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Tuesday, 09 November 2010


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There was a picture in LIFE magazine, decades ago, probably the 50s, early 60s maybe, of a guy in China, on a bicycle. He was on a city street, lots of bicycles, pedestrians, carts...nobody was looking at him as if it was out of the ordinary, and balanced on the back of his absolutely ordinary bicycle, transversely, as he was riding along, was a FULL-SIZED living room couch, the kind three bubbas could use to watch the game in comfort on Sunday.
He was pedaling, not pushing, and it was an amazing thing to behold and it was not augmented.

What immediately becomes obvious when you visit his web site is that Delorme's work was designed as a series of images. If you were to look at only one of them you might go "What the...?" but when you see a series of them you quickly get the visual joke. IMO, the true sign of his artistry is the way he uses color and how his images are so consistently lit and composed. Anyone who thinks this is easy, especially in a crowded city like Shanghai, should try sometime.

These pictures are about what might have occurred, but did not. They are not photographs, since in the most basic sense photography is about facts, objective and verifiable state of affairs independent of the observer.

It's interesting to see this here today, because a Chinese coworker got a set of these pictures in a chain email yesterday. She thought they were real- I guess the Chinese text in the email said as much- but I immediately thought they had been modified. I'm not sure why. It wasn't so much that the cargo on the bicycles looked wrong, but there was something about the overall appearance of the pictures that set off my visual fake detector. Does anyone have an idea of what it is about these pictures that would immediately trigger my sense that they're fake?

I would not be surprised at all to see such a thing in China. I have a very similar picture.

Charlie Chaplin did a great scene loading up with bistro chairs. I saw the clip on the Sunday Morning show (CBS). The story was about the chairs, the Chaplin bit was an item in the story.

Interesting art, but not as photography. The fact that the artist presents his work as photographs creates an unnerving dissonance in the viewer. This may be one of his artistic goals and it is an entirely valid one. But because of the historical nature of photography as a more of less documentary medium, one that fixes individual and whole slices of time, I think the artist owes his audience a more explicit description of his montage technique than he has offered. I'd go so far as to request each image be accompanied with the caption "photo montage."

Without such an explicit disclaimer these images are frustrating to parse. For example, most people are aware of the large loads of light goods that can be transported on two wheels. This familiarity combined with our general trust in the veracity of photography leads the viewer to take the preposterous assemblages depicted in these images as real. Without a clue that the images have been manipulated, what else are we to believe? The artist dares us to break out of our faith in the truthfulness of the photographic image, you say? To use our common sense about physics, balance and scale? Fair enough, but that is a fairly mundane artistic goal already serviced by any number of images already floating about our culture. In the age of Photoshop and the Internet, this point has become a game and a joke. This is clearly not his goal. He has more serious goals at hand presenting as he does themes of work, scale and place, the particulars of which suggest themes of history, change and class.

Perhaps the dissonance of trying to parse the 'reality' of his pictorial elements is integral to his project, but for me I find it a huge distraction and I get closer to the work, and enjoy it immensely more, once it has been removed by acknowledging the artifice in his technique.

Put more succinctly, without artspeak, when I first saw the image of the bikes with tires and ladder, I thought to myself, "What a shot! Waiting for the background to frame the tires, and capturing another fast moving object, the guy with the ladder, also in perfect composition! Whoa!!" Only later, after some reading and clicking, did I realize this was not what I was looking at. The work took on new meaning, still rich but quite different.

(To stir the pot further, these works should have been painted. What the artist seeks to convey here, figure, place, pregnant composition, is painting's forte. Choosing the medium of photography interferes with his message as I argue above.)

So photography is not art, and cannot be art going by the above comments.

'Art photography', such as Cindy Sherman's is art, but not photography, since it is does not deal with an "objective and verifiable state of affairs independent of the observer".

My head hurts...

Notwithstanding all that, Alaine Delorme has created some significant art.

"Is it real?" is the first question people ask because they think there is a simple answer to that. I don't really know what is real, how real it is or is "real" bad or not. Maybe these are the questions that are really important, not answers?
If there were certain things photographers had to tell us about every picture - wouldn't we have to ask anymore? Doesn't a lazy audience just deserve to get cheated?

One or two are vaguely interesting, but the series quickly becomes repetitive. If they were real I might have more respect for the man's vision, but then again, that's just me; I'm more interested in actual photography.

This discussion interests me, as I've seen the reality, and do not have a problem with the "conflated" unreality. I do have a problem, though, with the notion that at any time, photography represents truth and reality. Sorry, there are so many ways to distort reality, no photoshop required, just lens, perspective, focus, and ultimately, image choice. Photography is no more real than all the other ways we fool ourselves. It is a malleable medium, readily distorted.


'Augmented', 'photo-montage' - I don't want to get into the sticky jar of what's an appropriate measure of disclosure here. But there is a further classification that should be mandatorily applied to many, perhaps a majority, of images presented as the taker's art these days - 'Photoshopped to Phuk'

Traveling in China about 20 years ago, I saw impossible feats of bike transport--I seem to recall someone carrying a bed headboard on the rear of his bike, while our van passed him just inches away. So, when I saw the picture I didn't think it was so unusual.

As for art--contrived "pictures" of this sort, while clever, don't add anything of value for me--imagine if we discovered that all of Cartier-Bresson's images were all photoshopped, and nothing actually existed as depicted?

I'm fascinated by the comments and replies from many readers who seem fine with the idea that the picture is art but not photography. To move the idea along to another branch of the Arts...when does a sculpture stop being a sculpture and 'just' a picture? Is it when you get to a bas relief stage or heavy impasto. The arguments for either art OR photography seem bizarre.

"They are not photographs, since in the most basic sense photography is about facts, objective and verifiable state of affairs independent of the observer."

Nonsense! Photographers since the beginning have delighted in the art and craft of manipulating what is before the camera and what it records. Also, an elementary understanding of philosophy and science over the past century makes it clear that no observation is independent of the observer.

Cindy Sherman's work is photography since it shows objective and verifiable state of affairs that happen to exist in front of her camera.

I have lived in Shanghai for 3 years and have seen sights like this almost everyday. In fact I have a photo you can see here: http://smokinjay.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d1cw719
Now I admit it's not as impressive as the ones by Alain but have seen many times what he is showing. I've also once seen a man carrying 3 small full size refrigerators on a 2 wheel bike, a family of 4 plus a dead goat on a scooter and countless other things the like.

A nipicking echo of Stan B's comment:

Not that augmented...

That's what "augmented reality" is. :)

You're unhappy and unsettled by these ?

Take a look at the other portfolio on his site, young girls with cakes. That is seriously bothersome. I would be very happy to read a parsing in artspeak for what's going on there.


Those are really wonderful in a way that both tickles and demands a bit more attention.

But wouldn't you say the only interesting thing about those situations is that those real loads are what the people are actually carrying/pulling? I agree with Pardik, that exaggerating the loads by faking them up just removes the tension from the pictures. And why stop where Alain has stopped? Why not make them four times again as large? If more is better, wouldn't even more be even better?


The one with the tires is pretty good, but many in the series just look like lousy photoshops (which is what they are). The lighting is superficially right, but for instance the scale is completely wrong in Totem #8 (which looks frankly awful) and there's something wrong with Totem #3 and Totem #9 (saturation levels seem to be off?)

Anyways, this is much more art as a statement than art as an object, and I'm pretty impatient with art as a statement. Especially when the artist doesn't seem to have much of anything to say.

These images are fun but it's a one-joke routine with 15 variants. Today's photo-literacy standards require an ever-increasing ability to
question the literal veracity of a photograph which includes how it is presented. I didn't think these were real captures for one second even without reading the title. Ultimately, there's not much to "parse" here folks.
Hans Kemps series is much more interesting to me on many levels even as a cliche of "overloaded light transport."
I forwarded links to Kemp's, not to Delorme's.

Here in Mexico I once saw a long extension ladder strapped to two VW bugs driving through the city like a ladder truck. No, I didn't have my camera with me.

I know I'm late to this conversation, but I'll chime in anyway. In the 3rd paragraph of the accompanying text on the Delorme site, Bertho refers to the images as "negatives" (at least in the English version. In French it's "clichés"). I can't say what subtlety of meaning might be lost in the translation, so I don't want to take this too far, but these are certainly not negatives in any literal or symbolic sense I can imagine. Calling them "negatives" suggests a representation of reality- which these are not- and labeling them as such amounts to a hoax. To be clear: I understand the text is not the artist's statement, and I have no idea how Delorme himself would choose to characterize his work. I think I could argue all night with Bertho's explanation, though.

One other point because I can't help myself. Bertho writes: "the author diverges from a documentary style and its affected neutrality." Not so. I'd say these images are very much in the documentary style. If they weren't we wouldn't be having this conversation. It's precisely because of their apparent documentary nature that purists like myself get worked up. More accurately, it's the documentary ethic that Delorme has diverged from.

"And why stop where Alain has stopped?"

I suspect he's tried to push these right to the outer edge of plausibility, the furthest point where viewers still try to suspend disbelief. And his success in that is reflected in remarks here to the effect, "I've seen things just like that in China."

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