Thursday, March 6, 2008

A good day spent mostly on photography

Yesterday was pretty solid with photography. I woke up around 6, had a coffee and bagel, and at first light drove down to this month's grid, P12. It's near Mt. Scott on the far southeast edge of town. The city boundary cuts through the center of the grid meaning P12 is only about half the normal grid size, and roughly half of that is taken up by various cemeteries and mausoleums. I guess a lot of folks wanted their dead bones to have a view, and a lot of other ones wanted their bones crushed into dust and stored forever in a giant marble filing cabinet. Lots of flowers, headstones, and trees. No one hassled me, but part of that is that I was careful not to pee anywhere too obvious.

The half of the grid that isn't dead people is mostly run-down apartments fringed with cancerous cul-de-sacked McMansions. A few older homes too, plus good old Johnson Creek. George met me for that part. We walked around and shot quite a bit but I doubt I got any real keepers. By mid-morning the sun was pretty bright and washed out all the color. I asked a few folks for portraits and got one. My running theory is that the less you propose to interfere with someone's life the more likely they are to let you take their portrait. So it's a better bet to ask someone at, say, a bus stop than someone walking by the other direction. The person at the bus stop would be sitting there portrait or not. The portrait doesn't change their routine. But if you ask someone walking past you they have to stop what they're doing, take some time out of their life to help you, and most folks asked on the fly are resistant to that.

By the same logic I find I have more success if I ask "Can I take your portrait for a project I'm doing?" than "Do you want to be part of a photo project?" The first question implies that I'm about to do something to them. They don't need to take any action. I'll do all the work. The second question puts the action in their court. "Do you want to..." implies that they need to do something to make the portrait happen. Which of course they do but people are reluctant to say yes when approached in those terms. That's my experience anyway. Lately, about 2 out of every 3 people I approach have turned me down.

After a few hours of gridding, George and I drove to Hartman. The show was pretty darned good. An all-star lineup of Erwitt, Meatyard, Adams, Lyons, a lot of heavy hitters. Kenna, Tice, Bernhard, etc. An Ilse Bing for 18K, Bada-Bing! There was a print by Leon Levinstein who I'd never heard of until reading a review of him on 5b4 about a month ago. Then the week after I'd seen his book The Moment of Exposure by chance at the U of O library and grabbed it. It wasn't half bad. If Siskind and Model had married and gotten an ugly divorce which made their kid bitter as he hit the streets with a camera, you'd get Levinstein. That was the first print I'd seen of his in person. I can't even remember the photo. It's that sort of style. I told Hartman his place was filling in the void left by Josefberg and he frowned. I guess he doesn't like being compared to anyone. But really it is. Where else are you going to see photos like that besides a museum?

After Hartman I put away all my cameras except the Leica, and George and I hiked Broadway up the gut of town to the Art Museum to see their photo show of Recent Acquisitions. The show was generally solid. Some hits. Some misses. All in all, the work had the feeling of...well, being recently acquired. Shawn Records' photo came the closest to being spontaneous, along with one shot by John Wimberly that could pass for a fleeting moment yet was almost certainly shot in a studio. I guess the snapshot aesthetic is out this year. Maybe next year's summer line will make it hip again.

After the new acquisitions we made our way through the tunnel to the Masonic Temple section of the museum because I hadn't seen the photo section for a while. There were several new pieces up, including a great shot by Jon Brand of Winogrand smiling slyly. The museum was dead. Four floors stacked top to bottom with art and the only person to see it yesterday besides me and George was the security officer. Luckily she wasn't able to be everywhere at once and I could to photograph freely out of her sight. MOMA allows photography. The Met allows photography. Why does PAM ban photography? What possible reason could there be to ban photography anywhere on the planet?

After the museum we walked the streets some more, down 10th through the Pearl, back past the park blocks, ran across a pretty good photo show in the Everett Street Lofts, then through old town back into downtown back up Burnside. I hadn't been in the city for a while and it felt good to be out on a clear day with a camera not knowing what might be around the next corner. The funny thing is downtown is a great spot for portraits but I never take portraits there. I shoot only small format fleeting moments. I don't know why. Somehow it seems easier to ask for a portrait when no one else is around, in some outskirts parking lot or something. But peoplewise, the best subject matter is downtown.

Around 4 my feet were dead so I hit the highway south to beat rush hour. On the way back through Eugene I picked up some film at Dot Dotson's. I got back to the house and had some family time. After the kids were asleep I cut the negs and looked through a few In-Public submissions. In the mail from Matt that day had arrived the DVD set of Genius of Photography. I had time to watch just a few minutes before bed, enough to make sure the discs worked. Tomorrow I'll start in on the whole series.

All in all, a good day spent mostly on photography.

1 comment:

Björn said...

Sounds like a productive day!

I just finished Genius of Photography and loved the series. Just seeing the evolution was inspiring.