It wouldn’t be a story about LA if I didn’t bitch about the traffic, so let’s get it done right now and move along. I was headed up Highway 5 from a vacation getaway in a cute little beach town down the coast. Off hours, no drama, until I hit the LA County line. As soon as I crossed over from Orange County (nicknamed the Orange Curtain, I now know) it was as if I drove into a pile of mud. Stop and go, snarled, miserable, bumper to bumper traffic, all the way into Los Angeles. And of course I had to pee. Badly. Really, there are so few things I hate more than being stuck on the Freeway when I have to go. And then some old-school, straight-out-of-Long Beach Snoop Dogg came on the radio while I was trapped under an overpass. I started to laugh, because sometimes you feel like you’re stuck in Hollywood cliché, and it’s just not worth fighting it.
Regardless, I clamped down as hard as I could and hopped off the 110 in downtown LA for my little tour of the East Side. (The article on the West side will follow shortly.) Let’s be clear, it’s insane to think that one can cover all of LA as a scene, so I didn’t try. I went to see as much as I could, and accepted that much would be left out. That said, I saw a lot.
I started out in Chinatown, which is home to a dozen or so galleries, mixed in among the restaurants, fish stores, and shops selling cheap crap from the Motherland. It sprang up as a home to the contemporary gallery scene a while back, and seems to have held on through the economic chaos. I was last there in 2008, and it was definitely a bleaker place now. Several galleries have gone out of business, and one spot that I’d visited in the past now had some old people playing Mah Jong inside. The homeless quotient was also way up from three years ago, which wasn’t a surprise.
I started out at Sam Lee gallery, on the edge of the neighborhood, right across the street from a highway off-ramp. Sam was showing the work of two different California photographers, mixed up around the room. The first were large scale, razor sharp images by Rebecca Sittler. Whenever possible, I like to look at work without knowing anything about it so I can read the images for all they’ve got. Ms. Sittler’s photographs were of interior scenes, tackily decorated. The first had an eye-catching textural combination of red curtains, trippy carpeting, a wall and a window drape. Another had two beds with a phone in between. There was an image of a heavy, frayed rope on carpet against an angled metal wall, a photo of a roped-off painting with a chair, and also a shiny wood railing in a fancy room.
Taken together, I thought I was looking at the inside of a cruise ship. They were devoid of people, and felt lonely. They spoke of an almost Love Boat, 70’s style- cruise culture, where everybody had suddenly disappeared, like the Rapture. Sure enough, I went to look at the press release, and found that Ms. Sittler’s images were made on the decommissioned RMS Queen Mary that sits in the harbor at Long Beach. (Again with the LBC) It’s impressive that she was able to communicate both the setting and the mood without any text or obvious details. Terrific work. As to why this symbol, and why now? A decommissioned behemoth who’s best days are behind it? A musty style that’s trapped in the past.? A lonely relic of the Cold War heyday? Yeah, I get it.
Adam Thorman’s images, on the other hand, were medium-scale photographs of the California Coast, shot in the detail style, from directly above. Tide pools, moss, rocks, that sort of thing. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Coast in my day, and these looked like spots around Point Lobos, or somewhere south of San Francisco. I often wonder why artists try to capture the essence of Nature, without attempting to communicate scale or sound. Zen has it’s place, but requires a depth of perception that was lacking here. Having seen the real thing, I felt like Mr. Thorman’s photos were far less impressive than the original, and not that interesting.
I walked back to Chung King road, which houses several galleries in a row. They had completely turned over since my last visit, and there were fewer spaces in business as well. I began at Charlie James, which was showing work by Carol Selter, also from California. (Now that I think about it, I’m sure that most of the work I saw that day was local.) Ms. Selter was showing a project, “Animal Stories,” that included photographs, sculpture, and video. Her images contained taxidermy animals that she had returned to nature, then photographed. Birds in particular, and also amphibious creatures trapped in little vitrines. One image depicted a song bird, held by string up to the mouth of a flower.
Damien Hirst references aside, the photographs were compelling. The videos featured the same squirrels, turtles, and a variety of animals talking to each other, bitching about global warming in funny voices. I enjoyed the absurdity, but it didn’t really improve on the message from the photographs. Definite thumbs up, overall.
Next stop was The Box, for a collaborative exhibition by Sara Conaway and Lisa Williamson. Ms. Conaway’s photos were mixed among painting and sculpture, and had a distinctive, airy LA vibe to them. The images were minimal, color-drained photos of 3d objects like wire, cut paper, styrofoam, and cloth. Very sculptural. One exception was a photo with red cloth against an intense yellow background. It reminded me of a de-contextualized, de-politicized “Piss Christ.” I left thinking that everything would look great on a big wall in a big house owned by a big Hollywood production executive. But I’m not about to criticize them for being beautiful, especially as they didn’t look just like everything else out there.
Pepin Moore, right down the alley (Chung King Road is a pedestrian only affair) had a group show curated by LA art star Soo Kim. The exhibition was titled “US EST,” but that didn’t really inform anything. It was a melange of seemingly disconnected work, with a heavy hand from photoshop, and a definite nod to the natural world. (The Earth and sky in particular.) Hannah Whitaker had two multiple image panels in the show: one contained four phases of the moon (boring), and the other was of a white girl in a blue costume dancing with a red hula hoop. Strange, playful, and awesome. The background was all white, and looked like it was photoshopped, especially as one of the shadows seemed to be coming from the wrong direction.
Mark Wyse, another LA art star, was also included in the show. I’ve seen several of his projects before, (cars, surfers) and have also read some of his writing(dense, Yale-ish). Here, he was showing some photos of rocks, perhaps beach rocks, photographed from directly above (not terribly dissimilar from Adam Thorman’s photos up the street.) The images were dry, and razor sharp, but left me unimpressed. Especially as I supposed they were backed by some theory of other. You get a lot of that in LA… pretty photos that are described as far more than what they really are. Not to backtrack from my linear sensibility, but give you an example, the Conaway/Williamson show of pretty pictures was described in the press release as such:
“Their meanings are implicit (not explicit!), resonant (not dull!), and inspired (not locked down!) …there is an aspiratory and generative sensibility that runs throughout.)”
Oh. Thanks. Now I get it.
From there, I made another classic, LA cliché-type mistake. I decided leave the car in the lot and walk across the 110 to MOCA downtown. It didn’t look that far, and I’ve driven it before in 5 minutes or so, so I figured it would just be a quick little nothing walk. Wrong. Pounding on the pavement in my flipflops, desperate once again to pee, I couldn’t believe how dumb I was to play pedestrian. It took almost a half an hour, all told, and I had to sneak into a conservatory across from Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall just to find a bathroom (The secret? Act casually confident, and pretend you know where you’re going. Make no eye contact, under any circumstances).
Problem solved, I walked the last couple of blocks to MOCA. I had seen on FB the previous week that they had an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s entire Campbell Soup Can series, and I wasn’t about to miss it. Andy has had a huge influence on my work, and was unquestionably one of the two or three most important artists of the 20th Century. His impact has been felt across culture, and here was a chance to see his first major painting project, returned to LA where it had debuted (lent by MOMA, fueling the ever-present East Coast/West Coast rivalry).
The ladies at the ticket counter were kind enough to tell me how to get back to Chinatown by bus, but couldn’t suppress smirks at my silly walking endeavor. Advice freshly received, I headed down into the museum. On my way to see the soup cans, I passed through an exhibition of MOCA’s Pop Art collection, and ran into one of Richard Prince’s Marlboro Men photos, “Untitled (Cowboys),” 1980-84. Prince’s work has been much discussed on this blog in 2011, and I was happy to see it again firsthand. The photo was fascinating in that it had some altered texture that looked very much like the noise or rasterized effect we see all the time in digital images that have been pushed too far. To my eye, it looked current, and the blurring texture definitely looked like an alteration of the original (which we probably all now know is a key ingredient in qualifying for Fair Use).
After rounding a couple of corners, I came face to face with the Campbell Soup paintings, installed in a horizontal line, hung in chronological order of when each type of soup had been released by Campbells. Beginning with Tomato soup in 1897, running through the last released in 1962 (the year the project was exhibited in LA).
I’ll share my thoughts as best I can, but clearly this is something to see in person. One of my first observations, as I walked up and down the line, was that the paintings are not, in fact, identical. For all the notoriety that they are 32 paintings of a soup can, they’re not. Warhol was a commercial illustrator before becoming a fine artist, and he did the majority of each painting by hand. So the slight differences, like where he drew the highlight and shadow demarcations on the can lid, became obvious. And a couple of the paintings had a slightly different hue of red from the others. A function of aging or not, it broke the continuity.
I loved the ironic humor. Cheddar Cheese soup (also a sauce), Pepper Pot, (what?), Scotch Broth (a hearty soup), Beef Consommé AND Beef Bouillon, all condensed, of course. Subtle absurdity that grows as you engage the sequence. I could just see the 1950’s Ad men sitting around drinking cocktails, trying to come up with the next hot product to entice the burgeoning suburban shopper class. The paintings are also cold and a bit alienating. It’s well known that the show was not an immediate success, and the dealer Irving Blum ended up buying the whole set for a song. I can see why. In their mechanical-ness, they really lacked any sense of emotion or viscerality, which would have been a big change from the high drama of the 1950’s Abstract Expressionist emo-fest. But of course, they meshed perfectly with Andy’s blank, emotion-suppressed personal brand. For all the talk about branding nowadays, he clearly got there first (15 minutes, anyone?).
What else? They’re brilliant. Simply brilliant. Has anyone ever really picked a better symbol to speak for so many larger issues? Campbell’s soup. How American is that? Soup was the original peasant food, just add water to whatever else is lying around. It also represents warmth, comfort, and Mom’s home cooking. “Soup is good food,” for god sakes. Then someone figured out how to mechanize the production, canning, and distribution of the thing, and the growth of the American Empire was soon to follow. Soup for everyone, the same everywhere, cheap, with a reassuring label, replete with fleurs-de-lis. Classy. And then, over the years, so many choices were offered. What better way to anticipate the mind-cleansing consumerism of the 21st Century grocery store, or Ebay for that matter?
Mechanization of culture, commodification of home, repetition of ever so slightly different but really the same objects, the mesmerizing combination of white and red (just ask Target how effective it is), the space-agey-ness of the Kennedy era. It’s all there. The paintings obviously look like advertising images, and from a distance resemble photographs. They’re phallic, and were a precursor to the Becher’s water-towers, as well as any other deadpan, ironic type of work we see from the 70’s to today. All together, they tell a story about how American Popular Culture, beginning with Pop Art, became the global monstrosity we see today.
After ten or fifteen minutes, I finally shoved off to see the rest of the museum’s offerings, weaving through a few rooms of painting and sculpture with little that jumped out. Suddenly, I found myself in a not-large room surrounded by 58 of Robert Frank’s photographs from “The Americans,” hung in two horizontal rows. They were crammed together, and I felt like I do when I try to shoe-horn myself into my jeans the week after Thanksgiving. Uncomfortable to the point of claustrophobia. I saw the Frank retrospective in 2009 at SFMOMA, and wrote about it in Fraction Magazine, so I’ll spare you a rehash of how seminal I think the work is. Here, I could not get a sense of the scope or the message. The installation was non-linear, and confusing. Really, it made me want to not look. And they were all framed the same size and way, cream colored mats with black frames. Hard to imagine that I didn’t want to bother looking at some of my favorite art of all time, but there it is.
Right around the corner, I saw ten terrific photographs by Helen Levitt, framed and hung the same way, literally jammed into a corner. Of course, across the hall, each of Mark Rothko’s paintings were given feet upon feet of breathing space. Odd. I’m the last guy to have a complex about photography’s place in the Art World, because I think those battles were fought and won years ago. At MOCA, however, the message of photography’s inferiority was emblazoned on the wall through it’s second-class installation.
So with my panties in a wedge, I climbed back to street level, hopped a Dash B bus, and headed back to find my car in Chinatown. After a couple of stale, nasty pork buns from a Chinese bakery on Broadway, I got some directions to I-10 in Spanish, and headed out to the West Side, hoping the traffic gods would smile kindly on me… they did.
I started the project at a time when work had been very quiet for several weeks. I had barely seen or spoken to anybody. In times like those your reserves of confidence can literally eat themselves up in minutes. Since the demise of analogue/film in my world, the opportunities to meet and spend time with other like minded types have been heavily diminished. […]The ’140 Characters’ thing was my attempt to meet people, as well as ‘self assign’ a project that would fill up some time, inspire me and also serve as a big, barbed stick with which to keep the Black Dog away.
Creative Director: John Korpics
Photography Director: Mia Diehl
Photographer: Gregg Segal
Heidi: Was the subject hard to open up? What did you ask him at this very moment?
Greg: It wasn’t difficult to get him to open up because, coincidentally enough, we’re from the same small town in Ohio (Marietta, population 16,000). I googled Moynihan before photographing him and discovered this. I’d had a friend in junior high, Pat Moynihan, who I found is Brian’s younger brother. So there was plenty to talk about. At this moment, I may have been reminiscing about Mr. Peacatch, the assistant principal at Marietta Junior High, a small bald man with a Hitler mustache and a thick rural accent who’d whack you with a wooden paddle if you got out of line. I was probably telling Mr. Moynihan the anecdote about my brother, who walked into the bathroom on the first day of school and found Mr. Peacatch sitting in one of the stalls, which had no door, and couldn’t help but stare. “What’s a matter,” said Peacatch, “ain’t you never seen someone take a shit before?”
What is the biggest challenge about photographing “regular” and very busy people?
The challenge to photographing very busy people is keeping them engaged because even if you have them for 30 minutes, they’ll get antsy in half that time.
Did you set up in his offices?
We set up in a large meeting room adjacent to the trading floor at B of A’s headquarters in Manhattan and had to turn the space into a studio, hanging immense panels of black cloth all around us so as not to disturb traders.
Confused about Google+. Rex Hammock has a 26-page eBrief (PDF) from Hammock Labs called, An Early Overview of Google+ as a Content Marketing Platform.
“I think Google+ is a bigger threat to Facebook than any other social networking player, but more so in the business-to-business arena than in the consumer arena.”
Every artist will one day face the moment when he or she is doing what he or she does after the style has passed and the art-world heat-seeking machine has moved on. Lucian Freud’s career affirms that the only thing an artist can do is remain true to whatever vision, (lack of) talent, or ideas that happened to pick them in order to be made known to the world.
via artnet Magazine.
Design Director: Theresa Griggs
Art Director: Lan Yin Bachelis
Photo Director: Sarah Rozen
Deputy Photo Editor: Irene La Grasta
Photographer: Levi Brown
Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
Rob: The book “After Barbed Wire” came out and your phone started ringing with a few assignments, then you had a gallery show in New York and more assignments, so did your career take off like a rocket after that?
Kurt: It was a great time to be a fashion photographer because skin was being celebrated. I mean sunlight on skin. Bruce and Herb Ritts were really responsible for that. There was a sensuality in naturalness that allowed me to enter, because I couldn’t tell you what the fashion point was in a particular dress, but I could tell you how I felt about the sunlight on her skin. And that’s what I was responding to, and that was a time for it.
That was a unique time in fashion.
Yeah, and you could feel the skin. The skin looked real, touchable. That was the point. And that paid for everything. It was my passport to all sorts of stuff. It’s a great training ground to do portraits in.
Were you shooting a lot of fashion?
Yes, lots. I was a traveling fool. I had to fly Delta everywhere to get out of Montana and there was a time when I would be met at JFK by a representative from Delta to escort me through customs.
I’m over a two million miler.
Wow, that’s epic. So, how soon after the book and gallery show, are you suddenly blown-up in the fashion world?
It really started to kick in like around 1988, 89. And then I’ve got about a 10-year time period there where I was flying non-stop. Fashion is this wonderful picture beast. Twice a year you’re starting over with new collections and the wonderful thing, nobody ever gave me a layout or anything. I mean you show up, and maybe you’d have some idea of where you were going to do the shoot, but once you got there you just made it up. I mean it was very free.
And I think most of the time as soon as you stopped shooting and the pictures were done and they appeared, you know the two or three out of 800 that you did, or 1000 you did, you know once that happened, the pictures are dead. They’re over, they’re gone.
That’s amazing, feed the beast.
But you’re making this incredible money and meeting incredible people.
I wanted to ask you about the fashion crowd, because those don’t really seem to be your people.
You know after awhile if you’re going to do fashion you wind up, at that time anyway, with your own team. You’d have somebody to do hair and makeup and probably a stylist, and that they were integral to your pictures because it required that kind of collaboration. You spent all this time together too, you take most of your meals together, you’re traveling together. So you better be with people you enjoy being with.
What about the designers, and the editors at the fashion magazines, they seem like a wacky group of people.
There are some, but my experiences were with people like Rosanna Armani, Giorgio Armani’s sister, who was just absolutely delightful. Funny, no bullshit, she had her crew, and if she styled someone, you can better believe that’s the way they were going to look. It wasn’t like, “Oh, do you like it with the hat on or with the hat off? Oh, let’s shoot it both ways. No, this is it.” And it was just so direct and so pure in that sense.
It’s a creative thing for them, but it’s a business too. And they’re like anybody else on this group that’s traveling and doing the pictures, they want it done well, but they have to enjoy the day. And if they’re creating dramas every single moment, it’s not going to be fun.
And it’s going to show up in the pictures. You’ll see the drudgery, the lifeless eyes of the model, the unfortunate person who you’re photographing; if there’s a bad vibe in the air, whoo, to me it’s just deadly.
And what about the pressure?
I didn’t feel it.
I mean I worked hard. I always showed up, there was never a single time when I didn’t show up, you know, or be present, and do the best. I’ve always associated the click of the shutter with “Yes,” that you like what you see. I never thought of photography as a job. And then when I’m given this chance to photograph these really great looking people, travel to nice places and eat well, I’m still trying to make the best picture I know how to make.
It never became a job?
That’s amazing. You’re lucky.
Well I think it’s absolutely essential.
You’re caught up in a very crazy industry and there’s a lot of money and there’s a lot of people fighting for it.
Well there’s the other thing. I’ve never thought of photography as a competition. They hired me because they wanted me, not because I’m the best photographer, but I’m a photographer that they wanted. And they could just as easily picked someone else, but they made individual choices where I’m not interchangeable with someone else. That’s why I don’t think of it as a competition.
It’s just different choices.
You were raised correctly, someone taught you well.
Well, thank you, but I don’t know where I get some of this shit sometimes.
That’s really healthy, you know? It’s really hard for artists not to take it personally.
I think most artists feel like it means that their work is not good enough but that’s not what the decision is.
What happened next? You got off the merry-go-round?
I think the world just went a different direction.
Right. I mean we’re pretty close to 2000, so things are really changing.
Yeah, 9/11 was big. I could feel the seismic shift pretty quickly after that. You know a lot of budgets got redirected, the trips got shorter and shorter.
And then it got more competitive, too. I mean the industry really changed in that way, and people were aggressively fighting for work.
Yeah. No kidding.
And we’re talking about the digital revolution as well. For a guy who spends a lot of time in the darkroom this has got to be disheartening for you.
It’s impacted how I make a living, but in truth I’m doing my best work right now. I’ve become a better printer, I think I’m a more interesting person. I photographed Mike Tyson not too long ago. I just really enjoyed it. I could appreciate that I’m the oldest guy around. And it’s cool. You can relax a bit, not be afraid of who you are even if you’re kinda dopey at times, just being human.
But I get shocked every once in a while. I had this workshop a year ago and I asked this group of people, it hadn’t even occurred to me in the first couple of days, but I said, “Raise your hand if you are making prints.” And one or two people raised their hand out of 17 people.
Oh, I would have thought zero.
That’s the revolution, because I’ve always thought of photography as an object. It’s not electronic information, it’s an object. I don’t believe in a photograph until I make a print. It doesn’t exist for me. It’s just like thin air. So from that perspective it looks to me like people are afraid. They’re afraid to commit to putting their name on an object and claiming it. They’re dodging the biggest bullet of all which is standing up for your work.
It takes guts to make a print. You know you have to convince yourself that this is you, that you’ve made this and that you’re putting your name on it, and you also have to believe that maybe somebody else either can appreciate the work you’ve done or can appreciate the fact that this is you. There’s nothing else to hide behind.
OK, but that’s Kurt Markus, the print is integral to who you are as a photographer. That’s not the case for all photographers.
But you know what, Rob? I’ll boldly say this. Those people are never going to make it.
Tell me more.
Because they won’t be satisfied. They’ll just get fed up with looking at their pictures on a computer monitor, because they’re going to surf the net, and they’re going to look at other people’s pictures, and they are going to wonder what’s wrong with theirs.
You don’t think photography can exist separately as an object and digitally?
Not by a practitioner. I think photography can exist that way to anyone looking at photographs.
If you make pictures, you have to make a print?
Yeah. If you make pictures, and pictures is your work, you might last for a few years, maybe even 10, but why would you want to be a photographer and not take it all the way, all the way to a print? I do not get it.
Well, I mean there are a lot of reasons, most people don’t have a work ethic that you have.
I don’t look at it as a choice, you’re either obsessed or you’re not.
I’m trying to think of some examples of photographers who are not printing.
I’m not saying that you can’t have someone else print for you. I’m just saying that if you don’t have a print and the image only exists only in a computer box that’s not sustaining.
You can’t make a career out of that as a photographer?
No. Obviously, as soon as I say that you can imagine someone doing it, but…
You only believe in photography as an object?
I believe in the rectangle. Filling that rectangle with a photograph remains the most challenging thing that you can do. Then you print it, sign it, and show it to somebody else. It’s a blank canvas. If you can make a straight photograph, fit it in the rectangle, and make it work, you have accomplished something.
If you have to go outside of that rectangle, bring in other things to put inside that using non-photography tools, it’s cool, I don’t have a problem with that. I just think that you run the risk of it being a gimmick when the most powerful expression is the simplest. For me, you can’t manipulate it into existence by going outside the rectangle.
It’s like a high wire act, and a safety net is not going to be there for you all the time.
How much of the effort for you is making the picture versus making the print?
They’re just inseparable but I’d say the moment of exposure probably is the key.
How long will you spend in the darkroom working with the negative?
Well sometimes I don’t have to do anything. It isn’t that I expect a labor or anything, or that it’s going to take a long time. I try to follow Paul Caponigro’s thoughts on just not expecting anything, and if it’s just there and it’s handed to you, please, I’ll take it. It’s your point of reference for photographs that you love.
Why do you love this Ansel Adams picture, or why do I love this Paul Strand picture? You can’t deconstruct those photographs into pieces. They’re all of one thing. And the power of it is that you can’t take them apart.
It’s magic, you know [laughs] ?
Have you done many workshops?
I’ve done a couple in Santa Fe.
And that’s a big part of what you’re imparting onto these photographers, is that you know there’s a lot of value, there’s a big reward for treating a photograph as an object.
Well, yes. It’s part of it, but it’s also part of the experience of being a photographer and what it means to hold a camera in your hand and ask Meryl Streep if she could look to the right, or look down, or stand here. It’s a trip. You know, the actual experience of it is just a trip. It’s not like anything else. It’s so powerful.
I mean, I feel like I’m transported when I do pictures. Sometimes even with the landscape, I just think, “Holy shit, man, the electricity’s running through your body.” And that’s got nothing to do with the object in a sense. It’s part of why you’re doing the picture, to feel that. And then to carry through with it is the object phase.
And you get that same electricity from the print.
I think if you allow it, you get that jolt in every phase. You can get that jolt from signing the print. You are keeping your hands on it as long as possible before turning loose with it. And then once you turn loose with it, well, maybe you’ll get a jolt walking into somebody’s house that has one of your prints up, and looking at it you feel like saying, “Yes, that’s pretty good.”
Tell me about this show you’ve got at Staley-Wise.
So, it’s me and a dead guy.
Yes [laughs] .
Which is cool.
It’s cool you’re not dead [laughs].
It’s with Hoynigen Huene, who was a big Vogue photographer. His estate has these platinum prints and the gallery thought it would be interesting to pair his work with mine.
You’re having a show, and you’re alive. Life’s good.
Yes, and you know, it was nice. I enjoyed looking through some of my pictures, because most of these pictures probably were never published. And I think one of my favorite pictures is one that they would never publish, because you really can’t see the dress. But I’m so glad I did the picture.
Is this a picture you did for yourself. You knew they would never use it, so you made it for yourself.
No, not really. It’s pretty hard to do that, to intend to have this feeling. Because every once in a while, you can sneak one into a layout, or they’ll put one in that’s kind of a throwaway picture, as in a mood picture. So I didn’t consciously think, “Oh, there’s no way they’re going to use this picture, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
There were probably variations that showed the dress in a more detailed way, but, it’s really nice to go into the darkroom with pictures you did 15 years ago, and like one and make a print. It’s encouraging to know that you should follow whatever instincts are guiding you. You should really respect those and be willing to fail, because you will really fail if you look back on your work, and you discover that you didn’t really try.
Let’s talk about your legacy. Staley-Wise seems like a nice gallery to have representing you.
It’s a pretty traditional, old school gallery. They don’t represent photographers who work conceptually, and I think my pictures fit in there.
Yes, I’m not embarrassed by that. The Museum of Modern Art isn’t calling me up, I’m not like Lee Friedlander or Gursky or some photographer who has a museum show every two years. And I don’t get critiqued by the soothsayers of photography. I can live with that.
Why is that?
I don’t think my pictures are challenging enough for some people. You know what I said about the rectangle? I still believe that, it’s immensely challenging to work within the frame. I don’t feel a need to break new ground technically or any other way. I can still go out and do pictures and be very satisfied doing that. I think that my day will come.
Hopefully you’re not underground when it comes.
Either way that’s fine. I would like the luxury of some serious thought being placed on my photographs. When someone really understands the whole body of work, I think it’s a pretty remarkable life.
Is it enough for you to take the picture, make the print, sign it and put it in the box. Do you feel satisfied at the end of the day?
Yes. That’s why I don’t need a show to feel satisfied. I don’t confuse that, ever. Because by doing it this way, I also get to revisit it from time to time, and I can see, “OK, that print wasn’t so good, I need to tear that up and do that one again.” Or, I’ll look and I’ll say, “Jesus, I’m glad I did that, because that print is really beautiful and I can’t do that one again.”
Do you feel that you’re at the apex. Making the best pictures and prints of your life.
Yeah. I’ve got a better chance of pleasing myself.
Amazing. Does it really take that long?
I feel like that’s the way it should be. You don’t want to feel like you’ve done all you can do when you’re two years into this.
Nice. You still take pictures of cowboys?
I’ve got a hankering to go back into it.
Just because I think I’m a better photographer.
visit Kurt’s website to see more of his work http://www.kurtmarkus.com
This is how it goes. You thrash around, then you meet people, and maybe you wind up becoming friends. You just don’t know where it goes. But I believe you’ve got to be out there thrashing around, creating ways for yourself.
The New Yorker
Arts Editor: Francoise Mouly
Photographer: Ruven Afanador
Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
Rob: I want to start at the beginning. When and where did you start making pictures?
Kurt: I got out of the army in the early ’70s and I knew one thing, that whatever it was that I was going to do with my life, I wanted to love it and believe in it. That should tell you a lot about my army experience.
I enjoyed playing tennis, so I thought, “OK, there’s one thing I enjoy. Maybe I can find a job at it” and I got a job at a tennis company in California.
How old were you?
26. This was Billie Jean King’s company and it was during a time when tennis was booming. People were putting up tennis courts in little towns like Whitefish, Montana.
The company had retained a small advertising agency, but it got too expensive so they started doing a few things in-house. There was only six, seven of us and I had a camera that I’d gotten at the PX while I was in the Army. I did a few pictures of people shaking hands at the net and it was published in a newspaper. And I want to tell you: if you can get the first photo credit under your belt [laughing] early, with your name spelled correctly, it’s encouraging.
I’ll bet that was pretty exciting for you.
Well, it also became a responsibility because they were starting to count on me.
They were like, “That guy’s a photographer. He owns a camera.” [laughs]
I started to have a little bit of pressure applied to me, and I was looking at how-to books and that sort of thing and it kind of mushroomed. A year later I wound up at a horse magazine in Colorado Springs–which is a longer story–and was fortunate to have a really great bookstore, the Chinook Bookshop, where I memorized the photography how-to bookshelf. Then I journeyed off that shelf into the fine-arts shelf of photography.
And wow, that pulled some Gs.
What blew your mind?
Edward Weston’s “Pepper Number 30″ did it.
I probably could have guessed that.
I was ready. I was ready to see it. And I was ready to respond.
It seems, though, that’s quite a leap coming from tennis camp and “Western Horseman”?
Exactly. And I grew up boxing groceries in a lower-middle-class family in a very small town in Montana. The idea of photography being taught in schools hadn’t really caught on, so nothing in my background prepared me for that experience. I think that those are the really valuable experiences, ones that just come out of nowhere while you’re plodding along on a journey. Even though I was doing pictures and I was really interested in photography, it was like I was on one planet and the next moment I had jumped planets.
I thought, “I don’t need anyone to explain this picture to me.” I could increase my enjoyment through a bigger understanding of who Edward Weston was, which I eventually got into big-time. But Pepper #30 was a straight-ahead photograph. I never looked at the picture and thought, “what lens did he use?” There was just something complete about it, and deeply attractive, and beautiful.
How did you get involved with Western Horseman Magazine?
The long story short with that is my first wife’s father was the publisher. The editor of the magazine had a family crisis and quit, so my father-in-law asked me if I wanted to work on the staff.
What was your job like?
When I first started with the magazine, the editor, who had been advanced after this other editor left, said that you’ll get one plum assignment a year. Plum means you can travel somewhere. OK. And the rest of the time, my job was to edit material that came in, and do layouts and some other stuff. Some of the incoming material was press releases from Purina, so you can believe that I was ready for my plum assignment.
Give me an example of a plum assignment?
One of my first was I had discovered a photographer named Bank Langmore, who had done these really great pictures of cowboys. And I convinced the editor that I should do a story on this guy. So, I went to San Antonio, where he lived, did a story and made a great friend who has been inspirational to me ever since.
Then I started to have a little bit of success when some readers responded, and I was encouraged to push my luck and get two plum assignments. And then I started really getting into it, and I’d take whatever time I could for myself and go off and bounce around the West.
Then eventually I was editor for one month, before it was “quit or be fired.” I have a rather unique distinction, because not many people can say they were editor for one month.
Wait, what? You became editor and got fired in a month? [laughs]
It shocked the hell out of me, and my wife Maria. I thought I was going to be the editor of the Western Horseman forever.
Why did they ask you to leave?
I got promoted to editor and I thought, “Well, I’ve got my budget. As long as I stay within my budget, I’m the editor, I can do whatever the hell I want.”
Well, I couldn’t do whatever in the hell I wanted. I redesigned the cover except I didn’t consult with anybody else. I didn’t consult with my former father-in-law, the publisher, or with any of the bean counters in the basement.
[laughs] And you thought that would work out OK?
Well, I knew they were going to give me a hard time because I was doing things differently but I wasn’t going to let them tell me until it was too late. Then I thought, “This is going to work out, just have faith.”
So you redesigned the cover.
…and the inside.
And the inside of the magazine, on your own, without anybody’s approval.
And once they saw it, that was it.
I don’t think that it was so much that they didn’t like it, it’s just that they could see that I was going to be uncontrollable.
That seems to be a theme in my photographer interviews.
And you can relate to that, Rob.
Conceptually, I’d like to think that I’m pretty open. But once you leap into the here and now it becomes real and not just a concept, then you start drawing the line, especially if you believe in what you’re doing.
Once I lost that job the bank foreclosed on our housing loan because it was contingent upon being employed, then it was panic time. I could have been working at Janitor’s Quarterly, because working 10 years at The “Western Horseman” didn’t open any doors.
What year was this?
1985, I think. Something like that.
We moved to Montana.
We had two boys and as a photographer I thought it was either New York or Montana. I had seen some people in New York try to cart kids around the city and I decided, “Montana’s going to be it.” And also money wise, I don’t think we could have swung it.
Do you feel like you had the chops to go to New York?
I don’t know about the talent, but I had the ambition.
You wanted to run with the big dogs.
You know, one of the things about photography that has stayed with me, although I question it from time to time, is that persistence really is valuable. Don’t you think?
You know that great classic quote, “F8 and be there”? You do have to be there. Being there is half and you can do that half. And I figure sweat is part of the equation. If you can be really cool and persistent, that’s great, but I was more like sweaty and persistent. I figured that I could maybe outmuscle it.
So you hadn’t had any gigs outside of “Western Horseman”. You didn’t try any advertising. You hadn’t shot any other…
Well, I got a break. I had this cowboy book published by Jack Woody, through meeting Bruce Weber. This is how it goes. You thrash around, then you meet people, and maybe you wind up becoming friends. You just don’t know where it goes. But I believe you’ve got to be out there thrashing around, creating ways for yourself.
How did you meet Bruce Weber?
He came to Colorado Springs while I was with “Western Horseman”. I got a call from Laurie Kratochvil who was at Rolling Stone. She knew me through this other art director who had been at Rolling Stone. His name is Hans Teensma.
He and I were friends, and Laurie Kratochvil had talked to him, so I get this call from her. She said, “I’ve got a photographer coming to do a portfolio on Olympic athletes.” They were training in Colorado Springs.
And Bruce was big time then?
I had no idea who he was. I said, “Sure, I’d be delighted to help you.”
“Well, he needs a place to set up. He’s going to have a portable tent studio to shoot outdoors and he might need some local services”
And I said, “Sure.” Whatever I could do. I had no connection to Rolling Stone or anything like that. I hadn’t done pictures for them at that time. I was just a guy.
So anyway, Bruce Weber comes to town and wow, what a trip that was. Maria, my wife, wound up spending most of her time with him because I had a day job. She’d come back at night and tell me stories “Kurt, you’re not going to believe what they’re doing to these athletes. Cutting their hair and making them wear these little outfits and stuff.”
Anyway, Maria’s having a good time, and she invites Bruce and his crew over for dinner. I hadn’t known you could have hairdressers and stylists and assistants with you when you did pictures, so this was a whole different world. But it took no time at all to become friends, we shared a love of pictures even though our paths were dissimilar. Bruce wound up opening doors for me. He’s been a constant in my life ever since.
You just connected with him then?
You know even to this day, we think quite similarly about photography, what kind of pictures we like to do and see.
How did he hook you up with the publisher?
Jack Woody had just published Bruce’s book, so he calls Jack up and says, “You’ve got to see this guy’s work.” That just fell into my lap.
Well, Bruce must have seen something in your work to recommend you to his book publisher. It must have been great work at the time. It must have been of the level of people operating in New York.
I think he saw potential.
So what was that book?
It’s called “After Barbed Wire.”
Right, so you’re in Kalispell then and you set up shop, and what? What was your plan?
I just was looking for a place to live because the bank had foreclosed on our house. I had some family here, but it was also a great place to grow up. I thought that the least I could do is try to give our boys a chance to grow up in a good place.
And then it started… because of the book, I started to get a little bit of work.
When the book came out did you send it to people?
It was distributed and Jack Woody had a pretty good fan base and some of the fans were art directors.
They saw the book and you got calls, like out of the blue?
[laughs] Your phone just starts ringing?
If it rang at all, you answered. I got a job from the advertising agency for Levi’s because they were coming out with a cowboy cut jean. And that’s how it works. They’re like, “Who’s that guy…
“Who’s that guy who takes pictures of cowboys? What’s his name? Oh Kurt. Right. And he lives in Montana. Perfect.”
And he’s cheap. Well, not that cheap, they paid me almost as much as I made in a year.
Oh my God. You must have been doing cartwheels when you got that Levi’s job.
It was a huge bonus.
How long are you up in Kalispell before this job?
Probably less than six months.
You lost your job. You lost your house. You move up there. The book comes out, and suddenly you start getting phone calls, and then you land a big Levi’s job.
Well, I mean, for me, it was big. I did the job by myself, I didn’t even think you could have an assistant or anything like that.
Didn’t you see Bruce Weber and his entourage?
But I didn’t think it was ever for me.
Right. That was not your style.
Bruce is shooting for fashion. The art director who contacted me never said anything like, “Do you have an assistant?”
“Let’s see what he does if we don’t mention an assistant.” [laughs]
Yeah, well, I probably could have asked for one but I didn’t know of anybody. Would it mean they’re going to have to fly somebody in here to do this?
So I shot about maybe 50, 60 rolls of film and I was really into doing my own black-and-white work so I didn’t want some lab to do it. I came back and the art director said, “By the way, we need this immediately.” I just looked at him like, “You’ve got to be shitting me.” He needed it in two days or something. And I’m processing this film four reels at a time. And, oh, by the way, I need two sets of contact sheets. I stayed up for two days straight.
That was a rather jolting introduction to the advertising business.
And then, because of the book, I got a job for a Yohji Yamamoto. The art director for this fashion guru in Japan loved Jack Woody’s books and asked me to do a bed and bath campaign for him. Then I took them out to, God help them, a ranch in Nebraska.
And it was just Maria and me.
And with the art directors and the main person from the company there, I just took a bed outside, Maria and I made it up, and I shot it. I put like a towel in the stock tank and threw it over this barbed wire and shot it. I just thought, this is the last job I’ll ever have. This is really, really awful. This is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any magazines. Well a month later I get this catalog that the art director put together and it’s pretty cool. And then, because of Yohji Yamamoto’s name in the fashion business, these catalogs were sent to some other people and I got a fashion job.
What was that job?
Joe McKenna, who is a stylist and a fashion editor, started working for Rolling Stone. He had seen the catalog and then he had gone to this show I had had in New York, and he asked me at the show, “What would you like to do?” I said …
Wait. You had a show in New York? Is this from the “After the Barbed Wire” book?
How did that come about?
Well, partly through Bruce, but not really. Jesus, this is more complicated than I realized.
You keep surprising me with these things that happened to you. They fell out of the sky on your head. How the hell does that happen?
It does, you know.
Before we get into that, I am looking at these pictures from “After Barbed Wire”. They’re at a very high level already and this is very early in your career. Did you, the magazine or anyone have any idea that you were producing such great work? I mean, you didn’t have any other assignments or any advertising work or anything?
No, I was left to my own devices. I spent about a third of my income in my “Western Horseman” years on books. I’m sure there are some other photographers that have a better or larger library of books than I do, but there aren’t many.
That’s what’s amazing to me. You’re purely getting this from books and how-to’s. Did you meet any photographers that influenced you?
When I was with the Western Horseman, I discovered Paul Caponigro. I loved his pictures so much that I created an assignment for myself to go interview him. I go there with a list of 147 questions that I had typed out. I thought this is a really cool thing and I want to be prepared and I don’t want to just waste his time. So I’m not going to let this pass without giving it my all. So I typed up all these questions and I get there and I pull out this list. And he said, “What do you got there?” I said, “Well, it’s my questions.” He said, “Well, I think you can forget those.”
He just went in such a different direction. He was so kind, and we’ve remained friends all these years. We exchange Christmas notes and stuff. I have to insert this here because I don’t want to neglect not saying it. It really helps if you know someone who is living a good life that is worth some sort of emulation. Photography is a strange business, and I met some people who were deeply unhappy being photographers. I thought, “Hmm, this could be dangerous.”
Right. Back to the army.
This should be… there’s no better job than this. And, anyway with Paul in particular, I thought, “If I’m really lucky, when I’m 70 years old, I’m going to be living like this. I’m going to have my dark room, I’m going to be making these prints, I’m going to really care about these prints. I’m going to have some quiet. And I’m not going to be on somebody else’s string.”
Anyway, Paul represented that to me and if no one you know is living that life, maybe you should think twice about what you’re getting into.
(Part 2 of 2 tomorrow) visit Kurt’s website to see more of his work http://www.kurtmarkus.com
I’ll say this, making your photography, doing your art, is something that for a lot of people is a combination of technical skill, professional know-how, and personal dream and fantasy. Being an artist is this incredibly fantasized notion, and for a lot of people, it’s a place where they put their dreams. When you’re doing that, you tend to forget your practical business skills, or you tend not to think about bringing all the other skills you have to it. Because it’s about being “creative.” To put it in a concise term, being creative doesn’t mean not being professional.
…The New York Times itself, revenue actually increased by 0.3 percent from a year ago. Compare that to the previous quarter, when the paper’s revenue slid 2 percent. Year-over-year revenue had been negative for eleven of the previous twelve quarters.
What happened this time? The Times put up a paywall on its website and asked readers to pay for its expensive-to-produce news. […]The new online subs helped push up the paper’s circulation revenues by 1.6 percent, where they had fallen 2.9 percent in the first quarter.
by Jonathan Blaustein
Jonathan Blaustein: You’ve got a background in art. You received a BFA in painting from Rutgers. Go Jersey. And you’re from New Jersey as well?
Ariel Shanberg: I am.
JB: Me too. So how did you transition from painter to non-profit executive director?
AS: As a young artist graduating from Rutgers, I knew where New York City was, how to get there and find my way around. But I was much more interested in finding an environment where the arts and making art were more enmeshed with life. New York City felt like business, and I wanted to find a place that was more focused on the other aspects of art. Luck and serendipity brought me to Woodstock.
I had heard a bit about it while I was in school from a few of my professors, Martha Rosler and Diane Neumaier, who had done things with CPW. So I walked in, introduced myself, and asked how I could be involved. They said they had a internship program, and I said “That sounds great.” I was 23 at the time, and really looking to get exposed to arts administration, and what it was like to facilitate arts programming for the community.
I was really fortunate growing up, because art was a part of my daily life. Both of my parents had studied to be artists, and I was surrounded by friends of theirs who were artists as well. It was that love of art, when I got to CPW, that got me to say, “Yeah, I’ll work here for free.” And it hasn’t changed that much over the years.
JB: So you decided to move to Woodstock as an art community, and then you got the job?
AS: Exactly. I loved that it (CPW) was nestled in the daily life of Woodstock. That it wasn’t set in some arts district, or some stand-alone place that you had to drive to. You could literally get a cup of coffee, a morning paper, paper towels and groceries, and stop in and see what was on view at CPW.
JB: You know, it’s funny, it’s almost like you’re reading my to-do list. It says buy paper towels, and go see an art show. On a random Tuesday. It says so right here. (editors note: No, it doesn’t.)
AS: That access, and having art available to the general public was something that was really important to me. It wasn’t something that only people with certain degrees do, or people who have extra time. Everybody should see an exhibition at least once a week. It’s an opportunity to exercise your mind and see the world through other people’s eyes.
JB: CPW runs exhibitions, lectures, workshops, artist residencies, fellowships, and publications. A bit of everything. How does it all fit together, beyond the fact that it’s all coming out of one physical space? How did the program evolve to be so wrap-around?
AS: CPW’s founding was in response to the fact that photographers didn’t have a home in one of the country’s oldest art colonies. It was established first as the Catskills Center for Photography, so photographers would have a place to exhibit their work, foster community, and develop their own knowledge. When our founders, which included Howard Greenberg and Michael Feinberg, began the institution, they started with exhibitions and workshops. Two very basic things. One was using wall space to show work, as the first shows were Walker Evans and Russell Lee. Nice roots to begin the endeavor.
JB: The workshops went hand in hand with the exhibitions, because I would imagine the workshops would create a revenue stream that would enable you guys to keep the doors open from the beginning?
AS: That was part of it, but it was more about connecting photographers. We’re talking about 1977, when there weren’t that many photo programs in schools. Photography was still struggling for legitimacy within the art world. People were looking to take this utilitarian device that everyone had in the house, and do something more with it. The desire was to connect people who had something to offer to people who wanted to learn. That’s always been the motive and the mission of the workshop program. We want to see people develop their practice, refine their vision, and achieve their goals. Whether that be to exhibit in a gallery, to have an essay published, to refine their website, or build connections with other photographers.
Over the years, the staff and various directors have looked at who’s getting served in the field, who’s getting opportunities, who needs to be championed, and how can we help? Right off the bat, pre-Internet, the magazine, Photography Quarterly, was established to connect with audiences beyond our immediate borders. It has achieved that, and even with the Internet, the print publication serves as a lasting document archive to the ideas and the work. With some of our other programs, like the fellowship award, it was specifically designed to help artists working in Upstate and Central New York.
Our residency program ties us to the deepest roots of Woodstock as an artists colony. Even though we had a darkroom and expertise, it wasn’t something we were actively engaging. The program got started in 1999, and has allowed us to play a role in the creation of some pretty significant bodies of work by some great artists. It’s all about nurturing artists, whether it be educating them, giving them opportunity, serving as a bridge. Sometimes we need a bridge to master artists to mentor and educate us, or a bridge to audiences to connect our work to them. We also hope to be a bridge for artists to collectors, and to audiences who will become stake-holders in their own work and efforts.
JB: You mentioned that Howard Greenberg was a founder, and I noticed that some major New York gallerists were on your advisory board, like Yossi Milo, Brian Clamp, & Daniel Cooney. How does that connection to the NYC gallery world drive your programming?
AS: Dan Cooney is an alum of SUNY-New Paltz, and as a young college student, in his summers, would come up to Woodstock and attend our visiting artist lectures. Some of his best education in photography, as he shared with me, came from our lectures. Which, when you’re living in Upstate New York, you wouldn’t normally get in a small rural town of six thousand people. Which speaks to why some of those people are on our advisory board, but also where that education and bridge-building goes. Dan’s a great example. With all those people you’ve mentioned, and others, they really value CPW’s commitment to nurturing artists, particularly emerging artists. As galleries, they recognize the important role that spaces like CPW play in the role in the development of artists that they will eventually work with.
JB: How do you see the role of non-profit galleries as differing from commercial galleries, both to the artists and the art audience?
AS: We’re not commerce driven. We have a different definition of success. We’re really interested in risk-taking and providing a platform where artists can push their work and experiment. We don’t need to make sales because we’re supported by grants and foundations. I think that non-profit spaces are great places for young, emerging artists to be discovered. I have no qualms on being a step on a ladder in career development. The other thing, and this goes beyond emerging artists, but for mid-career artists too, the scholarly and curatorial investigation of artists’ work that can take place at spaces like ours. Being outside of the market-driven art world, we’re able to have conversations on and through the work of photographers, (and artists working with related media) that help contextualize their work in a larger dialogue.
JB: I noticed you guys did an exhibition from the VII agency late last year. You were showing prints that, certainly in the past, would have been considered photo-journalism. What was the audience reaction to being surrounded by that kind of suffering and tragedy?
AS: It was a great exhibition that was organized by Tufts University, and we were really honored to have it on view. The exhibition space is a remarkable environment where you can slow time down, and you can ask people, particularly with a still image, to consider the ideas or histories, and the narrative that often flash by our eyes. They can see things with a new light or perspective, as they’ve been re-contextualized outside of news information sources. The response to the show was pretty much, across-the-board in awe. For the commitment that the photographers in VII have made to telling these stories, and to the generosity of their subjects as well. There are many people in devastating situations and plight, but I think people left that exhibition feeling a little more connected. Maybe a little more responsible for the world we live in. It definitely did not leave people feeling down and depressed. I think the notion of going to a gallery just for entertainment or escape can work sometimes, but it should not define the exhibition space, or the museum-going experience. We seek to challenge and provoke our audience.
JB: One of the reasons that you and I got to chatting in Santa Fe last month was that you mentioned you were doing a show called “Camp: Visiting Day,” about the predominantly East Coast, I want to say 80’s experience, but I’m sure it’s still alive and well. I spent time, back in the day, in a sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania and one in New York. (The singer Pete Yorn was in my bunk for a couple of years.) A few weeks before we chatted in Santa Fe, I had some spare time, which is rare, and I found myself cyber-stalking my old camp bunkmates on Facebook. Not friending anybody, just finding the public photo albums, and trying to get a sense of what these goofballs looked like as 30-something dads and husbands. A lot of puffy faces, I assure you.
Truthfully, I’m not in touch with any of these people, they haven’t impacted my adult life, and yet I could recite everyone’s name in five seconds. These guys still pop up in my sub-conscious. So I found the experience pretty formative, and I was excited to hear you were curating a photo exhibition about Camp. I thought maybe you could tell us a bit about how you came to curate the show, and how it has resolved itself on the wall.
AS: Camp is not something that everybody has experienced, but it’s one of the most defining elements in our transition from young people to adults for those of us who have. It’s the first experience for people, sleep-away camp specifically, that they are away from their parents and have a certain sense of autonomy. While there’s supervision, it’s almost an unabashed indulgence in youth. Swimming, sports, arts & crafts. It’s also a place where we try out and explore our identity. There’s something about the nine months of the school year that lock us into a sense of perspective of identity that may or may not be our own. One that’s pressured by certain societal and social norms, and when people go to camp, they’re often interacting with kids who might not live in the same county or state. So there’s an opportunity to reinvent or claim for the first time who you are. With this being our summer exhibition, I wanted to celebrate that.
I’m a person who went through a number of years of sleep-away camp, they were really some of the first moments where I was able to see myself as an individual. The artists I ended up including in the exhibition really celebrate and identify the ways that we relate to camp. You have somebody like Jennifer Loeber, who photographed shortly after attending Rowe camp, which she went to in Western Massachusetts. This is a camp where literally, kids are governing themselves. They’re planning their schedule, and in a society where kids tend to be so over-programmed these days, this was an incredibly empowering experience. During their time there, they have the opportunity for them to mock normal conventions, and celebrate eccentricity and individuality.
(click images for larger version)
JB: If we had had that back in my day, with the kids in control, it would have been Guns’ n Roses on the loudspeaker all day, every day. “Welcome to the Jungle” on a total loop until everyone killed themselves. Which, in retrospect, doesn’t sound like such a good idea.
AS: We had something similar, but it lasted only 24 hours. It was called Revolution, and the oldest bunk in the camp kicked out all the staff except for the kitchen staff, because of course you can’t let the kids get hungry. By the end of it, no matter how much fun you had, you learned just what a tough job it was, and you were happy to see those counselors come back.
JB: I suspect you might have been more responsible than I. You and I know, and now the audience will know, that there are probably dozens of summer camps within a 50 mile radius of where you’re at. Has it crossed your mind to try to set up some sort of field trip where kids actually come check out the work on the wall?
AS: Originally, we had hoped that would be the case. There are some adult themes within the exhibition that make it challenging to get a blanket approval for a camp audience of teens.
JB: One of the artists, you’re referring to, his camp was purchased and turned into something very different…
AS: You are correct. Adrain Chesser, as a young boy and a Boy Scout, went to a campground in Southern Florida, and struggled at that time with being a closeted gay male. In an act of sublime surprise, he found out years later that the very same campground was purchased by a group of gay men who turned it into a gay campground. He returned, as an adult gay male, to photograph that campground. The pictures evoke the joy and freedom of camp, the game-playing and interpersonal relationships that take place. I love the work, it’s some of my favorite in the show. But when you’re bringing in a group of kids from different families and backgrounds, it’s a challenge to make sure that everybody’s going to be OK with it.
JB: You mean their parents.
AS: The younger generation is always more open to new ideas and ways of being than the parental generation. One of the things we will never do is compromise by shielding the work in an exhibition…I don’t believe in censorship, and we’ll leave it at that.
JB: It sounds like you’ve got certain elements to your programming that you do on an annual basis. You were mentioning that you’ve an annual fundraiser, and I know that every year you do a show called “Photography Now,” with a major juror. This year it was Vince Aletti, and in past years Darren Ching and Charlotte Cotton. I would imagine if you get to look at the submissions yourself, that probably gives you an interesting snapshot on what’s being done in a given year. Have you noticed any changes in tenor, style or subject matter? Are there strong themes that emerge each year, or is it just a hodgepodge?
AS: In 2010, Lesley Martin was our juror as well. What has really shifted over time, in looking over the submissions from year to year, the overall quality is getting stronger. I think that is reflective of the craftsmanship within photography, and people’s visual language is getting more refined. The other thing that’s getting stronger is the multitude of strains and genres of photography. We’re in a time where working with wet plate alternative processes is as relevant as someone who is working with the visual language of the computer age as well as somebody who is traveling through the mountains of Tora Bora. That’s what’s exciting about the time we’re in.
As far as the jurors go, based upon their own track records and perceived interests, and I want to emphasize perceived, each competition or call for entries attracts a different set of applicants. With Vince Aletti this year, one of the really remarkable things was how he was cognizant of his daily life experience impacting what he chose. As Vince professed, he’s a portrait person. Yet having been a juror for World Press Photo, and having spent ten days looking at intense, narrative, photojournalistic and documentary work, when he came back and had the DVD with all our applicants, he found himself gravitating towards a different type of work. Photographs that reflected more artistic exploration, with evidence of craft and the artist’s hand, that he wouldn’t have responded to had he not had that experience. That’s something that’s very generous of a juror to reveal. To reduce it to the simplest terms, it’s like saying “Hey, I had pancakes for breakfast, so I was attracted to things that are round.”
JB: The shoe was on the other foot, in that you were just a juror for a group exhibition at the Houston Center for Photography. What did you bring to the table?
AS: There’s a different approach in jurying a group exhibition, versus curating an exhibition, like the Camp exhibit, which was an idea that was percolating in my mind for twelve years. When it came to the HCP member’s show, I recognized this as a subset of photography I am pulling from, and wanted to find the best of the best. I was interested in putting together an exhibition for them that celebrated the great range of power that photography has as a communicative tool.
JB: I’d love to get to see it, but I have no plans to go to Houston this summer.
AS: On their website, they have at least one image for each artist, which is a nice survey of the work in the show. But I have to say that nothing beats seeing the work in person.
JB: I’ll have to check it out. We talked about what you do up in Woodstock, and there are so many programs available to photographers, but what’s the best way for someone
to get on your radar screen. How do you like people to get their work in front of you?
AS: One of the important roles of a not-for-profit space like CPW is to be as accessible as possible. That said, it’s also important to recognize that we do a lot, and when somebody approaches us, we want to know that there’s a serious level of commitment, not only to their work, but to the possibility of us working together with them. One of the things I strongly advise against is, don’t just send us an email saying, “Hey, take a look at my website.” We want someone to really take the time to introduce themselves to us. We want to them to show they’ve been thoughtful in their approach to us, because we’re going to be thoughtful in our approach to them.
JB: Sounds like a thorough, well-thought-out info packet, on the heels of some serious research into what you guys have shown and funded in the past.
AS: Always the best way. And don’t start the letter to me with Dear Ms. Shanberg.
JB: (laughing) You know we’re not going to cut that. It’s going right into the interview.
AS: I had a feeling. It’s one of the trials of having a gender-ambiguous name.
JB: How about Dear Sir or Madam? You’ve got to get a lot of those, right?
AS: That just reflects not doing the homework. All you have to do is read one of the staff member’s bio’s to see who to send things to and what their gender is.
JB: It’s funny. You and I met briefly at the PDN Expo that I chronicled for APE last year, and listening to the lectures during the event, that piece of advice was spouted
so many times. Do your homework. I came away wondering how could it be possible that so many people don’t?
AS: I’ll say this, making your photography, doing your art, is something that for a lot of people is a combination of technical skill, professional know-how, and personal dream and fantasy. Being an artist is this incredibly fantasized notion, and for a lot of people, it’s a place where they put their dreams. When you’re doing that, you tend to forget your practical business skills, or you tend not to think about bringing all the other skills you have to it. Because it’s about being “creative.” To put it in a concise term, being creative doesn’t mean not being professional.
Creative Director: Tischen Franklin
Art Director: Jason Claiborne
Photo Director: Alan Ket
Photographer: Emily Shur
Heidi: Why the popsicles and how much dialogue was there with the make-up artist/Amber about color?
Emily: The photo editor came to me with the idea of an “oral fixation” type of shoot…lollipops, popsicles, candy, etc. This shoot was for their Sex Issue so he really wanted to push it in terms of the sexuality. I went shopping and bought a few different things that Amber could put in her mouth…all of them were colorful and visual. My main goal was to make the shoot interesting looking and not just sexual. I did speak with the make up artist about using bright colors to go with the brightly colored food, and we had colorful backdrops as well. I felt if we could get an overall look going it would modernize the pictures and add an element to the shoot.
I know you started your career shooting a lot of bands and music has a strong influence on your life. Your husband just supervised the soundtrack for 30 Minutes or Less do you two collaborate on projects? How much music do you shoot now?
I actually don’t shoot as much music as I used to. I still love music and love photographing musicians, but I seem to get more calls to shoot actors or other notable types (writers, politicians, chefs, etc.) lately. I’ve also been shooting more advertising work which has been great, but less geared towards music. In terms of my hubby, yes, he just music supervised 30 Minutes or Less which is very exciting! I’m very proud of him. Music supervision is a perfect fit for his music snobbery…I can’t really think of a better job for him. We do collaborate on projects. He has been instrumental in many aspects of my work, but mostly he comes up with great ideas and pushes me to complete projects and not be lazy. My series Nature Calls was his idea, and he always comes with me when I photograph for that project.
Do you use your blog like a loose portfolio? Your Alaska rough scans are a great series, but did you not work on them at all? Is it easier for you to post on your blog, meaning, its not your book, but you know people are looking. How picky are you?
I like to use my blog for lots of things – self promotion, a diary of sorts, a place to show my personal work, somewhere to write about my feelings on photography, the photo industry, and what it’s like making a living as a photographer. I do post images on my blog that I have no other real place for at that moment; pictures I’d like to show people or see together in a group, but I could never put every single picture somewhere in my book or on my website so it’s nice to have a place where the edit doesn’t have to be so tight.
My “rough scans” (Alaska included) are images that I scan at home on my crappy scanner and do a little light color correction, curves, etc. on so I can see which images are worthy of a drum scan and professional post production. It’s nice to put little groups of images together and also nice to get people’s feedback on images. I’m fairly picky about what images I scan and show on my blog. For starters, it’s time consuming to scan stuff at home and use my mediocre Photoshop skills to make images look presentable. Second, I don’t show images, both commercial and personal, that I’m not proud of or find interesting in some capacity.
I have found my images in every nook of the Internet, mostly attributed and not altered in any way, but often unattributed, remixed, appropriated as paintings or drawings and cropped in ways that offend me to no end. Every time I come across my work presented like this, I cringe a little, but most of the efforts are benign and nobody is profiting off my intellectual property. When someone is profiting, I shut that shit down.
via Amy Stein Blog
A major symposium on the current state of the field was held at SFMOMA in April 2010. You can view all the videos and transcripts (here).
Watch Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Peter Galassi (former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), Vince Aletti (New Yorker photography critic), Charlotte Cotton, Jennifer Blessing (Guggenheim Museum photography curator) and other luminaries discuss the topic.
Fascinating discussion best taken in small doses to avoid an ice cream like brain freeze (for example, they don’t agree on what photography is).
via, I heart photography.