Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

This Week In Photography Books: IPG Project

by Jonathan Blaustein

My daughter loves pink. (Big surprise.) She’s a 3 year old girl, so it goes with the territory.

Just yesterday, we were in a little market near the mountains. She was wearing pink boots, pink pants, a pink shirt, a pink jacket, and her new pink glasses.

She made quite the impression on her fellow shoppers. One of them even asked, “Do you like pink, by any chance?”

“Yes,” she said. “Pink and purple and blue.”

We associate pink with little girls. With innocence and youth. It’s a happy and flippant color.


Well, that’s what I was thinking when I picked up “Sumimasen,” a new pink book by the IPG project, recently published by Editions du LIC.

Wait, you say. What are you doing? You can’t move on to the book review that quickly. Where’s your unexpected and witty transition? Are you mailing it in because it’s a holiday week? (Thanksgiving, here in the US.)

Fair point. It may seem like I’ve cheated you out of my trademark writerly aikido. And yet…

This week marks the 4th anniversary of the column in which I developed my now-signature style. I still remember the moment when my mother-in-law rapped on our door at night, brandishing a rather large gun, as there were trespassers in our field on Thanksgiving.

Somehow, the drama filtered down into my consciousness, and the next day, this column was born. I respect history, and appreciate that I might not have a job right now, had that gun not scared me shitless.

So do you really think I’m going to mail it in on the Thanksgiving column?

I don’t think so.

But then again, this little pink book is so adorable. With anime-like characters on the cover. So inviting. It makes me think of Hello Kitty, and crayons, and the little Winter stockings my daughter wears to pre-school.

Kittens and daydreams and Candyland!

You know what I don’t think of?

A Hello Kitty-mask-wearing, naked, Japanese porn actress whose entire life is captured on four webcams embedded around her small apartment.

(Dramatic pause.) What now?

That’s right. This cute pink book is actually a weird-as-hell meditation on the way Japanese culture forces people to offer two faces to the world: their true selves, which remain hidden, and the public mask, which shrouds the interior reality.

Let me say it again: What now?

Nothing could be less Thanksgiving-y than this book. It’s got plenty of boobs, and screen shots of lady parts. (As I’ve said 1000 times before, Boobs Sell Books℠) Yes, this is nobody’s idea of a children’s book.

(This is Mayura. Hi Mayura. See Mayura make breakfast. See Mayura clean the dishes. See Mayura masturbate with her large and intimidating vibrator.)

Normally, if I showed an edgy book like this, you’d just roll your eyes and say, “Blaustein’s keeping it real today.” But on Thanksgiving, it has to be more than that.

Let’s just say I wanted to bring the rhetoric down a notch from last week’s impassioned screed. True. But in this time of global strife, I think it’s always good to be reminded that the weird shit is what separates us from the Apes.

Anyone can put on a suit every day, punch the clock, make the donuts, and then drink away their misery in a big bottle of vodka. That’s called life. (For too many people.)

So this week, while you’re eating obscene amounts of turkey, laughing at your uncle’s inappropriate jokes, and restraining yourself from killing your obnoxious younger brother, remember this odd little pink book.

Because if this bit of naughty Japanese insanity can’t help you lighten up, maybe nothing can?

Bottom Line: Pornographic Japanese book in a nice little package

To Purchase “Sumimasen” Visit Photo-Eye

















This Week In Photography Books: Lynn Saville

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m sitting in a silent room, over-looking a lilting snowman.

Is there anything more beautiful than a snow-covered field? The sunlight reflects into your eyes, and the blue sky looms above, like an approving grandma.


It’s odd to feel tranquil and safe, in this week when illusions of such phenomena were shattered like the outer layer a frozen puddle, when you crunch it with your boot.

Such horror.

As this is an opinion column, it’s hard not to comment on the miserable situation that played out on Friday, November 13. (OMG, I’m only now realizing those assholes did it on Friday the 13th. Sick bastards.)

But what do you say? How can I add anything to the discussion that hasn’t been said already, or isn’t so blindingly obvious that it need not be said?

I will say this: my heart goes out to all the innocent people who lost their lives. To their loved ones, whose time on Earth will never be the same. To the residents of all the cities out there who now feel so threatened. Who grapple with an underlying level of fear and anxiety that will not go away any time soon.

But I also think about all the people, tens of millions really, who live that way already. Who reside in places like Iraq, Syria, Mali, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Israel, Ukraine, etc.

There are so many who live in situations where bombings, assassinations, destruction and mayhem are a part of daily life. Yet we collectively lose our minds when it happens in a place like Paris. In the West. With all the beauty and historic architecture.

I may not be a real journalist, (the jury’s out,) but I did write in this very column, not too long ago, about the banlieues in Paris. We looked at “Dédale,” by Laurent Chardon, and how he implied that the bleak, miserable surroundings in the Parisian suburbs must be wreaking havoc on the mentality of their inhabitants.

We are humans, and therefore flawed. Society, made up of humans on a mass scale, is therefore flawed as well. Should our species survive as long into the future as it has into the past, it will never lack for violence and misery.

But when chaos hits close to home, it feels that much worse. That’s how terrorism works. And lest you think I’m excusing anyone, I’ve already written on multiple occasions that ISIS are **the worst people on Earth**.

But the appeal of their recruitment pitch is not hard to discern.

They find young men, troublemakers already, who are of the lowest status in their home (or adopted) countries. They have no girlfriend, no job prospects, no future to speak of. These men most often live in the kind of miserable neighborhoods you might see in a Dardenne brothers film. (Brussels anyone?)

To these young men, they offer the chance to be heroes, to a certain audience.


These recruits will get to play war, cops and robbers, spy vs spy, whatever clichéd story-book narrative you’d like to use. They will be famous, lauded by a crowd of social media well-wishers. And then, when it all goes wrong, as it always does, they won’t have to spend their lives in jail, tortured daily, nor confined to the hell of solitary confinement.

No, they will not.

Instead of facing decades of potential rape behind bars, with the push of a button, these sociopaths get to go to heaven, attended by 72 virgins. Permanent blowjobs, forever.

Which is to say that as long as there are oppressed, disturbed, and under-employed young men in the world, (and occasionally women) then this message will find fertile soil.

These ISIS killers don’t respect life, so it’s easy for them to take it from others. I may hope we wipe them all from the face of the Earth, but the ideas that motivate them are much harder to eradicate. (See Neal Stephenson’s seminal “Snow Crash,” for the best prediction on the power of viral information.)

It takes books and medical care and job opportunities to defeat that sort of nihilism.

Not bombs.

Because you can’t explode an idea.

In so many cities, here in the US, after 9/11, people did live in fear. Always looking over their shoulders. Is that backpack sitting by itself? Does that Muslim guy look shifty to you? If you see something, say something.

Eventually, those fears receded.

Cities without people feel scary. Emptiness, devoid of light, takes on a type of menace with which most of us are familiar. That’s why these assholes attacked social gatherings. They want to scare people away from drinking and fun. (Remember: no booze under Sharia law.)

Empty cities project a palpable energy, and the camera loves nothing so much as a cinematic scene. Which is why people have been so receptive to “Dark Cities, Urban America at Night,” a project by Lynn Saville, just released in book form by Damiani.

(Even today, I managed to make it back around to a photo-book.)

I have to admit, I like, but don’t really love these pictures. I’ve seen so many of them before, and I’ve even made some myself. (Haven’t we all?) But as a collection, it makes for a very attractive publication.

The pictures are moody without being outright scary. Taken at dawn and dusk, (dubbed the magic hours for a reason,) the images resonate calm and quiet, rather than “a bomb is about to go off” anxiety. As the artist is a New Yorker, I not-surprisingly appreciated the pictures taken out of town, when her discovery-meter was dialed up a little higher.

Upon second viewing, I became more aware of the construction metaphor. People are building, always building, whether it’s a pyramid or a skyscraper. And the empty storefronts, turning over, being re-energized, gives a temporal marker of American cities coming back after the wreckage of the Great Recession.

There’s one picture with a mural in it that says, “This is happening in your city right now.” I considered opening today’s column with that very quote, as Parisians, Londoners, Berliners, New Yorkers and Madrilenos are all worried more today than they were before. (The end notes credit Michael Conlin and William Butler for the Albany mural.)

Unless you’re reading this in Aleppo, or Mosul, or Donetsk, your city is likely safe enough to explore. You can go out for a coffee, and likely not have to worry about getting killed. So in this time of global sadness, let’s remember to appreciate the freedoms we often take for granted.

Bottom Line: Beautiful photos of American cities at night

To Purchase “Dark Cities, Urban America at Night” Visit Photo-Eye





















This Week In Photography Books: Adam Ekberg

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve got a stream in my backyard. One month every year, it turns into a river. Snow, freshly melted, descends from the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and snakes along the border of my property.

It’s as nice as it sounds.

But life being what it is, sometimes weeks go by, and I never even see it. Wake up. Drink tea. Feed the kids. Get the lunches packed. Take my son to school. Do work for my 7 jobs. Go to the gym.

You get the point.

Two weeks ago, I had a mini-epiphany. How many people in the world would love to have a gorgeous mountain stream in their backyard? (Obvious answer: Billions.)

And how many of those Billions would go weeks without sitting at their private Zen paradise?

Likely answer: not that many.

So I made myself a promise that I’d endeavor to sit by that stream once a day, listening to the gurgle of water running around rock, watching the light glint from odd angles, feeling the shadow of ravens as they glide overhead.

I’ve mostly kept the promise, aside from a day when I left before the sun was up, and came home after dark. (I thought of going out with my Iphone as a flashlight, but I don’t think the bears have hibernated yet.)

What can I report? Well, my stress level has gone down, for sure. And my appreciation for life’s brevity is at an all-time high. On Sunday, one of our “adopted” red-tailed hawks screeched not 15 feet above my head, while the sun’s rays warmed my cheeks, and all was right with the world.

It may sound trite to you, but appreciation is a highly-undervalued state of mind. It allows us to find peace with our lot in life, and focus on the small moments that ground us in the present. (Granted, if I were living in Syria right now, I might not preach inner peace so blithely. But I’m in Taos. Thank God.)

Sometimes, a good photo book can offer the same sensation. It reminds a jaded psyche that no matter how many donuts you make, and how much you might hate the taste of sugary-glaze, there is still joy to be found in child-like wonder and curiosity.

Will I get hurt if I jump off that swing when it’s at its apex. (Shout out to Joanna Hurley for schooling me in the proper use of it’s vs its, early in my writing career.) Will I burn the house down if I point a magnifying glass at those dry blades of grass just off the porch. (Never did it.) If I tied 5000 helium balloons to my house, like that Old Dude in “Up,” would it lift off its moorings and head towards the great beyond?

These are the types of questions you’re forced to ask when you look at “The Life of Small Things,” a new book by Adam Ekberg, recently published by Waltz Books in Indiana. (Yes, Indiana.) There is a forward here by Darius Himes that forced me to write a good column this week, because I didn’t want to look outclassed to those of you who subsequently buy the book.

(Short version: Dude can write. If he ever gives up his gig at Christie’s, I may well be out of a job.)

The pictures in this book do speak for themselves, so I’m loathe to describe too many. They are cool, funny, and clever. Warm and cool is a difficult mix, but he pulls it off with aplomb. Balloons repeat, as do disco balls. Items that symbolize fun and leisure. (Birthday parties and Studio 54)

A goldfish in a bag, plopped upon a field, shows up two photos before a splash in a sea. I like that they’re connected, but not sequentially, as many would do. Flashlights abound, reminding us of sleep-overs and camp-outs gone by.

Milk jugs are punctured multiple times, conjuring not just the obvious spilled milk, but the act of “peeing,” which gets a laugh out of my kids every time. (Say pee or poop to an adult and you get nothing. Try it with a 3 year old, and you’re guaranteed a giggle.)

Explosions, fires, soap bubbles, and a lit-up vacuum cleaner lonely in the snow-covered gloaming.

Great stuff.

Yes, this book fits the bill for my “preference for edgy pictures,” which makes it the right book to discuss in my first book review in a month. But don’t fret. This one is not just for the hipsters.

Everyone still has a kid somewhere inside. You just need to know where to look.

Bottom Line: Fantastic book of innovative, witty constructions

To Purchase “The Life of Small Things” Visit Photo-Eye



















Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 3

by Jonathan Blaustein

I get confused sometimes.

I lose sight of what’s important, facing the never-ending onslaught of the 21st Century Hustle.

It happens.

Lately, I find myself in a Twilight-zone-ish reality, where I’m respected and lauded online, or when I leave town, but am treated like a sham here at home. (Where I’m attempting to reform the Art Department at UNM-Taos.)

As this week’s big interview with Trevor Paglen attests, Art leaves the door wide open. It’s all things to all people. If we call it Art, it’s Art. For him, that means surveilling the surveillance machine. For me, it might mean shopping for things to photograph, and then photographing them.

But here in Taos, for the last 50 years, (with a few exceptions, like Dennis Hopper, Agnes Martin, Larry Bell and Ken Price,) Art means looking at something pretty, and making a pretty painting of a pretty thing. Or, just as often, making an attractive abstraction that means nothing whatsoever. Beauty, or one might even say decoration, is its only reason for being.

Why? is a question never asked, because the answer is always, because I wanted to. Because I enjoy plein-air painting. You’re outside. The mountain is pretty. That’s that.

So the idea that Art should mean something, that it can critique society and provoke thought, that it might have a purpose beyond distraction, is a challenging one. It questions the validity of the accepted practice. (Nobody ever made friends by speaking truth to power. You might win a MacArthur Genius grant, a la David Simon, but you won’t become Homecoming Queen.)

Why am I on about this? Well, this column is something of a weekly diary. And my regular readers know there is always a “point” just round the bend, so let’s get there.

When I was in Chicago in late September, I had the opportunity to recharge my creative batteries in the one way that can’t be replicated via the Internet: I got to stand in the presence of some of the best Art being made today.

If you don’t get that feeling from time to time, you forget it exists. Without a regular dose, you become self-conscious about why you’ve devoted your adult life to a practice that many deem superfluous. (STEM, STEM, STEM these days.)

At the Art Institute of Chicago, on a balmy Sunday afternoon, just before the Museum was about to close, I was reminded why Art matters. As this is traditionally a photography blog, I’ll give a shout out here to the Deana Lawson photo show they’ve got up, which was genuinely excellent.

But my psyche was body slammed- Lucha Libre style- by the “Charles Ray: Sculpture 1997-2014” exhibition. In my first draft, I strongly recommended you fly, drive, or train your way to Chicago, ASAMFP, but I now know it sadly closed on October 4th.

Mr. Ray makes sculptures that are in obvious conversation with the past, present, and future all at the same time. His figurative sculptures, in particular, are modeled off the Classical Greek and Roman riffs on humanity that take up many a square foot in the “Best Museums in the World.”

What we know of the past, we often know from Art. Stone lasts longer than paper, or papyrus, or whatever lambskin people were scratching on 3000 years ago. We read into those faces, and postures, what society valued then. We imagine a chisel hacking endlessly to give us an object that wind, rain, and time have worn down to what we see before us.

Charles Ray, working with a team in the 21st Century, makes figures out of machine-milled stainless steel. They are shiny and sleek, like a sexy robots circa 2432. They’re alluring, with their gleaming texture, and impossible manipulation of form, because metal shouldn’t look like this. (And will likely last forever.)

Some are painted white, and those are great too, but the silvery humans, rendered permanent like gods, took my breath away. That the AIC gives you 3 sculptures in a gallery as long as an American Football field, with ceilings as high as Seth Rogen on an average day, makes the experience that much more luxurious.



I missed that feeling of exaltation at being human. The pride at knowing such things exist in the world, and that future societies will judge us on them.

I had 1.5 hours of downtime in my entire near-week in Chicago, and with a walk to the museum and back, that left me 45 minutes to look. To think. To walk in circles, and realize how far I’d have to go to ever be NEAR the best in the world at what I do.

Will I ever get there? It’s unlikely, but impossible to know.

What about you? Do you want to grow? To challenge yourself? To emulate the immortals living on a Mountain somewhere, communicating with ghosts in togas, and yet-to-be-born phantasms in space-ships, who dream of sculptures in hyper-sleep?

It’s not my job to tell you how to aspire. And frankly, I’m learning that some people don’t want to imbue their Art with deep meaning. To contemplate, to fret, and to struggle. I suppose that’s OK. (Though I’d be a lot happier if at least they were nice to me.)

Now is probably the right moment to pivot back to photography. In particular, the rest of the best work I saw at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago. As usual, these artists are in no particular order. That they are featured in the 3rd, and final piece, does not mean I like them least.

I hope you enjoy. We’ll be back to the book reviews soon enough.

Barbara Karant wrote to me this Summer, as she was sad we hadn’t met at Review Santa Fe. She suspected I’d like her work, and she’s absolutely right. (We’re actually installing a Pop Up exhibition of prints in the Art Building at UNM-Taos next week.)

Barbara teaches at Columbia College, in Chicago, and the institution recently purchased the former home of the African-American-owned Johnson Media Inc, the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines. (They downsized.) Columbia bought the building, but they don’t have the funds to re-furbish it yet, so it sits alone in its funkadelic wonderfulness.

As you can see, the interiors evoke the mix of 70’s modernism, and the can-you-dig-it style we all remember. (Yes, my folks had shag carpet when I was born in ’74. I think it was orange.) I love these pictures so much, and they resonate more deeply, given the Nat Geo layoffs that were announced this very week.



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820 Ebony/Jet

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820 Ebony/Jet

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Ileana Doble Hernandez is a Mexican photographer living in Massachusetts. I forgot to ask her how she handled the Winter from Hell last year. I’m guessing she was no fan, and nor were her pets. Ileana told me that in Mexico, pets always live outside.

When she got to the US, she learned that house pets lived indoors, so she adopted the local custom. These photos examine what that new life is like, and they do it with the humor and baroque absurdity that is familiar to people who know Mexico. Ridiculous stuff.





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Richard Alan Cohen was among the first people I reviewed at Filter. He’s looking at commercialism, and the fetishization of the female form, by photographing window displays in shopping districts around the world. The use of reflections and the Magritte-Hat-photo make the Surrealist references a little-heavy handed. But the pictures are cool, and I liked that some were constructions, but I couldn’t figure out where the seams lived.

3.Golden Goddess


9.La Perla





17..Done with Mirrors

18. Shoe soul


Paul Matzner had a project that I found cheeky and subversive, though he hadn’t thought about it like that. He photographs random strangers on the street, in various cities. Paul gets right up in their grill, and then clicks the shutter. Nothing new there. (Though the photos are very well made.)

What’s interesting is that he hands them a card, and tells them to contact him if they want a print. Almost no one does. So he never knows their name, or anything about them. He hangs out with people for a minute or two, and they’re gone forever.

So much photography aims to tells us more about a person than a picture really can. (Hence the captions.) Photography tries to seduce us into wanting to know more; to care about someone’s backstory.

Paul is doing the opposite of that. You may be curious, but answering questions is impossible here. These really are strangers, giving us 1/500 of a second of their lives. And it has to be enough.








Marina Font is based in Miami, and showed me the typology project below. She based the work on a broken scale that she came across, and then “weighed” objects from her life that matter to her. Of course, the value provided by the scale is false, and that’s a fun idea.

But it also hints at obsolescence. TVs. Books. Records. All piled up, and waiting to be judged by a scale that can no longer do the one job for which it was invented.

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I’d seen Adam Reynolds work briefly in an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. I remembered it being antiseptic, these photographs made in bomb shelters in Israel. Seemed a random subject for an American.

But Adam, who recently got an MFA at Indiana University, lived in Israel for years as a journalist. He even speaks Hebrew. (Which is more than this American Jew can do.)

We discussed the way in which some photos had a visceral quality that hinted at menace, death, and destruction, while others seemed more straight. He thought they were caught in the middle of a battle between the journalistic aesthetic, and the fine art style. (I agreed.) So we talked about how he might resolve that going forward, or if he even had to? Regardless, it’s a fascinating project, as certain societies are forced to live in a state of perpetual war.

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Finally, yes finally, we have Axelle Horstmann. She’s a French photographer based in Chicago, and she asked me to look at her work during the portfolio walk. I thought some of it was promising, and then we re-connected after she came to my lecture that Sunday. As such, I looked at her website, and found these photos made in Marktown, Indiana, a polluted enclave not far from Chicago.

Apparently, the oil company BP has been trying to buy up the town, as it’s already so toxified from all the refineries in the area. Just a grim place to live, and even then, people are fighting to stay, because it’s home. I thought the pictures were intriguing, so I offered to show them. I’ve since learned that Marktown is a mainstay on the Chicago photojournalistic tour, so you may have seen this place before.









If you’ve made it to the end of this, the last piece about the best work I saw in Chicago, you have my gratitude. Hope you enjoyed the series, and we’ll move on to our regular programming next week.


Trevor Paglen Interview

- - Art

Trevor Paglen is among the most innovative and successful artists working in the world today. In his ongoing investigation of the US Government’s massive and secret surveillance industry, he seamlessly moves between photography, film, video, sculpture and installation, and received an Oscar in 2015 for his contributions to the film “Citizenfour.” His major Fall Season exhibition at Metro Pictures, in New York, closed late last month.

Jonathan Blaustein: You’re in Berlin right now because of the museum exhibition with the massive autonomy cube? Is that what’s going on?

Trevor Paglen: I’m here in general, because I moved a bunch of my studio here in February or March.

JB: Gotcha.

TP: I’ve been working out of here a lot this year, back and forth between here and New York.

JB: There are a million things one would like to ask someone like you, who’s on the genuine cutting edge of how people make and think about art in the 21st Century.

TP: Thank you.

JB: You’re welcome. I would hope it’s not a surprise for you to hear that. You’ve been lauded in many circles.

You think about art in a way that is mind-expanding to others. What is the role of the artist in society today?

TP: I think the main thing it can contribute to society is that you don’t have to define what it is. Having said that, the kind of art that excites me most is art that helps us see the historical moment that we live in.

I guess that’s what I want out of it, for the most part. I mean that literally. I want things that teach me how to see.

That’s still pretty general.

JB: You use your practice as a way of understanding the world around you?

TP: Yeah.

JB: And other artists are free to make work as they choose.

TP: Absolutely. And I think that’s what ultimately is powerful about it. You and me and everybody and their sister can have a different definition of art, and that’s great.

JB: Right. It’s certainly what separates art from math. There’s not one answer.

You make your work for your own reasons, but the political and socially critical aims are so evident. For you, art offers enough opportunity to enact social change? Are you trying to change opinions and battle governmental structures, or are you just making your work?

TP: I don’t think art, in and of itself, can change anything at all. I think it can do a couple of things.

The first thing it can help you do is underline some things that may or may not be going on in the world, that you think are worth looking at.

The second is that it can give you permission to look at that. So through that kind of thing, you start to create the basis for a language with which to think about the way the world works. And again, literally see how the world works.

Art doesn’t make linear arguments. Art is not an op-ed. It doesn’t work that way. Even if I wanted to make an argument about- secrecy is bad- art is really not a great vehicle with which to do that, because you can’t make a thesis statement. You can’t defend it with evidence. It’s much more impressionistic, and I think that the moment we get too confident in the meaning of art, it will often run away from you in the opposite direction.

JB: So why art? Why did you end up with this non-literal way of expressing yourself?

TP: I have always been an artist. That’s the simple answer. I’ve always made stuff, since I was a kid. And I’ve always thought visually. That’s the baseline I’m coming from.

But I think the other part of it goes back to what we were talking about before, where the discipline of art is not narrowly defined. There’s a lot of exploration, and both methodological and formal promiscuity, that you can take part in as an artist.

JB: (laughing.) That’s awesome. Because that’s the way people normally drop promiscuity into casual conversation. I love it.

TP: (laughing.) Right.

JB: That was awesome. I’ve done a lot of these interviews, and terminology always seems to come up. We’re living in this perma-freelance culture, which I call the 21st Century Hustle. It’s a mashup environment.

TP: Sure.

JB: It’s a networked environment. We know this. And yet, a lot of times, people still get stuck on nomenclature. On distinction.

TP: Yes.

JB: Maybe in a way that’s a bit 20th Century. You’ve been quoted as saying you’re an artist, not an activist. You have colleagues who would fall in the latter category, and then of course there’s always the hybrid.

In your mind, if you’re going to say “I’m not an activist,” how do you make the distinction? And does it even matter anymore?

TP: (pause) I guess, for me there’s nothing metaphysical at stake. The longer I’ve been around this stuff, the more confusing that question gets to me, to be honest.

I’m friends with people who work at the ACLU, for example, and work alongside them quite a lot. We can be looking at similar kinds of things. What they do is pretty different from what I do, and at the same time there is a lot of overlap.

But I think there would be a lot of overlap between them and journalists in some cases. And then, obviously between them and traditional lawyers. And in other cases from policy-makers.

I guess I don’t see the world, and don’t see the ways in which people do things in the world, as falling in to very rigid categories.

There are really no lines, if you like. I don’t feel like there are any disciplinary boundaries I need to respect.

JB: That’s what I’m getting at. It almost seems outmoded, this idea of drawing lines around words. I am this, I am not that.

TP: Generally, when you hear people doing that, it’s a pretty conservative position. If you’re sitting around having a conversation about what’s art, and what’s not art, you’re probably defending a very conservative position.

JB: One of the elements that finds its way into your work is spying on the spies. Actually enacting the behaviors that you’re critiquing in order both to draw attention to them, and to create an innovative process. While investigating the things you want to investigate.

Through your work, you found yourself tracking down a CIA black site in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2006. What was it like to be there then?

TP: First of all, I want to jump in on the way you set up that question. I might take a little bit of an issue with it. I think a lot of people look at what I do and say, “He uses the same techniques that the government uses, to look at the government.” But I actually think that the kind of practice, or viewing the things that I look at, have basically nothing to do with the way that state surveillance works.

In the sense that there is a very fundamental difference between a citizen of the state looking at how the operations of a purportedly democratic state are working? Versus a state working in secret to surveil its citizens, or gather intelligence about them.

I think they’re fundamentally different things. Although there are some rough outlines that on the surface appear similar.

JB: Of course. I’ll stipulate that you can’t possibly ape the multi-trillion dollar machine that you’re critiquing…

TP: And I’m not doing it in secret.

JB: Right.

TP: But anyway…I just want to mess that up a little bit.

JB: Please. Feel free. We’re talking about your work. But when you spoke in Santa Fe, with Rebecca Solnit, I remember you talking about keeping tabs on certain mailboxes, and tracking down people who were in the CIA. Following them home.

TP: Oh sure.

JB: I don’t have trouble using the term spying. It’s clearly not the same thing as what the NSA is doing. It’s a structural metaphor. I think a lot of the best work uses relevant elements within its process as a way of commenting on process.

Having said that, I will not be the person to tell you how you’re working, or what you’re doing.

TP: (laughing)

JB: We’ll let somebody else be that guy.

TP: In terms of being in Afghanistan in 2006, I was there with an investigative journalist who’s a long-time friend and sometimes collaborator on different projects. There were about a dozen people around the world who were trying to understand what the global footprint of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program was.

In other words, the CIA had a program of kidnapping people around the world, and holding them in secret prisons and torturing them, basically.

JB: Right.

TP: And one of the things we were trying to figure out was where these prisons were. It wasn’t just us, we were talking with people at Human Rights Watch, for example…but we strongly suspected there was one outside of Kabul. And that’s been subsequently confirmed, that the place we’d found was indeed one.

We spent a couple of weeks in Afghanistan in 2006, interviewing everyone from former prisoners to local journalists to human rights workers. Aid workers. Basically as many people as we could find who’d come across evidence of this.

At that time in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq was going full on.

JB: Yeah.

TP: People had basically forgotten there was this other war going on in Afghanistan. I think that’s something the CIA was leveraging, quite a lot. They had this place they controlled relatively well, and the world’s eyes were simply not on it at that moment. People were looking at Iraq.

In Afghanistan at that time, and I’m sure it’s true now, it’s crawling with mercenaries and spies. There’s a whole class of people in the world who show up at wars, and get involved somehow.

JB: I was hoping to hear about the on-the-ground reality. The adrenaline pumping. Did you feel like you were any more at risk than anyone else in that city at the time? Did you feel like you were in any more danger than anyone else would be in a dangerous city? Were there people aware of what you were doing?

TP: There were definitely people aware of what we were doing. On the other hand, I didn’t feel in much more danger than other places. At that time, when we left, I was living in Oakland, California. When we were researching and talking about going to Kabul, my first impression was “No way. It’s a war zone. I don’t want to go anywhere near it.”

Then I tried to be a little more rational about it, and I looked up what are the kidnapping and murder statistics in Kabul? It turned out that Oakland was 10 times more dangerous, or something like that.

JB: Yeah, man. I had a former colleague whose journalistic mentor was shot in the face in broad daylight, because of a scandal about the…

TP: Chauncey Bailey. Is that what you mean?

JB: Yeah.

TP: Wow. The black muslims.

JB: Yeah, the guys who run the bakery, but are also the Oakland Mafia?

TP: Exactly.

JB: Anyway, moving on from Oaktown. Let’s talk about the idea that in the 21st Century, people now know that they’re under almost perfect digital surveillance, thanks to the work by you and your colleagues.

These stories pop up in the global media cycles for a day, or a week, and then there’s always the next way of commodifying the news. Do you think now, a couple of years after Edward Snowden’s revelations that led to “Citizenfour,” that people are too apathetic and tuned out?

Do you think there is a complacency, for the average American, in the face of this information?

TP: I’d break that up a little bit.

JB: Sure.

TP: In terms of popular culture and everyday life, we have no physical experience of mass surveillance. It seems kind of abstract to the normal person.

JB: Right.

TP: In addition to that, it is abstract because in order to understand it, and its implications, you need a pretty developed technical knowledge about how infrastructures work. How data works. How processing and protocols work. That sort of thing.

On one hand, I think that it’s difficult for people to become outraged about something that you don’t have a visceral feeling of in everyday life.

At the same time, for people who work with these infrastructures, and are a part of these industries, this has been a huge and ongoing thing. The Snowden stuff is still a HUGE deal in the world of information technology and network security. Everybody talks about it non-stop.

JB: I don’t doubt it.

TP: The Snowden documents showed the degree to which global telecommunications infrastructures had been totally, not only compromised, but weaponized. For everybody outside of the NSA, who works in that industry, this was a real punch in the gut. When you talk to people on the technical side, people are doing a lot of work to re-think what these infrastructures might look like in light of what the NSA is capable of doing.

Not just the NSA, but state actors in general, on one hand, and there’s been less concern on the corporate side, which I think is actually just as big a deal, if not a bigger deal than the state side. But I definitely think that a lot of these questions are on the cultural agenda in a way that they really weren’t at all, pre-Snowden.

JB: Unquestionably. So part one was, your average citizen may well be complacent, but that’s understandable, given that it’s an abstract concept, the degree to which their digital security has been compromised. It’s hard to get pitchfork angry about it.

But for the experts, powers like this are very hard to undo. It’s almost like the nuclear revolution. Once those bombs existed, they existed. So at the highest level, there’s a re-organization of the landscape, in a world in which these powers are out there, and are not likely to be constrained.

TP: I mean something very simple, which is that everybody from Google on one hand, to anarchist computer clubs in Berlin, on the other hand, are trying to figure out how to build much more secure systems. Obviously, they have different end games with them. Google wants to create a system that they can surveil, but that other people can’t break into.

Wheres someone like the Tor project is trying to build infrastructures that are, by design, very very difficult to conduct mass surveillance on. Both of those actors, at different ends of the spectrum, are nonetheless united by the revelations about the degree to which telecommunications infrastructures have been compromised by state actors such as the NSA.

JB: Right. The nefarious “they.” I had to get the local video store to hold a copy of “Citizenfour” for me, and I watched it the other day in anticipation of this interview.

I had my little notebook next to me, and it seemed like every tenth word in this film was “they.” The simple pronoun “they” came to stand in, obviously, for the NSA, but also the powers that be. The other guys. The bad guys.

Of course, it’s not that binary, good guys/bad buys, but how could I not ask. To you and your colleagues, who are “they?”

TP: I don’t generally use that language, “us” and “them.” It’s pretty blunt.

JB: It came up at least 50 times in “Citizenfour.” It was like a drinking game.

TP: (laughing.) I think you could create the “Citizenfour” drinking game around that.

JB: I think we just did.

TP: It’s generally a binary term that I don’t use, but I think in the context of “Citizenfour,” he probably meant “they,” the NSA. Right?

JB: Right.

TP: You can say that the NSA is not an internally consistent or unified actor in the world, but at the same time, it’s pretty close to being one. It is an organization with a tremendous footprint on the world, that does have some fairly specific goals that it’s trying to achieve. And it’s an organization that operates, in large part, in absolute secrecy, and with very little oversight.

JB: For me, and probably for many viewers, it was extremely disturbing to see the scenes where those guys openly lied to Congress. That’s evidence right there. “They,” or elements of the National Security Agency, do not believe they are beholden to the legislative branch of the US Government.

TP: The Directors. The people at the highest levels.

JB: People need to see the film.

TP: And they aren’t, by the way.

JB: Well, there’s another question I’d like to circle back to, about grass-roots versus grass-tops activism, so maybe we can lead into that.

I watched the film trying to find your imprint. There were several beautiful, aestheticized establishment shots, one of the big oversized satellite dishes. External moments. Brief interludes. I guessed those were yours. Is that right?

TP: Yeah. In general, a lot of the landscapes, I shot for that film.

JB: Did you do the gorgeous shots of Rio de Janeiro?

TP: No, I did not. Laura shot that, and she also shot the Utah data center stuff.


TP: We both shot it. There were other things in Germany that I shot, and in the UK. I shot about 90 hours of footage for the film, in about 12 or 15 different places in the world.

It wasn’t just shooting for “Citizenfour,” it was also doing research. Looking at infrastructures, and trying to understand how do mass surveillance infrastructures work, and how does that lead us to places in the world that we should pay attention to, and make images of, even if those images don’t have any obvious evidence of mass surveillance in them.

That was the process. The deal that I’d made with Laura was that whatever they didn’t use towards “Citizenfour,” I could use for my own work. There’s a video installation that was just shown in New York, (at Metro Pictures,) and is about to go up in Vienna that’s made out of tons of landscapes that were shot for “Citizenfour.”

JB: Fantastic. Was it in the investigatory research for the film that you started discovering the locations of these undersea cables?

TP: Yeah. Exactly. When I started researching the film, that’s one of the things I started thinking about a lot. This is something that Snowden, and also Bill Binney, who is another NSA whistleblower, kept underlining: the importance of cable stations and cable landing sites.

I had never even heard of that. I had no idea what it even was. So that’s one of the things that we ended up looking at.

JB: And now you’re going to be leading a scuba tour to show people these cables?

TP: (laughing.) Yes. I learned how to scuba dive earlier, in January or February. I’d been traveling around, trying to find different cables on the bottom of the ocean, around these different landing sites. Then photographing them underwater.

I know where a bunch of them are around Miami, so I was going to the art fair, (Art Basel Miami,) and I thought, “Well, let’s just put together a little expedition.”

JB: Let’s pivot a second to what may be a more difficult question. We agree that a lot of people ought to see “Citizenfour.” But as I was watching, and breaking it down, it felt like as important as this information is, and given that your average citizen is not terribly connected to that import, the film did feel to me somewhat inaccessible.

Maybe it was even constructed as such. Very little camera movement. The use of music is muted. There are long sections of lengthy, super-high level discourse.

And with your work, the people in the Art World, who pay attention to art a the highest level, the people who support it are a part of the 1%, not the 99%. I know you’ve worked with some of the Occupy folks, and I’m just sitting here as a critic, but it seems like we’re up against the grass-roots versus grass-tops conversation.

Does one try to influence mass culture directly, or does one try to influence the influencers? It felt to me like “Citizenfour,” and some of your work, falls into the latter category. How would you respond to that?

TP: I’m interested in being as ecumenical as possible in the work that I do. I try to make it as accessible as I possibly can, and try not to be an artist who is really pretentious, and says, “I’m not going to talk about what it is.” Because I think what it is is interesting, and important.

But I think we all speak to different audiences. As an artist, there is an art infrastructure that has specific kind of venues that people go and experience it within. You always have a self-selected audience, whether you’re writing for VICE magazine, or doing an independent film, or making art in museums. I think that’s OK.

Not everybody has to be all things to all people, all the time. For me, anyway, I just try to make the work as accessible as I possibly can, and to create as many different avenues into it as I possibly can. That’s really all I think you can expect of one person. That’s my approach towards it.

JB: You’re an artist, you make art, and as such, you engage in the world that supports it. OK.

It’s mind-boggling how many ways you’ve been making art in the last 6 or 7 years. I doubt you have much time for sleep. “The Last Pictures” is a project in which you launched a highly specialized piece of information-storage-technology into space, on a satellite that was at least intended to speak to Deep Time. To a future that nobody can possibly imagine. Is that about right?

TP: It was a project that was trying to underline the existence of Deep Time, and the fact that humans are making interventions into Deep Time. We wanted to inhabit that contradiction.

The provocation of the project was to say, “Humans are capable of altering the planet on cosmological time scales, and we can’t even imagine what a cosmological time scale is.”


JB: (laughing.)

TP: (laughing.)

JB: Awesome. One person could take his or her entire life to edit down a selection of photographs to represent humans.

TP: It’s an impossible project.

JB: Right. But you did it as one of many things. So what was your criteria? What goes through your head when you have a responsibility that nobody really could or should have, but you have it. How do you react? What do you do?

TP: For that project, we narrowed down the question a little bit. It wasn’t “How do we represent humans to some beings in the distant future,” the question we had was a little bit more specific. It was, “What are all the ways in which human progress has backfired?”


TP: What are the ways in which we have terraformed the Earth’s surface in our own image, which has paradoxically created the conditions for our own potential extinction? That was a little bit of a narrower question.

How do you represent this moment in which human activities have affected every grain of sand on every beach?

And the way I approached it was to create a research group at Creative Time, who commissioned the project. I had a group of mostly graduate students, but also other artists, and we spent the better part of a year having weekly seminars. Bringing in images, and talking about the project. Trying to think through these questions.

We also brought in different guest speakers who were in town. It really was a kind of seminar that we ran. In addition to that, I interviewed between 40 and 50 different people around the world who are involved in fields where these kinds of contradictions between progress and self-destruction were becoming very evident. From people studying bio-technology to people who were pure mathematicians, in some cases.

A huge range of sciences and social sciences and arts. By collecting these conversations, certain types of images would distill from them.

I didn’t actually pick that many of the images. I brought them all together, but it was a pretty collective effort.

JB: I assumed you had collaborators. But it’s very evident from our conversation that you don’t get to make the kind of work you’re making right now, you don’t get to have the kind of cultural imprint you have, without reams and reams of collaborators.

TP: Oh yeah.

JB: You’re building teams everywhere.

TP: For everything. Yes.

JB: For everything.

TP: Yeah, I have different teams for everything.

JB: But you have to.

TP: You have to.

JB: It’s fascinating.

TP: I don’t go into a studio at the beginning of the day, and then emerge at the end of the day with anything. (laughing.) Mostly, I email people and talk to people. On any given day, that’s mostly what I’m doing.

JB: Right. And you’re learning. You get to work with global experts in their own individual fields. That’s what an artist means in 2015.

We talked about the term. You get to do these things under the mantle of “artist,” and co-ordinate with other experts.

Speaking of which, you did a piece in the Fukushima exclusionary zone that I’d like to talk about. We have a program here at UNM-Taos, where I teach, and we bring in High School students from the rural communities around Northern New Mexico, and they get two free college classes each Friday.

One of the communities outside Taos is called Questa, and Chevron had a Molybdenum mine there that they recently closed, and it’s become a Superfund site. This town has to deal with the aftermath of losing all the jobs, and having their mountains ruined.

So one of my Questa students, Anna Marie Sanchez, wanted to ask a question about the Trinity Cube that you made in Fukushima.

TP: Sure.

JB: How was the radiation cube made? And if people aren’t allowed to view it for between 3 and 30,000 years, because it’s in the exclusion zone, how did you handle the radiation to build it?

TP: The exclusion zone is radioactive, but it’s not radioactive in the way that a nuclear submarine is radioactive, if it melts down.


TP: The radiation in the exclusion zone, in particular in the place where we were working, is basically the same level of radiation you would have if you took an inter-continental flight to Europe. If you got above the atmosphere and were bombarded with cosmic rays.

You can go into the zone for any number of hours at a time. I think it’s up to 6 hours.

JB: Suited up?

TP: Yeah. Sure. Absolutely. And it’s not considered harmful, basically. The idea is that you can go in and out of there, especially if you’re a resident, but you can’t live there.

And in terms of handling the material, it’s radioactive, but a very low level of radioactivity. Weirdly enough, it will become more radioactive the longer it stays there. That’s a part of the piece.

JB: Because it absorbs radioactivity from its surroundings? The outside is glass, and the inside is Trinitite, which comes from here. From New Mexico.

TP: Yeah.

JB: From the Trinity site. Did you have to come here to harvest it? Can you buy Trinitite on Ebay? How does one come by the materials themselves?

TP: The first rule of Trinitite is that you don’t talk about where you got the Trinitite. (laughing.)

JB: Is that a David Fincher reference? I think that was.

TP: Yeah.

JB: Right on. I love it.

TP: Trinitite has been illegal to collect since 1974, but Trinitite collected before 1974 is out there. You can get it from different collectors.

JB: I was just curious. I didn’t know it was illegal.

So this is predominantly a photography blog, but we like to talk about art when we can. We now have a picture of you, the modern, hyper-successful artist who’s working in photography, research, video, sculpture, film, space. All sorts of things.

You’ve lived on the West Coast, the East Coast, now in Germany. But at some point, you were in Chicago. I was just there for the first time, pretty much, and had almost no free time, as I was at the Filter Photo Festival.

I carved out an hour, and visited the Charles Ray show that’s currently up at the Art Institute of Chicago. Did you have a chance to see that?

TP: No. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t been to Chicago for a long time. I went to graduate school there, but I have not seen that show.

JB: OK. I was asking because he’s making these sculptures that have these very obvious classical references, and he’s working with teams, but the sculptures are made out of machine-tooled stainless steel, and will last forever. They’re referencing the past, but speaking to the future.

It made me think, in particular of “The Last Pictures,” but of the way you’re working. You’re making an imprint that will outlast us, and then trying to figure out what to say with that imprint.

I was wondering if you were familiar with the work, or had thought about it all, and it sounds like the answer is “No.”
That’s a quick answer.

TP: The quick answer is “No,” the longer answer is I think when you’re making art, you’re always in a dialogue with your ancestors, and your descendants. The way that I think about it, anyway, is that you’re part of a conversation that is on a horizontal axis, in the sense that you’re talking to the other humans now.

But it’s also on a vertical axis, in the sense that you’re talking to the artists that were alive before you, and you’re talking to the artists who will be alive in the future as well.

JB: Can I hit you with one more question?

TP: Yeah, one more, and then I’ve got to go. I’ve got a conference with a space company.

JB: Exactly. How perfect.

I’m sure you’re familiar with Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” and how so much of it has come true. Lately, I’ve been trying to put some of my interview subjects on the future prognostication seat.

I read where you were discussing the degree to which drones would become ubiquitous in the future, and people know about Amazon, and their plans for a drone delivery fleet. We didn’t even get to talk about your photographs of drones.

How will people’s lives be different when drones are everywhere?

TP: I think about drones as one very small part of a much larger landscape of automation in general. Automation of labor, on one hand, and automation of analytical work, on the other.

In terms of automation of labor, drones would be a part of a landscape that includes self-driving cars, which will have a huge, huge economic impact on the country. Especially if you look at something like the trucking industry.

Being a truck driver is one of the few jobs that a modestly educated person can have right now, and make a living at all. Particularly, if you look at different economies of the South, the income generated by truck driving is just massive.

So when those jobs start to go away, it’s going to create a huge amount of economic distress, and even further exacerbate the tendencies that we’ve seen in terms of a bifurcation between the 1% and everybody else.

JB: Sure.

TP: In terms of the automation of analysis, we’re already there, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. You’re going to see a world in which much of your activities will be quantified.

It’s very easy to imagine a world in which, for example, the insurance rates on your automobile will fluctuate every month, based on what kind of material you’re posting on social media. What kinds of books you might be buying. What kind of activities you might be engaged with.

Your health insurance rates might fluctuate based on how much time you spend at the gym, and what kind of data your Fitbit sends off to Microsoft, or whomever. These kinds of things, which already exist, will be much more pervasive.

It will add up to a society that, in general, is much less free.


Trinity Cube
Irradiated Glass from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco


Trinity Cube
Irradiated Glass from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco


Trinity Cube
Irradiated Glass from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 15 Black Site, Kabul, Afghanistan  C-print 2006 Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 15
Black Site, Kabul, Afghanistan
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 87 They Watch the Moon, 2010 C-print Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 87
They Watch the Moon, 2010
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 97 Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2010 C-print Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 97
Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2010
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 103 National Reconnaissance Office Ground Station (ADF-SW) Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico Distance ~16 Miles, 2012 C-print Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No. 103
National Reconnaissance Office Ground Station (ADF-SW)
Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico
Distance ~16 Miles, 2012
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No 172 Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS- 1)  NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean 2015 C-print  Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

No 172
Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS- 1)
NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable
Atlantic Ocean
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco


TAutonomy Cube
Mixed media
350mm x 350mm x 350mm
Trevor Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 2

by Jonathan Blaustein

Portfolio reviews are great events for a number of reasons. Primarily, they’re a place where photographers can go to build community, and get feedback on their work.

Do not underestimate the value of both endeavors. As I tell people in my 21st Century Hustle lecture, (which evolved from this very column,) your peers are the people most likely to help boost your career. If you have their back, in most cases, they’ll have yours.

But what if you’re working in a vacuum? What if, like me, you don’t live in a major city with a teeming and supportive photo community? Visiting a festival with a portfolio review component, and there are now countless across the world, can be a great way to meet new people, have fun, allow ideas to cross-pollinate, and likely have a laugh or two along the way.

As our long-time readers know, my photo career received a massive boost from two consecutive visits to Review Santa Fe in 2009-10, and a trip to FotoFest in 2012. Hell, I’m going back to FotoFest this March as a photographer, as I have some new work I’d like to introduce to the world.

Having now been a reviewer 6 or 7 times, I’d say I have enough experience to know of what I speak. And as I said last week, Filter is a terrific festival, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. But no experience is perfect, and you know I can’t pass up a teachable moment, so…

Filter, like most reviews, is not juried. That means, from a reviewing perspective, you have no idea who is going to turn up at your table at any given moment. It might be a highly trained artist, with an MFA and a long exhibition record. Or it may be a hobbyist who’s been shooting pictures for decades, for fun, and believes his or her work is ready for the big time.

My strategy is to ask a few questions at the beginning, to suss out someone’s background, what they’re looking for, and how I can best help them achieve those goals. I take the job very seriously, and work hard to be of service to whoever’s sitting across from me. Portfolio reviews cost money, and I don’t want to be the schmuck who makes a photographer doubt the investment of time and resources.

As soon as I got back from Filter, Rob co-incidentally did a post where a photographer asked him whether it was worth attending a portfolio review event without a portfolio? Could an Ipad alone make it worthwhile? I couldn’t help making a snarky tweet about it, because that’s what Twitter’s for. (The gist of it was, if you aren’t prepared, why go?)

Therefore, allow me to share some advice that you might or might not have heard/read before:

If you’re going to invest the money, invest the time. Do research on who will be at an event. Choose your reviewers carefully. Figure out what type of work they publish, exhibit, or support in their organizations. (Don’t leave it to chance.)

Print up the best, most cohesive work you can, in a consistent size. Put the prints in a nice box. Decide ahead of time what type of questions you want to ask, and what type of advice you’re looking for. Know as much as possible about each person you’re sitting with, to ensure that you’ll suck the marrow from each 20 minute session.

This type of preparation is VITAL.

I had three reviews in a row, one afternoon, where the photographers came to my table knowing nothing about me whatsoever. Not my name, my biases towards edgy/artsy work, nor the type of photos that are published in the NYT Lens blog. Each sat down, as ignorant of what I could do for them as a rabbit staring at a coyote, hoping he’ll offer up a carrot for lunch. (Excuse me, Mr. Coyote, but why are you putting my head in your mouth? Are there carrots in there?)

Of course, it’s a difficult conversation from that point on. One person understood me to say, “You don’t know who I am? How do you not know who I am? You’ve never heard of the famous Jonathan Blaustein?” as if I had an ego the size of Trump Tower Chicago. Would I really say something like that? Of course not. (But conversations are two ways streets, and sometimes, they go wrong.)

What I said was, do your homework. Show up prepared. Treat your aspiring photo career with the same focus and rigor one uses in one’s day job. Get the best bang for your buck, or don’t bother.

That advice seems obvious, and I apologize if you feel I’ve wasted the 5 minutes it’s taken you to read this article. But I happen to think it’s worth saying, and it does apply beyond the portfolio review environment.

It’s a rough world out there. Tens of thousands of trained photographers are battling for very few slots in galleries, museum exhibitions, shooting for newspapers or magazines.

Everybody wants acclaim, but there’s only so much to go around, even in a world of viral attention spans.

So if you’re not prepared to do what it takes, I’d suggest you don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with doing art only for yourself. Most people operate that way.

But if you’re going to seek out an audience of perfect strangers, you ought to respect them, and yourself, by working as hard as you can to make sure your pictures, and your business practices, are worthy of their respect.

Rant over, I can honestly say that my time in Chicago offered many of the same benefits that photographers get: great conversation, deep inspiration, new ideas, fresh energy. Once again, I thank the Filter folks for inviting me, as I’m grateful for the experience.

Now it’s time to show you some more of the best work I saw at Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival last month. (In no particular order.)

We’ll lead off with Bruce Morton, whose work I showed here last year, after meeting him at Photo NOLA in New Orleans. (Another festival I highly recommend.) Bruce blew me away, as he’s the kind of guy who radiates positive energy. The good vibes beam out of his perma-smile like electricity off a taser. (Don’t tase me, bro.)

Bruce was showing pictures from his edgy series, “The Audience,” in which he photographed spectators at all types of events near his home turf in rural Illinois. They’re not exactly flattering, nor are they mean-spirited. But they are fascinating to look at, IMHO.

I’d also like to add that lately, since English-photo-world-good-guy Stuart Pilkington had an unexpected stroke, I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly life can change. How easily we take our relative good fortune for granted. When I asked Bruce how he was doing, in passing during our email communication, he told me that he had suddenly lost almost all the vision in his left eye, due to wet macular degeneration. It won’t get better, and he’s now mostly blind in one eye. Just like that.

So let’s all send some good thoughts Bruce’s way. (When you have a moment, of course.)













Susan Rosenberg Jones showed me one of my favorite portfolios at Filter, shortly after we looked at a joyless project about her fellow tenants in a rent-stabilized building in Tribeca. It was stilted, which made the next pictures that much more shocking.

Susan lost her husband a few years ago, which is of course very sad. But then she met and married the one and only Joel Roskind, and they’re very happy. It just so happens that Joel Roskind is a Jewish guy who likes to walk around their apartment naked all the time. What? These pictures are therefore warm, hilarious, and witty. It’s not often we get to ogle an ass like Joel Roskind’s.

Second Time Around-1

Second Time Around-2

Second Time Around-3

Second Time Around-4

Second Time Around-5

Second Time Around-6

Second Time Around-7

Second Time Around-8

Second Time Around-9

Second Time Around-10

Second Time Around-11

Second Time Around-13

Second Time Around-14

Second Time Around-15

Second Time Around-16

Second Time Around-19

David Freese brought a portfolio of images from his series “East Coast: Arctic to Tropic,” which will come out in book form next year. It is an examination of the East Coast, from North to South, that attempts to convey the hazards of melting ice caps, and rising sea levels. It’s hard to engender actual fear in the populace, when the change creeps along more slowly than a drunk turtle.

But by the end of the series, all that water began to take on a bit of menace. The sea itself felt like Jaws, looming out there, ready to strike. All that water, and all those cities, so very vulnerable to its power.

3 Greenland Ice Cap, near Kangerlussuaq copy

10  Greenland, Illulisat into Disko Bay copy

52 Saglek Fjord striations 2 copy

62 Gros Morne, Western Brook Pond, Nfndlnd copy

104 Boston copy

110 Orient Point, Long Island, NY copy

115 New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty copy

122 Arthur Kill waterway, the chemical coast copy

124 roller coaster Seaside Heights NJ copy

130 Cape May NJ  copy

139 Delaware River copy

151 Fishermans Island Ches Bay Bridge copy

158 Overlea MD copy

174 coal loading Norf and West, Norfolk VA copy

180 Outer Banks NC copy

210 North Key Largo, FL copy

211 Miami copy

Jack Long sat down at my table, and almost immediately I noticed that he was missing some digits. As I once almost cut off my thumb, I felt an immediate kinship with the dude. And he gives off the vibe of a carpenter on payday too, which was cool.

Jack showed me some pictures that he called liquid sculptures. He has his own process where he whips liquid to the point that it rises in the air, and he photographs it at 1/8000 of a second. (I guessed the shutter speed correctly.) Some of them were kind of decorative, but as we went along, others began to refer to sea creatures, or psychedelic aliens from a parallel dimension. Cool shit.


02Silver Swamp


04Green Goblin

Fluid suspension Liquid Sculpture

06Three Tiers

I met Krista Wortendyke during the portfolio walk Saturday night. She had a photograph that showed three images of war; one real, one from cinema, and a third from a video game. They were all hyper-real, and the mashup made a strong point about the degree to which the fetishization of violence is ubiquitous. The series is called,(re): media, and I think you’ll dig it.











Last, (but of course not least,) we’ve got Victor Yañez-Lazcano, a Mexican-American photographer based in Chicago. (He also works at Latitude, the print studio that is run under the Filter umbrella.) This is one time where the order does matter, as I looked at Victor’s work at the end of the last party, on the final night.

His was likely the 60th portfolio I saw, but I’d been told his work was great, and I certainly thought so afterwards. Victor’s family came from Mexico, so he’s examining identity, and what it means to be Mexican-American in a family of Mexicans. Apparently, he spent some time shooting here in New Mexico, (down South,) so how could I not share the pictures with you.













OK. That’s it for today. We’ll have one more Filter article for you next week, and as a special treat, a 2 part interview with a massively important artist as well. Stay tuned. (Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.)

Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 1

by Jonathan Blaustein

Sometimes I write funny columns, and sometimes I don’t. It all depends on my mood, and the subject matter. (Not to mention
what’s going in in the world at the moment.)

In the last big election cycle, for instance, the Presidential contest offered a bounty of humor-related-circumstances, thanks to Mitt Romney. That guy was a walking punchline, with a jaw bigger than El Capitan, and a man-of-the-people vibe right up there with John Kerry windsurfing in over-sized Oakleys.

(Oh, Mitt, we miss you so.) His opponent, one President Barack Obama, is harder to mock, mostly because I love the guy. He may have been raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, but the dude seems Chicago through and through.

This time around, we’ve got Donald J. Trump; he of the orange skin and genetically modified pompadour. Much smarter, funnier writers have harpooned him constantly, so I won’t really bother.

But man, does that guy come off like a clueless asshole. I couldn’t think less of him if he rode into a press conference on the back of a Mexican farmworker.

Until I went to Chicago last month, that is. Then, my opinion of him was forced up off the mat, if only slightly.


Because I had a moment, walking down a crooked street, late in the day, when the moist afternoon light was glimmering off his recently built skyscraper, the Trump Tower Chicago, that sits astride a wing of the Chicago river.

It simply took my breath away. Wow. What a beautiful building. Magnificent, even if most of the Chicagoans with whom I spoke told me he broke an unwritten local rule by plastering his name on the facade.

They seem to love it begrudgingly, the locals, as the structure blocks the view of a Mies Van Der Rohe classic, and was built by, well, The Donald.

Everyone also told me it was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, and I now know the city is filled with architecture geeks. And why wouldn’t it be, given how remarkable the buildings are, up and down the city center?

Skyscraper after skyscraper mocks the idea of gravity, blending art and commerce more perfectly than a Chicago deep dish pizza sauce. (That was my one culinary goal for the trip: to eat some badass deep dish pizza. Never happened. The schedule was simply too packed. C’est la vie.)

Now, I’m not here to praise The Donald, but rather to use him as an introduction to my first article in a series about the Filter Photo Festival in the last week of September.

And? How was it?

Pretty fabulous, I must say. I went to Chicago knowing next-to-no one. Posse-less, you might say.

Which left me free to meet people, and hang out with the coolest folks I could find. It just so happened that I connected with the staff that runs the festival, so I got something of a locals-eye-view of the proceedings, and am better for it. (Big shout out to Erin, Sarah, Lauren, Pepper, Chris, Doug and Jeff.)

New Yorkers are famous for being neurotic and busy. Los Angelinos for being full of shit. (No offense.) Taoseños are crazy, and San Franciscans are more progressive than Edward Snowden.

But Chicagoans? Mostly, they’re known for being nice, friendly, down-to-Earth, humble Midwesterners. That’s what I’d heard, anyway.

And I can now properly report that it’s true. At least, that’s what I found in 5+ days, running around for nearly 20 hours a day. It’s enough time, and I chatted with enough people, that I’m prepared to state it here, with the kind of brash over-confidence that the New York-reared Donald would approve of.

(When I’m elected President, I promise that all Americans will suddenly become fabulously wealthy, and Vladimir Putin will step down in fear of me. ISIS will admit they’re just frustrated they can’t get laid without resorting to sexual slavery, so after we give them all a big trip to Vegas, on me, that Syrian War will be over in 2 seconds. You have my word on it!)

Where were we?

Right. Chicago rocks. It’s a clean mega-city with incredible architecture, a beautiful beach-fronted lake, terrific food, lovely people, and all the culture one could consume.

I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked, as I reviewed between 50-60 portfolios over four days, and delivered the 21st Century Hustle lecture on the final day of the festival.

Throw in a brilliant, late-night karaoke session in a Downtown Japanese sake bar, and by the time I left on Monday morning, my voice had disappeared entirely. No exaggeration. I went to thank the check out clerk at 6am, and nothing came out but the kind of squeaks you hear when you accidentally call a fax machine. (Do they still have fax machines these days?)

As usual, I’ll be showing you a bunch of portfolios in the coming weeks. I saw a lot of accomplished work, and plenty that was not, as the review was not juried.

These days, if I think work is resolved and interesting, I’ll show it to you, even if it’s not exactly to my preferred taste. (Which I’ve discussed in several recent book reviews.)

The verdict on the festival is that it’s pretty amazing, and I’d heartily recommend you give it a try next September, if you’re looking to attend a review. The Filter staff work hard, keep it real, and make sure everyone has a great time.

For that, they have my gratitude. As for the portfolios, we’ll commence now. As is the norm, they are not in any particular order, and I won’t inundate you with too much work in any one article. A series it shall be.

We’ll start with Anja Bruehling, a German artist based in Chicago. Anja showed me work she made on a visit to a rural brick factory in India. We discussed the difficulty of doing what amounts to parachute documentary photography, and I recommended that she dig a little deeper, if she wanted her work to stand out. I thought these particular images were worth showing.

Brick Workers





I recognized Stan Raucher’s name, though we’d never met. (Facebook friend, apparently.) Stan showed me pictures from his forthcoming Daylight book, in which he photographed in Metros across the world. We talked about whether one ought to wait for a book, as Dewi Lewis suggested in our interview, or grab the first opportunity that comes along. Tough call. But Stan is very excited about his book, which is due out in Spring 2016.

Stan Raucher 01

Stan Raucher 02

Stan Raucher 03

Stan Raucher 04

Stan Raucher 05

Stan Raucher 06

Stan Raucher 07

Stan Raucher 08

Stan Raucher 09

Stan Raucher 10

Garrett Hansen was one of the few photographers I’d met who was classically trained, as he got an MFA in the excellent program at Indiana University. He showed me two conceptual projects that investigate gun violence in a genuinely innovative way, and I expect his work will do very well. These images are bullet holes from a gun range that have light exposed through them, and are then enlarged and printed. They’re visceral and smart, without being obvious.









Suzanne Garr was another artist, like Anja, who was visiting the far side of the world to make work. She photographs in an orphanage in Uganda, where she volunteers, and has been there multiple times. We spoke at length about the difference between sweet, mushy images, and pictures that demonstrate a visual tension. We sifted through her photos together, and agreed these were the pictures with the most bite.








Now, we’re going to have dueling creepy doll projects. The first series is by Chicago photographer Jessica Tampas, who originally showed me a project in which she’d taught herself the wet plate collodion process. Very impressive to have done so, but the pictures were not yet resolved.

These creepy doll pictures, however, were right on the money. Jessica collected vintage dolls, mostly from Europe, and I think the typology-style works very well here. Dolls are a well-worn subject matter, of course, but I’m always interested to see artists bring a fresh energy into the mix.











Susan Keiser comes to photography from a painting background, and I think her use of color reflects that. She also showed me a doll-based series, but her issue was that some of the pictures were not disturbing enough. I warned her that such images can veer towards “sentimental abstraction,” but this particular group has a tension that balances well with her remarkable color palette.









Believe it or not, Nelson Armour was one of two artists working with their own excrement. (The other will pop up in the next issue of Photographers Quarterly.) Nelson is working on a project that examines the pollution in Lake Michigan, and he’s experimenting with collaged images. Some were really cheesy, I felt, and others were nuanced and smart. The range was striking, but I think these four images are dynamite.

BP Oil Spill

BP Oil Spill

BP Oil Spill

BP Oil Spill

OK, that’s all for today. Sorry about the Cubs, Chicago folks, but as I grew up a Mets fan before I got bored of baseball, I was actually happy with the result. (Don’t hate me.)

This Week In Photography Books: Zhang Xiao

by Jonathan Blaustein

I never tell my kids what to do. I always ask politely.
Why? Because I hate being bossed around.

Doesn’t everybody?

Or is my assumption too embedded in my role as an artist, a group of rebels if ever there was one. Not to mention American: we’re as entitled a group of “exceptional” people as you’re likely to find.

Are there places in the world where people relish being ordered about? Really, how mutable is the human condition?. When I see images of women in full niqab, or hell, even the actual woman I saw on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I assume they’d rather be liberated.

Who wouldn’t want to drive a car? Or be allowed out of the house without a male escort? But am I mistaken? Do people like things just as they are? Perhaps culture runs deeper than we realize?

And what about autocratic societies that lack freedom of speech? How do people acclimate? Is it so repressive that you go out of your mind? Or do most folks easily adjust to a world of winks and sideways glances, rather than brash proclamations?

What is it really like to be Chinese, I wonder, in this century that seems theirs for the taking? Does the allure of wealth brought by Capitalism outweigh the frustration at having so little information filtered by the Great Firewall?

Again, I don’t know. (Am I attempting to break my own record for most rhetorical questions in one book review column?)

Regardless, I now have a much better real-world vision of what life is like in the Coastal regions of the Rising Tiger/Ancient Dragon, thanks to “Coastline,” a new-ish book by Zhang Xiao, published by Jiazazhi Limited. Before I ramble further, I will henceforth state that this is a really fantastic book, but it took some getting used to.

Open it up, and there’s an insert, folded over multiple times, and stuck in a little folder on the inside cover. I took it out, opened up, and found a few English essays among a larger grouping of what I took to be Mandarin text.

I looked at it, pondered for a moment, and then put it away. I wasn’t interested in being told what to think about the photos before I saw them. Return later, I figured. (So I did. The artist’s statement was far more enlightening than the mistranslated/typo-ridden Mandarin essays. Example: “Though the coastline separates the lad from the sea…”)

I began to leaf through the pages, and wasn’t yet captivated. Wow, I thought, this is a thick book. How many f-cking pictures are there?

Now, I often write about why a narrative structure is so important in a book. Progression, inter-relationships, ad nauseum. But I also admit that looking at books is experiential, and you have to be willing to bend to the situation.

So I began to flip towards the back. There are more than 100 photos, so it was a bit daunting to be so linear. To follow the rules. To be told what to look at, and when.

Flip forward. Flip back. Jump around, and the book comes to life. There is so much “LIFE” on display. Oddities, and normality, all rendered in a subtle color palette that announces itself over time.

There are pinks and blues and yellows, but he also handles brown and ochre with dignity. Two women wear white wedding dresses. Don’t they wear red in China at such moments? Is it a Westernization thing, or was I simply misinformed?

In one run, we get a man’s back, a man with his hand suggestively on another man’s back, and then a man doing pushups on the beach. Clever and cool. (There is a sub-theme of people doing physical exercises in random situations.)

Broadcasters interview subjects on the beach, a (drunk?) man from the provinces eyes the camera from beneath a metal stanchion, an ostrich runs amok, a dude walks down the street with his ass hanging out, and we close with a father (I assume) walking with his son, who’s wearing a white eye-patch.

A bonfire in front of a fake octopus. Swimmers. Fishermen. More and more.

Really, it’s a terrific collection of images, and most definitely shows us things we haven’t seen before. Not with this degree of authenticity, at least.

But can things actually be authentic in such situations? Do artists have to have their work censored, or approved, for books like this to be published in China? Again, I don’t know. But I’m more curious than ever before what life looks like in China 2015, and that is always the marker of an excellent photo-book.

Bottom Line: Awesome, thorough look at Coastal life in China

To Purchase “Coastline” Visit Photo-Eye























This Week In Photography Books: Geert Goiris

- - Working

by Jonathan Blaustein

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

In other words, we have what we have. If the sun shines on a patch of desert, and there are no solar panels to collect the energy, it will be absorbed into the dirt.

I recently read that if we burn all the fossil fuels currently embedded within the Earth, seas will rise by 200 feet. Cities, at least those on coasts, will be obliterated.

No matter how many times these scary stats are bandied about the Interverse, so little seems to change. Today, South Carolina is under water. Tomorrow, perhaps California will be aflame.

So few of us do anything potent with such information. Our brains, small as they are, focus on the day to day. Putting food on the table. Paying the rent or mortgage. Buying some beer at the corner store.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

But then, some Art tries to put it in our face, like Christopher Nolan’s flawed but ambitious “Interstellar,” which pre-visualizes an Earth that no longer produces food for its inhabitants.

Is such a future imminent? I certainly hope not.

But sometimes, I look at a photo book, and it does make me wonder. Even if that’s not the “subject” of an artist’s work, the visual impact kicks off my imagination, and I begin to worry.

We’re not being hypothetical today, though. (We seldom are.) I just put down “Prophet,” by the Belgian artist Geert Goiris, published by ROMA, and I’m about ready to hide under my white kitchen table and pray for the best.

Not too long ago, I gave away the secret to the kind of work that will often provoke a review. Abstracted, edgy, metaphorical, referential without being literal. Artsy, if you will.

And this book hits that sweet spot for sure.

No words. No obvious connection between images, but the themes are there if you’re willing to look. Masks. Ice. People suited up for an eternal winter? Asteroid-like objects occupying lawns, or the center of a home.

Portraits encased in glass. Snowscapes rendered in night-vision-green, or eerie, screen-glow-blue. Greasy chicken feet and necks. A bottle of water, caught in the exact tipping point between standing and prone. (Tipping point, get it?)

These pictures are cool as hell. Rarely have I seen color and B&W images mixed together this well. And the end notes state that the work was shown at Foam in Amsterdam earlier this year, which comes as no surprise to me. (Though I do wonder about the music-accompanied-slideshow that happened in Paris, which is also mentioned.)

A title page, at the end, gives us hints, like “Breach,” “The Future,” “Black Friday,” “Forecast,” and “Torrent.”

Are the end times ahead? I sure hope not. I’ve got two young children, and I’d feel like quite the asshole if I were a part of a generation that left them to rot.

But we can’t know what comes next. That’s just a part of the deal we accepted when we emerged from the birth canal. And while it might not have been Geert Goiris’s intention to put me in such a mood today, his pictures did it just the same.

Bottom Line: Edgy, eerie pictures of the world we inhabit- for now.

To Purchase “Prophet” Visit Photo-Eye
















Dewi Lewis Interview Part 2

Jonathan Blaustein: How do you define great? What motivates you? What do you think is interesting?

Dewi Lewis: It’s almost indefinable, isn’t it? For me, great work is work that excites me. If I see something that I feel is fresh, and has something to say, I think that’s quite important to me, rather than photographers just producing aesthetically pleasing images.

What encourages me to publish something is when I’m surprised and exhilarated by it. It’s as simple as that, really.

JB: When I think about your program, the words “Social Documentary” come into my mind. Do you think that’s a fair description?

DL: There are a number of the books that certainly come under that category. But there are also some that really defy it, I suppose. Some are firmly placed within a “Photography as Art” environment.

But I would say I’m more likely to respond to documentary work than conceptual or abstract work.

Taking it forward a bit, I’ve done many landscape books over the years, but usually those landscapes are saying something about the social or human condition. For me, they need to have that level, otherwise they’re not very interesting.

JB: We might call it cultural criticism?

DL: Yeah. Essentially. I’m looking for projects that say something about our culture as it’s lived today.

There are books we’ve done that have a more historical perspective to them. But essentially I’m really looking at what’s happening in a period that you could bracket by two or three years, at any time.

I’m really interested in the human aspect. Why do people do the things they do? And it’s probably no more complicated than that, actually.

JB: That was the impression that I got. And you find projects by word of mouth, I’m sure. You work with some artists multiple times, like Phil Toledano.

And you look at work at portfolio reviews. But I also noticed on your website that you do accept unsolicited submissions, if people follow a certain set of rules.

DL: Yeah, we get recommendations from other photographers. We work with people we’ve worked with before. But we also have 2 open submissions each year. Generally, one in May, and one in November. Anyone can send in work.

What I don’t like, and what is a real problem, is people sending through Dropbox. Links, and all the rest, throughout the year.

I really do like to focus it down to these two periods. It’s surprising. Most of the work that comes in from open submissions is not that interesting, I have to admit. But you do find things you’ve never come across before. Photographers who are totally unknown. And that’s kind of interesting.

We do about 20 books a year, and I would say it’s pretty rare to get more than 1, maximum 2 from open submissions in a year.

JB: Your website was almost shockingly honest. I’ve never done this before, but I want to read back to you some text from the site. If you’ll allow.

You said, “We’re increasingly finding that we can only publish established, international names, projects with major exhibitions, or those that come with sufficient funding to underwrite the risk. There are now only very few first books that we’re able to do with emerging photographers.”

DL: Yeah.

JB: That’s naked honesty right there. And that has to be a function of all of the increased competition that we were talking about 15 minutes ago, no?

DL: Not really. When I started in publishing, one of the reasons there were very few photography publishers was that photography books simply didn’t make money. Or were very marginal.

There were people such as Aperture, but they were doing it by raising funds as a charity. Many of the other photo books were either mega-names, like Ansel Adams or Cartier-Bresson, or you would find that a mainstream publisher would publish one or two photo books, and then they would drop them.

They were trying them, finding they weren’t financially successful, and then moving on to something else.

It’s never been easy, financially. When I started in the Cornerhouse days, the arts center was a registered charity, so it was much easier to access public funding for books. A number were funded from public sources.

When I went independent, most of those sources dried up. It was a matter of how do we finance books? For the first 10 years, I had to finance them myself. The only way to do that was to do other work, so I did consultancy, and put that money into the books.

We developed it slowly like that. Then, about 10 years ago, there was a switch when it became apparent that increasingly, other publishers were expecting photographers to at least partially fund books.

That switch has just developed exponentially, really.

When we started, 100% was funded by us. Now, it’s generally no more than 50 to 60 %. Some books we totally fund, others we fund partially, and then others, we have to have totally funded. It’s that balance that helps to keep us going.

JB: In your opinion, why has there never been a significant demand in the marketplace? Why don’t they make money?

DL: It’s misleading, in a way, because you have to look at all forms of book publishing. And indeed music publishing. If you look at new fiction, for example, it’s not unusual for novels by unknown writers just to sell in the few hundreds.

JB: Sure.

DL: They don’t make any money. It’s always that balance where a mainstream publisher will decide on taking a risk on certain titles, to see whether they can make them work. We did publish fiction for a while, because my degree with in English, not photography.

We were very successful in getting various awards, but we weren’t very successful in terms of sales. When I started doing fiction, you could get about 1000 copies of advanced orders into the shops. We stopped when those advanced orders had dropped to about 200.

We were no different than any other publisher. The book shops just stopped taking a risk on new fiction.

Back to photo books, there are big sellers. The last Salgado, I know that well over 100,000 copies have been sold. Helmut Newton’s last book was also probably well over 100,000. However, most photo books, these days, are produced in runs of between 500-2000 copies.

It’s partly that the book shops don’t really support visual books very much. If you take that forward, if you’ve got a limited amount of space in a book shop, and you’re trying to generate revenue from it, you put onto those book shelves the things that you know will sell.

You don’t put on photo books when you can put on best-selling novels, or how-to manuals and guidebooks. It’s very difficult to get the level of distribution that’s necessary to pump up those physical numbers.

JB: If you’re working with established artists with a collector base and a standing in the marketplace, like Martin Parr, with whom you’ve worked before, and you know the books will sell you can go ahead and lay out those funds for publication and distribution.

If you have no way of knowing if the books will sell, you’ll shift that risk onto the photographer. And for that, they get the benefit of your expertise, design team, and distribution network.

Is that the way it works?

DL: It’s more or less the way it works. Obviously, we don’t fear too much when we’re doing a Martin Parr book. It doesn’t mean they’ll sell in enormous numbers, but we’re pretty confident that we’ll at least break even, or make a small profit, and generally do a lot better than that.

But if you look at work by an emerging photographer, you’ve got to realize it’s not only the production cost of the book. We also have other direct costs, for example, my attendance on press to supervise the printing.

Then we have the issue of getting out press copies, which we generally do on a worldwide basis. On a dollars basis, that’s between $1500-2000. Attendance on press will be another $1500. This is just covering expenses, not getting any payment for the time involved.

Even if you have a book which is funded in terms of production costs, we would generally expect it to cost us anything from $4000-5000 to launch it.

JB: And books are heavy objects, and you need to ship them to stores around the world.

DL: Yeah, that’s the next factor.

JB: Of course.

DL: It’s not usually understood that for most bookshops, books are sold on a “sale or return” basis. For Barnes and Noble, for example, you’re not actually selling the book to them. You’re lending it to them.

If they sell it, you get paid, if they don’t, it gets sent back to you.

Essentially, you’re covering the cost of sending the books out, they can be sent back to you, and your distributor will then charge you a cost for actually handling it.

JB: Oh my goodness.

DL: You can actually lose money on certain books. Even above the cost of production.

JB: Let me read you the next quote from your website, as we set it up perfectly: “Please also remember that we must be able to sell the books that we publish. Please be realistic, when assessing your project, and don’t waste your or our time by sending proposals which have only a limited commercial appeal. Just because all your friends say it would make a great book doesn’t mean that anyone would buy it.”

DL: Yup.

JB: Yowzers. It’s like a kidney punch. You’re taking the air out of people’s false expectations.

DL: It doesn’t work though, Jonathan.

JB: It doesn’t work?

DL: They still send them in.

JB: You’re asking people to be honest with themselves about their dreams, which is very difficult to do.

But what do people buy? That’s where I wanted to head. You’re telling people that you have a sense of what commercial appeal is. Within the market that does exist, of people that do buy photo books, outside of a big name, how do you know what people will buy? When do you feel comfortable?

DL: Essentially, you never know, so you have to go on your own judgement. You go on the basis of belief in a project. Sometimes, I ignore the commercial reality.

One of our big successes last year was Laia Abril’s book “The Epilogue.” Now, that’s the story of a girl dying from bulimia, and the impact on her family. If you just put that in a sentence, and emailed me saying you had this great book project, my instant reaction would be, “How on Earth can I sell it?”

But I was so convinced by the photographer, by the way I knew she would approach the subject, that I thought it was an important book that needed doing. It was one where we had no funding towards it, a big financial risk. But we still felt it was important to do.

It’s one of the great things about being a small publisher, where I’m not working for a large company, nor responsible to a committee, or anyone else. Caroline and I can make decisions where we say, “We really want to do this, and if we lose badly on it, then we’ll have to balance it out with other things.”

We can work that way. There can be projects that come along where I do think, “Well, this is so interesting that I don’t even really think about what the audience is out there.”

I can give you an example of projects that I don’t think work.

JB: Great. Let’s hear it.

DL: Something that happened in the UK a few years ago was that students at the colleges seemed to be told to do a very personal project. They must have been told by tutors to go off to houses that had some meaning to them. It wasn’t unusual to have people who were going to their grandmother’s house, or something like that, photographing the things that had memories for them as a child.

JB: Of course. Dead grandparents?

DL: Dead grandparents.

JB: Yeah, that was big.

DL: Yup. You have to be realistic. Unless there’s something REALLY stunning about the photography, it’s not a subject that’s going to appeal to a wide audience. That seems obvious to me.

And if friends, relatives, etc may get a feel from it, most people won’t. I always say, when I’m giving a talk, that I can’t explain what photographers should send in to me. I don’t really know what I’m looking for until I see it.

This is the great difficulty. But there are guidelines you can give people, and one of the things I always say is that we’re publishing on an International basis. Therefore, the work has to carry across International boundaries. It has to resonate at the human level, so that it touches something within a human being.

There’s a book we did called “Mother and Father,” by Paddy Summerfield. He photographed almost exclusively in the back garden of his parent’s house in Oxford, as they were getting older.. His Mother had Alzheimer’s. She died. His father was left alone. Then, his father died.

He photographs, more or less, the last 10 years of their lives. But almost every photograph is taken in the back garden.

How small scale can you get, in one sense? But the story that it tells is such a human story, that it leaps all International boundaries. It’s understood by everyone, without reading any text.

It’s a very moving book, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from. That is a very difficult subject too, but it’s done reasonably well in the shops, and had a good response from the critics and the audience.

JB: You’re looking for Universality?

DL: Yeah.

JB: This is a big reason why I wanted to interview you. I write about books each week, and we’ve already agreed everyone wants one. But it’s rare that people out there get to hear such specific advice from someone with your expertise.

Let’s carry it forward, a bit. Where do you see it all going? If we’re talking about an industry that’s already had this much disruption, do you ever ask yourself what the climate will look like in 5 or 10 years?

DL: I try to look ahead, but I try not to respond to it.

JB: What are you suspecting?

DL: Let me tell you the problems, as I see them. Perhaps the biggest is that so many photographers now have books. Every photographer wants a book, as we said before. And every photographer now wants to do a more impressive book than other photographers have done.

By that, I mean in terms of the object. Not necessarily the content.

JB: That’s the competitiveness that we discussed earlier.

DL: Yeah, so there’s a sense in which they want a more complicated design, or more complex means of production. They’re driving up the expectations, which is good, in some ways, but it is making it increasingly impossible for many of them to ever get any of their money back.

You have some designers doing the same thing. Some of them don’t understand the technicalities, and are adding cost unnecessarily. Essentially, I think you have designers trying to leapfrog each other. On and on it goes.

The same thing is happening with photographers. I think it’s starting to go too far. I see that as a problem.

JB: Understood.

DL: I don’t see digital as a problem, as a competitive element, and I don’t see it happening over the next 5 years or so. Certainly, if you talk to publishers who are doing digital books, they’re pretty disappointed with the results they’re getting.

Not necessarily in terms of the production of them, but in terms of the response from audiences. People aren’t really buying them.

JB: Right, because is a digital book any different than a website? Or an app? The things people want out of a book are the tactile qualities.

DL: Right. Is it any different to a .pdf? It depends, though. If you have a book like “Mother and Father,” it’s very poetic and quiet. What you want is simply the images in the sequence that they are.

If you had a book that had something to do with the Yangtze River, say, then you might want to have lots of external links to images within the pages. You might want things about population, history, particular towns, cultural elements within the River area.

You can imagine video, audio, all sorts of extra things being brought into the digital book. That makes it interesting and exciting, something that can’t be done on paper. There are some books that would work digitally, and there are some that would be a disaster. It would add nothing, and simply take away from them.

So the digital question is almost a side issue.

JB: That’s not surprising. It’s one thing to read a thriller on a Kindle, but with photo books, people want to hold a set of photos in their hands.

DL: For me, what’s much more of a concern is that already the large book shops have partially removed themselves from visual books. Waterstones and Barnes and Noble carry very few photo books now, and very obvious titles. I think the days of those large book shops are severely numbered.

I wouldn’t be surprised, speaking of Waterstones in the UK, I can imagine that within 5 or 6 years, they might be down to less than a dozen stores. Key stores in major cities. At the moment, I think they still have over 300.

And while speciality stores are building, I don’t think they can take up the slack across towns and cities in various countries. I think that’s a problem.

JB: Well, the big chains have been shutting down here for years.

DL: But the area I worry about most is the printers themselves. Printing presses are hungry beasts. They need a lot of material coming through. Commercial work will dry up. Things like hotels and other business will no longer produce sales brochures. They’ll put content online, and digitally in some form.

The commercial side of printing is really going to reduce. I’m not convinced that there’s enough printing demand from other areas.

JB: So the prices will go up for those that stay in business.

DL: It’s a matter of, can they stay in business? It’s a whole chain. If printers close, what happens to the printing machine manufacturers. People like Heidelberg, and KBA. Will there be enough printers for them to continue doing this heavy engineering?

Very serious stuff. I do worry a bit about that chain. That’s probably 7-10 years out, but I do think that’s a problem.

If there is an end to the printed book in the numbers that we know now, then it’s going to come from that side, not just from people switching to digital.

JB: So now, we’re dealing with proliferation. Think about Kickstarter. When people are raising money, it’s not their money. There’s not a lot of risk involved when it’s not your money. You’re just accessing the funds from others, $10 at a time.

If what you’re speculating comes true, the people who are left in business are going be able to charge a lot more for their services. If all of a sudden, it costs $150,000 to make a book, instead of $50,000, then it won’t be nearly as easy to raise other people’s money on Kickstarter, and you end up with fewer and fewer books, the way it was before.

You’re saying this is potentially a bubble?

DL: I think it’s still got a few years to live…

JB: Sure.

DL: I’m really talking about offset printing. It’s pretty complex, isn’t it. I’m thinking longer term. It’s not round the corner.

A big question is what happens on the digital printing side. It’s been around a long time now, with Indigo and others. The printing sheet is still pretty small, though it’s starting to get larger.

It’s not cost effective to do large numbers of copies digitally. Can that take up what might be lost from offset printing? It’s a very complex arena, really.

JB: I want to take you off the prognosticator seat. Predicting the future is impossible, but I was just curious to see how you imagined the future of your industry.

You’ve been a great sport, and we really appreciate your time. You’re planning on being in business for a while, and you’re still excited about what you do?

DL: 50% of the time I’m excited. And that’s enough.

JB: (Laughing.)

DL: It’s like this. Say you’re at FotoFest, for example, looking at portfolios, and you might have had a really awful day. Then the last session is something really stunning. That’s what publishing is.

You just go through a lot of shit to get to the crock at the end of the rainbow. You do find these extraordinary things, and that’s what keeps you going all the time.

Dewi Lewis on press with John Blakemore

Dewi Lewis on press with John Blakemore

Dewi Lewis Receiving World Press Photo Krazna-Krausz Award

Dewi Lewis Receiving World Press Photo Krazna-Krausz Award

Susan Barnett - T: A Typology of T-Shirts

Susan Barnett – T: A Typology of T-Shirts

Stags, Hens & Bunnies - Dougie Wallace

Stags, Hens & Bunnies – Dougie Wallace

Maybe - Phillip Toledano

Maybe – Phillip Toledano

Bitter Honeydew - Kirill Golovchenko

Bitter Honeydew – Kirill Golovchenko

Martin Parr - Autoportrait (new edition being published early 2016)

Martin Parr – Autoportrait (new edition being published early 2016)

Black Country Stories - Martin Parr

Black Country Stories – Martin Parr

Working with photographer Paul Hill

Working with photographer Paul Hill

Dewi Lewis Interview Part 1

Jonathan Blaustein: Will you admit on the record that Arsenal Football Club is superior to Manchester United?

Dewi Lewis: Never. Never.

JB: Never?

DL: Never. Why would I admit to something that isn’t true?

JB: (laughing.) Of course. But what if I secretly deposited £200 in your Paypal account? Would that entice you?

DL: I think you’d need to add several noughts. (zeroes.)

JB: OK. That’s fair. I’m sure most of our readers don’t care about English football, so we can move on. But you do live in the Manchester area, and you’re from Wales.

You were originally a musician back in the day, yes?

DL: It’s a bit strong to say that. I played in bands in my younger years, through to my early to mid 20s, and then decided that I just wasn’t good enough.

JB: Is that typical Welsh humility, that you played in bands for close to15 years, but won’t call yourself a musician?

DL: When you play with real musicians, then you know where you are. I’m not of that standard. Nowhere near.

JB: At what point did you segue into visual art?

DL: It was a long process. I started playing in bands from about 13, in different venues. Then I became involved in performance and theater. My first job was much more related to music and theater than anything else.

JB: Makes sense.

DL: I had a general interest in the visual arts. But I met my wife, Caroline, when I was 20, and her father was a photojournalist working on The Times newspaper in London. That started to give me a stronger relationship to photography.

I got more and more fascinated by it. But then I also became involved professionally, because we had an exhibition space in the first art center that I set up.

That got me thinking more about what shows we should put on, in photography and contemporary arts. I just got increasingly involved in photography.

JB: You set up an arts facility from the ground up?

DL: Two. After University, I worked in the arts first with the local council in Cambridge. Then I ran the Fringe Festival club up in Edinburgh, for one festival.

From that, I moved to a place in North Manchester called Bury, to set up an arts association. It seemed to me we needed a building, so I found one, and we converted an early 1800’s building into a performance space with exhibition facilities, and a bar area as well.

JB: This is with public financing?

DL: Yeah. It was a registered charity, and we raised money primarily from public funding, but also the private sector.

JB: Right.

DL: That was the first one, and I ran that for six years. I then set up an arts center in Manchester called Cornerhouse. I was brought in to do a feasibility study on that, and it’s where the shift in my career really took place, I suppose.

Initially, there was interest to establish Cornerhouse for theater and visual arts. But I wanted to set up a film space in Manchester as well, because there was no good, independent cinema there. So rather than going for performance, we ended up focussing on visual arts and film.

At Cornerhouse , I got more and more involved with visual arts, that’s when the publishing started.

JB: Was the facility, in fact, in a corner house? Is that how you name such a place?

DL: It was a building quite close to a railway station, on the corner of two roads. We couldn’t come up with a name. That was the reality of it.

JB: If I told you that I was drinking tea right now, would that impress you?

DL: Not really. I almost never drink tea.

JB: So you’re typical in that you like Manchester United, atypical in that you don’t drink tea, and since you started playing in bands at 13, we probably all have visions of a little 13 year old Welsh punk smoking cigarettes, and acting tough.

Does that about sum it up?

DL: Close to that.

JB: (laughing) OK.

DL: Plus the pints of beer.

JB: (laughing) Plus the pints of beer. Now we’ve got the visual. That’s the best thing I can do, is evoke strong mental images for the readers.

Now they know that I’m drinking tea, and you’re unimpressed, and you used to be a party guy as a 13 year old punk. Now we’re getting somewhere.

DL: It was before the time of Punk, though. I’m that old.

JB: You’re being literal. In America, the term “punk” can have a broader meaning, rather than simply relating to the musical period. But my father was a lawyer when I was young…

DL: Yes?

JB: …so I appreciate your specificity with language.

DL: Understood.

JB: Moving through your career trajectory, in 1994, you founded your own publishing house with your wife as your partner? Is that correct?

DL: More or less. I started publishing at Cornerhouse Because we were primarily doing exhibitions, I came across photographers, and in discussions with them, it became clear that what they really wanted were books. And there was almost no one publishing at that time.

So in ’87, we launched the first book, and I carried on publishing there until ’94. But my job was as Director of the place, and it was quite a large organization. We had three cinemas and three floors of galleries. Bar, catering, book shop, education facilities.

So my time was pretty heavily occupied with all that.

JB: Is it still there?

DL: It’s still there, and just about to move to a new home in a couple of months time. It’s still pretty successful. (ed. note, this interview transpired in March 2015.)

But for me, the publishing side became something I became obsessed with. I ended up doing it almost all in my spare time. Although it was for Cornerhouse , I’d be spending weekends and days off developing the publishing side. As I got more involved in it, it became increasingly something I wanted to spend all my time on.

So at the end of ’93, I decided to leave Cornerhouse and set up my own company. Initially, it was just me – Caroline joined me 18 months to 2 years later. We’ve been working on it ever since.

JB: You started in 1994, in a pre-Internet world, where there were not a lot of people doing what you were doing. Everything would have been based on your catalogues, and sending them out in the mail to people, so they could see what you were going to publish.

We’re doing this interview in 2015. Photobooks are everywhere. The world you’ve been working in probably could not have changed much more. It’s almost perfectly different, I’d say. Would you agree with that assessment?

DL: Yeah, I think that’s totally true. I remember in ’95, very few people had email access. I was talking to an American photographer who told me about this new thing, the email, but when I explored it a little further, I couldn’t find anyone else who was on email. There was no point in using it until about ’96.

JB: (laughing) Unless you wanted to email yourself as a digital diary. “Good Morning, Dewi. How are you today? I’m quite well, thanks, but I still don’t like tea.”

DL: Exactly. It’s hard to remember how slow things were, in terms of early Internet access. But although it was a very different world before, I’m not sure it was problematic. You used the phone a lot more, and it was still at the point, really, where if you phoned someone, they answered.

JB: Right.

DL: These days, most people will just have answer-phone-messages. You can waste so much time trying to phone people, so you end up just emailing them instead.

JB: It’s remarkable, isn’t it? I was discussing that with a friend the other day, how if you talk to someone on the phone these days, you’ve got to schedule it in advance.

I thought we could talk about the world today, and the landscape, and what you’ve observed. How long ago was it that a book was a rare, coveted object that was a career-defining moment, and now we’re living in a world in which almost everyone has a book? Or if they want one, they can get one, one way or another.

It’s gone from scarcity to ubiquity. How do you feel about that?

DL: First of all, I totally agree with you. It was incredibly difficult for photographers to get a book in the late 80s, early 90s. I’d say, really, through to 2005-6.

JB: Still fairly recently.

DL: There were many well-known photographers who, if they got one book during their lifetime, felt that they’d really achieved something. It is such a massive change.

JB: So how do you feel about it?

DL: Negative and positive. There are too many books being produced. There’s no doubt about that. Too many photographers are producing books without really having developed the work enough.

To explain why I think that, in talks I’ve given over the years, one of the things I’ve always said to photographers, certainly in the UK, is that every book has to be deposited with the British Library. And some of the other copyright libraries in the UK.

In theory, that means that if you’re a photographer, and you publish a book, it will be deposited in that library, and then, in 200 or 300 years time, your great, great, great grandchildren can go along and ask to see a copy of that book. If you think of that longevity of the book, surely it’s worth photographers spending time getting it right.

I think sometimes things are raced through much too quickly. And very young photographers expect a book within a year or two of graduating.

JB: For things to have changed that dramatically, and that quickly, should we not parallel that to the rise of our instant gratification culture through the Internet and Social Media?

These two things go hand in hand. People’s expectations that they ought to have a book, and their ability to produce one via self-publishing, or Kickstarter funding.

It’s a very contemporary situation that we’re dealing with.

DL: Yes, there are a number of factors. One is cultural change generally. The last 15 years, certainly up to the financial crash, everyone kind of believed that they could have whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. So there’s that element.

But there’s also the element that you have to think about affluence. Western societies have become increasingly affluent, over the last 15-20 years. So people have that money to spend on things that they never did before.

I mean, a young photographer in the early 90s could never have put together enough money to publish a book. Most, today, find it possible. So there are changes in terms of the cultural environment, the access to funding that people have, and I suppose also the sense of competition.

There are far more photographers around than there ever used to be.

JB: Of course.

DL: Or at least, a lot more people around who call themselves photographers.

JB: Absolutely.

DL: They all want to compete. They all want to be seen as getting to a certain level. And the book seems to help them on that.

JB: How has the change in the landscape changed how you approach your job?

DL: It hasn’t changed that much. That’s the strange thing. There are some things that have definitely changed. I’ll talk about funding in a minute. But essentially, I don’t really see any more great projects than I used to 20 years ago.

There are more good photographers around, but there aren’t more very good photographers. It’s still hard to see great work.

[Part 2 Tomorrow]

Dewi Lewis at a Portfolio Review

Dewi Lewis at a Portfolio Review

This Week in New Media

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s the beginning of October. The leaves on our Aspen trees are about to turn gold. My son, aligned with their calendar, will turn 8 the same week.

Things change, but cycles are forever.

As such, I’m happy to report that I’ve been writing for you, our faceless global audience, every Friday for 4 years. (Yes, we’re having our Anniversary.) In the beginning, I wrote short blurbs about several books each week.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving of 2011 that I hit upon my regular style, one book each week, rambling narrative to introduce it. Then, we slowly added in the occasional field report from portfolio reviews. Along with the deep-dive interviews, that’s what we’ve done, every week for the last 4 years.

Until today.

Rob and I were recently discussing ways in which we could add in another column type. Something different. Something new.

The obvious answer popped up when I received an email from a regular reader, Brandon Tauszik, based in California. He wanted me to look at a photo project that he’d done, in the form of animated GIFs. African-American barbers shops in Oakland, to be specific.

How perfect is that? The clippers, sliding effortlessly, back and forth across a man’s head. Looping endlessly. Forever. (If you so choose.)

How 21st Century is that?

Therefore, this is the inaugural edition of our new column, “This Week in New Media,” which will appear from time to time. We’re shaking things up, because it’s fun, and it allows us to introduce you to people who are thinking seriously about new media.

Below, you’ll find a quick little Q&A with Brandon, as that’s also a new format for me. (Though my APE colleagues Heidi and Suzanne have presented Q&A style interviews for years.)

Hope you enjoy it, and don’t be afraid to let us know what you think.

1. How come you chose to focus on African-American barbers in Oakland? What led you there, as a subject matter?

I had initially observed a total lack of corporately-owned barbershops in Oakland. Having spent time living in suburban Florida, with Fantastic Sams and Supercuts galore, I was curious as to why their long reach hadn’t expanded anywhere in this particular city.

I began poking around at a few shops in my neighborhood; shooting and spending time interviewing the barbers there. These shops happened to be what you would define as black barbershops, with African American staff and clientele. I wanted to understand more about what made these socially exclusive places tick. That’s when I decided I would commit to making a portrait of Oakland’s black barbers and the various roles they assume.

2. As we all know, Marshall McLuhan is known for the phrase “The medium is the message.” Why are you choosing to express yourself in the form of animated GIFs? Is it about embedding the work in a 21st Century context?

Marshall McLuhan was the man! To me, the GIF is a relatively untapped hybrid between the mediums of film and photography. It contains the passing of time that exists in film but with the decisive moment aspect of a photograph. I suppose with “Tapered Throne” I’m testing the waters a bit to see if the medium can hold its weight.

Obviously, the GIF has gone through through a strong resurgence lately, mostly in the form of memes and frame-grab scenes from movies, TV shows, pop culture, etc. The outcome of this has seen the GIF quickly evolve into a contemporary medium of communication. Online news publications like Buzzfeed have had notable success in using GIFs in storytelling, but seemingly very few artists have grappled with using the medium in a live-action sense.

3. In the height of the Great Recession, I heard from several sources that things were really rough in Oakland. One of my wife’s friends said everyone in her neighborhood had bolted down their worldly possessions. Now, I’m hearing that the Silicon Valley-based gentrification of the Bay Area has reached Oakland, and it’s changing quickly. Do you feel like the places you’re documenting are in peril?

Oakland has seen high poverty mixed with high crime since the late ‘60s. The explosion of jobs in the Bay Area, from late ‘90s Dot-Com Boom to today’s climate has continued to provide very few opportunities for low income residents here. The city’s fabric has transformed before my eyes in these past years. Just a couple days ago Uber announced its purchase of a large historic building in downtown Oakland which will house 3000 new tech employees.

Combine the Bay Area’s explosive industry with a real shortage of market rate housing (add a heavy influx of white collar workers with cash to burn) and you end up with unprecedented displacement of long-time, lower income residents. Historically black neighborhoods are gentrifying and Oakland’s African American population is decreasing pretty fast. These spaces I’ve documented serve a particular demographic. If that demographic continues to weaken, these shops will have no choice but to close down or move elsewhere. I’ve tried to show the completed “Tapered Throne” project to all the barbers that participated; unfortunately I’ve already found shuttered storefronts where four of the shops were.





Click Through To See The Rest Of The GIF’s
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This Week In Photography Books: Gerry Badger

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m going to Chicago this week. As such, I’m writing on a Sunday. Absolutely unprecedented, but what can you do?

That’s life these days, in the throes of the 21st Century Hustle.

Ironically, one of the reasons I’m headed to the Windy City is to deliver a lecture on just that subject. (12:30pm Sunday at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel.) I’ll also be reviewing portfolios at the Filter Photo Festival, so you can look forward to seeing some cool projects in October/November.

Honestly, the 21CH gets me down sometimes, even though I publicly espouse it. Doing lots of things, and trying to do them well, is a viable strategy for cobbling together a decent income, but it’s trying on the soul.

It’s not a bad thing, working more. Not at all. But being an artist does require the occasional day of sitting on your ass, thinking about things. Or nothing at all. Every now and again, you DO have to get bored to come up with new ideas.(Counterintuitive, I know.)

That said, my life has never been better. My wife and kids are healthy and happy. The career is doing fine. So what if I’m tired all the time?

It could be a lot worse.

That’s the thing about perspective, though. If we had it all the time, we’d never need to find it again. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t occasionally lose ourselves in the caverns of our own minds. Fortunately, it’s one thing we can always look to art for: the chance to appropriate someone’s vision, to understand their worldview through their creations.

At least, that was where my mind went, having just put down “It Was A Grey Day: Photographs of Berlin,” by Gerry Badger, recently published by Peperoni Books.

This is one volume where the title gives it all away. Was it one day? I doubt it, but it was most certainly gray/grey/gris/sin color. I used the word bleak a few times in last week’s column, which is a shame, because otherwise, I’d definitely be using bleak today. (Who says good writers can’t repeat words? Bleak. Bleak. Bleak.)

All I could think about, while flipping through the pages, was that this Berlin must surely exist, because there were so many incarnations of it on display. Graffiti. Detritus. Broken down moments in the urban continuum.

Hell, in one photo, we can see the letters “Spair” painted on a brick cylinder, some sort of old chimney, and I was sure it must have come from “Despair,” because that’s what I was getting off of these photographs.

Now, I like the anti-aesthetic as much of the next guy, and have been known to make an ugly photo or two myself. (Goopy canned snails, severed deer’s head, decapitated cows…) Meaning, I have no bias against ugly beauty.

But when it’s all I see in a group of photos, I assume more about the artist’s state of mind than I do about the putative location. These pictures are about Berlin, I suppose, but they’re more about why Gerry Badger only saw this Berlin with a camera in his hand.

Where is the joie de vivre? Or was it simply that finding these less-than-glorious moments was the exact respite Mr. Badger needed from his other duties? Exaltation in the form of decay?

As the pictures are all well done, and communicate said mood, I thought it was a book worth reviewing. But there’s more here too. Gerry Badger is known as a writer, perhaps more than as a photographer. As I say in the aforementioned 21CH lecture, if they know you at all, count yourself lucky.

I began to read his closing essay, and then felt compelled to stop. In a sort of information creep, I was immediately seduced by Mr. Badger’s writerly voice. He was contextualizing before he even kissed me goodnight. The big names, the intellectually-bent quotes. I could see it all coming, and even skimmed to make sure it was thus. (It was.)

It’s his book, and more power to him. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the statement, the pitch, the lecture, the TV appearance, the personality, it speaks as loudly as the pictures, when given the chance. People expect that from their successful creators these days.

Would Steve Jobs have changed the world without the black turtlenecks on stage? (Always, on stage.)

To be clear, I’m not saying it was a bad essay, or that Mr. Badger shouldn’t have written it to accompany his photographs. Quite the opposite.

It’s just that in my role, which in this case involves reading pictures, I was much more interested in the naked honesty of these depressing photographs than I was in hearing the artist speculate why they are, or are not important. Great writers can make anything sound interesting. But a picture is worth a thousand…potatoes?

Bottom Line: Bleak, ugly beauty in Berlin

To Purchase “It Was A Grey Day: Photographs of Berlin” Visit Photo-Eye

















This Week In Photography Books: Laurent Chardon

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

They’ve had no rain up in Washington, which you’ve probably heard. Even less snow last Winter. I just saw a headline in the NYT that the Sierra snowpack is at its lowest level in 500 years.

That’s about when Cortes conquered Mexico. The last time there was this little snow, Italians had never eaten a tomato. (Crazy times, this Climate Change.)

Though Seattle is famously pastoral, I recently dined with some friends who live there, and they still flee the city on Summer weekends. They head to “real” nature for the peace and quiet, and will go to great lengths to get there.

Apparently, Josh, Katie and the kids wait 2 hours in a queue to get their car on a ferry. They ride the boat, and 2 more hours to disembark, all before they drive to their preferred camping locale. (5 hours in total, each way.) That’s how badly some people want to escape the urban jungle, and this in a beautiful city surrounded by water and mountains.

This need to be elsewhere is as strong as it is strange. Why can’t people enjoy what they have? Because baking concrete and ceaseless noise will mess with your brain.

Yes, today I’m wondering about the relationship between cities and their immediate environs, after looking at Laurent Chardon’s new book “Dédale,” recently published by Poursuite.

The banlieues, or suburbs, that surround Paris have been in the news quite a bit, of late. They’re getting a lot of publicity as hotbeds of Islamic unrest and Anti-Semitism, but also for the riots that seem to happen every couple of years. (Burning cars, that sort of thing.)

Why has it been thus? Because those neighborhoods are apparently ghettos for the immigrants, and people of color, that La France has been slow to adopt. (Much less embrace.) As we’ve learned in America, segregating poverty does not make it disappear. Averting your gaze affects your gaze, but not what you choose to ignore.

I’m no expert on the banlieues, as I haven’t been to Paris in 15 years, and even then, it was only for a night. What I know of the situation comes from what I’ve read, mostly. And now, from what I’ve seen.

This book, like some of my favorites, doesn’t give you anything. You have to sort it out for yourself, and even then, supposition is required. (That’s my way of saying the following sentiments may be incorrect, relative to the artist’s intentions.)

Open it up, and save for the title, all we get are photos. Bleak, graffiti-covered industrial and abandoned structures. Mostly at night. These are to Brassaï’s glowing, Romantic night time Parisian pictures as Johnny Manziel is to Tom Brady.

The cover gives us a map of a Metropolis, and the architecture and few bits of language in the initial photos allow me to guess we’re in the Paris orbit. (Which the end notes confirm.) The stark landscape makes me believe we’re on the outskirts, where the poverty lives. (No gleaming Gothic cathedrals in this one…)

Then, surprisingly, I notice that a page feels thicker than the others. I play around a bit and open it up, finding two double spreads of portraits. Grabbed photos of pedestrians at night, lit up by what feels like the glow of the city center.

Then back to the gloom. The process repeats itself three or four more times. Always the same: up close, stolen street portraits, the kind that require copious light and unsuspicious people. You’d never get pictures like this, lurking somewhere unpopulated, shoving your camera in the grill of scared strangers.

To me, it’s a structural metaphor. The shiny center, encircled by a sad, weary infrastructure. The breezy heart of the city, with danger pervading the darkened edges.

This is just my read, of course, because the book gives nothing away. The end notes, in French, tell us the artist dedicates his book to his parents, and that the pictures were made in Paris and its surroundings, in 2003, 07, and 2010-13.

That’s it.

The use of black and white is perfect here. Not only does it reference Brassaï, but it gives a genuine menace to these pictures. It makes you wonder how safe Mr. Chardon was, while he snapped away.

They make the outskirts look bad, but not the banlieue residents, as there are none to be seen in the lightless places. So we begin to wonder: who would prosper in an environment so ugly and decrepit? How can people be expected to succeed, on the fringes of Paris, when their world is as bleak as Paris is beautiful?

I genuinely don’t know. Do you?

PS: This column has gone on for so long that when I tried to save my document as “Chardon,” I learned the title was taken. Apparently, I reviewed another of his books back in 2013. Not sure what that says about my memory, but I’ll have to re-read it, to see what I thought of his previous effort.

Bottom Line: Chilling photos on the outskirts of Paris

To Purchase “Dédale” Visit Photo-Eye





















This Week In Photography Books: Mike Mandel & Chantel Zakari

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve got Boston on the brain at the moment.
Why, you ask?

I caught “The Departed” on cable over the holiday weekend. It’s one of those movies that’s better the second time you see it, though I don’t know why that is. Matt Damon, God bless him, rocks the thick Southie accent like the pro that he is.

Gooh Sawx!

Jack Nicholson, however, doesn’t even bother trying. One out of every 25 words has a half-accent, but that’s about it. Still, given his massive JACK charisma, I really didn’t mind. I always thought this was a minor Scorsese film, and it may well be. But when Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Damon, Nicholson, Vera Farmiga and Leonardo DiCaprio are giving excellent performances, I’d be a fool to dismiss it.

Then, the next day, I was leafing through a copy of The New Yorker, and began to read a piece about the Salem witch trials, from the late 17th Century. It’s an engrossing article, as they always are, but I was stopped cold by a period map, showing the entirety of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The British names: Dorchester, Gloucester. The spots embedded in American history: Salem, Concord, Cambridge.

At one point, it was “The Frontier.” Hard to believe nowadays, as highways tie those places together tighter than a courtesan’s corset.

History is always less-popular than entertainment, but in this case, the strands wrapped around each other, like a helix, and encouraged me to speculate. Why did all those Pilgrims emigrate, given the almost psychotic odds stacked against them?

Because they wanted a better life.

Were the current occupants of the Continent happy to see them? No, they were not. (Understandable, given the subsequent Genocide.)

It seems that’s always the case with immigrants, though. No matter how pressing their case, locals wish the newcomers would just keep moving along. How else to explain the crisis enveloping Europe at the moment?

Could any group of people have a more valid reason for fleeing than the Syrians? These poor folks are literally stuck between Bashar Al-Assad, and ISIS. The former used to be the worst person in the world, but somehow, ISIS managed to top it. Those that stay behind face the tragic risk of a painful death.

But many Europeans, fearful for their jobs and economic security, would just as soon see people beheaded. It’s mind-boggling, but there you are. People have no choice but to leave, yet they’re unwelcome where they’re headed.

Frankly, it makes me think of the Tsarnaev brothers. Remember them? How were they treated in Massachusetts, I wonder? I wrote a piece in 2013, admitting my guilt at feeling a touch of empathy for young Dzhokhar. He seemed like a dumb kid caught up in a horrific world of someone else’s making.

Were these immigrants embraced by their new community, or shunned? Does it even matter? Nothing can excuse the mayhem and misery they unleashed, but still. I’d love to know how it all went down.

That’s impossible, I’m afraid. But what of the aftermath? The shutdown of Boston? The massive manhunt? What must that have looked like?

Finally, a question I can answer without resorting to another question. I need not imagine the manhunt that ultimately found Dzhokhar, as I’ve just finished looking at “Lockdown Archive,” a new book by Mike Mandel & Chantel Zakari, recently put out by 18 publications. (Though apparently printed by Blurb.)

We always make our way back to book, don’t we?

While I’m unfamiliar with Chantal Zakari, I know Mike Mandel from his famous Photo World Baseball card series, which I wrote about in a review of Pier 24 a few years back, and his seminal project re-contextualizing found imagery with his partner, the late Larry Sultan. (That was one long sentence. Apologies.)

That knowledge helped me appreciate this fascinating and genuinely impressive book, assuming images were found, not taken. The volume is broken down into small sections, all of which purport to show what was happening in Watertown, MA, on April 19, 2013, the date of the big manhunt.

As the premise of a lockdown means the artists couldn’t have been out and about, making images, I guessed that the pictures within were taken from the Internet, TV, and other media sources. The end notes confirm as much.

Which means that no living soul saw, with his or her own eyes, the entirety of the situation as we see in this book. Gray teams, black teams, swat teams, helicopters. It’s all here.

Evacuations. Press conferences. Rolling Hummers. Sad children. An African-American man, in a classy hat, with his hands up at gunpoint. Bullet holes and screened-in-porches and Red Sox gear.


The end notes also tell us that so many law enforcement officers showed up to help, uninvited, that the entire endeavor was a logistical nightmare. It was almost like a Wild West posse formed, just to make sure that a bleeding 19 year old boy had nowhere to hide.

Ironically, it was only after the lockdown was lifted that a resident was able to go outside, notice his boat had been invaded, and call in the big guns.

We all know what happened next.

My favorite part of this job is looking at books that show me things I’ve never seen before. I drop that standard on you all the time, because the more I see, the harder it is to accomplish the goal.

This week, we have something that none of us has seen before. So I trust you’ll be satisfied. (At least I hope so.)

Bottom Line: Innovative book, featuring collected images reconstructing a famous manhunt

To Purchase “Lockdown Archive” Visit Photo-Eye


















This Week In Photography Books: Michael Lange

by Jonathan Blaustein

Sometimes, I can’t believe I live in the high desert. Not given where I come from. Back in New Jersey, the humidity was stronger than a body builder’s underarm stench. Water hung in the air, always ready to cling to the first thing that passed by.

This Summer has had its share of rain, but still, most days, the sun beats down on the Northern New Mexico landscape, daring people to test its fiery glow. Within a week or so of the last rain, our pasture grass will turn pea green, then tan, then harsh brown, if not irrigated properly.

The dry even invades your body, if you’re not looking. The back of my feet tend to crack, like sorry horse hooves, if I don’t slather them with moisturizing cream. (Cue the vision of me buying some expensive hand cream at Kiehl’s, in the Cherry Creek Mall, not-so-subtly pretending it’s not really for my feet. Awkward.)

Needless to say, by now, early September, I’m ready for Fall; for a release from the heat. I dream of moisture. Of cool, wet, boggy places, that bear no resemblance to my own world. I close my eyes, and mentally evoke some misty rivers. Maybe in Northern Europe? (Avoid mention of human migrant crisis here.)

Sometimes, when you want to leave your mind, and your physical locale, there’s an easy solution. Open up a photo book. Flip through the pages. Imagine you’re somewhere else.

In this case, I’m not sure exactly where I’m going, when I look at Michael Lange’s new book, “fluss,” recently released by Hatje Cantz. The project can also be seen in exhibition form at photo-eye in Santa Fe, our book benefactor, so if you’re in town, be sure to check it out.

This book is dreamy, alright. Just perfect to take me along on this moody, morning ride, away from the unceasing sun that fostered my musings. The book contains few words, but does open up with a little word association to give it context, beginning with the title: fluss, flux, flow, fluency, current, stream, river.

Is that enough to get the gist? In this case, I’d say yes. Later, we get a poem, translated from German. So that might allow us to guess the setting, if we don’t turn to trusty Google to provide the answers.

These are very visual photographs. What you see is what you get. But the color palette, and murky movement, all those purple grays… I’m transported, all right. It almost makes me want to wrap a blanket around me, or put on a wool sweater, to ward off the bone chill.

There are water lilies here, so of course I think of Monet. But his palette had a brightness that is lacking here. These pictures aren’t creepy, but they have just the slightest hint of menace, which makes them more interesting. (If not overtly sublime, they’re well beyond the realm of simply pretty.)

This book is like a temporary vacation, for me, from the end of Summer. As I’ve been known to complain from time to time, it won’t be long before I’m whining about Winter, and begging for some supplementary sun. But until that day comes… we’ll take what we can get.

Bottom Line: Lovely, marshy, wet photos of lakes and rivers

To Purchase “Fluss” Visit Photo-Eye




















This Week In Photography Books: Aapo Huhta

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just had some company in town. The official end of Summer. One last big dinner party to cook for, as my Aunt and Uncle came in from Jersey to meet my daughter, for her third birthday. Pasta and eggplant and cupcakes. (Oh My!)

It felt like an obligation, due to my general overtired-orneriness, rather than the pleasure I’d have normally taken it to be. My Uncle even commented that I didn’t look very happy, for a guy with lots of good things going on.

It was an odd conversation, because it was obviously true, but I knew I’d be a lot happier if I were relaxing all weekend, rather than chasing my kids and nephews around. Not a kind thing to say… so I kept it to myself.

Sometimes, there are things we ought not discuss. Either because they’re hurtful, or because they lead down dark, shadowy paths. Take politics. It’s a subject my Uncle and I avoid, as he’s a Fox-News-Addicted Republican, and I’m not.

We learned years ago, (when I was younger, and more easily riled,) that if we started talking politics, within 5 minutes, I’d be screaming and ranting like a frightened Drivers Ed instructor. (No, Jimmy, press the brake. The brake!)

Now that I’m past 40, and have a slightly better sense of how the world works, I know not to push those buttons. I’ve learned his opinions, and I choose not to pointlessly inflame his passion. (Back away from the bull, Timmy. Back away!) I love my Uncle despite his taste; not because of it.

As for my taste, I’ve got a nearly 4 year track record of writing about books I find cool and/or interesting. Is there anyone out there paying attention to my likes and dislikes? Is there a style that people expect I’ll praise?

I’m guessing yes. I suspect some astute readers have me pegged: if it’s weird, odd, discomfiting, and razor sharp, I bet Blaustein will have a field day. He digs the artsy stuff.

Is that right?

I’m starting to wonder, as Kehrer Verlag just sent me a book, unannounced. That rarely happens, where a publisher will drop something on me without checking in first. Even the artists will often feel me out, before spending the resources to get a book into my hands.

I opened up the packaging, swiped away the plastic wrap, and found a book called “Block,” by a Scandanavian-sounding artist named Aapo Huhta. (Turns out he’s Finnish.)

This seemed to be a book for me, as it opened up without any explication, and thrust me into a situation I needed to suss out. But right away, weird, odd, discomfiting pictures, razor sharp. (Either hi-res digital, or some good scans off of a medium or large format camera. Hard to tell, these days…)

It says “Block,” and then we’re in an urban environment that quickly resolves itself as Lower Manhattan. Is it one block? In the Financial District? I don’t know, but that’s the general read. These would be normal street photos, taken by a different photographer, but instead, we have that “slightly-Haruki-Murakami-parallel-universe” vibe that I love so much.

Why do some photographers have the ability to see paranormal energy in a mattress leaning against a building wall? Or in the candy-pink of some insulation melting out of a joint, sealing up a makeshift door to a construction site?

Who would make a photo implying a Buddhist Monk was being fellated by a faceless stranger, sitting on some steps outside a building? (This Guy, that’s who.) Again and again we see banker types, disappearing into shadow, which makes me think of Robert Frank’s amazing photos of British Bankers, made before he came to America.

And there are some similarities to Paul Graham’s book, “The Present,” which I reviewed a few years ago. (Image repetition, compositional style.) So I’m not suggesting that this work is radical, rather that it takes a certain kind of artist to find such weird moments, surrounded by normality.

With respect to context, there is only a small short story, by Jenny Hollowell, at the end. It doesn’t do much contextualizing, though it is a poignant read. (A mini-version of the super-sad opening of the Pixar movie “Up”.) Then, the thank you notes, and the first name listed was my former graduate school professor Allen Frame, whom I’ve mentioned here before. (Does that explain everything about where my preference for the awkward comes from?)

Regardless, we’re back on schedule. A book a week, each week. What will I write about next week? I don’t know. But I accept there are folks out there parsing the subtext, and bravo to Kehrer Verlag for getting it right, in this last week of August, 2015.





















Work from Review Santa Fe 2015, Part 3

I’ve got my hands full at the moment.

In the last two weeks, I’ve begun a new job as the Chair of the Fine Arts Department at UNM-Taos, had a articles published online by APE, the NYT and The New Yorker, edited a new photo series of my own, put together the newest issue of Photographers Quarterly, and got my kids ready for a new school year.

Hell, just writing that sentence gave me a headache, much less living it.

Why am I complaining? As always, there’s a reason. In this case, it’s because I promised a book review this week. Back to normal, I assured you.


I hate to be a liar, but in the mad rush to get everything done, I actually forgot to include an artist in last week’s article. Not something I’ve ever done before, but hopefully, given that my current to-do list is as ornery as a drunk barn owl, I’m hoping you’ll forgive me.

And of all the people to forget, I actually omitted the most memorable. I met Gloriann Liu at Review Santa Fe a couple of years ago. She showed me some pictures she’d made of Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border, as she’d spent significant time in the region, determined to see for herself what was happening.

I was floored for several reasons. To begin with, Ms. Liu had an Asian surname, but was a middle-aged, relatively small, blonde-haired woman. That’s the kind of detail that will stick in your mind. (It’s her husband’s name. Easy answer to that one.)

She also told me that she funds her travel herself. It’s art, for her, as she is so heartbroken and angry at the injustice that exists in the Middle East and Central Asia. As such, she spent much of her own savings making trips over there, reporting, working almost as a one-woman NGO.

And she shook with anger as she discussed what was happening to poor and vulnerable people. Literally, she was seething; physically manifesting her rage at a violent and unpredictable world. I’d never met anyone quite like her.

Most people who set foot over there have grant funding, or work for a major media organization. They have institutional protection of some sort. Gloriann was doing this as a private citizen, an artist whose inner necessity put her squarely in harms way. INCREDIBLE!

Fast forward to RSF ’15, and I reviewed her work, officially. She showed me a portfolio of images she made of Zarghona, a former Afghan child bride, now older, and the family she supports. One son, Barialy, who was injured by rocket-fire during the Afghan Civil War, is featured prominently in the project.

He has to be carried around, and sometimes his mother hires a man to cart him in a wheelbarrow, so that he can accompany her as she begs for money. Shocking stuff.

The only rational explanation for how I forgot to show you these photographs is that I was overwhelmed with life. It happens. But we’re rectifying things by showing Gloriann’s portfolio today, all by itself. The pictures are strong, of course, but also a great reminder that while we sometimes get wrapped up in our own lives…there are people out there who would kill to have our First World Problems.

In early February of 2013 I met Zarghoma. The first time I saw her she was with Barialy, her son, begging in the center of downtown Kabul.  In the beginning she was very shy. Najibullah, my guide , Zarif, my driver, and I offered to take her home in old Kabul. It was extremely cold and had been snowing off and on since I arrived several weeks earlier. The car could only get to about a quarter of a mile from her home. Zarghoma had to carry Barialy all of the way through the slush and patches of ice and snow. Their home was small and very cold but had a very cozy atmosphere.

In early February of 2013 I met Zarghoma. The first time I saw her she was with Barialy, her son, begging in the center of downtown Kabul. In the beginning she was very shy. Najibullah, my guide , Zarif, my driver, and I offered to take her home in old Kabul. It was extremely cold and had been snowing off and on since I arrived several weeks earlier. The car could only get to about a quarter of a mile from her home. Zarghoma had to carry Barialy all of the way through the slush and patches of ice and snow. Their home was small and very cold but had a very cozy atmosphere.

Zarghoma, her son, daughter-in-law and their children having tea several days before their  home was ruined.

Zarghoma, her son, daughter-in-law and their children having tea several days before their home was ruined.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona is visiting her home for the first time since the roof had fallen during a heavy snow storm.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona is visiting her home for the first time since the roof had fallen during a heavy snow storm.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona and part of her family live in an apartment in Shah Shaid. On this day, they are visiting her son and daughter-in-law Carmela and other members of the extended family.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona and part of her family live in an apartment in Shah Shaid. On this day, they are visiting her son and daughter-in-law Carmela and other members of the extended family.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Barialy is now eighteen and becoming too heavy for his mother, Zarghona, to carry.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Barialy is now eighteen and becoming too heavy for his mother, Zarghona, to carry.

Kabul, Afghanistan.  A child bride at ten, Zarghona, now fifty, has a large extended family.

Kabul, Afghanistan. A child bride at ten, Zarghona, now fifty, has a large extended family.

Zarghona and Ghulam-Faroq, her 92 year old husband.

Zarghona and Ghulam-Faroq, her 92 year old husband.

Ghulam-Faroq's Bookstore

Ghulam-Faroq’s Bookstore

Zarghona took her son Barialy to a shrine in Kabul. Barialy was injured in The Civil War. There the ritual of “Doing Dam” was performed; verses are read from the Holy Koran and the touching with a knife to a sick or injured person is to take away the injury or illness.

Zarghona took her son Barialy to a shrine in Kabul. Barialy was injured in The Civil War. There the ritual of “Doing Dam” was performed; verses are read from the Holy Koran and the touching with a knife to a sick or injured person is to take away the injury or illness.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona and family go to the shrine to be healed and to pray.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Zarghona and family go to the shrine to be healed and to pray.

Barialy, injured in a rocket attack during The Civil War, often becomes angry and frustrated being confined in a semi paralyzed body.

Barialy, injured in a rocket attack during The Civil War, often becomes angry and frustrated being confined in a semi paralyzed body.

After a long hard and cold day Zarghona sits warming herself under blankets.

After a long hard and cold day Zarghona sits warming herself under blankets.

Zarghona's youngest daughter is now accepting suitors. This includes many visits and negotiations between the two couples before they can become engaged.

Zarghona’s youngest daughter is now accepting suitors. This includes many visits and negotiations between the two couples before they can become engaged.

Camilla, one of Zarghona's daughter-in-laws, Gulali, Malai, daughters and their children are together for a family gathering on Friday afternoon.

Camilla, one of Zarghona’s daughter-in-laws, Gulali, Malai, daughters and their children are together for a family gathering on Friday afternoon.

Fatima, Zarghona's youngest daughters helps care for Barialy.

Fatima, Zarghona’s youngest daughters helps care for Barialy.

Gh ullam Farooq, Zarghona's 93 year old husband, still loves caring for the children.

Gh ullam Farooq, Zarghona’s 93 year old husband, still loves caring for the children.

Barialy has be come to heavy for Zarghona to carry. She now hires someone with a wheel-barrel to help her transport him from place to place.

Barialy has be come to heavy for Zarghona to carry. She now hires someone with a wheel-barrel to help her transport him from place to place.

Zalmy, Zarghon's second son and Camila's husband is moving his family from a cold dark basement room to his brother-in-laws house. Zalmy and Camila had become indentured servants to a wealth man and his second wife. The conditions were deplorable. My guide, Najibullah made the arrangements for them to leave.

Zalmy, Zarghon’s second son and Camila’s husband is moving his family from a cold dark basement room to his brother-in-laws house. Zalmy and Camila had become indentured servants to a wealth man and his second wife. The conditions were deplorable. My guide, Najibullah made the arrangements for them to leave.

Camila and her two youngest children arrive at her brother's house which will be the family's new home.

Camila and her two youngest children arrive at her brother’s house which will be the family’s new home.


Zarghona and Gulali prepare diner for the family while her grandson prays.

Zarghona and Gulali prepare diner for the family while her grandson prays.

Zarghona visiting the location of where her home had collapsed. She found out that night that her husband and son had sold the property and had not told her. Now, with an aging husband of ninety-two, an invalid son, one young daughter,  and several grandchildren to support, she has no property and has become severely depressed.

Zarghona visiting the location of where her home had collapsed. She found out that night that her husband and son had sold the property and had not told her. Now, with an aging husband of ninety-two, an invalid son, one young daughter, and several grandchildren to support, she has no property and has become severely depressed.