Search Results for "jonathan blaustein"

Jonathan Blaustein debuts his new conceptual project MINE

- - Art

A couple weeks ago at Review Santa Fe I had the opportunity to see APE contributor Jonathan Blaustein’s new body of work hanging on the wall and decided to conduct a quick interview. I think this is a unique opportunity for all of us, because we know Jonathan and can follow and learn from his career. I know you will find his honesty refreshing and revealing.


APE: On your first project (The Value of a Dollar), when did you know it was done? I ask because I’ve been looking at work here at Review Santa Fe and that seems to be a common question. People aren’t sure when they are done.

Jonathan Blaustein: For “The Value of a Dollar,” I knew I was done when I got bored; when I ran out of that initial series of ideas. I capped it at 20 at the time, which is a very typical number to stop at, because of all the competitions and things like that.

APE: Why is that a typical number? In a competition, do you only submit 20?

Jonathan: Yeah, 20 is typical for things like that. It’s kind of arbitrary, I suppose. But the real answer is that I had a slew of ideas, and then I felt they resolved themselves. I edited out the pictures that didn’t fit, and was left with 20. With “The Value of a Dollar,” I wanted to create a balanced but asymmetrical picture of global commerce. Once I felt like I had that, I was done. But then, I went back and did a new suite of images in 2010, when I had some new ideas about representing local food.

APE: You stopped making pictures once, and then you restarted and made a whole bunch of new pictures?

Jonathan: Right. Why not? People ask me all the time if I’m going to continue to make pictures for that project, and the answer is yes. I’ll be showing a new one in a group show called “Market Value” in Santa Fe this July.

APE: So it’s never done. [laughs] At what point did you start thinking about your next project?

Jonathan: I started shooting the day after my first portfolio review in 2009. I began working on a project in the field in southern Colorado that was very, very different, mostly because I wanted to stay busy. I didn’t want to focus exclusively on the marketing of “The Value of a Dollar.”

APE: So, you just started pouring yourself into a new project.

Jonathan: Yeah, I went and did something totally different to keep myself focused on making the work. I was trying to find a conceptual through-line in the landscape, and I didn’t feel like I succeeded. They felt a little too much like everyone else’s work.

APE: So, you scrapped it?

Jonathan: Yes, I scrapped it. I took it off my website and I stopped showing it. You have to be your own biggest critic. If it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.

APE: Amazing. Had you showed it to anybody? Had you been showing it at all?

Jonathan: Yeah, I did. I showed it in Fraction Magazine. In 2010, I also showed the work at Review Santa Fe alongside “The Value of a Dollar,” and nobody cared about it. People only wanted to look at the food photos. I listened to that feedback and I said, “OK, here I have something that everyone wants to look at and talk about. I also have something, even though it’s new and I care about it, I’m sensing that it’s not good enough.” You have to have the guts to burn it down sometimes.

APE: It’s got to be really hard for any artist, because there are so many opportunities now to test work. You could put it out there on blogs, and there are online only magazines like “Fraction.” If people aren’t responding to it, then why do they follow their investment into the ground?

Jonathan: There’s an emotional connection between an artist and his or her pictures. There just is. Often people want something to be better than it is, or it’s so important to them that they impute that personal connection onto others. They assume that because they care about it, and it means a lot to them, that other people will feel the same way.

I went to art school. I got an MFA. That was the big difference for me. You spend two years learning how to take criticism; how to accept the fact that oftentimes, it’s not good enough until it’s good enough. You get trained how to listen to negative feedback and grow from it. I don’t want to say that only people who have that education understand that, but I do know that the education is based around getting you to hear those negative voices.

APE: Doesn’t that go against the idea of listening to yourself, and the work comes from you? Doesn’t that go against the idea where you’re actually testing work with an audience? You’re trying to see what’s going to resonate and what’s popular, instead of just making work that matters to you.

Jonathan: That’s a very good question.

APE: How do you resolve those?

Jonathan: I look at a lot of work, as our regular readers will know. Whenever I’m reviewing portfolios or talking to people, my philosophy is that deep inside our consciousness, we always know. There is an inner voice, an inner consciousness about what you’re doing that always knows if it’s good enough or not. Sometimes it takes time. That’s why editing takes time. The new project has 23 pictures in it right now, and I shot, I don’t know, probably almost 1,200. The edit started at 150 and then whittled down to 75, and so on.

APE: You took 1,200 pictures in the studio?

Jonathan: Yeah, for sure. What people are seeing is only what I determine to be the best of the best, but also the pictures that fit best together. There are a lot of really good photographs that didn’t make the cut, because of the size of the exhibition space, because of the color palette. When I talk to publishers, I’ll be able to bring some of those images back. For a book, 35-40 might make more sense than 23.

But you asked a good question, and the answer is that people can be trained to find those voices…The word I like to use is ruthless. For editing, you have to be ruthless. You have to be willing to separate the good from the great, and that takes training.

As far as feedback goes, there’s a balance. We were talking about those landscape photos I did. I cared about them, but I did know, deep down, that I had not innovated or revolutionized anything. When I started observing that people weren’t really digging it, or weren’t loving it, that information correlated with the dark voices in my head, and that made me more likely to listen to those dark voices.

APE: With “MINE,” tell me a little bit about the process as far as, did you have a clear understanding of what the project was, the boundaries of it, the shape of it, from the very beginning? Or did that come later? Did you need to distance yourself from the project to understand what it was?

Jonathan: That’s another really good question. This process was very, very similar to the way I started “The Value of a Dollar.” I got that idea about looking at the way fast-food was depicted in billboard advertising six or seven months before I took my first picture. I had the idea, I thought about it, and then I just tucked it away and didn’t start shooting for half a year. It percolated in my head.

The same thing happened here. I started shooting in the beginning of 2011, but I had the idea in the summer of 2010. I was just walking around my land and looking at all these damn rocks. The soil is really rocky, so there are rocks everywhere.

James Estrin wrote about it on the Lens blog, in a cheeky way. You have to see it to believe it. The idea that popped in my head was, “I could be a rock farmer, but there’s no such thing. What can I do with all these rocks?” I had the idea, “What if I photograph them?” I brought one in the studio and just messed around, and then again, just said, “All right, we’ll see about this,” and tucked it away.

I thought about it for about six months. Then, when I was ready to start, the idea was pretty fully formed. I will look at my property and my resources and try to commodify them in a very obvious and unsentimental way, and then see if I can exploit nature and respect it at the same time. Which is kind of a difficult balance to achieve, but that’s what I wanted to do.

APE: Wasn’t there a point in the project where you had to step back, and you had all these pictures and you had to go re-edit them?

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s totally true. I burned this project down, as well.

APE: [laughs] You threw it away completely.

Jonathan: I threw it away completely, about eight months into the shooting. I waited that long for my first edit because I thought I was onto something. I felt like, now that I had an audience, which I never had before, that I needed to make sure it was perfect. I waited half a year to even do a provisional edit, and then I put it on the iPad to take to that conference in Reno.

After I swiped through, I showed it to my wife, and she swiped through and made this really bad face and didn’t say anything. I was like, “Oh, shit. Oh, no.” I waited 20 minutes, and then went back through and swiped with my index finger again. I said, “Oh, shit. It looks way too much like ‘The Value of a Dollar.'” It was all natural light. All the objects were in the center of the frame. Same vibe. I felt like I ripped myself off, like I had not pushed my own ideas far enough. I went to talk to Jessie and I said, “What’s your problem with this?” She said, “It’s not new enough. You copied yourself.” It hurt to hear it, but it was true.

I stopped the edit, threw the thing away, and gave myself a month to think about it. Then I went back in the studio and started using strobes again, which I had in the very beginning, and pushed myself. When I re-engaged with the edit six months later, I was able to find a different through-line, incorporating some strobe images with natural light, and found an edgier, darker perspective than I had the first time. These theories that I apply to the artists that I critique, I apply them to myself, too.

APE: That leads into the next question, which is, you had moderate or high success with your last project? Actually, how would you characterize it? Extreme? Not extreme?

Jonathan: It’s hard to answer that question without context. For me, I would say success beyond my expectations. With the amount of work that I’ve sold, it’s changed my family’s life. Having a global audience and millions of people around the world, albeit briefly, really interact with the work, that was as good as it gets. I didn’t think that was possible, and I didn’t make the pictures to have that happen.

APE: It was beyond anything you ever imagined when you were in school thinking about a career in photography?

Jonathan: Yes, only because the Internet evolved in such a way that I don’t think anybody could have imagined. When I was in graduate school at Pratt in Brooklyn, I would’ve said the highlight, the ultimate career goals would be to be included in the Whitney Biennial, and get your work in the permanent collections of MoMA and the Met. Which are still goals of mine, and I think they’re goals of a lot of people, which is why they’re cliché.

But at the time, in 2002, when I got to Brooklyn, there was no such thing as viral. There was no such thing as having people in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan look at your pictures at the same time, on the same day as your mom in Jersey.

The idea that information could be ubiquitous and that people could engage with it in their homes instead of having to walk into a physical space was where things just exceeded my expectations. Then the whole series was bought by the Library of Congress, and honestly, that’s just beyond any expectations I had. It was a wild ride.

APE: Can you talk about the pressure with the new project, then? If you have to top your last project the pressure must be incredible.

Jonathan: That’s why I tore down the project that I was working on in between, because I felt like it wasn’t good enough to be the next thing.

APE: You have to top it.

Jonathan: It depends on one’s ambition level. Yes, I don’t deny that I want to be as good as I can be, and I want my work to be on the wall of the best places and seen by as many people as possible. Under those circumstances, I did feel like I needed “what comes next” to be as good or better.

APE: But is there no room for a project that just moves you forward? This is just based on what I’ve heard from novelists, is when you have your great novel, it’s like you can’t move past it, and so you can’t produce work that’s below it and you can’t move to the next project.

Jonathan: With writers, you’re perfectly, 100 percent right. I’ve always been a huge fan of Steinbeck. It’s like, you look at “East of Eden” and “Grapes of Wrath” and you compare that to all the other little books, and there is no comparison. Maybe that’s why it took Jonathan Franzen 10 years to come out with “Freedom.” I mean, “The Corrections” was as good a book as anyone’s written in the last 50 years, so he probably felt the pressure.

For me, I was gaining success at 36. I have a family. I felt like, right now, this project, the next thing, was going to establish me or not. Hopefully, it will. Especially because my work had this kind of concept that on a bad day could be seen as gimmicky, I didn’t want to be the “Dollar” guy. I did not want to be an art equivalent of a one-hit wonder.

I thought, I need to nail it, to come up with something that’s good enough that people are like, “Holy shit, Blaustein’s for real.” Then, (now), I’ll be able to work on three or four things at once. I’ve got a lot of ideas that I haven’t shot. I just stopped teaching, so I’m going to have more time to do the kind of things that we’re talking about, whimsical side projects. I do have a pretty crazy conceptual thing that I’m working on that will be an extension of “MINE”, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

But your questions are incredibly intuitive, because that is how I felt. Right now I feel like I’ve succeeded, but the world will decide, really. I’ve satisfied myself, my own standards, creatively. But that’s the art part. Then comes the business part.

APE: How do you have such a good handle on both when to end projects but also when you feel satisfied? Is that part of the training? Does that go back to your schooling?

Jonathan: Well, training, yes. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. It’s like the whole Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hours thing. Everyone latched onto that about “Outliers,” but it’s really a fantastic book that delves into the power of culture. I do think it had a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been living and breathing photography for 15 full years.

In this case, though, it was a deadline. I pitched this concept to the State of New Mexico (NM Arts) for a public gallery with public funding a year ago. They actually support the production of the work. I requested the summer slot, and they said, “Yes.” From relatively early in my project, I had a hard deadline. I had a date I needed to meet, and that deadline was what finished this part of the project for me. It’s only an installment.

APE: I have some easy questions for you now.

Jonathan: I like the hard ones, though. They were good. Very insightful.

APE: I want to know about hanging a show, because I don’t know how it works. You have a space but then how do you pick the frames? How do you decide what sizes? How do you figure out that arrangement? How does that work?

Jonathan: Well, the presentation format that I’m using I sorted out over time. Again, in just all these years of experience, I had problems in the past with glare. I personally hate glare coming off of a picture. When you have problems with glare, it kind of rules out glass and Plexi, because non-glare glass and non-glare Plexiglas are both insanely expensive, and glass can break. I also really like the idea…Our readers probably know I’ve got a pretty serious rebellious streak. Because everyone uses glass or plexi, they encase the photograph. They cut it off.

APE: Does everybody use glass?

Jonathan: Or plexi, 95 percent of people.

APE: That’s to protect it.

Jonathan: Yes, to protect the image.

APE: Because maybe it’s their best print ever and it’s going to hang. You don’t want to destroy it, right, or damage it?

Jonathan: Well, yes. That, and most people just do what everyone else does. It’s the convention. I came up with the presentation format in the past and the frame choice in the past, so that wasn’t so difficult to do again. Especially as I’d never showed more than four framed pictures at a time. This was my first chance to do it right.

APE: The white frame?

Jonathan: Right. And they’re two different sized frames, so the math would add up.

APE: Where does that choice come from?

Jonathan: I think white, it’s just very clean and contemporary. It’s more open-ended. The white frame blends into the white wall. When you put black around something, you kind of cut it off. It’s a very final thing. White is chic. It looks good. If you go into most of the galleries, most contemporary art people use white. Of course, on this I’m bowing to a new convention. Such a hypocrite.

APE: I’m just curious, how do you make that decision? How do you pick white?

Jonathan: I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this. I have a horror story that I wasn’t planning to share that was, believe it or not, about frames and their color. When I got out of grad school, the big, monstrous, ambitious goal was to get hooked up with a gallery in Chelsea. And I did.

About six months after I got out of school, somebody took on my grad-school project. I dropped the work off, double-parked on 25th or 26th Street, took the work up to the gallery, and then a couple days later got berated by this dealer because she despised the color of the frames. They weren’t white or black; they were charcoal gray. She insisted they were purple, and hated the color of my frames enough that she told me to come pick up the work and leave. Three days after I had accomplished a life goal, I was told to get the work out of her sight.

APE: Because of the frames?

Jonathan: Because of the color of the frames.

APE: Holy shit.

Jonathan: I’m not exaggerating. I had an appointment set to make new prints. I had already set up a time to have them mounted and laminated. This particular person was so dismissive that it pushed me to leave New York. I went home that night and talked to my wife and said, “Look, if this is the caliber of person that I’m banking on, if I’m going to turn my career over to people who can do things like that, then we need to get out of this town. We need to go somewhere else. We need to settle down and get confident and strong and live in a place that brings out our best selves so that I can try to re-engage with New York down the line.”

I’m condensing the story. It was very traumatic. In fairness, I probably wasn’t mature enough to handle the relationship back then anyway. Ultimately frame color, since you keep asking about it, did become a very, very touchy subject for me. But I like white. It looks good.

APE: Incredible, thanks for sharing. Ok, maybe this question is easier. How do you decide on the sizes? Is it based on which photos you like better? Get bigger?

Jonathan: I went into the gallery space three weeks before the show opened. I had my edit, but that’s all I had. The space was cluttered from the previous show, but I took my measurements and I just really looked. I just closed my eyes and I tried to visualize things. Then I went home, and that weekend, sat down with some scratch paper, and drew it up on the spot. I sketched it out, and had the design. As to which to print big, I emailed a few colleagues and got their advice.

You pick up things at different times. I had a curator at one of the reviews one time say, “Why are they always one size? Why not have multiple sizes?” That stuck in my head. I saw Jesse Burke’s show at ClampArt in the summer of 2010, and he totally broke away from just the one horizontal line. I thought, that’s dope. That stuck in my head. But in this case, I wanted to do something that I’d never seen before.

That’s what drives me. The more work I see, the harder it is to make things I’ve never seen before. What I came up with is a symmetrical pattern, and it’s just different. There are a bevy of art historical references embedded in the project. It creates this really powerful visual arrangement.

Once I drew it up, I said, “We’re good to go.” I had my measurements. I knew how big the walls were. I knew how big the gaps would have to be between pictures.

APE: How do you know how big the gaps?

Jonathan: Just experience. I’ve hung a lot of shows over the years.

APE: What about the sizes? Did the room size dictate that partially, or do you like a certain size for your largest print?

Jonathan: It had a lot to do with the size of the room. That’s primary, because it determines about how big they have to be to hold the wall. Then you make the subtle choices within that range. With “The Value of a Dollar”, I always envisioned them really big. I made an edition at 30×40, and haven’t sold one. I had two editions, and the smaller prints, which can be hung in grids, have sold well. The State of New Mexico bought a one of a kind portfolio that was an in-between size. These prints are more in that range. The little ones were easier to choose, as they had to add up to fit under the big ones.

APE: And what are the details on the exhibition?

Jonathan: “MINE” will be up at the NM Arts’ Centennial Project Space through July 6th at 54 1/2 East San Francisco St on the plaza in Santa Fe. The gallery is free and open to the public, right next to Twin Palms Publishing. I hope some of our readers will have a chance to check it out.

APE: So what comes next with “MINE”?

Jonathan: Well, I’m going to take most of the Summer to catch my breath, as we’re expecting a daughter at the end of August. Then I’ll try to get the show on the wall in New York and other cities. I also have a second conceptual wave of the project that I’m already working on. It’s absurd.

Seriously though, thanks again for doing this, Rob. You’ve taught me a thing or two about how to run a proper interview.

MINE Artist Statement2012

I live in a horse pasture at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I own the land: it’s MINE. But I share it with the animals, and things that don’t move. Every night, when I go to sleep, they have the run of the place.

It’s theirs.

Only a creature as arrogant as a human would claim ownership over his dominion, while living for such a short period of time. The rocks on my land are all much older than I am.

Artists are more infatuated with immortality than most people. We make marks, build things, and snap photos, all in the hope that we’ll be remembered when we’re gone. Deep down, we all have a dark desire that the art will be preserved, along with our name, and that people will look at it in a hundred years or more. Because the alternative is bleak. An eternity of nothing. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

I’m no different. I want my life’s work to mean something. I don’t want to disappear forever. But I also don’t think that my land belongs to me, any more than I belong to the land. I’m just part of this world, run by a simple rule: Survival of the fittest.

With that in mind, I decided to objectify my land, to leave my mark. Because I could. In so doing, I was able to investigate my territory, to sift through the dirt, to crunch up the snow, and then share it with others.

Once I harvested the objects, I took them to my studio to fashion temporary sculptures: Art pieces meant to satisfy my unquenchable desire to symbolize the world around me. I photographed the sculptures to memorialize them, just as we take pictures every day to remember what was there.

Jonathan Blaustein Acquisitions

APE contributor Jonathan Blaustein told me about acquisitions of his work by the State of New Mexico and Library of Congress. I wanted him to write about it, because like me I’m sure many of you are curious how this whole process works. He was reluctant to write about it and be too self-congratulatory on the blog (he is paid to write for APE), so I asked him a few questions instead.

APE: Tell me what the acquisitions were?

JB: The State of New Mexico recently purchased a unique portfolio of the entire “Value of a Dollar” project for the State’s permanent Public Art collection, at market value. The Library of Congress purchased a portfolio of the project as well, from the 16×20 edition,  which will reside in its permanent archive, and be accessible to the public online and in person, I believe.  I’ll be delivering the work to them in the next month or so, so it’s not in their database yet.

APE: Can you give me a brief background on how you got into fine art photography? What was your path to get where you are now?

JB: I picked up a camera for no particular reason back in 1996. I was moving back to New Mexico from New York, and bought some black & white film before I took a solo cross country drive through the South. I was hooked immediately, and decided to go back to school to study photography at UNM, since I was a state resident, and it was cheap. The program was fine art based, and I studied with Tom Barrow and Patrick Nagatani, who were both steeped in conceptualism. So from the beginning, I used photography as a means of creative expression. After Albuquerque, I lived in San Francisco and started showing my work in local galleries and art spaces. From there, I moved back to New York to get an MFA at Pratt, which totally rocks, and then came back to New Mexico in 2005. I’ve been fortunate that we have a great collection of talent, resources and photographic institutions out here.

APE: I know nothing about acquisitions, so tell me how important they are to fine art photographers?

JB: I think most artists would like to have their work collected by museums and institutions.  It offers credibility, and the opportunity for the public to actually interact with your work.  Also, it’s tough to sell work nowadays, so public acquisitions can be a great source of income. In this case, the size of the two acquisitions was equivalent any of the biggest grants or fellowships around, so now I’ll be able to pay the bills, and catch my breath for the first time in a long while.

blausteindollar

APE: What is the process like, how do you get on someone’s radar for an acquisition? Walk me through what happened to you in these cases?

JB: Well, as I wrote last year, I attended the Review Santa Fe portfolio review in 2009 and 2010.  The first year, people really liked “The Value of a Dollar,” but nothing popped.  Last year, there seemed to be a bit more buzz around the project. I had a twenty minute review with Josh Haner, an editor for the New York Times Lens Blog, and he said he’d like to publish the work on the spot. I also had a review with Verna Curtis, a curator from the Library of Congress, who was really taken with the series.  She said she’d like to figure out a way to acquire it for the collection, but that it would take a while to sort out the logistics. So I followed her instructions as to how to stay in touch, and it played out over the course of six or seven months.

The State of New Mexico purchase came out of a great program that we have here that’s run by an organization called New Mexico Arts. Each year, they buy work from New Mexico artists through the Art in Public Places acquisition program. They put out an online call for entries, and I submitted some work. A friend who’d been funded before suggested that I email some of the staff directly to introduce myself and get some advice, so I did. As a result, the director of the program ended up on my email list.

Last fall, the New York Times followed through and published “The Value of a Dollar” on the Lens Blog. The story went viral immediately, and I had 500,000 hits to my website within a week. It was unexpected, and totally insane. I sent out an email blast about the Lens Blog publication and the viral mania, and the AIPP program manager responded to my email, saying he’d like to talk about acquiring a portfolio of the work.  It took 5 months of patient follow up, and then I got the meeting in February of this year.  We negotiated and shook hands on a deal that day, and it was all wrapped up within a couple of months.

APE: What’s next? Obviously, like with commercial and editorial photography, success begets success so how do you capitalize on this?

JB: It’s a good question. I’m hoping the momentum continues, but it’s tough out there. Like everyone else, I’d really like to get the photographs on the wall in New York.  It’s the center of the Art world, obviously, as well as the rest of the photo industry.  But lately, my primary focus has been on making new work. I’ve been busting it out in the studio since January on a follow up project so I can take advantage of the publicity, and the fact that people will probably pay attention to what comes next.  It seemed important to come up with a new idea that would be as good or better than the last, so that I don’t end being the Dollar guy like some early 80’s one hit wonder. I’d also like to establish a solid relationship with a dealer in one of the prime art markets, like New York, LA, London or Berlin.

Really, I think that many art photographers are trying to re-evaluate what success even means in 2011 (See Aline Smithson’s recent post on Lenscratch).  This photo series connected with countless people across the planet through the Internet, and the ideas have continued to resonate.  So I’m also asking myself if my goals should extend beyond the gallery and museum wall, into a more active role within the politics of food.

A Weekend At LOOKbetween – Jonathan Blaustein

- - Events

Photographer Jonathan Blaustein who recently told us about Review Santa Fe attended LOOKbetween photo festival next:

I set out for the LOOKbetween photo festival from Taos, New Mexico last Wednesday. As some of you know, I participated in Review Santa Fe the week before. It took 13 hours to get to New York, where I was planning to catch a bus that LOOK had chartered. I spent Thursday running around the City in meetings, and going to some openings in Chelsea as well. (Jesse Burke’s show at Clampart is killer, BTW.)

Friday, the bus embarked from Penn Station just after 9am, and didn’t arrive at the Deep Rock farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia until 6:30 pm. I tell you this at the outset for a very important reason: I was practically a zombie by the time the festival began. The rest of this piece ought to be read with that perspective in mind. If you want a more structured account of the who’s and what’s, I’ve seen some good reports filed by PDN on their blog.

That said, I had a fantastic experience at the farm, and spent a concentrated period of time that likely won’t be duplicated. The setting for LOOKbetween was like something out of a Southern Romance novel; rolling green hills, crystalline ponds, braying donkeys, ribbitting frogs, strumming banjos, and a humidity level that would induce a full sweat in seconds. I didn’t have any sweet tea over the weekend, but short of that, the South represented for sure.

tentsinthefieldAs we arrived, we were directed to set up our tents on a lush field overlooking the rest of the farm. I didn’t count, but there must have been 60 or 70 tents filled with photographers from different backgrounds and countries. We were provided with all the tasty food, cold water, and nourishing booze that anyone could want, all weekend long. And outdoor showers and washing stations were conveniently located as well.

After we struck camp, a cocktail hour and dinner buffet were served, which provided people the opportunity to meet, greet, and get a solid meal before the evening’s activities. A short orientation gave us the lay of the land, and then after dinner the evening’s program was a slate of 3 minute multi-media slideshows (or short films) that each attending photographer made just for the event. Prior to the projector rolling, a spokesman from the medical supply company BD gave a presentation on how his company uses photojournalism to deliver its message on Global Health in the Third World. Unlike Review Santa Fe, where the photographer’s tuition pays for the event, LOOKbetween had corporate sponsorship from BD, as well as Leica, National Geographic and a few others. The messaging was appropriate and understated, but made for a slightly different atmosphere.

fridaynightprojectionsSitting on a green hill, watching the stars emerge as one smart project after another rolled along; it was brilliant. Story after story provided a glimpse into a different issue or part of the world. I went with a more experimental style and vision, and had to accept that my project did not really stand out. C’est la vie. Overall, the most successful pieces were the one’s that used either HD video or voice-over narration to engage the viewer. Christopher Capozziello‘s project on his twin brother’s cerebral palsy was visceral due to the narration; Erika Larsen‘s HD short film of reindeer culture in Scandinavia was riveting. Dima Gavrysh’s photos taken while embedded in Afghanistan were probably the best I saw in a more traditional slideshow format.

fridaynightbonfireAfter 40 pieces or so, we broke for the night and headed back to camp for a huge bonfire and some serious drinking and talking. My friend Susan Worsham, (whom I know primarily through FB,) and I talked about our art process and motivation for almost 3 hours. It was inspiring, motivating, and unique. Deep conversations, as opposed to token schmoozing, were the highlight of LOOKbetween for me. I trekked across the country for dialogue, and the festival delivered. Sleep was tough to find, given that many of the younger photographers were yelling and screaming outside the tents until dawn. I would have been annoyed, but I was quite the lout in my college years, and karma is a bitch sometimes.

saturdayafternoondiscussionSaturday, after breakfast, LOOKbetween organized some specific round table discussions and a full-panel-talk after lunch. This was definitely the weak spot of the weekend for me. Certainly, my tired brain made me less inclined to share, but many of my art colleagues concurred that the structure was geared almost exclusively towards the editorial and journalistic photographers. After trying initially to participate, I became more disengaged by the minute. Several of my colleagues actually skipped out on the afternoon activities, and I stuck around in body only. The efforts to create conversation around serious issues were sincere, but no attempt was made to bridge the gap between how fine artists use photography relative to commissioned work. In fairness, I did find the dialogue about collective and collaborative action by Luceo to be beneficial, and the photographers who embraced rather than resented video found themselves talking a lot. And people were listening.

Saturday night was another slate of projections, and again the ones that used video wisely were well appreciated. The evening’s work was heavy on Third World photojournalism, which began to seem highly repetitive. And repetitive. It was a sticking point for me between the worlds of art and journalism, in that art photographers are trained to try to make original images and many journalists seem to stick to a template. I’m not suggesting the art model is superior, as it often produces meaningless self-indulgence, while journalists seem driven by a sense of mission and obligation. But the gap existed nonetheless.

My favorite of the night, and overall for that matter, was by the aforementioned Virginia photographer Susan Worsham. While I tried something new and improvisational, and perhaps failed, Susan made her first video just for the occasion and crushed it. She’s known for her sharp, lyrical portraits and still lives from her project “Some Fox Trails in Virginia.” She was the only photographer to split the screen, using two parallel square boxes with white, negative space surrounding. Susan paired photos on one side with video on the other, and narration over the top. It was magical.

The end of the evening was another bonfire, this time with fire-dancers and music. Kind of hippie, yes, but as I live in Taos, I can dig it. I spent another few hours talking about art and exploitation with the witty, naughty, and highly intelligent British photographers Ben Roberts and Hin Chua. They were frustrated by the work they saw that seemed to USE subjects in order to advance a message. I won’t name names here, but I enjoyed the chance to talk seriously about where boundaries ought to be respected, as opposed to broken. (I’d discussed a similar theme on the bus ride down about Nina Berman’s photographs from the Whitney Biennial.)

Jonathan Blaustein

Jonathan Blaustein

Sunday was breakfast and coffee, and then back on the bus. 8 ½ hours up I-95 was a tough slog. (I cheated and jumped off in Jersey.) But given that bonds had already developed, I was able to talk about art and business practice with super-savvy New York photographer Justine Reyes, and Syracuse MFA student Rose Marie Cromwell. So even rubbernecking traffic provided a chance to learn and laugh. (Road giddy is a particular kind of thing.)

Was it worth the hassle of getting from Taos to Virginia via NYC? Absolutely. Would I go back again if invited? Unquestionably. Do I think that the organizers will pay a bit more attention next time to synthesizing the different communities? I do. Was it strange to see cliques develop like high school? Surely. Did it matter in the end that I didn’t get to meet that many people? No, because I haven’t had the chance to mix it up with talented peers since I got out of graduate school in 2004. So thank you, LOOKbetween. I appreciate your hospitality, generosity, and good intentions.

Review Santa Fe 2010 – Jonathan Blaustein

- - Events, Guest Post
rsf2

Portfolio reviews in progress

Fine Art Photographer Jonathan Blaustein, a participant in this year’s Review Santa Fe gives us his take on the event:

I’ve found that many people who’ve never attended a Portfolio Review are a bit skeptical about paying money for access, while most photographers who’ve been to one are fans of the process. I used to be in the former category, and am now squarely in the latter, having attended Review Santa Fe for the first time in 2009. I was invited back this year when my project “The Value of a Dollar,” was chosen for Honorable Mention in the 2010 CENTER Project Competition. (CENTER is the organization that runs RSF.)

I’ve heard great things about photolucida in Portland, FotoFest in Houston, and Photo Nola in New Orleans, but I can definitely say that Review Santa Fe has it all figured out. Laura Pressley, the Executive Director, runs a tight ship, and works hard to create a seamless event structure for the photographers and reviewers. The schedule is packed, yet things run smoothly, and her entire staff is laid-back and diligent.

The event began Thursday afternoon at the Hilton Hotel with a brief photographer’s orientation, followed by an opening night party. This year, the shindig was held at the Zane Bennett Gallery in Santa Fe’s trendy Railyard District. Both photographers and reviewers mingled together over wine and snacks, and I think it helped break the ice quickly. Most reviewers were happy to talk to photographers in social settings throughout the event.

Friday, each photographer had three 20-minute meetings scheduled over the course of the morning and afternoon. That left six for Saturday, totaling nine in all. I found all but one of my reviewers to be supportive and engaging. RSF employs a web-based lottery system to determine a photographer’s schedule, and I received seven of my top eight choices. (Together, my slate contained a cross-section of dealers, curators, publishers, and photo editors.) I was particularly impressed with publisher Dewi Lewis, gallerist Debra Klomp Ching, and photo editor Josh Haner, as each was very positive about my work, but also managed to give highly specific, expert criticism about how to move it forward. (Jamie Wellford from Newsweek was the most friendly and approachable.)

For Friday night, CENTER scheduled a Portfolio Walk open to the public that was hot, crowded, and very tiring. Few photographers ever get a chance to talk one-on-one with their audience, though, so it was worthwhile. Most reviewers were gracious enough to walk around the room for hours, chatting up photographers who weren’t on their schedule. I had in-depth conversations with Kevin Miller from the Southeast Museum of Photography, Ann Pallesen from PCNW in Seattle, George Thompson from the Center for American Places in Chicago, and Amani Olu from the Humble Arts Foundation in NYC.

CENTER’s closing party

CENTER’s closing party

Saturday night, after the official reviews were done, CENTER hosted a packed party with a cash bar & some light snacks. They also offered a raffle for limited edition prints from the contest winners, and other gifts as well. (It got a little rowdy.) Along with fostering community, collecting each other’s work seemed to be a theme for this year’s event, as a print trade between the photographers was also offered. After CENTER’s party wound down, David Bram of Fraction Magazine and über-consultant Mary Virginia Swanson both held after-parties for the out-of-towners, open to all.

Fraction Magazine’s afterparty

Fraction Magazine’s afterparty

By that point, things were more casual, the beer was flowing, and it didn’t feel like work for a few hours. I had a few pints and laughed my ass off well into the night. (Speaking of which, someone needs to follow photographer Hollis Bennett around the world with a 5D Mark II. Seriously. Sundance will beckon.)

Sunday morning, RSF wound down with a complimentary brunch at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Katherine Ware and Laura Addison, two curators from the Museum, were working behind the catering table, serving bagels and cream cheese on an 87˚day. It was a bit surreal, but then again I was barely functional by that point. I think my vocabulary had shrunk by half.

Overall, the event is both grueling and exhilarating. It is hard to talk about oneself for days on end without getting sick of the sound of one’s own voice. So listening to others becomes a vital strategy. Pitching gets old fast, but as this year’s festival was the most international to date, it was easy to engage with smart, talented people from around the planet. In fact, I think it’s the key to success at RSF, and reviews in general. If you go to meet people, build relationships, community and a network, you can’t go wrong. And looking at what everyone else is working on is inspiring.

As such, RSF had a dedicated room for the photographers to peruse each other’s portfolios. I saw a lot of amazing work across a broad spectrum. I was particularly taken with David Rochkind’s project on the Drug War in Mexico, Alix Smith’s hyper-real “States of Union” series, journalist Daniel Beltra’s aerial photos of Global Warming disasters, and Jody Ake‘s wet-plate collodion portraits.

As CENTER is a non-profit, the $695/$745 fee (member/non-member) goes directly towards putting on the event. So ultimately, it’s necessary just for the Review to exist. But it ends up seeming like a small price to pay for all you get, as the 20-minute review sessions are just one part of a much larger experience.

To be blunt, I don’t think I’d recommend Review Santa Fe to anyone who isn’t confident in his or her work, and strong of mind. It’s difficult to stay sharp in such an intense environment, as criticism becomes harder to take when you’re worn down. So the event isn’t designed for beginners, which is probably why it’s juried. But for photographic artists, editorial photographers & photojournalists who are further established in the profession and comfortable working under pressure, it’s a potentially career-altering event.

This Week In Photography Books – Jonathan Hollingsworth

by Jonathan Blaustein

Here in the United States, we are a nation of immigrants. And yet, we have always demonized them. Does that make us self-hating Americans? Simply ridiculous. Do you know anyone who traces his lineage back to the Mayflower? I don’t.

Of course, those blasted Pilgrims were immigrants themselves. As were the brave, thoroughly crazy men and women who trekked across the Bering Strait land bridge 15,000 years ago. Can you imagine? How hard must life have been in pre-historic Siberia, (or Mongolia,) that it seemed prudent to walk across the frozen ice, into the great unknown? (And then to walk all the way to Argentina? I know people here who drive to the next door neighbor’s house.)

As you probably know by now, I live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. In my town, the Taos Pueblo claims to be the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the United States. The Spanish conquistadors, who arrived to cut off feet and f-ck shit up, came sometime around 1600. The invading hordes of white hippies and bohemians dropped in (or out) much later, in the 1970’s.

Ironically, all three groups of people have some delicious irony in common. (If I may be so bold as to stereotype.) Each wishes things would go back to the way they used to be. Before new people came to change things for the worse. The Spanish descendants, even today, decry the growth and change, but never seem to mention how their ancestors just took whatever the hell they wanted, at musket-point.

When you stack it up like that, it’s hard not to think hypocrisy hardwired into the human condition. (I do, at least.) A nation of immigrants that has never stopped persecuting itself. How strange.

In 2012, the derogated population du jour is the invading hordes of Mexican and Central Americans who face unthinkable danger when they walk across a forbidding and death-filled desert. Their purpose? To take the fruit-picking, hedge-trimming, and dish-washing jobs deemed too low-paying and thankless for America’s resident citizens.

I still remember the time I met a few Mexican immigrants at a party in Durham, NC in 1995. The idea of Mexicans moving to such a random spot made me laugh out loud. Now, of course, immigrants from points South have gravitated to almost every part of the United States, and have become a political wedge of immense proportions. (I say almost every part, because who would be surprised to find white dishwashers in Utah?)

How and when we deal with our internal conflict is beyond my capacity to speculate. But if we focus on the arduous journey, it certainly helps to contextualize the situation. Some people are actually willing, on a daily basis, to walk across a 130 degree patch of hell, for days, just to make a better life for themselves and their families. Noble, yet tragic, because someone dies almost every other day. (At least.)

They succumb to the elements. Their bones are left to slowly desiccate, in silence. No tombstone. No funeral. No way home.

Is this news to you? Probably not. But when was the last time you saw visual evidence that made your stomach tighten and your tear ducts fire up? (I know, that doesn’t sound fun. But who said art was always fun?)

Jonathan Hollingsworth recently put out a book, “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border,” published by Dewi Lewis, that does just that. It is among the more poignant and thoughtful objects I’ve seen in some time. If every American citizen had a copy, you can bet Mitt Romney would pretend he could speak Spanish. (Hola. Me llamo Mitt. Me gusta los niños, y caminando a la playa con mi esposa.) Demonizing such people should be a crime.

The book, though, lays out its case in a very straightforward and intelligent manner. The opening, short essay was written by the chief medical examiner of Pima County Arizona, in Tucson, where so many bones turn up at the end of the line. Credibility established.

There are three major sections to the project. The first set of photographs documents the sterile, fluorescent-lit confines of the autopsy locale. Sinks, tables, files, skulls, and a spine for good measure. It’s sad, of course, but also speaks to the power of our democracy. While tax rates are on everyone’s mind, it’s good to be reminded of the civil servants who toil in obscurity, day after day, to try to find the answers in these lonely deaths.

Then, we have a slightly-too-long section of images of the contents found on the possession of each corpse or skeleton. ID cards, cell numbers in Brooklyn, coyote contact info, girlfriend photos, belt buckles. Wow. The exact opposite of a dignified stone in a tony cemetery.

Finally, we have the establishment shots. Some landscape images, of course, but also a series of pictures made in a pick-up zone. Left behind shoes, water bottles, clothing. Were they to have come first, their impact would have been muted. At the end of the book, they tug the heart strings rather well.

The book closes with a very-well-written, but not-too-long piece by the artist. Once again, he does what he can to humanize a situation that normally just fumes as a set of statistics. Nicely done, Mr. Hollingsworth. Nicely done.

Bottom line: A sad, poignant, & important book

To purchase “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

This Week In Photography Books: Eric Etheridge

by Jonathan Blaustein

Remember when people used to talk about the 24 hour news cycle?

How quaint.

These days, we’ve got a 60/60/24/7/365 news cycle, brought to you by the fine folks at Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.

Personally, I don’t submit to the Borg all the time. I jump off email and social media each night at 5pm, and take the weekends off as well, so I avoid losing myself in the endlessness of it all.

Because it never. ever. stops.

There’s so much out there that I’m just as likely to get a sense of things during my “work hours,” as there is still plenty of time to look for memes and CULTURALLY SIGNIFICANT TWEETS.

For instance:

Just since Friday, we’ve had the American professor in Korea who got interrupted by his adorable kids during his BBC Skype interview. At first, he knocked his daughter back like he was Frank Costanza reaching across at a jarring traffic stop.

His wife came in, trying to be stealthy like a ninja, but the camera caught it all. At first, the guy was criticized for being a grump, instead of taking his child on his lap and making light of the whole thing.

Then, media scrutiny switched to the people who’d mistakenly assumed the Asian woman was his nanny, not his wife.

Is that racist?

If not, I know something that is definitely racist. Steve King, a sitting US Congressman from Iowa, tweeted that he couldn’t wait for America to become homogenous, as foreign babies were ruining civilization.

His tweet was received enthusiastically by more overt scumbags, like David Duke and Richard Spencer. Then Representative King doubled-down, (rather than retracting,) and stressed that Western Civilization was superior to all others.

Not to be outdone, Kellyanne Conway may or may not have said that Barack Obama spied on Donald Trump with microwaves.

And finally, today, Jorg Colberg tweeted an article, which I promptly read, in which a British cultural critic named Adam Curtis persuasively argued that art was no longer rebellious, in any way, as its ethos of personal expression had so perfectly been absorbed by the insatiable beast that is Global International Capitalism.

It was a good piece, and got me thinking a bit, as I often wonder if so much of what I do, with my writing and photographic work, isn’t just preaching to the crowd.

Even photography itself, once a specific habit, has been appropriated across the globe by EVERYONE.

Is art still relevant, if it’s only used to trumpet individual voices, one at a time in a sea of noise, as everyone else now has platforms to scream ME ME ME ME ME simultaneously?

I’m glad you asked. (Seriously, that was an astute question.)

I’m feeling pretty good about art, right now, having just put down “Cocoon” a new book that documents a public sculpture done by Kate Browne in the Goutte D’Or neighborhood in Paris, back in 2014.

This one came in not too long ago, as the photographer, Eric Etheridge, (Ms. Browne’s husband,) saw my review of the book that Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman made from their public art project on the Navajo Nation.

He noticed similarities, and hoped I might like his collaborative book as well.

Eric, you were right. This was the perfect book for me to see today.

The gist is that Kate Browne has engaged in a series of public art projects in places with fraught, violent histories. There were Cocoons in Mexico City, on the site where the Aztecs were vanquished by the Spanish, and two in Mississippi that investigated the dark history of Slavery and Jim Crow.

This endeavor was done in Goutte d’Or, a historically North African, Parisian neighborhood that has become a way station for many on the contemporary European Refugee Circuit.

The artist builds communities during her projects, while engaging those same communities in the construction of her sculptures. She offers workshops, and other programs, that reach directly into the neighborhood, and teaches people how to make their own little cocoons, personal talismen, to represent difficulties in their pasts.

There is a section of the book that is almost exactly what Matthew and Jerry did, as residents are photographed in a white, studio environment, holding their personal totems. How wild, that two ideas took hold on opposite sides of the world.

But that’s only a small part of this book, as there are opening essays, including two by local community organizers, and it ends with a litany of direct interviews from project participants, describing their racial and cultural pasts.

Essentially, this book refutes the idea that art is only about yelling “hey look at me” in an obnoxious echo chamber. There are countless artists out there who work with others to build teams. To enhance society. To make a difference in people’s lives.

I wrote last week about that famously Chinese ending in “Hero,” in which the greater good is presented as noble, and duty paramount, while individual desire appears sinful in context. That used to give me the willies, as I thought it meant that China intended to rule the world.

Now, though, I’ve begun to wonder whether America isn’t wounded, as it’s become so much harder for people to work together, or even get along, across the partisan divide.

I don’t want to end on a negative thought, though. One defining feature of the Cocoon series is that the sculptures, like their namesake, are temporary. After a public procession at the end of its construction, the Cocoon is lit up, enjoyed for 2 days, and then struck from the scene.

This book serves as proof of its existence. True. But if you read these stories, and look at the vibrance in the photographs, it’s clear that the Cocoon project strengthened a group of marginalized people, if only for a little while.

Bottom Line: Cool book that documents an inspiring, collaborative, public art project in Paris

This Week In Photography Books: Bruce Morton

by Jonathan Blaustein

Whether you realize it or not, this column has undergone a sizable change over the last few months.

For five years, almost all the books we reviewed were borrowed from photo-eye in Santa Fe. They have a great selection of photo-books, for sure, but the types of books I wrote about were limited to what they had.

Furthermore, photo-eye is famous for getting small batch publications from weird, artsy publishers, so I often wrote about books like that. My friend Melanie, who worked there forever, would handpick a large stack of books, and they mostly consisted of big-time artists and the aforementioned edgy/Euro/Japanese stuff.

As of November, though, we ended our long relationship with photo-eye. Though people began sending me books a few years ago, our selections were heavily filtered through photo-eye, but now they’re coming from you.

It’s true that I can (and do) request books from publishers now, whenever I get a particularly juicy press release, but the guts of what I write about comes from the audience that reads this column.

What a populist notion.
How Trumpian of me.

I’m not saying the books will be better, nor worse, and I do hope we’ll be able to maintain our global perspective. But I think you’re already seeing that some of my selections seem more off-beat than they used to.

Things turn up in the mail.
I look at them.

So much of what I’ve reviewed in the last 5+ years has trended international. I can conjure images of Kazakstan or Calcutta as easily as I can pictures of New York. (OK. I admit it. We do show a lot of stuff from NYC. You got me.)

But it’s 2017 right now, Bub.
Get with the times, you know what I mean.

Trump might wear a blue tie to fool the gobsmacked, but he knows that his supporters are red-meat-and-red-hat-loving white people in the middle of the country. In so many cases, their lives are no better than they were in the late 90’s, and in some cases they’re worse.

The jobs that came back in the Obama recovery, Post-08, skipped rural America, and still others that were there even fifteen years ago have fled, like highwaymen who know the Pinkertons are coming.

Opioid epidemics and underfunded educational systems mean that large parts of rural America have been left behind by gleaming cities and Iphone-robot-sex-dolls and Silicon Valley and arugula-eating elites.

(My Republican Uncle even wrote the word “Proletariat” in a Post-Oscars Facebook post. What is this, Russia?)

Trump is right about one thing, though.
I’ll give him that.
He says the media is biased, and liberal, and of course that’s true.

We are the media. Right?
And we ARE highly educated, occasionally elitist, but most definitely liberal.

When we visit places, like Appalachia or El Salvador, we’re carrying our politics and context with us, so it often takes an insider to give us a more nuanced perspective. And given the state of the times, wouldn’t it be nice to get a glimpse into the world of heartland white people?

Luckily, “Forgottonia: The Audience,” a new self-published book by our friend Bruce Morton, turned up in the mail a month or so ago. Like Jeanine Michna-Bales the other week, Bruce is an artist I met at portfolio reviews whose work I’ve featured in this column before.

In fact, I showed a few of these very images a year and a half ago. Bruce was getting the project up and running, and I remember thinking that these color pictures of people in gatherings, in Bruce’s home area of Western Illinois, were just snarky enough to be a naughty.

The people were large, in so many cases, and I could feel class distinctions tallying up in my head like abacus figures.

Click Clack.
Click Clack.

But in Bruce’s handsome, gray, soft-cover, perfect-bound book, the tone is completely different. His take on things is interesting, in that he moved back to his hometown of Bowen, IL a few years ago after decades in Phoenix, where he got an MFA in photography at the great ASU program.

Bruce is of this place, then got his head filled with technique, theory, and decades of living amid other cultures, before returning home. That combination of curiosity mixed with empathy mixed with a local’s knowledge makes this one of the most interesting books about rural America I’ve seen.

I’ve typically been impressed by Bruce’s image-making craftsmanship, but these are far more casual than I’m used to. The photo professor in me occasionally blanched at some of his snapshot-style cropping.

But these pictures are honest, direct, and most certainly not condescending. They take us inside a world that looks like a different American reality, because it IS a different American reality.

I almost blushed when I saw the heavy acne on the forehead of a high school basketball player. I felt it in my gut, yet also had flashbacks to sitting on the bench, against Mater Dei, the night George HW Bush invaded Iraq to kick off the First Gulf War.

About half-way through, there’s a really slick bit of editing that bears mention. First, we see a wonderful shot of a yard strewn with empty white chairs. Then, the very next picture features a gaggle of African-Americans, crowded together on a public bench, while a few nice fold-up chairs sit empty before them.

Gut-punch.

Of course it’s the only photo of African-Americans, or any people of color for that matter, in the entire volume. (Shout out to Paula Gillen, who’s credited with the editing.)

There is a delicacy and a sweetness to this book that is the opposite of snark and derision. It’s respectful in a way that perhaps only a native son could muster, especially one who has seen the outside world, then still come home in the end.

Bottom Line: Fascinating, warm-hearted look at heartland America.

To Purchase “Forgottonia: The Audience” Go Here: http://www.bruce-morton.net/books/forgottonia-the-audience

This Week In Photography Books: Adger Cowans

by Jonathan Blaustein

Over the last six years, I’ve become addicted to Arsenal Football Club, a soccer team that plays in London. It’s gotten so serious that I even write about the team, for fun, at 7am kickoff, a popular American-run Arsenal blog.

It all started out innocently enough.

After I sold a chunk of photographs, when “The Value of a Dollar,” took off, I was able to buy a nice television, and hook it up to Dish Network. Straight away, they piped in all this international soccer, (for free at first,) and once I was hooked, they yanked it away.

I’ve had to pony up a lot of scratch to maintain the habit ever since.

While I could have ultimately supported a handful of teams, when I first started watching, (and might be happier had I chosen otherwise,) I was successfully charmed by Arsenal’s famed mega-manager, Arsene Wenger.

He’s hard to encapsulate quickly, partly because he’s so multi-talented. He grew up in Alsace, and therefore speaks French and German, in addition to English, Spanish, Italian and a bit of Japanese. He was trained as an economist, is known as a progressive globalist, and brought a certain Continental, Gallic, professorial cool to the thug-life English league in the late 90’s.

He went on to massive glory with “The Invincibles,” his undefeated 2003-4 team, which was immortalized in Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”. Then Wenger, who had previously managed in Monaco and Japan, designed a new stadium for Arsenal, and kept them in the black through years when the club was heavily debt-strapped.

Basically, I became an Arsenal fan, in large part, because Arsene Wenger was “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Now, though, his temperament is too tetchy. He knows his time is coming to a close, but is battling with every ounce to hold onto his perch.

The short version is that Arsene Wenger is a legend, albeit one whom most fans and pundits feel has hit the retirement zone. He’s good enough to be good, but no longer good enough to be great.

I don’t think he deserves the “MIMITW” title anymore.

Therefore, we need a new “Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Thankfully, I have a proposal for the perfect replacement. You might not have heard of him before, as I hadn’t, but this dude has been involved in SO many interesting things in the 20th, and now 21st Centuries.

His name is Adger Cowans, and I just finished looking at his new book, “Personal Visions: Photographs,” recently published by Glitterati. Take heed, as Mr. Cowans seems like a genuine candidate for the title, if this book is to be believed.

Adger Cowans grew up in a creative family in Ohio in the 1930’s and 40’s, and was surrounded by art and photography from a young age. There’s context provided for his hyper-productive career, which is then backed up by various statements referring to his massive charisma. Tuliza Fleming, a curator at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, specifically mentioned she’d noticed the power of his personal “cool.”

Better yet, in an afterward, Dowoti Desir, a writer described by the New York Times as a voodoo scholar and practitioner, writes things about him that can only be described as mystical.

One example: “His sacred counterparts are nested among the forces of the Afro-Atlantic spiritual traditions such as the Marassa, the twins of the Haitian Vodou system.”

Another: “Cowans is the silent warrior on our path, the mayuba or the chameleon whose most powerful attribute is its ability to emulate or recreate the environment around them in every meticulous detail, while remaining true to its core.”

I bet he has your vote for “Most Interesting Man in the World” already, and we haven’t even talked about the pictures yet.

The book opens with essays and a personal narrative, including photographs of his family. (This book is built around his life, as well as his work.) There’s actually a picture at the very beginning, of his father, grandmother, and great-grandfather that is so creepy I almost don’t want to photograph it later. (But I will.)

After a stint in the Navy, Adger Cowans went to New York to apprentice with Gordon Parks, have a stint as a street photographer, shoot countless musical celebrities, and work as the set photographer for more than 20 movies in the 70’s and 80’s, including seminal films like “On Golden Pond,” “School Daze” and “Dirty Dancing.”

Adger Cowans has photographed Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Mick Jagger, Henry Fonda, Jesse Jackson, Samuel Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Biggie Smalls, Al Pacino, and so many, many more.

The book doesn’t seem to be tied to any current exhibition, so it’s more likely a career-encapsulator, as I think Mr. Cowans is “approximately” 80. I’m not exactly sure of his age, as the book’s only weak spot is that it doesn’t provide dates for any of the photographs.

There are multiple sections, and each opens with a quote from an established photography master. (Erwitt, Sander, Weston et al.) The first, featuring street photos from the late 50’s and early 60’s was my favorite, as the best evoke a romanticized version of New York, even though they’ve got uptown street cred. (The snow-covered car and umbrellas-in-the-snow couplet was particularly magical.)

Apparently, Mr. Cowans also paints, makes music, and works with fiber, bolstering his Renaissance Man stature. The book riffs on that distinction, showing different phases of his photography discretely, including digital concoctions, still lives, and experimental imagery.

Not all of the photographs are classics, it should be said, but many of them are really excellent. In particular, I loved the early portrait of Barbara, whom I believe is the mother of his son Eden.

It is oddly intimate to have that family-album-element, but it definitely hooked me into this book. By digging in, I learned about elements of the African-American art community of which I was wholly ignorant. (He was a part of two important art collectives, Kamoinge and AFRIcobra.)

My experience writing about this book was unique, as it strangely enticed me to spend more time than I’d originally planned. First, I looked at it, thought it was cool, and then sat down to write, as I always do. I tried and tried, and then gave up after 6 attempts.

That’s never happened before.
Ever.

Instead, I sat down by the fire, and read it cover to cover, then skimmed back over several parts again. I looked at the images few more times as well, to better understand his career arc.

For whatever reason, this book required more of me than a flip-through and a witty response. I’m not surprised though, now that I know Adger Cowans might just be the Most Interesting Man… you get the point.

Bottom Line: A Funky, fascinating lifetime of work by an African American photographic badass

To Purchase “Personal Visions: Photographs” Go Here: http://glitteratiincorporated.com/products/personal-vision-by-adger-cowans

This Week In Photography Books: Jeanine Michna-Bales

by Jonathan Blaustein

Let’s face it: most photobooks are for photo geeks.

Publication runs for most photobook publishers are very small: 500, 1000, maybe 3000 on the high side. As we’ve discussed through the years, in multiple interviews with artists and publishers, photobooks rarely make money, or even make their money back, and are often seen as glorified business cards.

That’s hard truth, but I’ve heard first-hand of an artist who had to rent storage for his/her remaindered books. This after paying out of pocket/crowdfunding tens of thousands of $$$$$ to make the production in the first place.

There are exceptions, of course.

Major artists with a solid history of book-sale-success will get the costs fronted. (Martin Parr being an example we discussed in our interview with Dewi Lewis.) And I’ve heard that one or two publishers still take care of productions costs.

The obvious benefit of the tight-knit-market is that by focusing on quality, and charging enough to provide it, photobooks are art objects themselves. Many sport spiffy cover textures, oversized paper, innovative construction, and crisp, snappy print quality.

They’re collected for a reason: because they’re (relatively) rare and beautiful.

On the flip side, there are projects that crack over into the mass market: photobooks that aim for coffee tables. They’re able to speak to larger audiences, as perhaps they document or explore issues, beyond the photo community, that have wide resonance in popular or mainstream culture.

They feature subjects like religion, sports, nature, and history.

Books like this can sell 100,000 copies, even in an era devoid of Barnes and Noble. These books often use less expensive materials, allowing for a lower price point that enables the larger audience.

It’s a trade-off, and one I suspect most artists would be willing to make, especially those whose work is message-driven.
Because the ability to speak to a large group of people is a huge motivator for artists with something important say.

Especially those with a taste for the extreme.

In this case, I’m thinking of Jeanine Michna-Bales, a Dallas-based photographer whose work I’ve featured in this column before. I first met her at Review Santa Fe, and saw her inspirational project, in which she reconstructed and photographed the Underground Railroad at night.

I loved her portfolio-sized, meticulously printed fine art work, as the inky blacks were darker than Steve Bannon’s soul. The pictures are so dark, literally, and they represent a shameful time in our nation’s history.

I’m thinking of Jeanine’s photographs right now, as I’ve just put down her new book “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad,” which was just published by Princeton Architectural Press.

We showed a chunk of the project here in 2014, during my usual festival roundup, and the photographs also look great on screen. The projected light allows for a luminous take on deep bayous and forgotten forests, late into the wee hours.

Amazing stuff.

And it was no easy project to execute, either, as Ms. Michna-Bales begged help from family, and hired off duty police officers to protect her, as she photographed each link in a painstakingly researched chain.

I requested this book as soon as it was available, and am predisposed to like it. There’s a cool intro by Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young, in which he segues from Curtis Mayfield to Bob Marley to Kendrick Lamar in one fell swoop of message-driven art.

The book is surprisingly small, with a horizontal orientation, and I wondered if it was enough space for these mysterious landscapes. The designer went a step further and put a dark, charcoal gray border around many of the photographs, shrinking them further, but also making their murky depths harder to separate. (I would have gone with white.)

That dark gray is ever-present, including on image-less pages, and it makes for difficult viewing, with all the dark photographs.

The images don’t have a lot of three dimensionality, unfortunately, as I think they might have pushed the limitations of the printers they were using. There’s a flatness to the darkness here that suggests hyperreality, a visual styling I don’t remember seeing in her gorgeous, fine art prints.

I know it sounds like I’m being critical, so please allow me to reframe. This project, as a result of its awesomeness, has had a lot of success. A traveling exhibition of prints is going on a multi-city exhibition tour through Texas, the South and Midwest, through 2020.

She’s won prizes, and been supported by excellent organizations like Photo NOLA and the Open Society Institute.

I think the dark design, and repeating motif of historical quotes opposite photographs, are meant to suggest a somber and serious mood. While I admit it’s not exactly to my taste, I think I see where this is going.

Princeton Architectural Press belongs to Chronicle Books, the masters of the mass-market photobook. Given that it’s the only photobook offered in the “new releases” section of the PAP website, which also features several different types of notecards, I think this book is poised to speak to a larger audience.

Unlike me, most mainstream book buyers won’t be holding the color separations up against my memory of her original fine art prints. They’ll see these quiet, creepy places, and their imaginations will activate.

They’ll see themselves there, crawling through the mud, scared shitless, worried if the hounds are on your scent. They’ll appreciate the pictures, but more than that, they’ll be reminded that our country was built upon a heinous system of injustice, and that combatting racism, especially in the Age of You-Know-Who, is a worthy goal for any photobook to inspire in its viewers.

Bottom Line: Dark, somber photographs of the Underground Railroad, reconstructed

To Purchase “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad” Go Here: http://www.papress.com/html/product.details.dna?isbn=9781616895655

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

Cleveland Museum of Art- Raja Deen Dayal

- - Art

by Jonathan Blaustein

Hello there.

What am I doing here on a random Wednesday in February?

Well, that’s a great question.
So glad you asked.

This is the first installment of a new feature we’re trying out here at APE. For nearly seven years, I’ve been reporting on art exhibitions and festivals, interviewing artists and photography professionals, and reviewing photobooks every week.

As my writing career has evolved, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of countless PR emails, and stumbled through endless websites and social media postings. I see a lot of photography, it’s fair to say.

Prior to today, though, I had no outlet to just show incredible portfolios or projects here. Images that I saw only as jpegs, which we’ll publish here as jpegs, as this is meant to be an entirely online affair.

It’s ironic, then, that the first work we’ll show is as old school as it gets. We’re kicking off our 21st Century endeavor by examining a beautiful set of photographs from India in the 19th Century, made by the Indian master Raja Deen Dayal between 1885-87. (He was born Lala Deen Dayal. Raja was a title bestowed later in life.)

I first saw a couple of these images in one of those aforementioned PR emails from the Cleveland Museum of Art, as they’d recently acquired an album of albumen prints by Mr. Dayal.

The photographs caught my attention, and the Museum was kind enough to provide us with more information, and the entire portfolio for your viewing pleasure. Better yet, the CMA’s Curator of Photography, Barbara Tannenbaum, spoke with me about the entire acquisition process, from how pictures are first spotted to how they end up in an exhibition on the wall.

Apparently, she’d been interested in bringing Raja Deen Dayal’s work into the museum’s collection for several years, and her colleagues were aware of her desire. The Museum’s Chief Curator and Director were together in London, and saw a few of these Deen Dayal prints at a gallery.

After expressing interest, the museum asked for the prints to be sent to Cleveland for viewing. What came out of the box was thrilling for Ms. Tannenbaum.

“It’s a really unique album in a number of ways. First of all, it’s early work by Dayal, which is fairly rare,” she said.

“He’s is really most famous, and the majority of photos that you’ll see in museums and around on the market are images of buildings. They’re architectural shots.

“This is almost entirely portraits, with a few scenes of military exercises thrown in.”

Indeed, these pictures are comprised of several subsets, one more fascinating than the next. We see formal and casual portraits of British Aristocracy summering in the Himalayas to avoid Delhi’s heat in the late 1880’s.

“Hello there, Alistair. Would you care for a game of Badminton?”

“I say, Old Chap. That is simply a brilliant idea. Brilliant! And, Nigel, do look over there. I believe I can spot an inch of shoe beneath Ms. Lyall’s dress. Simply scandalous!”

“Yes, scandalous!”

Sorry. Where was I?

The pictures. Surely, it was exciting to discover photos by a major, historically important artist that were totally under the radar. But why did Ms. Tannenbaum think they’re worthy of bringing into her institution’s collection?

“In this case,” she said, “we look at both the British and the princely Indian societies through the eyes of an Indian. And one of the first to really master the forms of expression, and get the opportunity to put his images out.”

“These have a particularly reverent feel to them. Great care has been taken in how they were made. He was just masterful at evoking the mood and the feel of the scene. You get the contrast of these two cultures here, and that same intensity for both of them, which I think is amazing.”

There are formal group portraits of native Indians, and a tighter group of young Maharajas; boys thrust into a grown-up world. (Immature leaders, imagine that?)

One of those images is among her favorites, Ms. Tannenbaum admitted. “Especially the boy king of Rewa,” she said.

“He just happens to be an incredibly poignant subject for photography. I love the one where he’s sitting there on this chair, with his crown and his gold jewelry. You look at the way his toes are curled under, because his feet don’t quite reach the ground.”

There are battle exercises from Jhansi, further to the South, and a suite of photographs of actors in a performance of some sort as well.

But we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. This group of pictures originated as a photo album, though it’s since been deconstructed. Many of its subjects are named in the captions.

Basically, it existed as a collection of memories. Someone bought it directly from Raja Deen Dayal’s studio.

But whom?
That’s where things get interesting.

Nobody knows.

“Of course there’s the intriguing question of who he is, and we’ll try to pursue that and maybe find an answer,” Ms. Tannenbaum said.

The current theory is that it might be the man featured in the solo portrait. The dude in three quarter profile. The one with the thick beard, clutching gloves in his hands and rocking the flower in his lapel.

It’s the only photograph that wasn’t captioned. One wouldn’t caption a photo of oneself, goes the thinking. So what about it?

We have a global audience.
I have to ask?
Do you know this man?

He was an Englishman, so you people in the UK, might this guy be your Great-Great Grandpa George? Did anyone in your family spend time in India in the late 1880’s?

Ms. Tannenbaum is dying to know, and plans to do research on her own in the future, so I suggested we could do our little bit, perhaps, and crowdsource it. She’s looking for a certain type of expert, preferably with time on his or her hands.

“The answer probably lies in archives in London about Colonial India,” she said. “My dream would be to hire someone who really knows who was there when. A historian of Colonial India, maybe, to track this down.

“It’s a riddle that will eat at me until I find it, or decide that I’m not going to be able to find the answer.”

So what do you say, cyberverse? Does anyone know anyone who wants to figure this out? Whose memories are these? Who commissioned this album?

Beyond the mystery, though, Raja Deen Dayal’s work fits in well with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s mission, as they’ve long had a strong Indian and South Asian Collection. (No surprise, once I learned that Sherman Lee was a Director there in the 60’s and 70’s. He wrote my textbook for Intro to Asian Art History in college.)

When the transaction was done, and the prints were (sort of) hers, Ms. Tannenbaum was elated. She’s hoping to exhibit the work later this decade, likely with other artworks from the collection in a larger context. She was also on the lookout for some of Raja Deen Dayal’s architecture shots, to enlarge her newfound holdings.

“You know, curators always want more,” she laughed. “If we’re not acquisitive, we shouldn’t be in this job.”

His Highness Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab and party at Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.5 x 27.4 cm (7-11/16 x 10-13/16 inches); paper: 19.5 x 27.4 cm (7-11/16 x 10-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Mrs. and Miss Lyall, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.9 x 27.0 cm (7-13/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 19.9 x 27.0 cm (7-13/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Badminton party at Mashobra, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.9 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.9 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Picnic party, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.3 x 26.1 cm (7-5/8 x 10-1/4 inches); paper: 19.3 x 26.1 cm (7-5/8 x 10-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Eminence Commander in Chief and party, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.5 x 27.2 cm (7-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.5 x 27.2 cm (7-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Elephant Battery, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.2 x 26.5 cm (7-3/16 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 18.2 x 26.5 cm (7-3/16 x 10-7/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness Maharaja of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 26.7 x 20.3 cm (10-1/2 x 8 inches); paper: 26.7 x 20.3 cm (10-1/2 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Reverend Loch at Neemuch, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 26.5 cm (7-5/8 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 19.4 x 26.5 cm (7-5/8 x 10-7/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa and classmates, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.8 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.8 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness Maharaja of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Robert Hotz Esquire and bulldog, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 13.2 x 19.8 cm (5-3/16 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 13.2 x 19.8 cm (5-3/16 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Miss Lyall, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 20.3 cm (4-7/8 x 8 inches); paper: 12.4 x 20.3 cm (4-7/8 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Colonel T.G. Oldham, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 13.0 x 20.3 cm (5-1/8 x 8 inches); paper: 13.0 x 20.3 cm (5-1/8 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Colonel H.R. Thirillier, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.1 x 26.1 cm (7-1/8 x 10-1/4 inches); paper: 18.1 x 26.1 cm (7-1/8 x 10-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Major Sparks, Indore, July 86, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 17.0 x 27.1 cm (6-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 17.0 x 27.1 cm (6-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Portrait of a gentleman, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 25.8 x 18.8 cm (10-3/16 x 7-3/8 inches); paper: 25.8 x 18.8 cm (10-3/16 x 7-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Heavy Field Battery, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.3 x 27.0 cm (7-3/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.3 x 27.0 cm (7-3/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Scindia, nobles, and high officials, Gwalior, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.0 x 27.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-13/16 inches); paper: 19.0 x 27.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Treacher and Cos Shop in the Fort, Bombay, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
Albumen print; image: 19.6 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.6 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Ramkishore Singh of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.3 x 27.3 cm (8 x 10-3/4 inches); paper: 20.3 x 27.3 cm (8 x 10-3/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Detachment of Bhopal Battalion at Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.1 x 26.5 cm (7-1/2 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 19.1 x 26.5 cm (7-1/2 x 10-7/16 inches)

Jhansi Fort and Elephant Battery, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 27.2 cm (7-5/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.4 x 27.2 cm (7-5/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Elephant Battery on Parade, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.1 x 27.0 cm (7-1/8 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.1 x 27.0 cm (7-1/8 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 25.5 x 18.4 cm (10-1/16 x 7-1/4 inches); paper: 25.5 x 18.4 cm (10-1/16 x 7-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group at Indore I, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group at Indore I, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Ball, Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.2 x 19.9 cm (4-13/16 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.2 x 19.9 cm (4-13/16 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa and Sardars, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.7 x 26.9 cm (7-3/4 x 10-9/16 inches); paper: 19.7 x 26.9 cm (7-3/4 x 10-9/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Lord Dufferin and the Supreme Council of Government of India, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 27.3 cm (7-5/8 x 10-3/4 inches); paper: 19.4 x 27.3 cm (7-5/8 x 10-3/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

The Duke and Duchess of Connaught, with Col. Adam, Captain H.V. Benett, Col. Becher, Gen. Knowles, Captain Herbert, Col. Cavaye, Mrs. Cavaye, and Gen. R. Gellispie, Mhow, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.1 x 26.6 cm (7-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches); paper: 19.1 x 26.6 cm (7-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group of Children, Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.7 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.7 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Ramkishore Singh of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.6 x 27.0 cm (7-5/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.6 x 27.0 cm (7-5/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Mr. Brown’s Horses, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.9 x 27.6 cm (7-7/16 x 10-7/8 inches); paper: 18.9 x 27.6 cm (7-7/16 x 10-7/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa in Prayer, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Sir Auckland Colvin and family, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 26.9 cm (7-7/8 x 10-9/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 26.9 cm (7-7/8 x 10-9/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Picnic Party at Mr. Pelitis’ Country House, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.9 x 27.7 cm (7-7/16 x 10-15/16 inches); paper: 18.9 x 27.7 cm (7-7/16 x 10-15/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Major Martellis Camp at Mhow, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.0 x 26.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.0 x 26.4 cm (7-41/2 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

This Week In Photography Books: Piotr Zbierski

by Jonathan Blaustein

Nostalgia is a funny thing.
What is it, really?

A state of mind?
A sensation?

An emotion?

However we classify it, nostalgia is heavily responsible for the shocking shit-show that is the Trump Presidency. (I promise I won’t write about him every week.) Overwhelmed with longing for the past, a not-small segment of White America yearned for an idealized vision of the 1950’s.

They chose to reminisce, fondly, about an America that was entirely white. About a time when men, who wore hats, were the sole breadwinners, and women stayed home. It was a time when grabbing your secretary’s backside was fair game, and racist jokes were socially acceptable.

I’ll spare you a recap of this week’s version of Trumpsanity, but rest assured, it’s enough to make some people nostalgic for the George W. Bush years.

That’s a thing.
I’ve seen it on Twitter.

The world is so strange, at the moment, that some people think it was much better back then. As I recall, George W. Bush needed the Supreme Court to install him as President, presided over 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, started two massive Wars, (one of which continues, the other of which begat ISIS) and then broke the Entire. Global. Economy.

Thankfully, though, the mid-aughts did have some highlights.

Take my neighbor here in Taos, Donald Rumsfeld, for instance. He was pretty high on the unintentional comedy scale. (Remember those oversized glasses?)

When Rummy philosophized about the known unknowns vs. the unknown unknowns, he wrote himself into the book of ridiculous rhetorical history. But he was right on many levels, if just this once. (In case you’re too young to know what I’m referencing, Rummy theorized that there are things we know we don’t know, and things that we don’t know we don’t know.)

So much of life is run by the unknown unknowns, though that’s terrifying to admit. We like our lives to be routine-based, built upon a sense of normalcy. Our computers give us answers, but only if we know what questions to ask.

We can’t even imagine what came before the big bang, or where we go after we die. Scientists don’t know what makes up dark matter, so they named it like a secret weapon invented by Darth Vader.

There are underpinnings of reality that speak of magic, or the super-natural, and most of us wouldn’t even know where to begin, as far as understanding what really makes the planet spin every day.

I like it when a photobook makes me think of the unknown unknowns. And that’s where I’ve gone today, having just put down “Push The Sky Away,” a new book by Piotr Zbierski, recently published by Dewi Lewis in Manchester.

Structurally, this book is as well-put-together as you’re likely to find. The vertical orientation is big without being too-big; the black and white cover is stark. The photos are broken into three sections, as it’s a trilogy of projects, so there are black inserts that actually divide the book, but are removable. (So you have to put it back together each time.)

There are also small journal inserts, which are bound into the book, so the page size and image style also vary consistently. A lot of thought went into this presentation, I’m sure.

But what is actually being presented? (Finally, he talks about the pictures.)

The images are mostly made with instant photographic technology, (hence the sponsor shoutout at the end to the Impossible Project,) and there’s a heavy spate of pictures shot in India. That much is clear.

But not much else is.
Clear.

There are black and white, grainy, often blurry pictures of grandmothers and statues. Cities and oceans. Live people and dead monkeys. And much in-between.

In an opening statement, the artist writes of a desire to connect to primal forces, and I think you can see it. Talismanic objects. Ecstatics in prayer. Odd people from odd angles.

There’s a hint of Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen, for sure, mixed with a tiny dose of any random person’s travel pictures from India. But it’s that final mix, the creative special sauce, that makes this such a cool book.

It feels non-linear in a way that references worm holes and peyote sessions and smoke signals, all at once. Visually, it offers a viewer that feeling that some things will never be revealed, but it’s OK, because our brains are too small and fragile to handle ALL the secrets of the Universe.

Bottom Line: Trippy, dreamy images that hint at deep forces at work, beneath our every-day existence

To Purchase “Push The Sky Away” Go Here: https://www.dewilewis.com/products/push-the-sky-away

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

Brian Clamp Interview

- - Art

Brian Clamp is the founder and director of the NYC Photo gallery ClampArt. Last summer, he was kind enough to take some time to share thoughts on the state of the gallery industry. Since we spoke, his new gallery space has opened at 247 West 29th Street in Manhattan.

Jonathan Blaustein: How’s the summer treating you in New York City?

Brian Clamp: It’s been weirdly hot. I’ve been in New York for, god, I don’t even know, 23 years? This was one of the hottest summers I ever remember, so it’s been interesting.

JB: Is the baking garbage smell on every corner in Manhattan?

BC: I haven’t noticed that so much, but we have been moving the gallery, so we’ve actually been out in the heat quite a bit. It’s just been brutal.

JB: Right. It’s hard because nobody likes to see you sweat, but in that weather with that humidity, most people really don’t have a say in the matter.

BC: Exactly.

JB: You and I spoke in Houston and you told me you were moving the gallery. You were in Chelsea which had been the pure epicenter of the New York City gallery industry. You were there for a long time, right?

BC: We’ve been in Chelsea since 2000, but we were in the same building from 2003 to 2016. We were one of the first galleries in the building, so we really got to see the neighborhood grow and develop over that time.

The building that we were in had four different owners while we were there, so it just kept changing hands. We had to sit back and adapt to each new owner and the new ideas they had. In the beginning, it was really a wonderful time, but it’s amazing how different the neighborhood is now than it was 14 years ago.

JB: I saw you in Santa Fe last year, and at that time you told me that Target had moved into your gallery’s building on 25th Street?

BC: That was one of the main problems we had. Target took over the entire second floor of the building for their design offices, but they demanded a private entrance, so the landlord completely threw us under the bus and closed our entrance to the street. It made it much harder to find your way into the back part of the building, where we were located.

Obviously, Target was paying a lot more rent than we were paying, so the landlord was willing to do whatever they asked. That made life much more difficult.

But in addition to Target above us, we had Tesla on one side of us and then a baby clothing company down the hall.

A building that once had been all galleries was not-so-slowly transforming into one for corporate tenants. So we were just seeing a repeat of what happened in SoHo in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

JB: Right. Well, that makes more sense because for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how they had a retail Target in a gallery building, but now you’re telling me it was offices. Ever since then, I thought, “How the hell do they have a Target, with all those shopping carts?” But they didn’t.

BC: Well, the second floor were all design offices, but then they took over the biggest ground floor space, which used to the Cue Arts Foundation. They use that enormous ground floor storefront space for events and parties that they host maybe once or twice a month, and the rest of the time it just sits there empty.

So they do have a ground floor presence, but it’s just not really used all that often.
The other thing is that when we moved out, our rent was nearly being doubled, and in my mind I was saying, well good luck finding anyone who’s ever going to pay that kind of price for this back hall space with no direct access to the street.

But, then it seemed as though Target was going to take over our old space and turn it into a conference room. (Last I heard they backed out, and the space is still sitting empty.)

JB: I think our readers probably know this, but outside of a handful of mega-art dealers who are corporations in and of themselves, galleries like yours, like ClampArt, are small businesses. You were a small business…

BC: Exactly.

JB: …competing for retail space with Target. That’s essentially what you’re telling me.

BC: Yeah. Exactly.

JB: You can’t sell enough prints to do that. You can’t possibly sell enough pieces of photo paper to compete with Target.
It’s impossible.

BC: Well, yes—so what’s happening is probably within five years’ time, we’re not going to really see many mid-size and small galleries left in Chelsea. It mainly will be just the mega-galleries who own their real estate – they’ll be the only people left standing.

JB: It seems like that’s just the parallel with what we’re seeing in a lot of the economy: the rich getting richer. It sounds like your industry is in a bit of a crisis. Is that a fair way to put it? Or is that too dramatic?

BC: Yeah, I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. It’s like we’ve been witnessing this ever-increasing income divide in this country. In the art world, people who are that top one percent have more money than ever, and they’re willing to pay whatever price they need to get the top of the top.

So the very high end of the market was doing exceedingly well for a good while there, whereas anything underneath that was much more difficult. And even people who are wealthy and well off, but maybe not the one percent, are probably being much more conservative with spending since the recession than they had been prior to that time.

So generally things haven’t really bounced back as the economy has continued to improve.

JB: You’ve been a gallery owner in New York since 2000. But you’re from Colorado, if I recall.

BC: Yep.

JB: So you’ve been fighting the fight there in New York for a long time, and really, people know your place. You’re respected in the industry, from what I can tell. But you’re telling us straight up that the train is off the tracks a little bit?

BC: Yeah. Or just still radically changing.
In making this decision to move out of that building where we had been for 14 years, there were a lot of things to think about: the viability, the feasibility of the brick-and-mortar space, versus a lot of galleries who have decided just to go online and shop their wares around at art fairs as much as they can.

Ultimately, we decided actually to expand in a new neighborhood with faith that here in New York City, at least, there are still enough devoted art collectors to be able to support the gallery and our artists. But it is a risky speculation, especially as compared to 15 years ago.

JB: So this idea that a gallery might not have a physical space – and I guess you partially explained it by saying that they’re still showing at art fairs, but it seems like, for as long as there have been gallery/artist relationships, the implicit deal was that a gallery offered a space for public exhibition.

The dealer offers the artist the opportunity to engage with the public, which puts a lot of pressure on the gallery to have that space. So now you’re saying some people are walking away from that core tenet?

BC: Yeah. The ability of an artist to mount a full solo show in a gallery setting, to communicate their ideas to an art audience, is still extremely important. But that’s really, in this day and age, being sacrificed quite a bit.

Artists have to be satisfied with just showing maybe one or two or three pieces in the context of an art fair booth with several other artists. Sometimes galleries do show work by just one artist, however, at fairs like Volta.

But more often than not, it’s just a smattering of work by many people in one booth, which will never be the ideal way for an artist to present their work and try to communicate their ideas.

That’s the direction the market has taken, so if artists want their work to be seen at all, and certainly if they want their works to be sold, then they’re agreeing to those realities as the market changes.

JB: And even in this changing market, where we’re talking about essentially less opportunities, not more, is it fair to say that there are as many people desperate for your attention and trying to get your interest as there have ever been? Or are there more people chasing you down? Anecdotally, how do you feel about that?

BC: I would say that that just continues to increase. The number of graduates from BFA and MFA programs feels like it continues to rise, so there are still more and more artists who are looking for gallery representation.

This has always been the case, but maybe more so now than ever. There are just many more artists than there are buyers to support them. And so it does put a lot of pressure on the galleries in the middle.

JB: I’ve been telling this to people for years, frankly. A lot of the people that we canonize, that we lionize in the history as great as they might have been, at the time that they were out there clicking the shutter, there were so few people doing this.

And now we’re talking about tens of thousands of trained fine art photographers, all trying to compete for a handful of spaces that might open up in the big galleries in New York in a given year.

The odds are awful. It doesn’t, to me, seem like a safe way to expect to make any money. And yet, more and more kids are going into huge debt just to play this game. It seems very unsustainable to me, but like I said, I’m sitting a horse pasture in New Mexico, so my opinion is probably less valid than yours.

BC: Not true.

JB: Well, thank you.

BC: You’re 100 percent correct. Like when you look at it in a historical context, the art world was a much smaller place back then than it is now. And that’s changed radically over the past 20 years, for sure.

JB: So what do you do when you talk to students? I know you’ve given lectures. How do you disabuse people of these ideas without trying to sound like a buzz-kill?

BC: Discouraging – yeah. I mean, one thing to stress is the fact that even artists that do have gallery representation – most of them have some sort of second means of income, whether they’re teaching or working at a lab or doing commercial work.

So, to be realistic is important. The idea that you can support yourself solely from the sale of your fine artwork is pretty idealistic, until you’re pretty well into your career. It takes a lot of time to get to that point, so be prepared for that fact when you graduate so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

JB: Let’s use what you just said as an example. The people who are maybe 25 years in and showing a few different places. I know you’re probably not exclusive with your artists. What do you think it takes to actually succeed in a very difficult marketplace, both on your end as the gallery and on the artist’s end? What does it take to actually bust through and persevere?

BC: That’s probably one of the most important things: perseverance. You do have to be aggressive, and you have to persevere in order to make it happen.

But, honestly, you also have to be smart and have good ideas. The artwork itself is what initially speaks for you, and so if the quality of the work is not there in the first place, then you’re not going to get anywhere else.

Then, like we were just saying, there are a lot of probably wonderful artists who are producing strong, relevant, interesting work who maybe haven’t gotten anywhere. That’s where the other things come in like perseverance, aggressiveness.

JB: What attracts you?

BC: Ability.

JB: We’ve already established that everybody wants your attention, so what gets your attention? What kind of work, either stylistically or conceptually, tends to impress you?

BC: I meet with younger artists all the time, and we show a lot of emerging work in our gallery. I’m seeing what’s coming out of the BFA and MFA programs, particularly on the East coast.

It’s got to be a breath of fresh air, something that’s not just rehashing work by a well-known artist. Something original and new.

I’m interested in all kinds of photography and multi-media work, from figurative and portraiture to abstract work, from still imagery to video, and our gallery shows a wide variety of those things, too. We’re kind of heavy on figurative and portraiture, and that reflects my own personal taste. But for a well-balanced roster, you need to have a little smattering of everything.

JB: Do you spend a lot of time, when you look at work, thinking about the particular collectors who support you who might like something? Do you feel compelled to bring on work just because you think your buyers will like it? Or is that not a strong consideration, and you just go with your own gut?

BC: The initial consideration, first and foremost, is entirely personal. Is it something that I relate to? Is it something that interests me?

Then, if it passes that hurdle, yeah. You start to consider other things. Do I think that I have a clientele that would appreciate this work? Or could I build a clientele that would appreciate it?

How does this relate to the other artists who are already on my roster? You have to be sure that it’s perhaps not too similar to something you’re already showing. Maybe it fills in a hole that hasn’t yet been covered. So those considerations come later…

Then you look at a person’s CV and check out where they studied, who they studied under, if they have shown their work much to this point? What sort of exhibitions were they included in—were they group shows or solo shows? And then you start to think deeper.

JB: Typically, when we go to these portfolio reviews, they often describe them as speed dating. And yet, anecdotally at least, I think most photographers want a handshake at the end of 20 minutes, a kiss on the cheek, and a contract, which of course, isn’t going to happen.

But do you find that there is typically a slow-build with the things that you’re interested in, like you’ll meet somebody and then a year or two will go by and you’ll see them again or you’ll get an e-mail blast? Would you confirm that it’s a slow process? Or do you think sometimes you just know right away and then things move quickly?

BC: Much more often than not, a meeting at a portfolio review is the very beginning of a more long-term process, sort of like planting the seeds for what will grow and bloom much further down the road. There might be exceptions to that, but typically, it is a slow burn and a long process.

You might realize that, yeah, I like this person’s work. I like this person’s personality. And you continue to stay in touch and keep an eye on what they’re doing, what shows their work gets into, if they’re winning any residencies or grants, and just continue to touch base until maybe you have ideas for what to do with their work, or you have clientele you think would be interested.

And then you go from there. Sometimes, from the point of meeting someone at a portfolio review until the time that they get a solo show at my gallery, it’s been as long as five or six years.

JB: Right. Speaking of all these same issues, we talked about rising rents in New York and, again, you made the comparison to SoHo.

I just saw a headline in the paper the other day or on Twitter. I didn’t bother reading the article, which was about some neighborhood kicking out a pair of social practice artists because they didn’t want to start gentrification.

There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding gentrification, and how that can change a neighborhood. (The high-line and all that.) But setting that aside, what about the internet? How drastically has the internet changed your ability to do your job?

BC: It’s changed it 100 percent. In many ways, it’s fantastic. The reach that a medium-sized gallery in New York has is far better than it’s ever been. However, then it changed the market, like I said, for a lot of galleries who may not have brick-and-mortar spaces, who are working just completely online, which has its own ramifications.

JB: But why?

BC: It also kind of changes the relationship between artists and their collectors.

JB: That’s where I was going.

BC: There are a lot more collectors who really just want to deal with artists directly. If they start changing the structure of the business, are our art galleries really serving the same role? Are they as needed and necessary as they used to be?

Certainly there are a lot of artists that want to concentrate on producing work, and they don’t want to be dealing with marketing and sales and shipping and insurance and all of those things. But there are other artists who get a charge out of having direct contact with their collectors, and so it’s something complicated for everybody to work out.

JB: Obviously, you’re not somebody who feels that way because you’re making a bigger space and you’re growing and doing well, though we’re not asking about numbers.

I’m starting to get the sense that, as much as every photographer wants a gallery, if the galleries don’t have physical spaces and the collectors can e-mail you and ask to buy a picture – that’s kind of why I used the word “crisis” earlier on. I’m wondering if the entire model isn’t bound to change? I thought you’d be very well positioned to speculate on that.

BC: Yeah.

JB: Is it all going to change?

BC: I think it has been changing. An artist has to question how much of that responsibility they would be willing to take on. And then perhaps if they have just an online gallery representing their work, is the standard 50/50 cut still appropriate in that situation?

That’s something I encourage a lot of artists to think about—especially if they’re already selling well directly from their studio. Do they really need to enter a relationship like that?

Artists need to weigh the pros and cons. I would hope that the artists we represent realize what a gallery brings to the table, but for other kinds of artists and other kinds of work, then it may be perfectly appropriate to sell directly from the studio.

JB: Can you tell us a little bit about the new space, since we’ve mentioned that you’re expanding and moving? Where are you going to be exactly? And what’s it going to look like?

BC: We’re going to be on 29th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, which is still technically part of Chelsea, but that area of Manhattan has a lot of different names. It’s the flower district, the fur district, and also the garment district.

JB: Near Penn Station.

BC: And it’s close to what used to be called Tin Pan Alley, which is just a little farther east. It’s only two avenues from where we had been located for 14 years, but two avenues in Manhattan can make a world of difference.

It’s a neighborhood with a totally different feel, but still, right now, it really is under transition, too, like a lot of other places. There’s a lot of construction around where we’re going to be, with a trendy gastro pub right across the street, but still certainly a lot of furriers left, too.

There’s also a high-end lighting store on the block, and an art supply store. So it’s still a big mix of things. It’s interesting to see what direction that’s going to take.

JB: Yeah, we all know at the rate NYC changes, you don’t know what a neighborhood will be like in five years.

BC: The exciting thing is those two avenues made a world of difference in terms of price. So for around the same amount of money, we’re getting a storefront with three floors and 19-foot ceilings. There’ll be a mezzanine that overlooks the main gallery with a private office and viewing room.

We’re going to be able to spread out a bit, and it’s going to change the way we’re able to show the work by the artists we represent, which will be a lot more fun.

When you’re in the same space for a long time, you sometimes wonder if things start to become formulaic because you know what works and what doesn’t. So it’s going to be exciting experimenting with a totally different layout and seeing how things shake out.

JB: What’s the opening show? Do you have that planned? (Ed note: again, this interview was conducted last summer, so the opening exhibition has already transpired.)

BC: The opening show will be the fifth exhibition at our gallery by an artist named Marc Yankus. We’ve shown his work for a long time, but he’s got a new series that he’s ready to unveil.

He’s one of our most popular artists, and I’m excited about the direction his photography has taken recently.

JB: Mid-October – gotcha. Sometimes when we do these interviews, I warm up very slowly and talk about people’s backgrounds. You and I have known each other for a long time, so I kind of skipped that, but it is fun sometimes to just hear where the bug came from.

How did you fall in love with photography? And what brought you to the place that you’re at now?

BC: I didn’t have any sort of background in art or art history until the second semester of my senior year of high school. For some reason, and I’m still not even sure why, I decided to take a photography course.

I had one extra elective, so on a whim, I took a photography class. The instructor was a younger teacher. She was really enthusiastic and energetic, and did a great job of getting her students excited about the subject matter.

It was mostly a darkroom class. At the beginning of every session, however, there would be 15 minutes of slide lecture, which was basically going through the history of the medium. And I was excited by both – creating photographs in the darkroom and the art history part of class.

I was so excited that when I went off to college the next year as a math major, I found a way to take as many darkroom classes and art history classes as I could.

But it really was that one semester in high school that lit the spark. I remember going to the public library to the section of photography monographs and just randomly pulling things off the shelf and leafing through them and seeing what excited me. And they were probably the same as a lot of other people, but there were a couple of books in particular that really blew the top of my head off.

JB: Like what?

BC: Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.”

JB: Of course.

BC: And Diane Arbus’s Aperture monograph. Those two in particular, I remember as being extremely excited about.

JB: You grew up in Colorado Springs, right?

BC: No. I grew up in the suburbs of Denver.

JB: Okay. That makes more sense. I had it mis-remembered. I was imagining you out there in that conservative – I don’t want to say wasteland, as I’ll get in trouble. I had a hard time seeing you there. The Denver area makes way more sense.

BC: Well, you know what, though? Back when I was in school, so we’re talking 1988 was when I graduated from high school, Colorado wasn’t the sort of purple state it is now. It was much more redneck, and there was a lot less culture in Denver at that time than there is now.

It’s fun for me to go back now, because people have flooded in from the East and West coasts so much that things have really changed. And now Denver’s kind of a fun place to be. But, I remember back when I was in high school and college, I couldn’t wait to get out.

JB: I bet. And was it always “I can’t wait to go to New York”? Was that a plan?

BC: It was, actually. I came to New York for the first time when I was in 9th grade for a debate tournament, and that was when I fell in love with the city. It’s weird how even when you’re a kid, you know something. It was like I knew I would end up in New York City. Lo and behold! Less than a week after I graduated from CU, Boulder, I had my bags packed and was on my way to New York City. I’ve been here ever since.

JB: Do you think New York is going to stay the center of it all? At least as far as America goes? Is its relative position weakening as other cities grow? What do you think?

BC: It’s interesting. The internet puts everybody at a more level playing field, for sure.

But, a lot of the creative people who helped build this city and make it interesting in the first place are being forced to go to other places. We’ve seen a mass exodus of the creative class in New York, for sure, which will negatively impact things. But, all that being said, there is still a certain cache being in New York City.

I continue to notice it. There are collectors all over the country, but people really do enjoy the experience of coming to New York City and exploring galleries and museums, and buying work here.

So even if they can get the same thing in Los Angeles or Chicago, there’s still a certain thrill of collecting work in New York. Everything will change, and is already changing, but I don’t foresee another city surpassing New York City as the art capital of this country, anyway.

Los Angeles is an interesting city, and there are probably even more artists there at this point than there are in New York. But, even with its world-class museums and impressive galleries, I would still say there’s no competition between Los Angeles and New York in terms of the volume of artwork sold per year.

JB: And you can take a subway in New York. I was just in LA, and it’s like you really get the sense that people on the West side and the East side, they’re living parallel lives. People plan their whole day around not having to get stuck in the kind of traffic that makes you want to hurt somebody, especially when the sun is beating down.

The last time I was in New York, I couldn’t believe that, because of the rising rents, all the pizzerias were going out of business. Can you still get a decent slice of pizza in your neighborhood? Is that a thing of the past?

BC: That’s a really good question. Gosh. Maybe one place by our gallery still has a decent slice. The pizzerias are fewer and farther apart than they ever were. (Laughter)

When I moved to New York, I lived on St. Mark’s Place, and there was a pizza place across the street that had dollar slices. I probably subsisted on that, and dollar falafels, for the first year I was here. I think you would not be able to do that in 2016.

JB: I really, really miss pizza.

BC: One thing we haven’t really talked about is that a lot of the defection of small and medium-sized galleries from Chelsea has been to the Lower East Side. And the notable fact is that they’re probably the same number of galleries in New York right now as there were prior to the recession in 2008, but because of the architecture on the Lower East Side the galleries tend to be in smaller spaces with lower ceilings.

They’re much more compact. The warehouse spaces in West Chelsea lent themselves better to contemporary art. That was another big deal in our transition – finding a space large enough to show a wide range of art.

JB: Was Brooklyn a consideration? Or not really?

BC: Briefly a consideration. Brooklyn at this point is culturally more interesting than Manhattan for emerging work, and certainly almost all of my friends live there now.

But as far as art galleries are concerned, there are all these wonderful places, especially in Bushwick, but for a lot of my collectors, there’s still this psychological hurdle. Perhaps it speaks to my age, or my experience or what have you, but I just felt much more comfortable staying within Manhattan.

JB: Gotcha. There were a ton of galleries in Williamsburg when I lived in Greenpoint, and then I came back to town five years ago and they were all gone. Or most of them were gone and replaced by retail, and it sounds like that is more or less what’s happening in Chelsea – this idea that high-end things that maybe sell more frequently or where they have lower dollar amounts but you sell more volume.

Is that a trend, do you think? Is that part of gentrification? Galleries giving way to boutiques?

BC: Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening. The amount of handbag stores in New York City is just mindboggling. (Laughter)

But with regard to Williamsburg, some of the hottest young galleries were in Williamsburg prior to the recession. Most of the more interesting ones ended up moving to Chelsea.
But then the others just closed and nothing ever came back once the economy started to improve. Part of that has to do with the fact that Williamsburg just exploded in terms of real estate. It became so expensive that it wasn’t much cheaper than being in Manhattan.

But, as I said, there are some wonderfully exciting places in Bushwick. Artists are subverting the gallery system altogether, and establishing pop-ups and project spaces in apartments and other unexpected locales throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

JB: I did it. I had a gallery called BQE33. I ran a space out of my apartment, because it looked so much like a gallery, just for my Pratt buddies.

But now all those suckers are screwed, right? They’re shutting the “L” train for a year and a half. How are people there going to get to Manhattan?

BC: Yeah.

JB: All that pricey real estate doesn’t do much if you can’t get across the water, right?

BC: I know. That’s going to have such a huge effect on real estate values, on the ability for all these businesses to make money. It’s going to be a nightmare, honestly.

JB: Right. I’m glad it’s not your problem and it’s not my problem. (Laughter)

Let’s just pivot for a second to creative stuff, then. Part of your job is to look, and I would imagine you’ve got to have your guard up almost all the time, because people want something from you. That’s just human nature.

I know you’re going to museums. I know you’re going to see things, just out of joy and out of learning. Have you seen anything in New York or on your travels, any museum shows, anything that was just unbelievably good and reinvigorated you or anything like that?

BC: Yes, right now the Whitney Museum has this portraiture show that’s all drawn from their permanent collection. It’s actually a really nice way not only to reinterpret, but also represent their permanent collection.

A lot of museums will always have the same artworks on display. Even in the old Whitney space, when you went up to the fifth floor, you would always know what pieces you would see. But this exhibition was exciting and fresh, especially in terms of the inclusion of all media, including photography. They had some wonderful stuff there.

JB: I hate putting people on the spot like that, but I kind of have to. It’s part of the job.

BC: Well, yeah. I can think of a lot of things I saw that I didn’t like, but that was one exhibition I really admired.

Another exciting thing was The School, which is Jack Shainman’s gallery that he opened up in Kinderhook, which is about two hours north of the city.

He bought an old schoolhouse that he’s turned into a place to present contemporary art. I think it opened last year, but I just now made it this summer. And I was blown away.

And speaking to some of this migration, Shainman still certainly has a presence in West Chelsea, but now he’s got this other major operation going on outside of the city, which is really exciting.

JB: Cool. A lot of the first half the interview was kind of bleak, because things are not easy out there, and you’re very kind to share this kind of inside information with us.

But if we were going to pivot to something slightly more optimistic for the younger artists out there, or just the people who really, really want in on the industry and haven’t made it yet, is there any advice you might give to help people stay positive?

Obviously, perseverance is a great one, but are there things that you tend to encourage people on to help them understand why making art is important, beyond just trying to sell it? Or anything like that?

BC: Well, first of all, I think one encouraging thing is something that I touched on before. While everything is changing, there probably are still more galleries in New York right now than there ever have been. And a lot of those galleries are smaller, scrappier spaces that have an investment in emerging art.

We talked about a lot of artists who are being forced out of New York City by the rising real estate prices and cost of living, but the good news is, with the internet and FedEx, etc., artists don’t have to live in New York City to have New York City gallery representation.

An artist can set up shop in Pittsburgh or Detroit and still have a chance of making it in other markets and building an audience. There’s more flexibility in those terms which is fantastic.

A lot of what we talked about was sort of bleak, but I still have the energy and the positivity to try to expand and continue to have a space for younger voices. Despite all of these observations, I feel personally optimistic enough that owning a gallery is still viable and something worthwhile.

JB: No doubt. It’s kind of you to share your thoughts with us.

I’ve always try to remind people that the reasons why we started making art, the things it does for our psyche and our sense of self-esteem, the ability to become healthier if you use your art in the right way, these things don’t really have anything to do with getting famous or selling prints for five grand a pop.

Part of how I remain optimistic is to just remind people that there are deep reasons to do this stuff that don’t involve getting 250 likes on your Facebook post about your next show.

BC: You’re completely right. And you need to be able to keep a healthy perspective about fulfillment and achievement. This relates to anything, not just the art industry, but it goes back to looking at yourself and not comparing yourself to others, etc.

JB: Etc, indeed. So we’ll end on a positive note. I wish you nothing but the best in this new venture. On behalf of all our readers, thanks so much for your time.

BC: It’s always good talking to you.

© Randhy Rodriguez http://randhyrodriguez.com/ Marc Yankus exhibition

© Randhy Rodriguez http://randhyrodriguez.com/ Marc Yankus exhibition

© Adam Ekberg, “A sparkler on a frozen lake,” 2006, Archival pigment print.

© Pipo Nguyen-duy, “Untitled L30,” 1998, Cyanotype (Unique).

© Jill Greenberg, “Untitled (Ursine #59J-48),” 2006, ARchival pigment print.

© Marc Yankus, “Haughwout Building,” 2016, ARchival pigment print.

© Lori Nix, “Circulation Desk,” 2012, Archival pigment print.

This Week In Photography Books: John MacLean

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s Monday morning, and the sky is gray. (It can be confusing, I know, as you’re likely reading on a Friday, when the weekend is at hand.)

Everybody loves the weekend, but gray Mondays are about as fun as being the guy who has to wash Donald Trump’s underwear. Think about that guy the next time you get a case of the Mondays.

(Uh, Mr. President, it’s kind of hard for me to say this, but there was a strange stain on your boxers that I just couldn’t get out. I’m really, really sorry, Sir. We tried. We really did.)

This Monday, there’s one guy in America who feels like it’s Saturday night, all day long. That man’s name: Thomas Fucking Brady.

Now, if you’ve connected the dots properly, being from New Jersey as I am, I follow the New York Giants. The only team to ever beat Tom Brady in a Superbowl. (Twice.) I have no love for the Patriots, and was solidly rooting for the Falcons last night.

They jumped out to a massive 28-3 lead, and Fox kept dropping statistics on the screen about how nobody had ever come back from more than 10 in a Superbowl.

Ever.

Then they told us that in the history of the NFL playoffs, teams with a lead like the Hawks had were 93-0.

Nobody had ever lost a lead that big.
Ever.

My wife was half-asleep on the couch, bored as hell, just waiting for me to give up on the game so we could watch “Love,” a show we’re currently digging on Netflix.

I could feel her, willing me to change the channel. The ending seemed a foregone conclusion. I wondered what the analytics guys would say about the Falcons chances of winning, at that point. (This morning, I read either 99.7%, or 99.8%, depending upon whom you trust.)

“Still,” I said to Jessie, “We can watch Netflix when I’m sure the game is over. There’s too much time left to say it’s impossible.”

So I watched the epic, never-before-seen comeback. I watched it all. And as a sports fan, if you don’t love a story like that, you’re in the wrong business.

Tom Brady has now won 5 Superbowls, and I’m sure the extra ring will look good on his thumb. I don’t imagine a thumb ring will be comfortable, but what can you do?

He’s just a boy from Northern California, the perfect looking guy, if we’re being honest, who just happened to become the biggest sports legend in the biggest sports city in America. Bigger than Larry Bird, or Big Papi, or anyone, really.

Tom Brady’s just some dude from San Mateo, who grew up in the shadow of Candlestick Park, where Joe Montana plied his trade for the San Francisco 49ers. Joe Montana, the guy people used to say was the Greatest of All Time. Joe Montana, who won 4 Superbowls, the previous high for a quarterback. (Along with Terry Bradshaw.)

Imagine that.

Tom Brady grows up with Joe Montana as the obvious role-model. He absorbs something in the watching, maybe? And then he goes on, inspired, to eclipse Montana, the previous best.

It’s the way things work, as we take from others, learn from others, copy others, are inspired by others, or (insert random verb that makes sense here.) As humans, we have role models among our family and friends. Our parents, one would hope, have taught us to be good people.

As artists, we have colleagues, whose ideas are bouncing around the air now, and we have our heroes and predecessors. Our favorites, whose tricks we’ve cribbed, whose colors we’ve coveted, whose energy we’ve used to sustain us as we walk our respective paths.

It’s a personal collection, for each of us, our heroes, but in John MacLean’s “Hometowns,” published by Hunter and James, we get to see inside the artist’s own inspirations, and it makes for a really cool book, to be sure.

This one turned up in the mail a couple of months ago, but I’ve only gotten to look at it today. It is a really well made production, from a design standpoint: from the fold-over hardcover, to the initials code for artists on the back, to the fact that you can always see the code-key while you’re flipping the pages.

There’s a concept involved, in Mr. Maclean’s 23 city tour to track down his idols’ hometowns, but the project doesn’t lean too heavily on that. The pictures are really good too.

Many are straight, but convey a light that felt familiar to me. Ed Ruscha’s Oklahoma City and Robert Rauschenberg’s Texas both rocked a clear, Southwestern haze-free light I’d driven through before, many times. The sharp light made for sharp pictures, but little bits of humor crept in too. (Accessorize your garage. Oh Chevrolet, you’re so clever.)

The bent-over fence in Rauschenberg’s Port Arthur, TX was another favorite. Conversely, the cold wafting off of Wassily Kandinsky’s Moscow, and the gauze-y light in James Turrell’s Pasadena were equally evocative.

But there are lines that appear on Richard Long images, little Baldessari balls that pop up in National City CA, and a perfect flower crown in Gabriel Orozco’s Mexico City that hint the artist is intervening in the landscape as well.

He’s basically going to these places and doing his own jam, while clearly riffing on his influences. (Ie, one image in Lee Friedlander’s Aberdeen, Washington has the requisite graphic, head-ache-inducing composition.)

The Robert Frank pictures, done of quarry divers, are also excellent. Given that I like the idea, execution, and image quality on this book, I’d have to give it high marks.

Who are your artistic inspirations, I wonder?

Bottom Line: An excellent book about an artist’s personal quest to connect to his forebears

To Purchase John MacLean’s “Hometowns” Go Here: https://www.jmaclean.co.uk/store/hometowns/

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

This Week In Photography Books: Claire Felicie

by Jonathan Blaustein

Hope is a mentality.
A state of mind.

It’s not a thing you can touch, like a coffee table, or a bird’s feather.

It’s in the air around us, like oxygen, but that doesn’t mean it’s always available. Hope is often there when you need it, but not always.

Like now.

The last few weeks have seen an outpouring of grief, anger, fear, and hostility beyond anything I can recall. I’ve been conscripted several times to be the voice of reason, assuring friends and loved ones that there are precedents for what’s happening in the United States.

We have a history of nativism and racism that goes back to our nation’s founding. Even NYC, a sanctuary city if ever there was one, used to be a very rough place for foreigners. Look no further than the incredibly violent Scorcese film “Gangs of New York,” if you doubt me.

We’ve had Nixon, W. Bush, and Reagan in the modern era, but the US has a history of enacting laws to restrict immigration, or at least the status of immigrants. We all know about the Ellis Island phase, lend me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses, but America has been cruel as often as it’s been kind.

But looking back at shitty phases of our history is not a particularly effective way to summon hope, I’d suggest.

Hope requires a belief, inside one’s soul, that things are going to be OK in the end. That everything will get better, if not soon, than eventually. Unfortunately, while it can be inspired, (a la Obama,) it can’t be manufactured elsewhere and then transplanted, like a pre-fab home.

You actually have to believe, to have hope, which is why February 2017 is such a tricky time for millions and millions of people.

They’ve actually begun to doubt that things will ever get better again. I blame social media, personally, as an echo chamber of everyone else’s’ fear and misery is not the best place to hang out, if you’re trying to get your head on straight.

But Facebook is as popular as its ever been, offering people confirmation of their worst thoughts and theories: World War 3. The return of a Hitler-like force for evil. The end times.

Not good.

Basically, much of America’s population is suffering from PTSD at the moment, and apparently the condition is contagious.

As artists, though, it’s our job to look past the current moment; to think differently from the masses, even if we all share the same digital platforms. There aren’t many people with a plan of action these days, to counter the Trumpian revolution, but I’d suggest it’s the same plan that worked for you last year, and back in the Aughts, under George W.

Do your work.

Investigate what’s going on out there. Report on important stories. And summon your empathy for those who are suffering worse than you are, because caring for others stimulates positive chemicals in your brain.

Normally, I don’t dispense all my advice until I’ve reviewed a book, but I’m feeling a bit more hopeful right now, having just put down “Only The Sky Remains Untouched,” a new book by Claire Felicie that arrived in the mail this past Autumn.

It’s one of those publications that makes you into a detective, as it doesn’t explain itself until the end. And the design adds to the sense of dislocation, as the pages are shuffled to force you to connect the dots.

After opening it up, one is bombarded with bleak, sad, black and white images of wintry nature, followed by a building in a serious state of decay. Then, half of a human shows up, as the other half has been reserved for the next set of pages.

That’s the pattern that develops: the torso of a person, lying down, juxtaposed with the grim space in which the photographs are being constructed. (Or so I gather.)

They’re all men, with one exception, and many have copious tattoos. Like their environment, they’re sad, lonely, and emitting some very depressing energy.

Who are they?
Are they prisoners?
Soldiers? (Several wear camo.)

What gives?

The book’s end provides answers, as well as individual histories. The subjects are former Dutch soldiers who all suffer from PTSD. Each person agreed to be photographed in an abandoned Dutch weapons facility, to represent the horrors that kicked off their collective condition.

As you know, I almost never quote from a book’s text, but today I’m making an exception.

Ms. Felicie wrote, “This book is also an homage to all those who suffer from inner wounds and traumas and have the will to face as well as share their problems. The brave veterans you have met in this book had the courage to do so. As their recovery progresses, it is my belief that they can set an inspiring example for their companions in adversity.”

In 2017, I’d suggest we’re all “companions in adversity.” Nobody can promise you it will all be OK. Nobody knows what the future will bring, not even Elon Fucking Musk.

So instead of spending one more hour posting or commenting on FB, how about you get going on a new project, or inject some life into an existing one, and get back out there.

We’re artists, writers, journalists, editors, image makers, influencers, and nothing’s going to get better until we make it so.

Bottom Line: Haunting, inspiring look at veterans grappling with PTSD

To Purchase “Only The Sky Remains Untouched” go here: http://clairefelicie.com/only-the-sky-remains-untouched

img_4391

img_4392

img_4393

img_4394

img_4395

img_4396

img_4397

img_4398

img_4399

img_4400

img_4401

img_4402

img_4403

img_4404

img_4405

img_4406

This Week In Photography Books: Axle Contemporary

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever seen Duck Dynasty?

I haven’t.

But I’m aware it’s a reality TV show featuring some dudes with long beards who wear camo. Though I’ve never seen a minute of the program, it has leaked out into the popular culture, like a silent fart, so I’m aware, tangentially, what it’s about.

It’s meant for rural folks in the South, I suppose. I have no idea who the protagonists are, but they are the kind of stars that a certain type of bayou badass can get behind.

The kind of stars who will stand up for their Red State values, even when the only other celebrity known to rep for Trump is Chachi, whose fame died back when Henry Winkler could still fit into that tight leather jacket.

Not surprisingly, then, the TV shows that we watch track well with our political affiliations and cultural preferences. A few weeks after the election, the NY Times even ran an Upshot story that tracked the correlation between a TV show’s viewership, and its fans’ behaviors.

The results were mostly intuitive, but one statistic really jumped out at me. Basically, the data demonstrated that Native Americans, particularly those living in the Navajo Nation, had almost the exact same viewing habits as African Americans across the country.

Folks out in Shiprock are watching BET like they’re OG’s from Bed Stuy.

No lie.

Having lived in the Southwest for years, I wasn’t exactly caught off guard, as African Americans and Native Americans have one very large thing in common: both communities never benefited from the immigrant experience in America.

For centuries, people have migrated to the United States based upon small networks of relatives, or neighbors from the village or shtetl back home. One at a time, or 10 at a time, newcomers moved to particular cities, and neighborhoods, because someone’s cousin, or best friend’s uncle, promised them a job when they got there.

Or maybe it was the lure of a place to live, even if it was a couch in an overcrowded, roach infested shithole on the other side of the tracks.

Still, a choice was made.

But, as we all know, Native Americans were here before America, and had their homeland ripped away at the cost of millions of lives, and African Americans were stolen from their homes, violated in every possible way, and then shipped across the world to be exploited until they died.

(And we wonder why Vlad Putin is always reminding people that America is less-than-pure.)

History lesson over, it is interesting to think about the commonalities between Native and African Americas, given that they seem to share certain cultural predilections.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow get a picture of what people actually look like, out in Navajo Nation? Actual people? Real people?

Thankfully, I just put down “E Pluribus Unum: Dinétah,” a new book by Axle Contemporary, which showed up in the mail a little while back. It’s an exhibition catalog featuring a recent project by Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman, the founders and directors of Axle, a mobile art gallery that popped up in Santa Fe in 2010.

I’ve exhibited at Axle before, but then again, so has much of the Northern New Mexico art community. These guys are out there constantly, working hard to promote other artists, while making their own work, but also investing time and money into public art projects involving the local Native American population.

Sadly, despite our tri-community diversity here, (Native, Hispanic and Anglo) there is less inter-mixing than one might expect. Each community often keeps to itself, and any time “gringos” try to get involved with the Native American world, it is fraught with vestiges of colonialism, white guilt, and a nostalgic fascination with the “other.”

So as I flipped through the pages of this book, I was genuinely inspired by what they had accomplished. To be clear, given how picky I am, I do not think these photographs are amazing. They’re casual. People smile. Pictures are occasionally blurry.

Based purely on the quality of the images, this project is not something I’d normally review. But judging the work solely on the photographic excellence misses the point. This work is about giving back, meeting new people, and allowing a community to have a say in its own portrayal.

Basically, Matthew and Jerry spent 12 days out in the Four Corners area, and invited people to come into the truck to have their portrait made. They asked people bring something to hold; an item that had personal importance to them. Then, they printed the photo on the spot, so the subjects could leave with an instantaneous memento.

They also posted prints on the side of the truck, so the venue became a rolling photo exhibition, of the community, for the community.

We see people clutching car keys, energy drinks, cold hard cash, sunglasses, toys, pets, musical instruments, and even a priest holding rosary beads.

There are guys dressed like gangbangers, cowboys in their hats, little children sitting on their siblings’ laps, and a couple of culinary students brandishing knives like they’re ready to debone a chicken.

Like I said, real people.

I’m always on about the artist’s responsibility to dig deep into narratives they know well. To push the viewer, by showing us elements of reality we normally cannot access. To enlarge others’ knowledge by mining one’s own, and sharing the results with the rest of us.

Normally, at least in the books I review, the message is that great work is what moves us. Such books demonstrate technical mastery, original style, and creative risk-taking.

But today’s book takes a slightly different strategy. Maybe don’t worry so much how amazing your pictures are? Rather, focus on how you can use your photographic practice to benefit others, even if you’re not making masterpieces in the process.

Bottom Line: A book that offers a cross-section of life in Navajo Nation

To Purchase “E Pluribus Unum: Dinétah” Go Here: http://www.axleart.com/epu-dinetah

img_4367

img_4368

img_4369

img_4370

img_4371

img_4372

img_4373

img_4374

img_4375

img_4376

img_4377

img_4378

img_4379

img_4380

img_4381

img_4382

img_4383

img_4384

This Week In Photography Books: Philip Trager

by Jonathan Blaustein

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman, the highly opinionated columnist, imagined a world in which Donald Trump tweeted nice things. Inspiring things.

Positive things.

Mr. Friedman wrote tweets, seemingly from a parallel universe, in which Mr. Trump, who will be inaugurated today, worked hard to win over skeptics. He fake-tweeted, (in the real news,) suggesting ways in which things might have gone differently, were Mr. Trump a classier sort of guy.

My father sent me the article, thinking I’d appreciate it. While I read it in its entirety, it made me a little angry.

What’s the point?

Trump is who he is. How can we possibly doubt his character and intentions, given decades of evidence that he’s just not a nice human being?

I admit, after my initial shock at the election results, I spent a week or so giving our next President the benefit of the doubt. I even wrote a conciliatory column, reaching out my hand to any potential Republican readers.

At this point, though, I accept that it was wishful thinking, as the slew of incendiary tweets and right wing cabinet appointments have laid waste to any optimism I might have tested out. (Where am I in the grieving process? Acceptance? Bargaining?)

Thomas Friedman and I have four things in common. We’re columnists, we’re men, we’re Jewish, and we write for the New York Times. But he’s a famous millionaire, and they don’t pay freelance bloggers so well, I’m afraid.

Given our different vantage points, even with the similarities we share, it’s not surprising that we’ve come to very different conclusions. He imagined a world in which Trump was magically moral, and I think he’s naive for even typing up such thoughts on a functioning computer.

That’s just the way the world works. As artists, we know this. If we’re doing our job right, we dig down deep into our experience, and come back with something that will speak to others. The more we connect to our own personal knowledge and desire, the more likely we are to speak to an audience.

Therefore, even if two artists nominally approached the very same subject matter, the resulting work could/should turn out to be very different.

Right?

I’m glad you asked, because this week, I had the opportunity to view “New York in the 1970’” by Philip Trager, a book published by Steidl that turned up in the mail this Fall. If you read every week, you’ll know that last Friday, we covered Richard Sandler’s book of photos from the Big Apple in the same time period.

I had the idea to check this one out, thinking it might be interesting to turn mid-January into a little compare and contrast assignment. I figured the two visions would have some overlap.

Not even remotely.

Mr. Trager’s pictures, made with a large format camera on a tripod, rather than grabbed in 1/60th of a second on the subway, are nearly devoid of people. Rather than focusing on the embittered, the downtrodden, and the decrepit, Mr. Trager drove around New York in awe of the majestic architecture.

Rather than look down, he chose to look up.

The pictures remind me a fair bit of early Thomas Struth, but given when they were shot, he wasn’t being derivative. And they do lack that take-a-deep-breath visceral beauty of Struth’s empty cities.

But Mr. Trager’s photographs are very well made, and present a New York that it is hard to believe ever existed. It’s regal, and quiet. It doesn’t even seem dirty, and I have no idea how he pulled that off.

We see eagles jutting off the Chrysler building. Wall Street. Macy’s. Times Square. Columbus Circle.

And, of course, the Twin Towers.

He gains access to rooftops, and presents perspectives we are not accustomed to seeing. All of it, of course, in a grayscale that would make Gotham proud. (Shades of gray standing in for the bleak skies that haunt my memories.)

This is an accomplished and excellent group of pictures, if a touch emotionally dry. It makes for a superb book, partly because Steidl is renown for it’s high-quality printing.

When I picked it up, I had no idea what was inside. It showed me things I haven’t seen before, which is one of my primary qualifications for a review, but in this case, it did it in a new way.

I knew New York in the 70’s. Hell, I could see the city back then from my hometown in Jersey. It loomed large, and my recollections of it mesh well with what Richard Sandler photographed.

But this NYC, all stately buildings and quiet grandeur, I can’t believe it ever existed. Did it? Or was Mr. Trager just able to take advantage of one of photography’s inherent strengths: the ability to decontextualize a fraction of time from its larger surroundings?

As NYC in the 70’s is no longer around, outside of the art made to represent its legacy, I suppose we’ll never know.

Bottom Line: Classy book of NYC architecture, back in the day

To purchase “New York in the 1970” go here: http://www.artbook.com/9783869308067.html

img_4345

img_4346

img_4347

img_4348

img_4349

img_4350

img_4351

img_4352

img_4353

img_4354

img_4355

img_4356

img_4357

img_4358

img_4359

img_4360

img_4361

img_4362

img_4363

img_4364

img_4365

img_4366

This Week In Photography Books: Richard Sandler

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just got back from visiting my parents in Mexico. It’s an annual pilgrimage, as they leave Taos for a tropical climate each winter.

Every time, though, like the Brady Bunch’s vacation in Hawaii, things always go horribly wrong.

Two years ago, I wrote about how my wife and I were nearly dragged out to sea when we swam during a storm’s aftermath. Another year, we drove across the Rocky Mountains, during a blizzard at 2am, on the way home from the airport.

There’s always an undercurrent of drama, unfortunately, and this year was no exception. Among other problems, I got a horrible stomach virus that had me puking through the night, and then our car died on the highway driving back from the airport in Albuquerque.

It’s been a trying week, to be sure.

But it’s always difficult visiting Playa del Carmen, as what was a sleepy beach town 15 years ago has since morphed into a bustling city of more than 200,000 people. My brain remembers previous incarnations, back when it was quiet, and the ocean was still clean, but there’s no avoiding the reality that Playa is now a thriving metropolis, with all its attendant problems.

Cities have street life. Pollution. Noise. Constant activity.

They allow one to people-watch, as the urban narrative plays out in real time. Stand on a corner, watch the Euro ravers walk by. Wait a minute, and there’s an elderly Mexican grandma wearing a Señor Frog’s T-shirt.

Jackhammers wail everywhere, as the growing city is under continuous construction. There are parts of Playa del Carmen that have changed so radically, it’s hard to reconcile what I see with what I know to have existed.

It reminds me of New York, in some ways, as I grew up just outside that great city, and my memories of day trips in the 70’s and 80’s are markedly different than the city I lived in from 2002-5. And now, in 2017, New York is about to enter an even stranger phase, as native (but hated) son Donald Trump turns The Big Apple into his personal vacation home for the next (hopefully) 4 years.

New York used to be New Amsterdam, but no relics from its 17th Century past remain. New York is constantly gentrifying, which is why Polish pickle stores in my former neighborhood, Greenpoint, are now cold-brew coffee shops for hirsute hipsters.

C’est la vie.

But you know this is a book review column, which makes it likely that some photo-book got me off of today’s tangent, right? Of course!

I just put down “The Eyes of the City,” a new photobook by Richard Sandler, recently published by powerhouse. The 70’s and 80’s vibe coursing through this production is so strong, I’m half expecting Ed Koch to pop out from under my bed and scream “Surprise! You’re on candid camera!”

(As Ed Koch is dead now, though, visions of Zombie Koch turn gruesome very quickly.)

Despite the typically florid introduction, this is a book that needs little explication. It’s a lengthy series of street pictures from a long ago, but the sweet spot captures NYC at it’s most dirty, dangerous and addictive.

The subways were covered with more graffiti than there are giant billboards in Times Square. Old men walked around in hats and trench coats, like they were all living in one giant London Fog commercial.

Legless street people rode skateboards, the Twin Towers loomed above the Financial District, and live sex shows advertised on street-side signs written in magic-marker.

So many New Yorkers are nostalgic for that era, back before internets and facebooks and hybrid cars. Back when danger meant getting mugged by some lowlife, as opposed to being blown up by a crazy terrorist.

As I’ve written countless times before, photography’s unique skill is to transport us through the space-time continuum. To allow us, even briefly, to enter chambers in our consciousness where the dead still live, and trains never run on time.

This book does that for me, and given New York’s oversized place in global culture, I’m betting you’ll dig it as well.

Bottom Line: Really cool photos of New York, back when it was dingy

To Purchase “The Eyes of the City” Go Here: http://www.powerhousebooks.com/books/the-eyes-of-the-city/

img_4320

img_4321

img_4322

img_4323

img_4324

img_4325

img_4326

img_4327

img_4328

img_4329

img_4330

img_4331

img_4332

img_4333

img_4334

img_4335

img_4336

img_4337

img_4338

img_4339

img_4340

img_4341

img_4342

img_4343

This Week In Photography Books: Ashly Stohl

by Jonathan Blaustein

I haven’t seen “Rogue One” yet.
Have you?

It’s the newest installment in the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm-entertainment-constortium of evil.

Well, that last part might not be true. We won’t hate them just because their products are so darn tasty. (Mmm, meatballs.)

Elsa, Olaf, the Avengers, and Luke Skywalker all rolled out like so many products on the assembly line.

Thor.
Iron Man.
Captain America.
And Darth Vader?

It’s almost as if one company, Disney, has amassed a treasure trove of endlessly repeating variables of highly valuable intellectual property. (Because they have.)

But that’s just a b-school way of saying they’re putting out entertaining movies, and telling stories that a huge segment of the world’s population wants to hear. Shades of gray good guys. Charismatic bad guys.

Superheroes AND science fiction.

It’s true I haven’t seen “Rogue One” yet. And I missed “Dr. Strange.” But the idealist in me? The part the cold dead hand of cynicism has not yet touched?

That part remembers “Star Wars” being the single. coolest. thing. that. had. ever. happened. to. me. I remember, in kindergarten, how much we all fought over who got to be Luke Skywalker. Back in ’79.

Imagine us, in our 70’s big-collared shirts and thick, bowl haircuts. Giggle at our cheesy attire. I remember it so well. And you know what else I remember?

No one ever wanted to be Darth Vader, in our children’s games.
Never.
Not once.

So imagine my amazement when I looked at “charth vader,” a book that turned up by Ashly Stohl, published by Peanut Press. No, this is not a story you see very often.

The book, which is black, and intimate, is filled with relatively small, very well composed, black and white photos of a small child wearing a Darth Vader mask.

Always.
The Vader mask.

Luke.
I am your father.

Say what now?

The end notes confirm it’s the artist’s son, Charlie, (hence the title,) and that he has a condition that impairs his vision. The pictures convey a sense of loneliness, and I wonder if that’s a projection, because of they’re kind of spare.

Are they sad?
Is Charlie?

Is the mask a protection from the world, a joke to put smiles on people’s faces, or a projection of strength from a little person who’s at a disadvantage, relative to the rest of us?

Maybe all of the above?

I think the pictures are lovely. And they build upon a theme from last week’s column too. There are a lot of lemons rolling around the world right now. (Assuming Climate Change hasn’t killed off all the lemon trees yet.)

Metaphorical lemons, I mean.
And now that it’s 2017, I’d recommend you buy a little sugar, hack up some ice from your front yard, and make a little lemonade.

As parents, we know how hard it is when our children get sick. Even a nasty cold.

But the little statement at the end states that Ms. Stohl has two children with eye issues. I’d say that would lead to a lot of stress.

This book, “charth vader,” smacks of being a witty, personal project that took that stress energy and turned it into something positive, via the art-making-process. I’ve taught and written about it for years, so I know it works.

Art helps you get through difficult times.

But books like this can be a great reminder, in this first column of the year, that if things are hard, or you want to speak your peace, put it into the work. We’re creative types, all of us, so make the best stuff you can in 2017.

Do it for Charlie.

Bottom Line: Inspirational, whimsical book from the Dark Side

To Purchase Charth Vader go here: http://peanutpressbooks.com/collections/books/products/charth-vader

img_4278

img_4279

img_4280

img_4281

img_4282

img_4283

img_4284

img_4285

img_4286

img_4287

img_4288

img_4289

img_4290

img_4291

img_4292

img_4293

img_4295