Monday, May 23, 2011

Song For Wesley

Rainbow gradations seem to have caught fire lately in the blogosphere. Lexi Adams at I Heart Photograph ran a post on Friday showing a trio of sky photos by Anna Huix, Ann Woo, and Yusuke Nishimura.

One day later I like This Art ran a sky series by Eric Cahan (via Triangulation) which looked quite similar.

If these images look vaguely familiar, perhaps you're remembering the cover of Lay Flat 02 from last Winter which featured an Ann Woo sunset photo.

Or maybe they remind you of Jon Stanley Austin's Skyscape photographs?

Skyscapes, Jon Stanley Austin

Is there nothing new under the sunset? Sky colors may be resurgent but they aren't exactly fresh. Richard Misrach thoroughly covered this territory in the 90s with his sky series.

from The Sky Book, by Richard Misrach

I'm not saying Misrach exhausted the topic, but at this point photographers would have to ask themselves pretty hard what they might be adding to it. Oh well. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as Misrach knows full well.

Instant Loveland, 1968, Jules Olitski

Maybe part of the reason sunset photos are so tempting is because traditionally they've been a such photographic punch line. I mean, who photographs a sunset? Isn't that like shooting an old barn or a nude on a log?

For irony-loving artists, the fact that it's cliché is perfect motivation. Straddling the line between high and low art is a favorite pastime. Lift up the low. Tear down the high. Pretty soon we don't know if the sun is setting or rising.

Google Image Search: "sunrise sky"

Google Image Search: "sunset sky"

If the separation between dawn and dusk is uncomfortably narrow, so too is the line between fine art and and schmaltz. Pretty dramatic colors in spectrum. Is it low art? High? Pretty? Dramatic? Who knows. At this point maybe the ultimate prank is just to program colors into a computer and have a robot paint them:

Debug a Sickness Upon Us, Vangobot

Honestly I'd been thinking about rainbow gradations even before this recent batch, ever since reading this post by J. Wesley Brown which deftly pulled together a wide range of examples. They're not all skies, but they get the point across. Something is afoot.

In Rainbows, from We Can Shoot Too

For me this post was like a catchy pop song that became stuck in my head. After reading it I began to see rainbows everywhere, even in places I shouldn't have. For example, on Jim Johnson's blog:

I noticed with fresh eyes the rainbow that appeared every time I loaded a new browser window:

And the one in Alex Webb's brilliant new book:

Erie, Pennsylvania, 2010, from The Suffering of Light, Alex Webb

Even away from the the photo world I couldn't escape them. Here is what I see downtown Eugene every Saturday:

Rainbow Gathering photo via Whiskers On Roses

Maybe the rainbows were there all along and I'd never paid attention. Or maybe it was in fact a new age dawning. Or setting. I couldn't tell.

So I wrote to J. Wesley Brown and told him I had a problem. I told him thanks to his post I now had the rainbow song stuck in my head and asked what should I do? What's the secret to the rainbows?

He wrote back that he wasn't sure what was going on but that it was probably a new movement or school that didn't exist before, exploring color, gradients, rainbows, prisms, and selective color manipulation. He was calling them New Mystics to himself because he felt a sort of mystical vibe from such photos. And they all seemed to enjoy that "magical, hipster element". And oh yeah, he wrote, by the way have you seen this rainbow?

Color theory rainbow via Kuler via Into The Abyss via J. Wesley Brown

Great, another pop song stuck. Now I can't see a movie the normal way. Thanks a lot, Wesley.

I wrote back that I wasn't sure anymore what a hipster was. Someone that mixes high and low? Who wears a fedora? Who shoots color fields? Who sees them where they aren't? In the subject line of the email I wrote suggestively, "We all see what we want to see", not really sure if it was a statement or a question.

Yes, we all see what we want to see at the end of a post about rainbows.


Thomas said...

Perhaps we can give a name to this movement. I'm currently using "The New Psychedelics" as a shorthand for this style of contemporary photography.

bastinptc said...

Just call it pretty and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Blake, does Alex Webb's new book have mostly new photos? I own all his books except the Amazon one and I'm wondering if it's worth it for me to purchase. Personally, like in music, I'm not a big fan of greatest hits collections. Thanks.

Blake Andrews said...

I don't own The Suffering of Light but I spent a while with it at Powell's. It's a retrospective so most of the photos you will have seen. But it goes right up through 2010 so it includes some very recent stuff that will probably be new. The print quality is great, and it's a good selection. Pretty much every shot is a winner, which is rare for a street photography book. He's so good it almost feels like he's not even trying.

Webb is definitely the heir to HCB in terms of formal composition and packaging fleeting shapes. Which is maybe a problem. Like HCB the style can come off as a bit cold and formal. They aren't warm fuzzy photos. But if you have his books you knew that already.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Blake. I don't know if you own a copy, but Aperature also did a fantastic job with Webb's Istanbul book.

Jon Stanley Austin said...

hey Blake,

first of all, love your work! I always have respect for someone who shoots a lot. Second, i feel stupid lol. I didn't realise there was there were so many similarities about. embarrassing.

My reason for my series was simple. I was on a shoot with a musician. The designer working on the musicians website was fond on having a photograph full bleed on his website, and he wanted a gradient feel. (see here:

This got me interested in photographing the sky, purely for it's similarity to what one would create in photoshop with the gradient fill tool, or what I see many screen printers do. So i thought i'll photograph this more as a design thing. You know, avoid all the clouds, planes etc. Just make a clean gradient via a photograph. and it's why it is the only section on my site that you scroll horizontally. It's purely aesthetics, no arty farty reason for it. it's not a document of the paths angels make or owt like that. But i might take it off my site now, lol.

Saying that though, I bet there aren't many things left that haven't been photographed?

@thomas I know what you're saying about 'the new psychedelics'. A recent trend i've also noticed is the overlay of some sort of cosmos/star constellation over a photograph.

MG said...

Nice collection, B. Have you ever seen the blog VVORK? It is a site that collects similar aesthetics in contemporary (and historic) art. It is amazing to see the crossover (especially this week, in regards to your post):

Blake Andrews said...

@Jon Stanley Austin, Please don't take down the work on my account. Plenty of room for everything to co-exist on the web. And as you say, it's hard to find any photo project that hasn't already been pursued by at least a few other people, so that is probably too strict a standard for weeding stuff out. I'm just a guy taking potshots from the sidelines. Feel free to ignore.

@MG, hadn't seen VVork. Thanks for the link. I wish I'd seen the star photos before writing my piece about dotscapes. My only complaint is the images take forever to load. Who puts a 1MB jpg on a website?

Jon Stanley Austin said...

@blake andrews i'll think about it lol.

i hadn't read your blog before, but i've had a good read since i posted my last comment. On a completely different note to this post, i read your post about shooting for a project vs shooting first then collating into a "project". Like you, I shoot the latter way. and it's refreshing to see some positive words on that. i always feel my work isn't worthy because of it. so thanks! and i'm following you now (google reader) :)

Kate said...


My name is Kate, im hot russian girl, from St. Peterburg.
I like to internet meeting. (now i find you e-mail in google)

If you are interesting to chat, meet, change photos, hot webcam talk,
wright me now to my e mail:


p.s. I wait you and pls bring book Suffering the Light. im big fan Alex webd

Blake Andrews said...

It looks like my secret plan to meet hot Russian girls by writing a photoblog has finally begun to pay dividends.

jacques philippe said...

^^ looks like a rather long term investment though...