A conversation with Emile Rubino

I spent some time with Emile Rubino while he was installing his show other things at the ICP- Bard MFA studios in Long Island city. His show will be up from Thursday the 20th to Sunday the 23rd at the studios (24-20 Jackson Ave Long Island City.) Opening reception Thursday April 20th from 6-9pm.

DV: Do you consider yourself a photographer?
ER: Yes, I consider myself a photographer in the same way painters call themselves painters. I am an artist and my medium is photography. As unfashionable as it may seem these days, I do work in a medium specific way and make photographic pictures so I am a photographer. I think there is something important in that but it is also a very personal choice, and I have nothing against more heterogeneous and multidisciplinary approaches.
Photography always occupies an ambiguous position where it has to negotiate its relationship to its vernacular existence outside of art. It’s something that other mediums of depiction like painting don’t really have to do in the same way. We don’t really question whether a painter is also a sign painter or a house painter, he’s just a painter. But as a photographer you always have to negotiate your designation in different ways depending on the social context. Throughout my time in art school, I felt like I always had to carve out my space between telling certain people from the photo side of things to be more open-mind and a bit less “geeky,” meanwhile telling many of my friends who are painters, sculptors, performance or installation artists etc: “please take me seriously, I’m not just pressing a button.”
If you look at the history of photography I think there is a way to consider this difficulty to actually be one of the most important driving force for the medium — a kind of engine that keeps it moving. First, people tried to set strict rules to try to make photography look like a serious and independent medium, it had to be black and white, 11×14” etc, then you’ve got people like Jeff Wall who try to emphasize photography’s kinship and relationships to other art forms like cinema, sculpture and painting especially, instead of trying to show how different it is from these other art forms. More recently there has been a focus on questions around materiality which were a very direct repercussion of the many questions brought about by the Internet and its “great flow/stream of images”. These practices have taken various forms and have been more or less interesting. I think that they have remained more interesting when they’ve managed to address photographic materiality and objecthood without abandoning more fundamental questions of representation.
These different waves tend to focus on one aspect of the medium in order to try to show that photography should be taken seriously and that it is a complex art form…, but each time it is also a bit limited because of that. Those are things that I think a lot about in my work and that I have been trying to negotiate.
Back when I was in undergrad I was always making photographs in a documentary mode, and on the other side I started to reflect on the “current issues” in photography and I was influenced by all the things I was reading and looking at, which addressed these issues around the place of pictures today…, so I began to make another type of work that was not so photographic but was very much about photography. I was doing these two things at the same time and it felt really schizophrenic to me. Since then, I have spent a lot of time trying to bridge these two things together and merge them into something more coherent so that I would feel a bit more aligned with myself. I’m still making pictures in a documentary mode of picture-making, but I also consider the pictures I make as objects and that’s where things like making my own frames or certain kinds of printing have come into play recently.

DV: So you made the frames yourself? ER: Yes.

DV: That’s obviously really important to you. Did you do it out of cost concerns?
ER: There are a few things to it. A part of it is linked to me starting to work at a rather modest scale. This is something that I could talk about a lot and I have written extensively about it my thesis book but generally it comes from my love and attraction for a lot of paintings that are rather small. Many of these paintings often have really simple wooden frames. So part of it was simply “why can’t I do the same thing for my photographs?”. In undergrad I was making my own prints, they were large silver gelatin prints and then I spent my whole scholarship money on the framing. Then I felt like those objects had became really precious. They had museum glass and I was afraid to handle the edges of the frame, they didn’t really feel like they were mine anymore. I didn’t like the distant physical relationship that I had to them. Ideally, I would like to have a relationship to the pictures that I make that is a little closer to a painter handling his or her canvases.
Finally, I like the really simple frames because for the most part, they simply do their job at framing the picture without looking like they are trying too hard to “figure out the sculptural question” on the edges of the frame the way that quite a few artists have attempted to lately.

DV: So did you make the prints yourself?
ER: I’m working with a printer to make the prints but I’m making my own frames. I switched the whole thing around for the moment at least. The frames are a little rougher so I’m not really scared to handle them, they feel like they are more my objects. Part of it is the cost but the way I see it is not as a default way, I like the idea that the work I make physically reflects my own material conditions, it’s always one of the most interesting thing to observe when looking at art I think.

DV: Do you think you have resolved what you were struggling with or what you were trying to work against in this show?
ER: If it was resolved I would stop! I don’t think anything is ever resolved, but I think that it’s reached a point where things feel better to me and where new avenues have opened up… It does feel like I am a little less running after myself, I feel more unified and it brings new possibilities to the work. It was really my goal by the end of the MFA to have a few pictures that constituted a good starting point for the next thing.

DV: Are you satisfied with the amount of pictures in the show?
ER:Yes! I always work towards reduction, I make a lot of pictures, I shoot hundreds and hundreds of photos but editing is extremely important, I think editing is more than half the work. Ambitious art doesn’t mean “big” art or “art” in large numbers… Someone like Albert York who made twelve paintings a year at the peak of his career was extremely ambitious I think. He wanted his small paintings to do so much, and had such high standards for them (Manet, Corot…) that it was hard to make more than that. It may seem a bit pretentious in a way, but I don’t think you choose to work that way, it’s just one big struggle with oneself really.

It would be really hard to justify making a one picture show, that is one of the privileges that cinema has in a weird way we could say. In photography or painting it’s really hard to have just one picture and call it a show so they do need to have some kind of relationship. But at the same time my goal is really to produce self-contained and autonomous pictures that could be moved later on to be put next to other pictures, or seen in another context. I try to make small tableau/ pictures and try to get them to act in an autonomous way, which is something that isn’t the most natural thing to do for a photograph. When you make a photograph it is more prone to going on the page and used as a tool of communication, or to exist in a sequence/series with other images. So I try to make autonomous pictures (as opposed to images). Putting them far away from each other in the first part of the show helps them to gain this autonomy obviously and that’s why I also hung some of them closer to one another in the bigger room to try to challenge them to preserve this autonomy even with less space between them.

DV: Is painting your primary inspiration?
ER: I guess so, I mean I love photography to the same extant but it is my medium so perhaps I tend to be more critical of it and less accepting towards certain things. I do think that there is more great paintings than there is truly great photography for sure and my greatest art experiences are mostly related to painting.

DV: So why be a photographer and not a painter?
ER: I think that’s the reason why I pursue photography in a “straight”, “documentary” mode instead of pursuing it by other means. Although many of the contemporary photographers that I admire the most have found ways to turn the medium on its head to make it into a more additive process, I can’t see myself being so invested in these approaches.
I stick to photography instead of painting not just cause I am bad painter but because it keeps me away from the anxiety that I’ve always had with beginnings and ends. In an additive process like painting you need to slowly build up the depiction that you’re creating and the questions of where to begin and when to end are primordial. Pursued in this way, photography is perhaps a bit like a punk rock song — the beginning and the end are left out. You have to make more or less spontaneous decisions at first, which in turn brings a new set of problems to the table. Then there is only a certain point to which you can push things if you want them to remain photographic.
In a few instances, when a picture I make seem to offer itself up to some kind of subtle manipulation that would further enhance what I think this picture should do, or the way that I think it should behave, then I take the liberty to do that as well. That is the case for the ghost picture, the cat picture and the microwaves pictures. I like to leave myself free to make pictures in slightly different ways, which can involve photoshop or flatbed scanners while trying to keep these photos within a kind of documentary realm. Different starting points are necessary. The goal is to keep things interesting for myself.

MoMA Leads the Way

MoMA Protests Trump Entry Ban by Rehanging Work by Artists from Muslim Nations

“The Prophet” by Parviz Tanavoli, center, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times 

In one of the strongest protests yet by a major cultural institution against President Trump’s executive order on immigration, the Museum of Modern Art has rehung part of its permanent collection with works by artists from some of the majority-Muslim nations whose citizens are blocked from entering the United States.


“Chit Chat,” a video installation by Tala Madani, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times 

Seven works by artists such as the Sudanese painter Ibrahim el-Salahi, the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, and the Los Angeles-based Iranian video artist Tala Madani, were installed Thursday night in MoMA’s fifth-floor galleries, replacing seven works by Picasso, Matisse and Picabia, among other Western artists. Alongside each work is a wall text that plainly states the museum’s intentions: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.”

Except for Hadid and Mr. el-Salahi, the other artists are all Iranian by birth or heritage. They are Ms. Madani; the sculptor Parviz Tanavoli; the draftsman Charles Hossein Zenderoudi; the photographer Shirana Shahbazi; and the painter Marcos Grigorian. In addition, a large sculpture of aluminum and steel by Siah Armajani, an American artist born in Iran, was placed in the glass-walled lobby courtyard overlooking the garden.


“K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I)” right, by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times 

The fifth-floor additions rupture the museum’s traditional narrative of Western modernism before 1945. Only very rarely has MoMA interrupted its succession of art from Post-Impressionism to Cubism, Dadaism, and after — which still reflects the modernist vision of its first director, Alfred Barr — with works of postwar and contemporary art. Further additions are planned for the weeks ahead.

The Museum of Modern Art has also scheduled four screenings later this month of films by directors subject to the travel ban. They include “Al-Yazerli” (1974), an experimental feature by the Iraqi-born German director Kais al-Zubaidi, and “Stars in Broad Daylight” (1988), by Oussama Mohammad, a Syrian filmmaker exiled in Paris.

Then and Now

I felt it important to revisit this image given the current political climate in the United States, we were once a country who welcomed people from all over the world regardless of religion. We will hopefully be again some day soon. 

During World War II, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization active in relief work, shared a building in New York with the National Refugee Service (NRS), and the two organizations collaborated in efforts to rescue and assist Jewish refugees. In 1941 and 1942, the AFSC rescued Jewish children in refugee camps and homes in southern France, transporting them to safety on American shores via Portugal (the same journey taken by Vishniac and his family).
Ruth Engelhardt arrived in New York aboard the S.S. Mouzinho, on September 2, 1941, on a transport organized by the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM). In 1946 she reunited with her mother, Helene, who had spent three years in Gurs internment camp in France.




A great article from the New Yorker about finding inspiration and support from those closest to us.

One of the most beautiful photographs I know of is an image of a woman standing in the doorway of a barn, backlit in a sheer nightgown, peeing on the floorboards beneath her. It was taken in Danville, Virginia, in 1971, by the photographer Emmet Gowin, and the woman in question is his wife, Edith. The picture is so piercingly intimate that I find it difficult even to look at it. This is not because I feel as if I am intruding, or being shown something that I was not meant to see, but simply because it seems to hover too close to the vital force of human connection. It is too poignant, too alive. Rather than merely avoiding clichés—about love and intimacy, artist and muse, public and private­—the picture seems to repel them, as an amulet repels evil spirits. Clichés are prophylactics against the complexity and intensity of direct experience, tools used to distance ourselves from reality, but this photograph brings love near enough that we can feel its hot breath.

Gowin is one of those people who talks about his life using the pronoun “we.” He also likes to say, “If I never met and married Edith Morris, you would never have heard of me.” There is a certain amount of performative modesty in this statement, but it’s also probably true. Edith was the beating heart of the collection of photographs that Gowin took of his extended family during the nineteen-sixties and seventies, which garnered him his first rush of recognition, and which remains his greatest body of work. In them, she exudes the constancy and majesty of a towering redwood.

Occasionally, Gowin tells a story about how he began to make these early pictures. It goes like this: One evening in the mid-sixties, he was standing in the dirt driveway of his home, waiting for Edith to change her dress. It had recently rained. A puddle in the driveway caught his attention, and sent him into a reverie. “I knew it was shallow,” he recalled, during a lecture at the Portland Art Museum, in 2015, “but there was something about the way it looked that suggested that it could pass through to the other side of the earth.” He imagined himself plunging through this portal, and popping up somewhere satisfyingly exotic, like a child who fantasizes that he is digging a hole to China in his parents’ back yard. But in nearly the same instant Gowin also realized that this imaginary trans-terrestrial tunnel could work in reverse, and that some like-minded foreign citizen might tumble into it and end up in his little corner of Virginia, similarly awed by its unfamiliar contours. “This little mental experiment remade my relationship to the world,” Gowin said, “and I realized that my Virginia was as strange as if I had landed in New Guinea . . . It made me have a sense of my family as being the most precious, the most accessible, the most important subject I could ever have.”

From our current standpoint, it is hard to appreciate how novel this realization was. Family pictures, at the time, were relegated to the confines of handsomely bound photo albums, where they would gather dust until they were ceremoniously brought down off the shelf and passed around. There were notable exceptions: the ravishing pictures that Alfred Stieglitz took of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe; Edward Weston’s photographs of his wife, Charis; and the pictures that Gowin’s teacher, Harry Callahan, made of his wife and daughter. But serious photographers rarely thought to turn their cameras on those who were closest to them. Gowin, however, approached his family with the same reverence that a previous generation of photographers had when they approached sweeping Southwestern landscapes or migrant farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl, and he imbued his pictures with equal spiritual heft. They are hosannas to the beauty of life close at hand.

In large part, Gowin’s project formed the bedrock on which the recent history of photographic intimacy now rests. For instance, Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family,” her impossibly beautiful, controversial chronicle of family life in rural Virginia, owes Gowin a clear debt. Nobuyoshi Araki’s “Sentimental Journey,” his heartbreaking chronicle of the life and death of his wife, Yoko, resonates. Ditto Lee Friedlander’s photographs of his wife, Maria. Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” her raucous, elegiac visual diary of New York bohemia in the grip of the aids crisis, extended the concept of family to encompass an entire social milieu, but it nevertheless shares some of Gowin’s DNA. A minor history of photography could be written just by mining this vein.

I wonder, sometimes, about the fate of this kind of photographic intimacy in the age of Instagram, when users are encouraged to share the granular details of their lived experience, their most nominally intimate moments, but on a platform governed by likes and clicks. The impulse behind this kind of sharing could not be farther from the one that drove Gowin to make his indelible pictures. They were made not with the intention of broadcasting an idealized image of Gowin’s love for Edith and his family but, instead, as a part of the unfolding evolution of that love. “If you set out to make pictures about love, it can’t be done,” Gowin said. “But you can make pictures, and you can be in love. In that way, people sense the authenticity of what you do.”



Art and Its Mediums

We are currently in a period where medium no longer matters, and “what is being communicated by the work?” has become the more apt question. If medium no longer matters, is the answer to draw on as many of them as possible? Does that depend on the message that is intended? Do we flaunt the skills we possess as artists or treat them simply as tools?


Here is an artist a few of our community were lucky enough to hear speak last semester, Abbass Akhavan and who I believe embodies the current movement of art.





Rashid Johnson’s Fly Away – An Interpretation By Daniel Valentin

The title of the exhibition comes from a gospel hymn of the 1920’s era. I was intrigued by the artist’s relationship to the song and how it relates to the work presented in this exhibition. After viewing the exhibition and listening to several renditions of the song I found that it was beautiful and spoke to several themes but, in relation to the exhibition, primarily struggle, death and the thereafter. As the title “I’ll fly away” suggests, the song is speaking about the actual act of dying and moving on to heaven or a promised land. 

When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away

 Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly, I’ll fly away

 No more cold iron shackles on my feet

 Just a few more weary days then I’ll fly away to a land where joys will never end.

It makes me wonder who wrote this song or who it was written for, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of this beautiful idyllic place but with that comes this juxtaposition of why its being referenced, it must have been born from a place of turmoil and angst. The lyrics of the song continually reference being trapped, restrained and tied down the associations pointing to the history of slavery in the United States.

I thought of the context of the song and its relationship to the work and its placement in the gallery. The viewer walks through several rooms, regardless of which way they go and confronts these works. The first work, the expression of anxiety, aptly titled Anxious Audience, and the Falling Men series, reminded me not of his childhood heroes flying, which was referenced in the description, but of body chalk outlines at a murder scene. In those and the other images there are punctures in the surface with what reminds me of blood coming out of the work. I believe the artist is referencing police violence against African Americans and structural racism that he perhaps has experienced in his own life. Overall there is this underlying heaviness to the work; the artist does an excellent job of attaching that feeling to the viewer through the entire exhibition.

In the first room while walking through Violet pointed out to me the plants all the way on the top of the walls, how peculiar I thought not realizing the connection to the installation in the final room. I believe the placement of the plants high on the wall out of ordinary view to be intentional. It’s a visual representation of that final resting place where one is freed from the bound structure that is referenced in the song, the way that one might know there is something better waiting for them. The large scale three dimensional grid that took up a large amount of the room reaching towards the ceiling staggered with all kinds of flora, video art and other seemingly significant ephemera important to the artist on multiple levels and little hidden spaces with items inside. When looking through to the center of the structure an organ is played as part of the performance several times per week. It became a place to relax, a break from the heaviness leading up to this point.

Given the song that the title of the installation references, could it be that the solace and peace found here is in fact a representation of death? A representation which challenges our notion of death as the source of fear and despair, and instead highlights the dark side of life.

Moment of Focus


Garda Taro Republican Militia Woman Training on Beach 1936

I am drawn to this image because of what the woman represents as a figure who is fighting for a larger cause both literally and figuratively by the very nature of her gender. She is almost the only thing in the image except for a few out of focus items in the foreground and background. The way she is silhouetted against the sky and photographed from a slightly lower level make her fell like a monument. Something that is meant to embody the essence of but also represents a larger ideal.

In finding images that relate to I decided to focus on different elements that are present in the original image, such as solitary powerful figures, intense focus, and the context of struggle.



Albrecht Durer Nemesis or The Large Fortune 1514


Said to be an allegorical image the figure represents good fortune indicated by the swollen belly. In her hands are a chalice and bridle, an interesting choice by the artist to represent control and generosity. Why did I choose this image? In a way it contrasts the photograph, with so much detail of and below the figure though they are lit and facing the same way. The brindle in her hand reminds me of the gun, meant to control something larger and more powerful than her it’s a sign of control.

It makes me wonder if the militia woman saw herself as a bringer of good fortune? A gun in hand her tool though meant for destruction something to bring this good fortune.


Edgar Degas Dancer in Front of a Window 1877

This pose called for a great deal of focus and skill as I’m sure she was required to hold it for hours while the artist painted the image. She looks off into the distance concentrating just as the militia woman does holding the gun focusing intently off frame. Though a painting the buildings in the background are blurred by the window pane, causing a type of shallow depth of field to draw the viewers focus to the center plane where the dancer is located just as it is in the original image. The almost monochromatic painting echoes the yellowing black and white image of the original photograph.


Egon Schiele Self Portrait with Lowered Head 1912

The paint strokes remind me of the texture of the road and clothes of the militia woman. There is a single figure taking up a large portion of the image, there is no sense of place and very limited context but present in his gaze is intenseness seen in his face shared by the woman in the photograph holding the gun. The artist held this position staring in a mirror concentrating for a long period of time to complete this piece, the same kind of concentration required by the soldier to make the shot.


Rene Magritte Death of a Mermaid 1934

Why would I choose this painting and how does it relate? The idea of gender roles in the original image is one of the main draws for me. The female soldier is a minority of the group, dressed in uniform not subjected to the male gaze and is the sole figure in the composition. In this painting Magritte is addressing the idea of the female form as an object. While the mermaid seen in history as a mystical enticing creature presented as beautiful and an object of desire, here Magritte has turned that concept on its head by reversing the top and bottom of the mermaid. In making the top half fish the figure becomes desexualized very much in the same way the soldier does in Taro’s image.


Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother 1936

We are not given context as to time or place from just viewing the image, it is only reveled by the title. The focus is on a singular female figure gazing into the distance taking up the majority of the frame with her figure. Her face indicates concern as she looks at something or maybe nothing out of the frame while holding a baby in her arms with care, here I draw a parallel with the gun that the militia woman holds in her hand. The children on both of her sides are so close to her that they become something she wears like the utility belt of the soldier or the way the gun becomes part of the woman’s shape.


David Siqueiros Echo of a Scream 1937

A surrealist painting meant to depict the horror and suffering of war. As the child cries out loud it sits in a heap of debris that is a mixture of destroyed metals. There is limited color throughout the image that is primarily gray but for a few bits of green and red from a distant tree and the clothing of the child. The artist provides a larger version of the head so the viewer must confront the pain in their face, there is little space to view around the figure and nowhere to rest without turning away. I chose this image because of its depiction of the horrors of war, while the original photograph takes the viewer out of the context of war in to a very short moment this painting shows the effects and suffering it will cause.


Lionel Wendt Male Nude Washing 1940

He crouches down and uses his hands to pour the water over his body. Washing off the work of the day from his body he is in a moment of calm and stillness an almost trance like state, the cool water providing temporarily relief from the heat on his almost naked body. As in Taro’s image the subject is the main content of the image again with little indication of context, whether time or place. The photographer is looking at his subject with longing and admiration. Allowing us to see his powerful back the kind of body that would only come from a job that demanded physical labor and would be typical to someone from that class.


Andrew Wyeth Christina’s World 1948

There are the obvious visual parallels between the images; a single woman in the image on the ground gazing into the distance and lit from the right side her clothing gives limited indications as to where or when this is. The connection I drew in this image was less visual and more conceptual. The subject of the painting Christina suffers from muscular dystrophy, her own personal enemy that she needs to battle everyday though she will never be able to win. The house in the distance is her goal, where she wants to go but has no aid to get there, no sign of another person or even a wheel chair to assist her. It will be a great challenge to get there but it is achievable though with great suffering. This ongoing struggle is where I find the connection between the two images. The militia woman also has her battle to fight her goal just in the near future, once the enemy is defeated her comrades and herself will have won and reached their goal but again with great suffering.


Nan Goldin Nan and Brian on the Bed 1983

We are given no sense of time or place but very much the mood of the moment. A unique triangle forms in the image propelled by the two on the bed and the image above her head. She gazes at him as he smokes her eyes fixated, focused on him, the warm light from the left of the frame touches his body lighting the half of his face we can see. There is clearly a relationship here and within there is a power dynamic present, the photographer indicating the male is in the more dominant while the woman looks on in longing.



Newsha Tavakolian Listen Series 2010

A female photojournalist from Iran documented six female singers in Iran where women performing live onstage or on television is prohibited. The woman in this image confronts the viewer in the same way she has to confront the challenges she faces on a daily basis. She stands grounded in the ocean an overwhelming force against which she stands no chance but remains none the less. In an oppressive society being a woman adds additional challenges to this persons life. The woman in this photograph is one of a few female pioneers in her culture, the way Taro’s female soldier was in hers.


Daniel Valentin Nadia Studying 2016

This is a visually uncomplicated portrait with little information but enough to communicate to the viewer the intention of the subject. The harsh light from behind the subject almost creates a silhouette while the light from her computer allows us to see her face. There is some sense of place, the books behind her give an idea as to who she is and what her goals might be. She is lost in her work, focused and oblivious to the outside world and can’t be bothered by distractions, similar to the female soldier in Taro’s photograph. In a way she is training like the soldier on the beach, studying and reading are her exercises that will improve her chances when it comes time to perform her tasks.