Monday, September 17, 2018

Dylan Goes Electric

Below are comments on this photo collected in the past few days from various web sources. So far the consensus opinion has been almost entirely negative, but I'm open to new thoughts. What do YOU think? Like it, slam it, I don't care. Just curious...

"Blake Andrews should permanently delete the photo and swallow his pride. Such a shame! When you have a crap of a photo like that as the photo of the month for your collective, it represents everyone within the collective and not just the photographer who took it."
Tim Huynh

"On "that" photo, you know the one "The Death of Street Photography?" I think there is a game being played as I am pretty sure something that bad could never be voted upon as photo of the month, especially as the vote was by the iN-House team. Rubbishy bollocks. A ruse."
Adam Maizey 

"Yes, it's a shitty mediocre photo though."
Kelly Stuart 

"I love distorted images but that one is not worthy of destroying a collective over."
Russ Rowland 

"'s a pretty weak presentation if its uniqueness is only inherent in the manipulation by the algorithm. Either way, I don't think it's a very interesting photograph other than the fact that it is now controversial."
Richard Andrew Sharum 

"Who cares it's a terrible frame, of that there is no doubt."
—Ryan John Lee 

"I don't think the chopped up aesthetic is pleasing. So basically you have ho-hom moment propped up with the gimmick of how it was made. To some, it seems this represents a sort of "fresh" experimentation. To me, it comes across as a bored photographer giving himself a needless challenge."
Chris Plunkett

"Not a great photo."
Nancy Oliveri 

"Not a fan of the photo itself, but...."
—Rammy Narula 

"About the picture in question: I don't care much for it. Whatever oddness factor that might have made it appealing or interesting comes from the iPhone's Panorama algorithm and its randomness...."
Ricardo García Mainou 

"How can a picture that deforms the subject's appearance as this picture does be classed as street photography and if this is the best that in-public can produce in a month then my respect for them as a group has diminished."
—Malcolm Ganderton 

"I would be very interested to hear members defend this photo, inner turmoil set aside. I don't think the chopped up aesthetic is pleasing. So basically you have ho-hom moment propped up with the gimmick of how it was made. To some, it seems this represents a sort of "fresh" experimentation. To me, it comes across as a bored photographer giving himself a needless challenge."
—Chris Plunkett

"I thought so too... not a photo I would fall on my sword for."
—Michael T Sullivan 

"I mean, I don't think it's a good photo. But..."
—Brad Farwell

"...Before realizing the manner in which the shot was taken, which wasn't the first thing apparent to me, the impression I got was that I was seeing a minder taking her intellectually disabled charges on a trip from their shared-living facility....That is a kind of shot that I generally avoid taking in the first place, and in editing, if I were to find a shot that created that impression I would think long and hard about putting it out there...It's an ugly photo..."
—Harvey Arche 

"Sad to read this. The image isn't even that interesting, seems not worth arguing over..."

"To me it's a rubbish image...."

"When I first saw the picture I thought my son had done a Minecraft screenshot on my phone."
—Adam Maizey 

"Yeah...hate that image."
—Ben Schreibman 

"My grandma's basement smells much better than this. I didn't like blake's image, but..."
—David Wilson 

"Crappie photo but who cares how it was taken. Having a definition of what street photography is silly. More importantly does the photo move you! This photo doesn't."
—Aristide Economopoulos 

"Whatever the technique used or the manipulation made, the important thing remains to know if it is a good or bad picture. In this controversial photo, I see nothing that arouses interest or questioning. It looks like a trivial image capture of a surveillance camera."
—Laurent Roch 

"ในมุมของผม ผมไม่ได้ชอบภาพสไตล์ Panoramic แบบนี้เท่าไหร่ มันเป็นลูกเล่นเทคนิคที่เกิดขึ้นตอนถ่าย มันอาจจะไม่ได้เก็บภาพทั้งภาพในเสี้ยววินาทีนั้นเสี้ยววินาทีเดียว แต่มันก็เกิดขึ้นตรงนั้นสดๆ ถ่ายสดๆ แล้วบันทึกมันมา ถ้าพูดแล้วมันก็อาจจะไม่ต่างกับการเปิด"
—Job Jetwichan Chaowadee

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Right place right time

It doesn't always happen like this, but occasionally the photo gods offer up just the thing you need at just the right time. That's what happened yesterday when a copy of Mark Klett's Revealing Territory dropped into my life out of nowhere.

After a day of darkroom printing I was eating dinner at a nearby Laotian food truck when a stranger struck up a conversation about my camera. His name was Robert Petersen. We chatted about how you don't see many film cameras bla bla bla and his old Leica which he missed bla bla bla the usual bla bla bla lenses bla film bla body bla technical bla bla bla. 

I should probably point out that Robert didn't look like a photographer. Not that a photographer is supposed to look any certain way, but he looked a bit like The Dude from Big Lebowski, plus twenty years and some hard luck. In other words he resembled the demographic that's slowly getting weeded out of Portland by the yuppie professional class. I want to say this class tends to look more like photographers, or at least like the popular conception of photographers, but maybe I'm wrong. Sometimes it can be The Dude.

"What type of photographs do you make?" I asked. His schtick: portraits of women through frosted glass. Turned out he'd just published a book of these portraits, one of several books he'd made. Okaay. I must put out book-loving pheromones or something, because these guys always find me. I don't know how but somehow he could just tell. No sooner had I said, "I love photography books," than he was off. "Be right back," he muttered, melting through the food truck lot to his home nearby.

When he returned Robert was holding Revealing Territory by Mark Klett. "For you," he said, placing it near my food. 

What? You're just giving me this??? I don't even know you? WTF? "It's ok," he said, "I've got another copy at home." He'd tried to sell the extra but Powell's didn't want it, and since then he'd been trying to find a good home for it, and here I was near his house exuding pheromones, and so Boom! 

Just the week before, I'd donated a box of unwanted books at St. Vincent's. Was this my book karma payback? Is that how it works? I sat there kind of stunned, and before I could really process the chain of events Robert walked away as suddenly as he'd appeared, leaving me with with my noodles, camera, and Klett.

I've spent some time with Revealing Territory today and I must report that it's fucking wonderful. Before this book I'd mostly known Mark Klett from his Rephotographic Survey Projects (RSP). Revealing Territory was published in 1992, just on the cusp between the RSP Second View and Third View. It shows large format photography of the 1980s southwest, made with a very sharp eye and wit, and captions handwritten directly onto the photos. 

The reproductions are beautifully done, so finely detailed they almost exude the whiff of darkroom chemicals. And you can certainly catch a whiff of the RSP style, but in a less prescriptive form. Klett's visual fingerprints are everywhere, sometimes literally. The photos provide a sort of Ur-stone to his general photographic approach —the view (which I share) that all photographs are essentially self portraits, even the most seemingly evidentiary— well articulated by Klett in the afterword:
"Timothy O'Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, and other nineteenth century photographers whose work I had rephotographed, taught me that pictures are never just topographical. In following their tracks, I found that their individual visions emerged. It didn't matter if historians argued that they were scientifically biased, or aesthetically influenced, or culturally constrained. I came to appreciate the sense of journey which permeates their photographs. Just like them, we moderns it seemed were doomed to be passers through in the West, trailing artifacts but ultimately owning nothing of the land but the time we spent."
You can spend a bit of time plus $6 to find this on Amazon. Or if you're in Portland I understand Powell's has a few copies. Best $6 I never spent on a photo book gifted to me by the photo gods via Robert Petersen. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Email Correspondence


My name is Olivia Byrd and I work with Perennial Relations, a PR firm based in NYC.

I have a client who is interested in getting some basic exposure on your website via a guest blog post, or even just a quick mention of them within one of your articles. This is a reputable, well-known company that I'm confident you'll be comfortable mentioning on your website.

I'm authorized to offer up to $40 for the post and can pay by Paypal. Please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing from you!


Oliva Byrd
Perennial Relations

If you don't want to receive emails like this from me, please let me know here.

Hi Olivia,

The offers sounds interesting. What should the article be about?


Hi Blake,

Thanks for getting back to me.

My client is Agora Financial, a company who focuses on providing independent economic commentary, analysis, and education through print and online publications. We can provide you with an article based on any topic you choose, as long as we can include a link to their company. Or if you prefer to write the post yourself, we offer $65 for this option as we understand that maintaining brand voice is important to our bloggers.

Let me know your thoughts!


Hi Olivia,

How about an article about monetizing blogs, including potential opportunities, benefits and drawbacks?



Hi B,

Sounds great! Do you want me to assign that topic to one of my writers or did you want to author the post?


Hi Olivia,

I can author the post. I'm thinking of doing a Q and A about blogging monetization with an expert in the field, exploring some of the potential pitfalls and opportunities, and of course I'll add a link to Angora. 

Based on material I've developed so far I believe this could best be structured as an email correspondence. Would that work with what you're envisioning? Or do you foresee any potential pitfalls or opportunities?



Hey Blake,

Yes, that sounds awesome! I look forward to reading that.

Please work the following URL into the text anywhere (preferably to something with the words "finance", "Agora Financial" or something similar to that):

Please also send me the link to the article once it is live along with your PayPal email address and we can get payment squared away upon review!



Thanks Olivia, 

In writing the piece it might help to know a bit more about Agora. My blog is basically about photography and I'm having a hard time connecting Agora's financial services jobs with that subject. I suppose one possible connection is that creating blog content with paid links is a type of job, even if unconventional. But that logic might be a stretch for some readers. Do you have any suggestions? Any more specific info about Agora's ties to photography?



(No Reply)

Hi Olivia,

It's been a few weeks. Just checking in to see how the piece is coming. Any progress?


Hi Blake,

I apologize for the delay in my response. I didn't realize that your site was photography based so I don't think Agora would be a good fit for your site.

I will be sure to reach out in the future if I have any clients that are a better fit.

Enjoy your weekend!

Hi Olivia,

I don't understand. You've already hired me to write the article, which is nearly complete at this point. Now you want to renege on the deal? 

Does this mean I don't get the $40, or some portion of the amount we'd agreed upon?



Hi Andrew,

I apologize, I meant to respond to another person with that last email where I told you I didn't think Agora was a good fit for your site.

Please continue to keep writing the article! I look forward to reading it. 



OK, that's great to hear!

I've recently catered several blog posts to the burgeoning Equationistic demographic, which I know a lot of advertisers are trying to reach. It's beginning to pay off and I think this post will dovetail nicely with the new direction.

So just send the article when finished and I'll get it posted right away! 

(Also the $40) 



(No Reply)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Death Panel

A photo related panel from Asaf Hanuka's wonderful collection of cartoons The Realist, which I've enjoyed recently.

Monday, April 30, 2018

"I really try to divorce myself from any thought of possible use of this stuff."

For a photographer with so many memorable quips to his name, Garry Winogrand didn't leave much of a paper trail. The four books he made during his lifetime (five if you count the 1976 Grossmont College booklet) consist almost exclusively of pictures. Although they also include some great essays, none are by Winogrand. Nor did he write for any outside books or sources. 

The most he contributed to any publication was the pithy half page intro to the Grossmont catalog, insightful but abbreviated. Winogrand also wrote a brief introduction to Stock Photographs, but it was merely a perfunctory passage which said nothing about the photos. Outside of those few instances the longest surviving Winogrand essay came about only through rote task. That was his much quoted Guggenheim application written in 1964. You know the one, 
"I look at the pictures I have done up to now, and they make me feel that who we are and how we feel and what is to become of us just doesn't matter. Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty…I cannot accept my conclusions so I must continue this photographic investigation further and deeper. This is my project…" 
Winogrand's 1964 Guggenheim essay
Until recently I hadn't read that essay for a long while, and in my memory it laid out Winogrand's ideas about photography and planned approaches for the year of shooting. But a fresh revisit belies all of those notions. The essay actually says very little about photography apart from "photography, photographers, photographs deal with facts." Instead it's a sort of gateway to the 1960s, as were some of the photos to come.

When it comes down to it, almost none of the famous Winogrand aphorisms we know and love were written by him. Instead they come to us secondhand, transcribed by acolytes: 

"I photograph to find out what things look like photographed."

"Great photography is always on the edge of failure."

“Every photograph is a battle of form versus content." 

Thank god someone was around to record that stuff. As an oral sage Winogrand's in fine company, right up there with Socrates and Jesus, at least in the photo world. Like them his lectures are the main material extant. But Winogrand's were far more prickly, closer to Confucius than any western prophet. Here's an excerpt from RIT in 1970:
RIT audience member: I saw a photograph that—there’s a photograph that had “Kodak” and there’s a kid holding a dog— 
Garry Winogrand: Yeah. 
RIT: —and the people kind of wandering in and out. Now, it might be due to my own ignorance or something, but could you give me like a straight answer as to what you’re trying to say in that photograph?
GW: I have nothing to say. 
RIT: Nothing to say? Then why do you print it?
GW: I don’t have anything to say in any picture.…My only interest in photographing is photography. That’s really the answer. 
RIT: Why do you print it if it has no meaning? 
GW: With that particular picture—ah, I’m interested in the space and I maybe can learn something about photography. That’s what I get from photographs; if I’m lucky, I can learn something. 
RIT: Then you’re trying to reveal something about space? 
GW: I’m not revealing anything. 
RIT: Then what do you think is the purpose of the photograph if you’re not revealing anything. 
GW: My education. 
RIT: Then what’s the purpose of that? That’s what I’m trying to find out. 
GW: That’s the answer. That’s really the answer…
Poor RIT student. Getting critical analysis out of Winogrand was like pulling teeth. And his photos aren't much help. They're just as awkward and inscrutable as his lectures.

It's not that he didn't give a shit. Indeed, Winogrand cared and thought deeply about his photos. But he was reticent to guide any specific interpretation. "Photos have no narrative content," he said. "They merely describe light on paper." Raw visual description of the world, that was the thing! How might reality translate into a two dimensional four walled box? Here's how: "When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts." The mutability of such facts, even frozen in silver, was the source of endless possibility, the only motivation needed, and its own answer. No need for art mumbo-jumbo. 

But still, would it have killed him to get something in writing? 

Garry Winogrand, 1957, by Lee Friedlander

Fortunately he had a crack team of writer friends to do the heavy lifting. Helen Gary Bishop, Leo Rubinfien, and Tod Papageorge all contributed introductions to his monographs, each one stellar. Winogrand's direction to Papageorge (Public Relations) was simple enough: "I don't care what is written just so long as the photography is not discussed." But the plea fell on deaf ears. Papageorge's essay did in fact discuss the photography. Oh well. Its verbosity was balanced out by Winogrand's own contribution to Public RelationsHere it is, in its entirety: 
"The way I understand it, a photographer's relationship to his medium is responsible for his relationship to the work is responsible for his relationship to the medium." 
In other words, if you're trying to understand what my photos are about, take a hike.

If Winogrand were to codify a relationship to his medium, it centered on process. The daily act of looking and translating the visual world into photographs wasn't just an obsession, it was integral to his existence. It was his waking state. "I get totally out of myself. It's the closest I come to not existing." In the end shooting consumed his energy to the exclusion of other tasks. Small irritants like developing film, looking at it, and pruning the resulting photos into a cohesive structure — the steps normally necessary to transform exposures into some viable archive —all fell by the wayside. 

Normally this would doom one's legacy. Instead Winogrand's myopic devotion has only burnished his. Three thousand undeveloped rolls, or whatever the number is, are now just an element of the myth. Since his untimely death in 1984, his star has risen steadily. A new feature length documentary bio is about to hit theaters. He is the subject of eight posthumous books and counting. And —despite his sentiments regarding photo theory—these books are chock full of analysis. That's not to say he would hate them all. But we can probably assume he would be mildly irritated.

Reevaluating Winogrand has become something of a critical parlor game, and since he left such a thin paper trail, the field is wide open. He's like Vivian Maier, Disfarmer, and Bellocq all rolled into one, a tabula rasa. Better yet, he's a street photographer (a term he hated), a genre which has exploded in popularity since his death. 

The basic formula is to gain access to the Winogrand archives at the University of Arizona (somewhere north of 1 million film exposures, depending on who's counting), craft a new edit featuring at least a few "unseen" photos, then perform a critical reappraisal of his photography, his life choices, and how he might —or might not— fit into a historical context. There's a sense of ok, he died with unfinished business, let's finish it for him. Kinda like Socrates or Jesus.

In the mid-eighties, when curators were still developing and editing his unseen rolls, his archive was a jungle of untapped potential. Szarkowski had a field day with Figments From The Real World in 1988. All the rolls have since been developed, and by now every frame seen by at least someone or other, at least by Leo Rubinfien if not others. 

In some ways it's a spent mine, and curators are now sifting through pre-examined tailings. But new ideas, new edits, and new Winogrand books keep coming, each one taking a slightly different tack. They run the gamut from Alex Sweetman's Archive 26, written from an adversarial stance, to John Szarkowski, who championed Winogrand against all doubters and called him "the central photographer of his generation." Others —Trudy Wilner Stack, Jeffrey Fraenkel, Alex Harris, Lee Friedlander, and Leo Rubinfien— fall somewhere between, bewitched to varying degrees by his spell. 

The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, 2018, by Geoff Dyer

The latest is by Geoff Dyer, author of The Ongoing Moment and occasional New York Times photo critic. His The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand has just been published by University Of Texas Press. Winogrand's directive —"the photography is not discussed"— may not have worked on Papageorge but it's found a more receptive audience in Dyer. His essays dance around a variety of topics and tangents including literature, painting, poetry, sex, travel, and television. Yes, they do discuss the photography too, but it has a secondary role, merely a departure point for Dyer's whirlwind of ideas and speculation. Winogrand's photos are included too, but almost as an afterthought. A better title might be The Street Philosophy of Geoff Dyer.

Winogrand was famously averse to analysis, yet Dyer was commissioned to write just such a book. So the whole enterprise is problematic from the get-go. To his credit he addresses the dilemma directly in the introduction: "In my notes, for reasons I can no longer fathom, I kept reminding myself that this should not be a book about photography. Well it is about photography, obviously." An explanation which may not settle the issue, but is quite Winograndian. 

Atget, 2000, John Szarkowski
Dyer's book is modeled on Atget, the MoMA book published in 2000 by the aforementioned Szarkowski. For that book, Szarkowski picked 100 photos by Eugene Atget, wrote an essay on each one, then laid them side by side in what's become a classic of the genre. The writing is sharp and the model simple, two traits borrowed by Dyer for his tome. 

Dyer's book sequences 100 Winogrand photos in roughly chronological order (a slight departure from Szarkowski. Atget is not chronological), each sharing a spread with a short essay. The photographs tend to loosen up over time as Dyer traces the course of Winogrand's career from tidy fifties candids to his final days spewing motor driven exposures all over the passenger seat. Dyer's writing follows suit. The book's early essays are fairly conventional, but they begin to shift in tone beginning around the midpoint. The unmooring gathers steam as later essays dip a toe in the stream of consciousness, speculating on phone booths, gender bending, and animal magnetism. This proves the perfect accompaniment to Winogrand, whose late work has always been something of a stumper to critics. Szarkowski, for example, famously dismissed it. Dyer's assessment is much kinder, helped along by his poetic sensibility.

Poetic or not, I think the word Psychiatry would fit better in a Winogrand book title than Philosophy. He was a street psychiatrist, almost a clairvoyant. As reluctant as he was to analyze photos, strangers he could analyze with penetrating insight. He possessed an uncanny ability to size up people in public, single out the ones dealing with problems, and reveal that internal turmoil in his photographs. Almost all of them depict a central person or group of figures cleanly framed, his photos a hotline into their minds. In photo after photo his does this, somehow setting aside the extraneous to focus on the interior. According to Friedlander he was "a bull of a man, and the world his china shop," yet one with extraordinary sensitivity. China shop be damned, the world was his analyst's couch.

Part of Winogrand's psychiatric makeup was his chauvinism. He personified the male gaze. Walking the sidewalks of the 1970s New York, leering through his lens at gorgeous women —Yes, that was him, the predecessor to a small cottage industry of contemporary street voyeurs. Many of Winogrand's photos seem to be simply about ogling females and not much more. To be fair, he ogled everyone, male or female. But beautiful women were a favorite subject. 

To Winogrand's credit he owned it. Women Are Beautiful may be a provocative title for a photo book, but at least it's less sexist that Winogrand's original working title, Confessions Of A Male Chauvinist Pig. Winogrand made no attempt to hide his leericism. Still, I think the original title would not have aged well. 

Dyer addresses Winogrand's male gaze by curating a selection with a large dose of Women Are Beautiful style photos. Some were included in that book. Others are new. Whether this is an homage to Winogrand's chauvinism or a reflection of Dyer's own bias is not clear. But whatever the reason the book's primary thread is women, and Dyer's book contains a higher concentration than any of the other posthumous books. 

Photo #3 in The Philosophy of Garry Winogrand

He sprinkles them in a series through The Street Philosophy, comparing and contrasting the depiction of women as he progresses chronologically through Winogrand's career, which roughly coincided with the rise of feminism. In one of the opening photos, shot during "the pre-feminist" world, a woman walks demurely with eyes on the sidewalk, "an early example of a classic Winogrand street scene." By the middle of the book women strut before Winogrand, highbeamed and brazen, or as a sexpot mannequin, or eating ice cream with a smile, or strolling in full color down Fifth Avenue. Dyer plays with the idea of following the "same" women in various photos throughout the book, although of course each subject is unique.

By the last few pages the chronology has reached the early 80s, just before Winogrand's death, and his male gaze has melted into hedonist abandon. A contact sheet of frames from Hollywood's Ivar Theatre shows a stripper exposing herself —every last inch of it, in a stroke of proud bravado— to a pack of men during the club's regular camera night. Dyer's essay is unrestrained, 
"You glimpse a woman on the street and fall in love for a second and if you're a photographer that is great, but if you're lucky enough to talk to her and perhaps go on a date and go to bed with her and make love then at some point, although you want to see her face and feel your love for her reflected in her eyes, you also want this —this crudity..." 
Hm, so that's what the photos are about after all? Boy meets girl? They screw. Is it that easy? 

Winogrand was a regular denizen at the Ivar, along with many other famous LA photographers of the time. He shot thousands of frames there, some of which have surfaced in the years since. To my knowledge the frame highlighted by Dyer is printed here for the first time. It's a curious choice, especially when printed side by side with the full contact sheet. There's not much to recommend the photo aside from, well, crudity. Maybe that's the point.

It's tough to say exactly what drew Winogrand to the Ivar, whether it was naked lust, sheer spectacle, or maybe some combination. Perhaps here his famous aphorism (one of the few he expressed in writing) applies: "There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described." Here was the mystery of the female fact clearly described, laid open before the camera, the same naked truth which mystifies all men.

Sun. Photo Night — Bring Your Camera
(1977 Ross MacLean Collection)
Dyer's essay on the Ivar is probably my favorite in the book, the closest to a free rambling —and, yes, crude— dream. I can overlook its speculative quality because mysterious facts aren't the point here. Instead: fantasy. Like any good street shooter Dyer works best when he has room to stretch out and explore, "when he lets himself get deeply, comically weird," as Jennifer Szalai describes it. For me that's the main thing he's contributed to the Winogrand canon. We've had plenty of critical analysis, thank you. But until Dyer, not nearly enough wandering tangents.  

If Dyer is an entertaining essayist he's less successful as a photo curator. The selection is, frankly, a mixed bag. There are several great photos but also some clunkers. Part of the problem is that he's made a conscious attempt to pull from equally from across Winogrand's career. Some of the earlier work —made circa 1960 when Winogrand was not yet very good— seems half baked. Too many are shot with long lens and short depth of field, techniques Winogrand would later abandon for good reason. The late career photos hold up poorly too in comparison to the sweet spot, roughly 1964 - 1977.

Dyer has explained that some images were chosen more for the essay they might generate than for their inherent visual quality. I suppose that's a partial explanation, but not completely satisfying. After all, this is a new book of Winogrand! Dyer has access to a million unseen frames. Show us the goods! The selection of color work in particular is disappointing. We haven't seen much of it to date, and perhaps the promise of new color led to unreasonable expectations. But judging by the photos presented here, I can't help wonder if Winogrand's small color oeuvre has been mostly picked clean already. It's hard to know without visiting the archives in person.

Photo #20 in The Philosophy of Garry Winogrand

One notable exception is a rarely seen color photo of monkeys, pizza, and an open convertible top from 1964. The composition, layering, and general weirdness is spectacular. It's a top notch photo, even if somewhat untypical of Winogrand's style —closer to Huger Foote or Wolfgang Zurborn than a street prowling candid. It's one of his few with no psychiatric impact. Unfortunately the publisher has mangled the color palette, or perhaps they've just tried to preserve the color cast of crappy old slide film. Hard to tell. In any case it's way off. It's even more unfortunate that Dyer uses this photograph as the basis for an essay about color.  

I think Dyer's main curatorial problem is he's looking at the photos as a writer, not as a photographer. As I leaf through The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand I can't help inserting myself into each scene, and the questions come in a flood. Why did he stand here not there? How close could he get? What brought him to that place? Who was he with? What else has happening nearby? Why did he walk down that street? How long did he stay at that scene? Did he notice that stuff off to the left? Why did he shoot it from that angle? Those are the natural questions a photographer might ask. And what makes Winogrand's photos so wonderful is they are tough to solve. Some photos work just because they work. Period. And most photos don't, for the same reason. Why? Who knows. But overanalysis —philosophy, if you will— often doesn't help the process.  

The alternate approach, shared by Dyer and most outside curators, is to view Winogrand's photos as finished products. The emphasis is more on the meaning of the photo than how it came about. What does it express? How does it fit into his career, or into the culture? In this consideration philosophy can be quite helpful. Mandatory, even. But it's not necessarily the perspective of Winogrand. "I really try to divorce myself from any thought of possible use of this stuff," he once said of his photos. "That's the discipline. My only purpose while I"m working is to try to make interesting photographs, and what to do with them is another act...Certainly while I'm working I want them to be as useless as possible."

Useless indeed, unless publishing posthumous monographs. I'm sure Dyer's book won't be the last on Winogrand. Another one will come along in, say, five years or so. But for now it's the current gold standard. It's a big, handsome clothbound production, built to last. If you're a fan of Winogrand it belongs in your library. In fact you probably own it already. 

If you're not a fan, I doubt this book will convert you to the cause. Winogrand remains as unapproachable as ever. He was a tough nut, and it takes a while to get beneath the shell, and even then the prize is ambiguous, just a bunch of light on paper. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Q & A with Josef Chladek

Photo by Martina Draper
Josef Chladek is the founding editor of the virtual bookshelf, an online archive of photo books.

BA: Can you tell me how you first became interested in photo books?

JC: Well, long before the term photo book existed for me, some time in the mid/end 80s Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, and Bill Brandt were the first monographs I looked at, long before I realized (sometime in the mid 2000s) that they belonged to the then newly created genre of photo books.

Are you a photographer?

No. I started out with shooting/developing in the mid-80s. As I said books were an inspiration. But ended up studying Physics as I found out I would never reach the perfection or masterly execution of the photographers I just named.

What sort of photos did you make when you were shooting in the 80s?

Nothing special, experimenting in the darkroom with b/w and some color, it was fun but nothing to talk about.

So you began in the 1980s looking at monographs. When did you begin collecting them? At the same time, or later?

I have to confess that I've been always into books. But back then I was focussing on literature and politics. Eventually I bought books with photos in them without noticing them being a genre. They were and still are just books to me. But as my main interest was and maybe is the 30s I bought books from Bauhaus, Tschichold, typography, all very close to the beginning of photo books.

A Brief History Of The Amerpsand, Jan Tschichold

Do you still look at those earlier books from your collection?

Yes, maybe more intensively than at the newer ones!

What is it about the older ones? What do you see in them that's not in the newer books?

Hmm, not so easy. Give me a minute...The printing, often photogravure, was and still is stunning, although the recent printing techniques are often superior. The older books are easier to oversee. You don’t need too many books —maybe 50-100— to have the best ones. Today every week an endless number of books are being published and it’s getting harder to follow the scene. And having to look at screen images only is not very attractive.

Yes, it's hard to keep track!

But I don't want to give the wrong picture. I always come back to look at the old ones, but also spend a lot of time with Japanese books from the 70s and also recent ones. So it's not only the old books that get me looking.

Do you collect anything aside from books? I think that photography and the pack rat instinct tend to go together so I'm always curious about the deeper impulse.

Hmm, I always prefer to say "I build a library" than I collect books. I don't collect anything else. I love music but don't buy records/CDs anymore. Spacewise the room to store the books is eating up everything else here. But I've slowed down with books the last 2 years a lot. Too little kicks with new acquisitions.

Can you elaborate on "too little kicks"? What do you mean?

A time span of about one minute going through the book and put it on a pile of others without any sensation or fascination for the story (if I get it) or the images. It used to be better for me a few years ago but worsened the last two years or so.

How do you store and organize all the photo books?

Shelf after shelf, but there's no more room to put up more shelves in the flat. So my slow down may be just a consequence of running out of space. No organization on the walls at all. Nobody would find anything here. That's the reason I made the virtual bookshelf, to find books by spine (color/size) more easily in real life!

Message to photo book makers: Use a brightly colored spine.

Yes, take yellow - you'll be the winner in any bookshelf normally.

Josef Chladek's Virtual Bookshelf

Your shelves are completely random? Mine are the same. I put the newer acquisitions in one area so I can usually find them. But older stuff is pretty random, organized by size and where it might fit on the shelf. Message to photo book makers: Use a brightly colored spine.

More or less, yes! Some are in chronological order from about when I bought the book. But there's no order in genre/country/color whatsoever - only the more expensive ones are "under glass" but without order again, just about your "concept". 

What are the "concepts" you use to categorize?

No concept, no categories - even chronological is only right for a few meters,  then it mixes again, then sometimes I put older ones together, sometimes a few ordered by country. Most of the books I am able to find within a few minutes, some are harder and can take a few days :-)

And you're running out of room. Do you go through and weed out books to sell to make more space?

Not really, there should be space for another few hundred for sure —I will think about it then— but at the current rate this should be a few years away. But I try to hold the library together.

When did you first begin to scan and put them online? How did that idea start?

Sometime back in 2013 I guess I was thinking of how to organize the books. I have always had a Filemaker database with text entries only. But that was not very attractive - a single line of text for so many beautiful objects. It just didn't fit. So I started scanning the front side of the book. It looked nice but still nothing compared to the real thing. Then I added correctly sized images and dimension calculations to have them scaled proportionally so they felt more real. And then it was a short step to scan the back and spine and put all together. It took me about 7-10 days to develop the site, and then it went online with 200 books (and about 20-30 showing spreads as well)

Have you scanned every book you own so that it's a mirror of your library?

Yes, each and every book, literature and other fields front only, but every photo book with at least 3 scans. Box sets have far more sometimes.

Do people send you photo books in the hope you'll scan and upload them to your site?

Oh yes, they do!

So your library has become a sort of public resource, not just a personal one. I'm not aware of other online sites like it.

It's a public resource, yes, with my own books and acquisitions enriched with books people send in.

Does scanning books sometimes damage them?

No. Scanning the front/back/spine is easy and maybe the fastest job. Shooting the spreads (I never scan spreads) is the more tricky part. I use only daylight at the window to shoot them, camera in hand, so there is always a finger in the shot. No time to make that more perfect, it takes sooooo much time anyway. Regardless of size, pages, price, scarcity, every book/zine/whatever takes approximately 1-2 hours to put online. I've done 2000 done so far, so you can calculate the madness.

So it's not a flat scan, just a photo?

No, it's a flat scan. An A3 office scanner does them all. I take photos of spreads only, the rest are scans.

Sounds like a labor of love and lot of work. Why do you do it?

Why I do it? I love to share my joy I have with some books. The less loved ones are maybe loved by others who can't afford to buy. But I've gotten lazy the last few months. I'm thinking the whole project over. It's so time consuming and I don't have too much time with family, work, running, etc. It's not over but maybe it will get less frequent updates. There are still 2000 books to choose from (and not the worst ones).

How will you know when it is over?

Time will tell I guess. But I find less and less books that really fascinate me, and without this fascination it will be hard to maintain the project, but let’s see…

What's your favorite photo book you've gotten recently?

My favourite of all time or just some from the short past? 

Both. Short past, and also alltime favorite?

For A Language To Come (via the Virtual Bookshelf)

Favorite all time: Takuma Nakahira - For A Language To Come. Favorite recently added - the books by Nobuyuki Wakabayashi and everything by Krass Clement - to make it short. But so many others as well. It's always hard to make a cut.

I know. It's an impossible question. But your answers give me a sense of your taste. What about least favorite? 

To be honest, I don’t have a negative scale for books (and most other things). There are books that don’t get me but there is no need to make this public.

I tend to judge and say my opinion only on the ones that attract me. There is often so much love, labour and passion that goes into making a (photo)book so I find it unfair to say I don't like that one or this one's shitty. Maybe I don't get it. Maybe I've looked at it in the wrong moment or whatever…

It's perfectly fair to have an opinion.

And you never know if bad ones rise after time, through public opinion or giving them a second chance years later...

That's a related question. Which books have changed the most for you over time. Which ones did you not understand or like at first, but grew to love? Or vice versa?

That rarely happens I have to say. It's mostly love at first sight. I more or less immediately like a book or not, and I can’t remember that this changes over time, really.