Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meanwhile, in the so called "real" world...

I have some photos in this show up now through the end of October. The opening reception is tomorrow, 9/30. If you can't make it in person, there is a book available. See the link for details.

After the opening the fun continues at Barracuda in downtown Portland, where I will be performing as Lil' B, the opening act for my man Twista. This will be my debut as a rapper! So come on out yo and support your homie. If the photo thing don't work out, I think rap could really be my calling.

Finally I want to give a shout out to George LeChat Ink in San Francisco who, in response to this proposal, recently donated a massive film stash to the cause. Props to George and, in due time, goodies.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

xTR..., xTR..., read all about it

I feel sheepish admitting this but it's only recently that I've discovered the oversized section at the U of O library. And just in time too. I'd nearly exhausted the regular photobook stacks in both library buildings. My normal process had been to browse these in person, not realizing that this method might not catch everything. It wasn't until a random computer search turned up an xTR... title that I realized that there were hundreds of books I hadn't seen yet secreted away on another floor. Silly me, I know.

Walker Evans' Message: Size Matters

For the past few weeks it's been a feeding frenzy. I've come home with all sorts of large, awkward treasures: Walker Evans' Message From the Interior, Callahan's Water's Edge, Jem Southam's Landscape Stories, Lisette Model's Aperture monograph, Koudelka's Chaos, Susan Lipper's Grapevine, just to name a few. They're all big and gangly. They don't play well with their shelfmates, nor do they fit easily in a pack.

from Grapevine by Susan Lipper

Normally I'd find this annoying. I don't think photographs in a book should fight for attention with the format. It's the same reason very large gallery prints sometimes irk me. But these past few weeks I've learned to love the large books. It turns out that, at least in some cases, size does matter. The images in David Maisel's Library of Dust or Eugene Richard's The Blue Room are almost large enough to fit a gallery wall. A smaller book wouldn't do them justice.

Another book in my oversized pile is Allen Ginsberg Photographs, a collection of portraits of various beat figures with Ginsberg's handwritten captions. I already own a copy of his Snapshot Poetics, which covers some of the same territory but at half the scale.

Comparing the two is interesting. The smaller book is more recent and has better print quality, but I like the bigger, older one better. Its photos are grainier and contrastier, and sort of bleached out, more like Tri-X than offset. They look like a bound sheaf of life-sized prints. The photos in Snapshot Poetics look like what they are: photographs in a book.

Self Portrait of Allen Ginsberg from Photographs
In the published version, the flower is burned in

So which is better? That question gets at the root of what a photobook is. Because at its core, a photobook acts a bit like a photograph. It pretends to contain one thing (photographs) but what it really contains are illusions of literal descriptions of that thing (small half-tone translations of photographs). So the question becomes, Do you look at photographs in a photobook to see what photographs look like in a photobook or do you look at them to see how they look as actual photographs? The first way seems more honest, the second way more true to the artist's vision, at least in the case of the Ginsberg book.

Of course my opinion may be biased by my first experience with the book. About halfway through it this beautiful watercolor sprung out of nowhere. It was so colorful in the midst of the black and white pages that I nearly jumped out of my seat.

A one of a kind painting on nice thick paper, no signature, no warning. It definitely would have overpowered a smaller publication. In the large book it was a silent message from the interior.

Someone had tucked it between portraits of Burroughs and Frank, two seers who helped bring culture out of the grey 50s and into the full rainbow of what followed. I don't know if the placement was intentional but it seemed just right.

It sat there staring out at me like a pressed flower, or, rather, an illusion of a literal description of a pressed flower. Not to be mistaken for the real deal.

Flowers pressed in a book

For that I'd have to turn to one of my alltime favorite small books, Stephen Gill's Hackney Flowers. The plant parts in that book seem so lifelike you can almost smell them. If I ever find a copy in the library (doubtful) I'm leaving an oversized black and white photo inside.

from Hackney Flowers by Stephen Gill

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Simple, right?

"Photography looks easier than it looks."

-Zane, Age 9

(Photo by Mike Slack)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What To Do? #84

250. Near Lovejoy Fountain, Portland, 2005

251. SE 10th and Clay, Portland, 2005

252. Salt Lake City, UT, 2006

WTD? is a weekly installment of old unseen photos.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eccentric Concentrics

From time to time in my daily encounters with the public, people ask me, "Dude, what planet are you on?"

I know most people would consider this question rude and somewhat probing but I don't. I mean, Hel-lo? Could my planet be more obvious? It's not exactly private information. I was considering the planet question last night and thinking about round objects and what's inside them and of course everything eventually relates to photography, and I came up with this listing which I hope settles the planetary issue once and for all.

Photograph by James Friedman
Golf ball halved

Photographic practicing aid

Photographic lighting
Tungsten Diagram

World Record Photograph

Alternative Process
That, 1958-59, Kenneth Noland

Non-Photographic Memory

Photographer's Paradise
2006 Burning Man map by Lisa Hoffman

The Photographer's Eye

Photography world power structure

Pre-photographic blog post
Painted Rock Petroglyph site, Arizona

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Parting is such sweet sorrow

After much consternation, I've decided to put my beloved pinhole up for sale on eBay. This is a one of a kind homemade pinhole. It kills me to sell it but I'm afraid I have to. Below is an actual size photo of the hole with a brief description.
Black pinhole with white body. Mint condition. No scratches, fungus or markings visible. All moving parts recently CLA'd. Aperture approximately f/250. Note that this far exceeds the smallest aperture of most commonly used lenses which stop down to only f/22 or f/32. This pinhole surpasses that by more than 200 numbers...

For a complete description of the pinhole including uses, accessories, and bidding information, please see my eBay listing, and spread the word to anyone who you think might be interested. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Fall begins today and as if on cue the light is beginning to relax. Yesterday I was out photographing in the morning and for the first time in a while I found the shadows enjoyable. All summer the light had been miserable, bright and glaring and harsh, so I had been limiting my shooting to certain hours early in the morning or late afternoon, both hurried times. But in fall and winter the sun begins to hug the horizon and it does my work for me. By December I'll be able to go out and shoot at noon, provided it's not raining.

I love that light but I can't help wondering if that's just conditioning. Is it because I've been trained to think that dramatic shadows look photographic? Maybe if everyone photographed at noon that would seem like the magic hour instead?

So I was out shooting yesterday in the nice morning light and a man approached. Tattoos on his neck, hat with stiff brim, pants hanging around his crotch, some sort of gangbanger by the looks of him. Gloves on both hands, I have no idea what that's about.

Without ever looking me in the eye he gave me the whole business. Who was I? What was I doing? Why was I taking photos of that car? Was I aware there'd been burglaries around here? How come he'd never seen me around before? Coolly and calmly I tried to defuse him. Then he asked what's in the bag so I opened my backpack and showed him my map and camera and film and assured him they belonged to me, that I didn't work for the cops, that I was on his side, and by the way could I take his portrait? He seemed preoccupied and didn't answer. By then an older man had come along and tattoo-neck gave him the staredown as he walked down a driveway and into what presumably was his house. I asked again, can I take your portrait? No answer. He just kept scouting the street while wearing his weird black gloves. He would've made a fantastic portrait but oh well. I figured screw it and kept walking.

A little while later I did get a portrait. I met a young man on an overpass who'd just stolen a large metal foodrack from 7-11. It had been a Dorito display. He'd swiped the chips onto the floor, picked up the rack and walked out, and now he had it strapped across his back with some bungies. I asked why he hadn't been arrested but he was too drunk to answer. This was at 9 am. He said he was worth $3 million and had four kids and none of it mattered because he had to do his art and he needed the rack to dry ceramics on. He looked like he might jump at any point onto the freeway below. I'd been trained to think the light was perfect so I shot him, and that became the last photo of the summer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Text Message

I'm printing up this series to go here and I have an extra print of this. First person to email me gets it. (10/22 addendum: Too late. The text message is on its way here.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eat Me, TSA

By now many of you have seen the new TSA security posters, perhaps here, here, or here.

I realize the U.S. government has pursued misguided policies on occasion but this seems beyond ridiculous. Is the guy with the telephoto lens scoping out potential bomb targets? Or perhaps plotting an overthrow of a small island nation? Or maybe it's not a "camera" at all but an anti-aircraft gun in disguise? You can never be too sure.

There is a crime being committed here but it isn't photography. The real crime is that threats do exist. But when security officials pursue red herrings like this, resources are diverted from the real task at hand. With this in mind, here's my response to TSA:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

David Solomons: What Was He Thinking?

David Solomons lives and works in London. More of his work can be seen at In-Public or in his two photography books.

District Line, London, 1995

"I took this as part of a project I was working on when I was a photography student at Newport. I’d been directly inspired by Bruce Davidson’s Subway series and wanted to do something similar on the London Underground. It had been a long day’s shooting and I had pretty much called it a day and was making my way home from Wimbledon. Most of the network is underground, so I’d been concentrating on the interior space so I didn’t remember the train crossing the Thames at the time. I was quite struck by the brightness of this boy’s hair against the bright orange door of the tube carriage. As I was using a flash, I would often study the carriage for a while and maybe move around it until I saw something I liked then take just one shot. I usually changed carriages once the train pulled into the station and the process would go on like that."

Oxford Street, London, 2002

"I had been trying to think up a street theme I could do in London that would work as a follow up to my Underground series. As I often found myself drawn towards the West End, the term ‘Up West’ came to mind and I thought that would make a good title for a project. It motivated my efforts into concentrating on that specific area of London and this is one of the earliest shots I took specifically for it. One of the first themes I felt I needed to tackle was shopping and the obvious stomping ground for that is Oxford Street.

I was loitering around Selfridges and noticed this woman standing by the road. I liked the brightness of the scene and approached her from her left side standing about six feet in front of her. I felt it was going to be a one shot deal as she would see me as soon as I raised the camera. This was one of those situations where I had to quickly survey the background and choose a moment which eliminated most of the dead space but I only gave myself a few seconds and then it was just a case of getting the lady in the middle of the frame, shoot and move along. Often in these situations you get some untidy distracting element in the composition but I got very lucky with the mirrored arms on the edges of the frame."

Wardour Street, London, 2002

"I knew from an early stage that a major part of my Up West series would cover nightlife. Shooting under artificial lights with fast film presents its own technical problems and I was reliant a lot upon the light emanating from various establishments. I came across this take away shop in Soho and was attracted to the cool glow of the electric fly killer on the worktop. As I approached the scene the guy looked out the window and I took the shot and that was it. I didn’t notice the lights on the other side of the road reflected on his face at the time but after I scanned the neg, I thought it somehow illustrated the robotic nature of much of the work people have to do to make a living."

Whitehall, London, 2007

"I was with a friend when I took this one, which was something I never used to do but I find it breaks up the monotony sometimes and often some unexpected compositions can come out of it. We were about to cross this road, when I noticed the guys working on the ladder and the construction boards seemed to make a nice backdrop, almost like a theatrical stage. I framed the shot to include the whole board and I was there for about 10 seconds when the man in green overalls and the woman walked through the frame. Normally I might have stayed at the scene for a minute or so to make sure I had something decent, but because I was with a friend I probably felt a bit more rushed. That’s one of the advantages of using digital as I was able to check if I had a good shot. It looked good enough and we moved on. I’ve since gone back to using film for Up West though as I thought my work was becoming more detached from the subject when using a big DSLR."

Whites Stripes, Hyde Park, London, 2007

"I hadn’t been to a concert for ages and I’d recently gotten this 12-24 super-wide zoom for my D200, so I knew before I went that I wanted to get some close crowd scenes. I was about a dozen rows back from the stage and it was almost impossible to move. I looked behind me and I think it was the kid in the Madness t-shirt who first caught my eye as I thought he was really cool for liking an old band that I had loved when I was about his age. We had to wait about 20 minutes or so before The White Stripes appeared and I managed to shoot off about a dozen frames in the space of 30 seconds or so. I’m usually quite sensitive as to whether people mind a camera shoved in their face and I assume most people do, so I try to make the shot as quickly as possible until I sense any discomfort, then I stop. The gig was terrific."

Coventry Street, London, 2003

"I thought it was worth trying to capture the crowded and congested aspect of central London so part of this shot involved some planning. One of the difficulties I found with taking a picture of someone walking directly towards you is that they move aside before you can get close enough to shoot. So I developed this technique where I would approach the subject from the side then suddenly walk across their path in order to get the shot.

In order to try to capture a congested scene I tried on many occasions to intentionally be right in the middle of it, with my camera permanently glued to my face in case something appeared suddenly out of nowhere and I could react to it immediately. This was exactly the case in this shot, where I just pressed the shutter immediately after I noticed this girl bumping into the road sweeper. You can’t exactly vouch for getting a good composition at all in these circumstances as you’re more reliant on your reflexes just capturing what went on in front of you."

Old Compton Street, London, 2008

"I had recently returned from a trip to New York and was out on a shooting/drinking crawl with a couple of friends. We came out of The Greyhound pub around midnight and walked up Old Compton Street, which is the main gay street in Soho and a really lively place to be of an evening. I immediately saw the woman outside CafĂ© Nero and thought she looked quite isolated the way she sat outside surrounded by a dozen or so men not taking a blind bit of notice of her. At first I saw it as a simple shot for a smoking series I was playing around with at the time but later I recognized its significance as an important part of the ‘Up West’ series as the gay scene was one aspect I had wanted to cover but had up to that point failed to do."

Haymarket, London, 2003

"England had recently won the Rugby World Cup and there was a victory parade celebration that took place during the week. There were loads of people at work craning out of their windows to get a good view but I was more interested in people waiting for the bus carrying the players to come round. It was obvious that many people had been waiting a long time in their designated spots and I noticed this group of boys who looked like they would rather be back at school. Because of the historical nature of the event (England hardly ever wins anything) I found it a lot easier to point my camera at people as they were expecting it more. I shot about a dozen or so frames and hadn’t even noticed the middle boy yawning when I did so. I think I took one picture of the team bus as it went by a few minutes later."

St.Martins Lane, London, 2009

"This came out of a rare early morning excursion into town. I was looking for people who were a bit wasted but didn’t want that to be the sole point of the picture as I think it’s a bit obvious. I was really drawn to the way this guys leg was bent which made a good point to anchor the picture, while I used the sweeping curve of the pavement to create a dynamic design element to the composition. But the overall scene didn’t seem complete somehow, so I waited for other people to perhaps take pity on him or something but luckily this couple just happened to walk through the scene and I ended up with something that I totally didn’t expect. Later when I exhibited it at Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff, a friend of mine remarked how it resembled a sort of theatrical tragedy, that the guy on the floor had somehow lost the girl to man walking away with her."

Marble Arch Subway, London, 2008

"I have a good friend to thank for my getting this picture as she had developed some stomach pains while we were relaxing in nearby Hyde Park. We headed for the nearest toilet, which was situated in this now closed off subway. I remember it was a Sunday and as I was waiting outside for several minutes I saw this boy playing keepie uppie. There were lots of other people passing in front of the camera so I had to wait for people to pass by before I could get any shots. I think I was shooting him for about four or five minutes before I was able to get the shot I wanted. When my friend came out of the loo she was puzzled as to why I had a big smile on my face so it was a case of someone else’s misfortune working to my advantage."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What To Do? #83

247. Amazon Creek, 2007

248. SW Yamhill, Portland, 2008

249. Jersey Shore, 2007

WTD? is a weekly installment of old unseen photos.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hitting the iceberg, again

Last year I posted a brief pairing showing the rephotography of Gary Shrimpling. That was just the tip of the iceberg. He's been at it since, working up a whole series of shots by well-known British street photographers. As a rephotography lover, I find the results captivating. Why doesn't someone do this for Friedlander or Frank? Anyone want to take it on?

Some examples:

Durham Miners' Gala, 1969, Tony Ray-Jones

Durham City, 2010, Gary Shrimpling

Bacup Coconut Dancers, 1968, Tony Ray-Jones

Bacup, 2010, Gary Shrimpling

Duke Street, Birkenhead, 1992, Tom Wood

Duke Street, Birkenhead, 2010, Gary Shrimpling

New Brighton, 1985, Martin Parr

New Brighton, 2010, Gary Shrimpling

New Brighton, 1985, Martin Parr

New Brighton, 2010, Gary Shrimpling

Penshaw Monument, 1980s, Chris Killip

Penshaw Monument, 2009, Gary Shrimpling

Bever, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 1980, Chris Killip

Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 2009, Gary Shrimpling

Crabs and People, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 1981, Chris Killip

Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 2009, Gary Shrimpling