About Isaac

Photographer and diver. Ambition: maximising the potential of new technologies to bring people’s beautiful stuff to the world.

Anything to say?

Davide Dormino 2

There’s a buzz going on at Geneva’s Place des Nations. I go and snap some photos of Davide Dormino‘s powerful bronze installation entitled “Anything to Say?” It’s only here for a few days. Do you recognise these three beautifully sculpted figures with their calm and determined faces?  For sure, you’ll know their names! They are the three most widely known whistle-blowers of all time: Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

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They stand on chairs facing their fate. They wear impersonal one-piece suits. Does this mean they are in prison? Maybe you think all three should be in prison? (Manning already is.) Maybe they are modern-day knights in shining armour come to save us all?

Dormino says the installation “is a monument to the courage of three people who said no to the establishment of comprehensive monitoring and lies, and have chosen to tell the truth.” His work is placed in front of “Broken Chair.” An empty chair on the right of the whistle-blowers transmits a challenge: “Come and stand up here with us! Do you have anything to say?” I’m reminded of the scene in “Dead Poet’s Society” when the pupils, by standing on their desks, show solidarity with their unorthodox teacher whose mantra is “make your lives extraordinary.” I really want to stand on that chair and shout what I think. But then…. Am I brave enough?

Student of “art” or design? Writing about beautiful stuff? Contact us!


Do you write about beautiful stuff? Want to publish it? We’d be pleased to take a look with a view to posting it here on Talking Beautiful Stuff.

We love anything that involves the great human impulse to create. We focus on creative people, what they do and how they bring their work to others. We try to avoid the word “art” and art-speak.

There’s a formula based on the narrative of any beautiful stuff. It’s simple: Who is creating What, for Whom, When, Where, How, and What it means for you. Can you talk about beautiful stuff in these terms? We’re looking for about 700 words and three or four photos.

To give you an idea, take a look at these posts:

Ai WeiWei says “Think Different”

OpenArt in Örebro, Sweden is the 2008 brainchild of locals Mats Nilsson and Lars Jonsson. They dreamed of cutting-edge “art” on display in public loca­tions. And guess what? Their dream came true…. and rapidly. Now in 2015, it is the biggest such event in Scandinavia. This year includes a focus on Chinese artists so no surprise that it features a major work by Ai Weiwei. It blows in the wind and blows me away!!

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Ai WeiWei is known for confronting – and being arrested by – Chinese authorities. He questions everything about the culture of imposed conformity of his own country. This work, “Think different (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” consists of 375 coveralls in six different colours hung well above head height along Köpmangatan, an Örebro street. These are workers’ uniforms used in China in the massive electronics and computing manufacturing industries. The coveralls flap and flicker in the wind casting disconcerting shadows on the street below. Western people stroll beneath. I wonder if they are thinking differently.

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So who is Ai WeiWei telling to think differently? Is it me, the Western viewer? Is it Chinese people? Is it the Chinese authorities? In fact, thinking about it, “Think Differently (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” does make me think differently. Here are some questions that run through my head when I look up at these rows of coveralls. I am reminded of assembly lines. How many Chinese people work to make products destined for the western world? Are they paid well? Are they aware of workers’ rights? What are they interested in? What are their home lives like? Or is Ai WeiWei telling me that the real price of western consumerism is paid by Chinese workers? This work is brilliant and provocative. I’m pleased I went back to Örebro!

The remarkable “dramagraphy” of Michel Lagarde

“You will never see anything like it” I was told. Oh yeah? Can another exhibition of photoshopped images really be that amazing? Anyway, I hopped on a tram for a squizz at the current exhibition at the discrete but discerning photographic gallery Espace Cyril Kobler. I have never seen anything like Michel Lagarde‘s “dramagraphies.” I repeat: I have never seen anything like it! I thought I knew about Photoshop. But this stuff is funny, charming, bizarre and, importantly, technically perfect.

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Les Emigrants

The first piece that catches my eye – because it is so topical at present – is “Les Emigrants.” Fourteen men in old style music-hall clothes are packed into a tiny steam-driven tug boat. Most peer forward. One is the captain. One is trying to catch fish. Others are in a dispute of some sort. One looks directly at the camera utterly surprised. The scene makes me laugh but at the same time, I wonder what the story is. The black and white image is clear and crisp. The whole thing is like a beautifully composed frame from an old silent movie.

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I look more closely. All the men are the same man! O… M… G… How did he do that?

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“L’Escamoteur” shows a kind of behind-the-circus scene where some scruffy old guy is tricking another in a top hat with the old ball and three cup trick. The gendarmes look on; they are clearly amused but at the same time try to give the impression they have seen it all before. While their attention is diverted, bets are taken and a pocket-watch is picked. It makes me laugh out loud.

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Again, all these characters are the same person. Now I understand. These “dramagraphies” are also carefully staged self-portraits. My admiration for Monsieur Lagarde is growing.

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Quand la mer monte

The two figures in “Quand la mer monte” are, inevitably, Michel Lagarde himself. At this stage, I really want to know more. After extending a warm welcome Cyril Kobler himself, explains the technical aspects of these images. Indeed, part of the exhibition shows the multiple precise steps in their construction. All were completed between 2009 and 2014.

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Lagarde was originally a designer of theatre sets and so has always worked with models. For his “dramagraphies,” he starts with making a model and takes a photograph of it. M. Kobler shows here the single model used for “Quand la mer monte.” From this starting point he uses Photoshop to alter this image and, in this case, re-insert it in perfect perspective. He then introduces other elements including the self-portraits. Everything including all light and shadows are precisely layered in. The final fantasmagorical output is the result of hundreds of carefully composed image-files, gigabytes of data storage and anything between twenty and forty days work. Lagarde’s beautiful stuff is a wonderful constellation of love of theatre, imagination, story telling, lighting and total mastery of Photoshop.

The photographic work of our host, M. Kobler, is also well known. He admits he might be viewed as a traditional. So here he is, putting on an exhibition that is not of photography but uses photography. How does he feel about Lagarde’s work? He is full of admiration. He sums it up in two words. “Truly remarkable!”

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El Publico

My favourite, “El Publico” has at least 18 self-portraits. It shows an unruly theatre audience unable to contain its excitement in the stalls. You can hear the shouts and the trumpeting. However, the on-stage action is not in view. These guys have just witnessed something they have never expected to see. Something terrifying. Something outrageous. My guess is that the two halves of the magician’s beautiful assistant who was brutally sawn in two has miraculously reappeared on stage in tact and smiling!

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These three Lagardes show their fright, cynicism and astonishment.

This is a must-see exhibition. So get on the number 12 tram. Get off at “Peillonnex.” Take the family. Take your friends. You will never see anything like it!