Sunday, August 31, 2014


A Sunday comic from the wonderfully fertile mind of Dan Piraro:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pete's Exit Interview

Instagram Selfie by Pete Brook
After nearly three years in Portland, Pete Brook is moving today to San Francisco. At this very moment he and his honey are in a U-Haul somewhere on I-5, headed due south. Pete has stripped off the rental tuxedo, his cigs are handy, and he's trying to clear his head from last night's blowout moving bash. 650 miles! It will be a monotonous drive unless they stop at a few prisons. But their trip is bound to have a happy ending, and maybe two or three of them.

Goodbye, Portland. It's the end of an era, albeit a rather short one. I took the opportunity to ask Pete a few questions about the Rose City.

BA: Why did you move to Portland initially? 

PB: The goats, the brews, the double decker bikes. Seriously, I see double-decker bikes every week. They are here and they are real. 

In truth, I needed a place to land after my 2011 road trip. You remember that one. You cheered down the home-strait by you with a beer in EugeneBefore going on the road, I'd lived in Seattle for 3 years. I put all my stuff in my friend’s basement in Portland and then did some driving, prison visits, college lectures and a bunch of interviews.  

I always knew I was headed to Portland. I’ve been on the west coast ever since I pitched up in America. So where to go? Options are slim. San Diego is the most boring city in America. Los Angeles is big and energetic and I love to visit but I wasn’t going to move there. San Francisco was too expensive and besides most of my best buddies from Northern California (where I first lived after swapping UK for the US) had moved out — many to Portland. The list was basically Portland, Portland or Portland.

Why are you leaving?

To be in the same city as my partner. We’ve done long distance for a year and the time is now to switch up the situation. I hate to leave Portland. It’s a great place to live. It’s easy. It’s got real seasons (complaints about the rain are overplayed). There’s great food and drink in every neighbourhood. With fewer financial burdens and low costs-of-living, there’s opportunities here to craft life into what you want or need. I tend to see people here finding a nice balance between employment and outside-of-work passions.

Mt. Hood — Pete Brook

Before living there, what did you expect the city to be like?

Like Seattle but less corporate.

In retrospect what surprised you most about the city?

The creeping corporateness.

How would you describe the photo scene in Portland?

Pretty solid. I dip into it to be social, so it meets my needs. It’s really friendly. I don’t know how it is to make a living here as a photographer, but no one seems to be complaining too loudly. Nike and Adidas support the ad agencies and photographers find work there. Even if you’re not full-time photographer, there’s a million and one side-projects happening in the city that you can get into. It’s what you make of it, but there are lots of doors always open and a host of generous collaborators. 

There’s a lot of photographers here just doing it for the love of it and I greatly admire that. 

I know you have your reservations, but I still like the photo section in Powell’s. Ampersand is a finely curated space of books. They have monthly exhibits with free beer. Nicolas Lampert spoke there last week, to give you an idea of the calibre of events. 

Never go to any galleries on First Thursday if you can help it. It’s a clusterflock. Take the time and you’ll see great imagery at Newspace, Blue Sky, Charles Hartmann. There’s a massive show happening at Portland Art Museum this fall about 40 years of photography in OregonThe show is basically anchoring itself on Blue Sky, which is the oldest non-profit photo gallery in the country.

Portland has its fair share of crappy landscape and flower photographers but where doesn’t?

I think the photo scene benefits from a good video scene and a good design scene. PICA, PNCA, COPS, and c3:initiative all remind us that photography serves art and not the other way round.

"Pretty solid example of my #portlandpaintedgreen series
which is 900 images strong on Instagram. It helped me see (and share) the city." — Pete Brook
It seems every other week some media outlet in Portland writes about how great Portland is. And here I am blogging about it. Is Portland too fucking self-absorbed for its own good? 

Last week, I had friends come in from Seattle. Before we met up, they went for a sandwich. They showed up at my house laughing because they’d just listened to three bearded sleeve-tattooed dudes at the table next to them in the diner talk for 45-minutes about how much better Portland was than Seattle.

But if Monocle says so it must be true. I jest. I think Monocle digs Portland because the Brits like to fetishise and still hold out hope America isn’t as fat as the stereotypes have it.

On the topic of stereotypes, there’s a lot of ridiculous ones and Portlanders have quickly found a way to laugh about those (or ignore them). And, let's be honest, Portlandia is basically talking about that strain of peculiar self-centered absorption that grips the hippies, locavores and hipsters of any American coastal city.

On the other hand, I reckon Portlanders have found a way to embrace the favorable quirky stereotypes and media coverage. They’re right to want to talk about their home. It is a good place. I don’t mind people celebrating the good life. 

We need to add a caveat here though. Not everyone in Portland has it easy. There’s a dark underside to Portland that reveals itself when you get out of the core and newly emerging trendy districts. Portland has some real problems with poverty and drug addiction. Sex trafficking occurs here as it does in other cities. The police department is getting better, but it showed its true stripes during Occupy and the level of intimidation it used. The homeless in Portland are targeted by the authorities.

So, my only worry about all the hype surrounding Portland is that it diverts attention from the urgent social needs here. If the city is to continue growing into its blooming reputation it needs to build in a way that addresses the needs of all socio-economic groups.

Favorite place in Portland to eat lunch outside?

Produce Row, Sen Yai, Red Fox, Roadside Attraction, Vendetta, Parkway Tavern.

Favorite downtown character?

Stumped on this one. But if you wanna see PDX characters, look no further.

Favorite restaurant?

Taqueria Santa Cruz in St. Johns, Pok Pok Noi, Luc Lac (just not 2am on a Friday or Saturday), Tasty & Sons for bacon and cheddar and chard, Biwa for fancy asian fusion, H’Val for vietnamese soups, Hen Ya for all things vietnamese. Miho for Japanese (not sushi). Frank’s Noodle House.

"Selfie from the Bye & Bye, my fave bar.
Probably between a WIRED draft." —Pete Brook
Favorite building?

Portland is hardly known for its architecture. It’s all quite limited. The Portland Building is ridiculous: Michael Graves PoMo acid. The churches of Pietro Belluschi are incredible: St. Thomas More Catholic Church and Central Lutheran Church.

If you’re happy to go through airport style metal detectors get to the cupola at the top of the court house right in Pioneer Square, I recommend it. OSHU’s views are amazing, as is the cable car up to it.

Favorite bar?

Bye & Bye. Some of my best writing was done at the Bye & Bye. Super friendly staff. I’d go there once a week late at night and they’d sort me out. They didn’t need to be that nice, I mean, I was that guy with the laptop who sat in front of a glowing screen in the corner while others tried to forget about work and be social. It felt like an office I didn’t pay rent on.

A shout out to Tiga, my other local. It’s closing shortly and it’s a sad loss. Also Secret Society, B-Side, Liberty Glass.

Favorite neighborhood to stroll in?

PPG —Pete Brook
I have to say the NE. It’s where most Portland Painted Green was made. Love this neighbourhood.

Portland's best drug (legal or illegal)?

Ayahuasca is making a come back, apparently. Never done it like but I’ve heard a few acolytes talking it up.

Heroin prices are falling sharply and a couple friends who work as physicians or service providers downtown say it’s becoming the drug of choice for many of the addicted and/or homeless. It’s replacing meth. Scary stuff.

Briefly describe the time in Portland when your reality was most altered, either through drugs, alcohol, dancing, exhaustion, or whatever.

Wandering back through town with my sleeping bag after three days at my first Pickathon (2012). I went there as press with WIRED, and it took me a year to write an article that was pretty much junk. All the personal spirit quest stuff I couldn’t include.

"Made these t-shirts with Sharita Towne this weekend.
Search Oregonian for blue room for more info."
Were you ever nude in public in Portland?

Never, I only let the freshest mountain breezes tickle my fancies. Of course, with the world’s biggest naked bike ride there’s plenty of opportunity, but I’m too much of a prude.

What will you miss most about the city?

My mates. Cheap gigs, jumping off bridges on the Washougal River, super weird menus and booze at local joints. Every pub legally must serve food, so you get playful menus with just a few items but they’re super good and varied.

Forest Park trails — my Saturday morning run kept me sane man. Nothing like them. Gorgeous every time of the year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nils Jorgensen: What Was He Thinking?

Nils Jorgensen is a minimalist based in London.


Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - Nothing as far as I recall.  I was wandering about, in a bit of a dream no doubt.

What were you thinking? - I do not remember.  It’s a while back.

What were you looking for? - I don’t remember that either, but not a sequence, which was something which occurred to me later.

What caught your interest visually?  - The two of them, they looked nice.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation? - A one off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot?  - No.

Did the image come out as you expected?  - No. 

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - Nothing.

What were you thinking?  - Very little. 

What were you looking for?  - The crowds made nice shapes.

What caught your interest visually?  - Just the crowds.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation? - One off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? - No.

Did the image come out as you expected?  - Not at all.  A lucky shot. 

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - I was out shopping.

What were you thinking? - I was excited about trying out a new lens.  

What were you looking for?  - Everything you see in the frame.

What caught your interest visually?  - The shape of the paper in his briefcase.  

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation? - One off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? - No.

Did the image come out as you expected?  - Yes.

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure -  Nothing except what you see.

What were you thinking?  -I liked the people merging with the statues.  

What were you looking for? - That’s it.  

What caught your interest visually?  I liked the merging bit. 

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  A one off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No.

Did the image come out as you expected?  Yes.  

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - He was having a wee. 

What were you thinking?  I need a wee too. 

What were you looking for? A free urinal.

What caught your interest visually? The free urinals and the drum.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  A one off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No.  

Did the image come out as you expected?  Yes. 

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure  It was raining.

What were you thinking?  I thought how fortunate she crouched down just there, against the dark wall, just then. She was only looking at her Filofax. 

What were you looking for?  Symbolism.  

What caught your interest visually?  What wouldn’t catch my eye? It’s a wonderful street thing. It’s everything that’s exciting about street photography for me.  

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  One off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No. 

Did the image come out as you expected?  Yes.  

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure?  A party.

What were you thinking?  Time for another drink.  

What were you looking for?  Another drink.

What caught your interest visually?  I’m not sure. Her legs? Her eyes? I can’t remember.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  A one off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No. Though it was taken with flash, so I guess they must have noticed me. Though they were lost in each other. I know I’d have been lost.   

Did the image come out as you expected?  No.

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - I was having a drink with my good friend Nick Turpin.

What were you thinking?  What a nice evening it was.  

What were you looking for?  The couple looked serene and happy, to take a picture of that.

What caught your interest visually?  I’m not sure.  There’s not much happening really.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  A one off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No. But a short while afterwards the couple got up to leave and I showed them my picture, and they liked it. I didn’t get any contact details unfortunately. I hope they are still together and might contact me one day.  

Did the image come out as you expected?  No.

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure? -  I was feeling incredibly sad and in some degree of distress.

What were you thinking?  - My mind was in turmoil.

What were you looking for? -  Picture-wise?  I wasn’t looking for anything.  I forced myself to take it. 

What caught your interest visually?  - Her hand.  Her hair.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  - One off.  Isn’t any street pic a one-off, or else it is nothing?  Ok, let’s not go down there. 

Was there any reaction from people you shot? - She kept on sleeping. 

Did the image come out as you expected?  - No.  

Describe what was happening at the moment of exposure - Just as you see in the picture.

What were you thinking?  How amazing.  

What were you looking for?  To get the knot and her fingers at just the right moment and the man’s legs too. 

What caught your interest visually?  The knot.

Was it a one-off or did you stalk a certain situation?  One off.

Was there any reaction from people you shot? No.  

Did the image come out as you expected?  No. 

Friday, August 22, 2014


One reason for the recent lack of book reviews here (or much other activity) is that most of my reviewing energy lately has been devoted to Photo-Eye. I know, it's the same old story. Independent blogger is subsumed by corporate conglomerate. Activity dies off, etc. Hey, what can I say? They know my weakness. They pay me in books. 

So the reviews have been there and not here. I could repost them but there's no point. You can just go there

But for my latest review I'm going to make an exception. It covers marijuana production, a subject near and dear to my heart. I grew up dancing and frolicking in the wild marijuana fields of Northern California. Marijuana was my playground, my friend, my mentor. It was the local currency, shade, building material and food. I have many fond memories of...well actually some of those memories have large gaps now. What was I talking about?...Oh yeah, books.

So when this book came along I pulled up the bong near the keyboard and went to work. It was pretty intense, dude! In the end, shit got done the way it usually gets done, in a dark smoke-filled room. But I had to leave out some stuff. Photo-eye doesn't need to know about the voices in the ceiling or how the pages glowed as if they were neon. But the major adjustment was more basic. Before sending it to Photo-Eye I retranslated it back into English. 

I thought B readers might appreciate seeing it the original shorthand, which is the language I write when I'm super duper high. So here it is.

میری پسندیدہ بانگ مذاق ایک بار میں چلنے والے کے بارے میں تین لوگ ہے. پہلا آدمی بہت لمبا ہے. انہوں نے بارٹیںڈر پر چلتا ہے اور کوئی، انتظار کریں ... کا کہنا ہے کہ. میں یہ غلط ہو رہی ہے. دوسرا آدمی چلو دیکھتے ہیں ... کیونکہ قد ایک ہے. انہوں نے کہا کہ درست نہیں ہے پر ... کوئی، پکڑ ... پانی کے ایک گلاس کے لئے بارٹیںڈر پوچھتا ہے اور. مجھے یہ کیسے جانا تھا ... پھر سے شروع کرتے ہیں؟ ایک پادری کے بارے میں کچھ ... اور میں کارٹون لائن کو معلوم ہے - برف پگھل! لیکن میں بالکل اس کے باقی یاد نہیں کر سکتے. لیکن یہ مضحکہ خیز تھا. مزاحیہ، مجھ پر اعتماد کرو. ام، میں آپ کو وہاں ہونا تھا لگتا ہے.

بانگ بہت مذاق کے بٹ رہا ہے. اس کے استعمال کے اصل میموری نقصان کی طرف جاتا ہے یا نہیں arguable ہے. لیکن کیا تنازعہ سے باہر ہے کہ بانگ کی کاشت کی ایک بہت بڑی صنعت ہے. یہ اکثر چند دیگر وسائل کے ساتھ دیہی علاقوں میں، امریکی زیر زمین معیشت کا ایک وسیع ٹکڑا کو روزگار اور استحکام فراہم کرنے، امریکہ میں اب تک سب سے بڑا نقد آور فصل کی طرف سے ہے. شمالی کیلی فورنیا کی بانگ پٹی میں، کلیوں اقتصادی ریڑھ کی ہڈی ہیں. وہ راشن اور گیس، لیکن نئے ٹرک، پراپرٹی ٹیکس، ٹیوشن، retirements کے، زمین -Everything کے لئے نہ صرف ادا. آپ تیل ڈلاس کے لئے ہے کے طور پر بانگ شمالی کیلی فورنیا کے لئے ہے کہہ سکتے ہیں.

بانگ کی ثقافت نہ صرف اقتصادی بلکہ ضعف امیر ہے. یہ کبھی کبھی رنگین حروف اپنی طرف متوجہ. غیر قانونی سرگرمی کی قدرتی لالچ کے ساتھ ان کی جمع اور اس کے شوقین فوٹوگرافروں کے لئے ایک پکا ہوا ہدف ہے. حالیہ برسوں میں Sarina Finkelstein، مورین Drennan، ڈیوڈ والٹر بینکوں، اور دوسروں بانگ کاشتکاری دستاویزی ہے.

تازہ ترین (ایک عرف) ایچ لی ہے. اپنی کتاب Grassland پر (Kehrer: 2014) جنوبی طرح Humboldt کاؤنٹی میں بانگ کاشتکاری کے ایک فوٹو گرافی کی ہے. کے بارے میں 200 میل دور شمال میں سان فرانسسکو کے ریڈووڈ ملک میں واقع ہے، اس علاقے شاید اعلی گریڈ بانگ پیداوار کے قومی مرکز ہے. میں یہاں اپنے بچپن خرچ اور میں اچھی طرح علاقے جانتے، تو میں نے خاص طور پر دلچسپی کے grassland میں مناظر پایا. لیکن میں بانگ کی اپیل کی کوئی جغرافیائی حدود نہیں جانتا کے طور پر کتاب، دوسرے علاقوں سے قارئین کے لئے قابل قدر ہو جائے گا لگتا ہے.

چراگاہ مارکیٹ میں انکر سے فصل کی کاشت کے عمل کرنے کے لئے ترتیب ہے. افتتاحی تصویر پھیلا شنکدر جیب کے ارد گرد جھللیدار براؤن رولنگ پہاڑیوں کے شاٹس کے ساتھ، زمین کی تزئین کی کے لئے ایک احساس دے. مصنف کی طرف سے ایک مختصر تعارف کے بعد ہم کتاب کے دل کو حاصل: THC پیداوار. ہم جنگل میں باغ برتنوں، آب پاشی، گرین ہاوس، اور چھوٹے بڑھ مناظر کی تصویریں دیکھیں. ارادہ ہے کہ بانگ کاشتکاری کے طور پر عام اور ٹماٹر یا مکئی اٹھانے کے طور پر منظم ہے ظاہر کرنے کے لئے ہے تو، ایچ لی کامیابی حاصل کی ہے. اگر تم برا، یہ آپ کے پڑوسی کے باغ کے پلاٹ، یا یہاں تک کہ ان کی الماری برتن پلانٹس نہیں ہیں. یہ حصوں لیبر، قوی کھاد، بجلی کے آلات، وغیرہ کے ساتھ، چھوٹے پیمانے پر صنعتی زراعت ہے

کچھ قارئین، ان کی دلچسپی کتاب کے بعد کے مراحل کی طرف سے ناراج ہو سکتا ہے ہم فصل، خشک کرنے والی، اور دیکھ کر آخر سنوری کی nuggets، وزن کے مطابق، اور مختلف چھاترالی کمرے، اڈوں، اور ملک بھر میں کارپوریٹ سوئٹ کے لئے شپمنٹ کے لئے تیار کیا جا رہا ہے. صرف کتاب تو سکریچ اور سنف تھے! لیکن افسوس، یہ نہیں ہے. قارئین وہ baggies کے اور خفیہ اسٹوریج ٹب میں قسم کلیوں پیروی کے طور پر طباعت کی بو کے ساتھ کی وجہ سے کرنا پڑے گا. فوٹو سابق ہائی ٹائمز کے ایڈیٹر گلین اوبرائن کی طرف سے باب Marley quotes- کے ساتھ ایک بہترین مضمون -dense کے ساتھ محدود ہیں.

سب میں ایک پیار کی تصویر ہے. "میں وہ زمین کی تزئین کی ایک زندہ بنانے کے لئے جدوجہد کے طور پر ان کسانوں لیا خطرات لئے ایک گہرا احترام محسوس کیا،" لی لکھتے ہیں، اور عام طور پر فوٹو جو تعریف کی عکاسی. وہ، pastoral کی سکون، اور شردقالو ہیں، اور گری دار میوے اور بڑھتی ہوئی برتن کے بولٹ کا ایک جائزہ دے. خاص طور پر چپچپا ہیش انگلیوں کی تصویر کو فوری طور پر عزیز یادیں اور قریب کی ایسوسی ایشنز ہوتا ہے جس میں سے ایک ہے. ایچ لی کی بصری سٹائل بہت مخصوص ایماندار اور سنگین لیکن نہیں ہے.

جزو لاپتہ ایک قوم، ایک شناخت کے ساتھ کم از کم ان ہے. ایچ لی کسانوں کے لئے ایک گہری تعلق کا اظہار کر سکتے ہیں لیکن وہ تصاویر میں ترجمہ نہیں کیا گیا ہے. کچھ نامعلوم سڑک حروف مقامی ذائقہ کا احساس دینے کے لئے ظاہر کئے گئے ہیں. لیکن اصل کاشت منظر میں ملوث کارکنوں جان بوجھ کر کھیتی، سائے، یا شناخت ہونا blur- -through تصاویر ہیں. میں استدلال کو سمجھ ہے، اثر فوٹو depersonalize اور جذباتی طور پر ہٹا انہیں چھوڑ کے لئے ہے.

تصنیف کے لئے ایک عرف کا استعمال ہے کے طور پر یہ، ڈیزائن کی طرف سے شاید ہے. ایک چھوٹا سا بھید کسی بھی کتاب میں اضافہ. لیکن بہت زیادہ قاری کو چھوڑ، اور grassland کے ساتھ اس کے کچھ خطرہ ہے کر سکتے ہیں. پوری بات ایک جاسوس ناول چمک کا ایک تھوڑا سا ہے. "میں تم پر اعتماد کر سکتے ہیں -؟ - ایک hushed فسفسانا میں لکھا یملی بریڈی کے کردار، اس سمت میں بھی leans ہے جی ہاں، منظر جی ہاں، یہ کبھی کبھی مبہم لیکن نامہ نگاروں میں لوگ میگزین کے بے نقاب کے بعد سے اس کارڈ کھیل رہا ہے زیر زمین ہے. ابتدائی 1980s. اس وقت طرح Humboldt کاؤنٹی کے باشندوں کے تمام ڈرامہ کا تھوڑا سا تنگ آ چکے ہیں. وہ صرف برتن بڑھنے اور پہلے ہی منتقل کرنا چاہتے ہیں.

چراگاہ کے ساتھ ساتھ اچھا reproductions کے اور ہموار ٹھیک ٹھیک کور (کوئی جیکٹ) کے ساتھ، تیار کیا جاتا ہے. موضوع کی طرف سے دیکھتے ہوئے یہ وسیع اپیل ہونا چاہئے. میں نے اسے کراس مارکیٹنگ فائن آرٹ کتابوں کی دکانوں اور زیر زمین سر دکانوں دونوں میں دیکھ سکتے ہیں. شاید بانگ ڈسپنسری میں؟

ایک ممکنہ مارکیٹ وقت کیپسول ہے، لیکن اس کے چند سال انتظار کرنا پڑے. تیزی سے بانگ سے متعلق معاشرتی رویوں اور قوانین کو تبدیل کرنے کے ساتھ، اس کتاب کو جلدی ء بن سکتا ہے. امریکہ وسیع برتن کی منظوری اور ویدیکرن کے کچھ قسم کے لئے سربراہی میں لگتا ہے. بانگ، کھل اضافہ ہوا ٹیکس، اور سگریٹ میں تیار کیا جاتا ہے جب سے ایک دہائی، Grassland پر چپ سے Backwoods خفیہ ایک اداسین دوبد پر لگ سکتا ہے. ستم ظریفی یہ ہے کہ یہ واپس ویدیکرن طرح Humboldt کاؤنٹی کی زیر زمین معیشت پہلے جلال سال کے لئے ایک کھڑکی کے طور پر دیکھا جا سکتا ہے

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Small Print

I don't know if two shows constitutes a trend, but if recent exhibitions at Blue Sky Gallery are any indication, photography's recent infatuation with mural-sized prints may be shifting. Both shows featured very small photographs, and both were a delight. 

Hidden Mother is showing now through the end of August. Walk right past the front room's large vacuous prints made by someone or other. The photos you want to see are in the back. They sample a collection curated by Laura Larson around the Victorian idea of hidden motherhood. Simple idea: The kids pose while the mothers attempt to vanish. As usual nothing is as mysterious as a fact clearly described.

artist unknown, c. 1860-80tintype, 3 1/2" x 2 3/4"

If the concept sounds familiar, it may be because it's been circulating for a few years. Mack published a book called The Hidden Mother in 2013 by Linda Fregni Nagler, sparking a round of internet adulation last Winter. There's a Flickr group. And various other sites. In fact I think there are many people collecting and sharing this sort of photography. But this is the first time I'd seen them on a wall in original physical form, and what impressed me was the size, or rather the lack of it. 

The bulk of Larson's show is composed of tintypes with a smattering of vintage silver gelatin prints and cartes-de-visite. All are one-of-a-kind originals, and all are remarkably tiny. Perhaps the largest is 6 inches tall?  You have to get close to see them, just like you have to get close to see a real baby. I've seen plenty of babies over the years, but I'm always astonished at how small a newborn infant is —almost too small to be human! You need to lean in. And it's from a foot away that the details take over. The glistening nose and the milk stains and vomit. It's an interactive experience.

Maybe some of this show's impact came from a simple change in routine. I've seen so many large prints in recent years that I've become unconsciously inured. At this point they seem normal. When a show of tiny photos comes along the spell is broken. Oh wait, there's another way?

Yes there is. In fact this is Blue Sky's second consecutive undersized exhibition. Last month it was animal photos by the Finnish master Pentti Sammallahti. If the scale of Larson's prints can be explained mostly by circumstance —Unless your name was Carleton Watkins, vintage Victorian prints were diminutive by nature— Sammallahti's prints were small by choice. They were his photos, printed in his darkroom from his negatives. He could've made them any size he wanted. So the choice to print most of them at bread slice scale was quite deliberate.

This one, for example, was barely over 5" high. I had to get within inches to make it out, and I don't think I've seen a more spectacular print this year. It glowed like a small diamond.

Swayambhunath, Nepal, 1994, Pentti Sammallahti, 5 1/4" x 3 7/8"

One diamond would be fine, but a room full of them was a real fucking powerhouse. Every tiny print rocked. It was probably the best exhibition Blue Sky has had in five years. Sammallahti is on another planet and I hope he stays there.

OK, I admit some of my praise involves the subject matter. If he'd shown another series at the same scale, say watermelons or still lifes, I might be less enamored. But Sammallahti is a scavenger. He has the hunger for serendipitous situations that distinguishes true seers. Is he a street photographer? I'm not sure. If so, he's one who avoids crowds and cities and posters and the typical street tropes. No, he's not really a street shooter. But a visual savant? Yeah, I think so. And he plays small ball.

I'm not dismissing large prints out of hand. I think they can work in certain circumstances. Prints on steroids have their place, but not as automatic default. For me they create distance. When I stand several feet away to see the image, my tendency is toward passivity. An entire room of such prints is like a bank of TVs in a sports bar. I can stand in the center and take in an entire exhibition with a lazy sweep of the head. But with small prints every photo requires an intimate visit. You've got to move side to side, then refocus. You must engage, and you notice that photographs can pack an amazing amount of information into just fifteen or twenty square inches!

Sometimes it pays to read the small print.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Same River Twice

One of the fun aspects of photos is that they can change over time. Of course this isn't exactly true. Photos stay the same. We change. But the effect is similar. It's like trying to jump in the same river twice. Sometimes I will look at old favorites and wonder what I ever could have liked about them. And the opposite happens just as often. A photo will occasionally grow on me over time. 

This one, for example:

When I made this photo last summer it was just a quick grab shot. Ben and Zane had taken a mud bath and I felt obliged to document it. Two kids on the summer dock. How typical. In fact I shoot my kids all the time just as most parents do, and usually the resulting photos are nothing special. So I sort of put this one in that first. 

But the more I looked at it the more I wondered. Why is Ben smiling and Zane frowning? Has he been habituated to mug for the camera? Or is he smiling because his body is more developed than his cousin who is just a few months younger? Or is it something more mundane? Perhaps he just ate a Twinkie?

Boxers, 1929, August Sander
My favorite August Sander portrait poses the same dilemma. Why is one boxer smiling and the other stern? Who knows? Maybe not even Sander himself. In any case it's an easy way into the photo. We see the faces, then we gradually notice that this carefully paired duo is a perfect mismatch in just about every way possible.

I don't pretend to be in Sander's league. But my photo has some mystery. What's going on here? Is the scene saying something about their personalities? Zane has always been the serious one. Ben eager to please. What's going on with their body language? Did Ben just win an argument? Who tracked those prints behind them? And what about the mud? Ben seems to wear his proudly whereas Zane looks like he just emerged from a pit. The more I look the more mismatches emerge.

Then there's the tantalizing possibility —embedded in all good photos— that the scene came together by accident, and that all of these suppositions are meaningless. I just happened to catch two fleeting expressions on two fleeting bodies and that's it. Because that's just what cameras do, the end. Perhaps that's what happened in Sander's photo too.

From a photo alone it's impossible to know. But the good photos —the ones that I appreciate more over time— are the ones which open themselves to questions like these and don't try to answer them. I might look at this photo of Ben and Zane in 10 years and still wonder what's going on. Or maybe by then something will have happened which explains the scene. 

The ones which seem to change over time, that in fact remind me that I'm changing —I suspect those are the keepers.