevo” or white man. On Saturday, I had my audience with Makoko’s Chief Aladaton and my team’s safety was personally guaranteed. It was one of most surreal and humbling hours of my life.
And late yesterday afternoon - we got what we came for. This is an image that can be looked at for a long time - like my Mankind shot from 2014 there is so much going on. Just with that Dinka community, smoke is integral to the way of life in Makoko, but for different reasons. In the slum, they cook on coal and my preconception was that the resultant smoke had to play an integral role in the image. The end result is better than I could conceivably have imagined when we embarked on the planning in December,
But then again what of the aforementioned relevance ? At a time when globalisation is being overun by nationalism and regional eliticism, I think this split second image showcases both the beauty and dignity of black Africa. Of course, I homed in on the 2 central characters in the lead boat - they may have 30 years between them, but both could walk into a Hollywood blockbuster tomorrow."
David further writes, "The world may see Makoko as marginalised and irrelevant, but the inhabitants do not appear to see it that way - I saw no sense of self pity - just pride. Globalisation has not helped the slum, so its faltering premise has no consequence. Of course, family life goes on for both the rich and the poor in Lagos irrespective of changible ideologies within G7 countries. There is an uncomfortably patronising undertone to much of today’s politics of nationalism and Makoko is a gentle reminder that human dignity is not exclusive to international communities of affluence."
I was chest deep in some of the dirtiest water in the world - with unimaginable things floating past my face. With no one of our skin colour ( other than my dry assistant) probably within a radius of 5 miles of our location (and this is the second biggest city in the world) it would be excusable to be tense. That never works. But throughout the day, we kept our dignity and manners and mostly just smiled. It was then that we probably earnt Makoko’s respect - after that, all was good. We were even clapped. I will leave others to decide whether this picture has that “Holy Trinity” but it’s the best I can do. My hunch is that it will stand the test of time."
A few weeks later, David made his way to Chicago with his lovely assistant, Milly, to meet me on a rainy day (I think they brought London weather with them!) He signed the first piece we sold in our gallery called, "THE CROSSING," an image of a magnificent elephant tribe walking through the dry lake of Amboseli in Kenya. He later told me this is his favorite place in Africa.
To say that I am over the moon about representing one of my favorite photographers, not only because he IS A GREAT ARTIST, but because he has compassion and empathy for both human beings and animals is an understatement. David is a conservationist, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for THE TUSK TRUST. I don't know about you, but I am constantly signing petitions to stop the poaching and killing of elephants, rhinoceros and other animals for their tusks, their skins, their bones and whatever else desperate people will do to make money and survive. But petitions are not enough. Last week, two of his photographs sold for $50,000 each at auction, a record breaking price. In all, David donated $163,000 to the Tusk Trust last week alone. And for this act of generosity, I say BRAVO!
When it comes to his photography, David writes, "Great photographs should implicitly be rare - they tend to be moments in time that can never be repeated. I have said - on occasion - that an affirming year for me would be 3 or more cracking images, but I recognise that this is actually still a demanding target because for an image to transcend at every level requires a material amount of luck as well as creative courage and technical fluency. I cannot judge my own work, but equally I always know what is mundane and I will always remain my greatest critic. Many photographers find a reluctance to recognise how boring much of their work can be, but this is an area where I have learnt."
"In my mind, if a photograph is sufficiently powerful in content and evocative in light and line to be looked at for a long time. there is a chance that it has something which is art - not reportage. But there is a third variable that is often needed to elevate an image to a higher pantheon - the dynamic of relevance. This is the most elusive of this “Holy Trinity” of factors I strive to attain. Wildlife portraits for instance - no matter how threatened the animal in question is to extinction, often fall down on this criteria. Such images maybe immersive and visually compelling on the one hand - but lacking in a broader contemporary narrative on the other."
I know one thing. Anything is possible. As an artist, it is important that I work with other artists whose work is relevant, powerful, and rare. It is a selfish thing, actually. I want my life to be meaningful. I want to make the world a better place for having been here. And by surrounding myself with people who give meaning to their own lives and to the lives of others, people who live life to the fullest, how can I not be in awe? Maybe one day David Yarrow will invite me to join him on one of his adventures in Africa, Asia, the Arctic or the Gobi Desert. Who knows what's in store? In the meantime, I will passionately share with you some of the finest photographs of lions and tigers and bears and bison I have ever seen. And I will share images of indigenous peoples and their cultures, a way of life that is ticking away quickly, being swallowed up by technology and modernization. Soon, you will have the chance to meet David Yarrow in my gallery right here in Chicago. How fun will that be?