Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Colbert Report

My mother summed up the Ashes & Snow tightly: "He's like the Yanni of photographs."

Before we went to the show, my mother was more open than I to liking it which kind of perplexed me because if she knows anything, it's art. So, I tried to stay open, thinking that maybe I missed something because of the marketing. We arrived Friday -- two days before the close of the show -- to a wrap-around entrance line, and let me tell you it's one thing to see The Nomadic Museum as you zoom past on the Pacific Coast Highway trying to get glimpses without crashing, but it's quite another to hug up against it and inch along it for twenty-five minutes. It was incredible. It stood 56-feet high and was constructed out of 152 steel cargo containers stacked in a checkerboard pattern, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. I really couldn't take my eyes of it. When we got inside, I found myself looking at the display in relation to the architecture more than the photos. Ok, the photos were nice, but . . . fluffy. There was nothing, for me, beneath what was printed on huge, gorgeous paper. Believe me, I tried hard to feel something for this show, but when I found myself straining, I realized it wasn't going to happen. And most surprisingly, there was no evidence of a connection between humans and animals in the photos. This was a shock. How do you take a billion photos over 14 years of children, mainly, and animals and not extract any connection? It's because the entire thing felt completely contrived.

But this . . .this was fantastic . . .


At the far end of each row of photos, films played to massage music. Each film showed Colbert's set up of the "unscripted" photos where beautiful young people played Sleep as a cheetah, for example, floated by in slow motion in a canoe. I thought, This must've taken HOURS and HOURS and how many times was "Cut" yelled or how many times did he have to say, "Put the goddamn caracal back in the tree and let's see what it will do naturally this time." Then I saw a meerkat shivering in the canoe looking desperate to escape as the beautiful child next to it was dried, and combed and directed to look angelic. That's when the light went out for me on Ashes and Snow. I looked at my mother and she was done scratching her head about the show too. We started making inappropriate comments. She said, "Are the children dead?" And I said, "No, but they are actually locals that Colbert is bribing for food. 'If we don't get this shot, no food for your village!'" "Wouldn't you love to see the bloopers? 'Cause you know there are TONS and some possibly tragic." "Clearly, that animal is tranquilized." I said, "Yup, they actually got that shot as it was falling to the ground. See how peaceful it is?"

There is a disturbing part of one of the films where a dancer is placed in the semi circle of a pack of African wild dogs. The dogs start to butt-up and snarl. They are feeling froggy and agitated, but they are not looking at the dancer. They are looking to the right of the camera man, threatening to pounce but it's obvious that they are being held at bay. At one point, before yet another splice of the film --there were many -- the dogs are thrown something to eat which they pile on feverishly. It happens so fast most don't see it. But this is what I mean; the seams of fabrication are raw and sometimes obvious. I couldn't get into what he was trying so hard to create. The lack of an emotional connection allowed my mind to wander and instead mentally tear down the facade.

But this . . .I spent the rest of the time staring at the design of the museum. It was a like a primitive cathedral. Wood planks split the display of photos that were hung beautifully on wires above smooth and oblong black stones. The lighting was perfect. The ceiling's height was awesome. I was in love with space and the space itself did wonders for the show. The museum made the show worth seeing.

12 comments:

acumamakiki said...

i adore the last photo.

kiki said...

i am in love with that space too. wow

tara said...

hmm. i was so intrigued with these photos before hearing your take on it. i always wondered what the bullshit factor was. how did he do it, and why was he lying about it? OBVIOUSLY these are not wild animals. and it worries me that the kids/adults may have been exploited to get the shot. i mean, how much money is he making? and what did he give back to them?

i dunno. it seems magical and fairy like for a moment. but then reality sets in.

weird.

madness rivera said...

Y'know what kind of really ruffled my feathers too? Was that even if by some miracle these were "unscripted" or even if they are not, no where does it say anything like, Hey kids, don't try to creep up and snuggle with a cheetah. Or hey, maybe don't put your head down in front of a walking elephant, k? Or don't dance in front of some hyenas because there's no meat-wielding cameraman to secretly help you out . . .

Because if you're gonna lie or perform miracles, you gotta put a disclaimer, don't you?

Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Given the drive towards extinction for all of these creatures, "don't try this at home" may not be needed advice for very long.

amstar said...

soft sepia tones and slow camera shifts make for the facade of peace. it was(is?) an quite an undertaking to say the least. in the end, there is such a dissonance between what seems to be a force fed emotion and the actual feeling (or lack there of). To me, it felt inauthentic and a lot (as my friend Lisa said) like a calendar.

I agree on the structure being the real artistic offering - really beautiful.

SUEB0B said...

I got so excited...I thought you were going to see the Stephen Colbert show!!

lovegreendog said...

the building is amazing!

yolie said...

love your take on this show! I had a friend who went the last day and was entranced. I think I too would be, by the space itself. It sounds gorgeous. Now to be torn down?

Dori said...

I was also TOTALLY creeped out by some of the photos, esp. the ones of underwater cheetahs. Since when are cheetahs marine creatures? There was definitely a kind of holy atmosphere, though, with the new-agey somber music and the churchy structure.

Colorsonmymind said...

That is quite disturbing......wow.

I dis enjoy the last picture though. It is really beautiful.

JesC said...

The Yanni of photography, brilliant! I have only been to the show when it was in NYC. I love the metal containers and the structural quality to it, but my god! It was like a meat locker, freezing cold! It snowed inside at one point! The photos never did it for me, it was always about the building in my opinion.

My boss photographed both buildings for Shigeru Ban and it's interesting to me... Stephen Colbert's photos try to hard (in my opinion), as if he's trying to prove something and from what I've heard, he comes off the same way. On the other hand, Shigeru Ban is nothing but courtious and hard working.

I've spent to long working with these buildings, I'm rambling!