Sunday, October 31, 2010

My famous friends

I've been hanging out a lot lately with Alex Webb. Yes, the Alex Webb. Well, maybe hanging out isn't the right term exactly. It's more of a long distance friendship. Actually we haven't even met in person yet. But on Facebook we're solid buddies. Peas in a pod. I know for a fact that if Alex Webb ever had a small private gathering at his home and invited only his 2000 closest Facebook friends, I would be on that list. We're that intimate.

I'm close friends with a lot of other famous photographers as well. Anders Petersen, Carl de Keyzer, Eli Reed, Larry Fink, Jeff Mermelstein, Larry Clark, Mitch Epstein, just to namedrop a few. It's sort of crazy how popular I've become recently. Scads of friends. Again, I should probably add the disclaimer that I haven't actually met any of these people. We're more like, well, just Facebook friends at this point. Which if you think about it could be the first step to deep lifelong companionship. Or not.

Forty of my closest friends

Jeff's been weird lately. The other day I sent him a Facebook message and he totally ignored it like he didn't even know me. As If!

To tell the truth it hasn't been just Jeff. None of my famous friends have responded to my recent messages. And I've sent literally hundreds upon hundreds!

You'd think that if a good friend tries to get in touch with you, common courtesy would result in at least an acknowledgment. But no. Instead the only replies are silly messages from attorneys saying bla bla bla restraining order bla bla bla cease and desist and all these other words. I'm not sure what they say exactly since my policy is to immediately delete any message that it isn't from a good close friend.

I tried to become friends with Stephen Shore but that didn't really work out. Here's what you see when you invite Stephen Shore to be a Facebook friend.

Now to me this message could be interpreted a lot of ways. It all depends on what is meant by "if you know Stephen". I mean technically that could mean a lot of things, right? Well that's not the way his lawyers saw it. Harassment, bla bla bla, the usual legalisms. I'm not sure why Stephen's being like that but it makes me sad.

For a while there Stephen and I were, at least potentially, practically inseparable. But at this point technically speaking we're no longer friends. That's a shame. I hate to lose touch with someone like that after all we've potentially been through together. But that's just how it goes sometimes.

Oh well. Whatever else happens at least I've got Alex. Friends for life, right buddy?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What To Do? #89

265. Halloween, 2007

266. Halloween, 2008

267. Halloween, 2009

WTD? is a weekly installment of old unseen photos.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three strange scans

1. A maple leaf found walking home this week. The green spots are from a fungus that feeds on the chlorophyll of the dead leaf before the tree can suck it back into the trunk. Strangely beautiful.

2. An image of Emmett's face from yesterday when he was playing around with the scanner. Visual records can sometimes make a person look strangely older.

3. An article clipped from the Eugene Register-Guard last week. As anyone who's been photographed in a ghillie suit knows, reality is often stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


What the heck has gotten into Gregory Crewdson? His latest project, Sanctuary, represents such a one-eighty from his previous work that it's barely recognizable. Elaborate staging? Gone. Color? Gone. Wall-sized prints? Gone. In their place are these delicate black and white studies from Italy.

Untitled (08), 2009, Gregory Crewdson

They're printed so modestly that several will fit on one wall.

Crewdson show at Gagosian Gallery, up through this weekend

If there is any consistency with past work, it's in the precision of pre-visualization. These aren't casual snapshots. The degree of orderliness is roughly on par with his earlier cinematic murals.

Still, if you saw these on the wall with no captions you'd never guess Crewdson. At least not until now.

I've been racking my brain trying to think of another photographer who made such a radical shift over such a short course of time. Shore? His switch from snapshots and postcards to view camera was fairly dramatic. Meyerowitz? Within a few years he transitioned from b/w street to color street to large format static vistas. Still it took him a decade, which isn't very fast. Friedlander's switch to Hasselblad in the 80s was profound. Evans and Callahan come to mind, but they both experimented so much that it's hard to identify them with any one baseline style.

And then there are the countless photographers who've transitioned over time, generally from smaller to larger formats and from b/w to color. Annie Leibovitz is a good example. Her early b/w photojournalism is a million miles from what she's doing now. Or is it?

The Rolling Stones at The Spectrum, June 29, 1975, Annie Leibovitz

Julianne Moore and Michael Phelps, from the recent Disney Dream portrait series, Annie Leibovitz

But to some extent all of these shooters have kept their photographic identity intact. They've repackaged themselves but it's still recognizably them. They're like Dylan at Newport, altered but easily identified.

Crewdson's departure seems more radical. Not only did he transform the size, palette, and methodology of his photos overnight, he abandoned his very way of seeing. Instead of hiring a forty person crew to build pre-conceived sets, these are found scenes, and quiet ones too.

So what's a good comparison? It's probably hyperbole to compare it to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, but I think it does belong on that spectrum of unrecognizability. Maybe a more appropriate comparison is The Beatles between roughly 1965 and 1967. Were they still recognizably The Beatles after embracing psychedelia? Yes, in retrospect. But if you took The White Album back in time and played it to a someone in 1964, that person wouldn't have a clue who made it.

Do any other photographers come to mind? Which ones have become unrecognizable overnight?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Four rules

I've been thinking for a while about James Danziger's four rules essential for any young photographer trying to survive:

1. Have talent. (Talent is not when your friends tell you they love your work, but when people who don't like you have to admit it's good.)

2. Understand how the world works. (Not just globally, but on a macro level. Understand what people need and don't need. Understand when to approach people and when not to. Develop social skills.)

3. Choose good friends. (There's nothing like an effective network.)

4. Be modern. (Don't do anything that looks like it's someone else's work. Stay on top of technology. Engage on multiple platforms.)

I suspect that most photographers would consider these as sound central principiles to guide their work. To me that's a problem. Why? Because these rules don't concern the central task of any photographer, which is the making of meaningful photographs. Instead they're about distribution. In fact Danziger's advice isn't specific to photography at all. The same marketing principles might be useful for car salesmen or young Hollywood actors or hedge fund managers or anyone else trying to get ahead in the world.

Fine, you say. We all want to get our work seen. What's wrong with marketing? Nothing, so as long as the selling of photographs doesn't manipulate their production. But I think people following this list —especially young photographers— may confuse the two. Instead of being seen as a guide to success, these principles may be mistaken for a general approach to photography.

I'm singling out Danziger here but the mentality is widespread in the photography community. Last Spring I saw an ad for a workshop promising to focus on these photography skills: Defining a target audience, creating the optimal marketing piece, writing query letters, entering juried shows, participating in portfolio review events, attending trade shows, designing and creating self-promotion materials such as web sites and general best practices for presenting your work. All of which may be wonderful skills but they have nothing to do with the hard practice of making meaningful work.

The list goes on. Reviews, Submissions, Networking, Social Media, I'm sure you know the game. There is a real danger, if one is not careful, of being consumed with these secondary tasks while actual photography takes a back seat. And yes, I would include blogging on that list.

With that in mind, here's my revised list of four rules essential for any young photographer trying to make meaningful photographs:

1. Find your talent. Everyone has something they were put on the planet to do, but most people wind up ignoring their calling or pursuing the wrong one. Maybe your talent is photography. Maybe it isn't. But before proceeding with photography, make sure that's your thing.

2. Understand how your brain works. Learn how it sees. Learn what it likes and why it likes those things. Learn how it can trick you. Test your brain out by exposing it to a ton of photographs as well as real scenes. Forget about social skills.

3. Choose good friends, not for networking but for honest critique of your work. The best feedback will come from a mix of photographers and nonphotographers.

4. Be postmodern. Borrow from any time period and any predecessor, then build on them to create your own vision. You needn't use modern tools but whatever you use should be so routine you don't have to think about it.

That's a start anyway...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What To Do? #88

262. San Diego, 2007

263. San Diego, 2007

264. San Diego, 2007

WTD? is a weekly installment of old unseen photos.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I've decided to start a new tradition of Friday poetry on B, beginning with one of my favorites, Photograph by the English poet D.F. LePard.

I first committed these stanzas to memory as a child many years ago during the hour bus ride to and from school. I would recite the poem to myself, and sometimes to others, until it stuck in all our brains like mental bubblegum. Many years later when I became interested in photography, the words gained added meaning. Hopefully they will be familiar to at least some readers of a certain age.

I'm outa luck, outa love.
Gotta photograph, picture of

Passion killer. You're too much.
You're the only one I wanna touch.

I see your face every time I dream,
on every page, every magazine.

So wild and free, so far from me.
You're all I want, my fantasy.

Oh, look what you've done to this rock 'n' roll clown.
Oh oh, look what you've done.

Photograph. I don't want your photograph.
I don't need your photograph.
All I've got is a photograph.
But it's not enough.

I'd be your lover, if you were there.
Put your hurt on me, if you dare.

Such a woman, you got style.
You make every man feel like a child, oh.

You got some kinda hold on me.
You're all wrapped up in mystery.

So wild and free, so far from me.
You're all I want, my fantasy.

Oh, look what you've done to this rock 'n' roll clown.
Oh oh, look what you've done.

Photograph. I don't want your photograph.
I don't need your photograph.
All I've got is a photograph.
You've gone straight to my head

Oh, look what you've done to this rock 'n' roll clown.
Oh Oh, look what you've done.

I gotta have you!

Photograph. I don't want your photograph.
I don't need your photograph.
All I've got is a photograph.

I wanna touch you!

Photograph. Photograph.
Your photograph.
Photograph. Photograph. I need only
your photograph. I'm outa love.
Photograph. I'm outa love.
Photograph. You're the only one.
Photograph. I wanna touch.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The development of moving pictures

When Portland photographer Bryan Wolf showed me these photos last week I was pretty amazed. What at first seems a carefully considered Pictorial revival turns out to be old photos left in the rain. For me they serve as a reminder that accidents can play a central role in good photography. Here's the backstory courtesy of Bryan:

Maryland Sunset 2

When we moved late last fall, I had to let go of a ton of childhood stuff--homework from 3rd grade, early darkroom prints from the mid-80s, and other stuff I only see when I move. Of course I still saved thousands and thousands of photographs and lots of other useless memorabilia to enjoy one day in the future. A few things never made it into the overcrowded basement, including that old computer desk you gave me, an upright moviola, and a mystery box. They were all under a tarp on the back patio but after multiple windy rainstorms, things got wet including the box, which turned out to have lots of rolls of machine prints from the early 80s to about 1991, plus a bunch of reels of 16mm negative.


On a sunny saturday in September I finally dealt with that box, but as usual, instead of heaving it into the trash I picked through the spiders and the mold to see what photos I ruined. After peeling apart a few stacks of soggy prints I realized that my negligence and slobbishness had set me up for an art explosion. So I laid prints all around the back patio to dry as I had all sorts of flashbacks, most of which are as washed away as these images had become.

Israel Summer

Of course I stayed out late that night and didn't bring the dry prints in. Instead I woke up to the sound of rain starting and ran outside to grab some potential favorites, just before a huge storm washed away more information from the prints. A couple weeks later I grabbed more that are interesting, and I think there are still a few out there to go deal with.

Maryland Sunset 2

Israel Summer 2

Andy B and Jim Morrison

Israel Summer 3

Dome of the Rock

Israel Summer 4


Dad 2


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Social Media for photographers

Clockwise: Diane Arbus, Martin Schoeller, William Eggleston, Richard Nicholson

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brian Dyson Quest

It's rare nowadays for a photographer to have absolutely no web presence. Brian Dyson is a good example. I don't know anything about him except what's in his 2005 book One Eye Open, One Eye Closed. Although it's a bit of a mixed bag, it does include enough classic street shots to pique my curiosity.

Brian Dyson, are you out there? If so, please contact me. I'd like to learn more about you.

La Bodega de Media, Havana, Cuba, 2004

El Malecon, Havana, Cuba, 2004

Leavenworth, Washington, USA, 1970

Steam Engine Rally, Harewood House, Yorkshire, 1967

Portobello Road, London, England, 1967

Portobello Road, London, England, 1967

Sunday, October 17, 2010

PDX Badger

"Photography doesn't kick ass, but it can take names."

—Gerry Badger, 10/13/10

Don't ask me what that quote means exactly, but you have to admit it's catchy. I've been stewing over that and many other thoughts stirred up by Gerry Badger since seeing him speak Wednesday at Portland Art Museum about The Pleasures of Good Photographs. In fact it's been a full week of Badger. Last weekend he was at Blue Sky for the opening of his Berlin photographs, his first solo show in over three decades of shooting.

Near Tiergarten S-Bahn Station, Berlin 2007

Before the Blue Sky show I'd never seen any Badger photos (a Google Image Search turns up almost nothing). Where has this guy been hiding? His photos are great (the web versions shown here don't do them justice).

By his own account Badger approaches photography the same way he does writing. When he starts an essay, he doesn't know where it might go. He just follows his thoughts as they take their natural course, and at the end Voila!, he's connected x to y.

Köpenickerstrasse, Mitte, Berlin, 2008

He photographs in the same manner. He walks around with a 4 x 5, no preconceptions. He follows his vision as it takes its natural course without knowing exactly what he's looking for, until he finds his camera where it belongs. It's a bit of an ADHD approach, with heightened awareness.

The resulting images are quiet photographs, to use one of Badger's own terms, and probably likely to turn off many casual viewers. At first glance they seem to depict nothing important and the decision to point the camera in one direction versus another seems arbitrary. The sites he chooses are generally a mess, layered with trees, industrial artifacts, brambles, wires, graffiti, etc. What to focus on? And how can it fit together visually?

It's only after longer study that the economy and precision of these images begins to shine. Far from being arbitrary, the exact camera position is inescapable. The photos are put together like jigsaws, as precise as Uncommon Places and as densely layered as architectural drawings.

Skalitzerstrasse, Kreuzberg, Berlin, 2008

In his gallery talk Badger called Friedlander, Atget, and Evans his holy trinity of influences. Perhaps that trio could be translated as precision, soul, and vernacular? All are present in Badger's photos.

Anyway, it reminded me of Christopher Rauschenberg who used to describe his own photos as "on the corner of Friedlander and Atget" until he realized that corner didn't exist. Friedlander was the apex of sly trickiness and Atget was a primitive savant. They're at odds. But maybe with Evans as the third axis, that nexus does become possible. With those three at your back the potential is there to make photographs which indeed kick ass, not to mention taking names.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What To Do? #87

259. Beacon Rock, WA, 2002

260. W 20th and Burnside, 2003

261. Angkor Wat, 1996

WTD? is a weekly installment of old unseen photos.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"This project does have some difficulties."

If you're not happy with current SLR offerings, I guess you could always build your own. Denis MO's project is pretty mind-blowing. "My project consists in creating a 24x36mm reflex all by myself, no more, no less. I have had this project in mind for the past 25 years, but I didn’t master the technique nor did I have the knowledge necessary to complete it until now (I’m almost 42)." Impressive on many levels.

For a more detailed explanation and many more photos, look here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bob Dylan Edition Leica?

George Kelly recently gave me this portrait of myself.

I think this photo is great because it relies on the viewer for a lot of its meaning. Any nonphotographer looking at this would have no idea what the thing is in my mouth. A whistle? A carpentry tool? A pocket knife? But to many film photographers the thing in my mouth is instantly recognizable and narrates exactly what's happening here. Not only that, it narrates our entire 2 week European journey.

It's a photo that's at once unapproachable and completely specific, depending on where you're coming from. Why can't all photos be like that? Oh, right, I forgot. They are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Q & A with Gordon Stettinius

A few questions for Gordon Stettinius about his recently published book Gita Lenz, the accompanying exhibition, and Candela Books.

B: Has Gita Lenz seen the book? What was her reaction?

G: She has seen the book. She is a little bemused by it all. She wonders how many people might buy a book of her work. How much does it cost? et cetera. And she remembers certain images every time and then other times I visit, a name might escape her. She will often say that I really like this one or something more tongue in cheek like "I must say , I way pretty damn good." To be honest though, every time I visit her, it is as though she is seeing the book for the first time. And she has a couple of them at the nursing home. I will be heading out tomorrow to visit her on her 100th birthday. Which is just incredible to me but it should be fun.

How much input did she have in the editing? Were her prints at all organized? What was the selection process?

Gita had almost no direct input into the editing of the work. I tried hard to ascertain which images might have been more important to her by looking at the entire body of work. There are some pretty strong indicators that she felt strongly pulled by the abstract expressionism movement. Quotes in some of the contemporary magazines echo this idea. My sense is that judging by the quality of the work, much of the street work was earlier and much of the stylized or experimental work was coming after she had been working for a while. The prints are just more consistent in the more abstract work. There are some beautiful images in the street photography tradition also but within the larger collection, this work is a little more up and down in terms of quality. This could have been for other reasons too, perhaps the abstract work received more exhibition opportunities maybe? Then craft might have been given a little more attention because of the opportunity. It is difficult to say as there is not a lot of dating and titling on the individual prints.

The story of you and Gita Lenz makes me think of the role of discoverer/champion in certain photographers achieving recognition. Sometimes great work just sits in a closet for years until it's "discovered". E.g., Atget, Bellocq, Gary Stochl, Billy Monk, or Vivian Meier just last fall. It often takes another person to come along and set society's pointer, and this discoverer then assumes sort of a co-role in determining how the work is understood. Do you see yourself in that role? Does it carry some responsibility? Is it possible to achieve recognition without someone in that role?

There is a strong sense of responsibility, definitely. I am not sure where this project goes ultimately. And I do sort of like it this way. The archive is not so gigantic that I am trying to make grand claims about it or about Gita. But the work is of a definite quality and it exhibits a lot of qualities that resonate with me. First of all, she cared about it and that speaks to me. She continued doing it even though she was not earning much income from it. These are such common themes to artists everywhere but it still makes for a poignant story as it unfolds. She pursued her interests for nearly twenty years and then decided to move on. She was someone who appeared to have a fresh take on the medium given the predominant themes of the day.

There are some 30 boxes of prints and I am probably most responsible for their organization at this point. And then there is the question of which work was selected for the book and exhibition in New York and, of course, the gallerist, Tom Gitterman puts a strong impression out there of which work he feels is important. We agree most often but then we each have a handful of images that are more difficult to understand why it is that "image A" is interesting to the other of us. No surprise there really. There were some great images that are not in the book because they were off in another area of exploration and I was already fighting a fairly eclectic collection of imagery. Some cool images though are still waiting for their audience.

The work was definitely in some jeopardy when we brought it to Virginia from New York. So, in that sense it needed a champion but I think that many artists are their own champion. It doesn't hurt when someone else decides to make a persuasive case about the work though.

Why are there no captions in the book?

There were almost no titles available to us at all. Of the images in the book, maybe six of them had titles... We thought about including a plate index but I felt it would be a little anemic having 49 or so images listed as untitled, undated and then have scant information for the others. I wish the book could have been more informative also. There are also documents and pay stubs and the like that allude to images published or exhibited but these are hard to attach to specific images because the title are listed on an inventory sheet with no photos attached and often read something like Transformation #9 or Waterscape #4 or Arabesque #9... I have often thought that this would be an interesting project for a photo history Phd candidate. But I have done what I can and have sought help out from many varied sources also.

The book seems to jump around in subject matter and it's sometimes hard to sense a unifying vision across all the styles. What do you think is the unifying element? What do you think Gita Lenz would say is the unifying element?

I think the work represents an evolution. I would love to see where she might have gone as an artist if she had continued these past forty or fifty years.. Minor White supposed that it takes twenty years at least to master the medium. Gita didn't quite hit that mark and as such she did some journalistic work to pay the bills, she photographed the neighborhood around her, working people and then she saw the potential for emotional expression through tone and symbols in a way that was pretty radical at the time. It is definitely eclectic. She photographed a lot of ducks, fences, chairs, taxi drivers... It could be that I respond to this aspect a little as well because I suffer from a similar eclecticism.

What do you think motivated her primarily? I know she was a commercial photographer but do you think that was the main driver? Or was she shooting for herself? Or to make it in the art world? What?

I suspect that Gita was motivated by artistic inspiration from the outset. She strikes me as an intuitive and emotional character. Maybe even a character in the broad sense of that word. Or maybe I project a lot of ideas onto her. Even when she gave up photography as a professional pursuit she turned to creative writing and poetry as an outlet. Judging from her book collection, she was widely read and politically active. She ran with some interesting people. I think she needed a career and she fought for a long while to make her way creatively as a photographer. It was a hybrid existence to be sure but probably not that unusual then because it certainly is almost the norm now.

What are your thoughts on founding a publishing house? How's it gone so far? Was Candela in the pipeline for a while before Lenz came along, or was it spurred by meeting her?

The books sales are steady but let's just say I have a ways to go yet in starting up relationships with booksellers. The next project will benefit from the effort I have made while starting up the company by launching Gita's book. So she has sort of given me a gift in that regard. And I hope to make book donations to any institution or university library or museum that makes a request of me. I am seeking these people out also.

I definitely would like to sell the book to individuals with an interest in photography or women in photography or abstract expressionism or New York photography or mid 20c photography... but I would really like most to see Gita's name entered into the historical record a little bit. The exhibition has gone very well so far and I hope that sales continue (especially to public institutions) and perhaps other exhibition opportunities might come about as well. I intend to mount an exhibition here in Richmond next year. If for some reason the work were to do very well from a sales perspective, we intend to start up a foundation in Gita's name. I am not sure wether we will get to that point though to be completely honest. The project has been extremely rewarding but the rewards have been more the intangible kind.