Sunday, March 2, 2008

Post Modeled After Linklater's Slacker

I took this photo at the recent Siskind show at Charles Hartman in Portland. Hartman seems to have filled the void left by the loss of the late great Josefberg Gallery. Ah, Josefberg. The gallery opened the very month I began photography (October 1993) and closed 11 years later. Their website is still up. Just look at some of what they showed! I learned more about photography at that gallery than through a thousand books. Each month was a new show and a new course of study.

Josefberg was the first place I ever saw Robbie McClaran's photo project Angry White Men, which somehow made me emphathetic toward several of the planet's most hateful persons, and which is now at Eugene's Schnitzer Gallery. Above the photo room, in the section behind the Hundertwassers is a Cezanne on loan. Someone once told me that the reason Cezanne was important is that he painted landscapes with no visual entrance. Before him, there was always a place in the painting for your mind to enter the picture. He got rid of that and paved the way for cubism, which no one could visually enter until LSD was developed in the 50s.

Now we have TV, which you enter through pot.

Photographs without a visual entrance seem to be the rage these days. There are a lot of landscapes like


with no foreground (photos by Georg Parthen and Pablo Lopez, respectively). Maybe they're shot from an airplane or high cliff. Icarus perspectives. You can't walk into them. The effect is godlike, omniscient, not troubled with the pesky details of daily existence.

They certainly aren't modeling their style after Carleton Watkins. He almost always included in his vistas a snippet of foreground, a burnt log or patch of hillside, a reminder of what's below all our feet.

Here's Douglas R. Nickel's take on Carleton Watkins: "Carleton Watkins made photographs that are more modern in appearance than our understanding of art history ought to allow. Their alternation between, at times, an elaborate manipulation of abstracted space, compositional torque, and acute detail and, at others, an almost naive and totemic directness suggests the kind of formal gamesmanship we might expect of a perceptive artist working after the advent of Cubism, but not of a struggling tradesman in San Francisco in the 1860s...Nothing in the photographer's life would seem to have qualified him to make such pictures, so that...explanations relying on biography at some point encounter a kind of categorical limit, beyond which lies only speculation."

Disfarmer and Atget fit Watkin's profile almost exactly: Tradesmen, hammering out their own photographic legacies completely unnoticed, absent from any historical account of photography until long after their deaths. Perhaps being unnoticed in the contemporary photo world is a little easier to swallow because of them.

Christopher Rauschenberg has just published a book called Paris Changing for which he rephotographed many of Atget's scenes in the modern day. In a long interview with Lens Culture about the project Rauschenberg says he used to describe his photography as "at the intersection of Atget and Friedlander". He blended Atget's directnness with Friedlander's formal use of photographic space. That was before he realized that the combination was difficult, maybe even impossible. He came to think that maybe there was no intersection after all. One was the epitomy of simplicity and the other was the trickiest, most clever composer alive. Rauschenberg winded up siding with Atget, attempting to follow in his footsteps.

I feel closer to the intersection of Winogrand and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, although neither of them could make you care about peeling paint the way Siskind could.

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