Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

A recent sequence from Galata Bridge:

Natsumi Hayashi - yowayowa camera woman, 本日の浮遊 Today’s Levitation | よわよわカメラウーマン日記

David Hurn in Arizona, 1980, Bill Jay

Higher, David Meskhi

London riots 2011, Amy Weston/

A Requiem: Theater of Creativity/ Self-portrait as Yves Klein, 2010, Yasumasa Morimura

Untitled (man upside down), ca. 1950s, Garry Winogrand

Photo by Roc Canals

The beach at Puri, Orissa, India, 1980, Martine Franck

Terrors & Pleasures of Levitation, No. 99, 1961, Aaron Siskind

Tibor von Halmay and Vera Mahlke, c. 1931, Martin Munkacsi

Eric (20120219), Noah Kalina

Monday, February 27, 2012

Color balance: Amarillo

Here are some postcards I've recently created.

And here's how I described them in my submission to The Postcard Collective.

I have produced a series of postcards documenting landmarks of my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Eugene is blessed with a wide variety of architecture, some beautiful and some horrible. My cards make no distinction. They document the city democratically, selecting viewpoints that I feel best represent what it feels like to live here. The photos are all recent but I've given the cards a historic look through careful selection of typeface and color balance. They have the look of a card you might find in a highway service station in 1975, and indeed part of my project is to conduct clandestine distribution of the cards in local postcard racks in gas stations and tourist centers. The project pays homage to Shore's Amarillo series and also to the great American postcards of the 60s and 70s.

Each card is 4 x 6, produced by combining a drugstore C-print with individually captioned adhesive postcard template.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Release Causes Frenzy

[Feb 24, 2012, Orlando - AP]

Photo book fanatics who lined up outside stores overnight got their first crack Friday at a new cave themed Alec Soth photo book, getting so unruly in some cities that police were called to restore order.

Orange County Sheriff's deputies move the crowd back after an announcement Friday morning that a book sale was cancelled at the Book Locker at Florida Mall in Orlando. Photo Joe Burbank/AP

In Orlando, Fla., more than 100 deputies in riot gear quelled a crowd awaiting the release of the $50 Broken Manual. At a mall in Hyattsville, Md., one person was arrested for disorderly conduct. And in Greenwood, Ind., police said they canceled a Soth release after 400-600 people showed up Thursday night at a mall and were "panicking to get to the front of the line." The book's release coincides with the current exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York.

The book, part of a cave-themed series, is a draw for so-called "Steidlheads" who collect signature photo books and can resell them online at a marked-up price, sometimes for hundreds more than retail. Among inner city intellectuals in particular, Steidl titles are seen as a badge of honor and often conspicuously displayed.

Malls in Florida, New York and Maryland reported bringing in police to manage fans clamoring for the blank covered manual, which has star-like flecks of black. Some shoppers lucky enough to get their hands on a pair of books immediately posted them for sale on eBay at skyrocketing prices: $1,000 and up.

Police guard the Book Locker at Florido Mall in Orlando after a planned book sale was postponed. Photo by Joe Burbank/AP

Authorities did have some warning the book could cause mayhem. Earlier this month, police were called to a mall outside Albany after pushing and shoving broke out during a promotional event for the book.

Orlando resident Gaby Llanos was in the crowd waiting to buy two copies of the book when the rush started outside Florida Mall.

"It was complete havoc," said Llanos, 23. "People were running and hiding in trees so the police wouldn't find them."

Police used tear gas and electronic weapons and made numerous arrests late Thursday to disperse the crowds. Photo by Joe Burbank/AP

Steidl issued a statement Friday, saying, "As with the launch of all Steidl products, consumer safety and security is of paramount importance. We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner."

Steidl spokesman Matthew Kneller said the Book Locker store in New York City immediately sold out Friday. The book was also quickly out of stock in Cambridge, Mass., where people began lining up outside a House of Photos by Book Locker at 3 p.m. Thursday. The store only had 12 copies of the book, however, so it handed out tickets to the first dozen people in line, and only those people waited, store manager Terrio Lakes said.

The book — which is being sold at Steidl's site and select photo galleries, Sean Kelly Gallery and Book Locker stores — is part of the Steidl's Foamposite line which originally debuted in 1998. Their cave theme is a nod to Florida, the host state for the All-Star game, and the longtime launching pad for the nation's off-the-grid caved hermit movement.

Steidl has relied for years on its limited edition books to generate a lot of buzz with minimal advertising.

Broken Manual by Alec Soth

"They keep them very limited, they keep them very hot that way," said Sam Poser, an analyst who covers Steidl and the book industry.

During the past holiday season, Poser noted similar fights and incidents broke out across the country over a retro model of Sleeping by the Mississippi. And he said the most recent violence likely won't hurt Steidl's image.

"Some press is better than no press," he said.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What's my motivation?


This interview with Paul Shambroom was quite interesting. I was disappointed it didn't generate more discussion when it was posted a few weeks back. Shambroom sees a fundamental shift in what it means now to be a photographer. In a nutshell, it's a shift from hunter to editor.

"In the brief history of photography," says Shambroom, "175 years or so, a lot of it has been going out someplace and bringing back your image as a trophy, as a spoil or as a treasure and I think those days are ending pretty quickly."

Memphis, 1968, William Eggleston
One of the original trophy hunters

Shambroom's photos courses at the University of Minnesota follow his philosophy, focusing as much on digital sleuthing as on imagemaking. One exercise requires students to hunt photos online in locations based on the random zipcodes. This is the skillset being taught to the next generation of photographers.

I don't know if image making will totally die off, but I do think the era of the iconic image might be over. This fact was brought home to me several months ago when Bryan Formhals asked in a photo forum, "Name an iconic image from the past few years." I realized I couldn't think of any. Abu Ghraib? OJ Simpson's face? None of them seemed to fit.

It's not like it used to be. When Ruby shot Oswald or when the V-Day soldiers returned, an iconic image was created that we can all think of instantly. But now every event is likely to be recorded by multiple cameras. These images are stirred into the info megastream, and very few are likely to stand out over time.

Time Lightbox, Phil Bicker, 12/28/11

This might be why Shambroom's path looks tempting. Why bother trophy-hunting in the real world when a keyboard and monitor might lead to more interesting material? Of course some digital editors still follow the trophy hunting model. Rafman, Rickard, and Wolf are among the Street View pioneers, but as far as I can see all use a computer in the traditional way, to search for singular moments. Although the curation is sometimes interesting, the motivation doesn't seem much different than less highbrow edits. It all amounts to trophy hunting.

253 Rua Lisboa, Itapecerica da Serra – São Paulo, Brasil, 2010
Street View by Jon Rafman


An alternative Street View application is rephotography. Iconic photos may be more difficult to create now, but that doesn't mean the past isn't still littered with them. For photographers it's quite natural to investigate these past photos from a modern perspective. I've written about a few cases, and I keep a file on whichever ones I encounter. Here's a map of the ones I'm aware of. Please let me know of others and I'll add them to the map.

I suspect these are merely the early pioneers in what will gradually become a flood. Perhaps in ten years we'll see Street View rephotographs of Street Views.

Jacques Philippe Street Viewed some of Winogrand's early images here (1) and here (2).

Martin H. Krieger at USC has Street Viewed many of Charles Marville's Paris photographs (3).

Daniel George has Street Viewed Lewis Baltz's Industrial parks near Irvine, CA (4) (my version here).

Ed Hawco has Street Viewed some of Vivian Maier's Quebec photographs here and here (5).

I Street Viewed Robert Frank's Butte photo here (6) and Fred Herzog's Portland photo here (7).

Then there's Stephen Shore. For Street View rephotographers Shore is a goldmine for the simple reason that most of his seventies photographs are clearly labeled with an exact street address. Google searching is a snap. Dalton Rooney was first on board with this post (8). Kip Plaslowicz Street Viewed Stephen Shore in Minnesota here (9) . Justin Hamel Street Viewed many Shore photographs here. And I've tried my own hand here (10) and here (11).


B: [To audience]

Normally this would be the part of the play where the dramatic resolution takes place. Boy reunites with girl. Maybe they share a bed. Or it's implied. But it's not like the first two parts developed any dramatic tension. I mean let's face it, this isn't even really a play. Play on words maybe. But I'm not sure the three act structure is appropriate for a blog post. The first two acts sort of relate. The iconic thing has legs. Could be developed. But as written the play thing seems forced. No dramatic arc and the third part doesn't fit at all. What's my character's motivation? Just not feeling it.
[A Tomato is thrown onstage. Then several more.]

You do realize if you throw a tomato at me it's only going to ruin your monitor.
[A piano falls onto the stage from above]

Tough shit. I've made it a play so deal. You try coming up with this stuff day in day out. You try keeping it real. Try keeping it playful. Sometimes you're off. It ain't the first time. So big whoop. Excuuuuuuse me for not being Mr. Perfect. Call me a drama queen, whatever, but don't blame me. I don't even work here. Anyway, send me some Street View rephotography if you know of any.
[Browser curtained]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Aranda: A Critical Assessment

Sanaa, Yemen, 15 October, 2011, Samuel Aranda
for The New York Times

This photo —The World Press Photo of the Year for 2011— has stirred up a lot of reaction online recently. I first learned about it via FPN, where it generated an interesting if convoluted discussion. Since then it's been written about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and probably some other places too.

Much of the discussion I've seen has concerned the photo's religious overtones, in particular its reference to the Pieta archetype common in Western Art. There have also been comments about the West's inability to understand the East, Romeo and Juliette, Fatalism, Defiance, The Arab Spring, the use of gloves in wartime, and Spiderman Masks ("I come from a cultural background in which Spiderman, when he wants to declare his love to Mary Ann, lifts up his mask and becomes Peter Parker. Truth is revealed, anonymity, in a sacrificial move, is cast aside in the gift of one's face..."), among other things.

This commentary has been instructive but I think it overlooks something very essential: The photograph's compositional structure, which I think holds deep meaning.

Let's start with the central triangle formed by the head, elbow, and toe of the masked figure. It is outlined here in red.

These three body parts are of great significance in Yemenese culture. In fact the popular children's lyric "Head and shoulders, knees and toes," is known in Yemen simply as "Head, elbow, toes". In the photograph Aranda plays on that symbolism by aligning the parts in an emotionally fraught Pythagorean stasis yearning to return to childhood innocence. The fact that the triangle is acute rather than obtuse refers both to the situation and to the idiocy of war.

Countering the red triangle is the shirtless man's own triumphant graphical triumvirate, a head-elbow-toe triangle shown here in green.

These triangles are like guerilla warriors. Not only to do they face each other but they overlap, their hypotenuses touching in a gesture which mimics the gentle embrace of the photo's starcrossed protagonists. If there was ever a moment when A2 + B2 equaled something or other we learned in grade school, this photograph bravely depicts it. The triangles show that in today's battlefield there is no frontline. The Maginot has become the crossed hypotenuse.

Green means go. Red means stop. The photo has one foot on the gas and one on the brake. Can you smell the stench of burning rubber so common in wartime? The photograph transports us. Together acceleration and retardation resolve to equipoise, a delicious tension which, even if it feels unsteady, is nevertheless stable, for now, for us, for this brief moment in all of eternity.

Aranda represents this eternity in the space to the right of the figures. Here a circle fits perfectly between the frame and the red triangle. But this no mere tangential figure. This is the void, with all its grander implications for human consciousness in the pursuit of truth.

In the blue circle Aranda has captured everything that is not captured by the remainder of the photograph. A hint of shadow. Some funny brown stains. A burkha-ed shoulder. All the things which are beyond our understanding have been summarized in the way a salad summarizes a garden or, as in this case, a circle summarizes the quality of roundness. If acute triangles represent war, the softened arc of a complete curve counters with war's absence. What is the photographer's angle here? There is none. We've arrived at détente, the void.

Tying the image together are four axes of horizontal locution, three through the head region and one through both elbows. I've depicted them here as four yellow stripes:

These stripes echo the four yellow stripes of the Yemeni flag. What's that you say? The Yemeni flag has no yellow stripes? Tell the truth now, you had to look that up. You had no idea what the Yemeni flag looked like. That's because Westerners are ignorant scum. We can never understand other cultures. We don't know or care about their flags so we draw yellow stripes wherever we want. On photographs or maps, it doesn't matter. To the cowardly imperialist cowboy they're interchangeable. But while yellow stripes might work for Aruba, Aranda subverts the normal power dynamic. By divorcing photography from realms of analysis that deny or obscure its essence, he ensures that his stripes wave freely.

Amidst the many grand demarcations listed above lie the photo's forgotten nether regions, depicted here with pink Xes.

They rest like notes on a scale scattered across the frame, each in its own cell, incommunicado, unless these notes somehow develop code language like tapping the cellwall four times for a pack of cigarettes. The essential nature—or eidos— of the subjective experience of these Xes is defined by an irreducible singularity of the photographic image, as an index indicating, "that-has-been," to use Barthes' term. The photograph allows for the sight of self, not as a mirror but as an access point into a definition of identity—identity associated with consciousness, thus housing a whole; for it is in the photograph "where being coincides with self." Despite that, the Xes will never learn to communicate, nor will they acquire that cigarette which we could all use after wading through this analysis. They will never tap on the cellwall because they don't have brains, silly.

Finally, rising through war's ugly muck like a willful young Phoenix are the brightest hopes of our future, our children. In the graphic below I've depicted in blue the areas on the photo where my 6-year old managed to draw on it with a crayon while I was preoccupied on the phone. And then the little twerp denied it. As if!

Here we have tapped into the optimism of youth's unconscious while at the same time denying all of these relations of meaning. If I look hard I can see a cat's face. Also maybe some barbed wire fencing holding a cow in a pen. I'm not really sure. All I know is this photograph will never be distinguished from its referent—that which it represents; it simply is what it is, just as war is always hell. So says the young child, and he speaks the truth. Sometimes mine does anyway, at least when it serves his interest.

Which brings us back to the photo's central question. Who are we fighting for if not for the children? Who do we put on rubber gloves and a long black robe for? Is it not for the children? The next time I don my battle gear, it will be for them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Every Photographer in New York

...or at least the ones sketched so far by Jason Polan.

Cindy Sherman and David Byrne, 2009