Contacts Volume 3: John Baldessari

The third volume of the excellent Contacts series profiles conceptual photographers. I found a few of the segments in volume 3 to be good enough to watch twice. The short on John Baldessari is one of my favorites. Baldessari is an influential artist who first came to prominence during the pop art movement of the 60's. In the film, he talks about a project where he took a map of the state of California, and drove to the approximate spot where each letter was on the map. Once at the spot he recreated the letter and made a photograph. A conceptual photography road trip. There are some connections to Ed Ruscha's early conceptual photography. Baldessari's titles for Southern California snapshots, many taken from the car, are quite clinical -- for example “Looking South on National City Blvd., National City, Calif.”

I've always loved the Winogrand quote about the content of an image almost overwhelming the form. Baldessari seems to feel the same way:

I don’t care about what f-stop it is or what the grain of the film or how like you know does the color look natural or do I have enough grays in a black area or do I have enough white…I really don’t care…it’s the imagery that interests me.

There are also some parallels to another one of my favorite photographers, John Pfahl, as Baldessari photographed images off the TV screen. He gave the images to his assistant with instructions to write a one word description of what was happening in the frame. It's interesting to get a glimpse into the process behind Baldessari's collages. He talks about how important words are to creating meaning in his work -- even when no words are present in a piece, he says "...behind each image that I use there is a word."

A short run-down of my other favorite segment will follow in the next day or two. More on Baldessari in this great artnet interview from 2004, and an extensive 1992 oral history from the Smithsonian.