Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

Dewi Lewis Interview Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: We might call it cultural criticism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DL: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That switch has just developed exponentially, really.

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

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

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

JB: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that the way it works?

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

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

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

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

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

DL: Yeah, that’s the next factor.

JB: Of course.

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

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

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

JB: Oh my goodness.

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

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

DL: Yup.

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

DL: It doesn’t work though, Jonathan.

JB: It doesn’t work?

DL: They still send them in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Great. Let’s hear it.

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

JB: Of course. Dead grandparents?

DL: Dead grandparents.

JB: Yeah, that was big.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: You’re looking for Universality?

DL: Yeah.

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

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

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

JB: What are you suspecting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Understood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the digital question is almost a side issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re saying this is potentially a bubble?

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

JB: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: (Laughing.)

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

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

Dewi Lewis on press with John Blakemore

Dewi Lewis on press with John Blakemore

Dewi Lewis Receiving World Press Photo Krazna-Krausz Award

Dewi Lewis Receiving World Press Photo Krazna-Krausz Award

Susan Barnett - T: A Typology of T-Shirts

Susan Barnett – T: A Typology of T-Shirts

Stags, Hens & Bunnies - Dougie Wallace

Stags, Hens & Bunnies – Dougie Wallace

Maybe - Phillip Toledano

Maybe – Phillip Toledano

Bitter Honeydew - Kirill Golovchenko

Bitter Honeydew – Kirill Golovchenko

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

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

Black Country Stories - Martin Parr

Black Country Stories – Martin Parr

Working with photographer Paul Hill

Working with photographer Paul Hill

Dewi Lewis Interview Part 1

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

Dewi Lewis: Never. Never.

JB: Never?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: This is with public financing?

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

JB: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DL: Not really. I almost never drink tea.

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

Does that about sum it up?

DL: Close to that.

JB: (laughing) OK.

DL: Plus the pints of beer.

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

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

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

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

DL: Yes?

JB: …so I appreciate your specificity with language.

DL: Understood.

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

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

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

So my time was pretty heavily occupied with all that.

JB: Is it still there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Still fairly recently.

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

JB: So how do you feel about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Of course.

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

JB: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

[Part 2 Tomorrow]

Dewi Lewis at a Portfolio Review

Dewi Lewis at a Portfolio Review

This Week in New Media

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

Things change, but cycles are forever.

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

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

Until today.

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

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

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

How 21st Century is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Week In Photography Books: Gerry Badger

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be a lot worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line: Bleak, ugly beauty in Berlin

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

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This Week In Photography Books: Laurent Chardon

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

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

I genuinely don’t know. Do you?

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

Bottom Line: Chilling photos on the outskirts of Paris

To Purchase “Dédale” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Mike Mandel & Chantel Zakari

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

Gooh Sawx!

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

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

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

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

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

Because they wanted a better life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.

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

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

We all know what happened next.

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

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

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

To Purchase “Lockdown Archive” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Michael Lange

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Purchase “Fluss” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Aapo Huhta

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.aapohuhta.com/BLOCK

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Work from Review Santa Fe 2015, Part 3

I’ve got my hands full at the moment.

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

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

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

Alas…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghulam-Faroq's Bookstore

Ghulam-Faroq’s Bookstore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work From Review Santa Fe 2015 – Part 2

I never get drunk anymore. It’s true. I can’t even remember the last time I was woozy and boozy, swaying like bamboo in a disorienting world.

I know, I know. Just last week I was bragging about throwing back shots of whiskey in my car with Paccarik, but that was just a little tipple to prepare for the onslaught of chatter. I barely even get a buzz on at portfolio reviews, these days.

It’s not about the drinking per se, these reviews I’m always on about. The key is to have just enough alcohol to be extra social, but not so much that you can’t speak coherently about your work. (And definitely not so much that you make an ass out of yourself in front of some VIP.)

Is this all obvious to you? Am I once again preaching about things that don’t need to be said? I’m not sure.

But the social aspects of Review Santa Fe, and other events like it, are where the long-standing relationships are built. That’s the reason I always recommend people attend a good festival: you can make things happen that you wouldn’t have predicted.

Case in point: in last week’s article, I highlighted the work of Shane Rocheleau. I edited out a few comments I made about Shane being a massive Massachusetts meat-head, once the beer was flowing. He was hilarious, his humor infectious, but I needed to mind my word count.

The story I was planning to tell was how Shane organized a little print trade/after-party in a room in the Drury Hotel. As it was booked into room 145, they cheekily called it The Gallery 145. People flocked, after the last evening’s final event, and I was handed a beer before I even knew what was happening.

There was a board of directors in place, a set of rules, and each trade was documented with ironic flair. Unfortunately, the organizers were unaware the hotel was filled with families and older folks, so by leaving the door wide open, at midnight, they were begging for trouble.

I was there when the hotel cracked down, shutting the party tight within three and a half minutes. Everyone moved on to a more suitable location, on a nice balcony, and that was the last I heard of it. But clearly, a few people who’d never met each other before organized something cool, that benefited others, and showed people a good time to boot.

I checked back with Shane yesterday, so he could remind me of the room number, and he said the whole endeavor morphed into a collective, and a website. It’s right here, if you don’t believe me. The Gallery 145 is a thing, and the leaders: Shane, Will Douglas, Eric Pickersgill, the aforementioned Paccarik Orue, and Marcus DeSieno intend to re-stage print trades at upcoming portfolio reviews, including one in Japan at the end of August.

Then, the guys decided that just staging print trades at portfolio reviews might not give them a ton of momentum. So they went ahead and founded the collective website Mall Pretzel, where they’re highlighting contemporary photography, seeking submissions, and planning exhibitions, IRL.

How cool is that?

I know that some people must think I’m always championing Review Santa Fe because I know the people there, and they helped launch my career. True enough, I suppose.

But really, those who read me regularly know how seriously I take this platform, and how much I’d like to help others realize their dreams, and pay the bills at the same time. If you don’t want to go to RSF, cool beans, but if you’re on your way up, and trying to make a name for yourself, you really ought to consider attending a top shelf festival.

That said, the point of this article is to highlight the best work I saw at RSF’15, so let’s get to it. (Once again, in no particular order.)

Liz Arenberg is a Brooklyn based artist, and I met her the week before RSF at a Fraction exhibition in Albuquerque. Normally, we’re respect NSFW here at APE, but we’re making an exception for Liz’s work.

Apparently, Liz has a sister, with whom she had a poor relationship, as her sibling was staunchly Christian. Then, her sister, who’s an athlete, came out of the closet, and their relationship improved dramatically. Liz has a series in which she’s photographed her sister, often nude, and there is something original about this project that really struck a nerve with me.

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Shane Brown, (yes, two Shane’s today,) is a part-Native American artist from Oklahoma, where he still resides. (Otherwise known as the New Jersey of the Southwest.) Shane’s project, “In the Territories,” gives us an inside look at a State that was mostly known for football, historically, and is now infamous for man-made earthquakes caused by fracking.

Sallisaw

Sallisaw

Northeastern State University Pow Wow—Tahlequah

Northeastern State University Pow Wow—Tahlequah

Old West Fest—Sperry

Old West Fest—Sperry

Protest of Oklahoma Statehood Centennial—Oklahoma State Capital

Protest of Oklahoma Statehood Centennial—Oklahoma State Capital

Harn Homestead Land Run Reenactment—Oklahoma City

Harn Homestead Land Run Reenactment—Oklahoma City

Indian City U.S.A

Indian City U.S.A

Cherokee Strip Parade—Perry

Cherokee Strip Parade—Perry

Skedee

Skedee

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Kiowa Gourd Clan's July 4th Celebration—Carnegie

Kiowa Gourd Clan’s July 4th Celebration—Carnegie

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Cherokee Strip Parade—Perry

Cherokee Strip Parade—Perry

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Cherokee National Holiday—Tahlequah

Enid

Enid

Honey Springs Battle Reenactment—Honey Springs Battlefield

Honey Springs Battle Reenactment—Honey Springs Battlefield

Apache

Apache

Caddo County?

Caddo County?

Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show Parade—Pawnee

Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show Parade—Pawnee

Camilo Ramirez teaches in the Boston area, and brought some work to RSF that he’s shot on the Gulf Coast, where he once lived. Camilo was interested in seeing what the region looked like, post-Gulf Oil spill, though the photos are not about that, per se. To me, they attempt the capture the spirit of a place in time, which is always an admirable goal for a photographer.

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Svetlana Bailey is a Russian-born photographer, but she spent much of her life in Germany, and then did a long stint in Australia. (Have you got that?) Now, she’s studying at RISD, and will be featured in the Fall issue of Photographer’s Quarterly, alongside 4 other global female artists I met at RSF.

Beyond her primary project, which we’ll show in a few months, Svetlana also brought a few palladium prints made in an amusement park in China. That’s right, all the landmarks below are fakes. Fugazi. I guess they really do make everything under the sun in the PRC.

1_Neushwanstrin Castle

2_the opera house In Sidney

3_Abu Simbble Temple

4_The Eiffel Tower

5_Taj Mahal

6_The LeaningTower Of Pisa

7_Algubbat As Sarhah

8_yellow duck

Jeremiah Ariaz strolled in 5 minutes late to his review, just when I thought I was going to get a break. (He was my second-to last meeting of the final day, so my brain was beyond fried.) Therefore, it was going to take a lot to get me back on his side. Fortunately for Jeremiah, his pictures were wild.

Jeremiah is a professor at LSU, in Baton Rouge, and had recently discovered a fascinating subculture, while riding his motorcycle around Southwest Louisiana. He happened upon a group of African-American men who have a Trail Riding club. No typical cowboys, these, as they tow a truck with a DJ to keep them company as they tool around on their horses. Badass, no?

Mr. Real Deal

Jeanerette Trail Ride

Semien Stables, Sulphur, LA

Young Riders

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Semien Stables, Sulphur, LA

Tommi

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Trail Riders

Alejandro Duran, a Mexican photographer based in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn, was one of Center’s competition winners, so his work was displayed at the Center for Contemporary Arts. As I was schmoozing non-stop that night, I didn’t even get to see the pictures.

Thankfully, I had a review with him, and got to see his portfolio up close. Alejandro spent time in the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve in Quintana Roo, Mexico, just south of Tulum. He was troubled to find washed up garbage, on the beach, from 50 countries around the world. (Can I get a WTF?) So Alejandro turned the trash into beach installations, which he then photographed. The work has been making the rounds on the Web this Summer, as it is clearly compelling stuff.

Algas (Algae) 2013

Amanecer (Dawn) 2011

Bombillas 5

Bombillas 5

Cepillos 005

Cepillos 005

Cocos (Coconuts) 2011

Derrame (Spill) 2010

Espuma (Foam) 2011

Gota (Drop) 2011

Mar (Sea) 2013

Vena (Vein) 2011

Finally, we’ll get to our last two artists, who were my dining companions at the Saturday night dinner honoring the legendary Anne Wilkes Tucker. To my left sat Tarrah Krajnak, a seemingly Peruvian artist based in LA.

I say seemingly, because Tarrah confided that she was from Ohio, and didn’t speak Spanish. A sharper person might have figured it out for themselves, but Tarrah told me she was adopted. Therefore, one might read into her project, “Dark Messengers,” shot in the American Southwest and South America, as an attempt to get in touch with her roots. Regardless, there is a mystical vibe I find alluring.

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To my right that night sat Shawn Records, a photographer from Portland with whom I’d corresponded in the past, but never met. He’s been a part of the Photolucida organization for years, and I wrote a blurb about one of his books in the early days of my weekly column.

On a laptop, Shawn showed me a mockup of a book he’s been working on, called “Hero,” that’s modeled on Joseph Campbell’s famed ideas about the hero’s journey. Shawn has spent a couple of years combing through his massive photographic archive, trying to create a through-line that will parallel the aforementioned narrative.

There are a ton of pictures in his resulting effort, but we’re showing just a small sample, for obvious reasons.

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All right, our coverage of Review Santa Fe 2015 is officially complete. We’ll be back to the book reviews from here on out, and then I’m headed to the Filter Festival in Chicago late next month, so we’ll have fresh portfolios for you in October or November. Have a great weekend.

Work From Review Santa Fe 2015 – Part 1

It’s the first Wednesday in August, and I’m sitting at my white kitchen table. (As usual.) The late Summer sun filters through the window coverings behind me, suffusing the room with warm light.

Outside, the sunflowers stand tall, like teenaged boys trying to impress their fathers. It is the prettiest time of year, from now through October, and it puts me in mind of the impending Autumn.

Oddly, my job is to turn back the clock; to engage my memory, imagining the photographs I saw at Review Santa Fe, in early June. This year, the event took place at the newly built Drury Plaza Hotel on the East end of Downtown. It was a convenient location, but as I spent most of my time indoors, looking at pictures, it didn’t really matter.

The first night, a Thursday, began with a big lecture by an important person. I’m eliding the details, as I decided to skip it, and drove into town a little later. (I cooked a big dinner party for some collector friends the night before, and was too worn out to jump into the early activities.) As such, I headed directly to the opening party at the Center for Contemporary Arts, which featured the Center competition winner’s exhibition: The Curve.

I parked in a still-empty lot, and strolled towards the venue in my new flip flops. (Fancy leather.) I hadn’t checked in at the orientation, so I bore no name-tag, flouting the convention in which people would know who I was before they met me.

Where do you go when you’re the first one to the party? That’s right, straight to the bar. That was the plan, at least. But just as I was approaching the end of the parking lot, a massive bus pulled up, filled with thirsty photographers, all likely to beat me to the drinks, if I didn’t hurry.

Why the rush? Center is famous for its generosity at such events, and there is almost always free food and booze, for the participants. (Keyword almost.)

I approached the very pretty, model-esque bartender, and noticed the trendy alcohol branding behind her. She handed me a menu, and told me there were lots of great drinks on offer. I noticed the steep prices next to them, and frowned. What do to?

Awkward.

Well, I said, and then paused for a few seconds. Is anything…complimentary?

What do you mean? Complimentary?

The drinks. They’re only for sale?

Yes. Of course.

Oh. OK, I said, as the crowd bunched up behind me. Give me a second.

Well, she said. There are ways to get things complimentary.

Right. I said. I get it. Tip you well, like in a bar, and one of them will be on the house. I got it. Thanks. Just give me a minute.

She smiled big, and I later wondered if that’s what she meant, or if perhaps she was hitting on me? Likely the former. Regardless, I stepped to the side, so paying customers could actually order, and pretended I was deep in thought.

However, I was actually deciding how long to wait before I went out to my car to drink some of the Bushmills I’d bought at the liquor store in Pojaque on the drive down. I slunk away, a few seconds later, and wouldn’t you know it, the first person I bumped into, quite literally, was Paccarik Orue. (Featured in a previous APE travel piece in San Francisco, 2012.)

I offered him free booze if he was willing to sneak some plastic cups from the bar, as I was then too ashamed of my thriftiness to face the beautiful bartender again. So he did.

Not two minutes later, we were sitting inside my tinted down, silver Hyundai, slugging whiskey, and preparing ourselves for the onslaught of socializing that is a portfolio review event.

Is there a point to the story, behind me being a cheapskate? Yes, there is: Always be prepared.

Since my intro ran long, I’ll cut to the chase. I had a fantastic time at Review Santa Fe. It was a bit strange to be sitting on the other side of a table, officially, at the event that helped launch my career, on the photographer’s side. But I tried to use that perspective to help put the artists at ease, when I could.

As usual, we’ll highlight some of my favorite work here, in a series of articles. (In no particular order.) I’ll try to conjure up a more interesting anecdote for part 2, but for now, I hope you enjoy the selection.

Jillian Mitchell is an American photographer living on the Mexican coast. Or should I say a misplaced Bostonian? It wasn’t until later in the weekend, well after our review, that a few beers summoned her strong accent.

Jillian showed me a serious and sad series shot at the Mexican teachers college where those 43 students were stolen. It was good, for sure. But this other group of pictures, in which she photographed Mexico, as she knew it, had a joy, strength, and whimsical silliness that I found charming.

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San Pancho Days

San Pancho Days

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Matjaz Tancic showed me some 3D photos made in North Korea that I didn’t find so compelling. I’m really not the target audience, though, as my brain can’t process 3D glasses. I gave him the best advice I could, and we had a good chat. Cool guy.

As Matjaz was leaving, he handed me a portrait of a Mao Zedong impersonator, wearing actual 3D glasses shoved through eye-slits in the print. Easily the best leave-behind I’d ever seen, and I immediately asked him why he didn’t show me whatever series that came from? Though originally from Slovenia, he’s currently based in Beijing, which gave him access to these actors who impersonate Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai Shek, and Zhu De.

Apparently, it’s regulated by the Government. But then again, how could it not be?

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Shane Rocheleau got a hold of me before the festival, as he’s a friend of Susan Worsham, whom we interviewed here a few years back. I was predisposed to like him, I must admit. We met at the second to last review, and he was wearing a sharp camel-colored corduroy jacket over a music T shirt. Johnny Cash, maybe?

Shane showed me these pictures from his series “A Glorious Victory,” which is a part of a collaborative investigation he’s doing in Petersburg, VA, alongside Brian Ulrich and others. They chose the town to stand in for the contemporary South, and I thought the prints, all done with a 4×5, were dynamite. So sharp in person. (And yes, the blood is real.)

Boy on Wall 001

Boy with Teddy Bear 001

Brandon and Mikayla 001

Bullet Hole, Bank Window 001

D'Shawn 001

Damon 001

Edward Jones 001

House behind Trees 001

Impounded Car 001

Ja'Quan 001

Jaclyn 001

Looking down S Lafayette St 001

Martin 001

Newlyweds 001

Richard 001

Samantha 001

Shattered Window 001

Terry 001

Tree on Hill 001

William 001

Patti Hallock is a Denver artist, as is the last in today’s piece. (Evan Anderman) It’s a co-incidence that I’m lumping them together, but each did ask me the same question. How can I get my work noticed outside my regional area?

Patti first showed me a project that’s now in the current issue of Fraction Magazine, and I didn’t love it. It was pretty, but didn’t seem to transcend a genre of pretty nature photos. She disagreed, and thought there was more too it than that.

I told her that typically, work that resonates with larger audiences had something of an edge or tension to it. Things that don’t look like other things stand out by definition. She said she had something else I might like, and maybe she could show me later.

Not to pick on Patti, but “later” should never be at 1am on the last night of the festival, on your Ipad, when someone says they’re going to bed and have to pee. Just bad timing, FFR.

But, I try to be a nice guy, so I looked for 6 seconds, and said, sure, send it to me. “It” is “Wreck Room,” in which she photographs people’s basements. The random stuff we never see. I think they’re cool, and contain the funk I suggested she try to bring out in her nature imagery.

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Pram

Evan Anderman is a pilot, and trained geologist. He brought aerial work, which was popular in Denver, he said, and wanted to see how he could break out nationally and internationally. We discussed the multitude of people shooting from the air these days, and that in the wider world, he’d therefore be compared with Ed Burtynsky, Emmet Gowin, David Maisel, Michael Light, and people like that.

It’s tough company.

I suggested that his advantage was his professional-grade knowledge, as a scientist, and if he tunneled (no pun intended) deeper in to that expertise, he might find ways of communicating things the others couldn’t. Plus, knowing how to fly a plane was advantage 2. The following pics are from his series “Ground Zero,” which focuses on environmental degradation, and I thought they were interesting enough to show you here.

Dark Road, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2014

Prairie Tanks #2, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2013.

Green Pool, Powder River Basin, WY, 2014

Haul Roads, Powder River Basin, WY, 2014

Dragline Piles, Powder River Basin, WY, 2014

Train Loading, Powder River Basin, WY, 2014

Mine Leftovers, Powder River Basin, WY, 2014

Flare Pool, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2014

Fracking Fracas, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2014

Winding Road, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2014

Industrial Scar, Pawnee Buttes, CO, 2014

Power Plant Residue, Brush, CO, 2014

Rising Steam, Brush, CO, 2014

Coal Feed, Denver, CO, 2014

OK. Part 1 done. More to come next week.

This Week In Photography Books:

by Jonathan Blaustein

Did you read last week’s column? If so, you won’t be surprised to hear I’m a shade worn out this week. I feel like Doctor’s
office carpet that hasn’t been cleaned in two decades.

As such, for the first time in nearly 4 years, I asked for a week off, and Rob obliged. (He’s a good dude.)

And yet…

The idea of dropping out seems so foreign that I find myself typing these words. I can’t seem to cut the cord.

Rather than blowing you off completely, I thought I’d share a tiny bit about how I’m viewing the aftermath of my great disappointment. Thankfully, it gets easier each day.

I’ve been exercising like a steroid-fueled-flat-brim-hat-wearing-MMA fighter, to channel the frustration. AND spending extra time with the kids, to soak up the love.

The reality is that the challenges we face make us stronger. They give us character, and eventually, gray hair. We can’t control how people treat us; nor how they behave in our presence. But I can state with certainty that I kept my cool under pressure, and I learned more about myself through difficulty.

No book review today, unfortunately, and you might even find the above advice trite. C’est la vie. But when given the chance to abandon you for a week of leisure, the pull of normality, of routine, was too strong to resist.

I hope you all have a great Summer weekend, and I’ll be back next week with my first post in a series about the excellent work I saw at Review Santa Fe in June.

This Week In Photography Books: Mark Power

by Jonathan Blaustein

I hate being cryptic. It’s not my thing. Ever since 2010, when Rob suggested I be as honest as possible, I’ve tried to do just that. (Sometimes to my detriment.)

Today, though, I find myself in something of a pickle. I had a very rough week, and normally would spill the beans forthwith. Straight-away. Right now.

But as my career has grown, and I’ve realized just how small is this photo-world of ours, the habit of discretion seems to have taken root. It would be a very bad idea to give the details of what just went down. But as much as I hate to tease, I also hate to miss out on a teachable moment. (You all roll your eyes at that, right?)

The crux of what happened, though, I can most definitely share: Someone dangled a life-long dream in front of my face, and then snatched it away. It went something like this.

Suppose I was a fox. A hungry fox named Reginald. Now Reginald was a bit more hungry than he was smart. He was walking down the normal dirt path through the forest, thinking about food, and all of a sudden he heard someone whisper.

Come here, kid. Come here.

Reginald turned to look, and he saw a big coyote.

I’m Carl, he said.

Carl the coyote?

Just so. And kid, you’ve got to see what I have behind this hedgerow. It’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. A hundred chickens. Just for you.

What, said Reginald. That’s impossible. Do you know how hungry I am? I’d eat my way through the year on 100 chickens. I’ve dreamed all my life of running into a small city of chickens.

Well, said Carl, here you go then. Step right through this hedgerow here.

Reginald stepped through the hedgerow. He was sweating profusely from all the anticipation.

Just as he had his fingers within range of the first chicken, the amuse bouche… WHAM! Carl’s hand wrapped itself around his rear left paw, and he felt himself flying through the air. He landed on his head, back across the road, in a daze.

Stupid fox, said the coyote. Did you really think it would be that easy?

Most dreams don’t come true. That’s me talking. Not a coyote or a fox. Mine still might, and I have plenty to be thankful for regardless. But that doesn’t change the fact that most dreams don’t come true.

I know that.

And I also know that good fences make good neighbors. But what about walls?

The Berlin Wall, in particular. What must it have felt like to stand there, watching as it opened on that fateful day in 1989? How many people had dreamed of their freedom?

All those East Germans, dreaming of a better life. And then it happened. Someone made a call, after the rumors had spread, and the guards at the gates said let them through. What might that have looked like?

Well, we don’t have to wonder. I just finished looking at “Die Mauer ist Weg!,” a new book by Mark Power, published by Globtik Books. Yes, we’ve got a great one this week, folks.

Take it out of the wrapping, and it’s a weird cardboard thing all in German. The cover looks like a tabloid paper headline. (But I don’t read German.)

After a title page, we get a very cleanly written, engaging statement by the artist, setting the scene. He was about to quit his photo career, back then, and a friend convinced him to give it one more go, and sported him some cash to boot.

He used the money to buy a plane ticket to Berlin, maybe on a whim? And he’s standing there, somehow, when it all goes down.

These pictures are so cool. All those cameras. All that 80’s German style. All that history. In real time.

In the statement, Mr. Power suggests that such a thing could not happen now, a few people with cameras, shooting film, and telling the story for history. Now, of course, there would be thousands and thousands of live video feeds on Periscope.

(As I’ve said before, the 20th Century seems like a long time ago.)

The few pictures of empty East Berlin are dynamite. The whole thing is thoughtfully produced, with a cardboard inner wedge to keep the pages in place. (Removable, which is handy.)

This book captured a seminal time in modern history, but takes the effort to embed the pictures in a book package that doesn’t leave those photos to do the work alone. Very instructive, I think, for the rest of us.

Bottom Line: A great book that shows the fall of the Berlin Wall

To Purchase “Die Mauer ist Weg” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Alejandro Cartagena

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just watched a horse walk in circles. There were two gates, in front and behind, that marked his turf. Slowly went the horse. Slowly turned the rotor.

No one was there minding him, outside the barn. I happened by at the end of my run, and decided to play spectator for a moment. It seemed so obviously metaphorical. (And put there just for me.)

We believe ourselves so different, each from another, each race distinct. But the majority of people in the world will do these things, day in and out. Sleep. Eat. Wash. Work. Walk. Talk. Copulate. Procrastinate. Etc.

Our media, social and old fashioned, binds us together through an electronic web. It’s real enough, though we can’t see it. What have I learned from the great InterSphere?

Twitter is the news these days. And it’s also the reason I know that Donald Trump said some nasty stuff about Mexico. Or was it Mexicans? And what did he say exactly? Does it matter?

What I came away with was that racist, idiot Donald Trump offended an entire nation. Is that the gist? You can only glean so much from 140 characters at swipe speed.

Or what about “El Chapo” escaping a maximum security prison in Mexico? Did you hear about that one? Do you know who he is?

Was anyone surprised the most powerful cartel boss in Mexico got away from the authorities? If so, did they tweet their dismay? What might that have looked like?

“OMG. Can’t believe they let him get away again. #Corruption #Jailbreak #Oralé”

Personally, I would have said something like, “Of course he got away. If those monsters in New York State could figure it out, with nothing going for them outside of charm, paintings, and a large penis, then how could any prison hold a man with limitless money and power?”

Twitter didn’t exist when the Mexican Drug War started. We’re so self-involved here in the US that most people have forgotten about it entirely. After Enrique Peña Nieto went on his own charm offensive, after his election, the PR gurus pushed the story down below the fold. It was all about the Mexican economy. Let’s not rock the boat.

But now they have egg on their faces, or huevos, if you will, because this story perfectly fit the entrenched narrative that the inmates are running the country. If you can pay, you can play. (Insert further random cliché here.)

This is not a news site, and I’m not a proper journalist. But we do attempt to discuss big ideas, and pragmatically dispense advice about the way things are. As such, I interviewed Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena a few years ago, and he told what it was like living on the front lines of the Drug War, in Monterrey.

Alejandro is a friend, and a prolific artist, so I was not surprised when “Before the War” turned up in my mailbox the other day. Apparently, the pictures within were shot between 2005-7. (Hence the title.) So let’s take a look.

This is one of those publications that I pretty much had to review. Not because of my personal connection, but because it pushes the boundaries of what we’d call a book. The title is actually printed on the envelope, so even the packaging is a part of the production.

In that regard, it reminds me of something that TBW books might make. (As we learned from their publisher Paul Scheik, it’s the little details, done properly, that make all the difference.) It’s also note-worthy in that the pictures are really not that special, which is a subject we’ve highlighted of late as well.

Pull the tab to open the envelope, and you’re faced with some explanatory text. The war began in 2008. There are more than 80,000 deaths recorded since then. It has been a clusterfuck of tragic and enormous proportions.

Slide the plastic sleeve out of the envelope, and open that too, and there is a pile of smaller inserts, seemingly printed on newsprint. (Cheap to produce, and a built-in Marshall McLuhan reference to the old way news was disseminated, pre-Twitter.)

The first leaflet has text from a press conference in which President Felipe Calderon, who began the War, spoke directly to a heckler. There are pictures interspersed, and then stories. Poignant tales that make you feel something.

Kidnappings. Murder. Appropriation of property. All crimes that fester in the vacuum of Chaos.

There is a subsequent fold-out-poster with portraits, and text snippets that refer back to one of the previous stories. Then a faux-postcard. Then still more leaflets filled with the kind of empty, blurry photos, including soaring birds that make me think of vultures.

A few weeks ago, I critiqued another book for using the horror motif gratuitously. Here, it’s different. The pictures were made before-the-fact, but the production elements enable the pages to channel a certain type of emotional tenor, for a very particular reason. (You see people, you think ghosts.)

It’s almost Baroque, as the darkness that inspired the “book” drips back off the pages, taunting you to imagine what other people’s lives are like. Do you really want to know?

I’ll try to write something funny next week, as the last two reviews were a tad heavy. You know I like to keep the balance. But today, while it’s Summery, and hopefully you’re getting ready for a great weekend with your friends and family, maybe pour a little bit out for the homies now beyond.

Bottom Line: Innovative, experimental, and emotional “book” about the Mexican Drug War

To Purchase “Before The War” Visit: http://tienda.alejandrocartagena.com/product/before-the-war-2nd-edition/

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This Week In Photography Books: Zun Lee

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just stormed into my bedroom in a huff. I didn’t exactly slam the door, but closed it demonstrably, and then turned the lock.
Obvious message: Do Not Disturb.

From whom was I fleeing? My beautiful family, of course. We’re well into Summer, by now, and the kids have been out of school for seven weeks. Which means we’ve all been together, seven days a week, since then.

(Primal scream!)

As I suspect you’ve surmised by now, I love my family more than anything. My two children, 7.5 and nearly 3, are fantastic human beings. Sugar and spice we call them. I could not love them more.

But everyone needs some space to think, much less write book reviews, and I’ve had little of either for quite some time now. It’s mostly a pleasure and a privilege, to spend so much quality time together, but there is an element of claustrophobia as well.

I’m a Jewish guy from a good background with a very solid education behind me. Despite the facial hair, and perhaps because of the lack of tattoos, I know I look the part of a doting middle-class father.

When people see me holding my daughter’s hand in the supermarket, they smile. When people see me cheering at my son’s soccer game, they nod in approval. When people see me walking down the street, alone, they don’t recoil in fear.

It’s a freedom that so many people in the United States lack. The ability to be out in public space, and not seem a Menace to Society. I don’t know what it is like to be African-American, or Latino, and I clearly never will.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with the impact of racism on the lives of men of color. Racism is an inescapable conversation in this nation at present, for good reason. #BlackLivesMatter

It’s quite the conundrum. The stories are everywhere, and impossible to avoid. And yet the experience of living in someone else’s skin- skin that doesn’t look the same color as mine- is something I will never know.

Thankfully, I just finished looking at Zun Lee’s book, “Father Figure,” recently published by Ceiba, and it’s been the catalyst of the musings above. Given how cleanly this production shows us something we haven’t really seen, I’m sure you’ll be interested in the photos below.

This is one of those books that seems to support all the advice I’ve tried to give out here of late. If you want to make something original, and perhaps important, you’ve got to start from your own lived experience. It has to be personal. And the more honest, the better.

Apparently, Zun Lee was raised in Germany, with an abusive father. He took comfort in the home of American GI’s stationed there, in particular with a changing roster of African-American families. They offered him the support and nurturing he lacked, and craved.

Fast forward many years, and Mr. Lee learned that his biological father was in fact an African-American, (who deserted his mother,) as opposed to the man who actually raised him. Quite the Mind-Fuck, I’m sure. It troubled him to feel like one more statistic with an absent Dad. One more piece of kindling on the conflagration of stereotype.

So he decided to use his photographic practice to learn more; to see for himself what “proper” loving African-American fathers looked like. To search out the type of environment he wished he’d had, and in the process, provide ample evidence that what we think we know is far from the complete story.

I like these pictures. They’re really well-made, but surprisingly, they didn’t touch my emotional core. My eyes never teared, and my breath never left my chest for long periods of time. I’m not sure why that is?

Could it be that I’m callous? Or that my lack of understanding for what these men’s lives are really like clouded my heartstrings? I don’t know, but I always like to check in and see what I’m feeling and why.

The book contains some excellent writing, in particular Mr. Lee’s opening essay, which overshadowed the brief piece by Teju Cole that preceded it. If you want to learn how to share your secrets with others, reading his story will give you a boost.

But there are also interview blurbs spread throughout, on pages opposite the photographs. Each was poignant, giving solid parenting advice that resonated deeply with my own acquired knowledge. It was Universal, I felt, and in a way undercut the notion that races are inherently and irrevocably different.

Even though we are, to a degree. I can wear a hoodie without being shot.

I’m not surprised these pictures are popular, nor that they’ve gotten support from major African-American photographers, and photojournalistic power-brokers. (Including my editors at the NYT, apparently.) This is the type of messaging that people are desperate to see, because it’s real, and it’s a giant, bony thumb in the eyes of the Fox News assholes who demonize men like this, 24/7.

This is an excellent book of solid photographs, showing us something we really ought to see. As such, I’m happy to highlight it, and would not be surprised if many of you wanted to buy it. The more people who see these pictures, the better.

To tie it back to this little run of reviews, in which I’m lecturing a tad more than normal, I’d also suggest that it’s an inspirational book. (Beyond the way you might think.) Most photographers don’t have the courage to use their art process to dig deep into their gaping wounds. It’s painful, and difficult.

But as the great Roger Ballen told my students this past Spring, the darkness is where the very best material resides.

Bottom Line: Excellent book examining the lives of loving, African-American fatherhood

To Purchase “Father Figure” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Stephen Shore

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just got home from a family vacation. In Colorado. So my brain is not working as well as it normally does. (Must. Activate. Remaining. Braincells.)

In fact, I just deleted several paragraphs, and jumped right back to this spot. I never do that. These columns normally flow like the water in the Rio Hondo, right after the snow pack begins to melt.

But not today.

Today, I want to talk about nostalgia. Or, more correctly, the way in which some temporal markers take on a power that is far greater than what they have earned. I’ve got a handy example, so you know exactly what I mean.

I was at Review Santa Fe a few weeks ago, as I’ve mentioned. The articles highlighting the work I saw will be coming out in the near future, but I wanted to share an unrelated anecdote. (What’s that you say? I’ve never met an “unrelated” anecdote? Point taken.)

One of the photographers at the event had a previous career as a TV journalist back in the 90’s. It’s not important whom I’m discussing, but let’s just say that the person held an outsized place in the culture at the time, despite never being a superstar.

During the weekend, I watched as one GenX photog after another seemed starstruck and smitten. Again, this is not Tom Cruise we’re talking about. But some things that are important to us, at critical times in our youth, never really lose their power. (That’s why the rest of us can’t really understand how much Baby Boomer guys love Mickey Mantle.)

Speaking for the 90’s, I think that “Seinfeld” was such a cultural touchstone. (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”) It’s freaking 2015, and it still seems like Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer are America’s weird, narcissistic best friends. Who would have thought a show about NOTHING could make such a lasting impression?

Sometimes, NOTHING is the best possible subject, because it allows an artist to super-impose his or her own vision, or range of emotions, directly onto a historical stage. Even time can feel more important, when it’s supporting a flimsy premise; when all that matters is the way color, light, and composition meld together into an enduring scenario that would otherwise escape notice.

Am I talking about anyone specific?
Stephen Shore. American master.

The last time I wrote about him, I mostly-trashed his book of photographs made in Israel. I pined for the less-complicated, almost breezily brilliant pictures made in his heyday. Back in the 70’s.

So that’s what we’ve got for today: Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places: The Complete Works,” recently released by Aperture. It simply doesn’t get any better than this, my faithful readers. No irony required. This shit is fantastic.

It took me a lot of brain power just to make it this far, so that means I’m going to wrap it up rather swiftly. I’ll shoot an extra few pictures so you can enjoy the ride a little longer, but for once, there’s not much I can say.

The pictures really are about “NOTHING,” in the sense that the collection merely records one man’s travels, and the things he saw, back in the 70’s. There were many images made in mid-1974, and my imagination ran wild, visualizing this guy, moseying around with a big camera, while I was drinking formula and spitting up on my Mom back in Jersey.

The truly iconic pictures, like “Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974” stand out, in that we’ve seen them before. They’re etched in our minds, like our grandmother’s face. But they fit into the continuum of Mr. Shore’s journey, and deliver about as much pleasure as the other plates. (Beyond giving a quick jolt of nostalgic thrill, reminding us of the phase when we first discovered them.)

The last two weeks, I’ve talked about developing your own voice. It is hard, I admit. Starting from your own passion and knowledge base is a good idea.

Another way to go about it is to obsess about your favorites. Look at their work until your eyes bleed. That way, the next time you’re looking through the viewfinder, you’ll recognize when you’re about to snap one of “their” pictures, and then slowly let your finger off the shutter.

Bottom Line: A classic, meant to be appreciated over time

To Purchase “Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places: The Complete Works” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Yusuf Sevinçli

by Jonathan Blaustein

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. ”Tis some midnight visitor,’ I muttered, ‘rapping at my chamber door. Only this, and nothing more.'”

Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven,” as I remember it from 7th grade

You never know what will stick in your head. Some things stick that we’d rather not, like an image of James Foley getting his head hacked off. Other things hang around, and we savor them, like the aftertaste of some magical Ecuadoran chocolate.

In general, it’s good to be memorable, if you’re a photograph. It means there’s an element, embedded in your pixel or grain structure, that enables you to stand out from the literally endless crowd.

The numbers of pictures made each day, week, or year, are simply too large to process. They might as well be infinite, these jpegs, because I can’t imagine anything stemming the tide. Even in the end of the world, as imagined by Sci-Fi genius Neal Stephenson, the jpegs and .mov files withstand the apocalypse.

Given this reality, (tons of pictures, not the end of days,) it’s the job of a conscientious photographer to try to figure out the secret code to originality. It’s often said that developing a voice, or Point of View, can help differentiate oneself.

I’d say that’s true, but perhaps it’s easier said than done. In a world of 7 billion people, it can be a tad tricky to figure out what makes you different from everyone else. Even self-awareness is not the magic bullet it might have been back in the day, when the “Average American Male” was as cognizant of his emotions as a pile of railroad ties.

Then again, you, the audience, are not limited to America. That’s one of the very best things about the Internet. It brings us all together. British photographers know what’s on the wall in Los Angeles. Japanese book makers know what’s on the shelves in Roman stores.

It’s all out there.

Normally, we think this is a good thing, in that we keep abreast of our community. Sure. That’s true.

But it can also make it that much easier to ape someone’s style. To allow the creative creep to happen, in which you’re subtly absorbing information you might not even realize. Before you know it, you’re not exactly appropriating, but your pictures are less original than they might have otherwise been.

Which brings me back to “The Raven,” or at least, what I remember of its opening stanza. How do scary movies work? They use scary music, with lots of low-timbre, asynchronous drums, strings, and piano. The color palette revolves around some shade of Black.

The world that Edgar Allen Poe conjured, before cinema even existed, haunts us still. (Pun intended.) Scary movie tropes are there because they work. Lots of light, with shiny colors? Not scary. Skeletons emerging from black muck? Scary.

It’s the same thing with a certain style of photography. Black and White. Grainy. Low light. Blurry. Creepy. Discomfiting.

Having said those words, do any images come to mind? I bet they do. I reviewed Ken Schles’ book “Invisible City” a month or so ago, and it would fit the bill. But it was done back in the 80’s, and those pictures conjured a mood that by all accounts resonated with the New York City that actually existed.

“Good Dog,” a book in my photo-eye pile, by Yusuf Sevinçli, made in Istanbul, may represent that city just as well. I have no idea, as I’ve never been to Turkey. (Though I’ve heard it’s a lovely.)

The book, though, reminded me of so many others that I was not able to take it seriously. I apologize, as normally I lavish praise on the books I write about. This one certainly has redeeming qualities, and some of you may even want to buy it.
(I’m not suggesting it’s worthless.)

Rather, it’s devoid of creativity, despite its edginess. Last week, I deviated from my normal style, and wrote a critique directly to a young photographer. Having received a thank you note, I feel I hit the mark. And the comments were favorable too, though one person did suggest I was in attack mode because the pictures were so traditional.

Everyone knows I like edgy work, but what does that even mean? I’d suggest it refers to photographs that contain an element of tension and surprise. They throw the viewer off-guard, with unexpected choices. I enjoy sitting with such pictures.

“Good Dog,” therefore, does not match up with that description. The trope does, with it’s darkness, grain, big eyed kids, dangling Eggleston light bulb, flowers, panty-covered vagina, flies, dogs and birds. It’s supposed to be edgy. I get that.

But after seeing such things more times than I can count, I was bored of this book well before I finished. I even made a game of it, saying, “Wait for it. Wait for it.” until the boob shots showed up. They had to be there. It was inevitable.

Why?
Because Boobs Sell Books.℠

I’m sure Yusuf Sevinçli is a talented artist. He shows in galleries, and might well sell a lot of his work. I’m not suggesting he’s a hack. Surely, these are the types of photographs he enjoys making. (And with Ken Schles thanked in the end notes, he appears to have some well-placed supporters.)

However, I didn’t want you, the audience, to think I took a shot at Seth Hancock last week because of the style of work he likes to make. Rather, I sought a teachable moment, where I could speak to all the image-makers out there. In particular, because it’s a message I’ve heard directly from other colleagues at portfolio reviews.

Make the pictures you want to make. Do what gives you joy, or satisfaction, or scratches the incurable mental itches that cloud your sleep.

But when it comes to making a book, and putting things out there for the rest of us to see, don’t sell yourself short. There are many ways to tell the same stories. And tropes can even be broken. In fact, it’s the subtle tweaking of tradition that tends to create the deepest resonance.

Bottom Line: Weird, dark photos from Istanbul

To Purchase “Good Dog” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Seth Hancock

by Jonathan Blaustein

A picture is worth a thousand words. So they say. And “they” are normally right, so we repeat the cliché ad nauseam.

But what if they’re wrong? What if words ARE better at some forms of communication? Are we all in the wrong business?

It’s an interesting question. These days, images are more popular, and by assumption powerful, than ever before. We discussed the idea a while back with curator Russell Lord, a photography expert if ever there was one.

The idea is that photographs convey information beyond the boundaries of language. A picture of fire will read as fire in China, Chattanooga, or Timbuktu. Fire warm. Fire cook food. Me like fire.

We don’t need words to recognize an object, or even a set of actions. Soccer/Football is a global sport, and a portrait of Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo, will be recognizable in most parts of Earth, with no further explanation.

But what about emotions? What about the subtle nuance that resides inside a human being’s soul. (Should we accept the existence a soul, which is DEFINITELY a conversation for a different day.)

I’m waxing philosophical, as my brain is still in some form of image-induced stasis, after looking at dozens of projects at Review Santa Fe this past weekend. I’ve come to find that the best work gains quick acceptance in a portfolio review environment.

You can always spot the artists whose work is breaking out. They stand up a little straighter. Look you in the eye. They know they’ve got the goods.

But that leaves a rather large percentage of photographers who are making good photographs, or even just decent. They mostly get silence from their reviewers, or quiet nods. It’s hard when you’re not getting compliments or criticism, so I go in the other direction.

I give honest, kind critiques, and now, people seem to be seeking me out just for that. They know I’m there to help.

So today, we’re going to attempt such a thing in a book review. It’s more of a catalog, really, called “10 Minutes With A Stranger,” sent to me directly, by the photographer Seth Hancock. (Now of Los Angeles.)

I received it a while back, and just took a look. It’s not like anything I’d normally review, and you regulars know I’ve tried to expand my range of late. So let’s go there.

Seth, I’m guessing you’re a commercial photographer. By calling it a personal project, and the shooting style you adopt, I’m inclined to read the situation thusly. Perhaps you do editorial work too, but I don’t think your training is in art.

The project, which we’re looking at here today, consists of images you made of random strangers, on a long and winding American Road Trip, while you were moving from New York to LA. You limited your time with all the people you met, and beyond photographing them, you also got them to share very personal information with you via a diary.

You must have some very impressive people skills. (Rico Suave, my friend. Rico Suave.) I liked the idea, and I like the book, but perhaps not in the way you intended.

The pictures have a very “commercial” look to me. They’re shiny, and some of the people are even smiling. (The big no-no in the art world.) I can tell straight off that you know how to operate a camera, and a set of lights. And I did like the two images in which you had the subject hold a light to their face. (Very meta.)

But if I were judging the photos alone, they really don’t tell me much about who the person is, nor are they distinctive from other photographer’s pictures. There is no edge. No overtone of emotion. The wall between subject and camera is thicker than Donald Trump’s bullshit. They’re neither off-putting, like early Thomas Ruff, nor are they poignantly beautiful, like Rineke Dijkstra.

The journal entries, however, are often heartbreaking. I can’t believe you got people to open up to you like this, in such a non-traditional way. (At least for a photographer.)

A young man writing a tragic letter to his dead wife. A young woman sharing her fears and pain after having a stroke, brought on by faulty medication. A man, chilling on a stoop that says “No Loitering,” writing of his trip down the wrong path, and subsequent redemption.

An African-American cowboy quietly bemoaning racism. An older man, who raises wolves, and wishes humans could only be a shade more lupine. Or a young Latino woman who said the best day of her life was when her father abandoned her family. (We can only imagine…)

I read each and every page. Word by word. Wow, were these stories powerful. I felt connected to the subjects on levels profoundly beyond what the pictures allowed me to access.

Yet, I’d never have read the words, had the pictures not existed. Not only do the images anchor the project, but I only review photo books. No photos, no review.

So, Seth, I’d encourage you to figure out how to imbue your future pictures with the depth and emotional intensity found in these incredibly honest admissions. Is it even possible for you? I don’t know.

But the best portraits obviate the need for explication. They leave us with more questions than answers. And typically, the best stories don’t have pictures. Perhaps you’ll break new ground one day?

Either way, I’m glad you sent your book my way. It held my attention, and made me think. It gave me access to new information: in this case, the inner world of a set of strangers I’ll never meet.

Bottom Line: An interesting personal project that illuminates a set of random lives

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