Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rare photo op

Eggleston fans in Portland might want to check out this screening.

This film has proven difficult to track down. It's not on Netflix. Not at the library. Probably won't turn up at the local Redbox. This could be the only local cinema screening for a while, and it might be strange. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

27 Good-byes

I saw a lot of great photo books at IPL's Photolucida exhibition a few weeks ago but the one which really sticks in my mind is 27 Good-byes by Deanna Dikeman.

The book is pretty much what you'd expect from the title. It's twenty-seven shots of Dikeman's parents waving goodbye to her from their driveway.

Leaving and Waving, 7/91, Deanna Dikeman

Following in the footsteps of Thirty-Four Parking Lots, the concept is absurdly simplistic, yet quite beguiling. Is it a typology? A pure document without inflection? A collection of personal snapshots?

I think it's this last quality which reeled me in. Dikeman shot every photo right at the moment of parting, and they're quite tender and emotional. These are meaningful records of family.

Most are shot through a car window to give them a sense of impending urgency. Gotta go, gotta get the shot. The way they're laid out in the book —chronologically— also has a ticking-clock sense. The book starts in 1991 at which point the parents appear to be well into their 70s. From there the dates advance with each page.

Leaving and Waving, 3/02, Deanna Dikeman

The parents get older and older, yet remain unfazed, standing and waving. By the last few photos it's a bit nerve-wracking to turn the page. How long can they last? Will one or both disappear at some point?

Leaving and Waving, 8/07, Deanna Dikeman

The last photo is from 2009. I won't give away the ending, other than to say it's happy.

27 Goodbyes reminds me of another favorite from last year, Shooting Gallery. There's something about chronological typology that's inherently fascinating. It really gets at the core of photography's nature, its systematic, almost dull, recording ability, which somehow doesn't prevent photos from becoming more interesting over time.

Both books are very casual. There's no pretense, just a collection of snapshots in order, the same thing you might find in any amateur family album. I think this explains their voyeuristic magnetism. We get to look in on someone's private life, but at a safe remove. Then we leave and wave good-bye.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Old pol photo, new photo poll

In the end I'm afraid it wasn't much of a battle. Robert Frank's The Americans soundly defeated the book which midwived it, Walker Evans' American Photographs, 83-50 in the final of the Photobook Tournament. That's quite a whipping, but actually for The Americans it was the closest match of the tournament as it easily beat all comers by scores ranging from 228-14 to 102-6 to 116-26.

The Winner!

After all is said and done we're about where we started. The Americans is declared by yet another poll as "the best" photobook of all time. Ho hum. As with last year's tournament (Winogrand "the best" street photographer) the result is sort of anti-climactic. For me the lesson in constructing future tournaments is to design them with less predictability. Uncertainty good. Inevitability bad. In tournaments, photographs, and life.

So I've got a year to sort that out before next spring's March Madness Photo tournament. In the meantime, I'm converting the tourney into a weekly blog poll. Every Wednesday I'll post a photography related question in the right sidebar. No tournament, no bracket, just a rolling list of fun questions. The first question is now up. Happy voting.


I'm sure many of you have been enjoying the new Vivian Maier website. I know I have. At this point there's not much to say about Maier that hasn't already been said. Her photos speak for themselves. But I guess I can't help myself.

I mean, a shot like this kid in a yard? Holy crap, are you kidding me? Where does she get off taking something like that? The squint, the untucked collar, the picket fenced hair. Truly a phenom.

As if the black and white isn't enough to deal with, now we discover that she was equally, almost casually, fluent in color.

August 1975, Vivian Maier

May 1976, Vivian Maier

For photographers who've been at it a while, it's sort of like being at mile 20 of a marathon and having some young punk in street clothes blow by at sprint speed. It brings into question the entire premise of the enterprise. But alas, nothing to do but keep slogging.

I guess it won't surprise anyone to discover that Maier was a packrat. As I've written before, I think all photographers are hoarders on some level. Mike Johnston agrees. Still, the depth of Maier's compulsion exposed on the new website verges on pathology. On the hoarding scale (link, then scroll down) she's at least a 5, maybe a 6. And thank god for it or she may never have been discovered.

Newspaper clippings saved by Maier, from the website

One of the new web photos which caught my eye is this shot.

Untitled, Undated, Vivian Maier

Although the caption is untitled I'm fairly certain this is Emmett Kelly circa 1955.

The only reason I know much about Emmett Kelly is I have a son named Emmett. Before we named him I researched well known Emmetts just to be have a sense of what was out there. It turns out the name Emmett carries a certain photographic pedigree.

There's Emmett Mann.

Squirrel Season, 1987, Sally Mann

There's Emmet from Iowa.

Emmet Smiling · Krieger Falls, Ohio · 1973, Nancy Rexroth

There's Emmet Gowin.

Emmet Gowin, 1982, Sam Fentress

There's the photobook Emmett, inspired by the eponymous town in central Idaho.

from Emmett by Ron Jude

There's poor Emmett Till, subject of one of the most iconic funeral photographs ever made.

Emmett Till's body, Jet Magazine

Truly a disgusting photograph, but a very accurate portrayal of racism. The photo speaks for itself.

Emmett Andrews was born August 28, 2005, fifty years to the day after Emmett Till's murder. I only discovered this fact later, about a year after his birth, but it seems meaningful.

Me holding Emmett, 2006, photo by Tab

Who knows what Emmett will be. A hoarder? A photographer? A nanny with a secret? Will his face ever appear in news clippings stacked in a storage locker?

I don't know. He's five now. The future is wonderfully uncertain. All I know is you can start off writing one life story and finish somewhere completely different, and that the end usually comes by surprise.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wrong place wrong time

(Once again I think my cynical streak may have gotten the better of me. I intended this post originally as a sarcastic commentary about Twitter, the 24 hour news cycle, and desert islands, but —as my wife quickly pointed out to me— it may have been crossed the line by dredging up hurtful memories. I've removed the original text and I apologize to anyone offended.)

West of Ajdabiyah, Libya, April 14, 2011, Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is your inner barn telling you?

Look at the clock.

You're getting veeeeery sleeeeepy.

You will obey my commands.

You will visit this site today and you will see a barn on fire. Listen to the barn. Do what the barn says. Order the magazine.

You will wait a few days for the magazine to arrive. You will find a user manual here (via APE).

Obey the barn. Trust me, it's worth it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Unearth Day

Ho hum. Another year, another Earth Day. Can I get three cheers for the home planet?

Here in Eugene this is the first week of the year that it's finally felt like spring, so I thought I'd feature some earthy, springy photos that I recently unearthed. These are from Terri Weifenbach's series Snake Eyes. For me they have an unearthly glow which really embodies the spirit of the season.

Looking forward to more light, flowers, blue sky, and photographic unearthings in the months to come...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quiz #26: Profile pics

One of the pleasures of the recent Photolucida conference was finally meeting fellow photoblogger Pete Brook, author of the always enlightening Prison Photography and Raw-File. Pete was easy to pick out of the crowd because I was familiar with his Facebook profile picture.

Apparently he'd commissioned the gentle caveman drawing from a client as payment for some work. And the illustration is successful for the most part. Except for the fact that Pete's taller than I'd expected, thinner, younger, speaks with a British accent (one can't tell this simply from reading him), and had just given himself a mohawk that afternoon, the likeness is unmistakable.

Seeing Pete in person after knowing his face only through pictures really brought home to me the power of images, especially on the web. I know it's a tired truism but I'll say it anyway: Internet identities are incredibly malleable. Whatever image someone wants to project becomes that person, and so online portraits take on added importance above those in the real world where pictures are mediated by a broad range of experience.

It got me wondering about all of my online photo buddies. How well do I really know these people? Sure I know what they look like, or at least what they want me to think they look like. But could I recognize them in real life based on their portraits?

In most cases I think this would prove very easy. In some cases (my own Facebook picture or Nils Jorgensen's, for example) it would be impossible.

Recognition test: Too hard; Too easy; Just right

The interesting area is the middle ground, Pete's area, in which people project artistic representations of themselves, either drawings or paintings or altered photographs or whatever. With these pictures you may not recognize a person before meeting them. But after that the resemblance seems imperative.

How far can a person's identity can be stretched without losing its essence? Let's put it to the test. Below I've listed Facebook profile pictures for 15 members of the online photo community. Some of these folks were at Photolucida. Some are bloggers. Some are photographers. If you know these people they should look immediately familiar, or should they?

The first person to correctly identify (via email) the most names below before 4/29 wins the usual prize, a handmade print, plus my services drawing your likeness from the portrait of your choice, which you're then free to use on Facebook or somewhere else or not at all.
















Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Americans vs. American Photographs

In the tourney last week Evans edged Arbus, 103-77 while Frank took out Sander, 120-77. Now it's down to the heavyweights, Walker Evans' American Photographs and the book it helped spawn, Robert Frank's The Americans. Was there ever any doubt these two would face off eventually?

Here's the bracket.

The poll is in the right sidebar through Tuesday, 4/26 at midnight Pacific. I'll reveal the winner on 4/27. Have fun voting.

As for B, sorry I haven't posted much lately. It has been a crazy week with travel/family/deadlines, etc. Hopefully I can get back to some regularity soon. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Say What?

"While researching the content of my most recent body of work, I found that the dismantling of the photograph's stratified relationship to contingent readings of contemporary art shares a compelling commonality with concepts relating to the dispossession and colonization of native communities in the Levant."

—from Amjad Faur's artist statement, encountered last week in Portland.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Final Four

By now you know the drill. Results from Round Four:

Arbus over Winogrand, 77-70
Evans over Eggleston, 75-68
Sander over Atget, 78-59
Frank over Meiselas, 116-26

The bracket:

Round five polls are open for voting in the right sidebar through Tuesday, 4/19 at Midnight Pacific. I hate to be frank but can anyone beat Frank?

Speaking of photobooks, if you're in Portland this week don't miss this. I'll be up there checking it out as well as other Photolucida spinoffs. No blogging for the next several days...