Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

This Week In Photography Books: Piotr Zbierski

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

A state of mind?
A sensation?

An emotion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not much else is.
Clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week In Photography Books: John MacLean

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever.

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

Nobody had ever lost a lead that big.
Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are your artistic inspirations, I wonder?

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

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

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

This Week In Photography Books: Claire Felicie

by Jonathan Blaustein

Hope is a mentality.
A state of mind.

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

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

Like now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not good.

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

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

Do your work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What gives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4391

img_4392

img_4393

img_4394

img_4395

img_4396

img_4397

img_4398

img_4399

img_4400

img_4401

img_4402

img_4403

img_4404

img_4405

img_4406

This Week In Photography Books: Axle Contemporary

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever seen Duck Dynasty?

I haven’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No lie.

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

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

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

Still, a choice was made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, real people.

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

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

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

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

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

img_4367

img_4368

img_4369

img_4370

img_4371

img_4372

img_4373

img_4374

img_4375

img_4376

img_4377

img_4378

img_4379

img_4380

img_4381

img_4382

img_4383

img_4384

This Week In Photography Books: Philip Trager

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

Positive things.

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

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

What’s the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

Not even remotely.

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

Rather than look down, he chose to look up.

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

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

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

And, of course, the Twin Towers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4345

img_4346

img_4347

img_4348

img_4349

img_4350

img_4351

img_4352

img_4353

img_4354

img_4355

img_4356

img_4357

img_4358

img_4359

img_4360

img_4361

img_4362

img_4363

img_4364

img_4365

img_4366

This Week In Photography Books: Richard Sandler

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

It’s been a trying week, to be sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’est la vie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4320

img_4321

img_4322

img_4323

img_4324

img_4325

img_4326

img_4327

img_4328

img_4329

img_4330

img_4331

img_4332

img_4333

img_4334

img_4335

img_4336

img_4337

img_4338

img_4339

img_4340

img_4341

img_4342

img_4343

This Week In Photography Books: Ashly Stohl

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superheroes AND science fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always.
The Vader mask.

Luke.
I am your father.

Say what now?

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

Are they sad?
Is Charlie?

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

Maybe all of the above?

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

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

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

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

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

Art helps you get through difficult times.

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

Do it for Charlie.

Bottom Line: Inspirational, whimsical book from the Dark Side

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

img_4278

img_4279

img_4280

img_4281

img_4282

img_4283

img_4284

img_4285

img_4286

img_4287

img_4288

img_4289

img_4290

img_4291

img_4292

img_4293

img_4295

The best work I saw this year that I haven’t already written about yet

- - Art, From The Field

by Jonathan Blaustein

Oh yes.
It’s back.

My annual, final column that never really caught on. That most rebellious of ironic year end lists. (It’s not even a list, per se, because it only mentions one thing.)

Like an ironic mustache, I get to have it both ways. I nod to the end-of-the-year thing, while simultaneously skewering the tradition by giving my version such a ridiculous title.

It’s no 10 best books list, that’s for sure. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But 2016 was a witch of a bear of a blizzard of a skin rash of a melting iceberg of a year.

We know this.

The rise of Trump. The fall of Aleppo. Endless streams of millions, fleeing for their lives.

A divided US. A resurgent Russia. China flexing her military muscles. Talk of a new nuclear arms race.

And, of course, grab them by the pussy.
(Yes, that really happened.)

It seems like something you’d make up in your sleep, your subconscious big upping the nasty allure of real life into a seemingly impossible, soap opera narrative.

But it actually happened.

I know we’re all SO ready for 2017.
I had people scream in my face in 2016.
Aggress on my person. Multiple times.

It sucked.

I felt myself growing stronger in the face of adversity. Now, I’ll be the first to admit the problems I had were nothing compared to the real life and death stuff. The aforementioned Syria.

But as we’ve discussed in columns past, the things that make us grow are always the hardest. Staying comfortable is not how you become better.

And I had some truly amazing moments in 2016 as well.

I saw fantastic art exhibitions, and wrote about them, in Ft. Worth, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Chicago.

Even on vacation, in Big Sur this July, I asked my wife’s Uncle Dan what was the coolest thing he’d seen on his recent travels. He’s a booking agent for major rock bands, so he globe-trots on a regular basis.

He walked into his bedroom, and emerged with a museum catalog from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago: “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” published by Rizzoli.

Uncle Dan said this show in Chicago was the best thing he’d seen anywhere, and if I could get to it when I was in Chicago in September, I’d be glad I did.

Duly noted, I thought.

Admittedly, I mentioned the show in one or two sentences in one article this Fall, but I think it still counts as the best thing I saw this year that I haven’t already written about yet. (Don’t hate me on a technicality.)

Especially as the exhibition is now on view at the Met Bruer in New York until January 29th, I wanted to share some year-end thoughts, and show off the book.

The exhibition featured an endless series of large scale, unframed canvases, done with acrylic paint. The bolt holes suggest unfinished work, but the dozens of masterpieces were nothing of the sort. The technique becomes a structural metaphor from the outset, bringing low materials to high places.

The coal-black faces speak to a history of centuries of racism, in piece after piece. (While referencing the caste system of shades of brown.) They’re defiantly dark, like Kara Walker’s silhouettes. The compositions are classical, and reference art history at every turn. (De Stijl, Rococo, Giorgione, Gericault.)

The color schemes are contrasty and exciting too, so the image structures hold up against the heavy history many of the pieces evoke.

And the subject matter feels like a hashtag of the African-American experience in contemporary America.

Watts. The barbershop. The death of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys.

There are lynchings.
And liquor stores.

Running slaves
and golden nets.

Glittering jails and subverted expectations. Like “Our House,” from 1995, which features black children inhabiting seemingly-white roles, in the suburbs, but slave shacks sit in the back of the painting as well.

Or “Past Times,” from 1997, in which a black family relaxes by the lake, Puff Daddy style, dressed in all white, waterskiing, and playing croquet.

We see pretty sunsets and plenty of paintings within paintings. He demystifies the art-making process, showing scrims, and painting by numbers, while mystifying us with how good he is at his job.

The show features private parts and private moments. Day-Glo abstractions and keen observations.

The work, taken together, distills decades if not centuries of pain and suffering, yet flips it. (Jujitsu style.) These are not dour, or in most cases, mournful works.

They’re too bright for that. They’re meticulous, too, in a way that screams joy.

Kerry James Marshall clearly loves what he does, even if what he does is critique an American society that likes to occupy the moral high ground, even though its wealth is built upon a history of slavery. (And the genocide of Native Americans.)

As for the rest of us, I’d say the lesson for 2017 is pretty clear.

Mine your experience. Share what you think. Push yourself to your limits, in a world that might not feel comfortable. Ever.

Put it into your art.

And I hope 2017 is a better and easier year for you and yours.

img_4256

img_4258

img_4259

img_4260

img_4261

img_4262

img_4263

img_4264

img_4265

img_4266

img_4267

img_4268

img_4269

img_4270

img_4271

img_4272

img_4273

img_4274

img_4275

img_4276

img_4277

This Week In Photography Books: Jay Turner Frey Seawell

I’m sitting on my daughter’s white couch, looking out the window at the falling snow. There is a white sludge of bird poop on the glass, obstructing a small part of my view.

That detail is unimportant, I suppose, but it’s also true. And of course the bird dropped his little present not three weeks after we had the windows professionally cleaned for Thanksgiving. (Isn’t that always the way?)

Because winter has arrived here in earnest, and our mountains draw the biggest storms around, it’s the time of year where we build fires in our wood-stove each day.

It’s an antiquated system:
Burn wood.
Heat house.
Fire pretty.
Fire burn.
Don’t touch.

The first step, (after I sweep the ashes from the previous conflagration,) is to roll up some old newspaper. My dad taught me how to do it when I was a kid, and I still use his technique. These days, though, we add napalm bricks that make the whole process much easier.

Building the fire forces me to look at information on paper, (talk about antiquated,) and the other day I saw the most disturbing “news.” On a single page, in some random edition of the Albuquerque Journal, there was a story about a man who killed his young son by leaving him in a hot car for 7 hours, and a blurb about a woman who fed her stepchild to the family pigs, after the murder.

Unsurprisingly, I felt the cortisol drop in real time. Just looking at those words made my body change, and my mood alter. And that was only after a cursory 5 second glance, when I wasn’t even trying to read the paper. (Burn, baby, burn.)

It got me thinking though, about the idea of “news.” Where did it come from? This need to know what was happening in parts elsewhere. I can see the value of Paul Revere riding through the dark night, as the British WERE coming.

But the mass dissemination of salacious stories that have no impact on our daily lives? How did it become so necessary? And now that we’re assaulted with such information all day, every day, instead of 7 times a week, will we ever break the habit?

Not to be Debbie Downer, but I’d suggest we’re stuck with the habit, as long as such information is treated as a commodity. While the nightly news, brought to you by Cablevision, is no longer the arbiter of what everyone thinks, (thanks to the breakaway republic of FoxNewsistanBreitbartlandia,) everyone’s trying to make money off this “news.”

The entire cycle, taken to it’s absurd conclusion, just delivered the Presidency to Donald J Trump, and it’s not even clear he wants the job. Sure, he wants to be President, because it will make him even richer and more famous, but does he really want to do the grunt work that Obama clearly relished?

Highly doubtful.

But the “news” organizations essentially handed him the election by covering every rally, (for free,) writing about every insane comment, treating the entire process with a respect that it clearly did not deserve.

I guess it serves us right.

Honestly, though, while the snow out the window is somewhat calming, I’m a bit riled up having just put down “National Trust,” a new soft-cover book by Jay Turner Frey Seawell, (whom we’ll refer to as JTFS,) recently published by upstart Skylark Editions in Chicago.

Now that we’re no longer getting our books from photo-eye, I’m relying on what people send me. (Yes, we are accepting submissions, but please contact me first. I don’t want you to waste a book on something I’d never review.) JTFS and the folks at Skylark thought I might dig this book, and boy, were they right.

I hope the artist is getting some publicity at the moment, because he certainly deserves it. Much like my project “The Value of a Dollar” took off because I was thinking about food a couple of years before EVERYONE was, these pictures were shot in advance of our current political climate.

JTFS lives in Washington, DC, I believe, and from 2011-13, he photographed the media facade/political industrial complex. Man, are these pictures good.

They’re sharp, both in image clarity and observational skills. They clearly pull back the curtain to reveal, what exactly? And I’m not even being metaphorical. There’s an image, called “Supreme Court,” that clearly depicts a curtain of a column, right where we’d expect an actual column to exist.

We see the bright lights, including one picture where the apparatus perfectly covers a “talking head,” as he fixes his expensive cuff-link. The compositional style, which manages to be chaotic and restrained at the same time, emphasizes the read that the world has gone amuck.

We’re all trapped in a bubble that keeps growing, even as we spend so much less money obtaining said “news.” As such, the closing picture, of a five dollar bill torn asunder on the sidewalk, made me think that somewhere in the afterlife, Abe Lincoln, who gave his life for this nation’s unity, is up there thinking, “They get what they fucking deserve.”

That’s right people. Sad Abraham Lincoln is my takeaway, as his ghost has to contemplate D Trump entertaining right wing billionaires in his own bedroom. (Maybe even in his own bed.)

All because we can’t turn off the TV. We can’t step away from the Twitter. We can’t unlike what the world has become. I rarely ask for more from a photo book, and neither should you.

Bottom Line: Exquisite, perfectly timed look at the Washington media-political-industrial-complex

To Purchase “National Trust” Go Here: http://www.skylarkeditions.org/shop/national-trust-by-jay-seawell-1

img_4235

img_4236

img_4237

img_4238

img_4239

img_4240

img_4241

img_4242

img_4243

img_4244

img_4245

img_4246

img_4247

img_4248

img_4249

img_4250

img_4251

img_4252

img_4253

img_4254

img_4255

This Week In Photography Books: Christian Nilson

by Jonathan Blaustein

I spent a day in Switzerland many years ago. (1997, to be exact.) When I say a day, I mean just that.

A day.

My brother and I were on a backpacking trip around Europe, back when that was still a thing. We didn’t get along very well, truth be told, but thought it might be fun to range around together.

So we did.

We took a night train from Rome that got in to Lucerne in the morning, and caught a night train out that evening, so the entirety of my knowledge of Switzerland was crafted in about 12 hours.

What do I remember? Well, it was very beautiful, obviously. Jagged peaks rising up out of a clear blue lake. Crisp, clean air. Meticulous architecture.

Anyone can tell you that.

The real story, one I’m reluctant to admit, was that we went to a country fair that afternoon, and were aghast at how funny-looking people were. I recall it so clearly, as we both joked for hours that all that inbreeding had created some oddly unattractive people. (I say inbreeding because the mountainous terrain naturally meant it was difficult for people to travel from one village to the next, back in the day.)

It sounds terrible, I know, but it’s not like I make a habit of mocking people. (On second thought…) But really, the fair was just so weird. We saw local contests, like a tug of war, and there were pavilions filled with farming and industrial equipment.

Not a clown, bearded lady or tilt-a-whirl in sight.

Most people though, when they think of Switzerland, imagine banks, chocolate, watches, and neutrality. That last one seems a quaint and outdated concept in a brutal 2016. Honestly, who could be neutral about Donald J. Trump?

“Well, I suppose he has his good qualities, and his bad qualities. He is OK, I guess. Neither horrible nor amazing. I’d compare him to an under-sweetened bowl of oatmeal. It could be better, of course, but it could also be worse.”

No, imaginary Swiss person. One cannot maintain neutrality in the face of an absurdist film come to life. It’s simply not possible.

Thankfully, such stereotypes are just that. Clearly, a country with three languages and a million mountains is about more than money, sweets and grinding gears, right?

As usual, I’m glad you asked. I’m prepared to answer the question, as I’ve just put down “The Swiss,” a new book by Christian Nilson, published by Scheidegger & Spiess. Sure, the title is meant to evoke “The Americans,” by the Swiss photographer Robert Frank, but beyond that, I found it to be a refreshing and original piece of work.

Christian sent the book along because he figured I’d dig it, and he was correct. I think it’s great, as it fits in with my typical review criteria: it shows us something we haven’t seen before, and it does so with well-crafted style.

Turns out, Christian has lived in Switzerland for a while, but is originally from Sweden, so he brings an outsider’s perspective to a place he knows well, which is often a recipe for success. Throw in a heavy use of daytime flash, and you’ve almost tailor-made a book to my own personal tastes. (This being the most subjective of book-review-columns.)

We see scenic mountains, of course, and the picture with a tiny church perched precariously on a ridge-line is pretty terrific. But it’s the strange, almost geeky absurdity of certain subcultures that really surprises.

A dude in a Batman costume, holding a child in his monstrously large hands. A gross-looking plate of food that appears to contain a mass of mayonnaise covering a phallic pickle. We see men in traditional costumes, sure, but also a woman playing the accordion with a ridiculous man-bun on top of her head.

There’s a bio-diesel car jimmy-rigged with a Monster energy drink sticker on its exhaust pipe, a garden gnome, skiers being pulled by horses, an a nuclear-reactor sitting behind a dapper playground.

Dog shows, outdoor wrestling, and Dora the Explorer make appearances as well. And we can’t forget the picture of an apricot farmer, Aprikosen Andi, who sports a glossy advertising selfie next to his fruit stand.

Though I’ve always felt bad for remembering the Swiss as less-than-gorgeous, there is one picture of an unattractive woman at a summer festival that felt like it was ripped straight from my memory banks.

Best of all, though, is a strange sub-theme of people sitting in chairs and on beds with large, protruding feet. There are two photos in particular, of women with gigantic feet, that don’t really make any sense at all, except they’re so strange that they’re perfect.

Each time I found a new big-foot picture, I could almost see the thought-bubble pop up in front of my face. WTF, the thought bubble said. WTF?

It’s impossible, of course, to boil a country’s citizenry down to a few dozen photographs. Can’t be done. But we can get a sense of how an artist views a society. According to this book, Switzerland seems like a mix of gauche German taste, colorful Italian opulence, and a kitchy, Jerry-Lewis-loving French sense of humor.

Sign me up.

Bottom Line: Sharp, irreverent book that investigates an under-the-radar European culture

To Purchase “The Swiss” Go Here: http://www.christiannilson.com/the-swiss-book/

img_4176

img_4177

img_4178

img_4179

img_4180

img_4181

img_4182

img_4183

img_4184

img_4185

img_4188

img_4189

img_4190

img_4191

img_4192

img_4193

img_4194

img_4195

img_4196

img_4197

img_4198

img_4199

img_4200

This Week In Photography Books: Michael Lundgren

by Jonathan Blaustein

Imagine if atoms had consciousness. Electrons and protons would surely be enemies, like the Flash vs the Reverse Flash, or Tomi Lahren vs Trevor Noah.

The Sharks vs the Jets would have nothing on the rivalries happening on the atomic level. The Electron King, Negator, would likely try to take over all of atomic reality. (He’s such an asshole, Negator, thinking he can do whatever he wants.)

Negator might even trick some people into thinking he’d change things for the better, but we’re not so easily fooled. Negator is all about destruction. He thinks negative energy is stronger and smarter than positive energy, and he intends to win at all costs.

Ruthless Negator. I hate that guy.

Except he’s not a guy. He’s an imaginary construct I’m presenting here for comedic/metaphorical effect. The point is, there are worlds upon worlds, and universes inside universes, existing right here and now.

Be it the atomic level, the cellular level, oozing creatures miles deep in the sea, or ant colonies living in our front yards, we human beings are only aware of the tiniest fraction of what’s actually going on out there.

Honestly, we’re clueless, no matter how much shit we can research on Google.

Our brains, our consciousness, depend upon seeing ourselves as the center of the Universe. Like astronomical knowledge before Galileo, we’re just plain wrong. The things that obsess us, myself included, are about as significant as Donald Trump’s promises.

But there are people out there, shamans, artists, academics, speakers-in-tongue, who do seem to have the ability to see past the normal. To shake the tree of life, and watch as a few apples fall to the ground, ready to eat.

Michael Lundgren seems to be such a person.

I wrote about him a few years ago, as I heard his lecture at the Medium Festival in 2013. He’s based in Phoenix, a graduate of the esteemed ASU program, and likes to prowl the Sonoran desert, looking for cracks in reality’s facade.

I’m not saying the dude takes peyote. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. I have no personal knowledge either way. But he goes into the desert, a regular 21st Century American, and returns with photographic evidence of the weird, dead and unexplained.

As this is a book review column, you’ll rightly guess that I just put down “Matter,” Michael’s new book, recently published by Radius in Santa Fe. (I couldn’t talk about shamans without a New Mexico hook, right?)

The book is handsomely produced, as are all the Radius offerings, but is oriented to landscape, like you forgot to click the proper icon in Photoshop. It mostly feels like a gimmick, though I get that the images receive far more space than they would otherwise.

I’m not a big fan of turning pages that way, but accept that it’s also a rebellion against convention. As is wedging a fold-up poster of the cover-image-pictures into a sleeve in the back of the book. (I’m guessing it’s mostly intended for artist studio walls or inspiration boards.)

Over the years as a photographer, I’ve learned that if you stare at something really, really hard, like it makes your eyes hurt kind of staring, that intensity tends to show up in the pictures. As such, I’m guessing Michael Lundgren needs to keep some Advil handy at all times, because these pictures are so sharply observed.

Algae-covered foxes, dog covered bears, putrid looking puddles, perfect if inexplicable orbs, naturally occurring quarries, chunks of concrete, and rifts in the landscape that reference tears in the space-time-continuum.

It’s all here.

By now, 5+ years into this column, you know I have a soft-spot for weird shit.

Strange art = good.
Derivative art = bad.

It’s not that simple, of course, but you get my drift. Some people are called to search for answers, knowing full well they’ll never arrive. I’m betting Michael Lundgren is such a guy.

Maybe one day, I’ll get invited out to a drum circle, down near the Mexican border. There will be tequila, magic mushrooms, and a roaring fire. I’ll sit down in the dirt, cross my legs into a lotus position, and crack through another level of consciousness.

But until that time, at least I have the book.

Bottom Line: Excellent pictures filled with strange phenomena in the Sonoran desert

Go here to purchase “Matter”

img_4151

img_4152

img_4153

img_4154

img_4155

img_4156

img_4157

img_4158

img_4159

img_4160

img_4161

img_4162

img_4163

img_4164

img_4165

img_4166

This Week In Photography Books: James Welling

by Jonathan Blaustein

The sun is out again today.
Thank god.

After an unseasonably warm November, winter came in earnest last week. Below zero wind chill. Industrial-grey skies. High clouds looming above, like hall monitors, ensuring nobody has any fun.

This time of year always makes me sad.

It gets dark so early, and here in Taos, we’re all addicted to the sun, so when it goes away for even 2 or 3 days at a time, my mood drops off a cliff faster than Wil E. Coyote.

The morbid, bleak light.
No leaves on the trees.

There’s no snow on the ground yet, so the brown, dead grass reminds me of my own mortality. Early winter is the seasonal equivalent of angsty, teen-age poetry.


Why?
Why is the world so unfair and cold?

Why?
Why don’t my parents understand I’m not a kid anymore?

Why?

Why is death a part of life, when death is cruel but life
is beautiful?

Why?

My blood pumps through my veins.
I feel it.

Why must it all come to an end?
Why must I lose everything?

Why?

Like I said, the sky is blue today and the sun is unencumbered. It’s so bright, I had to close the shades in my daughter’s room so I could see the computer screen to write for you guys.

So I can joke about such things today.

But sometimes, I do feel sad. I miss the long, easy days of summer. I think about my children growing up so quickly.

I wonder how long I’ll be remembered when I’m gone?

I’m in this mood now, truth be told, having just looked at “Diary/Landscape” a book that turned up in the mail by James Welling, published by The University of Chicago Press. The cover, no surprise, is gray; the font somber.

James Welling is known as a conceptual photographer, or maybe a conceptual artist, but his pictures normally look like straight photographs. While I’ve known of him for years, it’s hard for me to conjure a specific image in mind when I think of his work.

People think of ideas, when they think of conceptual art. It’s an obvious connection. But it often has as much to do with process and structure. Having a system in place, the end result of which is your artwork.

This book, perhaps because it represents an early project, really speaks more about traditional photography, and less about ideas, I’d say.

At the end of the introduction, written by Art Institute of Chicago curator Matthew S. Witkovsky, there’s a telling Welling quote. He says, “I think that all landscape photographs are a stand-in for abstract art, which is a stand-in for emotion in art. To me it seems very obvious that I’m photographing emotions.”

As far as I understand it, in the late 70’s, when Mr. Welling was a younger artist, he photographed the diary of his Connecticut ancestors, written by his great grandparents as they toured Europe, and he also photographed around his parent’s new home in Connecticut as well.

Black and white pictures.
Large format.
Somber.

His relatives had been prominent in the mid-19th Century: his great-grandfather both a Congressman and a Senator who rubbed elbows with Abe Lincoln. It is presumed, given the New England location and his family’s history of importance, that the Wellings are an old, prosperous, (or once-prosperous) WASP clan.

Such people are not known for expressing their emotions.
Quite the opposite.

We know this.

But the pictures in this book, the old diary pages and church steeples. The weathered siding and leafless trees. The barren fields and gnarled limbs.

It reminds me of those endless East Coast winters, when it can be cold and gray for months on end. You might not see the sun for 3 weeks. It’s torturous.

Just thinking of it makes me depressed.

That’s the thing about this book.
It’s kind of weepy.
Elegiac.

The pictures are beautiful, and they express emotion, which, given the cultural milieu, is a rebellious act. Though it’s certainly understated, I like it very much.

Because, like that blasted Pixar film “Inside Out” branded in our brains forever, sadness is a genuine emotion. It’s a part of our identity that cannot be ignored, nor willed away. Huge swaths of life are tragic, and having that feeling pervade an object like this is not an easy feat to accomplish.

So for all of you out there, living in places like Upstate New York, or Upper Peninsula Michigan, I’ll make sure to put my face in the sun every day for you.

I promise.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, bleak, black and white photos from New England

To Purchase “Diary/Landscape” by James Welling go here.

img_4133

img_4134

img_4135

img_4136

img_4137

img_4138

img_4139

img_4140

img_4141

img_4142

img_4143

img_4144

img_4145

img_4146

img_4147

img_4148

img_4149

img_4150

This Week In Photography Books: Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m binge-watching “Marco Polo” on Netflix.
Talk about entertainment.

I was just lecturing my students, not two weeks ago, on the Southern Song era in Chinese art. (Long one of my favorites.)

It produced landscape paintings of staggering beauty and influence; perhaps the first to use negative space as a positive compositional element. Blank white silk represents water, mist, and snow.

I told them, (as my Chinese Art History professor taught me,) that the Mongols ruled much of China, from the North, so the Song Empire, much diminished, resided in Southern China instead.

A week later, after stumbling on the series last Friday, I found myself watching an extremely expensive recreation of the very same place and time. The Mongolian steppes and palace intrigues from 800 years ago appear, in HD, in my fucking living room.

Benedict Wong is mesmerizing as Kublai Kahn. I guess that’s the nature of binge-watching, that the story takes over, you’re immersed in it for a day or two or seven, and then you move on. And I DO have a soft-spot for period pieces with high production values.

Which is why I decided to route through Los Angeles, on my recent trip to San Diego for Medium. I’d been sent the book that accompanies “Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France” by the Getty Center, (curated by Karen Hellman) as it’s the companion to the exhibition of the same name, which closes November 27th.

Southern Californians: If you’re too lazy to read the rest of this piece, at least remember this: Go see the show!

I stopped looking at the book after 10 pages, when I first opened it, as I decided to buy the ticket to LA then and there. I figured, if I’m going to see the photographs in person, why spoil it with the book first?

Turns out, they’re very different experiences.

Though the title might sound a shade academic or dry, the pictures are nothing of the sort. Gustave LeGray is one of my all time favorite photographers because, like his 19th Century contemporaries Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron and Carleton Watkins, the pictures seem to jump off the wall. (The same sensation as seeing a Velasquez in a room full of paintings by his peers.)

LeGray’s photographs are always visceral, and dripping with emotional resonance. (So it’s no surprise he steals the show.) His landscapes, including on the waterfront, or in the Fountain-bleu forest, have that vibe that Atget later tapped in to.

A haunting feeling you’re sure is in the picture, rather than being a function of the age of the print. An EXTRA sort of perception.

We learn that LeGray touched up his negatives from the beginning, to increase contrast, and only achieved his masterly seascapes by later sandwiching two negatives together. Is that extra something his ability as a printer? Utilizing subjectivity, as an era-appropriate Instagram filter?

I don’t know, but there is a side-by-side in the book, with Edouard Baldus, and I think it’s clear LeGray’s photograph is more compelling. (And contrasty.)

In LA, I was equally smitten by Charles Negre’s photographs of people. Italian street musicians, in particular. In the book, I noticed, these same images are not nearly as powerful as the talismen I encountered in the flesh.

In the exhibition, I had a feeling I only remember having once before, at the Met, when I first saw Egyptian encaustic portraits from 2000 years ago.

I’ve used the time travel metaphor so many times, but this wasn’t that. (Or, at least, not JUST that.) It was more like I was seeing something I wasn’t meant to see. Something intimate, like the way certain tribes were said to fear a photograph can steal your soul.

The fact that photography was so young, so packed with potential back then, so experimental in its nature, gives this entire exhibition a super-charge that was so worth going out of my way for.

The galleries were packed, so it’s hard to even use a word like intimate, but that’s what it was. The clothing, the patina, it made me sad in a good way, like schadenfreude.

The focus is tight. Little more than a decade in France, 160 years ago. But with such a comprehensive display: people, places, things, the sacred and the profane, you have a sense of “being there” more than almost any other show I’ve seen.

There is also a strong educational component to the exhibit, (and essays in the book,) so we learn about the initial use of salt paper prints, paper negatives before glass, and see the negatives themselves presented on light-boxes. The whole thing is super-slick. (Remember what I said before about liking sharp production values?)

I have a very good memory, so I’m certain there are photos in the book that are not in the show. And almost all of you won’t be able to make it to the Getty by Sunday. (Though hopefully some of you can. The museum is free, don’t forget.)

Some of the extras pics, by LeGray, are as strong as anything in the show, hinting the archive goes much deeper than what was on the wall. So I’d say the book would be a great purchase as well.

When we delve into things like this, we are reminded that we too will be history one day. Images, ideas, cultures change over time. These days, Thanksgiving is mostly seen as a holiday where we eat lots of turkey, watch football, and perhaps have a drink or two to celebrate.

But what are we celebrating?

Speaking for myself, I have a beautiful, loving family, I live in a country that, for now, is still free and prosperous, and I get to type out my thoughts and share them with you guys each week. (I even get paid for it.)

Now is the time of year, especially in light of the extra election stress America has been living with, where you take stock. Count your blessings. Appreciate what you’ve got.

Because no matter how bad you might have it, there are people in this world, in Syria or elsewhere, who are facing gruesome death each and every day.

Even little kids.

So I hope you had a good holiday, and I’ll be back with another photo-book again next week.

Adios.

Bottom Line: Excellent book that captures the spirit of long ago France

Go Here To Purchase Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France

img_4108

img_4109

img_4110

img_4111

img_4112

img_4113

img_4114

img_4115

img_4116

img_4117

img_4118

img_4119

img_4120

img_4121

img_4122

img_4123

img_4124

img_4125

img_4126

img_4127

img_4128

img_4129

img_4130

img_4131

Medium Festival of Photography – Part 2

- - Portfolio Review

by Jonathan Blaustein

There’s a bar at the Lafayette Hotel called the Red Fox Room. The name alone evokes the 70’s.

I can practically hear Fred Sanford yelling at Lamont, “Hey Dummy!” I can see George shimmy on “The Jeffersons” while Weezy clucks her tongue. I imagine Carroll O’Connor’s face right now, scrunched up, as he insults some race or other as Archie Bunker.

Even better than the name, the Red Fox Room is the closest thing to a time warp I’ve ever seen. It’s dark in there, and the decorations and votive candle bowls are straight out of the 70’s as well.

The drinks aren’t even expensive, which heightens the atmosphere, but not as much as the karaoke. (It’s not what you think.)

There are no Japanese businessmen getting drunk and singing “Like a Virgin.” No college kids crooning 90’s hits you never knew anyone liked.

It’s more like a piano bar with a couple of characters ripped from a Norman Lear sitcom, warbling out of tune like Tiny Tim. I shit you not, these people, all in their 60’s and 70’s, really can’t sing, but then, it’s impossible not to listen.

They may be be out of tune, but they can carry a tune, if that makes sense. I guess we all got a taste of that in the early stages of “American Idol,” when we could mock the losers while enjoying the experience. (#2003. Before Reality TV shocked the world.)

It’s like Ricky Gervais got into a Delorean, then crossed the 4th wall, and ended up in “Three’s Company.” All he has to do is emerge from the bathroom, dressed like Mr. Roper, and the transformation is complete.

Honestly, doesn’t it feel like it’s the late 70’s all over again? Just trade gas lines and a hostage crisis for ISIS and a furious working class. Carter had no chance against Reagan selling “Let’s Make America Great Again.”

No chance at all.

And here we are in 2016. Young people are out in the streets protesting. Did they happen to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, I wonder? (Do they not teach causality in colleges these days?)

I said last week that nobody knows what’s coming next, and it’s true. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit around and wait for life to happen.

Make art, sure. But maybe get involved with a non-profit that supports causes you believe in. Run for your local school board or town council. Go out in the streets, if you feel the need, to speak truth to power.

Or maybe try to have an honest, rational conversation with someone with different beliefs than you have. See if you can ask someone to explain why they think what they think, and everyone promises not to raise their voices.

Keep an open mind.

But you, this audience, are media professionals. You’re photographers and editors and artists and writers. You’re the ones who will document and comment on what’s to come.

That’s why I was in San Diego in the first place: to look at work by photographers who use their artistic expression to better understand the world. So here we have the final installment of the best projects I saw at the Medium Festival in San Diego. Many thanks to the artists for allowing us to share their work with you.

Among the rights we need to protect, vigilantly, are those of the LGBT community. I met Jason Pearson in San Diego, and then his creative partner and twin brother Jesse in Santa Fe a week later. These guys could not be more different, but they click when they’re making art.

I thought the pictures were fantastic, absurd and silly takes on male sexuality. They’re performative and well-constructed. Amazing stuff. But as Jason turned up with a portfolio of highly mis-matched prints, I did encourage him to tighten up the ship going forward. You never want to give someone an additional reason to say “No.”

9

1

2

5

05

9

11

12

13

14

16

19

22

29

33

44

j_pearson_14

My beautiful picture

j_pearson_21

j_pearson_22

j_pearson_23

Carol Erb was also headed to Review Santa Fe with some work I found innovative and smart. She photographs animals in zoos, then shoots nature scenes, and also made a series of images in an abandoned mental hospital. (West Virginia, maybe?)

She photoshops them all together, seamlessly, as she thought people just tune out at seeing endangered animals in their natural environment. These pictures radiate a kind of sadness that I think will affect people in a more powerful way. I found a couple of prints that lacked proper conceptual continuity, and Carol fixed them right up for RSF.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved – No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

I met Ellen Cantor at Medium in the past, but had not done a review before. She was an interior designer for a long time, and that skill-set showed, as her multiple projects all looked good. The one we’re publishing here is of her mother’s ephemera, after she passed away. I’ve seen projects like this before, of course, but thought these pictures were visceral, and melancholy, in a way that I respect.

cantor_ellen_filled-with-memories

cantor_ellen_he-kept-it-in-his-pocket

cantor_ellen_i-have-no-way-to-see-them

cantor_ellen_it-came-out-of-the-drawer-like-this

cantor_ellen_its-hard-to-remember-them

cantor_ellen_memories

cantor_ellen_names-and-addresses-i-no-longer-need

cantor_ellen_rolladex

cantor_ellen_she-had-negatives-in-them

cantor_ellen_they-used-to-send-telegrams

I had a hard talk with James Porschen, a working photographer who had two distinct series. The first was a group of color, aerial photos that could not have looked more like Ed Burtynsky and David Maisel’s work if he had set out to do so. I told him that, and think deep down he knew it was true.

The other project, in black and white, also attempted to grapple with the landscape, using some aerials, but I thought these were groovy, and far more original. We talked about how hard it is to walk in the shadow of well-known visions, and how we need to instead go in the direction of what makes us unique.

224634-004a-005.psd

226393-034A-v2.psd

227961-008.psd

227961-014A-V2.psd

227961-022A-V2.psd

7616-003A.psd

227961-X1-check2

X1-check-5.psd

0175-035.psd

7620-check4.psd

224634-005-005A.psd

227961-7614check1.psd

7616-check6.psd

224634-001A.psd

223116-032.psd

224634-028.psd

226393-006A.psd

237881-17.psd

237881-17.psd

Printed by the Fine Art Department at The Icon; archival inkjet print using Epson 9800 with K3 inks, on Hahnëmuhle German Etching 310 gsm paper, RGB profile.

7621-029-v2.psd

Victor Ramos comes from a computer programming background, and was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I liked both of his projects very much, including one that metaphorically grapples with his condition, but that was not-yet-completed.

His other project, “In The Future,” incorporated funny, irreverent, and sometimes troubling text with images to forecast what lies ahead. (While also commenting on the now.) The pictures were a bit uneven, but I thought most of it was really great.

inthefuture-2

inthefuture-4

inthefuture-5

inthefuture-6

inthefuture-8

inthefuture-9

inthefuture-11

inthefuture-12

inthefuture-13

inthefuture-14

inthefuture-15

inthefuture-17

inthefuture-18

inthefuture-19

inthefuture-20

inthefuture-21

inthefuture-22

inthefuture-24

inthefuture-25

Emily Matyas visited Romania, her ancestors’ homeland, and then went into character as if she were a local peasant. (It’s a strange conceit, to be sure.) I like it a bit more each time I see it, and the best pictures offer an ambiguity to go with the strong visuals. It’s odd, but I kind of dig it.

matyas_matyas_foot-in-mud

matyas_romania_adjusting-a-haystack

matyas_romania_autumn-burning

matyas_romania_climbing-the-barn-ladder

matyas_romania_cooking-with-ileana

matyas_romania_gathering-produce

matyas_romania_getting-water-with-grandma

matyas_romania_hanging-out-husbands-clothes

matyas_romania_hanging-out-rugs

matyas_romania_pot-tree

matyas_romania_raking-in-the-apple-orchard

matyas_romania_scolding-andre

matyas_romania_splitting-wood-with-a-toy-axe

matyas_romania_talking-with-matusha

matyas_romania_throwing-seed

matyas_romania_walking-home-from-the-fields

matyas_romania_walking-into-the-picture

matyas_romania_walnut-season

matyas_sweeping-by-an-orange-wall

matyas_romania_morning-in-the

Last, but not least, we have Cathy Immordino. She does improv, and has been on Nickelodeon TV shows before, but doesn’t currently mix those talents with her photography. I encouraged her to consider melding her skills.

We saw composite pictures about her child’s birth, as she had a “million dollar baby,” given the associated costs due to complications. I definitely have a bias against heavy composting, which I admitted to her, but the best images have an undeniable tension that I liked a lot.

immordino_a-cry-for-help

immordino_i-made-this

immordino_induction-or-c-section

immordino_pain

immordino_strings-ivs

Well, that’s it for the Fall Portfolio Review Circuit Roundup. We’ll go back to book reviews for the rest of the year. Thanks for sticking it out to the end…

Medium Festival of Photography – Part 1

by Jonathan Blaustein

In the 90’s, Michael Jordan was a god. He could fly, like Superman, and his ubiquitous Gatorade commercials implored us to “Be Like Mike.”

Back then, we had a kid on our soccer team named Mike Belasco. We teased him by singing that Gatorade song, and at one point, I bought the cassette-single, (yes, they existed) so we could torture young Mike with regularity.

Sample lyrics: Sometimes I dream, that he is me. The shots I make nobody else would take.

But Michael Jordan refused to take shots at certain corporations, or become politically active, for fear of offending potential consumers. His famous reputed quote: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

Unlike Mike, I have used this weekly platform to spout off my opinions for the last 5+ years. If you’ve been coming each week, you’re well aware of my thoughts on President-Elect Trump.

You might expect that I’d rail against injustice today, or lash out in anger, but you’d be wrong.

Not today. (I’m writing the morning after the election.)

Though I admit to being extremely disappointed, within the system we possess, Donald Trump won the election fair and square.

He got more votes in the Electoral College.

Hillary Clinton’s popular victory, while ultimately fruitless, proves we are indeed a divided country. Split in two, it would seem.

I read the think pieces today, and wasted time on Twitter and Facebook. It made me feel bad. And you know what I realized? Nobody knows what’s going to happen.

Whether it’s fears of a wall, a mass deportation police, or some new war in the Middle East, nobody knows what’s coming.

Nobody knows if President-Elect Trump will shed one character and adopt another, since he’s a modern day reality TV actor, just as Ronald Reagan was a B-movie star.

Nobody knows what the future will bring.
Nobody.

I promise you: it’s entirely unwritten. Maybe he’ll do some good things amid the many bad things to come? Or maybe the bad things won’t come?

Your fear of the future, of the unknown, of what he’ll do next, none of will do you any good. It’s just wasted energy. It burns calories, worrying, and better to save them for being creative, and expressing your freedom of speech during these next 4 years.

I admit, truthfully, that I did wonder last night if there was an archive of all the people who wrote nasty things about him? If I weren’t on some list?

But then I realized that was crazy. I’ve championed freedom of speech many times in this column, and intend to exercise the right going forward. There is no list.

Now, though, it’s time to “Be Like Mike.” If my repeated expression of my own political views has bothered you, when you were just looking to see some pictures of a photo-book, I apologize.

I’m going to continue to keep it real, but if you are among the many, many millions of people that voted for President-Elect Trump on Tuesday, I appreciate that you’ve been reading. I hope he’ll able to do some good things as President, and for all we know, his Art-of-the-Deal jujitsu skills might do the country some good.

As far as we artsy-liberal-types go, though, a few minutes ago I saw a tweet by comedian Eugene Mirman, who does a great voice on “Bob’s Burgers.” He said he looked forward to all the great art and music that would emerge from the first Trump term.

I couldn’t agree more. (#MakeStuff)

As artists, we’re blessed and burdened with the responsibility to report on our culture. It’s what we do, and I guarantee some kick-ass shit will come out of whatever it is that’s about to happen.

Speaking of making stuff, though it feels like another lifetime, it’s easy for me to recall the best work I saw at the the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego last month.

I’ve been there before, as you know, and the founder, scott b. davis, is an old friend. Medium works because it’s small and homey, with a positive vibe. It’s not a heavy drinking/partying festival, but it is set at the Hotel Lafayette, which has a cool pool surrounded by palm trees, in case you want to catch some sun.

You need to have a car, or use Uber, if you want to get around the city or head to the beach, but it’s just as easy to stay put. For whatever reason, even though North Park is not super-gentrified yet, there are a handful of excellent restaurants and cafes within 3 blocks of the hotel, so you can easily stay in the neighborhood.

Medium, like Filter, is not juried, so I expect to see a wide range of work. People continue to come asking for feedback, and I try to give it as honestly and kindly as I can. Luckily, this time I saw some interesting things, and am sure you’ll agree.

As usual, the photographers are featured in no particular order. Hope you enjoy their work, and we thank them for letting us share it with you.

We’ll get things going quickly with Adam Frazier’s work. Adam’s based in Las Vegas, and used to be a musician. He felt he wasn’t good enough an improviser to continue, so he gave it up and switched to photography. He worked with a dancer named Darius Hollins to try to capture motion in an authentic way, and I think he definitely succeeded. The photographs are dope.

darius02

darius04

darius11

darius13

darius14

darius16

darius18

darius19

darius20

darius25

darius29

darius30

darius31

darius33

darius39

darius42

darius43

I met with Adriene Hughes at Medium a few years ago, and we published her performative pictures back then. What she showed me this time was very different: images she made during a residency in the Arctic. I liked both of two sets, but preferred this group, as the naked digitality grounds it in our scary times.

I’ve seen a lot of work from up there lately, (including one project that verged on plagiarism,) and at some point, people just tune out, rather than in. I love these colors, and think it might be a more interesting take on documenting icebergs and glaciers before they disappear.

hughes_adriene_01

hughes_adriene_02

hughes_adriene_03

hughes_adriene_04

hughes_adriene_05

hughes_adriene_06

hughes_adriene_07

hughes_adriene_08

Deb Stoner had some pictures that are not the sort of thing I’m normally into. They are beautiful images of natural objects, and I often expect more than just pretty. (I like edge, as you know.) But there is something that works here, that helps me to appreciate the flowers and branches and bugs. I give her props, and certainly don’t mind seeing soothing things like this in such a crazy week.

02_hellebore

05_fritillaria

08_caterpillars

09_summer_harvest

11_late_november

12_holly

apple_blackberries

may_jean003

siris_lilac

tulip-tree-1500-straub

Jim Graves is another photographer I’d met at Medium before. I recall our encounter as being a little strained, as I challenged him to make pictures that had a more specific vision. He came back to the table this year with a set of medium format, black and white photographs that I really enjoyed.

We talked about how he pushed his process a bit, including taking a trip to Ireland, where he made some really killer photos. I like that they play with implied narrative, and occupy the weird-but-not-creepy zone, and think you’ll like them too.

graves_james_mediumreview_3

graves_james_mediumreview_4

graves_james_mediumreview_5

graves_james_mediumreview_6

graves_james_mediumreview_7

graves_james_mediumreview_8

graves_james_mediumreview_9

graves_james_mediumreview_10

graves_james_mediumreview_11

graves_james_mediumreview_12

graves_james_mediumreview_13

graves_james_mediumreview_14

I’m starting to realize there’s a bit of a theme today, in that much of the work is uplifting or pleasurable to look at. Sally Ann Field carries that line through with her irresistible series, “Punch Bug.” Between the immediate memory of playing the Punch Buggy game, smacking my brother Andrew in the arm, and the other memory-trigger of “Herbie the Love Bug,” this project gives me a perma-smile. I think it’s got coffee-table-book written all over it.

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-01

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-02

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-03

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-04

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-05

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-06

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-07

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-08

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-09

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-10

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-11

punch-bugs-for-jonathan-12

Finally, we’ve got Tami Bahat. This is the first group so far that plumbs some depths, but still, it doesn’t make for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Tami said she’s always felt like she belonged to another time, and here, she’s used her friends and family, in a jimmy-rigged studio, to evoke a sense of the Renaissance.

It’s hard to make work like this, because it’s easy to fall into kitschy tropes, but I love these. The symbol choices, which often required animal wranglers on her own dime, are pretty much perfect. Tami is doing well with the project, and I’m not surprised.

tami-bahat-2

tami-bahat-3

tami-bahat-4

tami-bahat-5

tami-bahat-6

tami-bahat-7

tami-bahat-8

tami-bahat-9

tami-bahat-10

tami-bahat-11

tami-bahat-12

tami-bahat-13

tami-bahat-14

tami-bahat-15

tami-bahat

More next week. Keep your head up, and see you then.

This Week In Photography Books: Curran Hatleberg

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was just talking to a friend about comment sections. Ours, in particular. It seems like a hundred years ago, but was really only 4 or 5, when anonymous trolls insulted me each and every week.

My god, did I hate that shit.

It’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” but I most certainly did. Rob must have gotten tired of my complaints, because I couldn’t let it go.

These days, we moderate, and it’s a bit of a wasteland down there. Not much going on. Tumbleweeds drifting across the information superhighway. Tarantulas creeping along the asphalt, as there’s no one else around.

Except for Stan.

Every now and again, Stan Banos, who’s been reading for ages, will pop up with a comment to keep me in check. He was there back when it was crowded, and he’s there now that it’s chill.
I appreciate his feedback, as he is intelligent, and has a different perspective than I do, so that makes for good dialogue.

If I’m being honest, I even inserted a clause in last week’s column with him in mind, and he took the bait. As I was gushing about how much fun I had in NYC, LA and Chicago, I thought it important to mention that I had not visited places where life is hard.

Places lacking the glamour of a gleaming art museum, or a cool bar with expensive drinks. After-parties are great, of course, but I’m at least smart enough to know when I’m experiencing privilege.

Sure enough, Stan chimed in to stress that life is insanely difficult for a large swath of this country, and things just don’t seem to get better. We all know there are millions of people living rough, and I acknowledged that as well, but Stan stood up and said, don’t pretend it isn’t happening.

So in Stan’s honor, I was glad to look at “Lost Coast,” a new release by our friends at TBW Books, from artist Curran Hatleberg. It investigates a culture in California, in the far North, that most of us don’t get to see, and it’s not exactly pretty.

I’ve written about books like this before, so I won’t claim that it’s insanely original. But it feels authentic, and hit me hard just now, as we’re all anxiously awaiting the results of an election that is increasingly driven by race and class.

There is no introduction on this one, and only the end-note-thank-you’s ground this as taking place in Humboldt County. (Famous for its insanely strong weed. Or so I’m told.)

A CA license plate tips us off before that, and an image with a pile of logs in front of a shipping port hints that it’s up North, but we’re not sure until the end.

I wrote last week that I had not dropped in on homeless encampments along the railroad tracks, and sure enough, some of the people photographed here look like that might be their next stop.

Even though I’ve seen worlds like this before, what really interested me were the subtle details. A father and son peering in the window of a motorbike store. You can’t see their faces, and I guess we don’t even know if they’re related, but the implied narrative screams yearning to me.

We see pit bulls, sure, but also a man attempting to cut a watermelon on a piece of cardboard, just outside the boundary of a gas station.

Another gas station, replete with no loitering sign, features a group of people doing just that.

A man with a reconstructed nose makes me think of meth and coke, hard drugs that will warp your face and ruin your life. A burned up trailer reinforces that read, suggesting a meth lab fire.

Yet one house has pink trim and a satellite dish, and another has a perfect pink rose bush outside in the yard. Even in difficult lives, people still crave beauty and a sense of normalcy.

A man has his head shaved, while showing off a hairy back, and the next picture features a bearded dude drinking Olympia, (the World’s worst beer,) while he plays with a ball made of aluminum foil.

Kids run around barefoot, a creepy-looking guy fills a gas can at yet another gas station, and a front yard barbecue looks fun, I suppose, if the pit bulls leave you alone.

I have no idea if Stan will like this book, or appreciate that I keep him in mind sometimes when I’m writing. It’s hard to remember what goes on outside your own world, I suppose, and that’s why I love this job so much.

No matter how stressed you might be, it’s important to be cognizant that even in a rich country like ours, there are too many people suffering deprivation. That’s why some will occasionally turn to a savior who promises to make it better by himself.

By next week, we’ll find out if he gets the chance.

Bottom Line: A well-crafted, taut look at hard living on the Lost Coast

To Purchase “Lost Coast” Go Here.

img_4092

img_4093

img_4094

img_4095

img_4096

img_4097

img_4098

img_4099

img_4100

img_4101

img_4102

img_4103

img_4104

img_4105

img_4106

img_4107

The Big 3

- - Art, From The Field

Make America Great Again.

It implies this country of ours used be great, but it’s not anymore. We’ve gone to seed, like Ron Jeremy, and only a strong man with ridiculous hair can bring us back.

Restore our luster.

Polish the family silver to a gleaming sheen. A massive shiny cock, like the Trump Tower in Chicago. (Bad example. I actually like that building.)

It’s hard not to think about Donald J Trump when you consider America. A man this delusional is still within spitting distance of the power to conduct nuclear war. That scares me more than knowing we had a President who couldn’t even pronounce the word. (Nook-u-lur. #GodblessGeorgeWBush)

Donald Trump speaks for a segment of America that has not fared well in the new Millennium. You could argue our national economy recovered from 9/11 only by absorbing crooked money into a bubble system that crashed so badly, it took down the Entire.Global.Economy.

For all of Barack Obama’s excellence, his skills were spent just getting America about back to where we were before the Twin Towers came down.

Make no mistake. America is a flawed place with a history of causing misery elsewhere. Places like Guatemala or Nicaragua. Iraq and Libya.

But despite our black marks, I still think this country is the best in the world. I really do.

Our freedoms, of speech, thought and movement, are profoundly important. Our system of regulated Capitalism, while imperfect, creates wealth and allows for entrepreneurial opportunity.

Our people, in certain cities, represent a true mix of the all cultures and races on Earth. Everyone mashed together, living parallel lives. Striving toward parallel dreams.

A nice place to live. A safe place for your family. A new 2017 Ford mustang GT, all black, tinted down.

The American Dream.

I visited Chicago, New York and LA in the last month, the three biggest cities we have, and came away thinking the US of A was in pretty good shape.

I’ll admit from the outset I did not see the neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago where so many people are being killed. Nor did I check in on homeless encampments near the train tracks in LA.

I visited each place for five days or less, and mostly stuck to the city centers and art destinations. So make of that what you will, whether I had a representative enough sample to make informed judgements.

But you know I’m never short on opinions, so here we go.

Chicago has the nicest skyline of the 3 cities. Which means it has the nicest skyline in America. Hands down, the best architecture.

It’s also much cleaner than New York. That perpetual layer of grime that covers the ex-New Amsterdam is a part of its character. A gritty charm, I suppose.

But at 42, I was attracted to a beautiful American urbanscape, filled with phallic buildings, that looked so very good without the dirt.

Nice people there, too. Good Midwestern values. And you know what I think of the Lake.

I walked along the Brooklyn waterfront with my friends and our children at night. It was safe and developed, in 2016. There is a magic in the air, in New York, that you just don’t get elsewhere. I’ve felt it before, and so have you.

That feeling like your life could be in a movie at any minute. New York is soooooooo cinematic.

We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, on foot, for the first time. My daughter was on my shoulders. It was late. We dodged bikers in the narrow walker’s lane.

And I think of all three cities, that experience was the one that sticks with me now. New York is iconic on a level that’s hard to match.

But LA can do iconic too. There, the mega-architecture is less about how tall, and more about how cool. I’ve seen Frank Gehry’s Disney Center before, and didn’t get to check out the new Broad Museum. But I spent hours at the Richard Meier-designed Getty Center, and that is something that you just can’t get in New York or Chicago.

Standing in the baking sunshine, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, the city at your feet. Light glinting off travertine tile. Curved building overhangs cutting up the blue sky. World class art, for free, at your disposal for as long as you’d like to be there. (I hung out for 4.5 hours. Parking costs $15, but the museum does not charge admission.)

Speaking of museums, the Kerry James Marshall exhibit at MCA Chicago was among the best I’ve ever seen. I thought I’d have to taunt you with tales of its awesomeness, but I just read on Twitter that it’s opening this week at The Met Breuer, so you need to go see it, if you can.

I didn’t get to The Met Bruer, unfortunately. Nor have I seen the new Whitney. Instead, I went to the Morgan Library, which is underrated, and the Brooklyn Museum to see the Sports photography show. I’d heard through the grapevine, (via Bill Hunt,) that it was excellent. It seemed an odd topic for an art show, but as I love sports, I had an open mind.

It’s a killer, killer exhibition, and I fell in love with a profound portrait of Lou Gehrig in the opening room. (They don’t have the jpeg available, I’m afraid.) I saw the show with my friends Richard Bram, who used to live in London and just moved back there from NYC, and Matjaz Tancic, a Slovenian who used to live in London but is based in Beijing. (Confused?)

Anyway, the two of them were arguing, playfully, in front of a London Olympics photograph with perfect light. They were discussing the intricacies of where the photographer might have stood to get the shot. They gesticulated like a couple of Brooklyn locals bickering about where to get the best pizza.

Nearby, we saw a photograph of Olympians at the first Olympic Games in Greece in 1896. Of course I know that photography existed back then, but somehow, things like that seem more like memories or myths than simple organized activities. I was surprised at myself that something like that would seem so surprising, if that makes sense.

New Jersey had the best pizza, if I’m being honest. (And I’ll ask you to trust me.) I don’t feel much like a Jersey boy lately, but Luigi’s in Lincroft was totally brilliant. Big ups, guys.

I covered thousands of miles in the last month, and came away totally inspired. Chicago, New York and LA were fun as hell. Great art, great weather, great food. So many super-cool, interesting people.

Now that I’m home, and the road is behind me, I’d like to thank everyone I met who showed me a good time, and reminded me that we need no Orange King to make us great again.

We’re pretty fucking great already.

Thomas Pelham Curtis (American, 1873–1944). American Olympic Team at the 1896 Athens Olympics, 1896. Vintage photograph, 4 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (12.1 x 11.4 cm). Collection of Thomas Pelham Curtis II

Thomas Pelham Curtis (American, 1873–1944). American Olympic Team at the 1896 Athens Olympics, 1896. Vintage photograph, 4 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (12.1 x 11.4 cm). Collection of Thomas Pelham Curtis II

 

Donald Miralle (American, born 1974). Men's Beach Volleyball match between Brazil and Canada, London Olympics, The Horse Guards Parade ground, London, 2012. Archival inkjet print, 40 x 60 in. (101.6 x 152.4 cm). Leucadia Photoworks Gallery, courtesy of the artist

Donald Miralle (American, born 1974). Men’s Beach Volleyball match between Brazil and Canada, London Olympics, The Horse Guards Parade ground, London, 2012. Archival inkjet print, 40 x 60 in. (101.6 x 152.4 cm). Leucadia Photoworks Gallery, courtesy of the artist

Filter Photo Festival 2016 – Part 3

by Jonathan Blaustein

Allow me to gather my thoughts.

In the last month, as your emissary, I’ve been in Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Albuquerque again, Los Angeles, and now San Diego.

In my 6.5 years writing for this blog, I’ve never had a travel schedule like that. My brain is like a gelatinous bowl of rice pudding, and I’ve still got a portfolio review to attend
in a few hours.

As such, I’m sitting at a hotel desk, listening to the white noise of the window-box air conditioner. Even though it’s mid-October, it was 90+ degrees in LA yesterday, and it’s meant to be a scorcher here in SD today as well. (Hola, Climate Change. Como estas?)

I wrote a column earlier this week, but it didn’t feel authentic to reality. I was trying to synopsize part of my journey, but it’s all too fresh. How can you look back on something when you’re still in it?

Take my morning run, for example. I just returned, and the sweat is still dense on my dirty black T-shirt. I was jogging down the sidewalk, minding my own business, when I saw a massive black cat sitting stock still on a postage-stamp lawn. That the home’s front porch was decorated for Halloween made his sentinel-pose all the stranger.

Next door, two puppies railed at their fence, presumably so they could harass the neighboring feline. On the same block, in front of an apartment building, strips of grass were cut into the parking spaces so that cars could sit atop a swath of green each night.

Who does that?

It’s a question that kept popping up last night, as I watched the final Presidential debate in a public auditorium at the Hammer Museum in LA. Surrounded by strangers, who treated political theater like the Jerry Springer show, I catcalled a few times myself.

Who does that?

The truth is, this has been a crazy month for the entire country. We all just want it to be over, but now the conclusion teases us with visions of skinheads pulling out their assault rifles to fuck shit up when their orange King loses the election.

Like I said, my mind is in that stream-of-consciousness state you get when you’re perpetually on the road. So perhaps I ought to pivot, like Hillary did, when she called Trump a Putin Puppet.

I laughed, like the rest of the room. I screamed out in disbelief, all the while realizing it really isn’t funny.

But pivot I will, to the last group of portfolios I saw at the Filter Festival in Chicago last month. I’ll try to gather myself to write a piece next week about the Chicago/NYC/LA triumvirate, and then we’ll be on to articles from the Medium Festival in San Diego soon enough.

As always, these portfolios are in no particular order. It is dude heavy today, but only because the first story was mostly ladies. (You know I’m big on keeping the balance.)

Jeff Philips has the distinction of doing the funniest karaoke bit I’ve ever heard. In fairness, I’ve only sang twice, but his riff on the Rapture last year was a bit of genius. This year, Jeff had a review with me, and I liked his new series photographing from within death metal mosh pits. (Better him than me.)

phillips-circle-pit-man-with-toddler-baltimore-2016

phillips-crowd-surfer-with-hood-2015

phillips-crowd-surfer-louisville-2016

phillips-crowd-surfer-louisville-2016

phillips-mosh-pit-and-inverted-girl-pontiac

phillips-mosh-pit-and-onlooker-baltimore-2016

phillips-mosh-pit-chicago-2013

phillips-mosh-pit-chicago-2014

phillips-mosh-pit-chicago-2015

phillips-mosh-pit-pontiac-2016

I didn’t actually meet Rachel Cox at Filter, though apparently we just missed each other several times. She followed up right after the festival to see if I’d take a look, and of course I loved her pictures about the end of her grandmother’s life. Sometimes, work needs a bit of context, (or actual text,) to make sense. Not so here. These photos are dynamite.

01-casket

03-two-turtles

04-before

05-mind-meld

07-dont-smile-smile

08-bequeath-this-glass-i

09-last-picture-together

Alan Thomas had some large-format work shot in Calcutta. As he publishes books at the University of Chicago, I assumed he’d be a craftsman, and so he is. I thought these pictures shared an aesthetic with much I’ve seen in Hong Kong, or elsewhere in Asia, but capturing India this way was new to me. (They’re so well-made.)

01_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

02_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

03_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

04_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

05_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

06_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

07_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

08_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

09_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2011

10_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

11_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2011

12_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2013

13_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2012

14_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2014

15_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2011

16_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2012

17_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2011

18_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2011

19_thomas_calcutta_filter-edit_2012

Ben Altman showed me a project that I’d first seen on Critical Mass last year. I wrote to him afterwards, as I was so impressed with the insanely-ambitious/batshit-crazy idea he had to dig a ceremonial mass grave in his own backyard.

No lie!

To make it even more ridiculous, he also built a faux guard tower. In his own backyard? With his own hands? It takes some massive balls to do a thing like that. I think the stark, black and white photographs of his installation are super-powerful as well. (I know there are a lot, but I think there’s a poetry to the long edit.)

01_altman_111201

02_altman_120601

03_altman_120901

04_altman_121102

05_altman_121201

06_altman_131141

07_altman_140301

08_altman_140609

09_altman_141102-b

10_altman_141109-a

11_altman_141101q

12_altman_141111-a

13_altman_141201-a

15_altman_141203-a

16_altman_150201-a

17_altman_150440-b

18_altman_160101a

19_altman_160201-a

20_altman_160603a

Cruising through the portfolio walk at Filter, I came across Max Cozzi’s prints. In a room filled with work, they jumped off the table. Max photographs in the Upper Midwest, and I thought his combination of color and clarity was extremely engaging.

maxcozzi01

maxcozzi02

maxcozzi03

maxcozzi09

maxcozzi11

maxcozzi12

maxcozzi13

maxcozzi14

maxcozzi15

Tom Wagner is a long-time photojournalist, and has photographed in North Korea many times before. I know it was a hot topic last year, photographically, but I like that these pictures have a bit of sparkle from a place I imagine to be rather grim.

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

Finally, I met up with Andre Avenessian, as we’d done a review together at Filter 2015. Back then, I told him his work was not nearly as visceral and engaging as the stories he was telling me. I challenged him to up his game.

On the last day of Filter, he busted out this group of new pictures, which he makes to approximate his vision of Hell. As in, the actual place. He is Armenian, and grew up in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, so it as always felt real to him.

As Halloween is coming up, I think these freaky-ass pictures will be just right to end this series. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did hook him up with Rebecca Memoli. Scary-fetishes are best shared, I think.)

a-avanessian_at-the-end-0001

a-avanessian_at-the-end-0002

a-avanessian_at-the-end-0003

a-avanessian_at-the-end-0004

a-avanessian_at-the-end-0005

Hasta la vista, and wish me luck, as I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.