Don’t worry about being better than anybody you know personally or whose work you admire. Simply try to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday. You are not so much in competition with others as you are with yourself. Be your own toughest critic. Show only your best and develop your self-editing abilities so you know just what your best is.
— Bill Allard
via The Photo Society.
It wasn’t until this morning, a few minutes ago, that I noticed the connection. As you might imagine, I take a big stack of books from photo-eye each time I visit, and make my selections later on, at home. Sifting, I noticed the link. Two books, sharing half a name. “Half Life,” By Michael Ackerman, and “The Half-Life of History, by Mark Klett. Strange.
Given the constraints of a book review column, it seemed like a connection worth investigating. Perhaps my curiosity was aroused, as a 37 year old, having lived half a life. Perhaps not. Perhaps I was thinking about how the Buddhists believe everything is connected. Perhaps not.
“Half Life” was recently published by Dewi Lewis in London. I don’t read the essays beforehand, in these books, just like I don’t bother with wall text, right away, when I go see an exhibition. It’s easy to double back, but one only gets a single chance to see the images fresh, without pre-conceptions. It’s not a perfect system, but it allows me to read and react, to guess at symbols, patterns, and deeper meaning.
I’d never heard of Mr. Ackerman before, but it was immediately obvious that his intentions were serious. The initial images are small, grainy, black and white, and have the look of old, found images. Head shots of forlorn, wasted looking men, this was not to be a fun ride through photo-book-land. Soon, train-tracks, blurry, snowy fields, European architecture. I thought of the Holocaust, as most people would. Then, images of naked people would appear, and hotel rooms. I thought of the sex trade. Next, Hebrew-covered headstones, and I was back to the Holocaust all over again.
I guessed the images to be current, and a subsequent cursory glance at the photographer’s bio said as much. So the images are not historical, they just reference that impossible era. Showers, even. But the nudes returned, and the power of the random single image resonated as well: a tranny penis, an elephant, an egret? I liked the embedded photo-homage as well: a sign saying Franks on one page, a big American flag on the opposite spread. Together, it’s a winding narrative with many references, but the end result is unique.
I’ve always thought it was easy to make creepy work. Either way, this book is definitely meant to disturb. It speaks of ghosts and visions, memories of the dead and the lost. Yet it has an undeniable beauty to it, like Anne Frank’s Diary. Why do people continue to read that book, when the ending is foretold? Because they enjoy the ride, I suppose.
Bottom Line: Haunted, in the best possible way
The partner publication, in name only, “The Half-Life of History,” is more straight-forward, and in large part, color. Which surprised me, as all of the past work I’ve seen from Mr. Klett has been some shade of gray or sepia. Beautiful Saguaros that finally made sense the last time I set foot in Tucson. The new book, offered by Radius, is subtitled “The Atomic Bomb and Wendover Air Base,” whence the Enola Gay originated. Boom. Back to World War II, again, like it or not.
The style varies, from tightly-composed images of abandoned barracks, to sweeping vistas, and a four-page spread inside a airplane hanger. 50 caliber bullets are handled sculpturally, history is depicted gingerly, and a short trip to Hiroshima is made towards the end. The essay is by William L. Fox, a very bright scholar whom I heard lecture in Reno recently. I haven’t read it yet, but will speculate that he did a good job. (Lazy journalism, right there. For sure.)
Bottom Line: Interesting, a must for Klett collectors
The State of the Industry with Marni Beardsley of W+K
Marni Beardsley is a highly respected art producers who has spearheaded the art production department of Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, OR for decades. Marni and I were both art buyers in the 90’s when we got to push the envelope for campaigns like Wrangler, Vanity Fair (late 90’s work), Seiko Watches and Saab and Nike. We bonded while working with Jayanta Jenkins an amazing creative person, now at TBWA Chiat Day. Marni is a very busy Art Producer and was extremely kind to answer these “state of the industry” questions.
What other mediums do you see print images being used in advertising?
Digital, digital, digital and digital. Say that 5 times really fast. photography isn’t something that should be strictly synonymous with print. We look to partner with photographers/artists to create the best ‘still assets,’ regardless of the medium it will be featured in. Print, in-store, pop, and the various out-of-home mediums also remain effective ways to share the message. Most photo productions continue to be executed to cover a combination all mediums, with digital often at the top. And there’s a growing amount of photo shoots we produce with digital solely in mind as the only and final intended use. The enormous volume of still assets often needed for each digital photo shoot can make your head spin. Digital shoots require a photographer who is equally quick and nimble as he or she is talented… they are going to be working their ass off. After the digital shoot has wrapped, we do our best to comfort the photographer by offering to read them a bedtime story or feeding them stiff drinks… whatever they may need for a quick and speedy recovery.
What are your thoughts on Ambient media and do you see this taking off in the States as it has in other countries?
With a greater demand for point of sale communications and the ability to provide precise audience targeting, ambient media is another smart way to connect with your consumer. Is it considered sexy? If you think snooki is sexy, then sure, the same can be said for ambient media (snooki finds the strangest ways to brand herself and constantly keep herself in the media). I’ve never seen one episode of the jersey shore, yet somehow I’ve become aware of her every move. She’s obviously bat-shit crazy, but you can’t argue that she’s also pretty damn savvy.
Ambient media also provides versatility, and while often bizarre, it can provide effective ways to push brand messages. For example, when you’re waiting in the security line at the airport, schlepping your shoes, computer and crap into the bins, I’d argue it’s smart business when there’s a message at the bottom of these bins we’re forced to deal with. I only wish the ads I’ve seen were better executed, interesting or clever.
Who knows, maybe someday i’ll see some twisted yet artfully executed photograph of snooki staring up at me and it’ll make me less annoyed with having to take my stinky shoes off in the first place.
When I go to www.adsoftheworld.com most of the print mediums that are featured are from outside the United States? Are we being too safe? Are clients pulling us back?
Aahhh, to be able to create work outside of the U.S. Many of my esteemed colleagues across the W+kK network have this opportunity and I’m often jealous. Ads are reflective of cultural identities and last I checked, France’s culture is pretty hip, so is their advertising. It’s well known the U.S. has the most restrictions, other markets can say and do far more than we can. This seems to extend into the client arena in many respects, U.S. based clients are naturally more conservative which again is a reflection of our culture. However, that shouldn’t deter us from collaborating with our clients in trying to achieve the best work that stands out above the rest. And when most companies out there are playing it safe, it’s refreshing to work with clients willing to take more risks — if done well, it will generally result in iconic work people will remember and talk about. We shouldn’t approach it as what we can’t do, it’s a matter of what can we do.
Are clients requiring more and more rights and optional images from still photo shoots?
Hell yes. The expectation is to have use for all outtakes from a shoot, the era of confining the number of images per day or basing fees per image is long over and there is definitely a push for extending usage. Clients want flexibility in all the mediums, increasing the time period or in some cases, asking for in perpetuity along with your first born. But, if you put yourself in our client’s shoes, they need efficiencies and flexibilities more than ever in an effort to manage their P + L, particularly in these last few years. The challenge is to manage clients expectations — and the request for multiple years or an unlimited time period naturally equates to an increase in fees. It’s always a fine balance in trying to make sure you’re being mindful of the client’s budget while making sure the artist is receiving fair compensation. The goal is to always make sure both parties walk away feeling happy. With tighter budgets across the board, it’s definitely become more challenging over time, that’s for damn sure. Having open and honest conversations to address certain realities is the best way to get through it together.
How many of your current clients require the estimates to process through cost consultants? Do you see more clients using them or are they realizing they don’t know what they are talking about?
Most of our clients require working in tandem with an independent cost consultant and/or internal creative buyer but we are fortunate to be working alongside many respected cost consultants who have prior art production experience. The shared goal is to provide a realistic, fair, well thought out, cost efficient estimate that allows for the best photography to be executed.
Do you think our buying society is educated and the “you tube” and reality shows mentality verses the appreciation of quality creative advertising?
Quality creative + quality art will always stand out above the rest. It starts with a great idea coupled with the best execution. Sorry snooki.
What are your thoughts on trying to make a product become a viral sensation? Do you think this is the future or will it phase out?
In the end it is all still a popularity contest. Everyone wants their brand to be a viral sensation and they want other people to talk about their brand without having to pay other people to talk about their brand. A true viral campaign gains social momentum based on its inherent social value (If I think it’s pretty funny, I’ll send it to my friend).
I feel that brands are walking a bit of a fine line as they try to make viral sensations. We can’t lose sight of the original goal: If it’s good, then it’s good. The ability with which people can share content and distribute across the world instantaneously makes it easier for good work to reach more people. If it’s whack, it dies faster. So, virals with relevant, interesting content will distribute faster and have a longer shelf life.
When you maintain the relentless goal of doing great work, the rest follows. Our connections with each other is becoming quite valuable to brands and products. Who the hell knows how long the quest for the viral gold will last, but it’s very clear that products and brands will continue to try to produce things with more social currency. Pictures, videos, content, and ideas that will be less about what the product says, but more about what you or I will hopefully say about the product.
What percentage of print work is your company doing today compared to 5 years ago? Or even a year ago?
It seems to vary. It’s increased for some of our clients, decreased for others and for some stayed about the same. Strictly case by case depending on the brand and the varying approaches they want to share their message. It’s interesting to see the growth of some magazines soar this past year. Fashion publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W and Marie Clare. Entertainment and music pubs such as People, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. Teen mags such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue. Dude publications such as GQ, Esquire and Men’s Health. And lifestyle and travel publications such as The New Yorker, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and Vanity Fair are all faring pretty damn well. Their revenue and ad spending have all increased just this past quarter even.
The power of print is still very much a viable media. In a time full of chaos, i feel we should take this opportunity to hail those who are doing it correctly in the print space.
Should photographers and illustrators learn the motion medium?
There are so many growing opportunities in motion. This industry is a constantly changing organism. And with so many advances in technology, the need for more motion and stills in digital, there’s no doubt it’s smart for artists to embrace movement. On top of the expanding commercial and editorial opportunities out there, it’s another creative outlet and experimentation for extending their look and style found in their photography or art. It’s exciting to watch, particularly when you see their motion and immediately recognize it as an amplification of their stills. And should it inspire illustrators and photographers to explore motion, even better. Nothing like curiosity mixed with a little fear to light a fire up your ass and really get your creative juices flowing.
What advice would you give someone who only does print (still) work?
I also strongly feel photographers and illustrators should stay true to their work. and create their art in the best medium(s) that truly speak to them. In other words, simply pursuing motion solely because they feel they have to, will naturally reflect in the work they create. Not to mention have an effect on their creative spirit and psyche. Bottom line, each artist/photographer should trust their own intuition. It’s what it’s here for. Intuition helps harness creative energy in producing art that means something to them and then good work comes of it. Then people like myself will come a knockin’.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.
These advertorial spots are a perfect example of where editorial is headed. That and I really enjoyed learning more about Jonathan Mannion.
thx, Addison for the link.
I think one of the dynamics at play is that work that was recognized in the past triggers interest in similar work in the present. In other words, we have this library of images in our minds and when we see images that are similar to the images that we think are great, there’s an association, a connection that is positive. These are derivative images. But instead of being a negative aspect, these images get elevated, often to the highest awards and often without realizing we’re just awarding what worked in the past.
via Blog – Mike Davis.
On its visual merits alone, this show could have conceivably earned my first zero star review in the history of this site, which pains me severely given my love for Gursky’s previous work. That said, after much reflection, I think it jumps just barely to the one star category, mostly because I would recommend seeing this work to consider for yourself how one of our most shining stars could swing and miss so egregiously.
via DLK COLLECTION.
Jonathan Blaustein: I wrote a long article recently about my trip to Reno, and you pulled from it a particular question and posted it on Conscientious. I thought it might be interesting to turn that back on you and start there. I have the question right here on my little note sheet.
Jörg Colberg: It doesn’t look like a fake note sheet like Jon Stewart’s, though.
JB: No, it’s real. I even have magazines here (waving them in front of the webcam.) We’re going to get into all the good stuff. Let’s start with that question, and hopefully it won’t seem ridiculous that I’m quoting myself right now.
“I’m wondering why I didn’t hear more [at the A+E conference in Reno] about how we, as artists, can use a variety of skill sets and methods to expand the reach of our work, to recruit new viewers, to communicate a message in a manner that will speak to more people without dumbing down the art in the process?”
I’m assuming the question must have been intriguing to you, because you quoted it. So what were your first thoughts on that, as a starting point?
JC: There are a lot of hooks in that quote.
JB: Sure. We can start with any little part of it. Maybe I can give a little back story. You responded to a Google+ post that I did on the Reno article, and then you and I started going back and forth briefly, before we decided to flesh it out further in this interview.
JC: I don’t know whether I have the real answer. I have my own personal answer, and that’s biased in all kinds of ways.
JB: Of course. I’ll stipulate to all of your biases, and you can stipulate to mine. How about we start there.
JC: All right. I think the first thing is, a lot of the talking that’s going on online is about artists using their skill sets for social media and promotion. That’s the first thing. There is very little talk (or maybe I’m just missing all that talk) about what you’re talking about. You know, how artists can use a variety of skill sets to expand the reach of their work. Expanding the reach of their work doesn’t seem to get beyond making sure that more people see it to potentially buy a book or buy a print. I could be mistaken, but that’s something that I’ve been rather critical of, more and more. Social media is really just about blanket promotion, because, in theory, it could be about exactly what you’re talking about. Reaching more people, and talking about the work, and what’s behind the work, and how what is behind the work has connections to all these other things that go on in non-artists’ lives.
JB: You went right to social media, and of course social media was the impetus for this talk. Perhaps the rampant self-promotion we’re seeing on the web is finally wearing people out. You agree, I agree. But the exact same infrastructure, the social media infrastructure, just brought down regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The tool itself has already proven it’s power to do the impossible, or at least what people consider impossible.
JC: Yes and no. I think it’s disputed what the real power of social media is and how it contributed to the Arab Spring. But that aside, it’s a little like quoting the lottery winner. These are outlier events. I don’t deny that they’re true, but I think that using outlier events to prove a point is always a bit risky. Even if we stay with the Arab Spring, what brought down those regimes or what made people go to the street is not social media. It’s the willingness of those people to go out of the house and demand change.
JB: Of course.
JC: Social media alone are useless, unless… it’s the same with photography. I’m sorry if I’m hijacking this a little bit right now, but it’s this question, “Can photography change the world?” I don’t think it can, unless we learn our lessons from what it shows us, unless we decide do to something about it.
JB: That’s why I wanted to have this discussion. I’m talking about social media as an infrastructure. As an architecture that can be used, because all it is is a fancy term for the perfect information dissemination vehicle. Free, (sometimes) ubiquitous, let’s call it perfect, or certainly the best the world has ever seen. That’s where I think it starts to get interesting, when we talk about Art. You said, “Can photography change the world?”, and my article was basically written about an event where a bunch of artists were conceding that they could. And that they needed to, because Climate Change was such a dramatically horrific issue for humankind and animal kind.
I come from a background and an age where I’m trying to get over my cynicism about that idea. I feel like, coming up with Post-Modern theory in art school, there was an indoctrination against the idea that art could, or even ought to, aspire to create change. So leaving aside the bigger question of whether it can, we’re living in an age where most people don’t think they ought to try. It’s like a limited set of expectations of what our chosen calling can offer to the world. That’s where I want to start. That’s what the rallying cry was, though we’re probably not at that level where I can even call it a rallying cry. The question really is, “Why aren’t people even considering that it’s worth an attempt?”
JC: You know, I honestly don’t know. I think people make their decisions based on their personal beliefs and comfort levels. I have this idea that there’s this talk about the creative class. You’ve heard that term, right?
JC: I always thought that another name for the creative class would be the complacent class. It’s really rude, in a way, but I think it’s true. We’re so complacent about what we do. We want to change the world, and then we don’t want to do much about it. We think, “Well, if just click on ‘Like’ on Facebook for that cause, that’s going to make a big difference.” I suppose it makes a little bit of a difference, but you know, there are no consequences.
There are people who are really going out to change the world. I’m thinking of Pete Brook, who was just visiting here with his “Prison Photography on the Road.” He’s literally taking his blog to the road, staying with all these people and talking to them. He got started on Kickstarter, asking people for money, and a lot of artists donated prints so that he could give something back.
I think you can do something. Why people don’t do more? I don’t know. The situation is, I think, quite overwhelming. Every day, there is some other disaster. Some other drama going on. I guess there’s a sense of hopelessness. Of course, nobody can change all of the disasters and all the dramas, so I think you just have to pick one. But I don’t have a good answer. I don’t know why there is not more happening.
JB: To be clear, I don’t ever expect you to speak for anyone beyond yourself. In my belief as an artist, I find that ideas are often in the air. Oftentimes, you find that different people, in different parts of the world, are working on something similar without any connection. It’s our job, I think, to reach into the Zeitgeist and try to pull out these little nuggets of contemporary culture and then transform them, synthesize them.
In this week’s Newsweek, there’s an interview with Thomas Campbell, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (By Blake Gopnik) In the headline, it mentions expanding the audience and not dumbing it down. And in the New Yorker, there was another article about the Met, because they’re rolling out the new Islamic Galleries. It discussed how the Met devised a really fancy lighting installation at the edge of the gallery to entice people inside. I was surprised that this idea was reflected back at the highest institutional level, because, in a sense, we’re talking about artists on the street and the power structure as well. Clearly, the idea is out there.
We both could speculate as to why people aren’t necessarily ambitious or political in their content, oftentimes, but I would say that the bigger idea that we can talk about is, how we even consider going about enlarging the tent? What can we do to try to increase it’s power? At least here in the United States. What are you seeing, as far as artists’ attempts to reach across the divide?
JC: The problem in the US is pretty unfortunate, because the arts are pretty marginalized. I grew up in Germany, I lived there for 30 years. I don’t want to pretend that it’s the artistic paradise, because it certainly isn’t. But Art is talked about more often than here. There’s Art education in schools. All the way up to high school, I had to take classes in Art and Music. That was just something that I had to do. I didn’t have a choice. Just like German and English and Mathematics, you’d have a class on Art. I actually learned how to knit in school. That’s completely useless for me, as far as I’m concerned, but I learned it anyway.
JB: Knitting was useless for you, and Algebra was useless for me. We’re even.
JC: Art here has a different connotation. The high falutin’ people with their crazy ideas that are very different from the common man or regular folks. You have that in Germany too, but I know that a lot of people go to art galleries or to museums in Germany that would never go here. I know a lot of people are really interested in Art, and what’s going on here. I go to a diner every Saturday for breakfast, because I like to hang out at the counter. I talk a lot with people, and they are actually interested in what’s going on. The discourse about Art is just messed up. Funding for Art doesn’t exist, or is very minor. And that’s sort of at the very basic level.
One way to really make a difference, and I know it sounds naive, would be to send a letter to your Congressman saying “Why are we not funding the arts more?” Because there are jobs in the arts, obviously, but also because there is something that Art has to offer everybody. That’s the first aspect. The second aspect is maybe related. Art has such a weird standing. A lot of people don’t really like to talk about themselves as artists that change the world. It sort of has a bad feeling to it, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe the people who went to art school know there’s all this Post-Modern bullshit, so I can’t do that. I don’t think that every artist should try to change the world. It’s completely up to them. But I think every artist should really think about this. Do I want to change the world, or what do I want to do? What do I want my Art to do?
JB: I agree with you, but I don’t want this to just be, “Well no, I agree with you.” “But no, I agree with you.”
JC: That would be boring, right?
JB: Exactly. We have to get the controversy in here somewhere, or I won’t sell newspapers. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m not actually trying to sell newspapers. What I’m very curious about right now is…you’re presenting Art in a different context and a different culture, Germany. I think most art-literate folks are going to know that it’s the case. In Europe, there’s more cultural support for the arts. In the US, we acknowledge that the arts are marginalized, and that there is a heavy emphasis on Class and Status and Power within the Art world.
JB: It’s a separate question to say “How do we go about changing that?”
JC: Really, that’s what it comes down to. I just watched this documentary by Robert Hughes, the art critic, called “The Mona Lisa Curse.” I don’t know whether you’ve seen it.
JC: You can find a version with Spanish subtitles on Youtube. He was talking about how the art world has changed, has become incredibly commercialized. And how that is affecting the way Art is being done and talked about. I think we can, as artists, (and I’m calling myself an artist), we can take that back. It’s just that easy, but of course it’s not really easy. It’s just like Pete. He went on the road, and he’s doing it. There’s nothing, in principal, that can stop us from doing that. Creating something where we interact with people, and just disseminate what we do, and talk about it more. Bringing it to people who might be interested.
JB: I suppose we’re doing it right now. Or at least, the first step. But Art has always been used in service of power and in service of information dissemination. Look at the way it was used by the Catholic Church, or by the Mayan Ruling Class. At this point, I think we could say that at it’s highest levels, maybe it’s been hijacked in service of Capitalism. You said Commercialism, but in service of the Market.
JC: It doesn’t have to be that way.
JB: Referring back to that Newsweek article, it said that the Met had something like 5.8 million viewers last year. Now, it’s probably more than this, but let’s say that 1/3 of those viewers are tourists to New York coming in on the cheap dollar. So let’s say 4 million Americans. That’s not much more than 1% of the US population right there.
JC: That should tell us something, right? The Met is kind of a special example, because it’s the artificial environment that is New York City. I read that there was some talk about where do the 1% live, and there are several zip codes in New York where many of the top 1% of the wealthiest people live.The people that go to the Met, a lot of them are actually well off, as are many people who go on vacation to New York.
I think we should be looking at museums in places like Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. Places that are more regular, or behaving more like the average American city. Let’s see how museums are faring there? Whether people go to shows? Then we should think about what we can do to bring Art to people. I think museums are great, galleries are great, but of course they are environments that are kind of artificial. I think they can be intimidating. They’re certainly making every effort to be intimidating.
JB: I agree. I don’t think that point gets made enough. American’s really don’t like to talk about Class, I have found.
JB: So let’s sit on that idea. Museums in Pittsburgh, or Kansas City. Or, like I speculated in that article about Reno, outside of museums entirely. Listen, I’m a huge fan of Art Museums. I was brought up in suburban New Jersey. It was Bruce Springsteen country. Unpretentious. Blue collar, or at least a Blue Collar Mentality, where you do your work and you keep it real. I was just back in New York, and I’m going to write some articles about it, but I saw this fantastic show at PS1. (Article to come…) I was in New Jersey, talking about it with some relatives of mine.
I thought they’d be interested in the exhibition, as they had some personal connections to the subject matter. I brought up the show, and I talked about PS1 and Long Island City, and they said, “How come we’ve never heard of it?” Actually, what they said was “How come no one has ever heard of this place?” Of course, I said, some people have heard of it. You have to kind of be inside the club, or in the know, to hear about these things. As I was saying that, it just seemed so absurd.
So this is where we have to start. Because once I told them what I’d seen, they were ready to get in the car and drive to Queens. What we’re talking about is, if the mechanism of communication is there, which it is, and I think that the quality of work that one could see in the United States, probably across the country, is really high. So we cycle back to enticing or alluring people to open their minds enough to experience a different kind of media. Isn’t that really what we’re talking about?
JC: To an extent. I don’t think people have to be enticed, actually. I think a lot of people are actually more interested in some of the issues we deal with than we think they are. I think the PS1 problem is a good problem. For example, I don’t know where your relatives live, if they have a local newspaper. But that’s the first problem, is if they still have a local newspaper. And if that local newspaper still has an arts writer, then that arts writer might have written about it. It’s likely that there is no local newspaper any longer, and even if there is a local newspaper, then the arts writer is long gone, because there is no money for that. So it’s no surprise that your relatives have never heard of that show because…
JB: They never even heard of the venue.
JC: Is there a local newspaper?
JB: They live in New Jersey. It’s the New York area, so their daily newspapers are the Times and the Post. But it’s not just access to information…
JC: It is access to information. That’s part of it. But we need to create a culture where Art is being talked about on a more regular basis. Not just as a special section that’s called Art. People have to start realizing that what’s in the Art section is not just abstract paintings of things that nobody understands. It’s a lot of stuff that affects our lives. I guess that’s where we start agreeing again.
JB: Right. It keeps coming back to the How? And in a sense, the Why? Of course it’s about access to information, but I think it is very difficult for people to want to talk about that attitude and air of exclusivity that derives it’s power from keeping people out.
JC: So we have to take that away.
JB: Well, we can say “How” all day long, but maybe by saying “How” we’ll get some other people to think about it. It’s interesting that I got to read about the views of the head the Metropolitan Museum of Art talking about these issues in the same week that we are. When you read this stuff, it comes with this defensive slant. Like, “Yes, it’s nice to get the attendance numbers up, but, God forbid, too many people seeing this stuff means it’s less good. Or, it has to be a blockbuster show. If you want people to come, it has to be Tim Burton, you have to show movies. I disagree. When I first encountered the World’s best Art, and I was very fortunate, before the dollar went to shit and the economy went to hell, I was able to travel to Europe, and I lived in New York. A lot of my passion for Art comes from that physical experience of standing in front of something, and having your mentality shift in realtime. I believe, like you, that if more people were introduced to that experience, without changing that experience, people would get it.
JC: It is a big question. You have to start somehow. I don’t have a magic solution. There’s all kinds of things you could imagine. What it comes down to, literally, is bringing art to people. By showing it, by talking about it. There is no reason why interesting Art should always be in big museums in big cities. You can imagine, something that I’ve always talked about but never done it, is to rent a barn from a local farmer and do an art show for two weeks. Just bring in a bunch of artists, and put up a show, with advertising and everything. People have to drive to the countryside to see it. It’s a beautiful drive out here (Western Massachusetts) anyway. You would visit art, and it would be embedded in a community that maybe doesn’t have so much access to that kind of stuff. And then after two weeks, its gone. You don’t have the overhead of keeping up a museum, and you would take art of of it’s context that it’s in right now. This high falutin’ world with a lot of pretense. With a lot of money. With a lot of expectations, and a lot of stuff. I think it’s doable.
Even the web. Just talking about Art, or making multi-media pieces about Art. I think that’s why multi-media can be good, it is because you can bring the experience of Art closer to people. As photographers, we’re lucky, because photography is an ideal medium for the web.
JB: Sure. Photography and the web changed my life. I’m living proof of how well jpegs can work. Yet that was never my goal, nor was it the optimal way for people to experience my work, when things are meant to be big. But I think you hit on it…
JC: That’s the thing. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but people are worried that that’s not the optimal way to experience their work. Of course, I hear that a lot, because I’m a blogger. People say that it doesn’t look so good on the screen. But that’s totally missing the point. If you get curious about photography, or you get curious about photo books because you see me flipping through a photo book in a crappily made video, you might go out and buy that book, right?
JC: And then, suddenly, you have the book and you start looking. That’s kind of what I think I can do. Show and say let’s look at this, this might be interesting. The viewer still has to make that step: I’m going to go and see that show. Or: I’m going to buy that book. I think putting it out there, and saying this might interest you has got to be the first step. And with photography, there are books. They’re not even that expensive.
JB: Look, I’ve said this in print several times. The experience of knowing that millions of people around the planet were thinking and talking about my work, it was indescribably awesome. Brilliant. But when I know that the pictures, in my head, and on the wall are meant to be seen at 30″x40″. You can’t experience a 30″x40″ print on a white wall through the Internet. It’s not either or, here, between the Internet and the wall. It’s both.
But the idea that I want to sit with, for a minute, was that you talked about this idea of bringing Art out to the people, and I talked about it in my Reno article. Now Kickstarter is there. Maybe we’re really talking around it, but Occupy Wall Street came from a call from the media, right? Adbusters. I’m not, in any way, about to speculate that you and I chatting via Skype can have even a fraction of the impact. However, maybe it’s something as simple as saying, let’s do it. Let’s try to organize a series of ten pop up art exhibitions in interesting places in the United States, and let’s raise the 50 Grand that’s necessary, and let’s publicize the shit out of it. And let’s take Art to the people. And whether “Let’s” is you and me, or people that we know, or people who read this…maybe that is the start. Is to say, “OK. Let’s do it.”
JC: Why not, right?
JB: Well, I live in Northern New Mexico, and you can bet your ass that people would like to see photo installations and projections on the sides of cliffs. I know I would.
JC: I think it’s actually doable. You could certainly reach enough people. We’d have to plan it.
JB: Of course.
JC: You’d literally make these shows for a week or two. Maybe you could tap local arts organizations. They might be happy to help. I don’t know. But I think that something could be done. Yes.
JC: And I think that would be a good start. You do this in ten cities? Just imagine. Even five cities.
JB: Or, as you said, rural areas.
JC: It would be so amazing.
JB: Or maybe it’s both. You just never know. I’m not saying we’re going to light the spark. I’m just saying we can’t rule out the possibility. I think we hit on something.
JC: It’s just something that we have to do now.
JB: Do you want to follow up on this? Do you want to put a little elbow grease in? Or should we let other people do it?
JC: In this day and age, especially with something like this, it shouldn’t be something that one or two people are doing. You have to make sure you get 5 or 6 people together.
JC: So you sort of have a collective.
JB: Let’s get Art out of the temples, and out into the cow pastures and smaller cities.
JC: I think it’s a great idea. It sounds so populist. It is a really good idea.
You may remember photographer Jason Lee Parry from the $28,000,000 lawsuit brought against him in August by parents of a young model he photographed (APE story here). The parents flipped out when a sexually suggestive image that Parry took of their 16 year old daughter on a motorcycle (she was 15 at the time) appeared on clothing in Urban Outfitters. In an email to us Jason claims the lawsuit is nothing but a publicity stunt because: the models father was on set for the majority of the shoot, the parents and Ford modeling agency approved of the images after the shoot, and the model posted the images to her blog after the shoot. Finally, he says the images appeared on the shirts in Urban Outfitters without his permission. Heidi Volpe asked him a few questions about what happened:
Heidi: How did you find out you were getting sued?
Jason: I received a phone call from a reporter of the New York Post named Bruce Golding on August 15th 2011. He broke the news and emailed me the documentation of the lawsuit before I received it from anyone else or knew I was even being sued.
What is most upsetting about the lawsuit?
The images have been out in the public for 18 Months, it’s the second image that comes up when you google her name. It has been on my website and I’ve never been asked to take them down, it has been on Ford models website and was never asked to be taken down as well as on the Model’s Facebook page, blog and thousands of other fashion blogs. The second it comes out on an Urban Outfitters t-shirt, the Model’s parents try to sue for $28 million. It is obviously 100% about money. Why didn’t the parents contact the magazine and ask them to not publish the images?
How long after you did the shoot, did the lawsuit come up?
Were the parents on set during the photo shoot?
The model’s father was present for a majority of the shoot. He was shown photos while on set and sanctioned them long before they were published.
Was the treatment approved and discussed?
The treatment was discussed and approved with Meg Day of Ford Models, the teen Model’s booker at the time as well as the teen Model’s father the day of the shoot. Both approved, and the second the editorial was published, I personally dropped off the magazine with her booker at Ford Models. Everyone was very happy with the story. Ford at that point even hired me to test shoot their new faces, which I did.
Did they have any comments during the shoot?
Her dad just spoke about how he used to ride motorcycles.
Did the model have a problem with them prior to the t-shirt coming out?
After the photos were released the model proudly posted the images in question to her Facebook, blog and the Ford models website. She also posted behind the scenes photos of the shoot on her blog. Also, before the lawsuit, the Model’s brother and two of his friends had posted a photo of themselves on her Facebook page all wearing the t-shirt in question. The Model had commented under the photo that her friends all need to get one of the t-shirts.
What prompted them to sue?
When the parents of the teen model figured that they could try to make money off of this as well as create buzz for their daughter. It’s 100% about money.
How did Urban Outfitters get the images?
Blood is the New Black manufactured the t-shirts and sold them to Urban Outfitters for further sales and wider distribution.
Why didn’t you get a model release?
Hailey is under-age so she can’t sign a model release, instead her Booker at Ford models is in charge of the model release. The model agencies don’t allow the model to directly sign with the photographer. I do have the release for the publication in my files and the booker has one as well.
Is there a resolution in sight?
I was officially served on October 5th 2011. I believe that the truth will prevail and the lies will be revealed.
What has this done to your career?
This has definitely been a learning experience and has been beneficial for me in terms of my name as a photographer being recognized. But this is obviously not the way I want others to learn of my name. This lawsuit has caused much stress on my family and myself,. It was just a ploy to scare Urban Outfitters out of money. Since this lawsuit came out I haven’t skipped a beat, and have only gained clients. I just hope this burden is resolved soon, so my career will continue on the path that it was on.
…Saatchi says he finds the new art world toe-curling. “My little dark secret is that I don’t actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others. “Few people in contemporary art demonstrate much curiosity, and spend their days blathering on, rather than trying to work out why one artist is more interesting than another.”
via The Guardian.
Three local high school kids got very lost on Thanksgiving night. It was nihilistically dark out, and they inexplicably drove their car into a ditch in the middle of our pasture. I’d never of known, as I was already sleeping when it happened. I awoke to violent pounding on my bedroom door, and after the initial fear-based adrenaline dump, I realized that my mother-in-law was outside making a ruckus about tress-passers, and imploring us to let her in. She had a very big gun wrapped in her sweatshirt, and we scattered about trying to figure out what to do.
After deliberating, we chose to call the Sheriff, and learned that it would be 15 minutes or so before help arrived. That’s a long time to wait when shit goes South, and nasty things happen out here all the time. Fortunately, my father-in-law arrived, ever the voice of reason, and walked out into the night, unarmed, to find out what was really going on. So I found myself, shortly thereafter, canceling the cavalry, and helping to tow the probably-stoned-out-of-their-mind kids out of my fallow irrigation ditch. Crisis averted. Gun returned to its proper home under my mother-in-law’s pillow.
This time of year, with Thanksgiving a week behind us and Christmas fast approaching, we often focus on the annoying and obnoxious aspects of family. We don’t like their presents, or their body odor, or how much noise they make when they chew. We bitch about the boring stories, the TV remote gamesmanship, and the leaden, lard-based Christmas cookies. (OK, that was an exaggeration. Lard makes the cookies lighter. Mmmm, pig cookies.)
What’s my point here? Since we’ve been walking upright, family has been the core bond that ensured that our species survived, then thrived, and now is back in survival mode. Our family is our backup, our own personal army, our clan, our blood. I’ve never doubted for one second that if anything ever went wrong, my wife’s Mom would be breaking down the door, gun in hand, ready to kick some ass. And now I know I was right all along. But the funny thing was, there wasn’t any actual danger. Bonnie, in her fear, succumbed to irrational thinking, and imagined the worst of the situation. 30 seconds talking to the kids would have alleviated her concern.
Since the Renaissance, enlightened scholars have tended to focus on our ability, as creatures, to reason. We have the intellect to act rationally, and over-ride our emotional response to the world. So they say. Nowadays, it’s more fashionable, at least within the world of Behavioral Economics, to accept the opposite. Our reptilian brains, the core of our mental functioning, are strong, and we often act in manners not commensurate with our own best interest. Yes, we can think. But we’re animals. And we’re still afraid of the dark.
It’s funny, but after ten plus years of fighting in Afghanistan, we’re still no closer to democratizing the joint. It’s too tribal, they say. Too remote to conquer. Loyalties are always to the clan, and not some faceless bureaucratic enterprise in Kabul. You know why? Because the government doesn’t come rushing to your aid when there are demons at your door. Your family does. Your neighbors. The people right there in your face. Your blood.
Which is why I was so blown away when I slowly, carefully unpacked a pristine copy of Taryn Simon’s new book, “A Living Man Declared Dead, and Other Chapters.” Straight off, I’ll say this book isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, for starters. And it’s so big that it would be perfect for braining an intruder, if you could actually lift the thing to do the dirty deed. So let’s not assume I’m shilling this thing for Ms. Simon, or for MACK, her perfectionist British publisher.
For the project, which was presented as a solo exhibition at the Tate Modern earlier this year, Ms. Simon spent four years traveling around the world, a modern-day-art-sleuth. She’s very good at showing us what we don’t know we wan’t to see, and in this case she focused on the aforementioned issues at the core of our collective human nature: the power of the clan, and the absurdity or our irrationality. Given that the book is so big and well-constructed, I can see future anthropologists giggling over their coffee pills as they look back on our ridiculous manner of navigating through the world.
Ms. Simon divides the book, and the project, in to chapters. 18 to be exact. Each begins the same way, with a grid of portraits of a clan connected by blood, starting with a particular person, and charting their descendants through time. She’s gone around the Earth to bring back the kind of stories that you think nobody could make up, which is why it makes such a fascinating truth. The title refers to a man in India who was declared dead so that several of his relatives could steal his land claim. Another chapter follows the family of a man abducted by the North Koreans, who’ve resorted to finding immigrants by any means necessary. There’s a chapter devoted to Uday Hussein’s body double, a family of Tanzanian albinos, the “perfect” government sanctioned Chinese family, victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the Scottish mother of a set of thalidomide triplets from the 70’s, and many, many more. (Each is separated by a strong piece of beige canvas. Nice touch.)
After the initial grid, Ms. Simon includes evidence-style images connecting the clan to the crime, so to speak. From there, we see larger, individual portraits of every member of the blood-line that she was able to photograph. Though she’s often been criticized for her super-dry style, I found each portrait to be compelling. Which is really hard to do. The book is so large that you think you’d just glance at the portraits, all these strangers an after-thought, but that’s not how it works. Each face is different than the next, and odd in some magical way. When she encountered people she couldn’t shoot, Ms. Simon published blank gaps in the grid, which becomes a powerful visual symbol. The text explains the reason for the omission, be it religious conviction, travel restrictions, or fear of being kidnapped. Of course there’s plenty of text, explaining the stories, making the connections. And plenty of rabbits too. Lots and lots of rabbits. (Her only non-human narrative focuses on the explosion of the rabbit population in Australia, where the creatures are non-native, and the extreme measures taken by the Aussies to kill the little buggers.)
At it’s core, this book feels as much like a science project as an art series. It’s methodical, categorical, and clearly obsessive. (I have a little vision of Ms. Simon ordering lunch in a diner: egg white omelette, cheese on the side, wheat toast, lightly done, butter and jam on the side on separate plates, coffee, not too hot, with milk instead of cream, shaken, not stirred.) We’ve all heard the stories about how August Sander really wanted to photograph every German, broken down into sub-sections, one at a time. It seems as if Ms. Simon has accomplished the root of that dream, by making our craziest realities a proxy for everyone. Her clans, meticulously traced, represent us all. In a time when the worst predictions feed fear of our imminent decline, it feels like an accomplishment meant as much for our descendants as for us.
Bottom Line: Expensive, but worth it