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David Maisel, Contemporary Art, and Protest and Reportage Photography

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David Maisel

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David Maisel is a great photographer.  And that's not just my opinion.  See his Biography and Chronology.

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The first set of six photographs below is straightforward.  They are aerial photographs of five strip mining sites in Arizona and one site in Montana.  I would be hard-put to decide whether 'protest photography' or 'reportage photography,' more accurately describes these works, but I think the question of what label is attached to them only matters when the photographs are being discussed and a shorthand reference is useful for communication.  To me, their most striking aspect is their beauty.  I squint my eyes and see abstract expressionist works, or surface deformations on Mars.  But isn't protest art supposed to be disturbing, and reportage art supposed to be realistic?

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The second set of six photographs is much less straightforward.  The photographs are of canisters of human ashes, the abandoned remains of cremated inmates in an unnamed mental institution.  Probably the operative question, for Maisel at any rate, was, 'How are these photographs to be displayed?'  And presumably he answered the questions by presenting them as an installation in museums and shows; but of course, as an established artist, he might have included them only in a book.

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Just from sampling contemporary art for the last six months, I'd say that this sort of subject, and using the installation presentation method, are still very widely and effectively used ... what ... modes? ... of artistic expression.

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The third set of six photographs is straightforwardly works of protest (or reportage) photography. I would have labeled them 'protest' works several months ago when I began putting up pictorial articles here at OEN, but several weeks ago I noticed that Richard Avedon's estate describes many of his incredible black-and-white photographs from the 1960's 'reportage;' and that seems the more appropriate term for Avedon's photographs of African Americans in poverty, and war protesters, in the 1960's, photographs which are not angry even when the subjects are protesting.

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In any case, the last six photographs seem to me to be the best example of Maisel's talent as a pure photographer.  And they are not mentioned in the artist's Biography (below).  So I'm especially glad to show them to you here at OEN.

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"Biography:

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David Maisel was born in New York City in 1961. He received his BA from Princeton University, and his MFA from California College of the Arts..., (and he studied) at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

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He has been the recipient of an Individual Artist's Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles in 2007, and a Visiting Artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2008. He was recently shortlisted for the first Prix Pictet Award in Photography, and has been nominated for the 2009 Alpert Award in the Visual Arts.  Maisel lives and works in the San Francisco area, where he has been based since 1993.

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For more than twenty years, David Maisel has chronicled the tensions between nature and culture in his large-scaled photographs of environmentally impacted landscapes. In the multi-chaptered series Black Maps, his images show the physical impact on the land from efforts such as mining, logging, water reclamation, and military testing. Maisel frequently works from an aerial perspective, thereby permitting images and photographic evidence that would be otherwise unattainable."

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Butte, Montana (2004)

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And

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Clifton, Arizona (2004)

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And

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Globe, Arizona (2004)

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And

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Miami, Arizona (2004)

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And

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Morenci, Arizona (2004)

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And

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Ray, Arizona (2004)

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"In Maisel's recent project, Library of Dust, he continues to investigate a zone bordered by aesthetics and ethics.  The series depicts individual copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of patients from a state-run psychiatric hospital, whose bodies have been unclaimed by their families. The canisters are now blooming with colorful secondary minerals as the copper undergoes physical and chemical transformations."

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Library of Dust #148

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And

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Library of Dust #242

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And

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Library of Dust #387

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And

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Library of Dust #1211

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And

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Library of Dust #1454

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And

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Library of Dust #4895

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"Maisel's photographs, multi-media projects, and public installations have been exhibited internationally, and are included in many permanent collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. His work has been the subject of four monographs: The Lake Project (Nazraeli Press, 2004); Oblivion (Nazraeli Press, 2006); Cascade Effect (Nazraeli Press, Fall 2008); and Library of Dust (Chronicle Books, Fall 2008)."

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"Chronology:

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1984:  Receives Princeton University's Francis LeMoyne Page Award in the Visual Arts; Awarded Bachelor of Arts with summa cum laude distinction from Princeton University (Department of Art & Archaeology); Awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts' Individual Visual Artists' Fellowship

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1990:  Awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts' Individual Visual Artists' Fellowship.

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1992:  Receives Opsis Foundation Photography Award

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2004:  The Lake Project monograph published by Nazraeli Press, and selected as one of the Top 25 Photography Books of 2004 by Vince Aletti of the Village Voice."

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Also in 2004, Maisel took numerous photographs at an evidently abandoned or in-the-process-of-renovation mental hospital, collected at artnet's Artist Works Catalogues under the heading of 'Asylum.'

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Asylum #1

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And

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Asylum #2

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And

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Asylum #4

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And

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Asylum #7

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And

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Asylum #5

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And

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Asylum #15

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"2006:  Oblivion monograph published by Nazraeli Press-2007:  Visiting Scholar Residency, Getty Research Institute. September-December-2008:  Visiting Artist Residency, Headlands Center for the Arts. Sausalito, California. March-May; Cascade Effect published by Nazraeli Press; Library of Dust monograph published by Chronicle Books; Shortlisted for the first Prix Pictet Award in Photography."

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(All the words in double quotation marks are courtesy of artnet's Artist Works Catalogues.  All the images are courtesy and copyright of the artist, and courtesy of artnet's Artist Works Catalogues.  At its AWC, there is this: "artnet offers these catalogues free to the public as an educational resource. Simply click on an individual artist's image to begin, and check back often to browse new catalogues.")  

 

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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