18 November 2012

Acute Angles ~ Cello, Politics, Photography . . .

"Soon  . . .  I was facing harassment from local and federal law enforcement agents whenever I went to shoot in the vicinity of a corporate energy production site, despite being on public property. This got me pretty angry. I was suddenly subjected to national paranoia, not just reading about it in liberal magazines. Cops or the FBI threw me out of town and inspected my pictures. Their actions were illegal under the Constitution as I knew it, before the Patriot Act. The fury I felt about losing my freedom as an artist fueled a desire to keep working and get the better of the system; it made me want to make pictures that would express the tension and fear I felt contending with that system. So, yes, the project began about energy, but quickly became about power in all its dimensions—not only voltage power, but governmental and corporate power. The power of nature. The power of community. An artist’s power. American Power came to mean all these things and question their balance."
BP Carson refinery, California, 2007. Photograph © Mitch Epstein.

For some reason - not truly unfathomable, but one that I have no interest in fathoming - I have a special attraction to the cello, cellists, music for the instrument, and the odd intersections of cellists and politics. Go figure. In any case, among the cellists I have mentioned here in the past is Erik Friedlander. Yes, son of photographer Lee Friedlander. Eric has recently collaborated with Mitch Epstein on an innovative photography-music undertaking - The American Power Project. Hence an additional intersection.

I noted here in passing when Epstein won the 2011 Prix Pictet for this series of photographs (begun in 2003 and published in book form by Steidl in 2009).  While I was impressed by the images, I didn't realize at the time what a cool collaboration the whole thing had become. The joint production of pictures and music debuted at Les Rencontres d’Arles in June of 2011. You can find You Tube recordings of Friedlander's American Power Suite (six movements) here and audio versions at his web site here. You can find a web page What Is American Power? that Epstein created with his wife, writer and editor Susan Bell here. Finally, there is a really nice interview with Epstein about the entire undertaking here at BOMB Magazine. I've lifted the opening quotation above from it.

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