Observations From Photo LA 2011

- - Events

John Eder sent me this entertaining report from Photo LA 2011.

I went with my buddy the location scout – he got into that after a career as an assistant. We were gonna play a drinking game where we would have a shot if we saw pictures with:

empty swimming pools
Russian hookers
Indian hookers
any kind of hookers
brothels
Indian brothels
deserted strip malls
incredibly sharp images of banal intersections with gas stations
enigmatic pictures that look like stills from movies that never happened
girls in gowns underwater in swimming pools
Anything with 20 of the same thing in a grid pattern – watertowers, neon motel signs, etc.
Anything with North Korea in it
Douglas Kirkland – in any form – on the wall, in person, endorsing something, in a workshop, advertising for a future workshop, anything

We didn’t do it, tho, which is a good thing cos we would have gotten hammered!

Anyway, by Sunday, when we went, all the vendors were bored stiff and would talk your ear off. The gal from Light Works was cool and expounded at length about their really great programs for photographers – residencies, grants, access to their print lab. I’m into that! The guy hawking beautiful ltd. editions of my one-time instructor Jerry Uelsmann let me paw thru all his stuff even when I told him I didn’t have $5K to buy one. Jerry’s work still holds up for me, even in the digital age. I could have sworn the two babes manning the booth for some gallery from Santa Fe were flirting with me, I wonder if they hooked up at the after party with the guy from another gallery who sounded like Cary Grant, or more like Tony Curtis imitating Cary Grant in “Some Like It Hot.” Counted five female patrons with shaved heads, just in that one afternoon. Lots of dudes in designer eyeglasses along the lines of Hockney or Phillip Johnson.

What was striking was the lack of anything really all that new. Nobody from this yrs MOMA “New Photography” show – Alex Prager, Roe Etheridge, etc. No Gursky this year. Only one by Kahn and Selesnick, kind of tucked away, odd cos they seem to be making a big splash with their cool work http://www.kahnselesnick.com/. No Jill Greenberg, who is usually represented. Some truly weird stuff – one thing where you could take your picture in this booth and they photoshopped it into some kind of weird Buddha garden thing. None of the big NYC galleries like Yancey Richardson or Yossi Milo, I guess they don’t have to, no Clampart, nothing like that.

I was thinking about the Clint Clemens interview you did as well, regarding China – there was one Chinese gallery represented, which had a spiffy booth and some nice giveaway postcards, but they were dealing in vintage images of stuff from the 50s in China, which was visually nice but nothing leading edge.

If I had $100K to buy for a zillionaire’s loft, you could have gotten a lot of cool stuff, tho not necessarily for a song, but reams of famous vintage images from the worlds of fashion/ celeb/ journalism available for under $10K. Fetching BIG prices was Helmut Newton. You could have gotten some nice Lillian Bassmans for relatively cheap – one well heeled West Side type power couple were mulling over a purchase as “She’s going to die any minute and they’ll triple.”

Hardly any imitation Eggleston, except for something called “LA Matrix La Brea”, which was heavy on the intersections with gas stations incredibly sharp, Steven Shore involved there along with younger types.

I think the most of one thing we saw was Antarctica/the Arctic/ frozen wastelands with scary icebergs – tons of that! Lots of photo-shopped, manipulated landscapes, which were neat to look at for the most part, tho some of them a little hokey. Also, as usual – we should have put this on the list for our drinking game – there are ALWAYS a million pics of Muhammad Ali at this thing, as was the case this yr.

One of the best things about it, from an overall industry view, was it was way more heavily attended than last yr., and stuff seemed to be selling, even the smaller galleries said business had been good; they felt justified in the outlay of putting up a booth. Last year it was like oh my God the sky is falling, it was not so hot saleswise. There was a lot of stuff with red dots on it, for sold, so that’s encouraging.

I think my fave thing – that stopped me in my tracks and made me laff – was this Corey Arnold pic, on display as the cover of his book:

corey_arnold_kitty_and_horse_fisherman_2007_915_97

OK that’s my entirely unsolicited review.

There Are 44 Comments On This Article.

  1. I need a good laugh after an crummy weekend. Great insight and I would have joined in on the drinking game.

  2. I adore your drinking game! It’s sad to hear that Yossi Milo isn’t going to be there this year. I had thought of a very similar drinking game at Contemporary L.A. a few years back while I drank Pacifico from the ugly old fridge in Tom Marinoni’s classic piece, “Drinking Beer With Friends is the Highest Form of Art.” Also, I’m mildly shocked that “Teen or pre-Teen girl in their room looking disaffected (Extra drink if they are dressed for a dance or in their underwear).” ;)

  3. Concepts get old, human experiences don’t. A friend once suggested: “You want to get in the shows? Include a clown or dude wearing an animal head in your shot”. He might be right.

    • @Bruce DeBoer, You’re right, animal heads are usually big, but this was the only one I saw this year. Also, your blog is great and the name “Permission To Suck”is fantastic.

  4. My wife and I went to the show on Saturday and were approached outside by a couple from Chicago looking to unload their three day passes at a nice discount. They enjoyed the show but felt they had seen enough and were anxious to check out some other galleries in LA and head home early. My feelings were mixed, as they usually are but this year was perhaps the most uneventful for the both my wife and I. I am a professional photographer and live forty minutes north of Santa Monica so I feel it is my duty to attend each year but my wife (graphic designer) enjoys the broad eclectic range of work and what those “in the know” view as WORTHY.

    I noticed an unusual amount of vintage work, of which, I cannot stand! I personally don’t like The Beatles so if I never again see another photo of John Lennon that would be fine with me. The same holds true for Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and The Kennedys. I’m also tired of the Michael Kenna clones so they can stay home as well. A point that my wife brought up was the huge disparity in pricing. You can see work for $25,000 in a booth right next door to a print that sells for $275. When she asked what was the reason my only response was “They must be dead.” We didn’t see as much black and white nude celebrity photos, with the exception of a Pamela Anderson image that was taken probably 20 years ago. I noticed some Robert Parke Harrison images that seemed to be quite cheap that were taken in the late nineties. I agree with the article in that there wasn’t really anything new. The same big names are still there and every year I wonder why. I’m not sure why anyone would purchase a William Eggleston so I’m always surprised that his work shows up every year. After 90 minutes my wife had walked the entire show and seen enough. We walked out and hawked our $30 tickets for $20 and felt like a $5 entry fee was worth what we actually saw inside. It’s unfortunate there wasn’t a student price but I guess students weren’t the crowd the show coordinators wanted to attract.

    I personally feel the business model for the typical photography gallery will be gone soon. As more and more photographers develop a following and are able to sell work online (in editions or not) buyers will be more likely to make a personal connection to the artist and want to interact with them directly rather than dealing with a gallery owner who used to be in real estate.

    Garon

    • @Garon, Good story – and you don’t want to get me started on Eggleston – and I was, as mentioned, befuddled by the lack of new work.

    • Donnar Party

      @Garon, I don’t think the business model of galleries is broken, its just filled with, as you said, “people who used to be in real estate”. I think there is value in a curated experience, but the gallery has to have taste and a reason for showing work aside from “it can sell”. There needs to be a shakeout in the photo world, such that gallerists that add no value to an artist/buyer relationship get back to selling condos in Brooklyn.

      • @Donnar Party, I agree with you completely. I’m not sure what the answer to the gallery question is but it just seems very frustrating that there is such amazing new work being created that will never hang in a curated environment. New work and thoughtful ideas is the driving force behind nearly every artistic medium in the world, with the exception of photography! I wish gallery owners would stop living in the past but “Maybe I’m just a dreamer”. HA!

  5. Fantastic review. Sounds just like what I saw at foto fest in Houston last year. But Houston had lots of Keith Carter wantabees.

  6. I kind of love that Corey Arnold shot — I first saw it on Flickr (yes, Flickr), then on the cover of the Juxtapoz Photo book a year or so later. And yet the animal mask thing has also been done over and over and over now…perhaps not in the fine art photo/market realm, but in the internet meme/popular realm it sure has. In which case maybe “people wearing plastic animal masks” should be added to the list for the drinking game. ;)

  7. For inclusion in the drinking game, how about a middle aged man/woman, standing alone in a field (or other large open space), looking sad?

  8. The first part of this post, I liked all of it, made me literally bust out laughing. So, lol.

  9. The reality might be that everything and everyone, have been photographed in so many ways, that most still photos, on their own, can no longer hold anyone’s interest for more than a second or two. Or has this always been the case?

    I’d like to add, pictures taken in Havana and all shallow DOF food images, to the drinking game.

  10. I have been thinking of creating a web-site called, fake-your-own-death.com. My target audience would be artists that want to make 4-8 times what they are.

    We fake your death, you split for about 2 years, to say, the Bahamas and create more work. Then your “new” work is suddenly discovered in your mammas basement. Cha Ching.

    Your return stating that you were on a artistic hiatus, you know nothing of you’re death and you appreciate all the love you received in the form of cold hard cash. Simple.

    • @Greg Sims, I dimly remembered a movie where Dick Van Dyke does that and found it w. the magic of the internet. As follows, they find a flaw in the scheme, but it’s a fun idea. Just don’t let James Garner in on it:

      The Art of Love is a 1965 comedy film starring James Garner, Dick Van Dyke, Elke Sommer, and Angie Dickinson. The film involves an American artist in Paris (Van Dyke) who fakes his own death in order to increase the worth of his paintings (new paintings keep “posthumously” hitting the market). His conniving pal (Garner) sells the paintings and withholds the proceeds while the artist toils in a shabby garret.

      Director Norman Jewison noted in his autobiography that the film’s flaw was that the script assumes that an artist’s death guarantees a huge increase in the sales value of his paintings, which doesn’t make sense in reality, and that this hurt audiences’ responses to the movie enormously.

    • @Greg Sims, I dimly remembered a movie where Dick Van Dyke does that and found it w. the magic of the internet. As follows, they find a flaw in the scheme, but it’s a fun idea. Just don’t let James Garner in on it. This is from some database or other:

      The Art of Love is a 1965 comedy film starring James Garner, Dick Van Dyke, Elke Sommer, and Angie Dickinson. The film involves an American artist in Paris (Van Dyke) who fakes his own death in order to increase the worth of his paintings (new paintings keep “posthumously” hitting the market). His conniving pal (Garner) sells the paintings and withholds the proceeds while the artist toils in a shabby garret.

      Director Norman Jewison noted in his autobiography that the film’s flaw was that the script assumes that an artist’s death guarantees a huge increase in the sales value of his paintings, which doesn’t make sense in reality, and that this hurt audiences’ responses to the movie enormously.

  11. I too feel as I have seen Photo LA thanks to this. Thanks? Saved me the air-fare anyway. I’ve never bothered to go to any of these sorts of things, but when I’m at the Indiana State Fair to eat my weight in deep-fried snacks, I wander through the photo area and see the same thing, only different.

    Possible Midwest State Fair photo exhibit drinking game-

    Barns.
    Fences.
    Snowy branches with red berries.

    That’s all you’ll need. You’re sure to die of alcohol poisoning before walking the first 25 feet of the exhibit.

  12. You hit nail on the DEER HEAD…funny as shit!
    but forgot one maYBE 2..Empty soccer fields at night…or the ever so original.. model upside down on a staircase.