Wednesday 26 June 2013

Final Frames and Opening

Bill Culbert Level (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French

Day three and a late start for my photography due to filming taking place in the venue in the morning. A soundtrack needs to be laid down, and they don’t need any interruptions. The weather has improved a little with some sun, but it’s still freezing. In the afternoon I reshoot everything I got wrong the days before. I continue to shoot Level, 2013 the set of glass bottles that line the door next to the canal, in an attempt to catch the inverted images of boats passing below them. Level takes a lot of time, as it is open to the canal, and faces the Carabinieri’s jetty on the other side. There is a lot of coming and going by the policemen over there, and they seem to like to get their boats in shot. Later, in the evening I finally get HUT, Made in Christchurch, 2012, the wardrobes and Where are the other two?, 2013. Finally, I have some finished images to pass by Justin and Bill for approval – but still not everything. The installation is complete and the install team are relaxed for the first time. I can now send some low-res ‘teaser’ images out to the international press.

Bill Culbert, Walk Reflection (2001/2013) and Walk Blue (2001/2013). Photograph by Jennifer French

My day four was an official day off for everyone. There’s a flurry of rendezvous on Fondamenta Nuove at the boat stop at 11.10am for the 11.25am #13 vaporetto. We’re on an expedition to a rustic restaurant on an island half an hour’s boat ride away. There we have lunch in the sunshine in an idyllic calm to celebrate the completion of the installation. It was the first warm day since we’d arrived and a chance to recharge. And, unbelievably, the first time we’ve all sat down together. It provides some calm before the storm of the press previews and the vernissage later in the week.

Monday and Tuesday 27 and 28 May merge into one, yet manage to feel three weeks long to me. There are so many things to do. I re-shoot, output and re-output images, doing prepress as I go, have them approved. Resized. Backed up. Begin uploading to media site. Rework, re-shoot, resize, re-approve. Upload. Half upload. Slowly upload . . . It’s getting tight, my deadline approaches. I sat down at my laptop at 7.30am, and was sent home when the venue was locked at 9pm, as we all had to come back for the blessing of the venue the next day at 6.00am. I walk the half an hour home with the laptop, and continue to upload the images from there. Monday tips over the edge into Tuesday. Then suddenly – it’s done.

Next it’s the vernissage, the opening event, and for me, starting the new photography for the catalogue.

A big thanks to CNZ and all at Auckland Art Gallery who supported my work for the New Zealand project Bill Culbert – Front Door Out Back at the 55th Venice Biennale, especially my manager Catherine Lomas and colleague John McIver.

- Jennifer French, Gallery Photographer

Friday 21 June 2013

The Perfect Portrait

My second day dawns early, due to the time distortions of a jet-lagged brain, and before 8am I am back at work with the others. It’s slower than I anticipated. I am also chasing the ‘hero’ portrait of Bill, who while being immensely affable and warmly disposed, is turning out to be extraordinarily difficult to photograph. So I leave the laptop to its own work converting raw files to chunkier formats, and attempt to capture the artist. We try a longish shoot in the room with Bebop, but the room proportions make Bill appear ill proportioned, as the artwork is vast. Everything appears out of scale. It’s frustrating, as it is the image everyone including me has pre-visualised as The Great Image. But it isn’t, so after working on it for too long with no good result we break for lunch.

Bill Culbert at the entrance of the New Zealand Pavilion, La Pietà, for the 2013 Venice Biennale. Photograph by Jennifer French
After lunch the rain stops, and the wind has dropped, but it still feels like the middle of winter. I’m outside in the ‘wardrobe’ courtyard checking out the possibility of shooting something there later, after the tarps come off, when Bill pops his head out the door and grins at me before disappearing again. The light looks really beautiful. I go in and convince him to stand in the doorway again. Behind him on the other side of the room there is a delivery being made from a boat in the canal, so Bill says, ‘But won’t they be in the way behind me?’ I tell him it’s just a test shot, and so it doesn’t matter. Then I say, ‘Never trust a photographer!’ He laughs, and I get the picture I was after.

Bill Culbert Strait (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French
The day progresses. HUT, the un-finished work, is still . . . unfinished. Bebop has a new element, a large pane of glass that reflects the open door with sky. Right. It’s important to shoot Bebop and Drop with the door open, with the glass in place. Okay – a reshoot. Also, it turns out that because I’m only five foot four, I have missed the light detail on the lids of the milk bottles in Strait. Another reshoot. Thankfully the weather is improving and we have some sunshine. More people arrive – the commissioner, the deputy commissioner, the ex-commissioner, gallerists (multiple and multilingual), some patrons, the artist Orlan with horns lightly gilded, British artist Mike Nelson (the toast of the 2011 Biennale in the British Pavilion). Bill’s show is very popular. And we are not yet open.

- Jennifer French, Gallery Photographer

Thursday 20 June 2013

Setting up in Venice

Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back is installed through a set of six interconnected spaces that run along the side of the church of La Pietà. The technical team have been working on the installation of the works in Venice since the beginning of May, and by the time I arrive with my 16 kilos of gear ready to photograph the exhibition they have finished most of the install. Out the back of the venue is a temporary ‘situation room’ with Wi-Fi, and a cluster of laptops and phones where the team is located. On the wall there’s an imposingly complex chart with an hourly breakdown of the days 27–31 May. Everyone looks settled in, even when they’ve only been there a few hours longer than me, so I find a spot and plug in my laptop, assorted battery chargers and phone, and hook up to the Wi-Fi.

Bill Culbert, Bebop (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French
After a quick orientation of the show with Bill Culbert and curator Justin Paton, I dive into the photography, starting at the Front Door section – the works called Drop, 2013 and Bebop, 2013. These works are large ceiling suspended clusters of furniture and fluorescent tubes that span the entire length of the room. All the scaffolding used to install is now gone, and there are only a couple of ladders to move so I can begin to photograph it. I’m impressed that the works are so complete by the time I arrive. The predictions from Terry, Sean, John and Rae are that absolute completion will most definitely occur at 6pm Saturday 25 May, give or take an hour.

So on my first day I finish the shoot in the Bebop room, and begin to move through to the work installed in the corridor, called Strait, 2013 – a horizontal set of Anchor milk bottles bisected by a florescent tube. Everything is going well, and my lens choices made in New Zealand are all working out fine, now I’m actually in the spaces. So far so good. It’s raining and windy outside where the two wardrobe works Walk Reflection, 2001/2013 and Walk Blue, 2001/2013 are installed, and they have protective blue tarps tied over them, so I can’t shoot them yet nor the views around them to the connecting spaces.

Bill Culbert, Daylight Flotsam Venice (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French 
The large work Daylight Flotsam Venice, 2013 in the main room out the back is illuminated and looks amazing in the dull weather’s low light. I get some shots done in there, looking out towards the canal and Level, 2013 but can’t do any wider shots or views through to anything else. There’s still rubbish in the view outside to HUT, Made in Christchurch, 2012, and the entire install team is outside in the rain reworking its installation. Bill is rethinking Bebop’s final configuration. I can’t get near the room containing Where are the other two?, 2013, an artwork that I think has one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. There is a pigeon, yet to be evicted from one corner of the room, and tools all over the place. But the work looks good glowing away to itself, with the sound of water taxis and delivery boats side wash against the building as they pass by.

So far I’m feeling confident with four days before my deadline for the initial media images. I’ve shot as much as I can, so I begin the downloading of image files. It’s wonderful shooting 36MP images, but it’s clear that when they unpack to 100MB per image that life is going to slow down little. So I churn through the first day’s image files, bit by bit.

- Jennifer French, Gallery Photographer