Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brief Book Reviews by Yoda

Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity On the Way to the Bank by Duane Michals

Rare to encounter such a darkly cynical book in photoland it is, especially one written by one of photography's leading practitioners. The fine art photo establishment a new A-hole Duane Michals rips, but without coming off as a jerk. The type of humor that B aspires to this is. The force is strong with this one.

One Shot Harris by Charles "Teenie" Harris

On a par with Weegee, Metinides, or any other Tabloid-style photojournalist Harris was. Pittsburg during the post-war years these pictures show. An astonishing range of subjects and styles they display, and an uncanny ability to hit the mark again and again. So good was this guy to give up photography he nearly makes me desire. Hmm. To a dark place this line of thought will carry us. Great care we must take.

One to Nothing by Irina Rozovsky

Somewhere between travelogue and desert mythology these photos fall. During two short photo junkets, capture some of the strange character of modern Israel Rozovsky managed to do. Or do not... there is no try. A removal from reality the strange color cast in many photos gives them. Cinematic, staged, and strangely exotic these photos feel. An arid land of tension, dust, and surprisingly verdant beauty they capture. Hmm. Yesss.

Let's sit down before we go by Bertien Van Manen

My latest hero Van Manen is. Like snapshots her photos are. Fleeting. Intimate. Gorgeous. My first glance through the book found photos I thought I was viewing. Yet by her all were shot. My favorite photo book of the year this is. Why? No, no, there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions.

Illuminance by Rinko Kauwachi

A lovely book with many nice photos but one which ultimately feeling a bit numb left me. Kauwachi cares about what, hmm? Light, hmm? Mixing photos like an iPod shuffle, hmm? A show in Brighton, hmm? If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are ... a different game you should play? But perhaps hit the mark here she has by producing a moving target, a book that to many people can be many things. Of the times a sign. It is the future you see. Herh herh herh.

SeaCoal by Chris Killip

Traditional photo essay Chris Killip's Seacoal is, with all its trappings good and bad. Of the past this book feels a bit like something dredged, in both style and material. Yet published just last year it was. No fancy shenigans, just straight photos displayed sequentially. Black and white essay. Of a dying industry and the community dependent on it the photos tell the story. The dark side of coal this is.

Gabe by Nick Haymes

Shot on a Gus Van Sant movie set in Portland this was. From bushy tailed innocent to hived maniac living on the streets of Los Angeles Haymes follows Gabe. When nine hundred years old Gabe reaches, look as good he will not. Powerful you have become Gabe, the dark side I sense in you. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. And heavy photos. Lost a planet, Master Gabe has. How embarrassing. How embarrassing.

The Auckland Project by John Gossage and Alec Soth

Strange this book is. Comprise the normal first half Gossage's sharply seen photos do. And an interesting unfolding puzzle, Soth's companion piece is. Give props will I for experimenting and for coming up with a "Book" like no other. Still, face a bit of a let down, anyone expecting a true portfolio will. Tack this poster to their dorm room I'm guessing few collectors shall. In protective cover will it remain. Hmm. Yeesss.

Notes on Fulford's Raising Frogs for $$$ by Jason Fulford

On one hand can I count the number of photography monographs which have Cliff Notes. One finger actually. As bizarre and absurd as this small pamphlet seems, quite useful it is. A study aid it is. My understanding of Fulford's monograph it enhances. A tinkerer Fulford is. An experimenter. A surrealist. Quite like this book there is nothing else. For the Suggested Reading list alone it is worth buying.

Writing with Light by L. Ron Hubbard

An avid amateur photographer with professional aspirations was the founder of Scientology. Humanism, romanticism, photojournalism, and the worst of most other major "isms" Hubbard's style incorporates. His camera collection, life as a photographer, and contributions to photographic history this volume describes, with fawning commentary. As camp it could be dismissed if it weren't so amusing. Worth seeking out at garage sales or similar venues.

Street Photographer by Vivian Maier

Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship. The Force was strong in Maier.

The Photobook Review Volume 2 Edited by Markus Schaden

To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness. Be a candle, or the night. With the second edition, the mantle of candle the Aperture spinoff claims. Just when I was about to let my subscription lapse a new hope this gives me. On many long journals have I gone. And waited, too, for others to return from journals of their own. Some return; some are broken; some come back so different only their names remain. Another stride forward TBR takes to become the premier photography book review journal.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Ever Summer

Wayne Bremser's take on 10 Photographers You Should Ignore:

You should study the great masters of the past. But you should only do so with disdain for the often-repeated cliches of these famous oeuvres. Here are some suggestions:

Ansel Adams — Only study AA photographs that include some element of human involvement. There are hundreds if not thousands of urban scenes and portraits. Study anything he shot with Polaroid.

Henri Cartier Bresson — He shot color for Life magazine on a few occasions. Only study that.

Robert Frank — Study the photos he took that could be by Ansel Adams. No humans, only nature and landscapes. Traditional focus and low-contrast a plus. Find 10 photos that are an example of RF using the Zone system.

Stephen Shore — Opposite of Cartier-Bresson. Only study the b/w work (trees? Italy?), nothing obviously “American”. Ignore the 1970s. Only study recent decades.

Nan Goldin — Only study images that can be used on a contemporary greeting card (and no, not a “get well soon with that black eye” card).

William Eggleston — Similar to Shore, no photographs taken in the South. Look only at the early black and white book and stuff from the 90s & 2000s (the projects in Europe).

Ryan McGinley —Only the images that look as if they could be taken by Alec Soth.

Winogrand — Study the Kodachromes. Look for photos which are static, no people, show no movement, or have “well-aligned” horizon.

Alec Soth — Only the images that look as if they could've been taken by Ryan McGinley.

Arbus — Only the commercial work (Marcello Mastroianni on a bed). And the photos without people.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Street Photography Now

Street photography has swelled in popularity in recent years, and with its rise has come a slew of sites promoting the form. A notable example is Cedar Pasori's recently published 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now. This article is well timed, since street photography has slipped into a period of dangerous fragmentation. There are so many possible approaches and techniques that it can be hard for the interested viewer to know where to start. A simple Google Image Search for "Street", for example, reveals a multitude of possibilities within only the first 30 images. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Google Image Search "Street"

Thankfully, The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now delivers just what the title promises. It cuts through the clutter, encapsulating a state of the art summation of street photography today. As a longtime street shooter I find the selections fascinating. What elevates a photographer into the pantheon of The 50 Greatest? Obviously they share a love of streets —Street, to use the photographer's term. But what more can we learn? What are their techniques? Their hopes? Their dreams? Their influences and antecedents?

Pasori has cleverly incorporated Street into the very structure of the list by remaining receptive to luck, chance, and the happy accident in finalizing his selections. To the extent that many of the choices leave the viewer scratching his or her head, that sense of mystery only reinforces the serendipitous nature of Street. Street cannot be bottled up and explained. Street is impetuous. Street is unplanned.

Some of The 50 Greatest show the street in Platonic terms as a visual extension of what a street can be. In the photo below Moby depicts the street from a central vantage point, using the center line to divide the image symmetrically. The palm trees and lack of pedestrians complement the idealized theme. Ask a child to draw his perfect image of what Street looks like and one might get something like this. Assuming the child was standing in the middle of an empty street in Miami. Or perhaps examining the shadow of Street on a cave wall.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Moby

Moby's photo directly references the earlier work of well known street photographer Thomas Struth, whose vision of 6th Avenue in Manhattan pioneered the symmetrical street motif.

6th Ave and 50th, New York, 1978, Thomas Struth

Julian Berman's photo below follows a similar strategy. He too depicts the street from a fantasized perspective. But there are a few key differences. Unlike Struth and Moby, Berman has chosen to shoot from the street's shoulder, throwing the viewer deliciously off balance. Instead of palm trees or skyscrapers, Berman uses the distant sea to play a background role. If "good dreaming is what leads to good photographs,” (according to the Wayne Miller quote) this is a street of dreams. If your dream had a distant parked car in it.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Julian Berman

Berman's image takes its cue from the classic dream-like work of street master Gregory Crewdson, one of the first photographers to fully explore the parked-car-in-street motif.

from Twilight series, 2002, Gregory Crewdson

Failure is a constant in Street which must be overcome. 99% of the streets we walk down will have no parked cars, no men standing in the rain. That Crewdson found such a scene —Perhaps after days or months of pounding the pavement in search of something he could only imagine— is a tribute to the perseverance of him and all street photographers. We might be tempted to chalk up such discoveries to luck, if it weren't for Crewdson's uncanny ability to find such scenes over and over again.

Untitled (Brief Encounter), 2006, Gregory Crewdson

Moby, Berman, and Crewdson pay deliberate homage to street photography's very early history as well. The viewer is reminded of this photograph by street photo pioneer Roger Fenton, which explores the same themes of the void, the open road, and the beckoning passage.

Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855, Roger Fenton

In contrast to these serene vistas, Liam McHenry's street scene (below) is decidedly gritty. McHenry lifts the veil of fantasy. Now we are in the real world, a world of trash receptacles delightfully ascending in a row, each with a splash of fuschia. This is the type of thing most people walk by without noticing. Look at the woman now, walking by. Only the heightened visual powers of a dedicated street photographer notices the trash buckets. Only they can bring them to our attention. In this case the result is an image so powerful we can almost smell the cans.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Liam McHenry

Whereas others might take the definition of Street for granted, Johnny De Guzman isn't satisfied. Most street photographers look across. He looks up. His highway interchange photo below questions the very nature of street. What separates a street from other forms like a highway or a road? What separates an avenue from a boulevard? A parkway from a thoroughfare? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell? Can the "roads" shown in the photo even be called streets? Guzman's photo represents the height of street and/or road and/or avenue photography. It's about 46 feet tall by my estimate.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Johnny De Guzman

Again this photograph honors its street predecessors, in this case the prolific street shooter Ansel Adams. One of the mantras of street shooting practiced by Adams is that Street can happen anywhere. It can happen in a national park, near a waterfall, near Half Dome. Wherever there are streets it can happen. For Street isn't just a place for cars to drive. Street is a state of mind. And when that state occurs the street photographer is ready to pounce.

Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles, 1967, Ansel Adams

I think the subject below might qualify as more of an avenue than a street. Maybe "promenade"? I guess it's all a matter of semantics. But then again there's no such thing as a "promenade photographer", right? Only Street has the pedigree which can properly encompass such a vantage. The viewer is left to contemplate what those long white lines are. Cracks in an underground volcano? Mayfair streamers? Or maybe just reflective chalk drawings left by an innocent child, wise beyond his years.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Wittner Fabrice

The practitioners shown thus far have followed a traditional route, shooting at a remove in order to more easily codify and objectify the whole. But some street shooters take the opposite approach. In the photo below (from his eponymous Street series "Down These Mean Streets"), Will Steacy zeroes in on the mean street at close range. One can almost smell the nicotine tar on the breath of the street in this photo as the form of discarded butts mimics a hundred exhaust mufflers. But discarded butts only hint at the eternal street mystery. Whatever happened during the first half of those cigarettes is left to imagination.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Will Steacy

Terry Richardson shoots from a similar perspective, reminding the viewer in spectacular fashion of the Erwitt quote, “All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice."

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Terry Richardson

Boogie takes the same approach. He knows that nothing is as mysterious as a fact clearly described.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Boogie

I suppose the above photos might be more strictly classified as Pavement than Street. Again it's a matter of semantics, yet materially inseparable from the essence of Street. For what is a street without pavement? Might it look something like Yanidel's photograph below?

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Yanidel

In one simple photo he raises a million possibilities. No longer must a street be paved. It can be cobblestone. Dirt. Asphalt. It can be mostly cobblestone with little bits of asphalt smoothing the uneven spots, like butter spread on French baguette. Like that baguette, or any bread really, especially when it's pointed upward like a mighty phallus, it can rise like the Arc de Triomphe.

Or it can wallow in the gutter, as in this photo by Andre Kertesz. Look at the photograph below and be reminded that photographs don't lie. Photographers lie. Some famous photographer said that and it's true, which is sort of a paradox if you think about it, like the paradox of cobblestone juxtaposed with pavement. Or Malroux juxtaposed with Malkmus.

Paris, 1929, Andre Kertesz

Another photographer working at close range is Andre Baumecke. His photo below explores pavement graphically. The thick white lines of the crossing pattern are mimicked by the thick white borders he adds to his images. The border is difficult to see here against the white background, but it is there. It is the void. Speaking of white hats, "hunters aren't cooks," said Henri Cartier-Bresson. Think about that tonight, young street sous shooter, before you dream.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Andre Baumecke

Baumecke isn't the only street photographer to address the issue of walking. Jana & JS have also branched out into sidewalk work, as in the photo below. Many streets are bordered by sidewalks. Sometimes these sidewalks have feet on them. Sometimes, if the photographer is perched at the right place and time, with camera artfully cocked askew, ready to pounce, those sidewalks can create magic.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Jana & JS

Of course sidewalks aren't the only boundary structures found near streets. The simple parking lot is another. In the photo below, Dylan Kasson explores some of the similarities. It's paved. It has lines. Cars drive there. Why can't a lot be considered a form of Street? Kasson's photograph punches right through that question with the drive and spirit of an Indy car doing donuts in a parking lot. What is Street? Consider the definition expanded, because we've just added another lane. Aww Yeah.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Dylan Kasson

Zane&Inzane provide another example. As with Kasson's photograph a lone shopping cart is depicted in the lot. Perhaps it represents consumer culture? Or dare we allow ourselves to imagine something more sinister? A cage? The prison walls we mentally construct while driving down the "street"? The viewer is left to wonder.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Zane & Inzane

Whereas the photographers mentioned thus far prefer the placid vernacular of simple form, Steve McCurry chooses to show the street filled with material. Billboards, cars, pedestrians, snow, The Yankees…Every element has its place in the chiaroscuro. The effect is similar to a manmade Japanese Garden. Remove any one element and the visual dance is thrown off balance. Only a photo like this might compel the viewer to reach out and cry, "Dance with me, Coca-Cola! Dance with me, Street!" And that viewer would of course be richly rewarded.

Times Square in the Snow, Steve McCurry

I haven't yet devoted much discussion to an essential element of Street, and that is its unplanned nature. Whereas many traditional photographers shoot from a tripod with a predetermined idea of what they might find, the street photographer remains open to chance, to the moment, the beautiful accident. Who knows what lies around the next corner? Will it be a street? And if so, what type?

In the photo below, Donavon Smallwood cleverly leverages the chance event of a pedestrian moving through a street scene. Whereas many street photographers might be content to shoot this street as a simple street, Smallwood captures a woman's back right where the street would normally be expected. The viewer is thrown into turmoil. Where is the street? Can this even be called Street? The photograph asks as many questions as it answers.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Donavon Smallwood

Louxi takes this one step further. His photograph below would appear at first glance to depict a simple street. But the chance injection of a bicyclist changes everything. Here he has waited for "The Decisive Moment" to open the shutter, and in so doing open himself to what is possible, to art, to joy, to the simple pleasure of two wheeling.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Luoxi

These two photos directly reference earlier work by such artists as the classic street shooter Josef Koudelka. His timekeeper photograph was initially planned as a simple depiction of the streets below. But the chance injection of an arm into the frame altered the visual dynamic to encompass a very decisive moment. About quarter to noon to be exact.

Czechoslovakia, 1968, Josef Koudelka

Of course Koudelka was not operating naively. He was fully aware of the street pioneers who'd preceded him, in particular the street master Dorothea Lange, whose revolutionary photograph below inspired the Czech revolution. If it is missing a watch, it more than makes up for that deficit in its portrayal of Americana and the Western frontier. "De Tocqueville Who?" she asks. Indeed, Ms. Lange. De Tocqueville who!

The Road West, 1938, Dorothea Lange

Jimmay Bones has taken a very different approach. His photograph below depicts not just Street but streets. The image shows multitudes. Or at least 6 lanes by my count. Sometimes amid the rush to capture a street scene such as this there is not enough time to focus. Someone said the word Bokeh to me once and I've never forgotten it. Because I'm sensitive. Because I hold multitudes. Because I am Street. That's what this photo would say. I mean if photos could talk.

from The 50 Greatest Street Photographers Right Now, Jimmay Bones

Bones' photo draws inspiration from the earliest days of photography, evoking the exploratory methodology of street master Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.

View from the Window at Gras, 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

The scattershot approach, leaving many factors open to chance (in this case subject, aim, focus, and exposure) hints at the exciting world of street photography yet to come. For street photography is currently undergoing a dynamic revolution.

I'm talking of course about Google Street View, the automated photography project which is well on its way to shooting every street in the world. GSV raises many interesting issues for The 50 Greatest. For the current crop of street shooters, probably the primary lesson is that we can all relax and take a breather for a while. GSV has got us covered. Put your feet up. Grab a drink. There's no need to spend hours walking here and there, failing 99% of the time. That's the way we used to do things. Before the future of Street arrived.

Of course this is nothing new for Oregonians. Our state has long been a leader in automated street photography. Even before the advent of GSV our transportation department provided routine online access to current street photos throughout the state. For example, here's a photo of Highway 569 in Eugene taken just moments ago. Thanks ODOT!

Here is my own interpretation of Highway 569, made as part of a Eugene street postcard series.

All of these photos of streets are wonderful. We've never had access to more. But I can't help wondering. After every street has been photographed by Google what will be left to shoot? What will the The 50 Greatest of tomorrow look like? Will the list include a machine on a car roof shooting in all directions? Will it make us ask De Tocqueville who? Or Dance with me, Coca-Cola? Only our children will know.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


If you live in the U.S. and I've never sent you a photo, this one is up for grabs. First one to email gets it.

(Update 2 PM: Sorry folks, the photo has been claimed.)