Category "From The Field"

The Fall Chelsea Gallery Exhibits

- - From The Field

Jonathan Blaustein reports on a visit to the Chelsea art galleries during his trip to NYC.

Raise your hand if you feel comfortable going to art galleries in New York? Ok, how many of you is that? I don’t know about you, but I love the experience of engaging with art. Photographs, films, paintings, sculptures, videos, music, these are the ultimate forms of encoded information. Art communicates meaning, and we are meaning craving creatures. So I love to look at art. It’s how our history is recorded.

But I don’t love the experience of looking at art in most commercial galleries, and I know many, many people who agree with me. Why is it that such primal human desire has been co-opted by such an alienating system? I mean, the crusty pretentious person at the front desk is a cliché for a reason. All the spaces are more or less the same, no real variation on the experience. Big white space, uncomfortable silence, gallery workers who ignore you, or scowl, or give you a condescending little smile. Could this happen in any other capitalist industry? (I suppose you’ll tell me in the comment section…maybe the Bentley dealership?)

Anyway, I do wonder why such a humanistic enterprise as art making got into bed with such an elitist, de-humanizing business partner. Oh wait, no I don’t. Galleries represent the allure of a connection to money. Dealers are the middlemen between starving artists and wealthy patrons. And they offer wall space as well, which so many artists need.

Regardless, I went to Chelsea when I was in New York earlier this month with the intention of checking the pulse of the Neighborhood. I was accompanied by my colleague and friend Elizabeth Fleming, whose many witty bon mots were predominantly off the record. Unfortunately, we chose a day when many spaces were turning over shows, so we didn’t get a chance to see quite as many exhibits as we would have liked. But given that it was my last afternoon in the city, I probably couldn’t have handled much more anyway.

We began on a construction-laden part of 28th Street, West of 10th. I’m sure many people outside the art world would be surprised to know that there is anything that far West. Elizabeth and I met up outside the joint space for Foley Gallery and Sasha Wolf Gallery. The two dealers joined forces to share a rent for their galleries, but also formed an interesting multi-use venture called Exhibition Lab. Ms. Wolf was kind enough to chat us up about the Lab, which combines an photo/art curiculum with critiquing classes and lectures. Sounds like a good resource for the NYC photo community.

BartMichielsFoley Gallery was showing the work of Bart Michiels, a Belgian artist working with the landscape. The large scale color photos were bleak, wintry scenes of an empty forest and a field type place. There were burnt things here and there, and the overall sensibility tended towards the nihilistic. The project, which referenced “the Valley of the Shadow of Death”, was very reminiscent of Elger Esser. Very. Given all the great work out in the world right now, I admit I was a bit curious as to why Mr. Foley chose to show this. Ms. Wolf was showing black and white, documentary images by Paul McDonough taken in New York in the 70’s. (Which were subsequently published on the NY Times LENS blog.) The photographs shared a lot of stylistic and humor conventions with Garry Winogrand, but they did a great job of evoking Time and Place. And as a child of Jersey from the 70’s, it was a fun temporal space to revisit.

From there, Elizabeth and I peeked into Aperture, as it was in the same building. Call me crazy, which many people probably will, but I didn’t connect to the Paul Strand images from Mexico. A little to banal for my liking. But I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one. We also saw some Jock Sturges photos of nude, sexualized tween girls, literally tucked into an alcove, partially hidden from sight. Elizabeth is the mother of two young girls, and I have a young son. We both agreed that even in a world of moral relativity, these images transgressed some basic taboo, and were little more than criminality masquerading as art.

We exited the building on 27th Street, and cruised through the Robert Mann gallery on 11th Avenue on our way to 26th. Again, it was vintage, beautiful, black and white photography, and not particularly original. I’m a fan of the gallery’s program, and believe they’ve put on many, many important shows over the years. But this wasn’t one of them.

michalChelbinSo on to 26th Street, where we stopped into the Andrea Meislin Gallery to see the work of Michal Chelbin. Both Elizabeth and I had seen her earlier work, and were impressed by here odd but not off-putting sensibility. Here, Ms. Chelbin was showing photographs of tween wrestlers from Russia and the Ukraine. The prints were fairly large, color, and square. They were c-prints, which we learned by spying the thin black negative border in each image. Frankly, it was distracting. As was the fact that Ms. Chelbin did not spot tone her prints properly. The dust specks drew Elizabeth’s on-the-record-ire, as she pointed out that any professional who wants to charge high prices ought to know better. Certainly, in a Photoshop world, it reminded me how easy it is to make it right in the computer.

The photographs were entirely of boys, save one. The subject matter brought Collier Schorr to mind, as she’s worked with similar ideas. Wrong as this will sound, I noticed that the boys “packages” were rather prominent in their singlets, and hard to ignore. Having seen Sturges’ work just minutes earlier, it wasn’t hard to make the comparison. Here, a female photographer was sexualizing male children, but of course keeping the clothes on. It made me uncomfortable, as I’m sure it was meant to. But I did wonder why she felt compelled to stare.

From there, we cruised to 25th Street, but had little luck. Yossi Milo and Clampart were both closed for installation, so we had to move on to 24th Street. Gagosian was closed, soon to show Anselm Kiefer’s work. (On view now…) He’s a favorite of mine, so I was a bit disappointed. I mean, any German who can make great, subtle, profound art, not propaganda, out of the Holocaust is a giant in my book.

But my disappointment proved fleeting. Right next door, Mary Boone Gallery gave me an immediate reminder of when and why galleries can be relevant. Unlike photography, which is reproducible and shows well on the web, painting, sculpture, film and their hybrid, installation, need room to breathe. And high production costs can necessitate both a well funded collector base, and big rent for a warehouse space. But I digress…

Ms. Boone was showing “Squeeze,” the work of an artist I didn’t know, Mika Rottenberg. As great and perplexing as this exhibit was, allow me to take you through our experiences step by step. You walk through the alcove into the main gallery. It’s huge. In front of you is a self contained room/sculpture in the middle of the space. It has an window-type air conditioner sticking out the back, with a plant on top. As you walk around towards the opening, you see one sheet of 8.5″x11″ paper taped to the wall on your left, but you pay it no mind. There’s a big photograph of a stewardess type lady on the wall, holding some garbagy-god-knows-what, but you keep going because the room has an opening, which is kind of like a tunnel. The ceiling is made of cheap, dirty, industrial ceiling tile that looks like it was taken from some generic, schlubby New York office in Murray Hill that’s been there since 1941.

Rottenberg-installationThe hallway led to a video installation room. And I rarely have the patience for video art in such circumstances. Almost never. So often it’s esoteric and obnoxious. But not this time. Immediately, Elizabeth and I were sucked into this strange, loud, colorful and surreal world. There were people, somewhere far away from New York, cutting into trees in a misty forest. They appeared to be South Asian. The trees released liquid into drip spouts, which we realized was rubber. The video had jumpcuts to spare, but slowly we pieced together that there was a production process going on, with the rubber being turned into some product. But it was an assembly line as imagined by Terry Gilliam, crazy and nonsensical, with mouths spitting liquid through open wooden holes, and 4naked moist butts showing up occasionally as well.

We took a breather from the video as people streamed into the room, and after agreeing that it was totally awesome, we went back in to watch some more. In all my years looking at art, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. On return viewing, we pieced together that there was some sort of a trash cube sculpture being fashioned out of the process. After we left the video house, we again saw the large photograph on the wall. It was clear that the woman in the photo was holding the aforementioned cube, which appeared to lock some refuse in rubber and maybe resin. She was smiling. I was even more curious.

From there, the obvious path was to go look at the piece of paper taped to the wall. So we did. It was a bill from a storage company. On the inventory list, we saw the components of the cube, deconstructed. The bill stated that the item would be kept in storage at this facility: in perpetuity. FOREVER. Strange.

So as we began to piece things together, the artist made a video about the production of an object that seemed to contain the waste of consumer culture, and required the extraction of natural resources from the Third World. Said object was then photographed, and locked away from society forever. WOW. Talk about embedding ideas in objects. Not only that, but the piece-it-together-yourself nature of the exhibit forced us to think, and engaged us in a participatory way, thereby referencing ubiquitous Cyberspace.

I had the gumption to approach the bespoke suited man behind the imposing desk, who handed me a price list. Edition of six. What? I asked him about it, and he said that the photo and dvd were editioned, but the cube was too. I mentioned that it seemed that the sculpture was locked away forever, and he concurred. The artist sold a proportional share of an object that people could never possess. Sound familiar? Complex financial instruments, anyone? Brilliant.

Finally, we left the gallery, after 15 minutes or so. What a trip. That’s what galleries can offer, the chance to open a door to a unique experience. To show art that enlightens, and bring the new to a jaded audience. So while the photography galleries left me flat all day, Mary Boone did not.

wolfbuildingWe finished our day on 24th Street, looking at the Michael Wolf show at Silverstein, and Abelardo Morrell at Wolkowitz. It was hard to get juiced up after my mind was blown, but I gave it a solid effort. Mr. Wolf was showing three interrelated bodies of work, all of which reference surveillance and the lack of privacy in public space. I’d seen his city-scape images on the Internet before, but here the large prints taken of office buildings from office buildings were more poignant than on a computer screen. Scale really helped. Bigger was better.

wolfsubwayBut in another room, Mr. Wolf’s images of Japanese subway goers crushed up against the train window, taken from the platform, had the opposite effect. They were candid, visceral, and yet slightly noble. They were small prints, and the size communicated an immediacy. They were, without a doubt, the best prints I saw all day. Across the room, there was one large print from the same project, and I felt the magic was lost. Bigger was not better. (I noticed the same phenomenon with Sugimoto’s “Architecture” series at Sonnabend several years ago.) Mr. Wolf’s final group of pictures were shot from Google Street View, and were not that interesting. Just because a phenomenon is important to culture, that doesn’t mean that art about said phenomenon is important. The photos were kind of boring.

wolkowitzSo on we went to finish the day with Abelardo Morrell’s large scale, color camera obscura photographs. They were very beautiful, taken in New York and Italy. Some appeared to be made on gravel streets, which were kind of strange. But mostly they showed Mr. Morrell’s now famous process of bringing images of light inside spaces. They were well crafted, lovely to look at. But they did not engage my mind in a serious way.

So Eastward we headed, out of the Gallery Ghetto. We went not three steps when I looked down and saw the most interesting broken sidewalk, strewn-refuse street scene. I looked around to see if there was any signage about, because it looked as much like an art installation as what it really was; some garbage on the street. I know that certain galleries in the past have transformed their spaces in such ways, for real. And I’d seen a Jeff Wall photograph at the Metropolitan Museum earlier in the day that was a döppelganger for what was right in front of me. But Elizabeth and I laughed, and I decided to coin the idea as a new game. Garbage, or art installation? Try it next time you’re in the Neighborhood.

The Heavyweights – NYC Fall Blockbuster Photo Exhibits

- - From The Field

Jonathan Blaustein reports on a visit to several blockbuster photo exhibits during his trip to NYC.

crewdsonI went to see Gregory Crewdson’s show on a Friday, the day before it closed at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue. It was an imposing, New York City-gray-type-building, with an express elevator to the 6th Floor gallery. The aura of money and power was intimidating, and I couldn’t help smacking myself with the front door in full view of the slinky gallerina sitting at the front desk. Suave, I was not.

For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Crewdson is one of the foremost art-star photographers on the planet, and a professor at Yale as well. He rose to acclaim a while back for innovating the cinematic, labor-intensive-faux-reality picture style, alongside Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. His most famous images are large scale, well lit moments observing people’s introspective silence, or overturned buses in the pavement, or women on the front lawn at night. The images were revolutionary, as he hired film crews, set up huge lights and directed the action to get photographs that appear “real,” but are not. The movement of which he was a part shattered the expectation of veracity in photography, and then buried the notion of “truth,” and then spit on the grave.

The new show, called “Sanctuary, ” was a departure. The photographs are more traditionally sized black and white inkjet prints. They are somewhat flat, and and lack the snap of a good gelatin silver print. But I suspect that’s intentional. The series functions as a narrative, shot on location at Cinecittá Studios in Rome, the famous Mussolini-built film lot where Fellini worked back in the day. (And Scorcese shot the flawed but greuesome “Gangs of New York” there as well. Yes, Bill the Butcher still gives me the heebiegeebies…)

Anyway, I thought it was a pretty smart move to go from cinematic photographs to photographs in a cinematic parallel universe. And that’s where this project really stands out: on the symbolic level. The show begins in a small room with two photographs in it. One on the outside of the fence, looking at the wall that delineates the studio from the outside world. The next faces the security gate, at night, a lone woman working in the guard booth. She’s the only human in the series, and a nod to Crewdson’s previous imagery.

The rest of the images navigate a tour around the abandoned studio lot. The photographs are bleak, with a beautiful decrepitude. Here a lone tree, there a Roman arch, here a puddle of water, there a solitary bedsheet on the cobblestones. There is an undeniable post-apocalyptic sensibility, and it builds as one moves from picture to picture. Occasionally, we can see a block of utilitarian apartment buildings outside the walls, but aside from one image with some Italian text, there is no specific sense of place outside the Roman ruins. And plenty of scaffolding has been left to rot. References to Lewis Baltz, Thomas Struth and the Bechers are pretty evident, but not heavy-handed. Everyone loves a good shout out.

The photographs are quiet, lonely, sad, graceful, and specifically composed. The craftsmanship is evident, which is why the subtle prints hint at aging, lending meaning to the work. (And I did learn a bit about his process, by good fortune. A Yale photography professor was lecturing in the gallery alongside one of her graduate students. Apparently, the digital images are a composite of photos shot at different focal distances to create maximum sharpness and image clarity.)

The show ends with a path to the exit gate. We approach this little world, we circumnavigate, then we leave. Mr. Crewdson has prepared a journey for his viewers, with symbols to spare. I was moved. To be fair, a few days later a smart photographer friend asked whether I’d have taken the time to delve into the work if it had been done by an “unfamous” artist. Would I have had the patience to parse the meaning? Good question. If I’d seen it in some random gallery in Chelsea, I probably would have done a glance and go. But that’s not how we engage with art. Context is important. So in the temple of Gagosian, with knowledge of Mr. Crewdson’s previous work, he had earned my patience.

FriedlanderFrom there, I walked South two blocks to the Whitney to see Lee Friedlander’s “America by Car.” At least three people went out of their way to say “Don’t miss it,” so my expectations were pretty high. I got there less than an hour before the pay-what-you-want program kicked off, but decided to pony up the cash so that I wouldn’t be crushed by the onslaught of bargain-hunting art patrons. I knew I had to report back to you, the APE audience, and thought that I owed it to you to get a clear look at the work, instead of having to bob and weave all night.

The show is great. Consider it reviewed. Now can someone get me a cup of coffee? Just kidding. But it is superb; the equivalent of getting a big bowl of wisdom soup from a master at the tail end of his artistic journey. I’m not saying Mr. Friedlander is going to kick it any day now, but he’s coming from a place of age and experience, and it shows. Cindy Sherman, he’s not.

The exhibition contains 192 square photographs; a succession of vertical diptychs. Each image in the pair was taken in a different part of the US, though there were a few from Canada thrown in for who-knows-why. My natural inclination was to compare and contrast each image, then move down the line. Two photos. Two Americas. (Sorry, John Edwards.) Red State or Blue. Republican or Democrat. Urban or Rural. This or that.

That’s how we process information when it’s presented as such. We compare and contrast. If we’re given a line, we follow it. But after 25 or so diptychs, my head began to hurt. And then I looked down the room and into the next, and thought: I’ll never make it. No one was meant to play this game 96 times. That’s not what he wants. It’s not what he’s trying to say.

So then, I stepped back. I began to look at the exhibition in it’s entirety. Each photo was shot from inside a car, some with flash, and the shapes of the windowpanes and the dash boards were interesting as visual structure, for sure. They create a uniformity of language that delivers the message well. But the message was enticing to me. America. By car. One country, not two. Mr. Friedlander did an admirable job of collecting symbols of the once-and-perhaps-again-great nation of ours. Churches and Bars, Horses and Semi-Trucks, Factories and Gas Stations, Snowmen and Skyscrapers…

I started to look at the entire vision, and it began to make sense. A few urban enclaves aside, America is a nation defined by the car. (Just ask Robert Frank.) It’s a big place, and beyond diverse. But Mr. Friedlander was presenting one vision, not two. He was profiling one country, with his requisite humor and penchant for chaotic compositions. I came away inspired. It’s easy to divide and deliniate, and of course easier to decontruct than construct. As a viewer, albiet one intent on finding something interesting to say, I felt like this was an art show wrapped around a philosophical statement. A photo exhibit that presaged Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” A group of new pictures that belied a well-worn attitude: Enough already. Get over it. We’re one country, whether we like it or not, so let’s find some common ground, in this case a perfect encapsulation of an American symbology, and move along. Lee Friedlander channeling Rodney King.

By Tuesday, six days into my couch surf, I was done and ready to go home. I rewarded myself by spending the day looking at art. Yes, I had to take notes to write this piece, but all that was required was to look and think. And while some might disagree, I think the best thing about New York is the vast array of brilliant, epic and historically important things to see. Especially art.

I headed to the Metropolitan Museum, which is my favorite building in the world. I had two and a half hours, which forces one to be targeted and tactical. After hitting up the Chinese wing, which always inspires, I went to see the John Baldessari retrospective. My good friend Scott B. Davis, a photographer from San Diego, saw the show at LACMA earlier this year and told me it was the best thing he’d seen in years. Scott is not given to hyperbole, unlike, say, me, so I took him seriously. And I made sure to allow a good 45 minutes, which was not enough. But one can’t have everything.

I’d seen a few original pieces by the artist in LA, and photos in books through the years. I came into the show more aware of his reputation than his brilliance. I left feeling that Mr. Baldessari was as good as Andy Warhol. There. I said it. Now Andy’s ghost will smite me where I sit.

The best I can tell you about this exhibition, beyond “Go See It,” is that Mr. Baldessari figured out how to incorporate his curiosity, humor, irreverance, and intelligence into a broad and surprisingly relevant mega-collection of great work, across a spectrum of media. Albert Brooks once said that they don’t have a special line at the bank for being ahead of your time. I doubt Mr. Baldessari is hurting, but he definitely got there before everybody else.

Encoding, interactive gaming, implied/manipulated narrative, identity, the myth of California, the culture of beauty and retouching, so many 21st Century ideas seemed embedded in work that was made in the 60’s and 70’s. The pictures were direct, but funny. Original. Profound and silly, which is an almost impossible concept to imagine, much less pull off. I’m reticent to describe some of the pieces, as they just have to be seen. (The artist singing a Sol LeWitt art manifesto? Yeah, it’s that funny.)

Art is meant to be seen. Though it’s a JPG world and we’re just living in it, sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes, you’ve got to get off the couch, or step away from the Crackberry, find half a day, and go feed your brain. I’m intentionally lacking specificity about the Baldessari show for this reason. It’s genius: the real deal. But I can’t narrate it for you. It’s not that kind of art experience. It’s not meant to be compressed by an algorithm. Just go see for yourself.

Impressions from the PDN Photo Plus Expo 2010

- - From The Field

APE field reporter Jonathan Blaustein brings us his impressions from the PDN 2010 Photo Plus Expo.

Hola. This is the first of several stories I’ll be filing for A Photo Editor about the New York Photo Scene. Rob asked me to fly in to the City to cover the PDN Expo, so that’s where I’ll begin. For those of you who haven’t read my articles in the past, let me provide the barest of backstory. I’m a Taos, NM based artist/photographer/teacher, and write about photography as well. Though I’ve dabbled in some small-time, local, commercial work in the past, I would not consider myself a working professional.

I make conceptual images, most recently a series called “The Value of a Dollar,” that was featured in The New York Times last month, and I show the prints in galleries and museums. So please read this and subsequent pieces with that in mind. I’m no critic, and don’t profess to have a working knowledge of the inner facets of the industry. I’m just a dude from Jersey with opinions who used to live in New York, and now lives in a horse pasture at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Let’s call me a Reluctant Rancher.

So with dirt in my boots, I arrived at the Javits Center bright and early last Thursday for the opening of the PDN Expo. Though I must have been there at least once as a kid, I couldn’t believe how big the place was. Before I even made it in the door, I realized that this was going to be a much bigger deal than I had imagined. (And confusing as well. The building’s designers were not fans of intuitive planning. I got lost five times before I felt any sense of direction.)

PDN was kind enough to grant me a press pass so that I could sit in on the professional seminars and share my findings with you, the APE audience. So that’s where I began, at 9: 30 am, before the Expo floor had opened. My first visit was to a grant writing seminar, moderated by David Walker of PDN that featured Yukiko Yamagata from OSI, Justine Reyes, a friend and photographer, Ellen Liberatori from NYU, and photographer Brenda Anne Kenneally. I was pretty shocked to learn that 75% of grant applicants are summarily dismissed for failing to know what they are actually applying for. Apparently, simple professionalism is in short supply. The advice that I gleaned and will now pass on: do your homework. Know what an organization funds, read the paperwork, follow the rules, do what’s asked of you, be concise, sell yourself, and get a personal contact if possible. (92% of grant recipients have had prior contact.) Help them help you. And of course, the more organized you can be, the better.

After chatting briefly with Yukiko, who was gracious enough to meet with all the people who waited for her afterwards, I met up with Justine and we grabbed a quick bite before the next speaker. (They had a tasty pasta bar. Consider me impressed.) Fed and hydrated, we headed to the Keynote Address, which was delivered by a photographer named Chase Jarvis. It was Standing Room Only, and people seemed excited by his presentation. I tried to engage, as his ideas about interactive, interdisciplinary, collaborative process were certainly au courant… but I couldn’t do it. My Gen-X snark sensor was on Orange Alert, and I couldn’t help but see Mr. Jarvis as a Hipster Tony Robbins, bouncing around the stage in his shiny converse sneakers. My apoligies. But other people seemed to like it…

photo3From there, Justine and I headed up to the Expo floor for the first of many turns about the room. What can I say? Have you been there before? If so, you’ve probably got a sense of it. I felt quite the rube, though, and was temporarily awestruck by the bells, whistles, music, Sony BMX halfpipe, and gyrating models. (Yes, Nikon had a modeling stage where a super-hot Brazilian model danced for a throng of middle-aged photographers with big cameras. And she was apparently well-paid, because when I interviewed her, she refused to bite the hand that fed her. “Just a job,” she said.)

photo4The floor must have been two football fields long and one wide, and camera and accessory companies were everywhere. Canon and Nikon were the biggest, not surprisingly, and put on lectures throughout the day that were well attended. Olympus had the next biggest booth, I believe, and smaller companies of every sort were lined up in booths around the outside. I can’t even begin to name their services. Bags, printing companies, personalized USB flash drives, book makers, book sellers, paper trimmers, backdrop makers, popcorn shrimp, fried shrimp, I mean everything. And people were browsing, and people were buying.

It seemed to function pretty well as a marketplace. I interviewed a few photographers and enthusiasts, and they each said more or less the same thing. They love to come to the Expo to take a look at the new products, touch things and play, and then they always buy a few items they need. Photographer Richard Bram needed some paper, so he relished the opportunity to look firsthand, and then buy some. From the constant glint of credit card magnetic strips I saw flashing about, I’d say that many people do the same.

At one point on our circumnavigation, Justine got a tingle in her spider sense, and two minutes later we stood in front of Aperture’s booth. A very nice lady asked us if we had heard of Aperture, and wondered if we were aware of what they did. We let her know straight away that we were artists, and therefore fans. Shockingly, it turned out that the Aperture Representative, who was actively seeking new subscribers, was none other than Michelle Dunn Marsh, the Co-Publisher. And her fellow Co-Publisher, Dana Triwush, was standing beside her engaging with Expo-goers as well. That’s right. Aperture didn’t send interns. They brought out the big guns.

Luckily, in my capacity as APE correspondent, I was able to get an interview with Ms. Marsh, and she, Justine and I had a great conversation for 20 minutes. She was thoughtful and exceedingly smart, and shared the perspective that as artists, if we want to get a book published, which so many of us do, then we need to buy more books. Much as we want people to support our careers by buying prints or hiring us, she pointed out that publishers need support too. Especially non-profit publishers. Community was a buzzword for the day, and the week for that matter, but it was interesting to hear Ms. Marsh suggest that the community needs to support publishers to keep them healthy. I’m always open to a good idea, so I renewed my subscription on the spot. (I signed my name on an IPad with my index finger…it felt a little naughty, like eating cake for breakfast.)

She also made an interesting comparison between photography at the dawn of the super-DSLR, and the graphic design industry when the first Macintosh computers came to market. Technology shook that industry to the core as well, yet 20 years later, design is as important as ever, and professionals are doing just fine. So fear not, everything will sort itself out eventually.

Feeling like a good pretend-journalist for getting the scoop from Aperture, I headed back downstairs to the seminars to hear consultant Mary Virginia Swanson and publisher Darius Himes talk about their new book, Publish Your Photography Book. The presentation tracked the structure of the book, which is due out in February, and was as thorough as you can imagine. The two experts basically put their heads together and spent eight years amassing all the specific knowledge and information a photographer might need to get a book conceived, created, and marketed. (Most important: understand how your audience can be expanded beyond the photo world.) I’m not sure why we’re all so obsessed with having a book of our work. Posterity, I suppose. Something to outlast us, to collect dust when we’ve become dust. But everyone does seem to want one, myself included, and Ms. Swanson and Mr. Himes have created the ultimate resource to Get-R-Done. A Must Buy for 2011.

I bounced upstairs once again to meet photographer Chris Cappoziello, a friend from LOOKbetween, for a quick coffee, and to do one more lap around the insanity. I kept stepping in and out of the Expo to get a sense of the vibe. It was hopping, no doubt. Based upon the consumption I witnessed, we’re probably closer to the end of the economic drama than the beginning. And there were people at every booth, the sole exception I saw all day was a dude representing an upcoming photo festival in China. He had no one to talk to. Go figure.

The last lecture I attended was a fascinating panel talk about the future of magazine publishing moderated by the aforementioned Michelle Dunn Marsh of Aperture. She was joined by Sacha Lecca, photo editor at Rolling Stone, Whitney Johnson, picture editor at the New Yorker, Lisa Kereszi, an artist and editorial photographer who shoots for The New Yorker, and Gregg Hano, the VP Group Publisher of Bonnier Tech Group, which publishes American Photo and Popular Photography, among other magazines. Each presenter gave a 10 minute mini-lecture, and then they did a group discussion.

Tired as I was at the time, though properly caffeinated, I have to say they were a really interesting group. I learned a lot, and was engaged the entire two hours. Hard to believe. What can I share? Once again, I heard “Do your homework” again and again. Can there really be that many photographers out there who don’t get it? The editors stressed… know the content of the magazine you’re approaching, be polite, know people’s names, and get some human contact whenever possible. So there’s that. But I also learned, much as many people darkly suspect, no one gets a job from a bulk email. Pretty much never. So if you want to get your work seen, do the heavy lifting of networking and pavement pounding. And be honest with yourself about where your work will and won’t fit.

I also heard the word IPad at least 300 times in two hours. IPad IPad IPad… IPad. Steve Jobs appears to have come to the rescue of the publication industry, because the panel seemed to belive that the tablet device was perfect for delivering content, and more of it. (ie., 6 photos on the IPad to supplement 1 in paper, complete with a link to video.) It can generate income, and complement a paper edition as well. The also discussed the fact that websites are seen by a certain audience as valid an incarnation of the brand as the paper copy. (ie, younger readers.) There was definitely a sense that wraparound marketing is here to stay, and will help build up the viability of these companies so they can hire more photographers. Workshops, contests, Fashion Photo Fantasy Camps, events, higher subscription fees, IPad apps, and of course, paper copies, all converging into one businessmodel stew. As Mr. Hano said, “Right now I would consider any way to monetize anything.”

When the panel wrapped, after nine hours of listening, learning, talking and zigzagging around the Javits Center, I headed back out into the city proper. I stopped by a couple of exceedingly crowded openings in Chelsea, which was kind of like being packed into a subway car with a bunch of obnoxious rich people, so I couldn’t see the art. From there, I went to a Review Santa Fe Alumni party in the Meat Packing district, which was very cool, and then headed home with sore feet and a tired brain. (Subway drama ensued… I’ll spare you, but there were a lot of rats involved.)

photo2I hit the PDN bash the following night with my friend Cori Chandler-Pepelnjak, after stopping by the Blurb/Hey Hot Shot party at a Pop-up store in Soho. (Picture white leather sofas, white shag carpet, and red wine. Lots of books, 22 year old kids, free beer, and pretty much everyone seemed to agree that Blurb is doing a great job at the moment.) But back to the Bash, which was held on the Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson River. When Cori and I arrived, we followed the crowd and ended up on the top deck, with airplanes in the foreground and the NYC skyline to the East. Insane Photo Op. But of course then we felt like idiots when we couldn’t find the actual party. (Downstairs, duh.)

Inside, I got to catch up with Andrew Owen and Jenna Pirog, who run the LOOK3 photo fesitval, and put on the LOOKbetween event in Virginia that I chronicled for APE back in June. They were fired up for LOOK3 this June, and I was grateful for the opportunity to thank them in person for their hospitality. Since Summer, I’ve really kept up the friendships that I made over the beer and bonfires, and I know that was their intent. The reality is that curating conversation is a skill, or perhaps an art, and Andrew and Jenna did a killer job bringing people together.

I sifted through the crowd of Industry types for a while, and then decided to call it a night. It was the kind of event where everybody seemed to know everybody, and I didn’t. So at that point, far too beat to really work the room, I headed off into the Megalopolis. Really, I can’t imagine a more dense experience, as far as information gathering goes. Between the Expo floor, the seminars, and even the portfolio reviews, PDN really offers photographers a chance to absorb a year’s worth of knowledge in a few days. I’m still sorting things out a week later, and feel rather fortunate that I had the chance to attend.

5 Questions For Fraction Magazine’s David Bram

- - From The Field

Jonathan Blaustein, our man in the field, caught up with Photographer David Bram: editor, publisher and co-founder of fraction magazine ; recipient of the 2010 Griffin Museum Rising Star award; and a curator of exhibitions for several commercial galleries and non-profit photo spaces.

Jonathan: Do you think that more people look at photographs on a screen than on paper, and if so, does it change the way people think about photography?

David: I look at almost everything on a computer screen, so if that is an indication, then I would think that photographs are mostly viewed on a computer of some sort at this point. I’m not sure how many laptops are sold each year, but over 8 million iPads have been sold since April 2010 and nearly everyone has a cellphone that can make pictures as well. I think what has changed most about peoples’ perception of photography is that everyone has a camera, which then makes them think they’re a photographer. The computer age and the internet revolution, has taken the tangibleness out photography, we used to handle film, load cameras, handle negatives, handle paper, etc. I think this is the biggest change.

Jonathan: Fraction offers photographers a great deal of exposure in exchange for publishing their images for free. As online media begins to develop sustainable income streams, do you see a future where you are able to pay for publishing rights?

David: I am not paying the artists that are showcased because there isn’t any real money generated from it. Like most websites, money can be made with advertising and if you have the proper content there’s an audience for the advertisers, but for now, I do not see paying for content. And, I am not sure I will ever have to. As a photographer, I would love to be paid for having my work on someone’s website, but it’s not realistic at this point in time. Fraction is not an online gallery that aims to sell work and make money. Fraction merely introduces the artist’s work to the Fraction audience, free of charge.

Jonathan: Between portfolio reviews, internet research, and Fraction submissions, I would imagine you see thousands of photo projects a year. Are there any subjects that you feel have been done to death and you wish would just go away?

David: I’m not sure anything needs to go away because every artist, hopefully, has their own way of seeing the world. Also, I’m not sure it’s fair for me to say what needs to go away. I am finding that photography subjects are cyclical in nature, and who knows what everyone will love next week. There’s a difference between poorly executed work and tired subject matter.

Jonathan: Fraction is based in Albuquerque, and I’m based in Taos. You and I know that northern New Mexico has a lively and broad photographic community. Why do you think photographers are drawn here?

David: I think artists come to NM because of the weather and the light. Everything in New Mexico is dramatic, from the way the weather moves across the landscape to the politics. For me, the best time of year to photograph in NM is October and November. The air is cool and the light is amazing, especially in the hour before sunset. For photographers, there is a great sense of history as a number of great photographers have come through here at some point in time; Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro, Paul Strand, Lee Friedlander and Laura Gilpin, as well as a long list of contemporary, well established photographers who call New Mexico home.

Jonathan: It seems like we’re entering an age where the traditional boundaries that existed between artists, curators, dealers, editors and publishers are coming down. I can think of dozens of people who are doing more than one thing. Do you think this has any serious implications for the photography industry?

David: It just means that some of us are more busy than others. I’ve been busy working with Fraction, doing portfolios reviews, the occasional talk, and yes, I am trying to make new work as well. I think this can only help the industry since some of us know how hard it is to make a living making photographs. I think technology has made things easier as well. Email gets us in the door a little faster and our own personal websites let the dealers and publishers see what we’re up to a whole lot easier then sending around books or portfolio boxes.