Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Looking for something photo-related to get in the Halloween holiday spirit? How about this custom 4 x 5 pinhole camera whose main housing is a child's skull:

I tell you it takes a dark soul to come up with stuff like that, a soul completely sealed against light leaks. In case you're wondering what such a soul looks like, here he is:

Wayne Martin Belger by Ken Merfeld

More of Belger's custom cameras can be seen here. I'm a little scared to ask where he gets his supplies. Below is a sample photo from the skull camera:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Say what?

"This lack of certainty with regard to what constitutes Photography as an object of inquiry can be seen for all its abstractness as a mirror of the problem of theorizing the photograph, the clash between the apparent concreteness of the photographic referent and its slippery contextual play. Yet the term persists past its supposed theoretical and practical disintegration, and with it a forlorn pastiche of critical theorizations and aesthetic conventions that repeatedly confront a metaphor for their own self-imposed failure in the photographic image. In melancholic retrospection, the photographic object itself represents the loss of a unity, dispersed within an equally fragmented field that for the art historian requires it to be resituated, re-pictured..."

—from the appropriately named essay Abstracting Photography by Walead Bashty, currently the lead article at Words Without Pictures

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some small purchase on the world

After a year of lurking I finally bought my first 20 x 200 print last week, an 8.5 x 11 photo of this image by Jeffrey Krolick:
Driveway, Ashland, Oregon by Jeffrey Krolick

I like this image for a few reasons. First of all it's got good form. It's well seen, well put together without being too obvious. The colors work. It's a found scene as opposed to being constructed. In short it's a nice photo.

But the world is full of nice photos, most of which I don't wind up buying. The thing that pushed me over the edge on this one is that it's a local shot. This photo really feels like Autumn in Southern Oregon to me, and I wanted to have a photo which expressed that in my collection.

I used to have a bumper sticker which said Think Globally, Act Locally, and I think this slogan can apply to the photographic world: Think globally, shoot locally. To the extent possible one should be aware of everything happening in contemporary photography (and with the internet this is closer to a possibility than ever). But when it comes to photographic practice, the only exposures you can ever make are of what is right in front of you. Think globally, shoot locally.

All of which feeds into another reason I like Krolick's work. He has located himself outside the mainstream photo world. Krolick lives in Ashland, OR, about 3 hours south of Eugene. Although Ashland is a vibrant town, geographically it's a remote rural outpost about as far from the NY art scene as it's possible to get. I can almost guarantee there are not many fine art photographers in Ashland doing non-postcard style work. My guess is that Krolick is pretty much on his own there, free to follow whatever path he sets for himself. Which is fine. There are thousands of us out there in the same boat. Yet even while being physically isolated, Krolick has forged strong ties to the mainstream photo world (e.g. Through Silver Eye, Lucie Awards, and 20 x 200). This seems to be an ideal working method, and when I see a local guy who can successfully juggle that combination I have to support it.

Here're a few more images from Krolick's Emigrant Lake series. More work can be found on his personal site, which I must warn people contains a bit of California-speak.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Miscellaneous personal items

In response to my recent post about haunting portraits of little girls, my friend Bryan sent me this photo of his daughter Lyla. I think it's creepy enough to qualify.

Lyla Emerging from Maple by Bryan Wolf

Bryan also sent along a photo which I think is by Bahar Yurukoglu. It isn't necessarily creepy but its eponymous nature requires me to post it somewhere on my blog so here it is.

Someone please let me know if this isn't by Bahar Yurukoglu

Lastly, I've settled on my 2008 Halloween costume, shown in the quick self portrait below. The first person to correctly identify the costume's photographic reference wins a free print.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another political shot taken out of context

Photo by Callie Shell for Time Magazine

In the wake of revelations that the GOP spent $150K on Sarah Palin's wardrobe and that her makeup artist was the highest paid member of the McCain/Palin staff last month ($22,000 for one month's work), I thought the photo above was especially telling.

As far as personal grooming I am in the worn-out soles camp. Over the past five years I've spent $10 on wardrobe (I bought a T-shirt at a concert a few years ago, otherwise I depend on holiday gifts for clothing) and $0 on hair and makeup (I went without a haircut for about 3 years before using clippers to give myself a buzz every few months). So when I see a photo like that, I can relate.

Sorry to get political again. I'm as sick of electioneering as everyone and I will be glad when all of the campaigning is over. But until then I'll assume free license to post political pix. After all, it's pretty rare that I get to vote for someone who actually might win so I may as well revel in the moment, no?

Just out of curiosity are there any photographers out there, or any artists at all, voting for McCain?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halloween costume idea?

Although these two photos are very different (one staged, the other documentary), they seem to share a similar haunting quality which feels appropriate for this time of year:

Fiona II by Holly Andres

Photo by Michal Chelbin

What is it about little girls in formal settings that seems slightly possessed and creepy? Whatever it is, I think Arbus tapped into the same energy with her twins photo. Hollywood closely followed suit with The Excorcist, The Shining, and Poltergeist. Now a generation later the theme seems to be surfacing again. Not sure what's going on, just that these two photos seem to belong together.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What the print swap has in common with the credit crisis

A few months ago I initiated a print trading experiment through this blog. At the time I wasn't sure how it would work out. I only knew that I felt a nagging sense of frustration at the lack of willingness by photographers to barter prints, even as those same prints went largely unsold in the market. It made, and continues to make, no sense to me. We all have stacks of exhibition quality prints basically wasting away in closets, drawers, etc. Why not use them as currency? As a spur to trading, I imagined I could create a small group of serious photographers who would swap prints on a monthly basis. We would all acquire some great new photographs at the same time we raised a collective middle finger to the art market. Win win baby!

It has been four months since my initial proposal and I'm prepared to call the experiment a total bust. Of the 8 photographers who signed on originally, I don't think any followed through with the trade. The only person I'm sure sent off a print was myself. When I emailed a followup reminder a few weeks after the trade to make sure everyone had mailed and received their print ok, and to get feedback on the process, there was no reply from anyone. A clear bust.

I've been thinking about the swap and what went wrong, and how I might have structured it differently. I think two issues stymied the process.

The first issue, raised at the outset by several people, was quality control. I put no restrictions on who could join the swap. In effect it was totally unjuried because I was unwilling to play the role of judge, and because I thought less restrictions would encourage more entrants. But it worked the other way. Some photographers were unwilling to sign up for the trade without some quality filter in place.

One of many photographs of complete strangers by Saul Leiter

The second problem is that the trade relied on trust in strangers. Basically I needed folks to trust in the process enough to just send a print to a stranger on the assumption that some other stranger would do the same for them. There was no guarantee that this would work other than my optimistic promise. And to most readers of this blog I am basically a stranger myself without a strong enough record to back up the process. Although I suspected this might be an issue for some, I underestimated how little trust exists in cyberspace, and I think this mistrust ultimately hurt the print swap.

But don't worry. I still trust everyone (at the same time I trust no institutions), and I'm still willing to trade prints with any photographer out there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Contest stripped of context

This photo from last week's debate seems appropriate since it shares the same relationship to reality as McCain's terrorist claims about Obama. Take anything out of context and you can twist it to suit just about any agenda. I wish I could give a photo credit but this was sent along stripped of any meta-data.

While we're in political territory, it's recently come to my attention that Eggleston has never voted in his life.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two good October shows

Imagine a room full of rare and beautiful photography books by wonderful photographers, few of which you've seen before, over which you can linger as long as you please. This is a good description of the current show Reading Room at Portland's PDX Gallery. PDX has put the show together in conjunction with Nazraeli Books which as far as I'm concerned is currently the top photobook publisher on the planet (sorry Steidl, Twin Palms, J & L, etc). Nazraeli treats its books like artworks, each one carefully designed and crafted. Because they are often produced in very small runs of several hundred or maybe a few thousand the majority of titles by Nazraeli are impossible to find in bookstores or libraries. So when a show like Reading Room comes along with roughly 50 such books laid out for open browsing, it is a rare opportunity to see many titles for perhaps the only time.

The fact that photobooks are given the same gallery treatment normally reserved for works of fine art is at least partial acknowledgment of the special role of the book in photography. There's no way such a show could be constructed around books of painting, sculpture, or multimedia. As many have commented before, photography has a special relationship with the book form, one which the artworld is just in the early stages of recognizing.

Tim Davis' Permanent Collection

David Maisel's Oblivion

Camilel Solyagua's Cirque des Fourmis

Koto Ezawa's The History of Photography Remix

One hundred miles south of PDX Gallery is another photo show which for many will be worth the drive. Eugene's DIVA Gallery, not normally a hotbed of daring photography, is currently showing Rhapsody in Black and White, a collection of photographs by Charles "Teenie" Harris . Harris spent his photographic career (roughly the 30s through the 60s) at the Pittsburgh Courier documenting all aspects of Pittsburgh's black community, amassing a collection of 80,000 images now housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art. About 30 of these are on display at DIVA. The photographs are documentary in the strongest most beautiful sense of the word, opening (at least for me) a mental window into a world I hadn't thought much about. There is a raw reality to these scenes which permeates their core, and which provides relief from the current trend in photography toward conceptual/staged/manipulated images.

Nuns with Children and Gifts by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Visitors in the Sinclair Oil Company dinosaur exhibit at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Interior of the B & M Restaurant by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Four Men in Chairs Drinking by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Friday, October 17, 2008

Big if

If you're a regular reader of B and you want to support it:

1) Mention B to someone else.

2) Spend your hard-earned money on a print or book by a local photographer in your area.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Manufactured Landscapes

This week I finally got around to seeing Manufactured Landscapes.

The tone for the evening was set about ten minutes into the film when Tab looked over and said, "I thought this was supposed to be about a photographer."

"I dunno," I shrugged. "I thought so too."

So our expectations were off. As it turned out, this was not a movie primarily about a photographer (in this case Edward Burtynsky). Instead, Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary about industrial development mainly in China with a few scenes from other countries. As a cinematic snapshot of where the world is at, the film is pretty good. It will probably be interesting to watch in 50 years or however long it takes the world to finish manufacturing all of our landscapes.

Bao Steel #3, Shanghai 2005 by Edward Burtynsky
Save yourself the rental fee and just stare at this photo for 90 minutes

However, as a film about a photographer or photography in general, I have to say that Manufactured Landscapes sucks. It tells virtually nothing about Burtynsky's training, methods, influences, style, personality, daily life, or interests. During many of the long singleshot takes scattered throughout, the film is basically the cinematic equivalent of looking at a Burtynsky photo for five or ten minutes. I don't have to go to the movies to get that experience. I can do it at my own pace in a book or on the computer. All in all, IMO a good movie for cultural historians but not for photographers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Siegfried Hansen: What Was He Thinking?

"My name is Siegfried Hansen. I am a German citizen living in Hamburg. In 2002 I started as an amateur photographer, especially in street photography. If I have time I take my camera and walk for hours on the streets. I am looking for the little absurdities of life. Trying to catch special moments, either funny things, graphical or even light and shadow situations. To see the energy and complexity of life on the street is for me a kind of meditation."

"This picture was made in 2003 in New York on a holiday trip, when I saw the angler at the peer. He caught the fish and released him from the hook and threw his fishing rod out again quickly. Meanwhile, the flounced fish was suffering from his pain. I like to watch a weird and surreal scene like this one. Two worlds in one picture: the angler ignoring the death fighting fish. For me it became a picture with contents extracted from the context."

"This picture was made in Hamburg, 2005 at a place I have been at least hundred times before. But on this day when I took the photo, the scene was different. I saw the two swans and the two persons. Suddenly I saw the next swan coming along and the situation was completed. I took two photos. Afterward the man stood up and went away and the situation was completely different. This was one of those moments I never thought could happen, but real life is always full of surprises. So you have to be prepared for this kind of moment. I never leave my house without my camera."

"Tokyo 2002 at a shopping mall. I noticed the surface and I was keen to catch the 3-D effect inspired by Escher. I went up to the first floor to take a shot, when I saw from above the father with his child. In the next moment another child was approaching the first child. This was the right moment to take a picture. Seconds later the mother came and went away with one of the children, so the scene was over."

"Hamburg 2008. I saw the women standing at the corner with a tree in her hands. The first moment I saw this situation I wanted to take a picture because it's not often you can see someone walking on the street with a tree. So I started to walk behind her, when I suddenly saw the potted plant. The situation was completed. I believe instinct and curiosity are the foundation for street photography."

"Tokyo 2002. I was visiting a temple and was monitoring a traditional wedding celebration. The woman was prepared for a picture by a photographer. The photographer got her ready by proofing her outfit. The woman was looking downward skeptically. So I saw her face in the mirror and this was the moment for me to take this picture. I like it if the observer has to look 2 or 3 times to realize the scene in the picture. I like to show two (or even more) different things in one picture at the same time."

"Tokyo 2002. I was standing on a bridge. From above I saw the sign of the street when a person crossed the street. This was too busy for taking a picture. I was waiting for a better situation. Suddenly two persons crossed the street in different directions. The picture was ready. In connection, occurrences which have nothing to do with one another get suddenly a new meaning."

"This picture was taken in Venice 2004. The scene was almost ready because on the left side of the picture the scene was completed. But the right side of the picture was empty which mean that I had to wait for another person to turn the corner. One person was not enough for me, so I had to wait for a two person constellation."

More of Siegfried Hansen's work can be found here.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Here're five Diana shots from the past few weeks:

The thing I've grown to like about this camera is that it rewards instinct more than it rewards thinking. A photographer with a Diana is like an amoeba, just bumping into stuff and reacting on a chemical level to immediate surroundings. After I've run a roll through it and before I develop it I have very little idea what any of the images will look like. In a world increasingly engineered to eliminate uncertainties, surprises like these are a 16 frame treasure chest.

On the flip side, perhaps raw instinct is what Canon had in mind when developing the press release for the EOS 50D. As described breathlessly in the latest PhotoMedia, the camera comes with a Creative Auto mode which "turns technical terms like 'aperture' into common terms like 'blur the background' or 'lighten or darken the image' on the display screen." The camera also comes with SmileGuard technology which locks the shutter until a smile is detected. Although the press release doesn't specifically mention it the camera will also translate "any shutter release" into "take photos that look exactly like everyone else". At last George Eastman's promise You press the button, we do the rest has become a pocket-held reality.

You can probably guess my body's instinctual reaction to these developments.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bruce Wrighton has arrived

If The New Yorker is any reliable indicator of the contemporary cultural scene, then photography has arrived. Of the 21 art shows given short writeups in the latest issue, 8 are photography. Although this portion is roughly average for recent issues, if you go back twenty, ten, or even five years ago the number of photography reviews would've been much closer to zero. It's only recently that Photography has become the hot new kid on the block, the art form du jour. I guess I am happy about that, although such a position puts a lot of pressure on photography to stretch into unfamiliar and perhaps illsuited permutations. But at least we're beyond the hurdle of But is it art? Or perhaps that question has helped spur photography's popularity?

Diner Interior, 1987 by Bruce Wrighton

Thankfully, in the listings this week is a good old fashioned straight photography show by Bruce Wrighton at Laurence Miller Gallery. If you're wondering Bruce Who?, join the crowd. Apparently he was born in Ithaca, NY and lived and worked his whole life not far away in Binghamton, squarely outside any mainstream art circles. He died in 1988 at age 38 leaving behind a small treasure trove of gorgeous work, some of which can be found at the gallery site. Although I'm less enamored with his photos of cars, his public space interiors and street portraits are simply first rate. Horses Think has a nice review, including a short excerpt of Wrighton's thoughts from an interview in —Yes, you're reading this correctly— a local edition of the Weekly Pennysaver.

Man in Gold Sweater, 1987 by Bruce Wrighton

How he went from the Weekly Pennysaver to The New Yorker is a mystery. I can find very little about his life online beyond what I've written here. In fact, I'm sure that this mystique is registering on some level in my psyche when I look at his work, and perhaps effecting my judgment of it. There's something riveting in the life stories of all those photographers who traced forgotten footsteps only to be discovered as geniuses after dying. Atget, Bellocq, Disfarmer, Salignac, Watkins, etc. The artistic canon is as malleable as trends in The New Yorker, and that fact is a tiny ray of light for many of us anonymous art serfs.

But even without knowing anything about his life the quality of Wrighton's work is obvious. Bruce Who indeed. If anyone knows more about this person's life and background, please email me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Portland Ground

Since I'm involved with grid projects in Eugene and Portland, I was intrigued when I stumbled recently on Portland Ground. Miles Hochstein seems to be a one-man grid project, systematically dividing Portland into neighborhoods and attacking it with a camera. Judging from his personal site as well as the style of his photography Hochstein seems motivated more by an obsessive need to categorically document than the more art-influenced photography of the other grid projects. Folks looking for consistently entertaining photography might search elsewhere, but if you're curious what Portland actually looks like, this site is as good as any.

Lightleak building photographed 6/29/08 by Miles Hochstein

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Morning person

Pix Channel is a great site by photographer Randi Lynn Beach featuring short video interviews with many well known photographers. It's worth checking out but beware, this site has the ability to suck you in for hours. Here's a short excerpt from Beach's interview with Elliott Erwitt:

RLB: What do you think about when you take photos?

EE: Lunch

Monday, October 6, 2008

Grasshopper shots

Last weekend I found two old digital cameras at a garage sale and bought them for the kids to play around with. They were Nikon Coolpix from I think the late 90s and they were practically free. The cameras came with accessories to charge and download but no cards. So when I got home I hunted around and found two old Compact Flash cards from several years back. One was 64MB and the other 128MB. Both of these were top-of-the line capacities when I bought them maybe five years ago.

When the kids had had their fun and filled their cards I downloaded them onto my computer to get a look into their world. Their world is generally close and blurry.

But tucked into the front of the memory were about 30 images I'd taken and forgotten about from another camera. In fact these were from the first digital camera I'd ever bought, a Canon G3 (with the cards). It had been a great camera until I'd dropped it, mashing the zoom lens back into the body. In the process of determining that the lens was inoperable, I'd taken these 30 photos as test shots. The camera didn't work and I threw it in a drawer without ever looking at the images...until now.

Turns out the images have a certain charm to them. They feel to me like how a spider or grasshopper using a Holga might see things. The vignetting is from the lens tube jutting out at an angle past the mashed lens.

When I first saw these they were mixed in with photos the kids had taken. I was frantic to figure out how they done it. "Which button did you push? Do you remember what you did here?" The kids were nonplussed. They had just pushed the big shiny button and why was I freaking? After I'd calmed a little I realized what had happened. The G3 is still in my drawer but I have no wires to charge or access it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Barbara Gilson

Portland photographer Barbara Gilson has recently put a web site online with many great images. I know Barb mainly through her husband Rich Rollins, also a wonderful photographer. Back in 1993 I took an introductory class in b/w photography (my entire formal education in photography) with Rich, and for a few years after I sat in on his three Photographic History courses at Maryhurst University, where Rich heads up the photo department. Rich and Barb are Portland's photographic power duo, something like the city's Jenshel and Cook. Unfortunately it's been hard to see much of their work because they rarely have solo shows and until recently neither had a web site. With Gilson's new site, that situation is now remedied.

Gilson's site is divided about half and half between her older b/w Diana work and newer color digital images. Here're some of my favorites of the b/w, shot mostly in the American Southwest. There is a giant print of this first one, kids jumping from a sand dune, in the reading room of the U of O Knight Library. It's right on the way as you walk upstairs to the library's photography section.

Recently Gilson has been working in color, documenting backyards and semi-natural spaces in the Portland area in a very fresh, clear (yet visually dense) way.