Category "Portfolio Review"

The Best Work I Saw at the LACP Exposure Portfolio Review

 

Almost everything I write is available for free on the internet.

There are a few exceptions, though.

I’ve written essays for two of Alejandro Cartagena’s recent books, the companions: “Santa Barbara Return Jobs to US,” and “Santa Barbara Shame on US.”

These are limited-edition, fine art books in which the photography was obviously the main draw. The only people who read those pieces bought the book, and then also took the time to read the insert.

(Meaning, not everyone who bought the book. Let’s be honest.)

The ideas in those essays went up behind a paywall, essentially.
So I’m going to pull a few out today, as I think of sunny, hot, alluring California.

Beautiful, majestic, diverse, cool-as-shit California.

You’ll find few bigger fans of the Golden State than I, especially among those that don’t live there. I’m biased towards CA for sure, having lived there for 3 years, and visited more times than I could count, even if I tried. (Maybe 20? 30?)

The Bay Area is amazing, LA totally rocks, and SoCal beach towns are among my favorite anywhere. (They put the Jersey Shore to shame, I’m afraid.)

But writing for Alejandro in 2017, (in parallel with his critical agenda,) I questioned whether California, the laboratory of new American culture, was becoming a 3rd World Country? As I wrote about several years ago here, and for Lens, the homelessness problem is so bad there are essentially permanent public tent encampments now, mini-neighborhoods, and is that really going to un-happen?

Do we believe that any great new public policy will find homes for this increasingly large underclass? Or build fancy new shelters for them, as nice as Trump’s immigrant-kid-jails?

Will a sane drug policy all-of-a-sudden find ways to treat every heroin or oxy-loving junkie?

Of course not.
That’s ludicrous.

This massive disparity between mega-wealth and mega-poverty, mashed right up against each other, is likely to continue. And how long does it take to go from tent city to a full-on favela?

Who hasn’t heard of Brazilian cities where the wealthy only travel by helicopter?

Is that in California’s future as well?

Like I said at the outset, I love California. Hell, I love America, even though we have some serious problems at the moment.

Since I was a young child, it was inculcated in me that this society was ultimately a melting-pot, where people from all over the world came to live next to each other in peace, and try to make a better life for their children, and their children’s children.

I still believe America is Great, I honestly do, but this place has its challenges.

Chief among them right now is sorting out income inequality. If the American Middle-Class Dream of self-autonomy, in a safe home, with enough leisure time to enjoy your children, (or your friends,) truly goes away, then Banana Republic status will follow here in the US for certain.

I know it’s an odd way to start an article about the excellent, fantastic LACP Exposure portfolio review that I attended in July. Ranting about the striation of lifestyle in a State I’m also trying to rave about.

I get it.

But this column, as I recently admitted, is an extension of my art. And a photography festival is attended by artists, who are in general open-minded, critical thinkers.

You, the audience, know that there are no black-and-white situations.

California, in this case the West Side of LA, is among my favorite places on Earth, and I can still notice what’s wrong with the picture. (Have I been a critic too long?)

For example, in my few days staying a the excellent Hotel MdR in Marina Del Ray, tooling around Venice/Santa Monica, (and once traveling to Studio City,) I saw more $$$$ worth of automobiles than the entire annual GDP of Taos County.

I must have been $10,000,000 of cars.
Easy.
(Including one sweet Ford GT.)

That money is massive, but my summer-camp friend Russell, with whom I reunited for some beach time, showed me a homeless encampment in Venice, along the boardwalk, that was always there now.

As far as Exposure weekend goes, and the beautiful Marina Del Ray community in which it was set, I had one of the best experiences yet, and I’ve been on the portfolio review circuit for 5 years straight.

I’ve got to give credit where it’s due, and Exposure is currently produced by Sarah Hadley, who was one of the co-founders of the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago. This is her second go-around, and she really knows what she’s doing.

Along with Brandon Gannon and Julia Dean, at LACP, the team was super-responsive to some feedback they got about the 2017 festival, and worked hard to improve upon the experience.

The hotel was 2 blocks from the marina, with the sun glinting off the boats and the water, and surrounded by restaurants, bars, shops, and of course a Ralphs. (The beach was just up the road too.)

The staff there was super-professional and friendly, the outdoor area overlooked a beautiful pool, (So SoCal,) and the reviews were run smoothly as well, with all the participants up-to-speed on how to present themselves, and how to handle the 20 minute meetings.

Not only that, but people left the tables promptly, there was always coffee and snacks around, both for the reviewers and participants, and the weather was bang-on-perfect. (Low 80’s. The heat wave that left town as I arrived ravaged New Mexico while I was styling in LA.)

When I complimented the participant preparedness to my colleagues, in a recent phone call, they gave credit to their super-star instructor, Aline Smithson, who lead the charge on getting people ready. They’d all done their homework on their reviewers, had the right amount of work to show, asked questions and listened to answers.

Really, it was a 10 out of 10 experience, and to have that happen one year after I was open in telling them (behind the scenes,) that there was work to be done on their young event.

This time it was a smash. Great food. Nice parties and events.

And I taught a full-day workshop with the most amazing, intelligent, thoughtful students. (One of whom I was able to profile in an NYT piece last month.)

As usual after an event, I’m going to show you selections of the best work I saw at the LACP Exposure portfolio review. It’s in no particular order, and we’ll feature all the artists today. (Back to book reviews next week.)

We’ll start with Susan Turner, as I became fascinated with one of her projects at the portfolio walk on Friday night. (Side note: they organized a social mixer with reviewers and reviewees poolside afterwards, which was a nice touch.)

I didn’t know I’d be reviewing Susan the following day, but next to a larger project of generic, soft-focus, dreamy-pretty pictures, she showed me this kooky, zany, super-fun series in which she’d made cut-out backdrops, and shot portraits.

The two projects truly looked like they were made by different people, and Susan, who is in her late 70’s or early 80’s, I believe, seemed to like that I appreciated her more subversive side.

I almost met Mahala Mazerov on the plane from Albuquerque, as I overheard her saying she was headed to a portfolio review by the beach. (If you don’t know, Marina del Ray, Venice and Santa Monica make up the West Side beach communities in LA.)

I recognized her immediately when she sat down at the table, and she told me a challenging story of having had an accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury. The rehab was long, and as someone who was on the high side of intelligent, the struggle was torturous.

Luckily, she found photography gave her comfort as she worked her way back. These images of flowers, of beauty in its pure form, exude extra juice when you realize they’ve been a part of her re-embrace of her powers and faculties.

And she mentioned in a subsequent email that was so good I want to quote it, re: her symbolic resonance.

“If lotuses growing through mud are symbols of purity and pristine awareness, these hollyhock, growing in drought through cracks in the pavement should be a symbol of persistence.”

Wayne Swanson had digital pinhole images of outmoded technology. It was the second project he showed me, as once he figured out that I didn’t love his first project, he pivoted to something else that I totally appreciated.

Seriously, these pictures are awesome.

But it’s a good lesson on how to approach a portfolio review, and why Wayne was representative of a cohort that had been well-prepared.

Art is subjective. Sure, there are base-level components about technique, for example, about which most people would agree.

In general, though, different experts can have wildly different opinions. If someone hates one thing and loves another, it’s a win. (It doesn’t matter that they don’t like one of your babies, as long as they like another.)

JK Lavin, from Venice, has been around the SoCal photo and art scene for years, as she went to Cal State Fullerton in the 80’s. She sat before me with flaming red hair, and I’d guess she’s in her late 50’s.

Her project showed a younger version of herself, in a stack of scanned and reprinted polaroids. It’s a proto-selfie project, as she shot herself each day for 8 years.

The images are great, of course, but the experience of looking at them while sitting in the presence of the artist added an even deeper dimension. The project will be a solo show at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, I’m happy to share, and deservedly so.

Dennis Keeley heads up the photo department at the Art Center in Pasadena, and was a very cool, chill, California guy, I must say. He told me that he commutes from the South Bay up to Pasadena, North of the City each day, which is a form of self-torture most would not inflict upon themselves for any amount of money.

But time in the car is a huge part of life in a driving, traffic-based culture. So Dennis decided to use the stressful situation to make art, and has photographed the commute for years. The resulting photographs are far more meditative than I expected, which I suppose reinforces that they help him find something positive in an otherwise shitty situation.

Kevin Weinstein, who also works for LACP, (and should have received a shout out sooner in the article,) sat down at the table to show me his colorful, Saul-Leiter-esque street photographs around Los Angeles.

Kevin is also a professional editorial and event photographer, and his skill-set really shows. The technical competence grounds his sense of whimsy, and I must say I like the pictures a lot.

Plus, he’s hilarious. What is it with those Jews and humor? You’d think they invented Hollywood or something.

(Oh, right.)

Matthew Finley had some very-IRL-physical-object-based images, so they don’t translate to the web as well as some other things. He builds layers of images, which deal with sexuality, but I just saw that it’s not what he sent me. (Last minute-photo editing.)

These are circular polaroids, and they’re cool too.

Finally, last but not least, we have Alexandra DeFurio. Hers was easily the most SoCal project I viewed over the weekend, as Alexandra photographs LA-Area bougainvillea in the bright sunlight.

Damn, seriously, look at those skies. That’s the California Dream right there.

I thought her photos were excellent, and suggested that as the work continued, I’d recommend some variance within her light palette, as the mid-day super-bright sun might be nicely complimented by some slight (or drastic) changes in mood and color.

Regardless, its the perfect project to end on today, as it’s cold, wet and gray here on September 20, the first real day of Autumn in New Mexico.

The Best Work I Saw at Photo NOLA: Part 2

 

If you live long enough, you’ll see all manner of science fiction come to life.

Like right now, for instance.

My busted hand is healing more slowly than I might like, so I just figured out I can dictate my column on my new-ish computer.

It’s blowing my mind.

So many of us use technology, these days, to take us out of our everyday world, away from the thoughts that clutter our minds. Whether we’re looking at computers, phones, tablets, watches, or television screens, digital reality transports us away from our mundane lives.

I’m getting a rush, at the moment, because I’ve had the same way of writing for the last nine years, (you know, typing…) and it feels like the 21st-century has finally come in earnest to my remote little horse pasture in the Wild West.

If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you’ll know there are some themes I return to again and again over the years. One idea I like to consider, from time to time, is the way art functions in the very manner I’m currently discussing technology.

Art can expand our minds.

Like the perfect psilocybin trip, movies, paintings, books, photographs, (etc.,) help us understand more about the world we inhabit. Art can definitely make us smarter, which is why some people find it so threatening.

But art can also make you forget the world. It can wipe your mind clean, and leave you feeling all sorts of emotions, as your neurons blaze with bio-electrical energy.

Last year, during my travels, (which I reported on extensively here,) I had a couple of art experiences that transcended what I normally get out of looking at objects on the walls of a museum.

Each time, I got swept up in the music.

I admit that back in the 90s, I went to my fair share of concerts, and had a shit-ton of fun. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen live music, what with dinners to cook and kids to put to bed.

So when I was in Chicago for the Filter Photo Festival back in September, I found myself eating late night scraps at a party with some local jazz musicians who had just wrapped their set. I asked them where they would go if they were me, to see something special, and they mentioned a place called The Green Mill.

When I told my friends, they assured me it was famous, as it used to be a hangout for Al Capone. Now that I’ve been to Chicago three times, I get the sense there’re a lot of places that lay claim to the old gangster. His name still comes up constantly, this deep into our futuristic present.

Anyway, there was a cheesy-old-timey-white-guy-jazz-band playing when we arrived, which my friend Erin likened to listening to NPR live, and the bouncers kept insisting everyone be quiet to listen. (Lots of shushing.)

It was a total bummer.

All of a sudden, the band welcomed an Old-Spanish-Female-Gypsy singer to sit in with them, and within seconds of her opening her mouth, I was transfixed. Everyone shut up willingly, like something out of a movie, when the odd duck walks into the wrong bar.

Oh my God, it was so good.

Before you know it, I was the one telling Erin to shut up, and then after two songs, she was gone. The band went back to its lame previous set.

Then this December, when I was in New Orleans for the Photo NOLA festival, I swore I would not leave town without hearing some kick ass music. New Orleans is renown for being one of the best music cities on Earth, yet I had never seen so much as a tambourine rattled on previous visits.

Certainly, no Second Lines, or anything special like that.

Each time I’ve gone, I’ve been told that Frenchmen Street is the place to go, but I hadn’t ventured that far before. This time, I refused to take no for an answer, and luckily recruited a great group to join me. (We hailed from Chicago, London, Taos, Savannah, Dallas, Atlanta, Tucson, and Phoenix, so it was a polyglot affair.)

The first bar we went to had some hack singing “Happy Birthday” to a bunch of drunk tourists who didn’t know any better, even though we were told this was more a local’s part of town.

We left, (of course,) and found a bar called d.b.a. The bouncer let us in for free because the cover charge hadn’t started yet, but told us if we left we’d have to pay 10 bucks to get back in, because the band was THAT GOOD.

He suggested if we were smart, we’d hang tight for a couple of hours, and wouldn’t be sorry. Man, was that dude right. (Thanks for the advice, random-NOLA-bouncer-guy.)

It was a Mississippi Hill Country Blues duo featuring Cedric Burnside, the grandson of the famous bluesman RL Burnside, and his sometimes partner Lightnin’ Malcolm.

Holy shit, could these guys wail. The music was violent, but in a good way. I was yelling and screaming, dancing like a teenager, and sweating from the heat of their awesomeness.

It was one of the best art fixes I’ve had in a very long time.

I know on this blog we show photographs, and there’s rarely any sound, beyond the odd-random-video-link. You guys come here to read the writing, and look at the pictures, and I hope in the best case, some of the things you look at might take you out of your head, in addition to expanding your mind.

Some artists I meet have political things to say, and critique the cultures in which they live, and others just want to make something beautiful, peaceful, or memorable.

So today, I’m showing you the second and final group of portfolios that represent the best work I saw at Photo NOLA last month.

Becky Wilkes hails from Ft. Worth, Texas, and has a house on a lake down there. She likes to go on walks, and picks up trash that she finds along way, before taking it to her studio to make art. She showed me one group of pictures that was very linear, and literal, and I felt it could use a little loosening up.

Then, she had a second series that was far more playful and light hearted, as she makes little tableaux. It presented the objects in stark contrast to the manner were normally accustomed to seeing them. I think they’re kind of cool, and I’m sure you will too.

Christos Palios is a Greek-American hailing from the Baltimore area. Rather than showing me pictures of the Inner Harbor, or all the locations David Simon filmed in during “The Wire,” he had a series of photographs from across the world in Greece.

The pictures represent unfinished, concrete structures dotting the landscape, abandoned after The Great Recession. Christos prides himself on his craftsmanship, and I don’t blame him, as he’s teasing some really high resolution landscape imagery out of a full frame digital 35 system.

Technical-speak aside, I think the pictures a really interesting. There’s a calm, bleakness to them, but they’re also traditionally beautiful as well, with their formal structures and subdued-but-evident color palette.

I first saw Mary Anne Mitchell’s work out of the corner of my eye at the portfolio walk, and it appeared she was working with tin types, which were popular at the festival. (Frankly, now that I think about it, I saw a fair bit of that style of work in 2017.)

When we sat down at the table the next day, she showed me that, like others I’ve reviewed, she had scanned and enlarged the tintypes, and was printing her images digitally. At first I questioned the technique, because why bother going old-school if the final results don’t really show the work?

But then I saw the large prints, with all sorts of texture captured from the plates, and I thought they were great. Mary Anne, who’s based in Atlanta, shoots mostly in her backyard, and uses friends and family as models, yet involves masks in ways ways that reference photo history, and art history in general. (Like Julia Margaret Cameron meets Ralph Eugene Meatyard.)

Crazy stuff.

Jan Arrigo was one of several people who returned to my table to show me how their work has evolved from a previous meeting several years before. (I took that as a compliment.)

Jan lives nearby, on Lake Pontchartrain, and had multiple series of well-crafted pictures that showed off the lyrical, Southern, baroque beauty of the landscape. In particular, I liked a group that tracked the place in the years before, during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Black and white photo of a wooded area in Slidell, Louisiana taken after a storm shows bent tree trunks leaning into each other under a grey sky.

A black cloud releases a darkend sheet of rain over Lake Pontchartrain in this black and white photo vertical seascape taken in Slidell, Louisiana.

A funnel cloud appears to touch down on the Twin Spans bridge in this black and white photo taken in Slidell, Louisiana.

This black and white photo portrait of a piece of floodgate sign washed up on Lake Pontchartrain includes the printed words Orleans and floodgate.

Crochet design and yarns draped inside a tree appear as fiber art created by hurricane Katrina in this black and white photo by Jan Arrigo taken in Slidell, Louisiana.

An open-beaked flying black bird is captured in motion inside a foggy landscape in this black and white photograph taken in Slidell, Louisiana. Following Hurricane Katrina the photographer, Jan Arrigo began to document her surroundings and this image continues that series.

Hanging organic matter dangles from a tree in a awampy area of Slidell, Louisiana two years after Hurricane Katrina in this black and white still life photograph.

A black bird in shadow looks down with his beak behind a tree branch torn and storm tattered in this black and white photo still taken in Slidell, Louisiana.

Extreme close up of a hibiscus blossom stamen shadow black and white photo taken in New Orleans by Jan Arrigo.

MOSS SCROLL

Five seagulls in shadow fly among and over clouds in this black and white photograph taken of the sky in Slidell, Louisiana.

Finally, we’ll end with George Nobechi. (As someone wrote me in an email this week, sometimes you save the best for last.)

George was visiting from Japan, though he’s Japanese-Canadian, and told me he was heavily inspired by the National Geographic photography done by legend Sam Abell. As I often think of that style as being represented by “single images,” and George said he had traveled the world by himself, but the resulting pictures did not have a coherent theme, I admit I was concerned.

But all it took was one pass through the photographs to see how tight, and Zen his vision was. I could look at some of these pictures all day, and walk away totally blissed.

The fact that I ran into George at the end of the festival, and he offered me some brilliant sake from a tiny distiller, high in the remote mountains of Japan, had no bearing on my opinions about his photography. (But it definitely made me like him more.)

Okay, that’s all for now. Hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll have a book review for you next Friday, as usual.

The Best Work I Saw at Photo NOLA: Part 1

 

I’ve been to New Orleans four times in my life.

Each visit, I’ve gone in December. It’s not entirely a coincidence, as that’s when the Photo NOLA festival takes place. (I’ve attended in 2012, ’14 and now ’17)

Despite the fact that New Orleans is situated on the Gulf Coast, and is reputed for its lovely winter weather, two of my visits were met with freezing-rain-ice-storms that made me want to cry in a pillow.

(The other two times I was met with humid, sunny, 70-80 degree weather, so I guess it all depends on luck.)

The fact the weather was awful this year was mitigated by the fact that I’d planned the trip with little time scheduled outside the International House Hotel, where the event is held each year. (It’s just a few short blocks outside the French Quarter.)

Mostly, I was either in the hotel or adjoining conference center, or safely ensconced inside a bar/restaurant/museum/gallery/party/Uber. So any whinging I now provide is mostly for comedic effect.

There was a brief moment, the first night, when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat in my hotel room, and I actually did cry into a pillow, but beyond that, I had a smashing time at Photo NOLA last month.

Like many portfolio review events these days, Photo NOLA is run by a non-profit, in this case the New Orleans Photo Alliance, which is a member-supported organization. (We did an interview on the subject years ago with Jennifer Shaw, if you’d like to learn more about it.)

So Photo NOLA is imbued with a sense of mission, and everyone clearly loves being a part of such a vibrant local photo community. Like Filter in Chicago, another of my favorites, this festival puts heavy emphasis on socializing, as they have several parties and events lined up, including a gala at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a yellow-school-bus-led gallery tour.

Photographers have a lot of choices these days, as far as review events to attend, so I think the fact that you can have so much fun at Photo NOLA, in addition to the fact they clearly get a few reviewers each year who normally aren’t on the circuit, makes it a very wise place to invest your obviously-limited resources.

(If you’re one of the few out there who’s doing really well, getting rich off of being a photographer, you can ignore the previous comment, but have the decency to keep it to yourself, OK?)

For whatever reason, I had a lot of people visit the table this year who were looking for advice and feedback, but weren’t quite ready to be shown here. I do the best I can to help, obviously, but only publish work in the column that demonstrates a high degree of craft, if not concept, over 8-10 pictures.

As such, I’ll show you a handful of projects today and next week, and then we’ll be back to the book reviews. I attend most of these events in the summer and fall, so this will be the end of the review stories, for a while.

As usual, the photographers are in no particular order.

Ok, they’re in no particular order beyond the fact that I’m starting with Jared Ragland. His work was the most complete, compelling project I saw, and I voted for it for the Photo NOLA prize.

Jared used to work with Pete Souza in Obama’s White House. (An era that now seems like Martin Sheen’s TV presidency, for all the similarities it shares with contemporary reality.) But Jared is originally from Alabama, and returned home to turn his attention to the meth epidemic that is ravaging the NE part of the state.

The pictures are genuinely visceral, as they make a viewer feel uncomfortable. They show something decidedly ugly, and real, but the strong aesthetics give the ride a bit of turbo boost. Additionally, Jared worked with a sociologist to give the project a sense of academic rigor.

Brilliant stuff.

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Ellie Ivanova had a new take on a subject matter we’ve all seen before: war re-enactors. It’s not hard to see why people are drawn to the subject, as it’s incredibly visual, and also goes pretty far down the road of creating the impression of time travel.

I feel most photographers neglect to really push the element of time in their work, so when the clothing and props are already there for the taking, it’s not hard to see why people with cameras get curious.

Ellie is from Bulgaria, but based in Denton, TX, where she got her MFA degree. She is using a fairly original analog technique to make prints that don’t look real, using some strange acid trick. The chemistry acts in funny ways, and eats away at the emulsion, so the visual effects enhance the emotionality, I think, and also imbue the subject with a bit of originality.








I first saw Amilton Neves‘s work during the portfolio walk, and stopped in my tracks, as it is clearly compelling. Luckily, he had a review with me the next day, so I got the full backstory.

Amilton recently moved to Tampa from Mozambique, where he was both a photographer and an anthropologist. Back home, he became intrigued by a community of women who’d been encouraged to write letters to Portuguese colonial soldiers during a war of independence in the 60’s and 70’s.

Portugal was eventually ejected, after 500 years of Colonial exploitation, and the women were deemed enemies of the state. Surprisingly, they’re still demonized, all these years later, so Amilton photographed them in their homes, and gained access to some of the letters as well.

I think it’s a striking project, and look forward to seeing what he comes up with down there in the craziest state in the Union. (Keep f-cking that chicken, Florida.)

Jo Ann Chaus and I got along swimmingly. She’s a Jewish grandmother from Northern New Jersey, and we openly discussed how hard it can be to focus on a career in the arts, coming from that local culture. (I’m sure I wouldn’t be an artist today if my folks hadn’t left for Taos in the 90’s.)

Though I admit women of her generation doing self-portraiture-based projects is a bit trendy at the moment, (which I told her,) I found an honesty, and visual strength, in many of these pictures, and heartily encouraged her to continue, and push it even further.

Lisa M Robinson and I go way back, as she used to be married to my friend Ken. (Who featured in the ridiculous Marfa article series we published in 2012.)

Lisa, who’s represented by our friends Klompching Brooklyn, got a lot of traction years ago for her project, and Kehrer Verlag book “Snowbound.” They were lovely, meditative, large format images, which she followed up with a series about the sea.

Though I know she was not enamored of Tucson on first site, apparently she made her peace with the desert, because I think this new group of pictures, Terrestra, rocks. I saw it at the portfolio walk, and the prints, trimmed borderless, were the best I saw in NOLA. (The show is up at Klompching as we speak.)

All images © Lisa M. Robinson/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York

We’ll end today with Rich Frishman, a funny guy who’s based in Washington. I was talking with Frish Brandt, the Director of the Fraenkel Gallery, who was my table-mate, when Rich walked up to my table, and she said he was her brother.

They both smiled, and I was totally sure they were spontaneously busting my balls. You know, two people who get in on the joke immediately, like improv performers.

But no, they insisted, her name Frish came from Frishman, the two hugged, and then she told me he should have been a better big brother when they were young. (He confirmed as much.)

In all my years reviewing, it was one of the most surreal little moments I’ve had. (Is there a book in that? All the craziest stuff I’ve seen at portfolio reviews? Probably not.)

Rich’s pictures are panoramic visions of Americana, shot across much of the country, and are meant to be printed very large, so people can dive into the details. The photos are obviously likable, and kitschy, but I told him the more visually compelling they were, the more people would engage with his vision.

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Allen’s Filling Station on US Route 66; Commerce, Oklahoma
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Total solar eclipse over McDonald’s; Baker City, Oregon
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Midway Drive-In Theatre; Quitaque, Texas 2016
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Segregation wall at Templin Saloon; Gonzales, Texas 2016
The wall was constructed in the early 20th Century and is decorated with an original pre-1929 Dr. Pepper logo.
At the time of its construction (circa 1906) only Caucasian customers were allowed to sit in the front of the saloon. All Hispanic, Latino and African-American customers had to sit behind the wall.
When the saloon was remodeled and re-opened in 2014 the wall, no longer used for its original purpose, was retained as a historical reminder.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Stark’s Sporting Goods in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin features an assortment of items, including boats, booze and bullets. One stop shopping American-style: shots of whiskey and shotguns.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

See you next week with more great photography. (If we don’t get nuked first…)

The Best Work I Saw at Review Santa Fe: Part 1

 

When I go to a portfolio review these days, I’ve got to get on an airplane.

It’s a big deal.

The packing.
The planning.
The 3 hour drive to the airport.

I’m not complaining, per se, as getting to travel to great cities is a pleasure, not a problem.

But heading to Review Santa Fe last month, it was quite a different experience.

I woke up at a normal hour.
Made breakfast for the kids.

Then I went to two parent-teacher conferences at their school. And I ate in a gas station burrito joint.

Then I went to visit a furniture store, all before I joined the photo festival on a Friday afternoon in late October.

(Quick sidebar, before you scoff, for whatever reason, there are a ton of great little taquerias in gas stations throughout Northern New Mexico. My favorite is run by a couple of ladies from Chihuahua in an Alon station on the North side of Española.)

But back to Review Santa Fe.

It was no great drama to get there, just an average day. And as it was my 5th of 6 portfolio reviews this year, (I’m going to Photo NOLA next week,) it’s all began to feel a bit normal.

Shortly after I checked into the Drury Suites hotel, where the event is held, I walked across the street to try to find a cocktail party at Radius Books.

It seems straightforward, but you’re wrong.

I bumped into Brian Clamp, a friend of the column, and two other women who were scratching their heads trying to find the place. I took the lead, as a local, but really had no idea where I was going.

We ended up in a musty, 2nd-story-carpeted-hallway, chatting about what to do next, when a heavily-plastic-surgeried older woman popped her head out of an office.

She barked at me to shut up, and I saw, through her open door, that she was a psychic.

I was stunned, as she was so rude, but the jokes write themselves.

(If she’s really psychic, why didn’t she know we’d be there? If she’s really psychic, how come she couldn’t tell us how to find Radius Books? If she’s really psychic, how come she didn’t tell me to shut up before I said anything?)

I could go on, but I won’t.

Eventually, we found the party, and it was nice to catch up with colleagues over a stiff bourbon, in a sleek modernist space. They have it going on over there at Radius. (I’ll give them that.)

Beyond the socializing, through, my favorite thing about portfolio review events like Review Santa Fe is the chance to see such a cross-section of photography, and meet people from around the world, all in a compressed space in time.

In this respect, Review Santa Fe absolutely delivered.

I did 17 consecutive reviews on Saturday, and it almost burned out my brain. But the quality of work was high, overall, and as I also popped through the portfolio walk on Friday night, I’ve got a nice selection of work to show you today and next week.

As always, the artists are in no particular order.

We’ll start with Teri Darnell. She had two projects about gay performers, and was also trying to make work about the gentrification of a historically gay neighborhood in Atlanta. I liked the first project, but was really attracted to her photographs of a cabaret in Berlin.

According to Teri, there’s a particular cabaret show on in Berlin that was made in honor of the gay performers who were imprisoned in Hitler’s Germany. She said that in one case, the performers continued to stage work until they were murdered in a concentration camp. (Heavy stuff.)

It’s rare that photographers really play with the element of time, I find, but Teri’s moody, saturated images dovetail so well with the historical-recreation-vibe of the Berlin cabaret.
It’s trippy work for sure.

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Cabaret of the Nameless

Speaking of trippy, Jill Brody is a self-professed Jewish grandmother who spends her photographic time hanging out with subcultures and religious minorities like the Hutterites in Montana.

I’m always impressed when people embed themselves in random places, because the artistic bug just won’t leave them alone. Jill and I discussed the relative saturation of colors in her palette, as I thought one or two of her blues pushed into hyperreal territory, which didn’t fit with her documentary style.


Kevin Horan was another artist who showed me things I liked and didn’t like. I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but from an advice standpoint, it’s good to mention here.

If you can bring more than one project with you, please do. Art is so subjective, and our own interests so broad, that one person may well hate one thing you’ve done and love another.

But if they love anything, you’re way ahead of the game.

Back to Kevin, though, as we saw images taken from airplanes that he’d inverted upside down in Photoshop. I wasn’t interested.

Then he showed me a beautiful, documentary series about finding dead things on nature walks. It really needs no more explanation, as his images are impressive and cohesive.





Santiago Serrano and I discussed the idea of cohesion, both visually and conceptually. He led with two or three pictures I found sub-par, and then had 15 in a row that were stellar. So we discussed how the context of those first few images determines how receptive we are to what comes next.

Santiago is from Quito, Ecuador, where bullfighting has been banned, but lived for a time in Mexico, where it’s not. He has this cool series about bullfighters in Mexico, but then there were two or three pictures of fighters in Ecuador.

I suggested that if 95% of the story was about one place, I’d cut the other pictures, for the sake of story cohesion. In particular, I appreciate his color palette, which captures that sense of the Mexican Baroque.

 

Festival de aficionados practicantes en Campo bravo, ubicado en San Juan del Rio. Mexico. 25/06/2010

Novillero Jose Miguel Parra durante un descanso de los entrenamientos diarios en los viveros de Coyoacan como parte de sus practicas de toreo de salon. Mexico DF, Mexico. 28/07/2010

Segunda Novillada en la Plaza Arroyo en la ciudad de Mexico. Mexico DF, Mexico. 31/07/2010

Segunda Novillada en la Plaza Arroyo en la ciudad de Mexico. Mexico DF, Mexico. 31/07/2010

Segunda Novillada en la Plaza Arroyo en la ciudad de Mexico. Mexico DF, Mexico. 31/07/2010

Novillero venezolano Jose Miguel Parra, antes y durante su actuacin en la ciudad de Huamantla como parte de la segunda novillada de la feria anual. Huamantla, Estado de Tlaxcala, Mexico. 20/08/2010

Novillero venezolano Jose Miguel Parra, antes y durante su actuacin en la ciudad de Huamantla como parte de la segunda novillada de la feria anual. Huamantla, Estado de Tlaxcala, Mexico. 20/08/2010

Novillero venezolano Jose Miguel Parra, antes y durante su actuacin en la ciudad de Huamantla como parte de la segunda novillada de la feria anual. Huamantla, Estado de Tlaxcala, Mexico. 20/08/2010

Novillero mexicano Salvador Lopez, durante su tercera presentacion en la plaza Mexico como parte de la temporada novilleril 2010. Mexico DF. Mexico. 05/09/2010

El matador Cristian Aparicio durante sus entrenamientos diarios de toreo de salon en los viveros de Coyoacan. Mexico DF. Mexico. 09/09/2010

Adair Rutledge is the gutsy sort, and she needs to be. Adair, a blond, Southern, white woman, decided to do a story about a youth football team in Nashville, made up exclusively of African-American children.

We had the “stay in your lane” chat last week, so I won’t bore you, but Adair embedded herself for years, and really got to know these people. I’d argue it’s why they engage with the camera so freely and openly.

Leslie Sheryll is a former photo lab owner from New York who crossed the river into New Jersey. Most people go in the other direction, so more power to her. (I left the Tri-State area entirely, so who am I to point fingers?)

Leslie had some intricate Photoshop layered work, based on historical images she’d acquired and then digitized. She wanted to make work that really captured the spirit of the 19th Century women depicted, and her series featuring poisoned plants, which I’m showing here, was very cool.

Abrus precatorius rosary pea poison

Poppy   Papaveraceae

Veratrum Album Poison false hellebores

Oenanthe crocata L. Hemlock Water-dropwort

poinsettia

Aconitum napellu,  monkshood

Lily of the Valley ,Conuallaria majalis

Vomica Poisonous
Strychnine Tree

Lily, Lilium

Finally, we’ve got Lee Johnson. He’s an Englishman living in Switzerland for work, and has been photographing the ski lifts in summer, hinting at a time when the snow won’t come. (Speaking of which, we’re very far behind normal here in Taos at the moment.)

He shoots with a boutique European film that approximates the color of expired film, then digitizes the film, and has it output as a digital polaroid-style print. Furthermore, for the images below, he’s then made digital snaps of the actual prints.

Are you confused yet?

Well then, come back next week for all the answers.

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 3

 

It’s a tough week to be a man.

My gender has not come off well recently, what with the “me too” movement proving that almost every woman in America has been groped, molested, raped, or abused in some way during her lifetime.

Totally disgraceful.

As my own wife typed those words into Facebook, in conjunction with so many friends and colleagues, there’s not much I can do but shake my head and wonder how we got here.

Because where we are is pretty fucked up. (I should also mention the recent, horrifying news about the murder and dismemberment of Swedish photojournalist Kim Wall, which is the worst story I’ve heard this year.)

Then today, in the very same week, Women Photograph came out with a set of statistics that show just how few gigs at the major news organizations are going to women.

The numbers are awful.

I’ve said many times I’m a strong feminist, as my wife went to Vassar and Smith, and educated me since I was 23 on the ways of the patriarchy. As I’m now 43, you can imagine how many times I’ve been schooled on the depth of misogyny here in America.

I may have morphed into a super-liberal, highly conscious male in 2017, but I grew up a suburban-Jersey-boy, obsessed with sports and girls, so it was no given that I’d get where I am.

It took a lot of intervention from the Smith posse, and I’m forever grateful.

In fact, I can still remember what it was like, visiting Northampton back in 1998, partying with all those lesbians. I knew nothing of “butch” and “femme,” or “top” and “bottom,” and was seriously insecure to be in a crowd I didn’t understand.

In the beginning, I struggled with how to handle it. Frankly, I was uncomfortable, and out of my depth. But there was also something thrilling about encountering worlds so different from my own.

Then we moved to San Francisco, and were hanging out with the Bernal Heights lesbian crew all the time, and soon what had seemed strange became a part of my normal life. (In particular because these women, soon-to-become social workers, were such kind, impressive, intelligent people.)

Over time, my repeated exposure allowed me to relax, and begin to appreciate that these ladies were remarkable. Sure, they were different than I was, but at some point, we’re all people.

Now it’s 20 years later, and I am a much healthier, more grounded and accepting person, in particular because I had exposure to people of different races, classes, and sexual orientations in the ensuing years.

That opportunity to mesh with people, outside my Taos bubble, was one of my favorite things about my visit to Chicago, at the Filter Photo Festival last month. (This will be our final post on the subject.)

Because this last bit of synchronicity may be the best of all, and it was directly connected to who sat down at my portfolio reviewing table, ready to show me some work.

It began with the last review of Saturday afternoon, when I was pretty fried from all the looking and talking. A young man took a seat, introduced himself as Matt Storm, and began telling me a bit about his background.

From the first moment, I thought, “It appears he’s transgender. Like he used to be a woman. I hope it will come up in a natural way, so I don’t end up looking like an asshole.”

I gently made some further observations, and asked a few appropriate, polite questions, and it turned out I was correct, that Matt was cool with discussing it, and that I managed not to make a fool of myself.

The work is pretty genius, and I don’t use that word flippantly. Turns out, Matt’s grandfather passed away earlier this year, and they were close. So Matt came up with a project in which he impersonates his grandfather, while wearing the dead man’s clothes.

Even better, the pictures are hilarious, absurd, subversive, and perfect. In fact, in some of the photographs, Matt has posed in front of family pictures in the background that include him, as a young girl, if you know where to look.

I can’t imagine a smarter investigation of gender in America, and the fact that it is funny, rather than strident, is not coincidental.

The next day, in the morning, Kris Sanford sat down across the table, and also had a project looking at issues in Gay America. Kris had made black and white portraits of gay Americans in their homes, back in 2000, (before Will and Grace,) before there was even a widespread discussion of gay issues in our broader culture.

Then, she went back, found the same people, and re-photographed them 16 years later, in color, as symbolic representations of change over time. (Those are my words. She’d probably say they’re just portraits.)

But as Matt is in his 20’s, and his pictures represent a certain of-the-moment-ness, Kris is in her 30’s, and the project seems to have a different vibe reflective, perhaps, of a different generation.

Finally, right after Kris, Zoe Perry-Wood met with me, and she’s also a lesbian artist making work about gay rights issues, but  of an older generation than Matt and Kris. In Zoe’s case, she’s been photographing Boston’s gay youth prom for 10 years, making studio portraits of young people celebrating in an inclusive environment where they can joyously be themselves in public.

Zoe mentioned that over time, she’s seen changes in the demographic. In particular, the students have started coming out younger, and there are now more transgender students than their used to be.

Through the pictures, we can see the way changes in the culture at large are reflected in the bodies and spirits of these young people. And the photographs are technically strong as well.

So as strange is it may sound to some of you, I’m now in the process of curating a 3-person show by these excellent artists. I think it’s important for people to look at, and experience, different perspectives, and even though I’m just a straight white guy, I’m hoping to use my energy and effort to help get the message out there.

Moving on, I saw Jim VanBibber’s work out of the corner of my eye at the portfolio walk. Someone had mentioned it to me, so I headed his way to see for myself. Pictures like this need little introduction, as Jim is making wet plate collodion portraits of Lucha libra wrestler toys.

So. damn. cool.

Alice Hargrave had a review with me, and I needed to focus, as there were some pretty heavy conceptual strains pulsing through the pictures. One set was actually a visual, abstracted representation of birds, made by color-coding the sound waves of their calls. (Trippy, yo!)

She also had pictures she made at night, of verdant spots in cities, primarily, and I thought they were lovely. Really great use of color, texture and mood, so that’s what we’re showing here.

Next, we have the work of Julie Pawlowski, who spent several years living in Shanghai. (Her husband worked for Smuckers, of all places.) Though she was only a temporary resident, Julie was impacted by the rampant development in her adopted city.

In particular, she noticed that as traditional neighborhoods were razed, brick walls were put up to block out peeping eyes, or curious feet. So Julie has made a photo series that examines the changes in the urban landscapes, and uses those bricks as a repeating motif.

Finally, yes finally, we end with a small artist book by Kevin Miyazaki. I met him at Review Santa Fe back in 2009, and have been an admirer since. (Kevin was one of the first people to organize a print-for-charity process, with his collect.give program.)

In this case, Kevin gave me his book, about taking a trip to Japan as a Japanese-American who doesn’t speak Japanese. It’s a hard situation to imagine, though it affects many Asian-Americans. Looking like you belong, yet being marked as outsider because of your dress, language, or inability to understand certain rituals or traditions.

The book is beautiful, and seems an appropriate place to end this month-long look into what I saw, and who I met, in the coolest city in America. (Chicago, in case you’ve forgotten.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Work I saw at the Filter Festival: Part 2

 

This might seem like a long story, but bear with me.

Back in the Spring, as I walked across Central Park with Patrice, a gray-robed Chinese monk stepped into my path, reached out, grabbed my hand, and put a wooden-beaded bracelet on it.

He was quick, like a Shaolin monk, before I could think to refuse.

So I said thanks, reached into my pocket and gave him a dollar. I turned to walk away, but in highly broken English, he pointed to his list, and showed me the previous person had given him $20.

I looked at him, he pointed at the list.

I said, “You want more money?”

He nodded yes.

I reached into my pocket, took out 2 more dollars, gave them to him, and then he blessed me. I bowed back, and moved on, not sure exactly how that had come about.

It felt really deep.

Later, downtown, my friend Felt mocked me, saying the whole thing was a scam, but it felt real to me.

Turns out, I wear that bracelet all the time. I’ve really come to like it. And I began to feel bad that I’d only paid $3, as it’s worth more than that to me.

Had I shortchanged a monk?
Isn’t that bad karma?

I swore the next time I saw a monk like that, I’d give him some more money instead, to make sure I was all good with the powers that be.

And sure enough, as I walked towards the lake in Chicago late last month, just up the street from the Art Institute, (with my friend Kyohei in tow,) who do I see but another gray-robed monk with a handful of bracelets.

I show him mine, thank him, and give him a few dollars. Again, like the last time, he asks for more, so I give it to him. But as I don’t need a bracelet, as I’m simply paying into the cause, he gives me a Bodhisattva blessing card that says “Work Smoothly Lifetime Peace.”

Then he bows in blessing, and we’re back about our business.

But since my spiritual moment slowed us down 2 minutes, by the time I got back to that very same spot, (after getting my press ticket,) I bumped into a photographer I knew in Santa Fe, 7 years ago.

I’d recommended she go to Chicago for her MFA, as I’d heard such good things about Columbia College, and she did. We said hello, and once she told me she was now the collection manager in the photo department, I jumped into journalist mode, and asked what the special places were to see?

It was she who gave up the intel on the secret Japanese galleries, and who later arranged to have the photography curator, Elizabeth Siegel, come meet us in the gallery to give us a little talk about Hugh Edwards.

How random, or coincidental, or meant-to-be is that?

Because I stop to give money to a Buddhist monk, because of my Jewish guilt, I get the inside scoop on some amazing Buddhist art inside the museum?

These are the things that keep happening to me when I’m in Chicago, and why I really can’t wait to go back. I’m sure different cities do this for different people. but I’m so comfortable there that I end up talking to everyone.

Inside the gallery in the Hugh Edwards show, (a terrific exhibition inspired by the Art Institute’s legendary former curator,) I started chatting up an African-American security guard.

She admitted she found the show boring, and I asked if it was because there were so many rectangular, black and white pictures in black frames with white matte boards, and she said, “Yeah, that’s it.”

I said I understood, and as my friend and I were both artists and professors, we were able to get excited for all sorts of geeky reasons.

I told her I’d give her one tip, and she could see for herself if it opened anything up about photography.

There is, in the exhibition, an amazing suite of about 10 Robert Frank prints from “The Americans.” (Hugh Edwards was the first curator in America to show the work.)

I told her about my favorite diptych, maybe in the History of Photography: on the left, a fancy car in Los Angeles, covered, shimmering in the fancy light, with the swaying palm trees. On the right, a dead body, covered by a dirty blanket, lying by the wintry side of Route 66 in Arizona.

Two strong pictures, yes, but the context supercharges them.

I said my goodbye, and walked deeper into the show to see work by Eugène Atget, and Duane Michals. There were daguerreotypes in the exhibit, and more.

Kyohei and I ended up talking about the show with an African-American couple around our own age, and some Asian-American schoolgirls.

Random, in-public discussion.
Yet again.

By the time we were ready to leave, the security guard walked up to me and said, “I went and looked at those pictures, and you’re right. That’s powerful right there.”

We all get off on photography, or you wouldn’t be reading this. (Except for you, Mom and Dad.) And when it leads to discussion, to dialogue, to a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit, then I’d argue the art form has done its job well.

So today, I’m glad to share the second batch of work from the the 2017 Filter Photo Festival.

Donna Pinckley, based in Arkansas, had work that I was sure I had seen somewhere, but I couldn’t say where for sure. The project had gone viral, she said, so it could have been any number of places.

Donna has strong, large format black and white images made of inter-racial couples, and includes text written on the bottom of each print. (Racist, nasty comments that people have made before.) It’s really strong work.

It reminded me of Jim Goldberg’s “Rich and Poor,” but Donna and I agreed that just because someone else had written on pictures, (as Duane Michals did also,) then it’s no reason not to do it, if the situation is right.

Mayumi Lake works at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she went to school, and showed me a couple of projects that weren’t quite right, for me. But art is subjective, and she clearly knows what she’s doing.

As is often the case, we might resonate with something else, in a different box, and that’s what happened here. Mayumi is Japanese, and these flowers she makes out of scanned bits of vintage kimonos are so cool.

Sleek and colorful, vibrant and personal. I liked them very much, and think you will too.

Kalin Haydon, a graduate student at Columbia College, showed me a project about bingo hall culture in Southern Illinois, as she grew up around such places. (We discussed the bingo hall sub-plot in “Better Call Saul,” and both agreed it’s stellar.)

I thought her strongest images were really tight, as they walked the line between being respectful, and showing a vision that might in some ways be perceived as pejorative.

It’s the hard part of doing a story from the inside, knowing you want people to appreciate what you do, and share your respect for the subject, while also being aware of the visual elements people are sure to find compelling or salacious.

Adam Davies was in from Baltimore, where he is an Artist in Residence at Creative Alliance. He presented a project of large format, urban, structural, architectural photographs that featured subtle use of graffiti. (Found, not made.)

There were certain perspectives that felt dangerous, like, “how the hell did he get up there?,” and overall I found them to be striking. I mentioned the few that I thought looked too much like other people’s images, but in general, think the work is excellent.

I met Susan Keiser, and showed her work here, after Filter in 2015. (She’s the first Filter alum to make it back into the post-festival round up.)

Her exploration of dolls fascinates me, as that would be a subject on my “cliché/don’t do this” list of things I’d give to students, if I had such a list. (I don’t.)

But I always challenge students to see if they can bring a fresh take to well-trod terrain, because who doesn’t like a good challenge?

This time out, Susan is shooting through ice, using vintage dolls from the 40’s and 50’s that she collects on Ebay. Even better, they’re small, so she has to use a macro lens to capture the scenes that she renders with the dolls.

Susan is also a painter, so the use of color and composition is right, leading to an overall creepy-but-not-too creepy vibe I really like. Crazy pictures.

Finally we have Allen Wheatcroft. Here, we return to that question of when are pictures appropriate or when are they exploitative? Or is it OK to be exploitative anyway?

Allen had street photographs from around the world that often (but not always) featured a lone figure in a crowd. Someone Allen described as off, or not-quite-right, but not hardcore junkies or homeless folks.

We discussed whether these people weren’t proxies for him? Whether he didn’t see himself as awkward or uncomfortable, unable to easily connect? Allen agreed that he did, and it was a really interesting way for me to understand the pictures.

He asked me if I thought they were too Bruce Gilden, or inappropriate towards the people in the images?

I don’t think so myself. I find them a bit intimate, and strange, and more endearing than critical. A bus driver in Stockholm? A guy on the beach in Chicago? More odd than off-putting.

We’ll end here today, with a group of pictures that represents some of the best the street has to offer…

Synchronicity.

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 1

 

I get lonely, sitting out here by myself in the middle of a pasture.

It’s very quiet.

Right now, as I look outside, heavy clouds are blocking half the mountain, as we’ve had atypical weather since I got back from Chicago.

Cold. Wet. Damp. Gray.

No thank you.

If I wanted to live in Portland, I’d move to Portland.
Even worse, when I left Chicago last week, it was in the mid 80’s each day.

Pure summer weather.

Now, I’m wearing my heavy hoodie everywhere, and sulking because I miss the sun.

Such problems.

Thankfully, they’re not the kind of troubles that require the President of the United States to pretend-foul-shoot paper towel rolls at my head.

Remember, no matter how glum you feel, things can likely get worse. And the man who’s supposed to save us, to inspire us, to console us, is seemingly as deranged as peak-nutter-Muammar Gaddafi.

Hell, when I was in Chicago, I couldn’t even look at his fancy building; the one I admired two years ago. Now, (other than giving it the middle finger on Instagram, like a gringo Ai Weiwei,) I found my Trump denial was pretty consistent.

Nobody wanted to talk about him. Except for a moment, on the subway back to the airport, as I was finishing up a half hour chat with a middle-aged African-American guy on his way to his first day on the job in a mail room somewhere.

We met on the platform, when he asked me if the train I was awaiting was right for him. I always like it, (secretly) when people take me for a local somewhere, so I told him what I knew, and that seemed enough.

We chatted easily, my new friend an I, and I told him about New Mexico, and he caught me up on Chicago. As we approached the end of the line, I told him about the time I filmed a movie in Donald Trump’s apartment on top of Trump Tower, back in 1996, and the walls were plated in gold.

Randomly, another guy, halfway down the subway car, chimed in, “‘The Devil’s Advocate,’ I loved that movie.” And before you know it, several of us, all strangers, were conversing, only minutes before we broke up forever.

(We didn’t bother trading names, much less business cards.)

Last week, I told you about Chicago in the abstract, but this stuff just keeps happening to me, whenever I visit. I attribute it to the local culture, which is of course true, but it might also have something to do with the fact that I’m lonely out here.

Working by myself.
Tapping away at the keyboard, like a white-collar jackhammer operator.

Tap tap tap.
Tap tap.

Spacebar.

Festivals like Filter are special because they allow us to confer with our own kind.

Our tribe.

It’s so powerful, in fact, that when I suggested one of my Antidote students attend Filter, (which she did,) she had a look on her face like she’d found her long-lost birth parents.

That feeling of belonging, of being understood, is powerful. It helps us all, as working in a creative field can be isolating, each of us in his or her own box.

Conversely, it also explains why this country has striated to the degree it has. In a world that is increasingly uncertain, and fraught, people take comfort sticking with their own. (Speaking which, do yourself a favor and read this brilliant Andrew Sullivan long-read on tribalism in American politics. It’s grim, but genius.)

When I’m reviewing at an event like Filter, I love feeling the rush of energy as the photographers all come in the room. The quiet gives way to a loud buzz in the span of one second.

Quiet.
Then roar.

And I get to sit there and look at people’s art, their personal secrets, and learn things about the world I wouldn’t otherwise know.

How great is that?

Over time, I’ve learned how to be critical without being harsh, so these days, all the conversations are positive, and I no longer make people cry. (Yes, it’s happened before, but not anymore.)

The next few weeks, I’m going to share the best work I saw at the 2017 Filter Photo Festival, so you can get as sense of what’s going on out there. As usual, the artists are in no particular order, and I’ll share details of our conversations as well.

I met Sara Silks towards the end of the event, which was fortuitous, as I’d already been to the Art Institute of Chicago, and could tell her about what I’d seen. As it happens, Sara and I are both inspired by Japanese art, and I gave her a suggestion about some Japanese galleries, deep in the bowels of the museum.

I’d only learned about them by happenstance, as I bumped into someone on the street in front of the museum, (a colleague I used to know in Santa Fe,) and as she works at the AIC, she gave me a tip on what the tourists never get to see.

In this case, I viewed some ridiculously gorgeous woodblock prints by Kawase Hasui, from the early 20th Century, that I was then able to recommend to Sara. Turns out, she makes Japanese-inspired, Zen-beautiful inkjet prints on special, Japanese paper.

They’re lovely, and the paper texture conflicts with the images, occasionally, in a way that evokes Wabi Sabi, the concept that roughly symbolizes the balance between perfection and imperfection. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the selection here.

Sarah Pollman made work that I noticed during the portfolio walk, but didn’t have time to check out. She’s based in New England, and suffered a tragedy she wasn’t comfortable talking about. Not surprisingly, she ended up making work that is based in cemeteries, as a way of processing grief.

Her first set, in color, focused on a garden cemetery designed in the suburbs of Boston by Frederick Law Olmstead. Each picture features an anonymous Mother and Father gravestone, like a weird Cotton-Mather-Ghost-story come to life.

Speaking of ghost stories, they’re the literal inspiration behind Bill Vaccaro’s excellent series “The Magic Hedge.” Bill’s a long time Chicago guy who makes Ziatypes, a style of alternative process printing that was invented by New Mexico’s Bostwick and Sullivan.

Though we can’t see it on the jpegs, each print had a patterned brush stroke on the outside of the image, where he painted on the emulsion with a Japanese brush, that was absolutely dynamite.

The pictures are of a spot near Lake Michigan that used to be a US military missile site. There’s an old story about the hedges being haunted, so Bill conjured just the right amount of creepy energy. Great stuff.

Ari Neiditz is trying to walk the line between travel and documentary photography. We discussed the way he could develop thematic series, as he’s interested in Asia, where these pictures originate. I suggested he try to tackle the entire continent, because how insanely ambitious would that be?

But in general, his best images had a cohesive color palette, and a sharp sense of observation.

Vera Miljkovic is Serbian, but moved to the US years ago. Her work stems from a more metaphorical vision, as she discussed her feelings of in-between, as she waited for a visa many years ago, and how she wanted to convey that uncertainty in her work.

One or two images were too derivative of Cindy Sherman, I thought, but most of the rest had a weird, kooky sensibility that I really appreciated. The worst images were kitschy in a way that referenced Eastern-European awkwardness without irony, so we discussed how she could push that further, intentionally, in the future.

Finally, for today, we have the duo of Paal Williams and Marissa Dembkowski. (Known as PWMD) I saw their work at the portfolio walk, and immediately fell in love. All the more so when they assured me the images were straight, unmanipulated photographs.

Turns out, the prints are real pictures of elements of photoshop, and digital reality, that they summon from the computer world into 3 dimensions. Rather than give away their technical secrets, I’ll ask that you view them as what they are: images of artifacts from the ghostly machine, rather than digital creations themselves.

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This Week in Photography Books: Sara J. Winston

 

I just flew in from Chicago, and boy, are my arms…

Tired.

Sorry.
Couldn’t resist.

It might be the worst joke in the 6 year history of this column, but you’ll have to forgive me. I pulled 18 hour days at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, talking the entire time.

Then, I came home to a full week of cooking, cleaning, driving, parenting, kung fu, and lots and lots of work.

My brain is so mushy, in fact, that I actually tried to get away with a joke so old, it makes the mottled flesh on Donald Trump’s belly look like baby skin.

Moving on, I must say, yet again, how much I like Chicago. I go to a lot of these photo festivals, (as you know,) and it allows me to show you a big slice of what’s going on out there in the American photo community.

But for all the cities I visit, Chicago is just a bit different. It fits me, like my favorite T-shirt, and allows me to feel relaxed, and understood, in a way no other city does.

It’s the little things, really, in particular the general Operating System of the local culture; the way people interact with each other. There is a friendly, grounded, openness that so many embody, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

(Insert random cliché about the Midwest here.)

Yeah, I hear you. Everyone says that about the Midwest. The people are just so darn nice.

My goodness!
Gosh!

But that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, it means that random conversations come about, on the subway, on the street, in a museum, that don’t happen other places.

It happens again and again, and I find myself chatting up strangers in ways that are thrilling and comfortable at the same time. I know Chicago has all the problems of other megalopoli, what with the violence and segregation, which is what makes that openness all the more surprising.

It allows for the type of cross-cultural, cross-gender communication that this country, (and the world, I’d argue,) needs more of.

Not less.

For instance, this column is now based almost exclusively on submissions, as you know. (I can request the odd publication from PR folks, but it doesn’t happen often.)

Just the other day, on Twitter, I was discussing with my friend and colleague Patrice Helmar the sad truth that almost all of my submissions come from men. (White dudes in particular.)

We traded 140 character sentiments on why that might be, as the preponderance of people I review at these events are women. Lots of women are making art these days, but the books don’t turn up in the mail in anywhere near a representative sample.

Patrice wondered if it was confidence and/or aggression? I speculated that perhaps female artists still aren’t getting as many publishing opportunities?

What to do?

Well, in this case, I’m mentioning it specifically, in the hope that some of our female readers might send in books, or nudge their friends to submit. It’s really important for all of us to see a broader viewpoint, and I hope this helps get the ball rolling.

Because, like a random conversation with a stranger, while watching the world’s best street blues, (true story,) hearing and seeing things outside our own bubble makes us smarter, healthier, more empathetic, and better at what we do.

Luckily, when I was at Filter, Sara J. Winston gave me a book to take home, called “Homesick,” published by Zatara Press. We had a review together, and she was honest about the fact she’d been diagnosed with MS, and was using her current project to process those emotions.

She admitted to coming from a family with health issues, and how she hoped to escape the curse.

Alas…

The review was only tricky in that she showed me two discrete projects, but they were a bit jumbled in her presentation. Both had become books, so I struggled to differentiate between the two styles, and subject matters, so I could wrap my mind around her art practice.

“Homesick,” which is not directly “about” her illness, is a poetic, very-well-observed take on Sara’s home and family, I believe.

I say “I believe” because this excellent book hints, but does not state. It has a languid, referential style of making connections, in a way that seems… dare I say it… more female than male.

Patrice and I each made guesses about why I get more books from women than men, and neither of us suggested it was because our audience demo skews towards the penis.

Does it?

I don’t know.

But this beautiful, lyrical, slightly abstracted book feels like exactly the sort of thing a man might not make.

The first photograph, with a tub of margarine and a plate of bologna, is just so metaphorical. We get that food will be prominent, and the items she has chosen to represent her story have cultural baggage. (Not exactly bougie.)

Food is a recurring theme, but so is a wilted sort of sadness. A cat with a torn-up ear. Dirty dishes. A large man with electrodes attached to his chest.

Bananas in a bag.
The imprint of sheet on skin.

It ends with a wonderfully written story.
At first, as it uses the first person, I thought, “Damn, she can write too?”

But then it shifts to another perspective.
A lesbian lover from college?
Visiting the family homestead?

It seems so.
But each is written in the first person, so eventually, I had to ask myself, is this even true?

Is it?
True?

There is no direct answer until the final credits, which suggest a writer, Ani Katz, created both characters in the story.

It is made-up?
Or based upon interviews?
Does it matter?

I may well be accused of sexism for calling a book like this feminine. But then, I don’t see that word as pejorative. I’ve previously established my feminist street cred, and therefore I like this book so much BECAUSE it comes from another vantage entirely.

It treats book-viewing, or book-reading, as an experiential process, which is my favorite kind of photo-book. It tells a story, in pictures and words, and for a few brief moments, I couldn’t put it down.

Bottom Line: A lyrical, gorgeous book about going home

To purchase “Homesick” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com

The Best Work I Saw at the LACP Portfolio Review Part 1

 

Hollywood is hip these days.

It’s always been popular as an idea, of course.
As “Hollywood.”

But I’m talking about the actual part of Los Angeles; one section of the many that stitch together the Megalopolis. In that respect, Hollywood is just the North-Central part of LA where Hollywood Boulevard sits just above Sunset as they intersect with Vine.

The place where the Hollywood Walk of Fame resides, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

It’s like Times Square in New York, or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, in that it’s clearly built for, and subsists off of tourists. There are trinket shops galore, hotels aplenty, and lots of bars next to drunk-food-restaurants.

No lie, on Selma, 1 block from my hotel, a high-end Tao sat across the street from Danny Trejo’s Mexican bar & taqueria, which was itself next to a Poutine joint. (Which I couldn’t resist.)

The guys working the counter, where they sling the cheese fries and gravy, were dressed like Canadians, in lumberjack patterning. They told me they only open up outlets next to bars or colleges. (Makes sense.)

I got accosted by some drunk guys, as I awaited my poutine, even though it was barely 8pm. They took me for Israeli, which never happens, and pretended to slap me in the face as I stood there, daydreaming.

Minding my own business.

Cursing myself for being gluttonous enough to order cheese fries and gravy for dinner.

They offered poutine topped with bacon, beef, chicken, or lots of other artery-clogging-to-the-point-they-should-have-a-cardiologist-office-next-door toppings, yet I stuck with the plain version.

And boy did it give me indigestion later that night. Big mistake, getting the cheese fries and gravy for dinner.

Wait.
Where was I?

Right.
Hollywood.

I was there to work, of course, so I didn’t sample the clubs or the bars. Instead, I limped my tired dad-bod around the neighborhood to grab food, (lacking a car, as I mentioned,) or I was next door reviewing portfolios at the LA Center of Photography.

The organization, which is now non-profit, was long known as the Julia Dean Workshops, so Julia Dean is now the Executive Director of the LACP. Apparently, they changed the structure and name about 4 years ago.

Their portfolio review, Exposure, is held in their school space there on Wilcox, and also at the DNJ Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. (Hence the multiple Ubers.)

It was a well run event, and the people in charge are genuinely helpful and friendly. (Here’s your shout out, Brandon and Sarah.) The organization has been around for a while, but the review is relatively new, as it was the first time they were bringing in reviewers from the outside. (I was joined by Brian Clamp and Elizabeth Avedon, two New Yorkers.)

Most of the people at the reviews have taken classes there before, and many had studied with Aline Smithson, who teaches Fine Art Photography for the LACP, and has for years. We’ve shown many of her students’ work here before, and I’ve been consistently impressed.

But others were less trained, so as usual, I tried to be helpful, and point out to people where their strengths seemed to lie, and where they were weak.

Today and next week, we’re going to feature the best work I saw at the review. As usual, my criteria for what to show you are based on a few simple concepts.

1. Are there enough contiguous images to show you a proper sample of someone’s ideas? (Meaning 2 or 4 good pictures is never enough.)

2. Does the selection show a well-executed vision?

3. Are these pictures at least visually pleasing, if not genuinely brilliant?

If I see that range in someone’s portfolio, I’ll try to show it here.

As I’ll be doing 3 more portfolio reviews for you guys this year, (in Chicago, Santa Fe and New Orleans,) I thought it was worth the slight diversion to explain how I choose what’s worth publishing.

So let’s get started, and, as always, the artists are in no particular order.

Silvia Razgova recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto, having spent the previous few years living in the United Arab Emirates. (I think I’ve got that right.) She showed me pictures from the UAE, that were cool, but I was far-more-seduced by these medium format gems from her hometown of Hradok, in Slovakia.

Her color palette is pretty dreamy, and I liked a few of these very much. But overall, they fit the conditions above, as they’re well made, consistent, and show us a slice of her world, which we’d otherwise never see.

Anto Tavitian was amazed when I guessed he was Armenian. (I felt confident I was right, but you never know.) Later, he realized my trick.

“Was it the ‘ian’ at the end of the name,” Anto wondered?

“Yes,” I said, “you got me.”

That said, Anto showed me the deconstructed book pages from his BFA project at Cal State Northridge. He’d made a photo narrative about his immigrant Armenian-Syrian parents, and included the repeating motif of the tight shot of a coffee cup.

As coffee was so important to the story, he also stained the book pages with it, creating a dappled-brown effect. And the few text pieces, and one drawing, that were interspersed are cool too.

Jamie Siragusa is currently enrolled in a one year program at LACP, and was working on street photography. She’s interested in photographing children, but didn’t want to do it in a conventional way. So she’s focusing on kids at political protests.

We all talk abstractly about what our actions will mean for our children, or grandchildren, so she wanted to make pictures about those descendants now. In particular, kids who are being vocal with their disapproval by protesting in public. (Mostly with their parents, of course.)

Dan Lopez showed me a book, “Constellation Road,” which featured these LA cultural landscape photographs. I thought his sense of color and composition was really strong, and he definitely captured some of the bright harshness of the California sun as well.

(Sidebar: part of why I didn’t go on huge walks through Hollywood, rather than snobbery, was that the sun is so damn strong in July. Be forewarned.)

I told Dan I thought it was hard to separate his work from the photographers who’d come before in this tradition, as he admitted being influenced by the usual suspects. (Shore, Eggleston.) It’s tough to find an original voice, I admit, but the more we try to push away from the things we’ve seen a million times before, the more likely we’ll get there.

Last, but not least, we have Brian McCarty, whose work is the edgiest of the bunch today. Brian makes a living photographing toys, as it’s his commercial specialty. (So he’s really good at it.)

As such, he ended up doing a project in which he tries to use toys to help children in war zones, particularly in the Middle East, to process their trauma. He’d just gotten back from Mosul, in Iraq, which is an extremely active fighting spot, and admitted that he’d been shot at twice, and had been lucky to survive.

He and his organizational partners, (he mentioned the UN,) ask children to make drawings of their horror stories. Then, they re-create the situation, sometimes quite literally, with toys, and Brian makes the resulting photos.

They are strange and cool, and some of them are very sad. He often exhibits them side-by-side with the drawings, so people can see the source material. Not surprisingly, the drawings are quite tragic.

That’s enough for today, so we’ll be back next week with part 2.

This Week in Photography Books: Matthew O’Brien

 

This column is nearly 6 years old, and over time, I’ve told you guys a lot about my family horse farm here in Taos.

It’s a very special place, as the 60 acre property has 1/4 mile of streamfront, verdant pastures, rolling hills, ancient basalt cliffs, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains right outside the window.

This week, my wife and I launched a new photo retreat program, called Antidote, so we can share this place with our friends and colleagues in the global photo community.

Since we’ve developed a loyal audience here over the years, Rob and I thought it would be a good idea to tell you about the program, in case any of you wanted to apply. I’ve built an impressive group of instructors, and designed a retreat in which you can get critical feedback about your work, inspiration for new ideas, and opportunities to rest and relax here in Taos.

You can learn more about the retreat at our amazing website, (Thanks, Rob,) or by watching the short video I’ve embedded below.

 

That said, this is a book review column, and not an infomercial space, so I promise to get to the matter at hand.

One thing I do like to do with the column is develop themes over time, and create relationships between books from week to week. Rarely is it planned, but things always seem to fall into place naturally, a phenomenon for which I am grateful.

Lately, we’ve been alternating between projects made by locals, in their home regions, and wandering flaneurs who visit exotic locales, and bring stories back home with them. Last week, Marisa Scheinfeld showed us the ruins of the Catskills Borscht Belt, which means this week, we get to see a book by a traveling photographer.

Luckily, “No Dar Papaya,” a book by Matthew James O’Brien, turned up in the mail recently. (Published by Placer Press in San Francisco.) Matt reached out a little while back, as he thought I might appreciate his project.

He was right, as I think this is a cool, charming, surprisingly positive book. The premise is simple, as Matt shot in Colombia for 10 years, and the book is made up exclusively of Polaroids. (Mostly diptychs.) None of the images has been enlarged, and the consistency, the white image borders swimming in plenty of clean white space, makes for a pleasurable viewing experience.

The introduction, from a Colombian arts professional, suggests that Matt has been embraced by his Colombian hosts, but tells us little beyond that. The pictures tell the story, and then an excellent afterward by the artist uses words to confirm what the pictures imply.

There seem to be a surprisingly large number of young, attractive women in the book, and the end text shares that Matt was first drawn to Colombia to photograph two beauty pageants, which are the biggest things going down there. He also mentions a cultural addiction to plastic surgery, which is also hinted at in at least one picture featuring a woman with suspiciously large breasts.

But in general, the images show a beautiful country with a diverse topography and population. There are many portraits, and almost of all the of the subjects present themselves to the camera as open, warm and friendly.

Then the text confirms as much.

According to Matt, who received a Fullbright to support the work, despite the country’s difficult history of war and drug cartels, the hardscrabble Colombians have not closed their hearts to each other, or to outsiders.

As long as people understand the context of the title, “No Dar Papaya,” that is. In English, it means “Don’t Give Papaya,” but it’s an exlusively Colombian idiom that means, don’t be a sucker. Watch your back.

Apparently, Matt sees this book as a love letter to Colombia, and that came across to me. It’s a great reminder that there are positive stories, and visions, in even the darkest of places. (OK, maybe there aren’t any happy tales coming out of Syria these days, but you get the point.)

So wherever you are, as the heat blares down on your head, or the Southern Hemisphere winter begins to kick your ass, I hope this book will put a smile on your face, and show you something you’ve never seen before.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

Bottom Line: Lovely book of Polaroids of Colombia, by an outsider

To purchase “No Dar Papaya” click here

To submit a book for review, please email me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com

Medium Festival of Photography – Part 2

- - Portfolio Review

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No chance at all.

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

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

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

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

Keep an open mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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matyas_romania_cooking-with-ileana

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matyas_romania_getting-water-with-grandma

matyas_romania_hanging-out-husbands-clothes

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matyas_romania_raking-in-the-apple-orchard

matyas_romania_scolding-andre

matyas_romania_splitting-wood-with-a-toy-axe

matyas_romania_talking-with-matusha

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

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

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

Medium Festival of Photography – Part 1

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He got more votes in the Electoral College.

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

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

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

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

Nobody knows what the future will bring.
Nobody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more. (#MakeStuff)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filter Photo Festival 2016 – Part 3

by Jonathan Blaustein

Allow me to gather my thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who does that?

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

Who does that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No lie!

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

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

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

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

photo copyright ©2016 tom wagner, all moral rights asserted

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

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

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

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

Filter Photo Festival 2016- Part 1

I’m still recovering from my trip to Chicago, yet I’m off to New York in a few days. (Then LA later this month.) While I hadn’t planned it, I guess it’s become AMERICA’S BIG 3 SMACKDOWN, and let’s see which city comes out ahead.

Chicago has a sizable lead, of course, as I’ve sung its praises in this column last year and last week. It has a lot to offer as a clean mega-city with gorgeous architecture, a killer food scene, beautiful beaches, world class art institutions, and a blue collar, unpretentious attitude.

New York maybe bigger, and LA more glamorous, but each has a reputation for being a tough nut to crack. New Yorkers are too blunt, Angelenos too slick, and perhaps Chicago’s porridge is just right?

We’ll see.

I do want to compliment the crew at the Filter Photo Festival for running a great event. People are so friendly. They genuinely care how you’re doing. (And they also know how to have a good time when the workday is done.) There are plenty of lectures and events at Filter, but not so many as to give you a migraine.

As with all the events I attend, I like to do a series of write-ups featuring the best work I saw at the festival. My criteria haven’t changed much in the last 3 years. If someone can show me at least 5 cohesive photographs that are well-made, and don’t look EXACTLY like everyone else’s pictures, I’ll show them here.

I’m not saying everything is brilliant, or the best I’ve ever seen. Rather that the photographers I include have found a coherent and confident vision, and their technical skills are up-to-snuff.

And always, the following artists are in no particular order. Hope you enjoy the work, and thanks to all the photographers we’ll feature for allowing us to share your imagery with the world.

Let’s start with Carly Ries, if for no other reason than she shoots at the lake. (Mmm, cool blue water.) Carly was trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and still gets to use their excellent equipment. I think these pictures are lovely, and encouraged her to get even more specific with her work.

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Eddee Daniel showed me several projects, and as is sometimes the case at portfolio reviews, I didn’t like some of them at all. In such situations, I always hope that I see at least something to redeem my impression. At the end, Eddee pulled out a project done during a year-long residency at a sculpture museum in Milwaukee.

I felt the repeated engagement with the subject helped strengthen his vision, and that these pictures were pretty excellent. It’s rare that photographs about art transcend the original work, but you could argue that happens here.

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Dana Mueller presented me with a similar dilemma. She is trying to get a book published about an extensive project she’d shot in Cuba, as she’d taught there a couple of times. The subject choice seemed arbitrary, and the images lacked the requisite punch.

Just before we finished, Dana showed me a group of photos made in her home region in Germany, in the nether regions between the former East and West. The drained color palette was powerful, and the pictures had genuine emotion. I thought they were great, and am happy to show them here.

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Andrea Birnbaum presented me with work that was so subtle, it almost wasn’t right for the speed-dating environment. I confess at first I couldn’t see exactly what she was getting at, but as we moved the prints back and forth in the stack, her message came across.

Andrea is looking at the discomfiting phase in adolescent development, as teen-aged girls become disillusioned or self-conscious about their bodies. It wasn’t until I liked a more obvious picture, (the girl in the bikini reading a magazine,) that my eye caught the subtlety of gesture and body language that the pictures contained.

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We’ll finish today with Traer Scott, a photographer who missed most of our meeting due to a mixup. She came in flustered, obviously, but I told her that these things happen, because they do. We’ve all been there, and I felt the best thing I could do for her was be cool, and assure her I wouldn’t hold it against her.

For her project, “Natural History,” Traer photographs reflections in diorama windows at Natural History museums. Her artist statement alludes to endangered species and Climate Change, but in person, she told me that she practically grew up in a Natural History museum in Raleigh, NC, as her mother was a curator there. She spent a lot of time unsupervised as a kid, so these pictures actually stem directly from her childhood and personal experiences, which often makes for compelling work.

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Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 3

by Jonathan Blaustein

I get confused sometimes.

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

It happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adios.

Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 2

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This type of preparation is VITAL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago’s Filter Photo Festival – Part 1

by Jonathan Blaustein

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And? How was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where were we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portfolio Review: iPad, Blurb Book or Printed Portfolio?

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I received the following question from a reader:

I’m going to my first portfolio review at the PhotoPlus Expo next month in New York. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it, so the trip is coming together kind of last minute. I currently don’t have a printed portfolio and I don’t have the money to print up a proper one. I thought about having a book printed up though a company like Blurb or Artisan State, as that would be a lot cheaper. Or I could use my iPad that has a nice looking portfolio app.

Does showing up with just an iPad look bad? Does showing the cheaper photo books make me look cheap? Is it worth it to find a way to try and get a proper printed portfolio? Any advice you can share is greatly appreciated!

I asked Heidi, Suzanne and Brittain for their thoughts and I’d love to hear any advice readers have on the subject in the comments.

Personally, I’m inclined to wonder why you will spend all that money on a portfolio review if you’re not going to maximize the value. If you don’t have a printed book and polished pitch you’re not ready to meet with Photo Editors and Art Buyers in New York City. Sure, you can go in and get some advice on which images are strong and where you might improve, but this is the first impression you will make with many of these people. The gold standard for portfolio reviews is a book with finely crafted prints, a well rehearsed pitch, promo card leave behinds and some personal project options in a separate book, ipad or Blurb type book. You can be sure when you sit down in that chair the photographers before and after you are doing this.

Suzanne Sease:

It is completely fine to show your portfolio on an iPad. I recommend http://ipadportfolioapp.com as many of my clients use it and it has been received well by the viewer. I personally feel that many of the pre-printed bound books don’t look as nice as a hand printed ink-jet book. Since the purpose of a review is for the viewers to make suggestions and possible changes, why invest in a costly portfolio? If you are going to get out and get face to face meetings, then invest in an ink jet printed double sided portfolio and a nice portfolio shell.

Heidi Volpe:

I think it’s perfectly fine to show your portfolio on an ipad especially if you have motion to show.

Some of the less expensive book services you mentioned are perfectly fine as well. I will say if you choose to use these printed services, you’d need to have a good design sense and understanding the printing process, how images behave across the gutters in these books, accurately follow the template and be sure to build in time for revises and proofs. Whatever you choose, make it tight.

Brittain Stone:

I agree that an iPad presentation is more than fine for a portfolio review of this kind. Just a few things to consider when you do go this route:

• An iPad review will invariably go much quicker. It’s human nature to linger on paper longer than on a swipe-able tablet.

• Your edit on an iPad is invariable more linear and one-sized, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s a consideration when selecting images. It’s harder to go back into a portfolio and muse about particular images after the swiping is done.

• At these portfolio reviews, reviewers are expecting some “green-ness” so an elaborate print production would be overkill, unless you are the next (insert important photographer here) or. The book printing services you mentioned are all pretty great.

• You’ll still want some printed collateral of some kind in order to make it into a file or a stack or the reviewer’s memory banks. Very little trace remains after a digital review.

• Bring Windex