Sunday, September 30, 2012

More fun with Tumblr...

I've been intrigued with online sequencing for a while. Wayne and Mark have each developed a nice rhythm to their Tumblrs, with each new image generally playing off some character of the previous one. Recently they've taken it one step further by comparing the random Tumblr feeds coming through their dashboards. I don't know how many Tumblrs these guys follow but I suspect it's a large number, so it's pretty awesome when images find themselves near similar neighbors just by chance.

For example, here's how an Adeline Mai image of two naked lovers was sequenced recently in Wayne's dashboard, followed by a Thomas Eakins photo via Fette.

And here's the same image shown on Mark's dashboard.

A few days later a Geoff Kern photo appeared on Wayne's Tumblr (unconsciously reblogged by him), mysteriously preceded by an identically shaped mushroom cloud.

Here's the same photo on Mark's dashboard. Nice.

Finally here's the Kern image on Noah Kalina's dashboard.

What's the significance? Possibly none. As one can see from these examples there's a lot of cross pollination and reblogging between Mark and Wayne. So perhaps certain themes are in the air at certain times, and sequences naturally follow. Some of it too might be attributed to the law of large numbers. If you throw enough images together into one giant thread, some interesting sequences are bound to turn up.

Both of these explanations may be true but I prefer another: Sometimes the world spits out chunks of pure serendipity. And when that happens you've got to be paying attention.

What's on your Tumblr dashboard? If you find a serendipitous sequence along the lines of the ones shown above I'd love to see it. Take a screen shot and send it along. If I get enough I'll put them in a future post.

Addendum 10/4: Here's one Mark stumbled on today:

Addendum 10/19: A recent sequence from Jack Nelson's dashboard:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Andrew Kochanowski: What Was He Thinking?

Andrew Kochanowski is a photographer based in Detroit.

"I was taken to Hong Kong by business for several months last year, where the sheer opulence for display in the Central District was tempting. The number of sales assistants in the most humble stores dwarf what we Americans are used to. This was at closing time, and as I was walking by I saw the manager outlined behind the very obvious brand-name sign on the door. At the same time I glimpsed the female assistant, on her knees with her shoes coming off her feet, straightening up the wares on the right. There is no use denying what that all suggested. I framed it the way I did to put the horns on the man and cut off the woman's hands.  The screen-like suggestions of the boxes on either side and the main display of the store add to the fairly obvious set of metaphors in this photo, though in all honesty I didn't see them at the time. This is a one-snap, walk-by, so neither halves of the couple noticed my presence. "

"The place where this was shot is the Volcano National Park on the Big Island in Hawaii, so that should substantially reduce the mystery of the fog. The big crater in the park is surrounded by hot vents which make for an eerie atmosphere when they feel like it, and they felt like it combined with an overcast sky that day they felt like it. I look for places like that when I go out shooting, as I suppose most street photographers do, and when I find one I tend to hang about for a while to see what happens. Here a family stopped by to look at the the vents, or maybe the rim of the crater behind me. The little girl was enraptured by the hissing or the sulphur smell and didn't realize that Mom was leaving town…  all I had to do was stand there and snap. This was one of those photos that I felt would be interesting right away because the little girl's arm was swinging up like she was scared or anxious. She wasn't. That's what l photos do, lie to you and make you convince yourself you understand them."

"My eye wanders about a lot until I see something from which I can build a photo. I figured out a while ago that's how I tend to go about my business, though it really isn't conscious. Some people listen to music when they go out photographing, but I can't do that, I need to relax and let things come to me. The first thing I saw in this scene was the man in the background silhouetted by the window of the junked-up car. Yes, it was a start, so I came closer and realized that the white and orange colors were repeating themselves. Tropes all of course but at least there were two of them so I began thinking there may be something in the photo. Mostly there is nothing no matter how much we hope, but ever so often things like to fall into place. I was at a gas station which holds classic car meets-- there goes that question of the old Camaro-- at around 9 pm. I stood and waited, snapped a few shots when the little dog was closer to the center of the frame, but knew it was going to be OK when the lady's expression turned to…that. No one noticed me. I was not classic enough. As soon as I shot this frame I left and went home."

"This is a traditional light play snapshot. I was waiting for a morning flight to New York at Detroit's airport, with the eastern sun poking through the windows behind me. I did nothing to find the scene. It found me. All I did was dial back the exposure to make sure I wouldn't blow out the woman's face, and moved so that i could get the tails of the planes into the frame for a little balance. Blue and yellow always works to create something, I think. I ended up sitting next to the man who is concentrating on his BlackBerry, and learned that he had been well-known NFL football player, an All Pro actually, on his way to New York to interview for a talent agency to take him on as a client. He had retired from pro football a year back or so because his knees had taken a beating, lost a lot of weight, and had hopes for an announcing career. The woman on the other side of him asked for advice about her high school football-playing son. I didn't tell him I had taken his picture, but figured he'd by OK with it even if he knew, being a former player and all." 

"Sometimes I like being a hooker, working a corner until all the prospects go home. I was in New York, trawling through SoHo with the twin goals of seeing if I could find a spot that didn't just serve salad and maybe get a decent photo. I set myself up by this corner store window because the light was hitting it just so, making the layering effect that I like. There was nothing to it more than that at the moment, but I have patience and waited for a customer. I was thinking that the mannequin that's on the right would be a decent anchor to this story, and stood until I had it just on the right side. Nothing much happened for a while, just some people passing by, until maybe ten or fifteen minutes into it, as I was worrying the sun was starting to move, the man showed up at the window. I confess, what I really was hoping to get from this scene was not this photo. As the woman in red on the left showed up and gave me her back, the man pulled out a compact camera and very deliberately started taking shots of the display, maybe for his wife. He noticed me standing six feet away and looked straight at me. I hoped he would take a photo of me so I could reciprocate, but he didn't. Still looking my way he slowly lowered the camera and put it in his pocket, and stood there for me to photograph him right there right like this. Seconds later both he and the woman in red were gone."

"This zoo shot is one of the last I took using film, how about that? It's a simple photograph, I know, that announced itself like a fire alarm. I was in the arctic exhibit at the Detroit Zoo with my son when I saw a large man coming into the area. Even I can add two and two, so I scurried forward, planted myself in the middle of the walkway and hoped fortune would send a tan, large bear overhead. About the only choice I had was whether to shoot vertically or horizontally, and I chose horizontal-- there was only time for a couple of snaps. I'm fairly sure the man saw me snapping, and fairly sure he knew why, but we pretended not to notice each other."

"A different kind of zoo, an indoor water park in February, in northern Ohio, true flyover country. Quite possibly the fattest people in middle America come here to cannonball into one of twenty or so water attractions, eat at the candy hut and snack on plate-sized cookies. It had, as I recall, a tiger cub in a cage that you could get photographed with for $20 or so. I didn't manage to get a decent shot of that, though I tried mightily, hoping against hope for a feline-human incident, especially with the 20-something cage attendant yanking the little tiger around to sit on its photo stand and get pawed by sticky-fingered children. Being in a surly mood that day, while my son and his friend were getting wet, I went outside, confirmed the place was symbolically and actually a pen, and was delighted to see some humans in captivity."

"South Beach, Miami, is one of my favorite spots in the U.S. Not for the big-breasted store mannequins who wear the wonderfully vulgar T-shirts, or the live models with bolt-ons, but for the intersection of old, tourist, local, and new. Oh, and the gorgeous light that manages not to destroy detail, but I can't quite understand how. I stationed myself at the foot of Lincoln Avenue, a block off Collins. There is a Spanish-speaking barbershop directly across from me, a bank, a McDonalds, and a bunch of beach stores, and behind me the outdoor mall selling all things American to half of Italy, Spain, and South America tourists. I saw this man slowly walking across the median, oblivious to it all. This is actually a photograph of the light I saw that day that he was tired of."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dan Powell

Palisades State Park, Oregon, 1988, Dan Powell

I don't think this blog has many readers in Eugene (at least not compared to, say, Moldavia (*see comment)) but if there are any local readers out there, Dan Powell's current exhibit at the Knight Library is worth checking out. There are a few composite images but the bulk of the show is classic b/w landscapes like the one above. Most are natural scenes with a slight twist, like the intrusion of the parking lot above. All photos show a great sense of form and a wonderful eye for visual discrepancies and pattern shifts. The silver gelatin prints are fantastic, with beautiful tones. I think this is the best photo show currently on display in the Willamette Valley, and yes I've seen them all.

As usual the show has gotten zero press but Eugenians should know about it. But the exhibit ends in 3 days! Late notice, I know. Sorry. The photos are on the first floor of the library in the two foyers directly behind the check-out. Be sure to visit both sides. If you can't see the show (or even if you can) more info and photos by Powell are here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Q & A with Mark Peter Drolet

Mark Peter Drolet

Mark Peter Drolet is the founding editor of MPD. If you haven't yet explored the MPD Tumblr I suggest spending a bit of time there before reading this conversation.
BLAKE ANDREWS: You seem like you have a good handle on Tumblr. The amount you post is hard to keep up with. What is your daily process?
MARK PETER DROLET: I'm not entirely sure that I have a good "handle" on Tumblr because I honestly don't know how to situate myself within that matrix, or where I am even situated for that matter. In either case, it's definitely not what has shaped my approach and driven me by any means.
Let's break it down. Where do you find your images? Do you attempt to sequence them thematically?
The way I see it, I'm sort of on a trip. Like anyone else, I have decades of imagery cataloged in my head and on my book shelves. I was an art history/film studies graduate in Montreal and research and archiving was drilled into me early on. I enjoyed it, it fueled my interests, and the linkage that exists out there in all artistic disciplines fascinated me. So to your query about thematics, yes, there's no other real way that I approach any of this stuff. Decades worth of colors, themes, formal elements--they all get tossed into the mix.

I'm sure you can relate in regards to the unplanned and unexpected nature of street photography. I find that I'm in an evolving and ongoing state of research and the journey is just so great because I'm not necessarily looking for specific relationships but rather making them as I go along.
So you're saying that all of these images are actually ones you remember and hold in your head? I assumed you were using computer searches or Tumblr feeds for at least part of it.
As for source material, man, I don't even know where to start. Books were definitely where it started on this blog, hundred of archived scans and such. A virtual cornucopia of starting points. But I was never (and am still not) a fellow that reads a book from cover to cover. I'll be twenty pages in and lock in on a reference and then head to another book where there was one related bit that fascinated me and so forth and so forth. It's a bit of a lily pad jump from image to image and from day to day, and that follows through in the editing for this blog, which in so many ways is mental cataloging and me making sense of interesting relationships. Often they're formally based, pure visual connection, and often they're driven by a specific hue or mood like fog or the apex of a hilltop or whatever mundane element I'm working through.
I played around with a game of Google Image Telephone a while back but that was before I discovered yours or Wayne's Tumblrs. I think it's what you guys are doing in a way. And it's in a way that probably wasn't possible even 2 or 3 years ago. Digital archiving has opened up whole new worlds of mixing and sequencing photos.
The internet has no doubt opened the floodgates of possibilities, not only in the way that larger archives are presented by museums, galleries, and others, but perhaps more importantly for zines, young artists and the more "unpolished" photographers out there that in yesteryear might have struggled for a voice.
Were those initial book scans related to your work? Don't you research photos for book covers and such?
Well, while undertaking my Master's degree I started doing a load or archival research for professors and folks at the National Gallery of Canada" and photographers but I later took on being a freelance photographer concentrating on editorial work and some commercial stuff as the kids came about. I did shoot a lot of book cover work as well. Tumblr-esque possibilities for editing were something I did indeed do for my own stuff, and an approach that seemed to work for me in the way that it opened up a bunch of new possibilities for direction of the work and mostly personal stuff.
When did you start the Tumblr?
I believe it was in late-2010. August maybe?
OK, so you post an image. Then how do you find the next related one? Does it jar some memory of a past photo? Or do you just sift through feeds until something pops up?
Well, several ways I guess--and it's not like they're unique or anything. Again, much like yourself, I just have a visual language stored in the ol' data banks. Just like you might spot some fellow on the street who has that John Travolta-styled chin, and you make a genotypical relationship between the two, I'll drag an image into the forefront and often match it with something I know of (and hunt that image down) or with something I've already archived in my drafts that's waiting for a friend.

Some weeks I'll go into foraging mode and collate images and leave them in the margins until better/other images get discovered. It's like tossing up a stack of baseball cards and then enjoying re-shifting how they're ordered, where they're placed, and how they play off one another. I guess I'm looking for meaning, and it's been an educational little journey. I'm always aware that it's for myself primarily and if others truly latch on (and I've gotten enough feedback to know that indeed that's the case) then that's just good gravy.

Plus, much like it was when I got hold of my Hasselblad way back in the day, there's a built-in discipline with those relationships on Tumblr. Whereas with the square format you deal with an entirely different visual language, how you organize things and how you begin to interpret things, Tumblr equates that with the vertical nature of its distribution. It's a new discipline in some ways, and a bit foreign because it's all digital as well.
Tumblr can be a very ephemeral experience, at least for me. The vertical nature sort of feeds into the momentary quality. Things disappear down the scroll, and into oblivion? It's all about the current post, locked in the present. I'm wondering if you agree. And taking a step back how do you view your Tumblr from a more historic/archiving perspective? Does it have value to future researchers? Or as a whole? Or is it all about the next image?
I have definitely benefited from turning tons of folks on to new work, even more obscure works by artists they are accustomed with, and in that respect I feel a wee bit satisfied to make a small contribution to what on some days feels like a really vapid little website. Thinking of Joerg's recent "educational contribution" stance, I feel like I'm definitely reaching and challenging folks/followers and they're definitely letting me know, although it has never been my intent to post those exchanges, or turn the blog into a different type of photography forum.

As well, the numbers start to shape what's going on too, Blake. Not in the way that it dictates my choices, but more in the way that I am made conscious of people's expectations and intrigue.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this but I see some of that style sneaking into other platforms like books. The attention is as much on the sequencing and throwing expectations askew as it is on the photos. The current show at Blue Sky is WM Hunt's collection which is maybe organized along the same lines. It's called The Unseen Eye, and in some ways the show seems like a test of how far can Hunt can stretch that phrase and still capture dissimilar images.
In some ways, the way I treat my blog is equivalent to a French studio style hanging in a gallery. If you take the groupings in as bunches, I think there's some real meat there and ideally for me, that's where the gold is. Book form brings it more closely to the way that I've approached this style of editing with my own photographs--whether it be tacking them to a wall and shifting them around for weeks until you find the right fit, or grouping them in ways that were completely unintentional and looking for new meaning. There is often a tiny overlap between what I'm seeing and others are digesting and it's kind of important and exciting to try and discover where that overlap is. For me at least. The blog in many ways is a daily attempt at getting close to that puddle.

As I type this, just know that I'm grounded about what I'm doing and don't take claim for any outstanding originality or the like. It's a trip. A little visual journey with an audience.
There is a tension I think in presenting things on a Tumblr, knowing that they will again be thrown into a giant mixing bowl of other Tumblr feeds. So the images in your sequence might make sense there but many people might consume them just as singles amid a stream of other stuff. That's the nature of Tumblr. I think it's hard to maintain any integrity and maybe that's a good thing in some ways. The world is one big ipod shuffle now. But it gets back to the question of how you view MPD historically or as a whole. How do you?
On a good day I put forth the work in threads of narrative, but singles are no doubt plucked and have their own meaning. The stand alones no doubt stand alone, but those that benefit from a new narrative thread can be given new/alternate meaning and that's sort of neat.
They might wind up in Wayne's thread or Bryan's or who knows, and take on a whole new meaning. It sort of reinforces the idea of photos possessing only the meaning shown in the image. You can impose all of these narratives and guesses but in end any photo is just what's in the frame.
That being said, the integrity of meaning being hermetically enclosed inside the frames of the photograph and such, I find myself playing with how much I can stretch that. Pulling from the great sea that is the information highway and championing some gems in a new light is kind of a kick. I guess my angle has been to create a grab bag of tiny lyrical interludes for those that are faithful to the dribblings of what I post up. Kind of like wading in to the stream at a given point and following it along from there. I'm conscious that the entire thing can't be taken in as a true series, but I'm just trying to communicate with breadcrumbs and if you follow the trail hopefully it's a fruitful journey. I guess there's always that Abstract Expressionist trap where the meaning is so intrinsically tied to theory that you miss your audience entirely because they don't get it.
Tumblr doesn't feel like a classroom however, and I'm surely no teacher.
It is a bit like a classromm in that it's a very one directional platform compared to a blog or other social networks. There isn't as much interaction or comments, just the old model of an "expert" disseminating data. It's more megaphone than telephone. Or maybe it's a football field of people swapping megaphones.
Agreed, although if you're listening then hopefully that's a good thing for you because I'm using a thoughtful and decent toned voice.
What sort of feedback have you gotten?
Once I acknowledged that it was a bit meditative for me to work through these creatives I thought I might bail when it got exhausting and when the results seemed a tad empty. The funny thing is that it became a portal similar to that of real-life relationship building with a handful of peers and other photographers. I have met some interesting folks and have had some no doubt beneficial exchanges with those people behind the scenes--which is neat although not novel by any means--and I found that it differed from the feedback one gets at the end of their lengthy photo essay or more traditional blog entry (much like yours). It differed in the way that it became a lengthier conversation instead of an abbreviated " great work/great point, thanks for sharing, etc) type of feedback, although I'm sure your experience in that department hasn't been that dry. Again, the upswing has been somewhat limited.

I'm also intent on exposing the margins as I may have hinted at before. I've discovered so many artists on the fringes, part of tiny group shows, fresh out of school, or even embracing the old "screw you establishment motif" that several little upstart galleries and zines have taken to the internet for.
I don't think we really addressed the archiving question. Do you think your Tumblr or any Tumblr has a historic role as an archive or just as an art project? Or is it all just in the moment?
Tumblr has become as I believe you put it a while back "eyeball currency". People are still trying to figure out how to milk its possibilities and photographers, much like news agencies and others have been employing its pedestrian/democratic nature to their advantage. As for my blog, other than it being an ongoing stream of consciousness, I hope it can be an archival resource for others (and I get messages weekly that indeed it is for many out there). If that has historical significance in some small capacity than great, but to your question I guess that if I do not elevate it to another platform or have it take shape in some other form, it just might indeed have serious limitations. Some weeks my goal is simply to turn folks on to images they haven't been bombarded with on Tumblr or elsewhere and if their interest lies where mine often does, then those images become batons that lead them to discover new artists, new work, etc.

For it to have true impact, for there to be a historical hook, I think my blog or others out there need to have a more specific and opinionated voice attached to it. They need to be truly didactic rather than mere visual associations.
That feeds into my next question. You feature such a variety of photos on MPD that it's almost beyond any aesthetic. I wonder what type of photos you like best? What is your personal taste? Who are your favorite photographers?
Larry Towell and his book The World From My Front Porch. It was a gift from a neighbor when I was like ten, and it had a pretty big impact on me. The book itself was a great compilation of history, of tactile memories and family photos. Knowing what I know now about turning the camera on my family it's a bit overwhelming to see how genuine the feeling is and how thoughtful his approach was. The book and the rest of his career have concentrated on the notion of land, landlessness, how land defines you and what happens when you lose it and that path was what first clued me into the power of what the camera and the picture maker could accomplish.
Cool. I like his photos a lot. Don't see many Magnum guys showing family stuff.
Gabor Szilasi was also a professor of mine and influenced my eye to a great degree. The work was steeped in Quebec and the small town culture, but from a Hungarian's eye. Then there's all the regular players like the New Topographers, Meyerowitz, Shore, etc.
Sounds like you're into the classic stuff, the person wandering around with a camera finding things, rather than more conceptual po-mo shit.
Indeed, though as mentioned earlier, the internet has blown open the canon to incorporate a lot more young folks creating and we're blessed to see their experiments. Plus, I've assisted a whole range of guys and it's been fun to have a window into how those guys/gals operate within the industry mould.
I wonder if someone young can still make a name for themselves just going around finding scenes to shoot. To gain success nowadays usually requires some twist or angle. Which brings up the question addressed in recent posts by Colin and Joerg. What if anything do you think is new in photography?
I think editorial-styled storytelling has been impactful over the last few years. Work that starts, continues and trails about for a bit. Photographers that fly out somewhere on assignment and share their wares about the streets of Mumbai, the widow of some soldier in Germany, or whatever. These types of stories have been magnified in many respects over the last little while and seek out the masses that can now be reached more efficiently with the internet and such. They seem to have increased their share of the real estate in the photography world and sometimes bleed into the territory of fine art.

I guess I'm talking about photo essay type work, that shares a bit of that Magnum-styled journalism but doesn't necessarily need to be steeped in rigid narrative or come from a specific platform. Tumblr is a weird beast. It's sort of like a TV set that is on 24 hours a day and the content runs the gamut. Photographers that use it frequently have a self-promotional bend to their blogs, updating fans of their work, about upcoming projects, exhibitions, print sales, etc. It feels like a cork board of sorts, with snippets of what's new.
Hmm. I actually think the opposite is true, that the power of straight photojournalism has been somewhat diminished recently by democratization of photography with cameraphones, instagram, etc. I don't see as many straight up photodocumentary stories as I did a decade ago.
I just believe there are so many more of them and they have entered that social language in a more plentiful manner--albeit perhaps watered down when compared to the past.

When I was working in a healthy capacity in Toronto, the new waves of photographers were your all-in-one photographer/digital artist type folks, and they became a bit of a threat to how photographs were being made in that town. Their work, whether it was Matrix-styled green shifted crap or otherwise seemed to right the trend wave more than anything. The focus was on merging the painterly with the conceptual and a lot of that more "realistic" type stuff was relegated to the hobbyist ranks. But that's just the environment that I was working in at the time. When we moved to Texas, the vibe I got was one of a much larger market, and as a tie-in to what I was mentioning earlier, it just seemed that there was a much looser scene happening on the West Coast, mixed in with the more serious culture-pushing stuff.
I think the major trend is to avoid trends. It gets tiring. I know my own photos are probably derivative of those who've come before. But it's just how I see. I can't consciously uproot and follow some other anti-trend.
Dude I'm with you but hang in there--our style of work will be retro again soon. Don't toss your negative binders son.
So just keep making work and wait for the occasional 1 year periods every generation or so when it's fashionable.
You know, one thing that we can say is "newish" in photography is that a whole host of work never really makes it beyond the digital realm. I was reminded of this when a friend came by and I gifted him a print and his reply was: " It's always nice to see work move from a screen to a wall", and I just realized how that it often not the case. The images sort of live out there in the ephemeral universe.
Tom Griggs made that point about Instagram but surprisingly it didn't really go viral. All the Instagram stuff is aimed, perhaps for the first time ever, at the screen as final result. No print needed. Which has been happening for a while but now is finally fully shifted.
Photographic production in that sense often lacks a visceral component--at all stages of production. Notwithstanding the actual camera of course.
Communication has already made the leap completely. You don't print out emails. This conversation will never be printed.
How about signatures? They're gone.
Let's extend the question to Tumblr. What if anything is new about Tumblr?
I think the very nature of Tumblr's sharing platform is definitely shaping and influencing how and what people choose to post and/or highlight--in part because they surely become aware that their own posting habits have elements and the images/text/etc. have a distinct voice. To that point, the sum of their efforts (whether 1. actively seeking out goods and combing archives or websites like myself, 2. passively liking and reflagging posts and tossing them back into the Tumblr universe) creates a language of sorts that will be shared by several other folks in no doubt very different ways.

So on the one hand you might go into curating and editing with specific delivery and intended meaning and that gets completely blown up the minute someone extracts it from the flow of imagery you might have created--and that's pretty neat. In some ways this speaks directly to what you had mentioned about the power of series vs singles and how that all goes down. There's no doubt that certain singles stand on their own as all-around intriguing and kick ass compositions, but the attachment that is made between multiples also makes for often insightful observations, some of which might stick with the viewers or not.

Tumblr seems to be, by the very nature of its all-inclusiveness, able to champion the everyday and bring it to the forefront. So much of the photography that splashes across the dashboard comes from the fringes and from the unpolished halls of day-to-day people's hard drives and cameras. In the plenty arises something cool. I believe that writers and photographers that produce in an industry capacity enjoy having the ability to extend some tentacles on here and have it be some good ongoing discourse (and I've been told so by both) Website like Tim Barber's tiny vices site or even Jake Stangel's Too Much Chocolate come to mind in that respect because they became mini-promo forums for artists spearheaded by artists and in a lot of ways that is what Tumblr can sort of reflect for photographers from time to time--a sense of community. Listen, I'm not floating around with my Birkenstocks and talking free love here, but the ability to pit stop and network for these people is a strengthening and highly supportive little deal. The cross-influence that's been taking place with shooter's works is also sort of interesting. 

It's also free promo, there's sometimes bizarre camaraderie but in the end it's the place where most photographers congregate these days--at least those that are shooting a lot of editorial work and combining travel and personal projects in their portfolios.

In terms of what I'm doing week in and week out, I'd say it's a healthy blend. To not observe or obey the fact that many of my posts are linked is not to be read as missing out on anything. It's not always a rolling thread of narrative. I'll be honest that I do take pride in the fact that this evolving collection has in many respects come to be an archive of sorts, a deepening well of resource for a bunch of the teeming masses that turn to Tumblr for eye candy or conversations every day. My feeling is that on a good day I'll unearth a bunch of golden nuggets, many that have been seldom seen--even by the seasoned photography connoisseur.

There's no doubt that on some days that's what fuels me--the fact that I know I'm bringing something somewhat original to the massive pool of curation that we see here month in and month out. Don't get me wrong, I like and post some recognizable imagery, a bunch of the old school stuff that no doubt baptized my ongoing love for photography. If I'm lucky though, digging around sometimes feels like finding a fellow's old suitcase packed with some random personal belongings, and just making up and building up whatever kind of person he was or life he may have led.

All in all, it's making a contribution like any other contribution, with the knowledge that people are going to twist and shuffle and deconstruct the content like a Rubik's cube. Different combinations, start, stop, repeat. Sort of like bona fide Tumblr agency where to be a wizard you need only to be online.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thoughts on Tumblr

It's been interesting reading the variety of responses to Colin Pantall's What's New in Photography? post. I've discovered a few new photographers and gotten reacquainted with many more. For those just catching up, Joerg has compiled a complete list here.

All of the responses to date have focused on image makers. Which is appropriate since Colin asked specifically about photographers. But in a certain sense that side of the equation hasn't changed much since Talbot and Daguerre. You use a device to write light onto some recordable media. That's a photo.

What's really undergone a revolution in recent years is the other end of it, our consumption of photos. The basic situation is that the world is awash in photos and there's no way to deal with them all. So we've set up all sorts of interesting edits and filters and curations to help sort things out. Colin's post might be seen as one small stab at sorting. Ask the experts and see what they say. That's one way.

Another way is through collective editing, and the collective consumption aid of the moment is Tumblr. 2012 was the year I began to use Tumblr and to realize its possibilities. I contribute to a few group Tumblrs. I post a photo per day on this one. And I follow many Tumblrs through my dashboard. So I may be viewing Tumblr through a newby's impressionable glasses. But I think Tumblr thinking does exert some influence on photography generally, and that influence is growing.

The view from my dashboard
There are many Tumblrs where people post their own photos, in which case a Tumblr acts a bit like the oldschool one-a-day photoblogs. But the Tumblrs which interest me more are what I might term third party Tumblrs, the ones which comb the web and repost interesting images (and sometimes text and other items) by others. These Tumblrs are in turn combed through by other Tumblrs, resifted and resorted ad infinitum. Taken as a whole the Tumblr community forms a sort of hive mind, a collective snapshot showing which photographs resonate at any given moment. It's a simple equation: the more notes a photo has the more it's been seen. Which in some sense is the most powerful variable regarding a photo's fate. Billions of photos are produced each day but only a small percentage will have any legacy. And to the extent that Tumblr can track that, it's a great analytical tool.

The other aspect which interests me about Tumblr is its effect on editing and sequencing. Third party Tumblrs act a bit like radio DJs. Some shows have a theme. Some sequence songs one by one. Some play the hits. Some have no pattern at all. Whatever the case Tumblrs tend to pick and choose individual photos without much regard for original context. Whatever fits the show.

Every Tumblr has this initial layer of editing but that's hardly the end. Once photos enter into a specific Tumblr's stream, that stream is shuffled and restreamed by other Tumblrs. By the time it gets to the second or third level there is no longer a DJ. It's just one big shuffle. At the end of the chain is the Tumblr user encountering the photos through his or her Tumblr dashboard, where all of these photo streams feed into one sequential river. I think a dashboard acts a bit like automated style control. The photos coming through a certain person's dashboard might take on a signature flavor depending on what Tumblrs they follow. Regardless, by the time any particular photo hits the end user it's been shuffled so many times it's lost most of its initial context. The only way to examine the photo in the context of its creation is to click through to the image, which I don't think happens much.

Is everyone still following me? Or have you clicked unfollow already?

The upshot of this is the age old saw. The only thing you can know about a photo is what's depicted in the frame. You can make guesses about narrative and staging but now more than ever, what's in the photo matters. Because someone looking at that photo via Tumblr isn't going to know about your project or your special sequencing or maybe even your name. It's just the photo.

This is why Tumblr is probably ill suited to the display of cohesive projects. I've heard some complain about Magnum's Rochester Project or LBM Dispatch being a bad use of Tumblr. I think what this complaint is really about is that these Tumblrs are being fed through a dashboard along with hundreds of other feeds. Stripped of context, the project's photos lose their punch.

Le Luxe by Roe Ethridge
OK, so in one sense this is nothing new. We've been living in a shuffle culture for a while now. Tumblr is merely the latest manifestation. But I think what is new is that Tumblr editing is beginning to effect nonTumblr applications such as books. Recent monographs by Roe Ethridge, Jason Fulford, or Ron Jude, for example, seem to sequence photos in a deliberately shuffled way. Maybe it's just me but that randomized style seems to have gained currency in recent years.

Taking a step back I think the incredible rise of the photobook over the past decade may be partly a reaction to this shuffle culture. A book is perhaps the only display method in which photographers can exert some control over consumption. Of course you can read a book in many ways but it does have a traditional beginning, order, and ending, and photographers go to great lengths to edit their monographs accordingly. The interaction of photos contained in a book can be somewhat controlled, but put those same photos in a gallery or on a website or in a Tumblr, and they are unleashed. So the urge to put photos into book form takes on added meaning.

Perhaps the most contemporary method of displaying photos is to do something completely random like publishing a deck of playing cards. Each new shuffle brings a new edit. Each new shuffle brings the deck closer to Tumblr. Shuffle it as many times as you want. It'll never regain its original order. Which is fine, because only when it's been fully randomized can the game begin.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Past Forward

Fall is nearly here. Photobloggers are beginning to kickstart the blogging year with various projects. Soon the year-end favorite photobook lists will start to surface in various places. One book which hasn't yet gotten much attention this year is Warwick Mountain Series by Philip Perkis.

Since coming across it a few months ago at Powell's, this book has quickly grown into my favorite Perkis book. Not that there is much competetion. Perkis has only published two other titles, The Sadness of Men in 2008, followed the next year by Teaching Photography: Notes Assembled. Both are excellent, but I think Warwick Mountain Series is his finest.

The book contains 43 black and white photos made by Perkis while working under an NEA grant, presumably near Warwick Mountain in upstate New York. Although the majority could be technically classified as landscapes, they show a street photographer's attention to chance, moment and formal juxtaposition. These photographs describe a place, yes, but that function seems incidental. Mostly they describe Perkis and the way he see things. Whether it's a grouping of trees or a child in the tub, a strong visual voice dominates. It's concerned with line, shadow, tonality, and being in the right spot.

"I'm not attached to any particular subject, which is unusual for a photographer," Perkis told an interviewer in 2007. "What holds my work together is the way I see and the fact that I use very simple equipment. I still photograph the same way, technically, that I started with in 1957, with a small camera and black-and-white film. I carry my camera with me all the time. When I see something that moves me or interests me, I take a picture. I don't care what it's a picture of."

A simple camera, black and white film, natural light, no particular subject. Perkis' work harkens back to a simpler time in photography, perhaps the 1970s, before the rise of color and before thinking had completely superseded seeing. The possibilities of the visual hunt still topped the list of motivations. Fans of that hunt and of that era's b/w tricksters —Friedlander, Dane, Wessel, et al— will enjoy these photographs. Not all are of trees. Humans and animals appear here and there.

Now teaching at Pratt Institute, Perkis lost the sight of his left eye —his camera eye— in 2007. "It just went - in one day - due to a retinal occlusion." It took him several months to get into photography again. Now his photos are "a little deeper, a little sadder and a little closer to the bone." (quoted here)

The photographs in Warwick Mountain Series are well complemented by the book's excellent production. Nexus Press went all out, printing a limited edition of 1000 clothbound copies, each one signed and numbered, with clear mylar cover protecting a tipped in cover photo. The interior reproductions are 200 line screen duotones made on a Heidelberg Kord press.

The tonal values are rich and extremely condensed toward middle gray (I've tried to keep this look in the accompanying jpgs). The word muddy comes to mind. This is black and white photography with no whites nor blacks. I'm not sure how much of this effect is Perkis' natural style and how much is in the printing. But once one gets use to the effect it's sort of pleasing and helps unify the book. The reproductions have an old fashioned look similar to what might've been found in books 40 years ago, further enforcing the sensibility of time passing and of Perkis' old school style.

As we look ahead this fall to what is new in photography, it's worth tipping a hat to that style, and to the past. Warwick Mountain Series may be hard to find in stores this booklover's season —New copies are already selling secondhand for $350— but those who seek it out will be richly rewarded.

All photographs shown above are scans from Warwick Mountain Series by Philip Perkis

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Charalampos Kydonakis: What Was He Thinking?

Charalampos Kydonakis, aka Dirty Harry, is a photographer based in Rethymnon, Crete.


"This summer I went to a Cretan sheppard folk festival. Inside a crowd of hundreds of people this scene caught my attention: A man, probably a relative of the girl, had hugged her and a priest nearby had grabbed her hand. It seemed weird to me. Usually people hold the hands of priests waiting for God's help. Now the priest himself had to ask God's help from someone else. I took 3 shots there and none of the three people paid attention to me. Probably the energy between them was more powerful than anything else around them. In one click I caught the priest's eyes closed. I'm not a religious guy at all but maybe that girl was an angel, giving light to a blind man. Well, I guess not. Just a science fiction tale of my mind for a moment there."


"I saw this guy (or was it a werewolf?) on a summer day near the seaside of my town, Rethymnon of Crete. I was amazed by his hairy shoulders and started to follow him on the pavement, trying to shoot a photo of him. I knew that the photos I took were disappointing, as the background was awful, full of cars and touristic labels. I didn't give up and continued following him. At some moment he entered the open parking space of the port of the town and stopped, crossing his hands like this, trying to remember where his car was. This was the moment I was waiting for. The asphalt of the parking was the background I was trying for 5 minutes to frame neutrally the hairy creature."


"I spent a night playing music with friends inside a local taverna in a small village near my town. The grandson of the owner of the taverna started to dance. Some people made a circle around him as usually happens in Greece when somebody gets up to dance. A dog joined the company. The boy seemed to enjoy his dance. When I went to take a photo he stopped dancing and looked at me this way. The last years I have shot photos of many people who got angry at me cause I photographed them without asking before. I think this boy was the most angry of all of them. I had interrupted him, he wasn't dancing for everyone. He was dancing only for him and his friends."


"One night on my cousin's farm I wanted to shoot photos of the sheep there. He told me that I should wait first and shoot photos after he had milked them, because they would get afraid and the milking would be impossible afterwards. When everything was finished I got in the shed and took a photo, then they got afraid and went outside altogether. This is a wireless flash double exposure click, in which I pointed the second flash on that rectangular box on the wall over the sheep. The word "sheep" in greek is used metaphorically to describe a herd of identical units with no personality and will. This box to my eyes before the click was something that could maybe distinguish that sheep's existence from the rest of the herd."


"In 2009 I bought a flash with a cable in order to use a tool I had never tried before. This photo was taken the second day that I had my new equipment. It's the only one I kept from a 2 hour night walk in the town of Aidipsos. After shooting a lot of uninteresting shots, I tried to make experiments with different angles to the flash direction. I think this shot with the glass shadows was the only one that night that had something from me in it. All the rest were just portraits of frightened people."


"This photo isn't a street photo, it's a portait of my girlfriend. We were walking in the woods and at some moment I asked her to hide her face with her scarf. Initially I shot the photo without the flash. It was too dark. I took a second shot with the pop eye flash. The light was too normal. Then came to my mind an older photo (below) where a random position of my flash on the cable gave this result with a shot on the opposite side of the sunlight:


I tried this time to understand how I had to place the flash so that I got a lens flare. I took some more shots of her, until I found the right angle to have the light effect. This photo made me understand that my girlfriend's thoughts are purple coloured.


"This photo is my first double flash exposure in one click. Not knowing yet what exactly I had to do, I first flashed the man and after some seconds with the bulb button still pressed I flashed the girl. My initial intention was to put two separate worlds together in one frame. When I saw the photo in the pc, I saw under the white confusing (and maybe connecting or disconnetcting) lines the top of the girl's t-shirt leading to the man's eye, shaped like a street. I don't know, maybe it was a man's black tear going straight to a girl's heart."


"After some hours of drinking and dancing at a wedding, it was late and not many people were still there. I sat on my chair to rest for a while. At the next table I saw one girl looking closely the fish in the glass bowl. I went right on the opposite side and shot a portrait of her with the camera behind the glass and the flash at the left side near her face and the glass. I didn't know exactly what the result would be or how the face would be distorted as the shot was taken instantaneously before I realized how I would frame and shoot under other conditions.

Maybe my descriptions refer a lot on my flash experiments while shooting. I try to create my own light and make pictures that wouldn't be this way under normal light conditions. The result isn't always the desired one. Sometimes it's the expected, sometimes better than the expected, most of the times worse, simply trash.

Photography will always be for me a game with light, aiming to a storytelling result. Sometimes it works, most of the times not. Always the upcoming question in my mind is how the following photos will be."

Friday, September 7, 2012


What follows is a list of quotes I compiled for a while on my website. I'm currently revamping my site and eliminating this page along with some other things. So I thought I'd post it here to have it somewhere online still. They are various things I've heard photographers say in the past 12 years or so. Most are from Blue Sky artist talks during the time I lived in Portland before 2006. I used to attend most of those lectures (and even gave one myself), and when I got home from them I'd jot down the most memorable thing I'd heard that night. And some of the things below were just heard in passing conversation. I consider them a sort of bite-sized oral history.

"Any photo taken today, even the least interesting ones, will be interesting in 50 or 100 years."
--Chris Rauschenberg, 8/9/01

"When I photograph, I am not necessarily attracted to specific subject matter. Instead, I'm interested in how a subject presents itself."
-- Nathan Lyons, 10/2/01

"I used a rangefinder because I didn't want to worry about the edge thing. I just wanted to make photos of certain subjects and let the edges take care of themselves."
-- Douglas Frank, 11/8/01

"When I look back at old contact sheets, I look for shots that look like someone else took them. I look for ones that show me a new direction."
-- Stewart Harvey, 12/13/01

"I often look at books of photographs that don't appeal to me, to try to understand why I don't like them."
--Stu Levy, 1/10/02

"For me, there's a sort of randomness which you cannot plan which is intrinsic to photographs which work."
--Patrick Sutherland, 1/17/02

"There's a view that says that painting is synthetic and photography is analytical. To paint something, you start with a blank canvas and add to it. Everything comes from you. Photography is the opposite. You start with a world of complexity and you need to decide what to remove from it, or what not to show, in order to emphasize what you want people to see."
--Michael Burns, 5/9/02

"I used to worry about things like the edges and if there were dust specs. Now I just look for little fragments that capture my eye and I forget about the rest of it."
--Marsha Burns, 6/13/02

"Typically I make one photo when I first come on a scene. Then I explore different perspectives of the scene and make several more exposures from different vantage points. I almost always wind up choosing the first photo."
--Michael Kenna, March 2003

"I use an 8 x 10 view camera. All other cameras are just toys."
--Jock Sturges, April 2003

"Shooting flowers is just like making a portrait of a person. You have to be ready to catch the moment or the flower's expression will change and you will have lost it."
--Ron Von Dongen, 5/15/03

"The introduction to one of Stephen Shore's books talks about the difference between Eastern and Western poetry. Poems in the West are about the sublime and the marvelous, whereas in the Orient poetry is about the commonplace. This Oriental way is how I view my own photography."
--Stephen Hughes, 7/10/03

"I love the fact that a photograph can be both a factual description and a metaphor at the same time."
--Shawn Records, 8/14/03

"My formation (as a photographer) was informal."
--Julio Grinblatt, 10/1/03

"What if, say, Andre Kertesz had been born an hour later? His whole life would've been on a slightly different schedule and all those photos he made would've been slightly different somehow. Yet the totality of the work would've been just as impressive. Just different somehow..."
-- Craig Hickman, 1/15/04

"I give names to my projects but I never name individual photos. I don't want to give them any associations that might effect the viewer's interpretation."
-- Ken Rosenthal, 2/6/04

"Each day is a gift!"
-- Jerry Uelsman, 3/11/04

"In my photographs there is a tension between abstraction and reality...I am not a documentary photographer. If I were out to change laws I would make a different type of picture."
-- David Maisel, 6/6/04

"I think it's strange that more people are offended by my nudes, which are completely tame, than by my portraits of animal fetuses."
-- Tamara Lischka, 9/9/04

"When I first began photographing, I had this idea that staging anything was bad and that things in the photo had to be just as I'd found them. Lately I find myself swinging toward the opposite. More and more I want to stage my scenes in order to have control over them."
-- Ann Ploeger, 10/14/04

"The Bechers have been an influence on me and I think they've been misunderstood. People think their photographs are of Germany, but for me they are more about Germanness than Germany. Only two Germans would undertake such a project."
-- Allen Maertz, 11/3/04

"A few days after Tony Ray-Jones died I went through my contact sheets to find photos I'd taken of him, to make a memorial to him. I only found one photo. It was because I'd been around him so much I'd taken him for granted and never photographed him. He was just always there, so I'd never considered him important enough to photograph. The lesson is, you should be photographing now the things that you really care about. That's the only thing you should be photographing, things you care about deeply."
-- Bill Jay, 11/7/04

"I am interested in the human experience, what it means to be human. That is the only thing I've ever wanted to express as an artist."
-- Adrain Chesser, 12/1/04

"I stopped doing documentary work when I found I was no longer connecting with my subject matter. My subject matter at the time was drunks with guns."
-- Luis Delgado, 3/12/05

"For me, the central unit in art is not the actual art itself but the artist. Art is about the artist."
-- Christoper Rauschenberg, 6/05

"One hundred percent of the shots you don't take don't go in."
-- Paul Sutinen quoting Wayne Gretzky, 7/19/05

"I was following Cartier-Bresson's idea of the Decisive Moment, only since I was using a Widelux at a 15th it became the Decisive Mo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ment."
-- Abby Robinson, 11/2/05

"The reason I don't place people in my home interiors is that when I see a person in a photo I instantly begin making assumptions about that person, and I didn't want these assumptions coloring anyone's view of the rest of the photo."
-- Susan Dobson, 12/2/5

"I'm a shy person. Before a photo shoot I get very nervous, sometimes almost physically ill. But I think this is sort of good. If you're bored or half asleep during a shoot, that's how the photos will look."
-- Cherie Hiser, 12/7/5

"With the subway series, sometimes I would walk around the same block five times and think, 'There is absolutely nothing to photograph here.' But on the sixth time around the block, walking by the exact same subject matter, suddenly a wonderful photograph would jump out and present itself."
-- Lisa Gidley, 2/16/06

"I think some mining executives when they see these pictures will wonder, 'How did this guy get into our mines to take these?'"
-- Louie Palu, 3/3/6

"After looking around a while, I finally found a house that would be perfect for what I had in mind. I knocked on the door and explained what I wanted to do. I needed to pour a perfect circle of fresh soil in the center of their yard, close their street, and park a giant cherry-picker in front of their house to support me and the 8 x 10 camera eighty feet above the scene. The woman thought about it a moment before replying, 'Do what you have to do.'"
-- Gregory Crewdson, 4/25/6

"Cartier-Bresson roamed the whole world years and years and came back with thousands of photos that don't give you the foggiest idea what he felt about any of it."
-- Robert Frank, paraphrased by Bobby Abrahamson, July 2006

"I am only attracted photographically to certain parts of cities. There is a word in Japanese which describes them well, and I think in English the translation is something like Nasty. I like nasty parts of cities."
-- Daido Moriyama, 11/18/06

"I am drawn to photographing real things rather than setup situations. I am more interested in what is than what isn't."
-- Elliott Erwitt, 3/17/7

"I'm drawn to desolate spaces. That beautiful forest over there would be great if someone clearcut it, paved it, and left it unmaintained for 20 years. Then it would interest me photographically."
-- Frank Miller, 9/30/7

"When I press the shutter on my Leica it's like sending a prayer to the heavens. I don't know what the result will be. I'm sending a spaceship to the moon, to outer space, to see what's out there. Maybe there will be a reply and maybe not."
-- Bobby Abrahamson, 12/13/7

"There is no such thing as chance in good photography"
-- Roger Ballen, 5/7/8

"I don't worry about the film. I use as many sheets as I need to to get the shot. I have no idea how many sheets I am using. If I get one good photo from a shoot then the rest is unimportant."
-- Raymond Meeks, 7/26/8

"There's a delicate balance in my family work between documenting what's happening and exploiting potentially sensitive material. When my grandfather died I thought the funeral would be a great place to make photos, but it seemed to cross the line. After going back and forth in my mind, I finally decided to leave my cameras at home, which I still think was the right decision. The instant I got to the funeral all my aunts were on me, 'Where's your camera? How could you not bring your camera to something like this?' It goes both ways..."
-- Todd Deutsch, 9/6/8

"I think people a hundred years from now will now at the photos from this time and their main impression will be, 'In the years just after 2000, the world became a much cleaner place." With digital, we can remove unwanted visual artifacts with ease whereas before it was much harder. The results will be marked as a historical moment."
--Craig Hickman, 2/2/9

"Photographers are ventriloquists. We send our work out into the world and it speaks for us."
--Larry Sultan, 4/12/9

"There are three photographers I admire, Atget, Evans, and Friedlander. Father, son, and the holy ghost."
--Gerry Badger, 10/9/10