Hasselblad Masters: Emotion, Volume 2, is the latest edition of the annual Hasselblad master photographer competition, in its ninth year.
This is not so much a single book, but a portfolio of ten different photographers each taking a different approach to the word emotion. This will be a long review, since each photographer stands on his own; the book is not so much a cohesive single piece that can be described easily.
Overall this is a magnificent book. At roughly 11 x 14 inches, the pictures are large and easy to study, many span two pages. Given that each picture was taken with the finest camera mass produced in the world, Hasselblads, the detail is remarkable, tones are perfectly smooth, and there is no grain visible in any of these pictures. When the photographer looked for perfection, the images are razor sharp. TeNeues has done a remarkable job at reproducing color and black and white photographs. The images stand out from the page, they have an amazing depth. This is a sumptuous heavy book to hold. The printing and production of this book is up to the lofty standards set by the cameras used to take these pictures. If I were to dare take this book apart, each image could be framed and hung.
Text is kept to a minimum so as to not distract from viewing the images. The book opens with a description of the Hasselblad Masters program. Each portfolio is prefaced with a blank page, the photographer's name, website, and a brief discussion of how they approached the Emotion assignment. For this review, I looked at each photographer's website to compare their work to this project. The book closes with a much longer interview with each photographer and thumbnails of their work. Finally there is a listing of the judges.
Strap on the reading glasses and grab a drink, this will be a lengthy discussion while I give my reaction to each photographer's portfolio.
Joao Carlos - Wedding/Social. Carlos is influenced by film, the pictures have a cinematic, Technicolor, "Gone With The Wind" feel to them. These are gorgeous images, deeply saturated color, and beautiful velvet skin tones. The series starts in black and white and color is progressively added to the photographs, as if the series is coming to life. The cover photograph is part of this series, and is one of the most powerful of the entire book. A woman sitting in a forest is another of the best photographs in the entire volume.
There is a problem with this series, which crops up with a few other photographers, editing their work. The middle two pictures are very similar, they almost look like one is cropped close and the second is the wide view. There are subtle differences between the two images, and they do somewhat progress the story line of this series. But they are just too similar and are distracting next to each other. There are four pictures, if removed, would have improved the power of this portfolio.
Lyle Owerko - Up and Coming. Stark, black and white portraits set against a solid white background. There are mostly two images of each person, a wider view and a close up. In this case the two images side by side work extremely well. Owerko has a sense of irony and a fresh look at details possibly missed in the larger overall view. He shows a sense of the inner spirit in a kind caring way. This leads to a warm relationship with the subject. This portfolio is in sharp contrast to his earlier work. He is credited with the famous cover of the Twin Towers burning on Time Magazine, September 11, 2001. From that day, he published a book of people jumping from the building.
alexandfelix - Fine Art. The first image is very strange, a heavily made up face, poking through a hole in a board around a maze of tiny "random" objects. The following pages are many more images of Rube Goldberg-esque objects, tiny springs, wheels, wires, lamps, toys, and etc. all in sepia / yellow tones. These images look disconnected, just a random maze of stuff. The final image reveals that the previous images were details of this huge machine that was built around the person's head from the first image. Alexandfelix create the absurd and surreal worlds. The feel is as if a human head were placed in the middle of a Magritte painting.
Mark Zibert - General. A disturbing series of black and white nudes. The images are of a youngish male and female with a hideous smooth plastic mask over their face. There is a sort of dance between the two until they are both captured in a saran plastic cover. His video and magazine work are much more cutting edge and accessible. This portfolio appears to come out of nowhere compared to his much better other work. I did not care for this portfolio at all.
Bang Peng - Landscape. Peng's photographs of China are difficult to describe. They are incredibly beautiful images of stark mountain landscapes littered with thousands of flags and no humans. There is a cold beauty in each image. I am reminded of the Akira Kurosawa films, Ran and Kagemusha. These are the most beautiful images in this book.
Stephan Zirwes - Architectural. A completely different view of architecture, Zirwes did aerial photographs of an airport during the air shut down from the Icelandic volcano ash incident. The images are a view few people ever see of an airport. The patterns and ground color are beautiful. Zirwes is at his best with these aerial photographs when the image looks like a pattern or something other than an aerial photograph. His other work looks organic. This series is mechanical in contrast.
Kirk Rees - Fashion / Beauty. This series is smoky, fuzzy, dirty, and lit harshly. Rees was overly literal with the concept of emotion, the images ended up trite. Sadly, I can almost hear him yelling at his models to show more emotion. Stomp harder, throw that powder harder, whip that flare over here, show emotion. These are the weakest photographs of the book.
Mark Holthusen - Products. These are ironic pictures. Holthusen takes a classic painting, sculpture, or film and throws in a major twist. In one image he has built a robot made of car parts (seat parts, transmission gears, dashboard parts, etc.) sitting on a stack of three tires in "The Thinker" pose. Another has a long train of men in the desert hauling sinks in a scene from the "Ten Commandments." These are remarkable, strange, compelling, beautiful, photographs.
Nina Berman - Editorial. Black and white pictures of the Brooklyn Steppers, "Marching toward a brighter future." The pictures are all heart felt and taken with love. Each image appears to be carefully constructed, with the plain of focus deliberately chosen. In the process, Berman uses strange out of focus objects that are distracting. In film, out of focus foreground objects work well, it is extremely difficult to make them work in still photography. The first few pictures are powerful and work rather well. However, the last few look more like a proud parent taking pictures at a parade. Her usual work is much more politically charged and looks more like snapshots than this portfolio.
Claudio Napolitano - Portrait. This portfolio contains the more photographs than any other artist. These are somewhat disturbing pictures of children. The first two pictures appear to be normal images, not overly manipulated, a boy dressed up like an old time clown in front of a circus tent; and a princess standing in an overgrown playground on the edge of a woods after all the leaves have fallen off the trees. The latter feels a bit like Alice in Wonderland. The third photograph looks like Le Petit Prince standing on a cliff at night above a big city.
From here the images go strange. The rest of the portfolio appears to be over manipulated, with heavily saturated colors, overly smoothed lighting, and children that look like they were Photoshoped in over a background. These are odd disturbing pictures, a child in a yellow poncho standing beside a yellow bucket with a red hose in front of a forest that was recently burned down. This portfolio suffers from the same editing problem as the very first in this book. Side by side images that just looks like mild cropping of the next image. It looks like the photographer just couldn't decide which image of the two he preferred.
The final image of the book is of a boy with paper and bamboo wings spread wide, standing on a stairway landing that leads nowhere. He is looking up smiling as if he is ready to jump in to the abyss below him.
A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher.
Hasselblad Masters is a remarkable book.