Saturday, August 28, 2010

What To Do? #80

238. Portland Grid Project, August 2007

239. Portland Grid Project, August 2007

240. Portland Grid Project, August 2007

WTD? is a weekly installment of unseen photos.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Extended Forecast

Mostly 1/125th at f/5.6 in the morning, then partly 1/250th at f/8 in the afternoon. 30% Chance of 1/250th at f/11.

Friday Night
Mostly 1/60th at f/4, becoming dimmer into evening.

Mostly 1/125th at f/11 with slight chance of showers. Northwest wind 10 mph.

Saturday Night
Partly 1/60th at f/5.6...then mostly 1/30th at f/2.

Perfect lightbox, 1/250th at f/11, no harsh shadows, well saturated colors.

Sunday Night
1/30th at f/5.6, occasional flurries of f/8.

Sunny 16 all day.

Monday Night
Moony 16 with scattered long exposures.

Patchy morning fog, then partly 1/500th at f/8 diminishing to f/4 by evening.

Tuesday Night
20% chance of shooting something interesting if you can find anyone out on a Tuesday night.

f/8 and be there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sticker Shock

Have you seen this bumper sticker?

I first saw it back in the 80s, and since then I've encountered it hundreds of times, not only on bumpers but T-shirts, road signs, posters, etc. I'm not sure who first came up with the phrase but it has since gone viral, because

1) There are a ton of skateboarders out there, and
2) They are often unfairly harassed and marginalized by authorities

So skateboarders have taken the message into their own hands, and more power to them.

After getting kicked out of the fair last weekend I wondered why photographers don't have something similar? There are a ton of us. We're hassled. We're marginalized. Where's our bumper sticker?

Well folks, here it is:

I have hired an online supplier to manufacture a small stockpile of this bumper sticker. They are 3" x 10" with white lettering on black, made from automotive-grade pigments and suitable for outdoor or indoor use (Full FAQ here). Put one on your car, your bike, your 8 x 10, your favorite abandoned alley,...the possibilities are endless. Makes a great gift for photographers as well as general anti-authoritarians.

The price is $3 to U.S. addresses or $7 to international addresses, postage and handling included. Order using the button below, then allow up to three weeks for delivery.

Bumper Sticker

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fair Questions

I used to roughly measure my productivity by the frequency of getting hassled while photographing. Cops, landlords, neighbors, angry pedestrians, tweakers, I've dealt with all of them. Which was good. I figured if I was stirring things up it meant I was sticking my nose in the properly sensitive areas. After all most things worth censoring are worth seeing.

Lately the hassle-meter has fallen off some, and it had been a few years since I'd been accosted for taking photos. I'd allowed myself to believe I was past all that. Wrong. Last Friday while shooting at the Lane County Fair, I was quietly surrounded by a small bevy of security guards in mirrored sunglasses.

You street photographers and petty criminals know the drill. Stay where you are. ID please. Get your hands out of your pockets where we can see them. What's your name? Where do you live? Who do you work for? Why are you taking photographs? What are you going to do with them?

Bubble pricked. All these questions out of nowhere. I was a bit unprepared. Why am I taking photographs? What am I going to do with them? I've spent my life trying to answer those questions. The answers are quite complicated. Should I really get into that? No, probably not. Instead I went for the direct approach.

"Yessir, Nosir, Rightawaysir. Name'sblakeandrewssir. Er, what'sthisallaboutsir?"

We saw you taking photographs of children.

Aha! The real issue surfaces.

"Yeah, I was. I take photos of whatever I see at the fair. Kids. Grownups. Rides. Stuffed animals. Is that ok?"

You can't take photos of children without permission.

"Why not?"

Who knows what you might use them for. A web site. A magazine. Something pornographic maybe? In this age you can't tell. I'm not saying you're doing all that but you understand our concern.

"I'm not sure how I could take pornographic photos at a fair."

People do all sorts of stuff with computers nowadays. Get rid of clothes, alter postures, you name it.

"Yessir, absolutely."

You know what I'd do if someone did that to my kids?

"Nosir. Whatsir?"

Let's just say there'd be trouble. You got any kids? Would you be ok with someone photographed them secretly?

"Yeah, I've got three kids. I have no problem with anyone photographing them."

Well anyway, it wasn't just that you were taking photos of kids. It was how you were doing it. You were being sneaky. When I take a photo of my own kids I make sure they know I'm doing it. I ask them to smile. If it's not my own kid, I ask the parent's permission. We saw you taking photos like this (clasps hands in front of chest), without even looking. That's not appropriate at the fair.

They'd scouted me well. I'd been shooting sometimes from the hip, apparently against fair convention. But that's how I tend to approach a busy frantic scene like a fair. When I have time to line something up I pause and look through the viewfinder. But when I see something in passing I react quickly, often before I can I stop and look. Sometimes from the hip, or more commonly the chest. I mix it up. I don't plan. Some of my best shots have come that way, along with many of my worst.

We talked a little longer while one of the cops ran my license through the bad-guy database. I noticed that they were carefully positioned on all sides of me, as if I might take off running. Then I was summarily booted from the fair, told not to return during any of the remaining days of the event. Which would have been ok considering that after the interrogation I wasn't in a mood to take any more photos that day. The problem was I'd been planning to come back on Sunday with Tab and the kids.

On Sunday morning I shaved my beard, put in contacts, donned my sunglasses, and left my ratty cap and backpack at home. I'm not sure if I looked like a different person. I know that without a camera I felt and acted like one. I walked around the fair with my kids, ate junk food, enjoyed the rides. It was the first time in a long while I'd been out without any cameras. We spent a few hours, then left without any hassle.

I don't mean to add to the pile of "street photographer accosted" stories. I know this is just a drop in the bucket. It happens all the time, and in the grand scheme of things it's pretty insignificant. Certainly it doesn't compare to a Hispanic hassled in Arizona or an Arab hassled at airport security. That's a real hassle.

But I would like to ask the question, when did it become wrong to take photographs of children? Why is that wrong? Kids are the most carefree, spontaneous, unself-conscious humans on the planet. Why is it wrong to capture that? I can think of a few reasons, from basic privacy concerns to the increasing segmentation of childhood as a special zone in life with its own special rules, to a general societal paranoia which has draped itself all over the current epoch. I think all of these reasons can be easily debated, but there has been no debate. Instead the unwritten rule is "No photographing kids, period" and don't argue about it.

The result is that the more discouraged people are from photographing kids, the less common it is, and the stranger it seems when it happens. It's a vicious circle. To paraphrase the NRA, if photographing kids is outlawed, only outlaws will photograph kids. We're basically creating a criminal class from scratch, for no clear reason. It makes me wonder if Helen Levitt or Lewis Hine or William Klein could make their photos of children in today's environment, or would they be arrested?

There's only one solution. Go out and photograph kids along with everyone else. Make it an everyday occurrence. Make it normal. Get people used to interacting with cameras. God knows they're already surrounded by them in every store and on every street corner. Shoot, shoot, shoot, people. Shoot kids. Shoot nuclear facilities. Shoot whatever the hell you want whenever you want. If you get hassled, you must be on the right track.

Addendum 8/26: Read Part two, the response, wherein I steal a page from the skaters.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What To Do? #79

235. Eugene, 2007

236. Eugene, 2007

237. Springfield, 2007

WTD? resumes this week after summer hiatus. Up to now it's been all black and white, but beginning with this post I'm going to start mixing in old unseen color photos.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to shoot like an animal

First saw this Wessel spiel via Liz Kuball's blog. Best two-minute photo lesson ever.

Dog Show, Oakland, 1981, Henry Wessel

Fingered in stardust

We had a meeting of our Eugene Grid Project a few days ago. Biking home I realized that I've almost never posted anything from that project on my blog.

In the corner of the morning in the past

Which is strange since it's my local bread and butter.

I would sit and blame the master first and last

Whenever I've got a few hours free, I grab my cameras and head to the grid, to walk and look and capture.

All the roads were straight and narrow

I tend to have my best thoughts while walking with cameras, and my best photos too.

And the prayers were small and yellow

By the end of every month I've amassed a small stack of grid workprints, and thoughts.

And the rumour spread that I was aging fast

Last week I thought about using my finger to write a small stack of phrases on all the dirty rear windshields I came across:


I made it to my fourth car before a woman asked me just what I thought I was doing to her car.

Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree

I explained that lately I'd had The Width of a Circle trapped in my head.

And I looked and frowned and the monster was me

"It shuffled up on the iPod in July," I said. "I pushed repeat once. Now it's pacing around between my ears like a caged tiger. The thing won't come out..."

Well, I said hello and I said hello

"And honestly I'm not sure I want it to. Who knows what might replace it?..."

And I asked "Why not?" and I replied "I don't know"

"Such a strange tune. Tony Visconti's bass follows a drunkard's walk through the middle. When the song finally ends it's a million miles from the start..."

So we asked a simple black bird, who was happy as can be

"Some of my walking thoughts end up eventually on B. Some wind up on windshields..."

And he laughed insane and quipped "KAHLIL GIBRAN"

"The prints generally don't make it as far into the world. I show them to a handful of others at the monthly meeting, then they go back in a box, basically forever..."

And I cried for all the others till the day was nearly through

"One of my thoughts last week while walking around shooting photos and listening to early Bowie in my head, was that I should post some of this month's grid photos on B. Maybe caption them with lyrics, and fuck if they make sense or not..."

For I realized that God's a young man too

The woman looked at me blankly. I could tell what she was thinking: Another drunkard's walk.

Meanwhile I heard Bowie: Breathe, Breathe, Breathe Deeply...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mined drawer

B: What are you drawing?

Leo (7): A guy with a big tongue. Those are his claws.

What made you think of that?

I don't know. I just thought of it in my mind.

Did you see something like that somewhere? Like those bracelets. Are they from a comic?

No, just from my mind. I'm a mind drawer.

I can't draw from my mind. I have to have something in front of me to draw it. I guess that's why I'm a photographer.

I'm just a mind drawer.

Yeah, that creature looks like it came out of some sort of mind drawer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hat Trick

I bought a few Blurb books last week including Time and Space on the Lower East Side by Brian Rose. It's pretty rare for a photo book to feature the full package: Great photos and eloquent writing, and of historical/documentary interest. Usually one or two out of three will suffice. But 3 for 3? Uncommon. Anyway, there are many great pics but this is the one that stopped me in my tracks when I first came upon it (sorry for the sloppy half-tone scan):

Division Street, 2010, Brian Rose

What a shot! Everything layered and lined up just right, the weird textured chainlink and confusing tritone lamp, cars and buildings jutting at weird angles, and that little red hat balanced right where the center cannot hold. And best of all, it's a photo of absolutely nothing! It's everyday material. Ninety-nine out of a hundred photographers would walk right by. Not only did Rose stop but he found the one exact spot from which the shot comes together. One inch in any direction would put it out of whack. Who knows, maybe one second in any direction would do the same.

And, oh yeah, almost as an afterthought, it documents The Lower East Side. Two birds, one stone. The photography stone. Reminds me of something Papageorge wrote in Aperture 85, "What is interesting about photographers is the nature of the balance they create: the place where they draw that line between their own presence and the mindless memory of their cameras."

On that continuum, Rose is somewhere between Shore and Friedlander. Three of a perfect pair.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's the camera, stupid

"The type and brand of camera you use has a huge effect on how good you look in your pictures."

This and many other pearls of photographic wisdom can be found here. Thanks to Ben Cornish for the tip.

Monday, August 16, 2010


There's an old saying in photography. If you find a scene that looks like it should have a photo but you can't figure out where the photo is, turn around. The photograph will be directly behind you. It sounds strange but trust me, it actually works.

In the blogosphere, the comparable version is If you read a blog post which seems like it should make sense but doesn't, do a handstand, aim your feet skyward, and then click the nearest graphic.

from Inversions by Scott Kim

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ptarmigan Traverse

I'm taking a break from civilization. If anyone needs to reach me this week I'll be here:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reactions to an evolving thread

Wow! Trent Parke has a new book? I've gotta check it out. [Click the link and...] Hmmm, only a few spreads from the book are shown online. I don't know. It looks sort of strange. It definitely isn't street photography. Not sure what it is exactly, more of a photo fairy tale. On the other hand, it is Trent Parke and it is fairly cheap. Hmmm, I don't know. Gotta think about it.

All these people are ordering the thing sight unseen? Do they know something I don't? Hard to believe they like it that much just based on what's online.

Hmm. At this rate he's probably right. I should just order the thing. What's eighteen bucks? [Click the link, load LBM's order page and...] Nah, I just can't do it. If I saw this book in the kid's section at a bookstore and it wasn't by Trent Parke, would I buy it? Probably not. Is it just the name on the cover then? Is that it? If so, that's like buying a handbag just because it's covered with LVs. Incredibly decadent. I suppose it's like buying stock in Parke and Soth. Good investment probably, but still...Gotta think about it.

Blind faith. But isn't that how the art market works? Maybe that's why I'm reluctant. This just seems so frothy and speculative, just like the art market in general. Are people even reacting to what's in the book or just buying it on the chance it will be collectible?

There's someone who's honest about his reasons.

That settles it. Definitely not buying it.

This is a friggin feeding frenzy. Can't figure it out. Should I post a comment? I'll post a comment.

Do I look like an asshole now? I look like an asshole. Oh well. I wrote from the gut even if it was sanctimonious. Although I did sort of give the impression I had bought the book. Was that dishonest? I should just buy the thing.

Fuck. Oh well. That makes my decision easy. Now I'm even more curious what it looks like.

Fun? Awful? Doesn't tell me much. Won't someone comment on the book itself instead of various shipping issues?

Does the book even matter? Soth could've sold 1000 paperweights if they had Parke's name on them. Just being spiteful now.

Christ! What is this, a Dot-com IPO or a book of photos? I suppose I shouldn't be so cynical. It's tough to sell 1000 books, so kudos to Soth and Parke for a job well accomplished. Still, the whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Flipping commodities is just so fucked up on so many levels. Does photography need to get dragged into that world? Or maybe it's always been an inhabitant.

Cynical bastard. Yup, you pegged me.

After selling out in less than 3 days, Trent Parke's Bedknobs and Broomsticks can now be found online at prices ranging from $200 on up. There is a brief review of the book by Tom Leininger in the recent Fraction Magazine 17.

The original unabridged Flickr HCSP thread about the book can be found here.