Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cold Turkey

I haven't posted lately because I've been in Portland for the past several days out of computer range. Saturday Tab and the boys took the train up to meet me. Their visit roughly coincided with me running completely out of film. For me, running out of film is like a smoker quitting cigarettes cold turkey. It really feels like the end of the world. I had along my digital point-n-shoot and snapped these photos today, mostly of the kids. I'm posting them because they have a different feel than most of my b/w film work.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Border Patrol

As a rough estimate, I'd say that 80% of all photographs I see exhibited in galleries are digitally printed. Most of them look great, and I have no complaint about their general print quality. It is usually topnotch. However, I do have one pet peeve about digital printing, and it is the use of a black border around the image.

In the age of darkroom printing, a black border around an image said something specific. When an image is enlarged through a filed out carrier, the space between the image and carrier exposes to black. So with darkroom prints, a black border signifies a fullframe print, no cropping. In the digital age this tie no longer exists. The image can be cropped or whole, manipulated into any size or aspect ratio. The border is applied afterward. Now I'm not here to preach "thou shalt not crop" or any such dictum. I'm just saying, there's something slightly phony about taking a technique that has a very specific meaning in a darkroom and applying it all over the place without regard to its original meaning. It reminds me a bit of how the words "natural" or "organic" are used to market food nowadays, often appropriated by items whose connection to nature is tenuous.

One thing that has definitely been lost with digital black borders is their sense of authenticity. Digital borders are all the same: they are straight black lines. But in the darkroom, each camera and carrier leaves its own particular border. The print merges into the border not in a straight line but in bumps and hiccups, leaving an identity as specific as a bullet's ballistic markings. A photographer using the same camera over the course of many years can leave his/her fingerprint in the border of entire projects. If you look closely at Diane Arbus' 1972 Monograph, which I believe was the first published photobook to print fullframe bordered images, her Rollei leaves its fingerprint in all the work. In the bottom right corner of every print is a small zigzagging staircase left by the camera, left by HER.

The digital world has attempted to keep pace. You can buy custom borders online (e.g. here) which mimic the look of darkroom borders with their bumps and hiccups. I suppose if you printed all your digital work with such a border it might become your fingerprint. Yet look again closely at the Arbus book. Not only does each print show her fingerprint, each one is unique! Some are thick. Some are thin. Sometimes there is no border, yet even then the fingerprint is visible. Her prints are all related yet different, the way only darkroom prints can be. This effect would be very hard to duplicate digitally, although I'm sure someone out there is working on it...

As a final experiment, go ahead and do a Google search for Arbus' images on the web. You'll see it is somewhat difficult to find anything by her online with the border/fingerprint intact. Most of her images online have been stripped of their distinct border. I suppose this isn't too surprising. I expect to see many of her images circulate in the future bordered by straight, black, digitally perfect lines.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Photographic Lineups

When I approach subject matter and consider how to photograph it, one my main considerations is whether forms in the shot should line up or not. By "line up" I mean foreground and background combine to create shapes distinct from the photo's subject matter, like this

Although people like Mike Smith have toyed with this effect in color

I think it is generally more effective in black and white. When everything is reduced to graytones, the combination of similar tones in physically different layers can blend photographically to create ambiguous situations. Basically, the form of the photo assumes the role of content.

Christopher Rauschenberg plays a lot with this in his b/w work

as does Erwitt

but of course the ultimate liner upper has to be Friedlander

All three of these folks were important to my development as a photographer, perhaps to a fault. In fact their influence is so strong that now when I am out shooting I need to make a conscious effort to avoid lining things up or I'll do it unconsciously (more examples here on my website). I suppose this is ok in some ways. What bothers me is that when things in a photo are lined up, the shot can appear too thought out. I think there is a delicate balancing act between casualness and perfection. A good photo requires some of each, yet too much of either can ruin it. So when a shot is very carefully lined, when the elements in the shot interrelate with such precision that any other vantage point would ruin the photo, that photo might be missing a slight piece of its soul, the accidental part. Such photos seem to be more about the photographer than what's in the photo. And yes, all photos are to some extent about the people who take them, but that's even more reason it requires special effort to hide one's self. Lining things up is not hiding onesself.

Realizing this, I've tried to break my lineup habit in a few ways. First, I switched a few years ago from an SLR to a rangefinder camera. While it is possible to line things up using a rangefinder, it is much more difficult than with other cameras. It takes guesswork to compensate for parallax. I can't imagine how Friedlander took all those lineup shots using a Leica. So some of the temptation to line things up is removed. Secondly, I've started shooting color in the past year. As I mentioned above, color seems much less suited to lineups than b/w. Now when I do line things up, the photos usually fail. It's the ones which aren't lined up, the naturally "objective" ones which I find myself liking more and more.
(A recent image: Color? Check. Rangefinder? Check. Not lined up? Check. Objective? Subjective.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Favorite photography books

Looking for ideas for your next photo book purchase? Below are some favorites of a few selected photographers. My favorites can be found here. I would love to see lists from blog readers.

Michael Kenna:
1. Bill Brandt, Shadows of Light: Photographs
2. Bill Jay, Occam's Razor: An Outside-In View of Contemporary Photography
3. Josef Sudek, Kirschner Zdenek
4. John Szarkowski & Maria Morris Hambourg, The Work of Atget
5. Olivia Parker, Signs of Life: Photographs
6. David Heiden, Dust to Dust: A Doctor's View of Famine in Africa

Mark Klett:
1. Bill Burke, I Want to Take Picture
2. Robert Adams, To Make It Home: Photographs of the American West
3. Araki Nohuyoshi, Sentimental Journey
4. James Rodney Hastings & Raymond M. Turner, The Changing Mile: An Ecological Study of Vegetation, Change with Time in the Lower Mile of an Arid and Semiarid Region
5. Nathan Lyons, Notations in Passing
6. Weston Naef & James Wood, Era of Exploration: The Rise of Landscape Photography in the American West, 1860-1885

Christopher Rauschenberg:
1. John Szarkowski & Maria Morris Hambourg, The Work of Atget
2. Robert Frank, The Americans
3. Garry Winogrand, The Animals
4. Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
5. Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, Evidence
6. John Szarowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Ruth Bernhard:
1. Sebastio Salgado, An Uncertain Grace

Jerry Uelsmann:
1. Michael Tucker, Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture
2. David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
3. Duane Michals & Marco Livingston, The Essential Duane Michals
4. Carl G. Jung & Marie-Luise von Franz, Man and His Symbols
5. Ralph Hattersley, Discover Yourself Through Photography: A Creative Workbook for Amateurs and Professionals
6. Max Ernst, Max Ernst: A Retrospective

Emmet Gowin:
1. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment
2. Walker Evans, American Photographs
3. Arthur D. Trottenberg, A Vision of Paris
4. Bill Brandt, Perspective of Nudes
5. Harry Callahan, Photographs: Harry Callahan
6. Frederick Sommer, 1939-1962: Photographs
7. Waldo David Frank, Ed., America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait
8. James Agee & Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
9. Dorothy Norman, Alfred Steiglitz: Introduction to an American Seer
10. Robert Frank, The Americans
11. Berhard und Hilla Becher, Anonyme Skulpturen
12. Edward Ruscha, Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles
13. John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Peter Brown:
1. Robert Frank, The Americans
2. Robert Adams & William Stafford, Listening to the River: Seasons in the American West
3. Walker Evans, American Photographs
4. Solomon D. Butcher, Photographing the American Dream
5. John Szarkowski & Maria Morris Hambourg, The Work of Atget
6. Mike Disfarmer, The Heber Springs Portraits, 1939-1946
7. Josef Koudelka, Gypsies: Photographs
8. Sarah M. Lowe & Donna Lucy, Photographing Montana, 1894-1928: The Life Work of Evelyn Cameron

Keith Carter:
1. John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art
2. John Szarkowski & Maria Morris Hambourg, The Work of Atget
3. Stanley Burns, M.D., Sleeping Beauty: Early Post Mortem Photography in America
4. Josef Koudelka, Exiles: Photographs
5. Pierre de Fenoyl, Chefs - D'Oeuvre des Photographs Anonymes
6. William Eggleston, The Democratic Forest

George Krause:
1. Neago Phillippe, Francoise Hlbrun & Pierre Bonnard, Photographs and Paintings
2. E. J. Bellocq, Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, the Redlight District of New Orleans
3. Bunny Yeager & A. S. Barnes, How I Photograph Myself
4. August Sander, Gunther Sander, & Maureen Oberli-TurnerMen Without Masks: Faces of Germany, 1910-1938
5. Edward Steichen, The Family of Man
6. Marcel Bovis & Francois Saint-Julien, Mus D'Autrefois, 1850-1900

(Source: Building a Photographic Library, edited by D. Clarke Evans & Jean Caslin, Copyright 2001, Texas Photographic Society)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Take a moment to look closely at this photo:

It's nothing, right? Just an old dusty fragment from the bottom of a closet. Hard to read much from it one way or another, and certainly not worth much time researching. Right?

Yet this photo is potentially very important. It is likely the earliest surviving image attributable to Carleton Watkins, dating from around 1856. I think it's quite incredible that an image so nondescript and fragmentary --so basically ordinary looking-- can be tied to a specific photographer that long ago. The connections are so simultaneously tenuous yet convincing that the whole thing fascinates me. What follows is a transcript of a conversation between photo historians talking about the image and its possible connection to Watkins, excerpted from In Focus: Carleton Watkins (Copyright 1997: J. Paul Getty Museum)

David Featherstone: The first picture we're going to look at comes from this period of Watkin's early work as a photographer, when he was in the San Jose area, but it has not been clearly established that this was made by him. It is a fragment of an ambrotype, which is a positive image made on glass. Peter, you've established some evidence that may attribute this to Watkins.

Peter Palmquist: Basically, it involves the fact that Watkins was in San Jose and connected with James M. Ford. If we are looking at this as possibly teh earliest artifact that can be attributed to Watkins, the connection has to be tenuous, but there is a succession of evidence that suggests it's highly likely. If this is not by Watkins, it is probably by Ford, but the latter was away for long periods of time. One of the competing photographers in San Jose talked about the success that Ford had at the state fair. He referred specifically to the quality of work of a man Ford employed on and off. This infuriated the other gallery owners, who said, "This isn't your regular employee." I believe this is a reference to Watkins.

Weston Naef: This picture has been identified at the Augustin Alviso ranch, which was in the southeast part of the Bay Area, near Newark. Its association with Watkins is based on a series of circumstantial associations with a handful of other surviving photographs. These contain some common threads that are so slender that it's hard to imagine we could begin to identify this particular picture with any known maker. Stranger things have happened in the history of art, however. For example, some of the greatest vase paintings of ancient Greece are attributed to known makers on the basis of tiny fragments, where the visual sensibility of a maker is so clearly evident that a consensus of opinion comes to be formed that a fragments can stand for the entire work of a maker.

Peter Palmquist: This came from the Alviso family. It has always been known in the family for what it si and remains the only imge of that particular sites. It is a full plate, and full-plate ambrotypes are rather uncommon.

Amy Rule: Are there some ambrotypes by Ford that have been identified?

Peter Palmquist: There are some that are attributed to him, but nothing has been demonstrated absolutely. None are of an outdoor nature.

Tom Fels: If you try to picture this as a whole plate, while it's certainly typical of its time, it has some things that we might agree are characteristic of Watkins. It has a kind of clarity and stateliness in the presence of the building, for example. I couldn't say that it's Watkins, but that's not a bad place to start.

Weston Naef: To go one step further with what Tom is saying, what makes this so promising is that we are seeing evidence of a major event. If you look along the balcony you'll notice that a number of people are posed there. There's a wagon in the foreground. perhaps most important of all is the arrangement of the three horses: one looking forward, one looking to the right, and one looking to the left. We're seeing here that someone had enough charisma to orchestrate a courtyard full of people and animals into a setting of his wishes. We know from other work by Watkins, particularly his landscapes around the Bay Area, that he was a master at placing figures in landscapes.

When I first saw this fragment --and I tend to be pretty skeptical about such things since everybody wants to read something into the unknown-- I felt that is was really uncanny. It somehow had the mark of mastery, and there were not very many people working in photography in the southern Bay Area who had this kind of mastery. It could have been Ford, but we assume that he was a specialist at photographing indoors. Watkins had begun to establish his own identity as someone who was particularly gifted at working with situations in flux.

David Robertson: If you look at the way the trees are orchestrated against the background rocks in the 1861 photograph River View, Cathedral Rocks, which we will discuss later, you come to the conclusion that Watkins chose that particular view very carefully in order to produce a syncopation of rocks and trees. In this photograph, if you look at the arrangement of the horses and the people and the wagon and the building, you see the very same care to spread things out so they establish a rhythmic counterpoint.

Weston Naef:Peter, can you talk a little more about the role of the wagon? It has appeared in other very early and exceedingly rare photographs and therefore establishes a common thread that cannot be ignored.

Peter Palmquist: There are six images we are aware of that were made in the is general area, and in four of them this same wagon appears. Of the six images, Watkins subsequently copied or manipulated four of them, and they appear in his work thereafter.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eat an orange

Mike Johnston has a great review of the Zeiss Ikon Z1 on his TOP site. I considered this camera pretty seriously before recently buying a Leica. Perhaps if his review had come out a few months earlier I might have been persuaded. As he notes in the review, it has several straight-up improvements on the M6 --aperture priority, a hinged back, beautiful controls, you can buy it new with a warranty. In terms of raw features, it's a better camera. Yet it's not a Leica, and as Johnston notes in the review, this by itself can be considered a flaw. There are all sorts of arguments about which features are useful or essential, etc, but the bottom line is if you're going to spend that kind of money on a camera, why not buy a friggin Leica? It's like trying to market a new fruit. Yes, it has more vitamins, it's cheaper, it doesn't have a peel. But in the end wouldn't you rather just eat an orange?

One thing that happens to me with my Leica that I didn't expect before buying it is that it starts a lot of conversations. Photographers want to talk camera shop, so I get a lot of that. But more interesting are the average folks who just see an old camera and are curious about it. They don't know what type it is but it looks mechanical and precise and that's enough to pique their curiosity. So I wind up talking to a lot of strangers on the street that I wouldn't have before. Photographically speaking, this has been very healthy. I find I am more at ease on the street when I'm interacting with people. If I walk along without talking to anyone, I tend to speed by things. I feel more like an outsider, less comfortable in my surroundings. But stop and talk to a few people and all the sudden I'm in Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Everyone is friendly, at least in my mind, and this expectation comes through in the photos. But beyond that, the act of talking is stationary. I'm in one spot. As I stand and talk the world stops rushing by. I can take my time, look around, notice things. I am forced to slow down. Very healthy photographically.

I wonder what sort of conversations I might have if I spay paint the Leica orange.

Quiz #2 Answer

NADAR: made up name relating to 19th century photography
KODAK: made up name relating to 20th century photography
MODEL: made up (using lipstick, eyeliner, etc) person relating to all photographic history

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quiz #2

Take a made up word relating to 19th century photography. Replace three letters to form a made up word relating to 20th century photography. Replace three letters in the second word to form a made up person relevant to all photographic history from 1839 to the present. What are the three words? A free print for the first person to answer correctly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Familiar Subjects

Here are nine titles I run across in the used photography section of bookstore after bookstore. Since most of my browsing occurs on the West Coast this list may reflect a regional slant. I'd be happy to hear common titles from other parts of the world. This list does not refer at all to the quality of these books, only to their ubiquity.

Familiar Subjects, Norman Locks

The Print, The Camera, and/or The Negative, Ansel Adams

Manscape With Beasts, Barbara Norfleet

Naked Babies, Anna Quindlen

Women, Annie Leibowitz

The Family of Man, Edward Steichen

Ground Time, Kent Reno

The Flame of Recognition, Edward Weston

On Photography, Susan Sontag

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Jesse Marlow: What Was He Thinking?

"Wandering the streets with my camera is something I’ve done since I was a young kid. When I was 8 years old my uncle gave me a copy of a book called Subway Art. The book was a photographic documentation of the New York graffiti scene that exploded in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Inspired by the book and with the help of my mum who would drive me around from wall to wall, I would jump out with her old Minolta and photograph the brightly coloured walls that began appearing in Melbourne. I did this for the next 10 years and this led to my interest in being out on the street documenting what I saw. I think my parents were a lot happier that I was photographing graffiti than doing it myself."

"This is from 1999 and taken a year after photography school. I would walk around the Melbourne city grid on a daily basis looking for anything interesting to photograph. From a distance, I spotted these two elderly men sitting there having a chat. I shot about 2 frames from around 5 metres away and gradually inched closer trying to achieve a more symmetrical composition without imposing myself on the scene. I ended up shooting another 3 or 4 frames."

"This is one of my favourite street photos from the years that I shot B+W. The shop window had always caught my eye. It’s the Nike shop and is on the corner of Melbourne’s two busiest streets. An extra wide pavement here similar to the ones on Oxford Street, London gives great depth to street photos. It was early afternoon on a summer’s day and I was out shooting with my auto-focus Hexar (hence the one handed shooting style). I was drawn to the Andre Agassi poster and the reflections that were bouncing off the glass. I shot a few frames of people walking past the poster but needed something extra. All of a sudden the man in the wheelchair appeared and cruised through the frame. He didn’t stop but as he passed through he gave me a curious look as to what on earth I might be photographing."

"This photo was taken on a Sunday morning prior to Christmas in a square in Melbourne. I was out walking around taking pictures and noticed a queue of kids lining up to sit on Santa’s knee. I noticed this slightly older taller boy in the queue and I thought it seemed a bit odd. My instincts told me I should wait and see what happened when it was his turn. I remember that I felt a little bit uncomfortable and didn’t really want to be seen with a camera standing around a queue of young kids waiting to sit on Santa’s knee. Then it was the young boy's turn and his mother walked up with him. Like me, he wasn’t comfortable either and he reacted by planting his feet and resisting. It happened very quickly and I shot a few frames."

"I think this photo has a real ‘Melbourne’ feel to it. Melbourne can have a dark and gothic look and feel at times…. particularly in Autumn. Large piles of leaves had formed around the city and this photo was taken on a road with tall buildings on either side, causing a wind tunnel in certain spots. Naturally drawn by the magical look of leaves circling around and around, and having recently seen the film American Beauty, I still had the famous scene of the red plastic bag flying through the air on my mind."

"It was 2002 and I had just worked a 10 hour shift at The Age newspaper in Melbourne. Shooting mundane news stories, I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and shoot a few photos for myself. I walked out the door of the paper and at the same time a young woman was walking past with the head in her hands. I couldn’t believe it. I pulled out my Leica and walked slowly behind her shooting a few frames. The bus stop appeared out of nowhere and it was a bit of luck to have the sleeping face on the poster."

"This is one of the photos from my ‘Wounded’ book. I was completely obsessive while shooting this series. I shot the walking wounded as they went about their daily routines for over 2 years. I became an expert at spotting someone in a crowd with their arm a in sling. This is one of the last photos I shot in the series and was a bit of a gift from the photo gods. I had just had my morning coffee and as I walked out of the coffee shop noticed the person carrying the spine. I walked behind her keeping a good distance but still shooting a few frames, When she arrived at the intersection things came together. By chance the man on crutches appeared and walked through frame. I quickly took two frames, smiled to myself and walked off in the other direction."

Jesse Marlow is the author of the photobook Wounded. His work can be found online here and here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Perhaps they've won already?

This just in. Anyone seen in public using a camera could be a terrorist and should be reported immediately, using the hotline on this poster (yes, this is a real poster from London):

When you're finished reporting the photographer, here are some other suspicious activities to call about. We need everyone's cooperation on this or else the terrorists win.

Eamon Mac Mahon

I ran across this Eamon Mac Mahon photo this morning and it stopped me in my tracks:

What a shot! Fits nicely into the no-foreground category I wrote about a few posts back. More of his work here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A good day spent mostly on photography

Yesterday was pretty solid with photography. I woke up around 6, had a coffee and bagel, and at first light drove down to this month's grid, P12. It's near Mt. Scott on the far southeast edge of town. The city boundary cuts through the center of the grid meaning P12 is only about half the normal grid size, and roughly half of that is taken up by various cemeteries and mausoleums. I guess a lot of folks wanted their dead bones to have a view, and a lot of other ones wanted their bones crushed into dust and stored forever in a giant marble filing cabinet. Lots of flowers, headstones, and trees. No one hassled me, but part of that is that I was careful not to pee anywhere too obvious.

The half of the grid that isn't dead people is mostly run-down apartments fringed with cancerous cul-de-sacked McMansions. A few older homes too, plus good old Johnson Creek. George met me for that part. We walked around and shot quite a bit but I doubt I got any real keepers. By mid-morning the sun was pretty bright and washed out all the color. I asked a few folks for portraits and got one. My running theory is that the less you propose to interfere with someone's life the more likely they are to let you take their portrait. So it's a better bet to ask someone at, say, a bus stop than someone walking by the other direction. The person at the bus stop would be sitting there portrait or not. The portrait doesn't change their routine. But if you ask someone walking past you they have to stop what they're doing, take some time out of their life to help you, and most folks asked on the fly are resistant to that.

By the same logic I find I have more success if I ask "Can I take your portrait for a project I'm doing?" than "Do you want to be part of a photo project?" The first question implies that I'm about to do something to them. They don't need to take any action. I'll do all the work. The second question puts the action in their court. "Do you want to..." implies that they need to do something to make the portrait happen. Which of course they do but people are reluctant to say yes when approached in those terms. That's my experience anyway. Lately, about 2 out of every 3 people I approach have turned me down.

After a few hours of gridding, George and I drove to Hartman. The show was pretty darned good. An all-star lineup of Erwitt, Meatyard, Adams, Lyons, a lot of heavy hitters. Kenna, Tice, Bernhard, etc. An Ilse Bing for 18K, Bada-Bing! There was a print by Leon Levinstein who I'd never heard of until reading a review of him on 5b4 about a month ago. Then the week after I'd seen his book The Moment of Exposure by chance at the U of O library and grabbed it. It wasn't half bad. If Siskind and Model had married and gotten an ugly divorce which made their kid bitter as he hit the streets with a camera, you'd get Levinstein. That was the first print I'd seen of his in person. I can't even remember the photo. It's that sort of style. I told Hartman his place was filling in the void left by Josefberg and he frowned. I guess he doesn't like being compared to anyone. But really it is. Where else are you going to see photos like that besides a museum?

After Hartman I put away all my cameras except the Leica, and George and I hiked Broadway up the gut of town to the Art Museum to see their photo show of Recent Acquisitions. The show was generally solid. Some hits. Some misses. All in all, the work had the feeling of...well, being recently acquired. Shawn Records' photo came the closest to being spontaneous, along with one shot by John Wimberly that could pass for a fleeting moment yet was almost certainly shot in a studio. I guess the snapshot aesthetic is out this year. Maybe next year's summer line will make it hip again.

After the new acquisitions we made our way through the tunnel to the Masonic Temple section of the museum because I hadn't seen the photo section for a while. There were several new pieces up, including a great shot by Jon Brand of Winogrand smiling slyly. The museum was dead. Four floors stacked top to bottom with art and the only person to see it yesterday besides me and George was the security officer. Luckily she wasn't able to be everywhere at once and I could to photograph freely out of her sight. MOMA allows photography. The Met allows photography. Why does PAM ban photography? What possible reason could there be to ban photography anywhere on the planet?

After the museum we walked the streets some more, down 10th through the Pearl, back past the park blocks, ran across a pretty good photo show in the Everett Street Lofts, then through old town back into downtown back up Burnside. I hadn't been in the city for a while and it felt good to be out on a clear day with a camera not knowing what might be around the next corner. The funny thing is downtown is a great spot for portraits but I never take portraits there. I shoot only small format fleeting moments. I don't know why. Somehow it seems easier to ask for a portrait when no one else is around, in some outskirts parking lot or something. But peoplewise, the best subject matter is downtown.

Around 4 my feet were dead so I hit the highway south to beat rush hour. On the way back through Eugene I picked up some film at Dot Dotson's. I got back to the house and had some family time. After the kids were asleep I cut the negs and looked through a few In-Public submissions. In the mail from Matt that day had arrived the DVD set of Genius of Photography. I had time to watch just a few minutes before bed, enough to make sure the discs worked. Tomorrow I'll start in on the whole series.

All in all, a good day spent mostly on photography.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Here's a little quiz for photographers: Without looking up the answer, what does the f-stop on a lens represent? I'm not asking what it does. Obviously the aperture regulates light, and higher f-stop numbers let in less light. But how is the actual number arrived at? What does 2.8 or 5.6 measure? A free print for the first person to correctly answer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Post Modeled After Linklater's Slacker

I took this photo at the recent Siskind show at Charles Hartman in Portland. Hartman seems to have filled the void left by the loss of the late great Josefberg Gallery. Ah, Josefberg. The gallery opened the very month I began photography (October 1993) and closed 11 years later. Their website is still up. Just look at some of what they showed! I learned more about photography at that gallery than through a thousand books. Each month was a new show and a new course of study.

Josefberg was the first place I ever saw Robbie McClaran's photo project Angry White Men, which somehow made me emphathetic toward several of the planet's most hateful persons, and which is now at Eugene's Schnitzer Gallery. Above the photo room, in the section behind the Hundertwassers is a Cezanne on loan. Someone once told me that the reason Cezanne was important is that he painted landscapes with no visual entrance. Before him, there was always a place in the painting for your mind to enter the picture. He got rid of that and paved the way for cubism, which no one could visually enter until LSD was developed in the 50s.

Now we have TV, which you enter through pot.

Photographs without a visual entrance seem to be the rage these days. There are a lot of landscapes like


with no foreground (photos by Georg Parthen and Pablo Lopez, respectively). Maybe they're shot from an airplane or high cliff. Icarus perspectives. You can't walk into them. The effect is godlike, omniscient, not troubled with the pesky details of daily existence.

They certainly aren't modeling their style after Carleton Watkins. He almost always included in his vistas a snippet of foreground, a burnt log or patch of hillside, a reminder of what's below all our feet.

Here's Douglas R. Nickel's take on Carleton Watkins: "Carleton Watkins made photographs that are more modern in appearance than our understanding of art history ought to allow. Their alternation between, at times, an elaborate manipulation of abstracted space, compositional torque, and acute detail and, at others, an almost naive and totemic directness suggests the kind of formal gamesmanship we might expect of a perceptive artist working after the advent of Cubism, but not of a struggling tradesman in San Francisco in the 1860s...Nothing in the photographer's life would seem to have qualified him to make such pictures, so that...explanations relying on biography at some point encounter a kind of categorical limit, beyond which lies only speculation."

Disfarmer and Atget fit Watkin's profile almost exactly: Tradesmen, hammering out their own photographic legacies completely unnoticed, absent from any historical account of photography until long after their deaths. Perhaps being unnoticed in the contemporary photo world is a little easier to swallow because of them.

Christopher Rauschenberg has just published a book called Paris Changing for which he rephotographed many of Atget's scenes in the modern day. In a long interview with Lens Culture about the project Rauschenberg says he used to describe his photography as "at the intersection of Atget and Friedlander". He blended Atget's directnness with Friedlander's formal use of photographic space. That was before he realized that the combination was difficult, maybe even impossible. He came to think that maybe there was no intersection after all. One was the epitomy of simplicity and the other was the trickiest, most clever composer alive. Rauschenberg winded up siding with Atget, attempting to follow in his footsteps.

I feel closer to the intersection of Winogrand and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, although neither of them could make you care about peeling paint the way Siskind could.