Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Abducted by the work aliens

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been busy in New York and Boston the past few days trying to round up sponsorship for B. I'll tell you, getting endorsements from multinationals is like pulling teeth! But the good news is my efforts seem to have paid off. As of this morning I've signed tentative partnerships with Citigroup, Tostitos, McDonald's, Amazon, and the U.S. Army. Collectively these endorsements should place B on solid financial footing for years to come. So that's a relief.

Longterm readers will recall a similar sponsorship from 2009 with the EuroPro hand mixer. Unfortunately, I've been forced to drop that partnership as part of my most recent arrangement. I know this will come as a disappointment to some. In some ways the symbiosis between photography writing and kitchen gadgets was a natural fit, and I only have fond thoughts of the EP585.

But now that the sponsorship has been terminated I feel free to admit that it never felt completely right to me. There was always tension between mixers and the photos, and although there was never overt pressure to write about any particular mixer, I feel some of my photography critiques may have been effected. So, as I sit here eating some delicious low-fat corn chips, I'm glad to be leaving the world of kitchen gadgets and entering a new and exciting land of multinational opportunity, a land which has already proven quite lucrative.

So what do my new partnerships mean for you, the reader? Perhaps the most notable feature is a slight change in name from the former B: Rumblings From the Hinterlands to Citigroup's B ™. In addition to this minor change, careful observers may notice a slightly altered blog design as I incorporate small product information graphics into my posts. In particular I'm excited to introduce The Tostidos Right Sidebar as a regular feature of Citigroup's B ™.

By clicking any of these wonderful product information graphics, you will be helping to support Citigroup's B ™ as you're whisked off to your new site. And if you click through an ad and make a purchase, Citigroup's B ™ will receive additional revenue.

As for the actual content of the posts, you should notice no difference. Just as with my former relationship with EuroPro, the line between advertising and expository writing is absolute and impenetrable. I will never allow financial relationships to interfere with clear and critical coverage of the photo world.

If you are a multinational looking to interface productively with the financially exciting photoblog community, please contact me to discuss opportunities.

And now, a message from our sponsor:

Thursday, May 26, 2011


First things first. The beer in Vancouver wasn't half bad. Most pubs had a few local brews on draft along with the usual industrial swill. The micros were generally strong, but without much bite. They lacked the hard hoppiness associated with Oregon, which I suppose is a regional preference. But all in all it was drinkable enough.

The most noticeable thing about Vancouver beer wasn't the beer at all. It was the price. The normal cost of a pint (Canadian dollar roughly equal to an American dollar) ranged from $5 at the low end on up to $7 or $8 in the nicer bars. Yikes! In Oregon the range is $3-$5. I think the disparity is due to Canada's relatively high alcohol taxes, although I never pinned down the exact dynamics.

Whatever the reason, with prices like that George and I were discouraged from overindulging. And maybe that was part of the social calculus. They don't want people running around drunk with cameras.

Roughly $25 of locally brewed Vancouver beer

Of course we weren't in Vancouver just to drink beer. We were there for the photos. Why Vancouver? To put it bluntly, because it was the nearest major metropolis we hadn't yet explored.

I live in a smallish city, population roughly 150,000. Although I enjoy taking photos in Eugene, it lacks the dense pedestrian anonymity required for a certain type of street photography. So once in a while I like to take a photo venture (I'd call it a working holiday if someone actually hired me to do it) to an urban setting, just to fill up on images for a while. In 2007 I did Washington, DC. In 2008 it was San Francisco. On recent trips I've been going with George Kelly. In 2009 we hit Seattle. Last year it was London and Paris. Next year we're looking at Cleveland and/or Pittsburg. This year was Vancouver.

Typically on these trips we spend all daylight hours on foot taking photographs. Sometimes we do this together. More often we split up, then meet at various points throughout the day for meals and to touch base. In Vancouver we fell into pattern. We were there two solid days (plus part of one morning and one evening). I'm guessing I walked 18 miles the first day, then maybe 12 the second before it began raining and we were forced to shoot from the car.

My feet were cushioned in new leather Merrells and came through blister free. If comfy shoes are a photographer's best friend, maybe someone should invent photographer's pants. Mine sagged, and I did so much walking that my upper thighs started to rub and made an uncomfortable rash which sleep only partially cured. Can I call it street photographer's itch? But enough about my thighs.

Photographic Footwear? Yes

Photographic Footwear? No

Before leaving I'd printed out 12 Fred Herzog photos with downtown addresses. I kept this in my pack and when I recognized a street address I'd stop and photograph it from the perspective of Herzog's photo. I'm not sure what I was trying for. To step into his comfy shoes for a moment? A rephotographic project? Mostly it was just a fun game, to compare past and future and see how closely they resembled each other.

After looking for Herzog shots, my general sense of Vancouver is that it's lost many older buildings to redevelopment. Same story as in most North American cities, although in Vancouver the pace of construction seems accelerated. Another thing I noticed is that Herzog shot most of his photos with nice level horizon lines. If my own experience is any guide, the high price of beer was probably a preventative aid.

As for Herzog himself, someone had given me his old phone number but I never called him, and when I went looking for his gallery I couldn't find it. We never met Herzog, nor did I connect with any other Vancouverites.

Nevertheless we made ourselves at home. We stayed at the Patricia Hotel, which I'd found online having no idea of its location. I just knew it was downtown and half the price of other hotels, so I booked it. I learned later that the Patricia has sort of infamous history as a backpacker/budget outpost. Rumor is that Jelly Roll Morton stayed there long ago. It turned out to be a nice clean place on the edge of Chinatown at the corner of Hastings and Dunlevy. For the Herzog fans, that's two blocks due south of this photo.

New World Confectionery, 1965, Fred Herzog

Although that storefont looks roughly similar today, the neighborhood has changed quite a bit since Herzog's heyday, as we found out our first evening in town. After unpacking and setting out at dusk to see what was around, our first encounter was the Hastings Street skid row. Although some version of this exists in most large cities, I'd never encountered a strip as isolated, concentrated, and generally depressing as Hastings. For about three full city blocks the sidewalks were full of people laying around in various states of disrepair. Drugs, injuries, vice, bad luck, traveling, broke, who knows.

E Hastings near Columbia, shot from a car by James Danderfer

E Hastings at Columbia, 1958, Fred Herzog

The sidewalks were an open air bazaar with people selling anything of conceivable, and often inconceivable, value. The chief monetary unit seemed to be cigarettes, but cig butts would do too, as well as old magazines, pot, socks, dolls, crack, broken furniture, pocket lint, bodily services, anything else to bring in a little cash. I was propositioned a few times, I think for prostitution although it may have for a billy or a tooney or looney or some other request in mumbled Canadian slang which was hard to decipher. But the essence of the scene was pretty plain. It was a true carnival of broken dreams.

The Patricia was perched right on the edge of this scene and we had many lively walks to and from the hotel over the course of our stay. In some ways it was the perfect photo-op but I never took photos on Hastings. To take photos there seemed too much of a power trip, like kicking someone when they're down. I know it's a myth but I really believe taking a photo of someone is stealing their soul, at least part of it. I don't mind stealing the souls of rich assholes carrying fancy briefcases. After all, they barter souls every day and they'd hardly notice if a soul or two went missing. But these folks were at the other end of fortune's spectrum. To pass through out of nowhere and take —yes, take— photographs just didn't seem right. Can a street photographer have a conscience? He can if he wants to miss a lot of great photos. Which I did, but so be it. Hastings got to me. I just couldn't shoot there.

As for the rest of the city, it was open season. The first day I made a circle through downtown, Granville St., Yaletown, Davie, Stanley Park, back to the Patricia for a nap, then back out to do the most of the loop again. The second day it was out Main through Chinatown to Mt. Pleasant, City Hall, BC Place, back downtown, the port, Gastown, by two antiquarian bookstores which had no good photo books, Chinatown again, back to Granville, and so on.

White Lunch, Granville, 1959, Fred Herzog

Granville Street became sort of a magnet for me on the trip. Whenever I'd complete a new round of the city I'd find myself gravitating back to it. It's the traditional main drag in town but it wasn't a busy thoroughfare. Instead, it felt intimate and hemmed in and alive, like the main street of a small city before the mall boom. The sidewalks were wide, with a certain level of unpolished seediness and old neon. It reminded me a bit of Portland's Hawthorne which I've always found inviting. I shot a lot around Granville.

Cellphone series, 2011, George Kelly

George's latest project is shooting small screens at night, so we spent our evenings in bars where he scouted out cellphones and laptops while I put my camera away. The second evening we hung in at Pat's pub below the Patricia and watched a series of local bands. The first group was great. They had just a guitar and drummer but they put out as much sound as four people. The second group was either very intriguing or the worst band in the world, depending on which of us you asked. They followed the model of The Shaggs or Beefheart, or maybe there was no model. The vocals were mumbled Canadian slang which was hard to decipher, and the guitars were decidedly off-key. They made George groan. Not half bad, I thought.

I think this difference in musical tastes says something about our photographic methods. George is a quiet assassin with a camera. When he catches scent of a photo he goes into stalking mode and his blinders go up. If you're nearby it can border on being uncomfortable but it usually passes quickly. He zeroes in and 9 out of 10 times he nails the photo. Which is how he listens to music. He isolates the key component in the song and feeds on it, and if a song wanders or doesn't have that, it doesn't work for him. He can't listen to Deerhoof, for instance, or a long Jerry solo.

Cellphone series, 2011, George Kelly

I'm no good at stalking. It feels too voyeuristic. Instead, I sort of mumble with the camera. I wear it on my neck and wander and wait for the right feeling to come, which is often during fleeting scenes. Any person running past or pigeon lifting off I shoot automatically. Or a weird shaft of light near someone's plaid dress, or sometimes just because I haven't taken a photo in five minutes. Crap like that.

On my contacts my gem-to-junk ratio is a lot lower than George's. Whereas he might hit the mark on a quarter of his frames I can shoot a whole roll of nothing. But I can also pull a lot of good shots out of my ass where no one else would ever find them. I guess I work more like Godzilla than a quiet assassin, and that's how I listen to music too, not really zeroed on any key component but the feeling and the fire-breathing and the fleeting moments. I can't listen to The Animals or Cold Play or anything done too earnestly. Godzilla loves chaos.

We left during the third band. Every round was big bucks in beer, plus we had to get up early to shoot.

We walked around most of Saturday, then in the late afternoon it began raining and so we drove around and shot from the car. We made a long circle around Stanley Park, which is a large slice of coastal rainforest placed right on the edge of Vancouver.

Lion's Gate Bridge from Stanley Park, Murray Douglas Photography

At the far bend of the circle we pulled out at and walked to a lookout above a high bluff. We could see the Lions Gate Bridge to our right, with freight ships below it heading to and from Asia, and beyond that the high-rises of north Vancouver. Hemming in the whole scene were fabulous snow-capped peaks in the distance, hard to see in the light rain but vaguely discernible. It was quite a breathtaking vantage point, and I almost lost myself in a moment of quiet reverie before snapping out of it, whipping my camera to my face and shooting the nearest person moving by me. I wasn't sure but it felt like it had been more than five minutes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's the photographs, stupid!

Someone in the White House PR office must be asleep at the wheel. Yesterday I opened my morning paper to find these two images facing each other across the fold.

Joplin, MO, May 23, 2011, Julie Denesha/Getty

Moneygall, Ireland, May 23, 2011, Getty

Then this morning it was these two:

Tornado aftermath, Piedmont, OK, May 24, 2011, Bill Waugh/Reuters

Obamas with Will and Kate at Buckingham Palace, May 24, 2011, Toby Melville, AFP/Getty

Doh! Talk about awkward.

I'm not saying the president can't enjoy a beer or meet with royalty once in a while. But surely Politics 101 is don't be seen relaxing in a palace during a natural disaster. Photographic pairings like these are red meat for Obama's enemies, and I'm honestly surprised no one has jumped on them.

I say all this as a quasi-Obama fan. I voted for him. He may be more conservative than I'd like but at this point he's all the left has, so I wish him well. But some of his moves leave me scratching my head.

Ahem, Mr. President, don't look now but your image fly is open.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Song For Wesley

Rainbow gradations seem to have caught fire lately in the blogosphere. Lexi Adams at I Heart Photograph ran a post on Friday showing a trio of sky photos by Anna Huix, Ann Woo, and Yusuke Nishimura.

One day later I like This Art ran a sky series by Eric Cahan (via Triangulation) which looked quite similar.

If these images look vaguely familiar, perhaps you're remembering the cover of Lay Flat 02 from last Winter which featured an Ann Woo sunset photo.

Or maybe they remind you of Jon Stanley Austin's Skyscape photographs?

Skyscapes, Jon Stanley Austin

Is there nothing new under the sunset? Sky colors may be resurgent but they aren't exactly fresh. Richard Misrach thoroughly covered this territory in the 90s with his sky series.

from The Sky Book, by Richard Misrach

I'm not saying Misrach exhausted the topic, but at this point photographers would have to ask themselves pretty hard what they might be adding to it. Oh well. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as Misrach knows full well.

Instant Loveland, 1968, Jules Olitski

Maybe part of the reason sunset photos are so tempting is because traditionally they've been a such photographic punch line. I mean, who photographs a sunset? Isn't that like shooting an old barn or a nude on a log?

For irony-loving artists, the fact that it's cliché is perfect motivation. Straddling the line between high and low art is a favorite pastime. Lift up the low. Tear down the high. Pretty soon we don't know if the sun is setting or rising.

Google Image Search: "sunrise sky"

Google Image Search: "sunset sky"

If the separation between dawn and dusk is uncomfortably narrow, so too is the line between fine art and and schmaltz. Pretty dramatic colors in spectrum. Is it low art? High? Pretty? Dramatic? Who knows. At this point maybe the ultimate prank is just to program colors into a computer and have a robot paint them:

Debug a Sickness Upon Us, Vangobot

Honestly I'd been thinking about rainbow gradations even before this recent batch, ever since reading this post by J. Wesley Brown which deftly pulled together a wide range of examples. They're not all skies, but they get the point across. Something is afoot.

In Rainbows, from We Can Shoot Too

For me this post was like a catchy pop song that became stuck in my head. After reading it I began to see rainbows everywhere, even in places I shouldn't have. For example, on Jim Johnson's blog:

I noticed with fresh eyes the rainbow that appeared every time I loaded a new browser window:

And the one in Alex Webb's brilliant new book:

Erie, Pennsylvania, 2010, from The Suffering of Light, Alex Webb

Even away from the the photo world I couldn't escape them. Here is what I see downtown Eugene every Saturday:

Rainbow Gathering photo via Whiskers On Roses

Maybe the rainbows were there all along and I'd never paid attention. Or maybe it was in fact a new age dawning. Or setting. I couldn't tell.

So I wrote to J. Wesley Brown and told him I had a problem. I told him thanks to his post I now had the rainbow song stuck in my head and asked what should I do? What's the secret to the rainbows?

He wrote back that he wasn't sure what was going on but that it was probably a new movement or school that didn't exist before, exploring color, gradients, rainbows, prisms, and selective color manipulation. He was calling them New Mystics to himself because he felt a sort of mystical vibe from such photos. And they all seemed to enjoy that "magical, hipster element". And oh yeah, he wrote, by the way have you seen this rainbow?

Color theory rainbow via Kuler via Into The Abyss via J. Wesley Brown

Great, another pop song stuck. Now I can't see a movie the normal way. Thanks a lot, Wesley.

I wrote back that I wasn't sure anymore what a hipster was. Someone that mixes high and low? Who wears a fedora? Who shoots color fields? Who sees them where they aren't? In the subject line of the email I wrote suggestively, "We all see what we want to see", not really sure if it was a statement or a question.

Yes, we all see what we want to see at the end of a post about rainbows.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Standing in the shower thinking

If you like that self righteous, angry feeling that comes from learning about acts of misguided social conservatism, Lynn Powell's Framing Innocence is a pretty good read. I've been plugging away at it for the past few nights, growing more pissed and incredulous with every chapter.

The basic true story is that a mother in Ohio photographed her naked 8-year old daughter privately at home, then sent the negatives to be developed at a processing facility (near here) where they were flagged as suspicious. She was arrested and charged with child pornography, suspended from her job, racked up thousands in legal bills trying to defend herself, and nearly lost her child to protective custody. Scary!

It may be too easy to dismiss this situation at first by saying it could only happen in some smallminded Midwestern backwater, but the truth is in today's social climate this could happen anywhere in America to any parent. And indeed, Powell notes several similar cases in various parts of the country.

For me the most entertaining parts are the court dissections of the suspicious photos, in which lawyers conduct a legal art critique. What does this photo mean? What is depicted? What was the artist's intent? What if someone interprets it differently? Does the intended audience change the photo's meaning? What qualifies a photo as pornographic? They're the sort of questions that might pop up in an MFA seminar, but approached from a strictly legal perspective. I'm afraid lawyers are no more likely than artists to settle these issues, but they try.

Framing Innocence isn't just a primer on pornography law. It's a well written pageturner. If you're a photographer and you've ever taken nude photographs of your children at any age, I'd recommend it. I warn you though, do not read if you have high blood pressure, because this book will likely send it through the roof.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Space Shuttle Endeavor
iPhoned and twittered from a passing airplane by Stefanie Gordon
Viewed almost half a million times since Monday

Reovirus "Spider" electron microphotograph
Institute for Molecular Virology. University of Wisconsin - Madison

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome to the canon

Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that your book proposal has been accepted. We receive thousands of submissions per year, from which yours was among those chosen for publication by our on-demand publishing house! We hope you are as excited about this prospect as we are, and we look forward to a long mutual partnership.

Powell's Books, Portland, December 2006, Blake Andrews

The on-demand publishing world is exciting and dynamic, but it does vary in several minor ways from traditional book publishing. Here is what you can expect in the upcoming weeks.

There will of course be a national book-signing tour. We ask that you make a nominal donation to help it become the success that you, a nationally published author, deserve. For first time authors, the standard contribution is the use of your car, the use of friends' and/or relatives' couches for sleeping arrangements (especially if living in New York or Los Angeles), and the use of your credit toward food, gas, and miscellaneous expenses.

The book will be released through our national distribution network which reaches a wide variety of stores, all of which have the potential to make your book a best-seller. We welcome your suggestions for additions to this network. If you enjoy any personal relationships with bookstore owners, or owners of any other sort of store, or owners of any general business, please let us know. We'd love for them to have to opportunity to market your book and other potential best-sellers.

If you have friends who've reached a certain level of financial freedom, have contacts in publishing, are obsessive hoarders, or who sometimes exhibit compulsive buying behavior, please let us know.

Although our national distribution chain already penetrates most regions of the country, we are never content to rest on our laurels. If by chance you have any room in your car during the book-signing tour, we'd appreciate the opportunity to fill the space with your book and other potential best-sellers. Please let us know how much trunk space you might have available so that we can help your book reach the wide audience it deserves.

As part of our national media campaign for your book, we will be sending out a short press release to the author(s) of your book and other interested parties. Normally this press release is in the form of a short email announcing your book's publication, along with a notice of balance due. In addition to this email we welcome your contribution to our national media campaign. Any postcards, announcements, press releases, Facebook or blog notices, branding efforts, televised appearances, or radio promotions that you wish to contribute will of course be accepted.

As stipulated in the publishing contract, all proceeds from the sale of your potential best-seller will be split evenly between you and our publishing house. For example, on a gross sale of $500,000, you will net a cool $250,000. How many copies will your book sell? Exact sales figures are notoriously hard to predict. We expect your book to sell well, but the only way to get a precise count is to proceed with publication. Keep in mind that historically some books have been known to sell tens of millions of copies through many reprints.

As mentioned briefly above, there is a balance due for your book. Before we can proceed with publishing, please remit payment of $832 to our accounting office.

Within a short period after we receive your balance due, you will join the canon of published authors. We needn't remind you what a reputable, exclusive club this has represented in the past.

Welcome to the canon, author! And welcome to our publishing house!

Monday, May 16, 2011

You can't jump in the same desktop twice

I'm often so wrapped up in mass culture that it's good to disengage once in a while. During our roadtrip to Vancouver I was without computer or TV for about 5 days. No laptop, smartphone, or any other screens, just a good old fashioned optical viewfinder to mediate reality. It was a true pleasure and I recommend the experience to anyone.

Of course there were disadvantages too. When I returned last night I found my kids had been playing on my computer and rearranged the desktop to a horribly camoflouged mountain scene.

Darn meddlers, I couldn't find anything. But on the plus side at least they hadn't relabeled all the files with nonsense names, a periodic habit on Tab's computer which is downstairs and more accessible. I changed the desktop back to what I like, a blank background I don't have to think about.

Looking at this screen for the first time in nearly a week, I noticed today how I'd divided it up unconsciously. It was just like a river, with eddies and currents and flow.

This red oval is the active area where I keep temporary files or ones undergoing editing.

It's a handy spot to drag and drop web images or URLs, for example the album covers now sitting there. In five minutes they'll be loaded into iTunes, then trashed. If the desktop were a river, this would be the fast moving center. Constantly changing and recharging, different from one moment to the next.

I can judge how active a project is by how close it is to the fast current. Things which require my immediate attention are near the active area. For example, this is where I put various Calls for Entry with impending deadlines.

I usually keep them here in this section until I've thought about them so long that it's too late to enter, then they go in the trash. But at least in theory this is a very active section. At any moment I could leap right into that fast current, if I chose to.

By contrast, this section way off in the right corner is stuff I never deal with.

My hard drive icon, Time Machine, an old Blurb Color Management document. This is the deep eddy behind the sandbar which just collects stuff forever.

At top center, safely away from any strong currents, are longterm photo projects, work projects, and web projects. They don't take up much space but nonetheless the folders are cavernous. And boring. No need to go there right now.

Here's where I keep folders for blog posts in various stages of completion.

And over here are the blog ideas without folders, just written thoughts in text files.

I like to think of these areas as active since they're close to the main flow, but sometimes it feels as if they're stuck in an eddy. Don't ask me how last year's taxes got in there.

Over here are URLs by photographers who've caught my eye recently.

When I see someone I like, I drag the URL into the upper left corner. Or should I call it deep left field? I should probably investigate these further at some point. It's on my list.

Books I've been putting off ordering:

This may be a slow moving part of the river but it's by no means an eddy. The annual Holiday gift-giving flood usually clears this stuff out.

I won't detail the entire desktop. You can look around and see for yourself what's there. But you know, the more I look it the more it looks like a morass of still puddles. Is the current even moving? Have the ideas oxbowed? Maybe I need a great flood to come along and stir things up.

Better yet: