Friday, December 31, 2010
Ain't It a Good Thing
That's him, elevator right. Not sure how he managed to take that. And no, that's not his normal skin tone.
Along with the photo came one of Faulkner's eclectic CD mixes:
Both are great. I've already got the CD matted and framed on the wall, and I carry the print on all sorts of errands so I can listen to it in the car. It's a very quiet photograph.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
In Mid-November I noted some similarities in the facial characteristics of photobloggers. For various reasons everyone profiled was male. I'm now editing a similar profile for females. I have a few leads but I'm looking for others. If you're a woman photoblogger with dark framed glasses please email me a link to your blog and small jpg portrait and I will try to include you.
Finally, in early November I mailed roughly 1700 different work prints in 21 packages to various people around the globe. By now most have reached their destinations and I've gotten some feedback, including from Marc Feustel in Paris and Phill Hunt in Australia.
The only troublespot was in the UK where one of my batches arrived looking like this:
The envelope has been repeatedly stabbed and the work prints are gone, replaced by 4 plastic bags of sequins. Don't ask me. Robin Godden (the recipient) and I have tried to piece together what happened without any luck. It's too weird to be an accident but also too weird to be planned. But hey, what isn't?
I like the idea of some mail thief out there ripping open the envelope hoping for treasure, finding 80 photographs and a stick of gum, and maybe discarding them in a place where they might be yet again refound. In the grand scheme it isn't much different from last summer's trip to London and Paris when I left photos on random park benches and phone booths. Johnny Photoseed turns 42 tomorrow.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Thoughts on Maier
While the basic outline of her life life is now fairly well established, Maier still remains something of a mystery. For me the most intriguing questions center on her photographic skill. How did she gain such a sharp eye? What training did she have? Which photographers or photographs did she come in contact with? Who if anyone helped her develop? Or was she a pure autodidact?
The article doesn't really touch on these topics, probably because it's written from a journalist's point of view as a human interest story. When Phil Donahue asks “Is there a preponderance of evidence out there that these [photographs] are really special?” he is probably voicing the question on the lips of many nonphotographers. Boxes of dusty negatives? Doesn't everyone have those in their attic? What makes these any different? Most people are like Phil Donahue. They can't really judge.
It's up to the photography world to explain what sets these apart. Unfortunately the only photography expert quoted in the story has totally missed the boat. Colin Westerbeck says that the photos don't stand out from other Chicago photographs. Not enough irony or wit. Too much participation in the scenes. "The greatest artists," Westerbeck says, "know how to create a distance from their subjects."
What? I'm afraid I have to agree with Tiffany Jones here. That sounds like a complete load of shit. First of all, these photographs are as witty and cleverly constructed as any street photos out there. They may not be ironic, but since when is irony a requirement for quality, especially in mid-century photography?
Not distant enough from their subjects? I suppose that would discredit Arbus, Model, Hine, Atget, Sander, Weegee, Brassai, etc. Sorry guys, you'd be great artists if only you'd created more separation. Maybe Maier isn't as cool and calculated as Callahan or Ishimoto, but I actually view that as a plus. She's so present in her photos. It's an amazing gift. In short, critique is fine but please comment on what she is rather than what she isn't.
I suspect Westerbeck's assessment may have gotten sidetracked by Maier's storybook bio. Treasure trove nearly lost, found in an estate sale, etc. It's a great drama regardless of the photos.
But to me the story of Vivian Maier isn't that her work was lost and rediscovered. It's the work itself that matters. Her photographs are among the most vibrant street shots I've ever seen. I'm not sure which photos Westerbeck has already viewed, but I suggest he devote more hours to looking through Maier's archives. The quality and consistency of vision will prove impossible to miss.
The danger is that Westerbeck's Chicago Magazine opinion will set the tone for future appraisals. Once someone of his stature has chimed in other critics are likely to follow his cue. Worse, it may pave the way for misappreciation by society at large. Most folks are like Phil Donahue. They need a curator to tell them which photos are important and which aren't. To a layman writing or reading a magazine profile Westerbeck becomes the voice of authority.
The X factor in all of this is John Maloof (and now to a lesser extent Jeff Goldstein). Not only does he determine which images Westerbeck will judge, he controls which images any of us see. Although there are a few similar cases in history in which the fate of a photographer hinges on just one gatekeeper, this seems like an extreme example. To date, Maier's legacy has been completely tied to and dependent on Maloof. So far the editing has been wonderful. The images in this post —plucked at random from recent posts on Maloof's blog— are testament to that.
But I can't help wondering about the process. How much weeding out is occurring? How active is the curating? How much of what we are seeing is Maier's vision, and how much is Maloof's? Book, show, and film are forthcoming. I for one am looking forward to all of them.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
You Are Here
Monday, December 20, 2010
If you're a football fan you know what happened next. That was probably the most entertaining seven minutes of football I've ever seen, and I don't even care about the Giants or the Eagles. The reason I was drawn in, the reason it was entertaining, is that the outcome remained uncertain until the end.
Uncertainty! This is the one and only reason to watch sports. The longer the outcome remains undecided the more entertaining the game. Blowouts are boring. The best games, like yesterday's, are decided on the final play and not a second earlier.
The parallel to photography is direct. Photographs which occur in an uncertain environment have an energy that is often lacking in planned images. The purest example is street photography. A street photographer has no idea what he or she will see from one second to the next, and the best street photos feed on that energy.
Photographers of static environments —Eggleston or Shore, for example— have a slightly better sense of what they'll find, yet still remain open to chance.
Then you have the previsualizers. The classic example is someone like Adams. He may have wandered by chance searching for material. But once he settled on something the image became as foregone as a pinned butterfly. I think the working method of most photographers falls somewhere near Adams. Most of us are open to new finds yet bound by preconceptions.
Last on the uncertainty scale are the advertising shooters, art-world conceptualists, and miscellaneous Photoshoppers whose images exist mentally even before they're created. These folks know the final score before they even begin watching the game.
A challenge for photographers is to keep the sense of uncertainty alive, even while gaining in skill and experience. This is opposite the natural course in most disciplines, which is to minimize uncertainty as one becomes more proficient. As it should be. You don't want an uncertain surgeon performing a heart bypass or an uncertain computer repairman fixing your hard drive.
But photography is different. The ability to remain open to chance is precious.
I've been thinking about this lately because in the past few weeks I've been shooting almost exclusively Holga. Aperture is uncertain. Focus uncertain. Shutter speed uncertain. Light leaks uncertain. I'm gradually getting to know the camera but I still find the images consistently surprising, especially when shot from floor level with flash.
Trust me, you don't want me operating on you. But you do have to admit your liver would look more interesting over by your neck. Game over?
Saturday, December 18, 2010
1. The Last Stand, Nathaniel Philbrick (2010)
2. Goat, Brad Land (2004)
3. Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, Daniel Everett (2008)
4. Moonshine, Alec Wilkinson (1985)
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot (2010)
6. The Night of The Gun, David Carr (2008)
7. The Last Resort, Douglas Rogers (2009)
8. The Big Short, Michael Lewis (2010)
9. The Imaginary Girlfriend, John Irving (1996)
10. Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer (2010)
1. Private Views, Barbara Crane (2009)
2. One Step Big Shot, Gus Van Sant (2010)
3. Ohio, Joachim Brohm (2010)
4. The Printed Picture, Richard Benson (2008)
5. Grapevine, Susan Lipper (1994)
6. In Almost Every Picture #7: Shooting Gallery, Erik Kessels, Ed (2008)
7. Greater Atlanta, Mark Steinmetz (2009)
8. Pyramids, Mike Slack (2009)
9. Evidence, Luc Sante (1992)
10. Thoughts On Landscape, Frank Gohlke (2009)
1. Adventureland, Greg Mottola (2009)
2. Gimme Shelter, Maysles Bros. (1970)
3. Greenberg, Noah Baumbauch (2010)
4. Art of the Steal, Don Argott (2009)
5. Annie Hall, Woody Allen (1977)
6. Please Give, Nicole Hofcener (2010)
7. Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino (2009)
8. Repo Man, Alex Cox (1984)
9. Cold Souls, Sophie Barthes (2009)
10. I'm Still Here, Casey Affleck (2010)
1. Philosophy of the World, The Shaggs (1969)
2. The Sound of Kinshasa, Various Artists (1995)
3. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (2009)
4. Journey to the end of Night, The Mekons (2000)
5. Just Another Band from East L.A., Los Lobos (1993)
6. Lovers Prayers, Ida (2008)
7. Natty Universal Dread 1973-79, Big Youth (2005)
8. Swinging Doors / The Bottle Let Me Down, Merle Haggard (2006)
9. Genuine Negro Jig, Carolina Chocolate Drops (2010)
10. Venus on Earth, Dengue Fever (2008)
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
What To Do? #92
275. Squash Blossom, Maine, 2004
276. Camden, Maine, 2005
I'm leaving for Maine this week and will be there until late December. Computer access there is always iffy and blogging may be sporadic until I return. We'll see. I'll try to post, but no promises.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I've been making a lot of photos like this lately in which the subject matter doesn't seem to match its shadow. Untied shadows, I call them. The effect is magnified in black and white. Probably one of the most iconic untied shadows is by George Krause. If I were this woman I'd be afraid to look over my shoulder.
Ruth Bernhard's Lifesavers is another. The untied shadows seem at once improbable and inevitable.
Gizmodo ran some fun untied shadows recently in their series 30 Shamelessly Stolen Photographs. You wouldn't expect a pile of building blocks to make a human shadow but they do.
Based on this photo, Alexandre Dion organized a flock of origami birds into a shadow of Alfred Hitchcock's profile.
Of course there's no such thing as a truly untied shadow. As the examples above show, any shadow always refers directly to its subject just as any straight photograph refers to its original scene. Break either tie and the image appears false.
Keep both ties alive and ambiguous, however, and one can work magic.
I'm not sure what significance untied shadows have beyond visual fun and games. Maybe none. But I can't help looking for them this time of year. On days of shallow sun I can hardly walk a full block. Every shadow —every twig— seems worth investigation. Will it behave normally or...
Oh, who am I kidding? It's nearly winter and I live in Western Oregon. I haven't seen a damn shadow in weeks. Just day after day of overcast drizzle. But a guy can dream, right?
Monday, December 13, 2010
I've heard of seeing the world through rose colored glasses but this is ridiculous. Shouldn't it should look more like this?
Keep the old-school color balance but lose the pink glow. Who's manning the color correction ship over there anyway? Just asking.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Getting to Know My Husband's Cock
Still, I have a hard time swallowing that title. I'm not sure I want to get to know Ellen Jong's husband's cock, or anyone else's cock for that matter. I can see why it might have a great deal of meaning for her. After all she's stuck with that cock for life, and it would behoove her to learn its habits. But does that imply that the rest of the world should be equally interested? I just don't know.
In the book's foreword Cindy Gallop makes the case for other similar projects. In particular she suggests that someone write Getting to Know My Wife's Pussy. Given the demographics of the porn industry this might be slightly more marketable than the cock book. But I think it would still face the same general problem. When it comes down to it the target audience for such a book is fairly narrow. It may even be as limited as just one person.
While books picturing spousal genitals may have limited appeal, I do have some suggestions which might work instead. For starters, what about a book called Getting to Know Discarded Dog Shit Bags?
As with Jong's book, there are questions about who exactly would be interested in such a book. Would it be limited to the dog owners to whom the shit belongs? Or the particular dogs who created the shit? Or perhaps it would have wider appeal?
We are soon to find out. Someone has already attacked this project, with the results scheduled to be unveiled at next spring's Format Festival in Derby. At this time there is no book planned but the photos are bagged and ready, just waiting for a publisher to come along.
Another book idea I have is Getting to Know Athlete's Foot. This project is slightly different from those above in that it hasn't been completed yet. But a simple Google search reveals ample possibilities for exploration.
I think the best approach for this book would be to edit a compilation of found photographs. As you probably know, found photos are a very hot trend right now, especially given the current post-structural understanding that authorship is open to reappropriation. Who owns athlete's foot? No one. Any takers? Anyone?
Speaking of found photos, what about a book called Getting to Know Vomit, with material pulled from the popular website Rate My Vomit?
I think this would have widespread appeal. Unlike some things, for example Jong's husband's cock, vomit is a vision which we've all personally experienced in real life. Americans puke. Kuwaitis puke. Indonesians puke. It's a tie that brings humanity together. The potential market is astronomical.
Excuse me. I think I feel a vision coming on now...
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Fed lowers B interest rate
Because B may contain classified information of a particularly volatile nature, the U.S. State Department has directed its staff around the world not to surf B. The ban applies to other federal agencies as well. Any government employee with a diplomatic role, including employees of the Defense Department, all intelligence agencies, and military personnel and contractors, are forthwith prohibited from reading, downloading, viewing, printing, processing, copying or transmitting B, either at work or at home.
Federal employees are not prohibited from reading news stories about B. But if they have "accidentally" downloaded any of these documents, they are to notify their information security offices. Accessing B or news stories about B may lead to sanitization of your computer to remove any potentially classified information from the system and could result in possible data loss.
The U.S. State Department regrets having to take this action, but it's with your best interest in mind that we declare you untrustworthy to be exposed to such information. Proper discretion has always been the root of the nation's security. The ban takes effect immediately, and no further questions will be considered regarding this matter.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Give and take
If you think people are tired of receiving your own photos, why not give away someone else's? In Portland tonight is the Newspace Holiday Print auction. 50 photographs auctioned off by 50 photographers - each bid starting at $50, including mine below.
If you can't make it to Newspace, check out Fraction Magazine's Holiday Print Sale online. Good deals galore, including this shot:
Either one would make a nice gift, but honestly I know an actual purchase is unlikely. Assuming neither photo above sells, I'm willing to barter for a print with other photographers. If interested, please email a small jpg and description and we'll take it from there. Seriously.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Pier 24 is the personal holding space for gazzilionaire Andy Pilara's photo collection, with rotating exhibits by him and other wealthy collectors. More details on how it came together can be found here.
I'd been itching to visit this place ever since reading this description back in June. Finally, during a Bay Area trip last month with the family, I managed to sneak away for a few hours to see it for myself. Yes indeed, the rumors are true. It's the biggest, baddest permanent photo space on the planet. I'm talking to you, New York and London and Paris.
The gallery is unusual for a few reasons. First of all, unlike most exhibition spaces, it calls no attention to itself. The building is a blank warehouse under a bridge with no signage or advertising. If you're just passing by you'll never find it. The only way to discover it is through word-of-mouth beforehand. You ring a buzzer to be let in, and if you don't have an appointment (booked ahead online) you're out of luck. Admission is free. Once inside, the warehouse is divided into roughly 20 large rooms, each one housing about a book's worth of vintage framed prints.
The second reason Pier 24 is unusual is that photographs are shown with no supporting information. No captions, no prices, no labels, not even the photographer's names. There was a catalog with background information which could be carried along, but that was discouraged. When I asked for it, it was suggested that I first experience the photographs by themselves.
With no supporting information the only basis for judgment was the material itself. Many of the photographs were familiar and I'd already made some decisions about them. But many were new. And even for the ones I'd seen before it was a pleasure to take them in as prints, raw and relatively unmediated.
I don't know of other galleries or museums which typically display art like this. The closest I can think of was one case in January at Froelick Gallery, but that was just a one-month show. This is ongoing. Maybe it will start a trend.
If I have any criticism, it's that the particular show I saw wasn't very edgy. It was from the Fisher collection, heavy on Szarkowski darlings of the 1970s. There was a Friedlander room, an Arbus room, a Winogrand room, etc. Most photo geeks will have seen this stuff before, even if just in books. But the shows rotate, and I expect Pilara has some surprises in stock for the future. Pier 24 is just getting started, and off to a promising beginning. If you visit SF, this should be at the top of your list.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
A brief field guide to drugs and photography
"Drugs can’t be reduced to some mystical way to open a perception of reality. I value the hardest and most physical drugs, which alter and intensify the confrontation to reality. Not the ones which allow you to escape to some fuzzy, comfortable or exotic state of mind... Drugs help me to feel, with my nerves and my stomach, where real life takes place. I don’t know what real life is but I can’t bear feeling anesthetised any more."
This quote is from an interview (discovered via LPV) I read recently which made me wonder about the dynamics of shooting while high. D'Agata doesn't specify exactly what drugs he used to aid his photography, only that they were "hardcore synthetics". If such tools are appropriate for shooting scenes of rage, sex, and fear, what drugs might work best for other genres of photography?
Although I've never had any luck shooting under the influence, I have had experiences with various drugs, and of course with photography. What follows is a speculative analysis based on personal experience, conjecture, and irreverence.
Not only must street photographers have quick reactions and laser focus, but a slightly skittish, scatterbrained outlook is helpful as well. Too focused and you wind up shooting stock crap. An open mind allows accidents, which are the lifeblood of street photos. Most important is a sense of optimism, since it's impossible to persevere if you don't know in your heart that you'll find the shot. For all these reasons the natural drug choice is cocaine. Fast, focused, upbeat, urban, and accident prone.
Before it was societally demonized, cut with speed, and adopted by early morning rave culture, MDMA (ecstasy) was a very useful drug, applied with promising effect in psychotherapy and counseling. MDMA fosters feelings of intimacy, empathy, and (drug-induced) love, which makes it the perfect drug for wedding photographers to get in the right mood.
I've always wondered about war photographers. How do those people maintain their composure in the midst of such psychologically damaging scenes? It seems one must have nerves of steel, or else be completely desensitized. If it's the latter, what better drug than morphine to aid the situation? Once the warm feeling comes on, you can sit happily in any battlefield without a care in the world. Even if you're shot, you won't feel a thing. Now if you could only remember Which button...do I push...to release...the shutter?
I've tried shooting after smoking pot. It doesn't work for me. The problem is that everything seems important, and I can't separate what I should shoot from what I shouldn't. I look at the pictures the next morning and think, why'd I shoot that? If pot has an application in photography, it's as an aid in simultaneously carrying on 50 half finished projects which you'll get to later.
High school yearbook photographers have it rough. Hour after hour, day after day shooting the same pose, under the same lighting, with the same backdrop. Without proper drugs it might drive you crazy. The drug which seems to most closely mimic this experience is crack. Day in, day out, repeat ad naseum until reality blurs into a fog. I don't think you could shoot well while physically on crack, but the crack experience would probably prepare a person mentally for shooting yearbook portraits.
Alcohol seems like a natural fit for night photography. Most recreational drinking occurs in the evening. If you're hanging out at a scene waiting for your three hour exposure to finish, a flask of whiskey is comforting, and might even allow you to see shooting stars. Just beware too much drinking can lead to indecent exposures, or end the night prematurely.
The flying properties of Datura are well described by Carlos Castaneda in his Don Juan series. Casteneda got high, got sick, turned into a bird, then flew around the desert checking in on various spirits. If only he'd had a camera he would've been perfectly positioned for aerial photography. Another option for aerial shooting is nitrous whippets. Designed to aerate food products, these will get you high as a kite. Remember to deploy flaps before landing.
Most photographers find it impossible to operate any mechanical equipment under the influence of LSD, cameras included. It's probably best to just circumvent the camera entirely, take some objects and "magic" paper into the darkroom, and make photograms. Lay out your objects, push the expose button, check out the groovy lights. Now slide your paper into the liquid. Dude, you just made art! Be careful not to get sidetracked watching the timer or staring at your redlit hands. The spiral door leads to daylight.
In order to make good landscape photographs, you'll need to become finely tuned to your natural surroundings. The best drug is one that grows organically in nature, psilocybin mushrooms. As with LSD, the operation of complex mechanical tools may prove difficult. It's probably best to stick with a simple Holga or something similar, no fancy digital menus. Or better yet forgo the camera altogether and just use the inside of your eyelids to capture images. You can shoot forests, oceans, dunes, or whatever you want without ever leaving your home. If you do choose to venture into a natural setting, leave a trail of film lids to find your way back.
A few years ago during the height of heroin chic, fashion photographers might've been advised to use that drug. Thankfully that movement has faded, since it's very difficult to photograph while high on heroin (with the possible exception of forearm pinhole). The drug of choice is now nicotine. Cigarettes are great on fashion shoots. They build instant camaraderie with the Eurochic crowd and help everyone keep trim. In nonsmoking cultures smokeless tobacco can be substituted or else a nicotine patch in this season's colors.
Photographers who shoot still lifes or product shots need to operate at slow speed. There are a few different drugs which can help photographers reduce speed, including quaaludes and barbiturates. Time slows down but focus can be difficult. Thankfully nothing is moving and you've got all day. And all night too, which you'll probably need. If you're burned out on commercial product shooting, there's always Prozac.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Rules of play: Avoid Nun and Shin. Hay wins half. Giacometti conquers all.
(Photos clockwise from upper left: Gene Smith, Martin Parr, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raghu Rai)
Friday, December 3, 2010
New retro colors
Says Lisa: "No cameras, film, memory cards, computers, or printers were used in their creation: just photosensitive paper, a color enlarger head, and a bunch of domestic objects (primarily boxes, vinyl records, and plastic lids)." Top that, MacGyver!
There's a little taste below. More here.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Robert Frank: What is talent? Luck! Talent is not enough. That's what I think.
Satterfield: Is that all you have to say about it, that it's luck? You said it's important for artists to have. You mentioned some other things...
Frank: Talent is not enough in the sense that, if you really are an artist, you are obsessed completely. You are possessed by it. It's not talent. It's your life. I have met very few people who had that, very few.
Satterfield: So it's a strong feeling of wanting to say something? Or, feeling very strongly about wanting to say something; or feeling very strongly about certain aspects of life?
Frank: It's more in getting it out. Yes, in you is something that's continuously coming up, coming out of your mouth, out of your ears. It comes out. It has to come out. Not because you just want to make a film. It's a matter of being alive. I don't think I'm that kind of person. As I said, I've met very few. It's really a totally obsessive quality that can't be stopped. So it's different than talent. People with talent work in television.
Transcribed from a Robert Frank workshop in Rochester, NY, 11/5/88 (The Pictures Are a Necessity, 1989, William S. Johnson, ed.)
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Cover Art Recap
Beirut / The Flying Club Cup
Slash and Burn: The Best of Bodeans
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby / Lonely Avenue
Galaxie 500 / Today
John Zorn / Naked City
Bob Dylan / Together Through Life
Sigur Ros / Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Deerhunter / Halcyon Digest
Antony and the Johnsons / I Am a Bird Now
Wilco / Sky Blue Sky
Rolling Stones / Exile on Main Street
The Chemical Brothers / We Are The Night
Franz Ferdinand / You Could Have it So Much Better
There were multiple alternatives to the challenge to name a photograph which appears noncommissioned on an album cover and on two book covers. The one I had in mind was Anders Petersen's photo which appears on the cover of Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, and on the covers of Petersen's Cafe Lehmitz and The 70s, Photography and Everyday Life by Paul Wombell.
Matt Kuebrich chose Bruce Davidson's Brooklyn Gang, New York City, 1959 featured (above) on Bob Dylan's Together Through Life, and on the covers of Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio, Big Bad Love by Larry Brown, and Richard Ford's A Piece of My Heart.
Jarek Sawiuk's pick was an anonymous photo of a Montparnasse train crash from 1895, used on the cover of Mr.Big's Lean Into It and also on Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems by Robert Proctor and An Introduction to Error Analysis: The Study of Uncertainties in Physical Measurements by John Taylor.
Joel Cosseboom chose Man Ray's Tears, used on the book covers of Science of Emotion by Randolph Cornelius and Eyetrouble by Martha Ronk as well as the album cover for Damon and Namoi’s More Sad Hits.
Thanks to everyone who sent in a reply. Look for another edition of this quiz in the upcoming months.