I know that these type of things need to be covered and it’s important for journalists to be there to tell these stories, but I just don’t know if I have the type of stomach, or courage, or brass (or whatever you want to call it) to make pictures of people when they’re going through such rough times.
So before anyone points it out, I’d like to note that this column has thusfar been a bit male-centric. My apologies. Today’s offering is no exception: all dudes. Fortunately, I’ve run through my addictive photo-book stash, and need to hit photo-eye for a re-up. I’ll make sure to find a better gender balance going forward. The collection of books to be reviewed today have a few things in common. All are beautifully produced, cloth-bound hardcovers, and ought to satisfy last week’s commenters who yearn for something less derivative. Lest I be accused of pandering, however, I’ve had these books waiting in the queue for a month or so.
“Ernst Haas: Color Correction” is a gray cloth-wrapped book from Steidl, with bright red text accents jumping off the cover. Mr. Haas, for those of you who are unaware, was a highly influential commercial and editorial photographer (and Magnum member) who holds the distinction of having the first show of color photographs at MOMA. According to the book, he fell out of favor after John Szarkowski took over the MOMA photo department, and his fine art images, or personal work, have not been given proper appreciation until now. So I’d suppose that might be enough of a reason for some of you to grab a copy, given that many of these images have never been seen before. (They went through something like 10,000 slides to make the edit.) But for most of you, it comes down to the pictures, not the backstory. This volume is teeming with extraordinary color images that collectively create a serene, quiet tone, despite the loud and audacious palette. Abstraction plays a large role, but we get to see people, places, and things, all mashed up with reflections and visual obstructions. Personally, I fell in love with a photo of a man holding a pomelo behind his back in on a NYC street, and a poignant little image of an abandoned necklace, nestled on the ground among some dead leaves.
Bottom Line: A Classic Career, Re-imagined
“Joel Sternfeld: First Pictures” makes a great complement to the Haas book. This one is also offered by Stiedl, in white, with a classic 70’s Americana image affixed to the cover. If you think that the title and that photo give you a sense of what’s in store within, you’re right. They do. This collection of photographs was made between 1971-1980, and it shows. The last words in the book’s essay are “This book is a time capsule,” and I didn’t need them to tell me that. It’s obvious. But wow, could this guy find the symbolic moments of that decade that we all love to love. (Yes, that was a Donna Summer reference. Deal with it.) This is a large book with lots of photographs, and like the Haas book, many of which you’ve never seen before. They have a wit, pathos, and dexterity with symbolism that are as enjoyable as the cultural references. A yellow wheelchair chained to a sign post follows an image of a old lady counting her dollars at the counter of a NYC diner, the empty soup-cracker-wrapper catching the light from the flash just so. Then he drops an image of a bunch of cigars and some horned-rimmed black glasses in the pocket of a 70’s polka-dotted polyester shirt. Boom. What a tripych. He closes the narrative with a series of images shot in malls around New Jersey in 1980, (yes, I was looking for anyone I knew) that perfectly anticipates our contemporary fascination with Jersey Shore, while also capturing the spirit of 80’s teased hair and un-ironic mustaches. This book is a keeper, for sure, and I’m sorry I have to return it.
Bottom Line: Unapologetically Awesome
I thought I’d finish up with another set of color images that attempts to take a fresh look at the world. We jump a few decades to the present for “Suburbia Mexicana,” a gray cloth-bound hard cover that was published jointly by photolucida and Daylight books. I’m a big fan of Alejandro Cartagena’s work, and I’m probably at the back of a long line, as he’s been honored by just about everyone for this project. Mr. Cartagena set about to take a closer look at the cookie-cutter, mini-muffin style concrete micro-homes that have sprouted up around the Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, where he is based. (Though the phenomenon exists around Mexico.) The images can be read ironically, like, look at those ridiculous little monsters debasing the environment at the base of some desert Mountain-scape, or earnestly, like, look at what happens when a Third world country begins to develop a middle-class, and people can finally afford a decent place for their families with a TV and indoor plumbing. Regardless, “Suburbia Mexicana” captures the essence of a global movement that has seen the American middle class struggle while hungry, desperate people around the world claw towards a better way of life. Those of you curious to see what’s going on in our neighbor to the South, (aside from the gruesome drug war and absurd permanent spring-break tourist culture) will get a unique vision of an issue super-relevant to our times.
Bottom line: Insightful
Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this feature useful.
I didn’t know if you could have a successful magazine career outside of New York. It was an experiment. It helps to be here. There’s an awful lot of talent here. But one of the things it taught me is that there’s talent all over. We found tremendous photographers all over the South.
Stephanie Rausser’s personal project Kiki & Coco, is an awesome example of how you can use the web and social media to see if there’s interest in something you’ve created then use that demand to evolve the project into other mediums. Also, there’s simply no better way to make a connection to clients than with a personal project, it speaks volumes about your passion for photography.
Rob: Tell me how the project started?
Stephanie: In November 2007 one of my closest friends, Debra McClinton, took her life. Our daughters were the same age and we had become good friends after she assisted me for many years.
I had realized things were bad for her, and I remember after a call in the summer of 2007, thinking something needed to be done – that things had turned for the worse. Three months later it was too late and to this day I have guilt and anguish over wishing I had done more. When we worked together we worked well together and often went on trips, taking turns photographing our daughters and after her death I have had this recurring dream where she moved in with us and we become business partners and photographed every job together.
At the time, I was wrapped up with my business and life and I did not intervene. What intervening would have looked like is hard to say but my choice not to has impacted me. Sometimes things happen in your life and they are an invitation to change things. Deb’s death stopped me in my tracks and it made me start to think differently. Like no other deaths I had experienced, it made me realize how fragile and delicate life is and how important it is to take care of yourself, those that you love, and to slow down. The Kiki and Coco Project came about because it was a way to not only deal with the grief and sadness that followed Deb’s death but also it was a way for me to do something out of the ordinary, something that allowed me to connect in a more meaningful and creative way.
This is how the trip to Paris with my daughter Kiki, and her doll, Coco, came about.
So, when you got back you made a video of the images from the trip (here). What was the response to the video?
The response was great. The French music we found to go with it was adorable and it seemed the images moved people. The video (slide show) was reposted on many blogs. I think too it was the final reason my agent Sarah said yes to working together. We had met many times prior but when I got back from Paris and finished this project, I sent her the video and we met one more time and that is when we started working together. I could tell she really resonated with the Kiki and Coco slide show. After the slide show was created, we designed the calendar, printed 3000, and sent them out to art buyers, art directors, family and friends.
What was the response to the calendar?
The response to the calendar was big and it was predominantly a female response. To this day, four years later, I still get emails from women wanting to know where they can buy the doll.
Moms especially loved the calendar. I must have gotten an email a week for months from moms asking where they could purchase the doll. They would email me and mention that their daughter would love the doll appearing in the photographs but after getting quite a few of these emails I started to wonder if it was really the mom who wanted the doll.
There is now an official Coco inspired doll and is still made and available at http://shop.jessbrowndesign.com/product/coco-inspired-rag-doll
There are also several knockoffs of the doll with the same name.
Another great response to the calendar was the ad jobs that came about. The conference calls with the art directors would start something like this: “I have your calendar and what you shot for it is in the same vein as the project we are doing….” I definitely got several ad jobs as a result of the Kiki and Coco calendar.
How did it evolve from there?
I did two more calendars after “Kiki and Coco in Paris.” One was with Kiki again in Italy (same idea: 20 days away, afternoon shoot every day, a story to tell with the preface to the start of every day being: how do I make my next photo even better and at the same time keep to the parameters of the story I have already created). I sweetened the deal for Kiki and swapped out the doll for ice cream cones, lollipops & popsicles and it was called “Sweet Italia.” Originally I had thought of taking the Coco doll to Italy but as time progressed I realized my daughter was not so interested in being photographed as I had hoped she’d be. I realized it was necessary to raise the ante; to her, ice cream and lollipops were more intriguing as she had a wicked sweet tooth. She gave me her all but after the Italy calendar project she begged me to find another model.
Also, although “Sweet Italia” was beautiful it did not have the same aura, draw, and sentimentality that “Kiki and Coco in Paris” had. I did my last calendar “I left my heart in…” (2011) in San Francisco with my niece, Zeli. Then, in the Spring of 2011, Cameron + Company, a boutique book publisher in Petaluma, CA contacted me to see if we could turn “Kiki and Coco in Paris” into a children’s book. I sent Cameron and Company the roughly 5000 images from what I shot over 20 days in Paris and from those photos they came up with a story that would appeal to children. They pulled their favorites (which I asked to re-edit because they originally wanted the photo to be from the perspective of the doll but the project was shot from the perspective of the girl and the strongest images were about the girl, not the doll) They then wrote a twist to the story that I took photos for and now we have the book, Kiki and Coco in Paris.
How do you see projects like these fitting into the job of professional photographer?
It is so important for a professional photographer to be able to tell a story that engages his or her audience, especially in the competitive and saturated climate today, where images and videos are at every turn.
When you take a big project like what I did in my three calendars, where I photographed each afternoon for 20 days, it is a creative process that is vital to honing your artistic skills. When you are in the midst of a project like this, you are constantly thinking, what tells the story the best? What can I do now that is even more unexpected or unusual within the set parameters – which in this situation with Kiki and Coco was a seven-year-old girl and her obsession with a cute little doll in the beautiful city of Paris. Where do we go next to help tell the story? What could be brought in to make for a funnier photo? What can I do that will make my viewer smile, or even better, laugh out loud? I think doing projects like this makes a photographer a better problem solver on top of the fact that when you are deep in the project, it is one of the most exhilarating places to be as a creative person. The process of narrowing down 14 final images from thousands of images (12 calendar months and a cover and back image) for each of the three calendars I did has been an enjoyable creative process like no other. If I had my way I would still be doing the calendars with kiki every summer in a far away location but it turns out she prefers to be behind the camera, like me.
“they start out serving the wider good and end up serving their own interests” and that they care mostly about “preserving their own position, perks and profit.”
“In all the movies I’ve done, I always worked with a set of rules — they help me to find the tone and the style of the film,” he says. “Art is made of constraints. When you don’t have any, you go crazy, because everything is possible.” He says his previous movies were dictated by rules such as using only one lens, or shooting the entire film at T2.8.
A few weeks back I participated in Santa Fe Center’s Portfolio Bootcamp, a workshop they created to help photographers with their portfolio and portfolio presentation. The beauty of this event for me, was the diversity of the instructors: from editorial, to book publishing to curatorial. I always come away with a better understanding of how the other parts of the industry work. There was a great talk on the artist statement given by Katherine Ware Curator of Photography, New Mexico Museum of Art and Joanna Hurley President HurleyMedia, Co-Founder of Radius Books. You can read a summary on Joanna’s blog (here) which I recommend checking out if you need to write an artist statement.
As I was leaving the portfolio review session I overheard Joanna and Maggie Blanchard, Director of Twin Palms Publishers remark to each other how incredible it was that everyone wanted a photo book published. That stuck with me when I got home, so I decided to email Joanna and ask her “why does everyone think they need a photo book” and here’s her answer:
It’s interesting that in this digital age photographers still want a printed book of their work. They believe having a book will give them credibility as artists, and will open the door to opportunities and recognition with museums, curators and the general public.
That desire for recognition and acclaim is not new; what does seem new to me, looking at this from a perspective of 35 years in the publishing business, is that desire often overtakes perspective, and the sense of where one really is in one’s career as an artist, that is, where the work is, and whether or not it is truly ready for a book. While doing a book at the right time and in the right way can jump-start or revive a career, if you do a book too soon or at the wrong time, and without any kind of creative team behind you (such as a publishing company), then it can look like vanity because there has been no one objectively vetting the work and helping you shape its presentation into a coherent, well-designed narrative.
In our age of instant gratification and immediate communication, it is only natural for people to think that recognition of their talent should be accelerated as well, which can lead to the idea that projects may be ready to publish before they are. This rush to market––or bookmaking––can become detrimental to the development of an artist’s voice, and gravitas, and distract from thinking about and making the work itself. By the same token, the ease of communication and the many venues available to artists for sharing their work online can foster a wonderful dialogue that in the end can deepen and strengthen it.
In the end it boils down to the artist’s sense of himself and his creative process and when it is truly complete for a particular body of work. I do believe that a sense of self-awareness and perspective on one’s work are among the qualities that distinguish a truly great photographer or artist of any kind. I am mindful of a quote by Georgia O’Keeffe in talking about her work painting flowers, “to see a flower takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
Photographers are definitely thinking of photo books in a different way than publishers. The large majority of photographers whom I talk with are relatively oblivious to the constraints under which publishers operate; they see it only from the vantage point of wanting a book and thinking they (and the world) are ready for it. They don’t understand that publishing is a business, so publishers are always looking for what will sell. For the large publishers, it’s generally either going to be a retrospective of a major artist, or a book on a well-known and perennially interesting subject.
The larger publishers operate much more like multi-national corporations (which most of them are), and thus have layers and layers of bureaucracy. It’s much harder for a single editor or even the publisher of a particular imprint such as Bulfinch, which is part of a larger company (Hachette), or even Abrams or Rizzoli (which are also owned by large, European conglomerates) to get permission to take a chance on a relatively unknown photographer or unusual project because of one simple fact: sales. Whereas those publishers need to sell upwards of 7,500 or 10,000 copies of a book to make it work financially for them, a smaller press can be quite happy with sales of 2-3,000––and often the decision to publish at a small press is made by one person.
That is definitely a big difference from the way the business operated when I first entered it. Now it’s the smaller presses who can be more nimble, and can take a chance on the work of an exciting, new talent who is presenting material and process in a new and very exciting way. The editors and publishers of these smaller presses basically act like curators. Their buyers are basically collectors of their books, and often so trusting of their taste, that these publishers can make someone’s career by their decision to publish them, in the same way that a curator can catapult someone to prominence by including their work in a show.
…virtually none of the obituaries mentioned the man Jobs himself considered his hero, the person on whose career he explicitly modeled his own: Edwin H. Land, the genius domus of Polaroid Corporation and inventor of instant photography.
This is the debut of a new column where we talk to pros about their equipment and techniques.
Last week, San Diego–based Nik Software released the fourth version of Color Effex Pro, their popular Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture plugin. Like Photoshop actions, CEP4 allows photographers to quickly combine multiple small adjustments into different treatments or filters. But unlike actions, and even its own previous versions, CEP4 has a stand-alone user interface that makes adding and blending multiple enhancements fast, easy, and intuitive. We spoke with Denver-based adventure sports photographer Lucas Gilman, one of Nik’s beta testers on CEP4, to find out how it integrates into his workflow. Gilman was recently featured on Good Morning America discussing a shoot of Jesse Coombs first descent of Oregon’s 100-foot Abiqua Falls.
Grayson: What does Color Effex offer that regular Photoshop can’t?
Lucas: It allows a photographer who maybe doesn’t know the technical side of Photoshop to make some really nice changes without having to become a Photoshop master. If you know how you want the image to look, it allows you to do that without having to understand layers or masking.
What’s new in this latest version?
It’s a lot faster and incorporates multiple enhancements on an image within one control pane—what they call recipes. In CEP3, if you wanted to use the Brilliance-and-Warmth filter to add a bit of saturation, you’d do that, and if you wanted to add another filter, you’d have to reopen the image in CEP3 and add a second filter. In this version, you can do multiple enhancements. For example, I like the Tonal Contrast filter; it really brings out the detail in things like snow, rocks, and water. Then I’ll add Brilliance-and-Warmth. It creates a nice, pleasing warmth that doesn’t just look like someone popped the saturation up in Photoshop.
So the algorithms here are more complicated than just mixing Photoshop actions?
Under the hood, I don’t know technically how it all works, but from a photographer’s perspective it allows me to enhance color and saturation without it blocking up and losing detail or looking like a blob of color on the screen. You can also save your recipes so you can reproduce them consistently over a body of work.
With software now making it so easy to give photos these looks, what does it mean for photographers who have built their careers on a certain look?
That’s an open question. I mean the iPhone’s Hipstamatic Prints can do a lot of these looks—whether it’s sepia tone or bleach bypass—that people have spent years and years in the dark room perfecting. It means that photographers have to not only be smarter and produce better images constantly, they also have to understand what the visual trends are and how to consistently deliver to clients.
Is this kind of software good for professionals or bad?
The Nik software in particular allows photographers to remain focused photography and not on the back-end work. It allows people to spend their time going out and doing photography and not being a lab tech.
Here are a few examples of photos Gilman has retouched using Nik filters:
I used Viveza (another Nik product that works specifically with color) to build a mask over the reds on the rocks. It allowed me to bring out the detail and contrast in that rock, which was a bit muddy and shaded. Then I added CEP’s Tonal Contrast filter.
I used the Tonal Contrast on that one, again. You choose the range that you’re changing the contrast on. When you change the contrast in Photoshop, it changes globally—in the highlights, midtones, and shadows. With Tonal Contrast, you can select any or all of those three. So I boosted the contrast on the highlights to help the snow pop on the dark sky. And then I went into the midtones to change the contrast selectively [to bring out the lichens on the rocks]. It’s just three different sliders instead of having to mask off those specific areas.
I try to get the white balance right in the camera, but, especially in snow, you’re often left with a bluish cast. I output it as close as I can from the raw format into tif format, but it’s never perfect. Nik has a filter called Remove Color Cast. It’s like auto-white-balance in Photoshop, but this one seems to work. It removes the color cast without changing the exposure. This way, it you’re not losing any data. For snow and watersports, I can’t afford to lose detail in my highlights. But it’s always a battle.
Again I use that tonal contrast filter, which allows me to keep a lot of detail in the rock. That was in a deep dark canyon. Being able to bring out the detail in that rock without changing the contrast globally really helps to make the image work. [This photo was shot] right after a rainstorm and a shaft of light was landing directly on those greens. That’s why they’re almost nuclear. With the Nikon cameras you can also choose custom profiles. I shoot in “vivid,” which is similar to what Fuji Velvia would have been back in the day.
McCullin has spent many years battling the psychological after effects of war, trying to balance the quest for excellence in his work with the horrors he’s witnessed.
“It really messes you up,” he said. “It’s incomprehensible the way human beings can slaughter each other in front of you. And you take it home with you. And it’s like you haven’t cleaned your teeth in several months, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
Three raccoons turned up dead here on the farm in the last few months. Most likely the dogs got them, though I suppose it could have been the coyotes. Coons are surprisingly big, and unfortunately the first was in the early stage of decomposition near where some friends set up a campsite earlier this summer. It made for a pungent evening, and for that I’ve already apologized. Co-incidentally, I got to take a look at a new book, recently released, called “More Cooning with Cooners,” published by the Archive of Modern Conflict in London, edition 500. They gray hardback, (with a black stripe across it like a raccoon’s face) is a collection of images from the mid-60’s, taken by an anonymous American hunter/photographer. It’s a little race of a narrative through a subculture of corn-cob-pipe-smoking, tough looking dudes who hunt raccoons with dogs, and collect the pelts for pleasure, (and presumably the marketplace.) If I had to guess, I’d say this book was published as the equivalent of an ironic mustache, but I don’t care. It’s funny, fascinating, and manages to capture the spirit of a little world that would be otherwise opaque, and lost to time. Of course, if the dogs keep bringing down the coons out here, I might be tempted to start grabbing some pelts myself.
Bottom line: Ironically awesome
Last year, I reviewed a show of Michael Wolf photographs at Bruce Silverstein in New York. The exhibition was broad, and included many a large-scale mega-print, but I was most interested in some small images of Tokyo metro-riders, their faces squished up against the window-glass like an inverted version of pressed ham. The photos are both voyeuristic and intimate, which is no small feat. As a man who left New York partly because my soul was slowly erased by too many hours spent underground, (watching the rats copulate), I relate to something primal in these photographs. But they’re also fantastic as a method of resuscitating portraiture, because you really haven’t seen a group of pictures just like this before. Needless to say, the photos have re-surfaced, in the proper small scale, as a book called “Tokyo Compression Revisited,” published by Asia One and Peperoni Books. The plates are meditative and absurd at the same time, which is a terrific mix. And the back cover features a dude giving the finger to the photographer, which must have happened more than once, right? Think about it. You’re squeezed from all sides by strangers, some salary-man has his armpit smushed up inside your nostrils, and then you look out the window at some gaijin photographer documenting your misery? You’d give him the finger too.
Bottom line: Spot on
Capitalism is built upon the premise of forward progress and growth. And yet, one of the great clichés we have is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s quite the conundrum. Fortunately, the artist Simon Norfolk had the brilliant idea of visiting one of planet Earth’s most recalcitrant places, and at the same time, revisiting a previous photographic vision of a mythic backwater: Afghanistan. “Burke + Norfolk” is a large, navy and gold colored hardcover that was recently released in conjunction with an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, published by Dewi Lewis. First off, I’ve rarely seen an artist work with both color and black and white with equal facility. The contemporary color photos of Afghanistan are striking. But the gem, for me, is the repeated juxtaposition of John Burke’s historical group portraits and cultural landscapes with contemporary images presented in the same faded, weathered style. Rare is the artist that plays with our temporal expectations this well, and in so doing, passes along a strong message: We don’t have things figured out any more than we did a hundred years ago. Societies, and Empires in particular, keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I hope we’ll keep that in mind the next time some asshole like Dick Cheney suggests we invade Iran, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or Mars. Most likely, somewhere with oil.
Bottom line: Innovative
Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this new feature useful.
I’m optimistic because the shift to digital is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink media business models. Once rich content can be distributed globally at virtually no cost on platforms that have billing relationships already established (iOS, Android, Kindle, etc.), we can experiment wildly with who pays and how much.
Chris Anderson, EIC at Wired via Advertising Age.