The following text and image sharing conversation is between good friends and artists Charlie Engman & Marton Perlaki.
I think we should chat about our common passion of collecting found imagery.
There is an antique shop which I always visit when I go back to Budapest (we went there last spring when you were in BP) where I find the most amazing and inspiring vernacular photography and postcards.
This December/January I’ve spent more time in Budapest than I usually do so I kept going to same antique shops and to look for “ treasures” which could serve as a valuable inspiration source for ideas.
However I became more and more interested in the actual photos as objects themselves. I particularly like the ones that had some kind of unknown story to tell: postcards with notes scribbled on them, photos with highlights or doodles.
You know I collect all sorts of imagery from language learning cards and cookbook illustrations to interesting compositions from the sport section of a newspaper.
Finding new context for images is a very satisfying and fun process for me.
I’ve also tried certain manipulations on them but the result always felt forced and too considerate.
There are millions of photos out there just waiting for reinterpretation. I have been collecting these images and they fascinate me but I haven’t yet found the appropriate way to present them.
Hail Caesar was entertaining but I was expecting more from this movie.
We have to check tomorrow if the Guggenheim is open on President day.
Yeah, Hail Ceasar was kind of forgettable, but it was nice to see such pure joy for cinema. It was nerdy!, which is the best way to be.
This is one of my favorite found-image things:
Dina has the right idea!
But this is really photo as the anti-object.
But isn’t it kind of obvious that people who like photography like to collect found things? Isn’t that what photography is? Collecting things you find, keeping them for later.
I was just listening to a podcast about the super mega best-selling book about decluttering by Marie Kondo, and apparently she advises people to cut out the passages they like from their books and throw out the rest to save space (she’s anti-object in her own way). This feels like a pretty wild idea, but actually is also exactly like taking a picture. Or buying a strangers old postcard.
Dina is amazing!
I would not be able to pull this off but she has my fullest respect.
However whose work is really close to my heart these days is Claudia Angelmaier.
The way she approaches found imagery is really smart,delicate and poetic.
A perfect combination which I respond to with immediate admiration.
Her sophisticated well constructed images speak to me both on an intellectual and visual level.
I also love the way she plays with the print sizes.
An enormous size print of a postcard from the Louvre turned face down,seeing almost only the outline of the classical painting of a woman is romantic,secretive and playfully funny at the same time.
This is when the object itself plays a very important role in the process of reading the image.
I like that.
I certainly am a photographer who likes collecting…hehe.
When I was very young I buried all my favourite toys to secret places to save them for later.
Some have never been found after.
Maybe this unconscious desire of preserving made me a photographer..?!
How is your ambition of making sculptures Charlie?
Our first attempt was really satisfying.
We should do more of these handcraft get togethers!
I have a really sweet image of little Marton burying little trucks.
This is me as a child, also considering burying things:
I dunno… the more I think about the “photo poetics” show we saw at the Guggenheim yesterday, the more dissatisfied I am. For the most part, with the notable exception of Elad Lassry (I feel a-contemporary excepting the only man in the show, but c’est la vie), I found the work, Claudia’s included, somehow hollow.
Secretly it might be because a lot of the work in the show has a superficial resemblance to my own
work –the kind of work I am predictably most critical of– but also it’s image-as-object taken to a really didactic extreme. Air tight!
I appreciate and sympathize with the ideas in the show (and hard to say no to a giant postcard), but I feel like it takes something that is squishy and awkward and living and puts it into a jar of formaldehyde. I can’t cuddle with it.
The Guggenheim building is also a really hard space to show flat things.
Flat things are over!
Let’s make sculptures!
Next project is to hand-make one of these for the new aquarium I bought:
Come over and make it with me.
I like the challenge of building something that has to exist underwater with a living creature.
Maybe I could make the little beads out of something edible for the fish. Then I can also claim their stringy poops as my work.
Hahaha…..never buried trucks though.
I wasn’t very interested in automobiles of any kind.
You were certainly a cute,curious little child,and your dress style hasn’t changed much over the years.
Our visual interest is very similar but our taste is completely different.
That is why we are such good friends! We can always learn from each other.
I agree that the Photo Poetics show at the Guggenheim offered less than we’ve expected.
There is no question that Elad Lassry is five star +, and I had no doubt that his work felt the most satisfying for you from the selection of artists.
For me however Claudia’s work did not feel weaker or distant though.
I think their work both had a smart sense of humour and playfulness which is crucial for good artwork.
Anyway,I agree, let’s start using our hands not only the tip of the fingers for pushing buttons and keyboards.
I’ve recently noticed (maybe because I am getting more curious about other forms of expression) that many photography based artists finding their voice in sculptural,installation form.
Have you seen the installation views of Peter Puklus’s show at Galerie Conrads?
or Asger’s fairly recent work.
We should however just focus on getting our hands dirty and make sculptures for fishes.
I am excited by the thought of it.
Look, I found us!:
In keeping with the same-interest-different-taste argument, I find your choice of installation shots from Peter’s show funny.
I would have definitely gone for this one. Squishy and awkward and living for sure:
As for Asger, I think the photographic aspect of his work is what makes it so effective, but I’m happy to see him trying other things.
I’m not sure it’s very helpful to make so many distinctions between all these ways of making things. It makes things seem more forbidding or separate than they really are. Both you and I use our full hands a lot in our work already!
Ok, but actually as we’re writing this back and forth –rather sporadically, because we’re seeing each other in real life and speaking a lot in the gaps (I made some adjustments to the fish toy; it’s looking good)– the thing I find most interesting here is the conversation itself.
What happens to conversation when you know it’s going to be published and possibly read by strangers? What is the appropriate balance of personal and public? Who is public Charlie and who is private Charlie and is there a difference between the two? Do I sound different to you here (you sound different to me but also English is a second language for you, which is another question)? What does attention mean, especially when we live in an attention economy? Is it possible for this kind of conversation to be genuine (what is a genuine conversation)? I have a lot of questions!
And, since we started with the photo talk, are these some of the questions you’re thinking about as you’re preparing your solo exhibition in Budapest? How similar is Public Dialogue to Picture Display?
Tell me, Marci. x
topical news update:
Romke’s new restricted access online forum about photography.
It feels I’ve seen you almost every day in the past two weeks.
If we did not see each other we definitely talked over the phone or texted.
But looking back at our conversations many of the topics were not photo related or they were too specific about certain projects that the conversation would not have been interesting for a wider audience.
Probably this email ‘tennis’ feels a little off because we are making an effort to find topics which are not too personal(that seems to be the hardest),and photo related and interest both of us.
This conversation maybe more composed than a chat over a bowl of ramen but definitely feels genuine to me.
You, feel exactly like you, I sometimes need to look up words in the dictionary, and in general I have to concentrate to express myself in english but I don’t feel much different in this conversation than in person.
However there is certainly differences in the ‘public’ and ‘personal’ Marton as there are differences in circumstances and situations in life.
For example I’ve noticed that I tend to be really moderate and overly modest in public.
The reason is probably because unsolicited self promotion is an immediate turn off for me in a personality.
The more someone is trying to convince others how happy and fulfilling her/his life is the more insecure and desperate he /she feels to me.
I understand that everybody wants to be respected and loved,but a desperate urge for attention and self assurance feels like a form of uncertainty.
This is why(as you know)I have serious issues with selfies,posted on social media and the whole world of wheezy self promotion.
When you were putting an exhibition together did you think about how similar is public dialogue and picture display is?
I tend to be a little over analytical about photography and it’s importance but I recently started to take a different approach by trying to believe and go with my instincts more.
You tell me Charlie x
Haha, I have to stop Being John Malkovich-ing myself… terminal self-reflection.
As you’ll recall, two of our good artist friends declined to partake in this conversation; one because it was “pretentious,” which at the time surprised me.
But it got me thinking a lot about the different ways people present themselves –in writing, fashion, Tinder profiles and dates, professional meetings (basically Tinder dates), cultural participation (sometimes artwork), etc etc– and how these are often really unrelated to how people are in social reality.
Like: meeting people through their photography first and then discovering that their real life personality does not correspond at all to the tone of their pictures. Or, I guess, discovering/remembering that my reading of the pictures was total projection on my part.
Or: what would happen if all of a sudden I started dressing like a punk, or a suburban mom, or only took black and white photographs and it was “my thing” — am I then different? (I dress like a suburban mom already, bad example).
I’m suspicious of self-branding like this mostly because I don’t think any one grouping of qualities can have very much to say about real human beings. Human beings are squishy and awkward and living, and sometimes they like the color blue and sometimes they like the color red, and they can say one thing and do another. Which is obvious, but also strangely easy to forget.
In some strange way, I think this is why I got kind of worked up about the New York City Ballet performance we saw last week. Ballet as a technique is so arcane and codified, and I felt like this was a truly annoying crutch that the performance used to prance itself around in cat leotards. Like, singing me the ABCs instead of writing a sentence.
But I like predictability as much as the next person, and I guess I’m free to choose the bits I like and ignore the bits I don’t.
Let’s get back to found images and my new fish tank.
I found this database of every known species of fish:
Which one should I get.
I also love that they have a category called “best photos” – very curious about their criteria!
This is exactly what is suspicious about self branding for me. I don’t see the real human being behind it. The real person who sometimes looks tired and fragile. Who is not always living the dream. Who has doubts about the decisions she or he makes and has fears and anxieties like the rest of us.
I am not the most social person(as you know) and one of the reasons is because the facade of ‘How do you dos’ and efforts to always act and look picture perfect confuse me.
I usually start to get interested in a person when I see a bit more of his fragile side.
I am however hardly ever tried to capture the ‘true’ personality of a person in a photograph.
Photography has always been a projection for me.
This is also why I prefer to photograph people I don’t know much about.The more I don’t know the person,the less distraction I have emotionally which usually helps a to get the result I am looking for in a picture.
Ok. My question is as individuals how much are we judged by our photographs/career. Does it really matter how good of an artist XY is? Are people able to truly separate the art from the artist as a person?
As to the fishes:
I must admit I am not much of a fan of fishes.
They are truly amazing creatures but keeping them in a tank makes me a little uncurious…
Snorkeling is a completely different topic.
It’s like going to a party at somebody else’s place or invite someone over for dinner.
It’s much more expressive to see someone in their own environment..
These are my personal favourites tough from the fish-site (although you might not be able to get them from the store…)
Strong pictures,diverse personalities I say this is good self branding.
It would still be interesting to do the project where I can only dress from your wardrobe and you can only dress from mine for a few days.
I wonder how the perception of our personality would change.
Oh my god- I completely forgot about our plan to wear each other’s clothes. I want to wear your pants immediately!! I’m boarding a flight to London right now- I would have packed only your clothes. No other options.
Those fish are very strong and I think these photographs do in fact manage to capture their true essences, whether you agree with that endeavor or not.
I like your analogy. Yes, I’d like to think of owning a fish as a state of perpetual dinner invitation. Fish have very short memories, I’ve been told; they’re always just arriving to the party of my apartment.
As for your question. I think bad people can make good art, and lord knows good people can make bad art. But there is also a difference between good art and good artists, and though I’m somehow disappointed by the expectations placed on artists and the consistency or relatability of their work, I also fully admit that I engage in and subscribe to these expectations myself. Ironically, this neurotic self assessment actually does act as some kind of umbrella for many different aspects of myself. It’s probably why I’m a vegetarian, for example (I prefer inviting fish to dinner rather than making them dinner).
Anyway, despite my Being J Malkovich moment, I totally get why people write differently than they speak and kiss differently than they photograph, and rightfully so.
I have more things to say about kissing and fish, but my flight is about to lift off into wifi-less clouds any second, so I’m going to leave that part to you.
Kissing and fish is a great title.
I would definitely take that book from the shelf.
I am off to Europe next week as well,let’s continue our conversation in a different continent and preferably in person… over fish’n’ chips or sushi?
Don’t be rude. xx
You have quite a database there Charlie…
The colourful life of the underwater world.