Monday, March 30, 2009

Coming soon to a valley near you

Attention Oregon photographers, if the recent Mike Mandel interview in Lay Flat has rekindled your interest in 1977's Evidence, you might want to check out co-author Larry Sultan's lecture April 14th at the University of Oregon. Although his place in history is secure as the author of one of the seminal books of our generation, Sultan's career since then has been just as active and interesting, and this talk promises to be dynamite. You've got two weeks to fit it into your plans, starting now.

Boxers, Mission Hills, 1999
from The Valley by Larry Sultan

Helen Levitt Followup: My post yesterday was merely the tip of the iceberg as the internet was all abuzz over Levitt's death. Most tributes were short and sweet. The one that caught my eye was the email from Powerhouse Books which followed a brief recap of her life with hyperlinks to purchase her books (published by Powerhouse). A shame she's passed but now you can buy a piece of history, and if you order today we'll put a pen in her stiff hand and try to mimic her signature on the title page! I don't know, maybe their announcement was perfectly innocent but to me it seemed opportunistic.

RIP Helen Levitt

Last night the decisive moment finally arrived for one of the all time great street photographers. This might be a good time to take one of her monographs down from your shelf and spend a while looking over the legacy of this remarkable woman. For someone who often operated without a net, an amazing number of her shots hit nothing but net.

No net. Nothing but net...Helen Levitt

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What To Do #21

61. Morrison Bridge, Portland, 2003

62. NE 11th and Failing St., Portland, 2003

63. Esplanade, Portland, 2005

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished b/w photos from my archives)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trust me, the print looks better

When I recently invited a local photographer to bring work prints to our monthly photo group, I received an interesting response:

"I don't have ANY prints to share! I haven't had access to a printer for about 6 months, so work prints have become a thing of the past. I've been working from scans and the computer, and only occasional prints for a specific show... I'm not sure how I could participate right now, but if I do start printing again I would definitely love to come."

I think this statement neatly encapsulates the age we're living in. Prints are dinosaurs. I suspect that over 99.9% all photographs being made today never make it into print form.

So what does that mean? On one hand, it's great. Via the web I can encounter a universe of photos that would be logistically impossible to see as prints, and indeed my computer is the inteface for the vast majority of fine art photography I encounter. On my monitor I can get the basic idea of the photo and usually a general sense if the work appeals or not. So for browsing work, screen images are wonderful.

But to really see what's in a photograph, it has to be a print. I have yet to see an image which looks better at 72 dpi on a monitor than in optimal print form. A print is always better. When making photographs, you don't imagine what it will look like on a screen. You envision the print. That's the end result, the thing you fine tune around. Even people who say they aim toward a book as the final form --Friedlander or Gossage, e.g.-- would probably concede that a well made print beats a book image in quality. In photography The Print is the standard.

So what does it mean that prints are disappearing? I have no idea but I welcome any comments.

For me the situation is reversed and I've been cranking out prints like crazy the past few months, meaning I have extras. An 8 x 10 C-print of this image goes to the first person to request it via email (Sorry, no longer available):

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Edward Hopper & Company at San Francisco's Fraenkel Gallery looks like a show for the ages. Too bad I won't be able to see it in person. Although Tony Ray-Jones is not part of that show I think he summoned the ghost of Hopper when he made this image:

Boarding House, Newquay, Cornwall, 1968, Tony Ray-Jones

Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

It's a shame there aren't more books on Tony Ray-Jones, just two early monographs and Russell Roberts' 2004 compilation. Those thirsty for more can sort through this site, which shows over 300 images from Ray-Jones archives. What a true talent he was.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Scissors with supporting info

The thing I like about this photo

15th and Willamette, Eugene, 2009

is that it looks like a double exposure. If I saw this image somewhere with no supporting info, that would be my first guess. The scale of the scissors is difficult to reconcile with the rest of the image.

But no, it's just a barbershop near my house that I shot last week with a fortuitous lightleak near the top. I really like this image, probably because I couldn't duplicate it if I tried.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Watching and waiting

I've had fun lately looking through Cary Conover's series Other People's Pictures, which seem as close to a fly-on-the-wall perspective as one can get. All of the light in the images is from the flash of other cameras. The gaze of the subjects is off-stage toward another lens. Conover is merely a secondary recorder, at the scene but not engaged with it, documenting the act of documentation.

from Other People's Pictures by Cary Conover

from Other People's Pictures by Cary Conover

The metalevel perspective of these photographs brings to mind Yoshiyuki Kohei's series The Park, another group of photos about voyeurism. Although Kohei supplied his own lighting for that project, it was invisible to the subjects, allowing him to photograph without engaging anyone. As with Conover, these photographs are less about the thing being photographed than about the nature of watching and waiting, an act near and dear to all photographers.

from The Park by Yoshiyuki Kohei

I think my favorite example of this meta-style is Julio Grinblatt's Photos of Others, which turns Conover's concept up a notch by creating a distant, anonymous mood that seems to make a societal statement: we exist in a dark, lonely, and empty culture which never tires of framing itself.

Halloween, 2000 by Julio Grinblatt

Celebrity, 2002, by Julio Grinblatt

Speaking of Grinblatt, if you're ever stuck for birthday ideas, consider giving his book People Facing Their Birthday Cakes. The series was shown at Blue Sky a few years ago and subsequently published by the gallery. As far as I know it is still available. The style is similar to Photos of Others but instead of flashlit and distant these are candlelit and intimate. As a book about birthday cakes this can be given to just about anyone on their birthday, photographers or nonphotographers. So you can spread the gospel of good photography without seeming like a demagogue.

from People Facing Their Birthday Cakes by Julio Grinblatt

You know how to spread the gospel, right? Just put your lips together and blow, as shown in the photo.

I'm watching and waiting for the project that photographs photographers photographing photographers. Might be harder to get nonphotographers to care about that one...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What To Do #20

What To Do? is a weekly installment of unpublished b/w photos from my archives. This week's photos have sentimental value. These are three interior views of my Suzuki Sidekick which I bought new in 1993 and drove over 15 years and 170,000 miles before finally selling it last week. I wish everything I own, cameras included, could be as reliable as that car was.

58. Newspace, Portland, 2005

59. TBI, Eugene, 2008

60. SE 39th and Division, Portland, 2005

Here they are as a panoramic triptych:

More interior shots of my Suzuki and various other vehicles can be found here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lay Flat

I've had a few days now to digest the inaugural issue of Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light. Here are some first impressions:

General Design- Physically separating the text and images bothered me at first but I've grown to like it. The layout, typography, & general design of both sections by Katherine Hughes is very good.

Sample pages from Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light

Looseleaf Photos- The choice to include photographs as looseleaf cards is interesting and original. It took me some time to see the full potential. The photos can be read in order just as with a conventional publication. But unlike a regular book the photos can be further transformed. They can be stuck on a wall, shuffled at random, traded like baseball cards, whatever. The really interesting application is the ability to re-sequence and re-edit the photos and by so doing derive new meaning from them. Take some out, add some of your own. The power is in the hands of the reader and I like that. One sequence I found interesting was to put the artists in birth order. The original order --alphabetical by first name-- is also intriguing. I'm sure everyone will come up with their own favorite. The good news is they'll all lay flat.

Photographs shown in reverse order of area code

Capturing This Moment- I realize that there is no way to sum up the photographic zeitgeist in one project. Still, Lay Flat is as good an effort as any. In the past few months I've heard about this journal from many different quarters. I suspect most photographers of a certain ilk (ambition?) have been perusing Lay Flat this week, and so on some level it has been thrust into the role of community organizer and taste arbiter. Family of Man this ain't, but it comes close to being a version for the Twitter generation.

The Photographs I suppose any selection of images would be open to second guessing. Kudos to Lavalette (pronunciation? \Lā · flat\) and Wildenhaus for making a coherent effort. The general emphasis here is on color documentary work, and that's fine. Many of the usual emerging suspects are included, along with some not so familiar. My favorites were images by Hiroyo Kaneko, Michael Campeau, and Nicolai Howalt & Trine Søndergaard. Ask someone else and they'll choose others.

Kromanns Remise II, 2005, by Nicolai Hawalt and Trine Søndergaard

Great Interview- Shane Lavalette's interview with Mike Mandel is wonderful reading. Great questions, great subject matter. Mandel is a photographer's photographer whose legacy could use a burnishing. So thanks for that.

Academic Writing- For me, the other written pieces (with the exception of clear, concise Tim Davis) were not very compelling. Darius Himes spent a page defining docility. Cara Phillips' attempt to take the pulse of the moment was a meandering stream of generalizations ("We now exist in a world where new is virtually impossible" ???). Eric William Carrol's essay might appeal to those few who enjoy Barthes but for the rest of us it felt needlessly academic. Attention all writers, if you feel a strong need to use footnotes and declare that you went to art school, why not kill two birds with one stone and include the MFA reference in a footnote? * Save us a little time. And the poem at the end? I've read it five times and I'm still lost. I think it might be better to leave poetry to the beret and turtleneck crowd while photographers concentrate on making images, at which Fulford and Philllips for example are both quite talented.

Tone- I've hinted above at my main problem with Lay Flat. It's downright stuffy. If you were a layperson on the street and your only exposure to photography was through Lay Flat, photography would probably seem hopelessly dry, boring, and clinical. Where is the fun? Where is the absurdity? The humor? The games? Making photographs can be a beautiful, spontaneous, creative act. But the articles here (and to some extent the photos) treat it like a butterfly pinned to an examination board. Loosen up, have some fun, explore. Untuck your shirt, give your essays grassstains, pretend it's the seventies again, I don't know. I'd like to think that life is beautiful and I don't get that feeling from any photo journal. Not Aperture, Blindspot, Contact Sheet, Lenswork, nor Lay Flat. Where oh where in Neptune might that beautiful journal be?...

*Made you look! That's what I think of footnotes

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Congrats to Brian Widdis who solved quiz #12 with this image:

Harry Callahan negative photographed by John Loengard

Film + Developer(s) + Stop bath + The Fixer (Joe Sacco character) + Hypo clear + Photo (of) Flo = A Negative!

Heads up, Brian. A hand-made C-print is on its way...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mansfield, Ohio

Richland Mall, 1973, by Stephen Shore
from the series Uncommon Places

Richland Mall, 2009, by Brian Ulrich
from the series Dark Stores, Ghost Boxes, and Dead Malls

Quiz #12







= ? ? ?

The first person to email me an image which solves this puzzle gets a free print.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Repeat after me...

In today's economic climate, Dorothea Lange makes for instructive reading. Thumbing through one of her old monographs today I stumbled on this image:

San Francisco, 1939, by Dorothea Lange

The newspaper is dated January 6, 1939 (click on the image for a larger, more legible version), nine years into the last great depression. Look at the headlines.

GOP Opposes "Blank Check" Grant. Executive Pay Increase Assailed. Roosevelt Asks Ten Billion; Urges Taxes, Spending Be Kept Up.

Juxtaposed with the headlines is The Saturday Evening Post showing a young blemish-free model which would be interchangeable today with the cover of People or Vanity Fair, while the pagetop teaser Hillsborough Socialite Slugged mirrors the Hollywood blather commonly shown above the fold today.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We can only speculate what attracted Lange to this scene. The problem for any photographer is that newspapers are specific. They have dates and facts and headlines designed to be clear and unambiguous, and it can be difficult to create a universal image from such literal material. All of which may explain why this photograph is the only one like it in the book. It's one of the few which doesn't show people, one of the few urban shots, and the one of only two in which text plays a key role.
In making this photo Lange defied many of her own stylistic conventions.

Despite that, she succeeded in creating an image that many decades later seems as fresh as yesterday. What was going through Lange's mind? I think she was going on raw instinct, the gut sense that her epoch wasn't unique and that the cycle would repeat itself eventually. And seventy years later, here we are.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

From Here To There

From Here to There by George Kelly

Portland photographer George Kelly recently self-published his first book of photographs, From Here to There...And Places Along The Way. It's available here to there for a very reasonable price. The photos are quite different than the b/w street shots I profiled here to there last spring. These are pinhole shots in vivid color. I've seen both the book and his actual prints and I think Blurb did a great job with the reproductions.

Kelly's description pretty well sums up this body of work and joins it to his 35 mm ouvre: "An anthem to the weirdness of everyday living"

Get your weirdness here to there while it's hot.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What To Do? #19

55. Elvis Impersonator, Portland, 2001

56. Protestor, Portland, 2002

57. Jeffrey S., Stinson Beach, CA, 2002

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished b/w photos from my archives)

Friday, March 13, 2009


Managing a stable of cameras is a bit like coaching a small sports team. One or two of your cameras are the starters. The rest are subs. You can tell them apart because the starters hang from your neck while the subs sit patiently in your pack and rarely come out. Maybe you'll use a sub as an injury replacement when your main camera is in the shop, or maybe in the late innings you'll call one up as a pinch hitter. But I've found that 95% of the shots I take are with the camera around my neck, i.e. the starter.

Sometimes a sub becomes a fulltime starter. This is what happened to me for about 2 months this past Winter. For no reason that I can determine I found myself shooting my Diana all the time. I'd had the camera about a year and it had usually ridden the pine. But during December and January something changed. All of the sudden my Diana was the starter and the rest were subs. I ran 2 or 3 rolls per day through the thing. I couldn't get enough of it. I became infatuated with Rexroth's Iowa and Lightleaks Magazine and anything else I could find that showed Diana work.

Amazon playground, Eugene, December 2008

Was it the winter light? Something in my diet? Was I done with straight photography? I'm still not sure what happened exactly. I just know that everything I looked at seemed like a potential Diana shot.

Then about 3 weeks ago, without warning, my Diana became a sub again. It happened so smoothly that at first it barely registered. I didn't feel any differently. But when a photo came up instead of reaching for the Diana I was reaching for the M6 again just like old times. As quickly as it had begun, the affair was over. That's where I am now.

The whole episode was as strong and brief as a teenage summer romance. At times a thing can seem like the most essential element in your life and a month later you wonder what the big deal was, and both feelings seem beyond your control.

In order to figure out just what happened I need find a nice park bench where I can spend a few hours looking over my Diana shots.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quiz #11

"The trout streams where I flyfish are cold and clear and rich in the minerals that promote the growth of stream life. As I wade a stream I think wordlessly of where to cast the fly. Sometimes a difference of inches is the difference between catching a fish and not. When the fly I've cast is on the water my attention is riveted to it. I've found through experience that whenever —or so it seems— my attention wanders or I look away then surely a fish will rise to the fly and I will be too late setting the hook. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes —I strike. Then the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing... is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy."

The excerpt above is from a famous photography book. A free print goes to the first person to correctly identify the book.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trial balloon down

I've abandoned this idea. The legal issues were too uncertain for me to pursue it comfortably.

Beyond the legal question was the issue of appropriating others' images. To the extent possible I think each photographer should decide what happens to his/her work, and I realized that by putting entire books on my blog I would be taking that decision away from people.

The obvious way around all of this would be to get permission before publishing. This is the path being pursued by Google in their effort to digitize every book ever published (presumably including photobooks?). Toward this end I tried to contact Nancy Rexroth, whose book Iowa was to have been the first in my series, but I was unable to reach her through her gallery.

Too bad. Rexroth wrote the book on Diana, literally, and her project Iowa is a wonderful collection which I don't think many people have seen in its entirety. If I show a few images here, does everyone promise not to sue me?

Wrapping Trees, Washington, DC, 1972

Complexity, Pomeroy, Ohio, 1976

Albany Fair, Albany, Ohio, 1974

Marty and His 8 x 10 View Camera, Hewitt, Minnesota, 1972

Cola Machine, Pomeroy, Ohio, 1971