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Russell Lord NOMA Curator of Photographs Interview – Part 1

- - Art

Jonathan Blaustein: So what’s going on down there in New Orleans?

Russell Lord: We are trying to get all of our schedules organized for the next three years. I’ve been here for about three and a half years, and as soon as I got here, we put a bunch of stuff on the books. I’ve spent most of my time working on those things, and we’re finally caught up and planning for the future.

JB: You hit the ground running, and you’re catching your breath now, three plus years later?

RL: Pretty much. The first show that I did here, which we were already committed to doing, opened less than two months after I arrived. And the first show that I did in its entirety opened less than six months after I got here.

So it was a very quick pace. It’s nice to have a moment to catch your breath.

JB: Basically, you’re saying that at your first opening, the security guards didn’t want to let you past the velvet rope?

RL: (laughing) They were like, “Who’s this guy?”

JB: Who’s this guy?

RL: It’s true.

JB: They don’t say that anymore, I’m sure.

RL: No. I’m no stranger to being here late in the evening, especially with a young child, as you know. Sometimes, the most productive hours are right after their bedtime, and into the wee hours of the morning.

Since I live so close to the Museum, I often come back around 7:30, and work until Midnight. I get a lot of writing done, in the quiet hours.

JB: Well, you’ve already given us one of your secrets, and we’ve barely begun. To be honest, I don’t do that. At 7:30, when the kids go to bed, I turn on the TV and put my feet up. That’s my only break in the day.

RL: I do too, now. But for the past couple of years, that has not been my schedule. I’m grateful to have those moments, alone with my wife, where we’re just able to relax. Preferably with a little bit of bourbon.

For a while there, when I was writing the Gordon Parks book, and when I was writing the forthcoming “Photography at NOMA” catalogue, and the Burtynsky catalogue, those were all things that were written largely on weeknights, between 7pm and 2 o’clock in the morning.

JB: That means if we were to parse your texts carefully, we would probably see a hint of loopiness. The 1am loopies?

RL: I think so. Yeah. Though I did try to temper those with the 9am-the-next-day-check-and-balance.

JB: All right.

RL: Around 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the morning, you do feel pretty confident about everything you’ve just written.

JB: (laughing.)

RL: And then the next morning, you come in and wonder who was in your office the night before.

JB: That’s your friend Mr. Bourbon.

RL: (laughing.) Exactly.

JB: There’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about with you. I think you are almost perfectly primed to give our audience answers to a lot of questions that people have.

We hit the ground running, today, but I’d love to cycle back to some questions about how you got started, and perhaps jump around a bit as well.

RL: That sounds great to me.

JB: I’m sure I won’t get everything right, but your lineage looks something like this: James Madison University, then you worked at the Yale Art Gallery, you went to graduate school at the City University of New York, for your PhD, you worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then you jumped to the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Am I at least mostly correct here?

RL: That’s all correct. The only thing that I will be precise about… you said it precisely correct, but I didn’t finish the PhD. I am, technically, A.B.D.

JB: I D.O.N.T. K.N.O.W. what A.B.D means.

RL: (laughing.) A.B.D is the status that means “All But Dissertation.” It seems to have achieved this pseudo-official status. It means that if you start a PhD program, and you don’t finish the PhD, you may have had an extra six or seven years of schooling that other people don’t, but there was nothing to add to the name.

The A.B.D. status defines someone who has gone through all the course-work in a graduate program, and then usually passed some sort of critical exam, which in our case is an Orals exam. It’s a crazy process where we develop three bibliographies.

One is in your focus area, which for me was 19th Century French and British photography. Another bibliography in your major area, which was the long 19th Century. And another in your related minor, which for me was late 18th and early 19th Century American art.

JB: And by bibliography, do you mean that you have to present a reading list of everything that you’ve read?

RL: Basically, you come up with a list of things, about a year and a half in advance, of what you are supposed to read. And you come up with these bibliographies in consultation with your thesis advisor, and a council of two other professors. At the Graduate Center, this is the way it works.

So I had three professors basically approving the lists that I came up with. And in the concentration area, I believe it was a 10 page bibliography. So we can calculate what that turns out to be in terms of numbers of books, or articles.

But it was substantial.

In the major area, it was about a 5 page bibliography. In the related minor, it was a list of artists that we were expected to be familiar with. You are then responsible to read as much of that as possible.

At a certain date, you show up at the Graduate Center, and go into a conference room with the professors, and they start showing you slides. You have to talk about them, and they ask you questions, in a very directed way, so you can pull in some of what you learned from doing the reading.

What is particularly challenging about this test, is that it is designed to test the depths of your knowledge. So they basically ask you questions about each pair of slides that they’re showing you, until you can’t answer a question. You leave each pair of slides having just incorrectly answered, or been unable to answer, the last question.

You go into the next pair feeling really bad about yourself.

JB: I was quiet for a really long time, and there are so many things I want to say here that my brain hurts.

RL: (laughing.)

JB: I don’t know what to say to that. It sounds like a kind of torture. As opposed to a productive and positive plan of exploration.

RL: It’s a very interesting thing, because I think a lot of people certainly don’t like it. And a lot of people are more adept at other parts of the PhD process. For me, I actually saw a lot of value in it.

It’s a rigorous test, but I really got into this field because I had a great desire to be able to communicate things about art and culture to to a fairly broad audience of people. And I’m always very excited at the most academic things out there.

I’m interested in what people are saying in small, focused, academic circles. I like absorbing that information. But I like even more trying to translate that information for people who would never come into contact with those circles otherwise.

So for me, reading things like all of TJ Clark’s books, or some of the more philosophical writings. Derrida’s work on Art History, for example. And thinking about how to translate that information, and spit it back out and relate it to work. Trying to focus in on those kernels of truth for great ideas, and then bring them back out.

That, to me, is a challenge, but it’s exciting, and I think it’s a responsibility that we all bear. Especially when we decide to go into the curatorial world, because you’re even more a public figure in this world.

JB: I didn’t mean to impugn the acquisition of knowledge…

RL: No, no. I totally knew where you were coming from.

JB: Good. Because we live in the world of the hyperlink, and establishing two years ahead of time, every single book, and only those books, that you will read… it would be like getting a PhD in Jazz and never getting the chance to improvise.

RL: Right. Right.

JB: It sounds a little hollow. But you made so many good points, beyond the little stuff I want to make fun of. Other people who go through that process do it to end up in Academia, and never really stray from a very tight knit community of hyper-experts.

RL: Right.

JB: You knew all along that it was important to you to be able to take this knowledge down from the tower, and start talking to as many people as you could about what you love, and why you love it?

RL: Absolutely. I was aware that in academia, just to get through a PhD program, you are being taught by people who have chosen the academic route. So it’s always interesting negotiating or navigating how much you should make apparent what your goals really are.

However, I worked with several professors at the Graduate Center who were very excited at the fact that I was so committed and enthusiastic about working in the “object” world, and the Museum world.

What was exciting for me was that I got to become a nexus point for them as to where the two worlds might meet. I was just talking to Geoffrey Batchen recently, who was my advisor. He taught a class on 19th Century British photography, and at the time, I was working with Hans Kraus, and Hans let me bring a couple of really early Henneman and Talbot salt prints to class one day.

I remember Geoff saying recently that being in New York was a dream, as he’s since moved to New Zealand. He said, “It was a dream. I had great students, and how many places could you ever teach a class and have one of your students bring in Talbots and Hennemans.”

He was right. There was something really exciting to being in New York, and being surrounded by all these beautiful collections, but for me, there was something also very exciting about having people like Geoff Batchen training me, and being wholly supportive and understanding of what a museum can do, and what actual “object” study can do.

In addition to the book and the theoretical work.

JB: So even when you were immersed in that rigorous environment, you were already thinking about a connection point with a public audience.

I’m guessing it’s because you worked in a gallery environment at Yale. Does everything build upon itself? Or was there a seminal experience at some point in your career where you decided that was the direction you wanted to take?

RL: It was a lot of building upon the previous step, in most of the cases. But there were some defining moments.

When I got to Yale, I had a chance to work very closely with “objects.” I was hired as the Administrative Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and my responsibilities, on paper, were to be the department assistant. I would answer phones, do purchase orders, things like that. And also to take care of the collection.

JB: You were a desk jockey.

RL: Yes, but I would also pull works for study, and put them back. I ultimately ended up organizing classes. But then it moved far beyond that, to turn into a really wonderful opportunity where I got the chance to work with the Director, Jock Reynolds on a couple of exhibitions, and I co-ordinated the publication of Emmet Gowin’s “Aerial Photography” book.

Throughout that four year process, I realized what you can learn from looking at the “object,” and how much the physical qualities of the “object” can have a huge impact on even our theoretical understanding of it. Whatever we might think, or want to say in a general way, can often be upended by the physical properties of something itself.

JB: A print, for example.

RL: Right. So that quickly became a hallmark of my research: what the original “object” can tell us that a reproduction can’t. Ultimately, when I did decide to go to the PhD program, and I was thinking about what I wanted to write about, it started because I was interested in these weird physical objects, early photogravures, which it seemed like not much work had been done on.

And that proved to be true. No one had really explored why people were interested in photo-mechanical reproduction, from the very outset of photography. Nobody had really considered how pervasive
those attempts were. What my research tries to demonstrate is that photography has been written as a history of great images by great artists.

In the marketplace, we fetishize the unique version of each of those things. This is the best print because it looks, in this way, different from all the others. We play down its reproductive qualities, in favor of the uniqueness of the individual object. So the way the History of Photography has been written, to my mind, as I did my research, seemed to be at odds with its origins. Which were largely based in an interest in reproduction.

JB: How so?

RL: At least from Talbot’s perspective. And, even, perhaps, early on in Daguerre’s career, he was interested in the idea of reproducibility. And also the idea of hybridity. We tend to separate photography out as something different from anything else. In its earliest days, it was described as being hybrid. All the words people came up with to define it were themselves usually two roots from different fields, smashed together, like photo and graph.

I could list all the other kinds of names, like the heliograph, the heliogravure, the physototypephysautotype. But I’ll stop there. Niecephore Niepce himself has a page in his notebook where he describes a bunch of different combinations to describe what he’s trying to do. They all have these different roots, and it’s a wonderful exploration in lexicon.

JB: That would be fascinating to see.

RL: Beyond those kind of rhetorical devices, they were creating things that were, themselves, physically hybrid. Meaning, there was certainly a light-sensitive component to what they were doing, but it often resulted in an ink on paper print. Since I had this interest in looking at and showing “objects” to people, I started thinking,

“OK. If you are a person in France or England in the early 1840’s, and you keep hearing about photography, what are you actually seeing? How many people would have had the chance to see a Daguerreotype on display in a shop window, for example? How many people would have seen an actual salt print?”

One of my arguments in my thesis is that more people encountered photography in the photogravure, or photomechanical form, than they did in what wme call its pure form: The Daguerreotype or salt print. They saw prints in ink, produced after those other things, so for them, at a very early moment, there was a confusion as to what, exactly, photography was.

The word came to encompass all of these kinds of practices, and now of course it encompasses even more. It’s things on paper, or printed with ink, or on glass, or on metal. Now, photographs might have no physical, permanent form whatsoever. Things that might exist digitally, and affect and be seen by millions of people, but might never permanently exist.

JB: I couldn’t help but go to the digital world in my head.
It struck me almost immediately, when you were talking about what people encountered, versus what was fetishized… that is today. I think it’s a real problem that a lot of people scratch their heads at.

People’s obsession with the medium, has never been greater. In the last decade, we’ve minted a couple BILLION, or more, new photographers. Without exaggeration. But it seems like the interest, at least in the US, in well-crafted prints in a white frame, on a wall, the boutique aspect of unique objects, is fairly limited.

As you live in New Orleans, we can talk about how certain cultural meccas, at least, are outliers in that trend. I doubt you’ll disagree with me, and I’ll give you a chance.

It just seems like what you were fascinated by, at the onset of the medium, has never been truer than it is today. What’s your take on that?

RL: It’s absolutely true, and accurate, and I agree with that completely. It was, in many ways, an inspiration for my look into the origins. I was really curious about the debates we were having now, but much more succinctly than I just described it to you.

There were all these interesting symposia with titles like “Is Photography Over?” or “Is Photography Dead?”

JB: Right. Of course.

RL: In all of those cases, people usually failed to come up with what “It” is. What they were describing, and what it was that had died. Maybe there are some differences in the physicality of it.

It made me think about the same kind of debates that people were having at the origins of photography, and if you are going to define what it is that is different, let’s say you settle on a material explanation.

Photography was “this,” and now it is “this,” physically. But if you look back through the History of Photography, there’s never been only one kind of photography. There were Daguerreotypes at the same time as salt prints, and albumen prints. Photogravures. Platinum prints.

It’s always been a whole host of different kinds of material things. So why should we try to define photography in any kind of pure, material sense? It’s almost as if the only constant in its history has been change and transformation.

Perhaps, rather than declare things “dead,” or “over,” we should see the digital revolution, which is PROFOUND, as just another step in a constantly evolving field of image-making.

JB: Right. And maybe it’s always been constant that photography has been shunted to the side, or considered distinct from other expressions of art, and other forms of media?

RL: Yes. Absolutely. Again, I think that’s a function of its origins. People said it was “kind of” a form of drawing, but it was drawing that performed itself. There was no human needed. It was auto-genetic, or…

JB: It was science, really.

RL: Yeah. There’s a great thing about the way people describe the process of photography. I mean, Talbot himself published a wonderful book illustrated with actual photographs, called “The Pencil of Nature.” Here we have Nature with a capital “N,” drawing her own pictures. There’s no person needed.

That was certainly one of the key components of photography. People settled on the fact that there was no human intervention, and I think that ultimately gave rise to mistaken beliefs about its truth or accuracy.

But Talbot publishes a treatise, and the title is something like “On the art of photogenic drawing, or the process by which objects may be made to delineate themselves.”

Amazing.

JB: And right now, of course, you’re proving the inherent value of the 10 page bibliography. Because you did read your books, and you have assimilated your information.

RL: (laughing.)

JB: (laughing) If your teachers are reading this…

RL: I think that’s what’s interesting about it is that you need to absorb all this stuff, but your jazz analogy is a really interesting one. It’s almost as if you are a jazz musician who is asked to just internalize the whole history of music, and, in three hours, give an improvisation in which little references to these things come out. You know?

That’s ultimately what it is. They just want to hear how you speak about these things, and how you can package theory or critical statements in a way that relates it to what you’re looking at.

For me, I saw a lot of value in it, and I was really glad that I read a lot of those things. At the heart of it, I’m really just a total nerd. As you can tell.

JB: Everybody can tell now.

RL: (laughing.) And there were so many books that I never would have read that now are some of my favorite books in Art History. And I wouldn’t recommend them for everybody, but for me they were incredibly influential, and I loved the ideas. Thinking about re-staging those ideas, or engaging with them in a new way is something that I’ll probably be doing forever.

JB: People will only read this. We don’t do podcasts yet. But your passion is definitely jumping through the speaker. The readers will have to trust me that you’re fired up and ready to do.

RL: Good. Good.

Murray Riss American, born 1940 Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974 Gelatin silver prints Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

Murray Riss
American, born 1940
Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974
Gelatin silver prints
Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

Murray Riss American, born 1940 Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974 Gelatin silver prints Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

Murray Riss
American, born 1940
Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974
Gelatin silver prints
Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

Murray Riss American, born 1940 Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974 Gelatin silver prints Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

Murray Riss
American, born 1940
Tricycle, Car Ad, and Sneakers, Part of Flying Objects Series, 1974
Gelatin silver prints
Museum purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts, 75.235, 75.236, and 75.237

This Week In Photography Books: Roger Eberhard

by Jonathan Blaustein

I met Bruce Springsteen a long time ago. When I still lived in New Jersey. Back when he was a GOD.

It must have been 1992, or thereabouts. I was working in a restaurant in Sea Bright. Down the Shore. The joint was built right upon a brackish inlet, across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.

I’d heard that Bruce liked to show up in an open-topped red Jeep, with Patti in the passenger seat, and the kids in the back. So I HAD been warned. But still, I was not prepared for what it felt like, being in his presence.

My tenure there was rather short, as I ran my mouth a lot, and made the mistake of allowing someone to buy me a drink in the bar, after my shift. I was patently underage, and they got rid of me as quickly as they could. Not the last time I would be fired, but it stung.

So I was doubly-lucky to be working the night Bruce showed up. I stood in the front, near the parking lot, next to two cute hostesses. Bruce pulled up in that Jeep, and bow-leg-strutted straight up to me. There’s no solid explanation as to why he came my way, instead of talking to the pretty girls whose job it was to greet him.

But approach me he did. My palms were sweaty, like a large man in a steam room, and I did my best not to stammer.

“Of course, Bruce. We have a table for you. Of course. We’d be happy to help you and your family. We’re so glad you’re here.”

“Thanks, kid, thanks.”

“Oh, and Bruce? I’m going to your concert next week. I hate to ask, and hope you don’t mind, but is there any way you’d play ‘Blinded by the Light?'”

“Maybe, kid, maybe.”

He didn’t.

But I couldn’t hold it against him. In fact, that night in the restaurant, I put sugar packets under his table to stabilize it, and filled his children’s ice tea cups when they were two sips below the top of the glass. I was attentive in the extreme.

He didn’t seem to mind. Bruce must have been used to the pure adulation of native Jersey boys. Especially Down the Shore. (That’s the local expression for at the beach, for those of you reading this around the world.)

Sometimes, certain people find themselves sitting on top of a pedestal carved from Carrara Marble. They peer down at the rest of us, uncomfortable at such heights, but seem willing to adjust their balance to keep the seat. (With others, like Michael Jordan, you’ll have to cut out their hearts and chop off their heads before they’ll give up their rightful place atop the perch.)

In the Photobook world, one I’ve managed to cover for you, here, for more than 3.5 years, one name reigns supreme: Martin Parr. I’ve got two interviews that we’ll publish in the coming months, with two genuinely excellent photobook publishers, each of whom agreed that the planet is currently inundated with photobooks. (The streets are flowing with four-color pages, all with photographs embedded in ink.)

That’s the way it is these days. So if you’re Martin Parr, it’s a rather good time to be the King of Photobooks. At least, if you like having lots of subjects. (Long live the King.)

That being said, there are probably more people in Albuquerque who’ve heard of Michael Jordan than there are humans alive who’ve heard of Martin Parr. Our culture still needs a sub- in front of it, if we’re being honest.

So “Martin Parr Looking at Books” is definitely a niche product, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a new photobook by Roger Eberhard, published by B. Frank Books, that shows us exactly what the title claims: Martin Parr looking at (photo) books.

Clearly, this is not for everybody. Especially as the pictures are not-particularly-compelling. Mr. Eberhard gets around that fact by giving us a colorful front-cover, a mirror-metallic inside cover, and a few big-font pages with quotes establishing Mr. Parr’s preeminence.

Then, it’s photo after photo of nothing but what you’d expect, given what I’ve already told you. But it is funny. Not LOL funny, but chuckle and smile funny. Ridiculous. It’s a goof on all of us, yet a good-enough-goof that I’m writing about it.

Some of you have taken to the comment section recently to ask why I’d review a given book, when there are far-more-worthy offerings to discuss. I’m guessing some of you will share that sentiment this week. Here’s the only rule: if it inspires me to write, I write.

Before the close, we’re provided with some blank-lined-white pages, ostensibly to write up our own “Best Photobook of the Year List,” because Lord knows there aren’t enough of those already. Hilarious!

But then again, the pictures are not even special. Party Foul! The end notes tell us they were submitted, or provided, to the artist. It’s a collaborative effort, apparently, stalking Martin Parr, and taking his picture while he looks at books.

One can imagine a sister-publication where Robert Parker is photographed while sipping Cabernet Sauvignon? Seth Rogen smoking blunts? Or Bruce Springsteen, papparazzoed, while chowing down on greasy burgers Down the Shore?

Then end notes also claim that Mr. Parr appreciated the joke. I hope you do too. There are so, so many weeks when the books I write about explore tragedy, destruction, and sorrow. So today, “Lighten Up Francis,” and have a laugh at our collective-photo-geek selves.

Bottom Line: Zany, odd, niche photo book that skews itself, and us

Go here to purchase “Martin Parr Looking at Books”

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This Week In Photography Books: Alexandra Huddleston

by Jonathan Blaustein

Today is Tuesday. The day I’m writing this. Tuesday.

But it’s also Friday. Because that’s when you’re reading it. Friday. Strange, no? The existence of twin temporalities? It’s enough to give me a headache.

Fortunately, that prospective malady will be the only one I complain about today. Because I’m finally feeling better. It only took 3 weeks, but hey, who’s counting?

Today (Friday) is no ordinary day, though. It’s Good Friday, which is holy in the Christian tradition, because it was first holy to the Jews. Jesus’ last supper was a Seder, because he was Jewish, which explains why Passover and Easter always seem connected.

They are.

If you were here in Northern New Mexico today, (Friday) and you drove along the highway, you might see pilgrims walking along the side of the road. There are hordes of them who head from all directions towards Chimayo, where they’ll convene to pray, and commune with the seemingly-sacred healing dirt.

I don’t know much about it, to be honest. But I do know that I’m sitting here in a mostly empty classroom, today, because many of my students celebrate. Some of them are even on a pilgrimage of their own, walking South from Costilla, on the Colorado border, to Questa, 20 miles away.

I should have asked them why they do it, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time. 20 miles is a long stretch, if you ask me. So I’d guess the suffering relates to the nasty business Jesus faced at the end of his life.

People often feel the need to walk until their bodies are begging to give out. To push their flesh to the breaking point, in the hope that their spirits will ascend to new knowledge planes. I’ve been known to drive to the Post Office, a mile away, so I’m clearly not one of those people.

But Alexandra Huddleston is. And she’s a New Mexican to boot. So perhaps we might learn a thing or two from her experience.

I know this having just looked through “East or West: A Walking Journey Along Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage” her new book, published by Blind Cat Valentine. As I said earlier this year, I’m trying to expand my definition of a reviewable book, and this one helps me do just that.

Apparently, in September of 2010, Ms. Huddleston set off on an 800 mile walk around the Japanese island of Shikoku, so she could follow the Buddhist pilgrim’s trail to the aforementioned 88 temples. Her diary entries, which are included within, seem to indicate that she made the trek over 7 weeks time. Which means her feet must have been really f-cking tired, when all was said and done. (Her blisters must have had blisters.)

The intro text also mentions that she completed the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain the year prior, which means 1300 miles all told, in search of understanding in two religions. East and West.

Now, the reason why I’d normally not review this book is that the pictures are not amazing. They’re very good, for sure, but I normally prefer a shade more pizazz. More oomph. More edge.

But they are personal, and in conjunction with the diary entries, which tell tales of poisonous centipedes, Korean monks, and free mochi, I get a real sense of who Ms. Huddleston is, and what she’s searching for in this life.

The book is intimate, and thoughtful, and it feels like something she’s sharing with the world, even though it was really meant for her. A way to flesh out her thoughts, to codify her memories, and to honor her journey.

That’s my takeaway, at least, and I felt that it was worth sharing with you, today (Friday? Tuesday?) so that we could acknowledge the power of other peoples’ beliefs, and wish them well as they pray, walk, and ponder.

Bottom Line: A personal, pilgrim’s journey around a Japanese island

Go Here To Purchase “East or West: A Walking Journey Along Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage”

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This Week In Photography Books: Ingvar Kenne

by Jonathan Blaustein

I often reference movies in this column. Have you noticed? You must have. Otherwise, you haven’t been paying attention.

What’s wrong with you? Why would you bother coming here, every Friday, if you weren’t going to pay attention?

What’s that? You do pay attention? I’m making unfair accusations? Jumping to conclusions based upon spurious assumptions?

I’m sorry. Forgive me. After 17 days of being under-the-weather, I’m grumpier than an alcoholic-undercover-Russian-soldier, fighting in Eastern Ukraine, after the daily vodka ration’s run out.

But I often find a good photo book will make me think of a film, and once the idea’s in my head, the fingers dance upon the keyboard like a Spring Break frat boy trying to impress a bevy of pretty ladies. (Sadly, it’s all in the hips, but most meat-heads are not flexible enough to move them.)

The movie I’ve got in mind at present is “Groundhog Day.”

Such. A. Classic.

Harold Ramis, RIP, had all sorts of Buddhist motivations, but nobody laughs in Meditation group, so he clearly needed Bill Murray’s genius to make this one fly. What a scenario. You wake up every day, and it’s the same day all over again.

How long did it take Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, to turn to a life of crime and perpetual suicide? Not that long. Monotony is a killer, even if you CAN fill your day torturing groundhogs, eating pancakes, or chasing after peak-hotness Andie MacDowell.

In the end, we all learn a valuable lesson, through Phil’s evolution towards enlightenment: Life without growth and change is meaningless. Even fun stops being fun, when that’s all you know. (When you’re trapped in a pleasure prison of your own making.)

Where is this coming from? Clearly, I’m not talking about me, because you already know I’ve been sick for two-and-a-half weeks. No, I haven’t had much fun at all.

I’m thinking, rather, of “The Hedgehog and The Foxes,” a new book that turned up in my mailbox recently, all the way from Australia. It was made by photographer Ingvar Kenne, produced by the MAUD design studio, and forced me to ask the questions, above, for reasons I will elucidate for you. Now.

This book is about the legendary porn star Ron Jeremy. He may be the man living the oddest existence on Earth, or at least, the one with the least-expected life.

Have you ever seen Ron Jeremy?

I’d like to think we all have, but then again, not a safe assumption. Though this is the second book I’ve reviewed this year that delves into pornography, I should probably mention I’m no expert on the subject. But I’ve certainly seen Ron Jeremy’s ugly mug in the past, and I might have even seen his private parts.

The story is that his johnson is so prodigious that he’s had a long-standing career sticking it into various orifices, for money. It was never about his looks, or his sad sack physique. Always, it was about his penis.

Mr. Kenne got to spend some quality time in the presence of “The Hedgehog” as he bounced from one vapid party to the next. He seems to have always been in the company of ladies, some of whom are very attractive. He signs boobs with sharpies, and shoves his hands up women’s pants, presumably at their request.

Through it all, Ron Jeremy exudes an Angst that would chill Vladimir Putin’s soul, if it weren’t already in cryogenic territory. Wow, do I feel bad for this guy. He seems so depressed, amongst the depravity, that I doubt he’s even capable of crying anymore.

Trapped in a world of his own making. A scenario many men would kill for, so I’m told. Getting paid to have sex with pretty women. But I wouldn’t trade places with “The Hedgehog” for all the money in the world.

Kudos to the artist for really showing no boobs or butts or cocks at all. The book is essentially clean, focusing on the emotional tenor of the tale, rather than the dirty goodies. We see the story unfold with lots of black-page-breaks, enhancing the noir quality.

In the middle, Mr. Kenne manages to zoom in and zoom out at the same time, as the contact-sheet-style gives us smaller images, but many more of them. It makes it feel like we’re there for every moment, rather than just the best shots.

There’s a sad poem at the end, which gives words to those emotions. Apparently, all Ron Jeremy ever wanted was to be a serious actor. To be known for his talent, rather than his member. A letter, which the artist included in his packet, states that despite being in each other’s company for close to 24 hours, “no show of human interest and interaction took place between” Ron Jeremy and the artist. (Again, the pictures gave that one away too.)

Apparently, there’s a short documentary video that accompanies the book, and a Limited Edition too, but I’m not sure what they’re about. I don’t want to know, really. Because I need to put on a stupid movie, right now, to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.

Bottom Line: Very well made book that shows us the road to Hell is paved with good intentions

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This Week In Photography Books: Andy Freeberg

by Jonathan Blaustein

I got a lot of good feedback on last week’s review. Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised. Who doesn’t love to read the ramblings of a slightly deranged mind?

It was as if I were Raskolnikov for a few moments. Fleetingly crazy, only without the menace. Who knew what I might say? I could have written the whole thing stark naked, having a laugh at everyone’s expense, and no one would have been the wiser.

This week, however, I’ve moved past the pain-killer phase of this particular illness. As two of my students correctly predicted, it migrated from my throat to my chest. Now, I have bronchitis, which is less painful, but more annoying.

All day long, I’ve been hocking up phlegm.
Cough. Cough. Chest boogers.
Cough. Cough. Chest boogers.

Not. exactly. sexy.

And yet, as I said last week, the trains must run on time. Books must be reviewed. Content must be produced. It is the way of the 21st Century, and who am I to question reality?

(Were I still in the Dostoyesvky-impersonating phase, I might do just that. “The world. It is bleak. People. They are dark, miserable animals. Happiness is an illusion. We are all capable of murder. Why go on living? What is the point? I really should kill myself. Or better yet, someone else. They don’t deserve to live. I hate them. I love them. I am thoroughly confused.”)

Are you confused? Shall I make things less complicated for you?

How’s this? Andy Freeberg’s new book “Art Fare,” published by Sojourn, is awesome and hilarious, in a dry, insider-kind-of-way. He laughs at the type of powerful, humorless people that normally intimidate the shit out of regular folks like us: Contemporary Art Dealers, and their bespectacled minions.

This book requires little explication, which is why it is perfect for today. The pictures below will amuse you, for certain, and allow me to wrap this column up quickly, so I can go back to my obnoxious, Russian-level suffering.

Cough. Cough. Chest boogers.

The pictures were made in the Miami Art Fairs, and feature gallery owners and workers in front of the goods they buy, sell and trade. Not much to figure out.

There are connections between the people and the art, occasionally. Like the guy in front of his own painting, with his wiener hanging out.

But what I really loved was the fact that almost all of these people have adopted the kind of affected, bored-of-the-world, I’d rather check my Iphone than stare at a wall, I’m-better-than-you-are kind of postures. It makes you want to punch them in the face, collectively, but then, not really. They’re just flawed human beings, as are we.

Everyone gets bored, I suppose, and if you stare at the art too long, perhaps your mind will explode.

I’m sure they’re secretly insecure, these Art World Denizens, and trying to fit in, like the rest of us. So they wear faded black T-shirts, like their buddies do, and pretend not to care. (Like their buddies do.)

Bill Hunt, who writes an essay, is also featured in a photograph, at his former gallery Hasted Hunt Krautler. In fairness, his pose affects no such ennui. (Which really ought to be a Russian word, instead of French. Don’t you think?)

He ends with Chuck Close, in his wheelchair, looking at an Andy Warhol “Soup Can” on the wall. What a great way to “close” a book. Perfect, really.

Blaustein out.

Bottom Line: Hilarious, well-observed investigation of the Art-World-Gorillas in their natural habitat

To Purchase “Art Fare” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Carolyn Drake

by Jonathan Blaustein

I didn’t sleep well last night. Forgive me if I ramble on. I’ve got no other options.

That’s the thing with a weekly column. The deadline is always there. Over the years, you learn to live with it. Rather than a demarcation of stress, the looming responsibility becomes a comfort, as my young daughter always clings to her fuzzy pink blanket. (Which she calls Cokie.)

It’s been years now, that I share my musings and life experiences with you: the nameless audience. You’ve been around for my ups and downs. As I write, some of the downs come back around again, like a decrepit ferris wheel in a faraway carnival.

The cages creak, in need of oil. The rust has overtaken the paint. Soon enough, it will all be a cacophony of textured brown. Like the desert, if it were only slightly darker in color.

Why didn’t I sleep last night? Because I’ve caught one hell of a wicked virus. The kind that makes my throat feel like a thousand tiny knives are puncturing my skin, every time I swallow. I had one of these bugs a few years ago, and wrote about it then. (Do you remember?)

Now, I’ve gotten another. Not two seconds ago, I swallowed, and the scratchy pain flooded my brain with cortisol. Yet the ferris wheel keeps spinning, and the book pile looms in the background, filled with goodies about which I expound, for your pleasure, every week.

What about today? Can you tell that I’m half-bonkers? Does it matter? What if I found a book, on my very first try, that matched my loopy mood perfectly, like yin abuts yang, forever in harmony?

Would it be possible? What would such a book look like?

I’m glad you asked.

“Wild Pigeons” is a new book by Carolyn Drake, recently produced by Colour & Books. That is was one of two books in my stack with pigeons in the title seems beyond coincidental. That it is the second book in a week that dares to “Put a Bird on It” is less surprising, as there would not be a cliché, there would be no smoke, without the fire.

I didn’t know it was Ms. Drake’s book though. Her name, and the title, are on the spine only, and I didn’t bother looking. So all I got was three white birds on a white cover. Honestly, such a book could be about anything. Presumably birds, but last week’s bird book was about the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, so I was curious.

Oh yes.

It opens with a section of pages that are shorn shorter than what will come later. Two text pages greet us, the second states “I cannot tell if I am dreaming or awake.” Which is exactly how I feel at the moment, hopped up on honey tea and pain killers.

Then, we see a grave, below prayer flags, in a desert. After, a portrait on a wall: four boys with their heads covered with a certain kind of hat, like a yarmulke, only bigger. Then, more desert. And more desert still. A brown-skinned man on a motorcycle. A woman on the ground. A boy perched upon wires, tied by rope to a man on the ground.

Where are we? What is going on?

Time to guess, I thought. I supposed we were in Central Asia, though Mongolia did pop in my mind as well. Not enough grassland for Mongolia, though. We see headscarves, and farmers, yet lush things grow as well.

The words “fever dream” popped into my head, but that’s really not a phrase I ever use.

We get to the wider pages, and the orientation shifts entirely. You flip the book sideways, and are met with collage images. Some have text written on them. It is trippy, this book, and I like it very much. Very much indeed.

At some point, I see the word Uyghour, and then it makes sense. The asiatic features. The vast deserts. The head scarves. We are in Western China, I realize, and it has all been hinted at perfectly, so far.

Eventually, the pages shrink again, and we are back to straight photography. Apple carts, and pit bulls lunging. Cow throats slit in the streets, blacksmiths, and billiard games too. There are still blacksmiths in 2015? (Of course, silly American. Of course.)

Holy shit. This book is wild. If I were in a normal state of mind, I’m sure it would induce a sort of temporary insanity. As I am already temporarily insane, I feel like this book was made just for me.

The pages widen again, the orientation flips. Again. And now the photographs are at night. The close of the story. When the bats fly, and trouble canvasses the streets like a beat cop trying to avoid boredom.

Eventually, we reach the end text. A long story, translated for our benefit. A statement by the artist, who explains that the collages were her way of getting the local Uyghurs in Xinjiang to participate in her project. Anonymously. (She spent years visiting the place, and dug deep into the culture.)

Stranger still, there is a brief interview between the artist, an old grandfather, and an interpreter. Why is it stranger still? Because it’s printed on the back cover.

Somewhere, the ghost of Jack Kerouac is reading this review. He is judging me, and unfortunately, I’ve come up short. (“Listen, man. I get the vibe you’re grooving for. I do. I do. But it doesn’t feel quite right to me, man. Like, maybe you were trying too hard? Or maybe you weren’t on enough drugs? You know what I’m saying? The book though… it’s pretty hip. Hip, man. Hip.”)

Bottom Line: Amazing, innovative, mind-altering book made in the true hinterlands of Earth

To Purchase “Wild Pigeons” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Rinko Kawauchi

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m glad they call it Climate Change these days. (Instead of Global Warming.) Makes more sense that way.

At first, I thought it was a euphemism, meant to seem less-threatening. But then I realized that despite the fact that something like thirteen of the fourteen hottest years on record have come in the 21st Century, it’s really the preponderance of extreme weather that will get people’s attention.

Nothing shakes things up like death statistics.

When the Climate Changes, we get things like what’s going in Boston. Where the snow is higher than Bob Marley at 4:20am, the night after a Reggae Festival in Kingston. (And have you heard the Marley family is getting into the legal weed business? Genius!)

As for Taos, we spent most of the winter enjoying unseasonable 55 degree days. Two weeks ago, I took my students shooting around campus, and they were all wearing T-shirts. Again, this is the Rocky Mountains, for goodness sake.

But last Friday, OMG. Winter came roaring back like a kiln-fire surrounded by hippie potters. It was raging. We had a four-day blizzard for the first time in I can’t remember. It was so beautiful. Outside my door, everything looked like a Japanese Landscape Painting.

So. Very. Quiet.

What do you do during a four-day-snowstorm? Right. Watch movies.

We caught “Chef,” a really poor Indie film from Jon Favreau, of “Swingers” and “Iron Man” fame. I’ll spare you my treatise on why it was both implausible and hollow. What really got my attention was the manner in which Favreau, as the titular Chef, was driven to temporary insanity by a particularly difficult online critic.

All I could think was: been there. It’s hard for me to believe how personally I used to take the comment section criticism here. It was always so cruel and personal. Still, I cringe thinking about how angry I used to get at those anonymous trolls.

Now, we moderate. Keeps the discourse civil, though there’s rarely any discourse at all. The past two weeks, though, I noticed that someone questioned my choice of book, as I’ve been trying to vary my selections a bit. Both comments were civil, open-hearted, and thoughtful. So I replied.

You don’t have to agree with me. But if you have an intelligent thought, and take the time to share it with me, I’m willing to write back. Frankly, it was all I ever wanted. Conversation is interesting. Hate? Bo-ring.

But what did I promise you last week? That this week’s book would be right in the eye of the storm. The average, normal, medium-type of book that I often review.

What would that look like? Talented artist. With other books to his/her name. Respected career. Political and/or relevant subject matter. Handsomely produced. Most likely not from the United States.

Right?

Right. Here we go.

“Light and Shadow” is a new book by Rinko Kawauchi, recently published by Super Labo in Japan. I’m always asking for books that tell us what we need to know. Preferably though the pictures, but that type of communication can be difficult.

This book does just that. It’s clean, spare, and white, with a picture of a bird on the front. (Put a bird on it.) As befit’s Ms. Kawauchi’s style, the first few pictures are in color, and well-composed. The second photo has sun flares that look like emoji. (Is emoji a Japanese word? Must be, right?)

If you look carefully, the next two pictures reference rubble, seen from afar. Then, we get two inserted pictures of birds, the first of which clearly shows them soaring over a garbage heap. Broken down wooden things.

First thought, I love that the inserts look like 4×6 pictures from Walgreens. (Or its Japanese equivalent.) Second thought, earthquake damage?

The book continues in this manner. A broken street, rendered in twilight blue. A bright yellow dandelion spouting up out of a patch of green grass. The next time we see the bird inserts, there are three photos instead of two.

Growth. Change.

There is more rubble. More flowers. More light flares. More twilight blue. A pink balloon. And a dog roaming the streets to boot.

Even with our short-news-cycle-attention span, it’s not hard to connect this to the Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Disaster phase that hit Japan a few years ago. Almost any viewer would connect the dots.

There is a short statement that confirms what is by then obvious. And the back page states that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to disaster relief. Which is a good thing. Because while I never look at prices, I happened to notice this one sells for $80. You can feel good about spending that, if you want one.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, haunting photos of Japan, after the quake

To Purchase “Light and Shadow” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Andrew Macpherson

by Jonathan Blaustein

I watched “Breaking Bad” for a little while, but then had to I quit. Cold Turkey. No more Heisenberg blue meth for me.

No sir.

I was doing a Netflix-binge-watch-thing, and made it into the beginning of Season 3. Darker and darker went the ride. Darker and darker still.

All of a sudden, after one more adrenaline dump, it became clear to me. There is no happy ending here, only a vortex of misery. Redemption is not interesting to Vince Gilligan. He’s just hooking people, deeper and deeper, so that the whole show
becomes a metaphor for addiction.

This train only runs in one direction, I thought, and it’s time to get off. Now. Before this shit gets any darker. Darker and darker, like the moonless night sky. That’s what’s ahead.

I don’t regret my decision, despite the near-universal-plaudits of the later era, and the mass-American-hysteria that accompanied the final season. It seemed like everyone but me was emotionally invested in the outcome, and that was just what I had planned.

That said, I’m completely in love with “Better Call Saul,” the newly introduced spin-off. First of all, Big Shout Out to Bob Odenkirk, who is brilliant. I know he gets plenty of props, but add mine to the list.

And having just been in Albuquerque the other day, it is oddly satisfying, as a New Mexican, to see scruffy Burque bathed in the glow of good camerawork. It might not be as warm and fuzzy as a breakfast burrito from the Frontier, smothered in scathingly spicy chile broth, but it comes close.

The story, if you’re not familiar, covers the backstory of Saul Goodman, Mr. Odenkirk’s character from “Breaking Bad.” Turns out he used to be a small-time hustler named Jimmy McGill. At what point does he adopt his new persona? His alter ego?

I don’t know.

They’ve just finished Episode 4, and most series like this take years to unfurl, like the American flag once had 13 stars, and then more, and more still. Hell, New Mexico didn’t even become a state until 1912, so they were adding stars for more than a century. Each time, making the previous flag irrelevant. Or, more likely, a very expensive collectible.

Even when you adopt a new identity, you’re mostly altering your name, at first. Authenticity takes time to develop, like a good green chile stew. We cook ourselves to condense the flavor, and build up complexity. Bit by bit.

Why am I waxing philosophical about such things today? (As always, good question.) It’s because I’ve just finished looking at “Pink: 10 Years,” a new book by Andrew Macpherson, published by Bravado. As I said last week, readers are sending me things these days, and this one popped up in my PO Box a little while ago.

It’s about as different from what I normally review as you can get, but I think that’s a good thing. As far as I know, Pink started out as a girl named Alicia, who could sing really well. I think maybe she’s from Pennsylvania, but you know how much I hate Googling things to be sure.

Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of her work, nor have I gone out of my way to dislike it. She’s a massive Pop Star, so her music isn’t meant for the likes of me. She has a great voice, I know, and a rocking body too.

What else can I tell you?

Well, no one knows this, but before my wife and I moved to Brooklyn, in 2002, we spent 6 weeks criss-crossing Mexico by bus.
We ended up in Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo, in the middle of summer. It was hot as a bowl of habañero salsa. Your eyelids wanted to melt into your eyeballs, each time you walked down the Quinta.

When we weren’t in the ocean, we stayed in our hotel room, air condition cranking, watching TV and reading books. My wife would certainly be shocked to know I’m sharing this seemingly random detail, stolen from the bowels of my memory, but she spent hours at a time watching music videos, mostly in Spanish, which she doesn’t speak, to catch a Pink song, each time they brought it back around.

She might not remember that at all. And it would probably take me a fair bit of time on YouTube, which didn’t exist back then, to figure out which link to post here. So I won’t. (Update: Jessie confirms the story, and claims she was interested in “Get the Party Started” because it had a killer dance number.)

As for the book, it’s vibrant, and snappy, filled with well-made publicity stills, album covers, and behind the scenes concert shots. There is a running commentary, by Mr. Macpherson and Pink, which gives their current take on things that happened years ago.

Inspirational statements are graphically imposed, from time to time, and they all reflect a vision of positivity and hard work.

As for the pictures? I was mostly taken by how clearly Pink was “faking it until you make it,” in the beginning. The tongue came out, and the hair was bleached. True. But there was no gravitas in her expression, early on. No piercing intelligence behind the eyes.

More than once, contemporary Pink refers to her former self as a “baby,” and you can see why. She may have been captivating America’s teen-aged girls, and building a brand, but she was still figuring herself out.

As the book goes on, you think it’s going to be gradual, but really, it’s not. You reach a certain page, and there it is. Strength and confidence appear, like a black-hatted bad guy on the horizon. Soon after, we see her daughter. The baby has become a mother, and any and every parent can relate that feeling.

(“If I don’t grow up now, on the double, I’m going to ruin this little human, and that is one mistake I can’t allow myself to make.”)

There was one detail that really stuck out, like the shocking neon pink of the page edges. Pink shares that when she first wanted to sing and do acrobatics at the same time, her trainer was dubious. So Pink instructed her to punch her in the stomach, repeatedly, while she sang.

Can you imagine thinking of that, much less asking someone to do it to you? Totally. Fucking. Insane.

But I suppose that’s what it takes, if you want to become a Global Icon. A One-Named Brand. A color: personified. (My young daughter’s favorite color, incidentally. Like every other two-year-old girl on the planet…)

OK. We’re done here. This book is not like everything else I review. And last week’s book was about as typical of what I normally cover as you can get. So I guess that means next week, we’ll end up somewhere smack in the middle.

Bottom Line: Glossy look inside the evolution of a Pop Star, and, a human being too.

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This Week In Photography Books: Dafy Hagai

by Jonathan Blaustein

I got a fat stack of books in Santa Fe the other day. Fresh meat. Yum yum.

I never know what I’m going to get, when I re-up at photo-eye. If it’s new, I’m willing to look at it. And these days, people also send me things, so that opens up new worlds of possibility.

As such, I’m wondering if it’s time to be a shade more discriminating in what I review, like a coin collector who won’t spring for just any old piece of silver. (“Excuse me, Bertram, but if you think I’m going to pay $2 million for an 1875 Buffalo nickel, you must be smoking the super-skunk.”)

The first book I reached for today was a Thomas Struth number made in Israel; part of the “This Place” project that I’ve mined for content on many an occasion. Struth? A German in Israel? It’s got to be good, right?

Well. I guess. If you’re into boring pictures.

I hate to throw another photo legend under the bus, but there you go. I’m sure he’s going to read this and have a good cry, but I’m no hater. When the man was good, he was genius, so we’ll always have the old days.

Co-incidentally, the very next book I grabbed, seduced by its snappy blue-on-white color palette, was also made in Israel. Now, I’m sure some of you will think that I have a predilection for such things, as I’m known to be Jewish. But I assure you, I’m as keen to see what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan, Kathmandu, and Kuala Lumpur.

As it happens, this book, the second one I grabbed with grubby hands, like a drunk frat boy reaching for one more In’n’out burger…it’s a doozy. And not necessarily in a good way.

Some weeks, I write about shit you’ve never seen before. Other weeks, like last Friday, I try to highlight really smart and innovative offerings that you might actually want to buy. And then there are the columns, like this one, where you might get agitated.

Consider yourself warned.

“Israeli Girls” is a new book by Dafy Hagai, recently published by Art Paper Editions, in Ghent. I’m writing about it now, because I’m so darn confused. Sometimes, seeing the words pop up on screen helps me suss out my thoughts. (That so many people are reading the results is almost ancillary.)

What’s my favorite catch phrase, beyond “The 21st Century Hustle?” That’s right: Boobs Sell Books℠. They must, or photographers wouldn’t insist on jamming them into their narratives like a Tokyo salaryman wedging onto the subway at rush-hour.

This book is one where, after the very first picture, of a young woman flashing her tennis-skirt-covered tush like a baboon in heat, I knew the boobs were coming.

Sure, the title, “Israeli Girls” hints at the subject: Israeli Girls. But, I thought, there has to be more to it than that? Not long ago, I wrote about Christopher Everard’s meticulously researched investigation of the pornography industry. Billions of dollars are spent helping people get their rocks off.

Does anyone really buy a photobook for that, when they can get it for free on the Internet, minus the classy production values? Or for $39.99 from Vivid Video, with more bells and whistles? Does it matter that these girls are Israeli? As opposed to Dutch? Or Californian?

The book features kind-of-edgy pictures, and we could whip out the Balthus reference, though these young women seem to be of proper age. But I don’t know anything about them, because the book lacks any supporting text at all.

It’s just a bunch of pictures of pretty girls, made in an arty style. Yes, there’s a pink tennis visor on a children’s slide. And when the boobs come, they’re accompanied by under-arm hair, which I’m sure is meant to counter-balance the traditional notions of beauty.

But I’m just not sure what to think. Is this book the equivalent of an ironic mustache, one of my all-time pet peeves? If you want to grow a mustache, grow a f-cking mustache, OK? Don’t pretend that you’re better than your mustache, and you’re only wearing it to make fun of every other tool who wants to look like a 19th Century barkeep. (“May I offer you gents a libation this fine afternoon?”)

If you like pictures of pretty girls, fine. Go for it. Get a job at Playboy, and shoot boobs to your heart’s content. More power to you.

But this book wants to have it both ways. So why am I writing about it? Because I’m annoyed that it’s crawling around inside my head. I don’t know much about VICE, though I’m aware it’s become a Billion Dollar Brand. Is this book made for VICE guys? Or has VICE become respectable these days?

Again, I don’t know, because there is no essay, no titles, no rambling narrative meant to give me so much as a clue. Just some pretty Jewish girls, seducing the camera with their pouty lips and firm flesh. (On general principle, I won’t show you the boob shots, as a faux-protest, but I’m just too wound up not to write about this one.)

OK?

OK. I’m done here. You might hate me for taking up your time to discuss a book I only like “ironically,” or you might thank me for giving you a properly pretty diversion on what’s likely to be a frigid Friday.

Either way, see you next week. (Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.)

Bottom Line: Odd, mysterious, and probably vapid book about pretty Israeli girls

To Purchase “Israeli Girls” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Sugimoto/Misrach

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve been watching a lot of John Wayne movies lately. I was always a Clint Eastwood guy, so I’d never really understood the Duke, until recently. It’s stupefying to discover the way one man stood as a symbol for an entire nation.

John Wayne captures the rough, charismatic, violent and patriarchal vibe that permeated the US in the post-WWII years. If his middle name were actually Manifest Destiny, would anyone really be surprised?

He led with his big, hamhock fists, and we all needed to trust that he knew what he was doing. He was John Wayne, after all, a facade built upon poor Marion Morrison, just as our fair country was crafted upon the bones of a conquered race.

I even read a quote in which Mr. Wayne said he had no problem with the fact that America stole all this land, because the Native Americans weren’t using it properly. For real. I read that. (Though in our suspicious Internet age, I guess that doesn’t mean he said it.)

I was discussing my newfound fascination with a friend of mine just after Christmas. Iván was my professor in graduate school, and he studied film at NYU. He agreed that John Wayne represented America during it’s reign as the big-swinging-dick-World-Power, but suggested he had been supplanted by another fictional hero for the post-Vietnam era: Forrest Gump.

We had a good giggle at first, because it’s hard to even believe how much everyone cared about Forrest back in the nineties. (Run, Forrest, Run.) But afterwards, he said he was dead serious. Forrest was a bumbling, compromised, win-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth, trust-in-the-luck-of-the-Universe kind of guy. Nobody thought he was a real superhero, but he managed to turn out OK.

These days, Forrest Gump seems quaint to the point of irrelevance. We like our heroes ironic and snarky, like Robert Downey Jr, beefy and dim, like Channing Tatum, or not-even-American, like Chris Hemsworth and Michael Fassbender. And as for Forrest, he’s been relegated to the cultural dustbin.

He did leave us with a few words to live by though, didn’t he? “Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.”

How can you argue with Forrest on that one? You can’t. Especially when, like me, you’ve just opened up a plastic sleeve to find “Assignment No. 2: Sugimoto/Misrach: San Quentin Prison,” published by TBW books in Oakland.

My first thought was very 21st C: WTF?

You find what looks like an institutional file folder, replete with a water stain up top, and a red ink smudge closer to the bottom. It sits there, that red ink stain, judging me. The more I look at it, the more it resembles a tornado.

Open it up, and the left side has a succession of names, including those two aforementioned art stars. Then, on the right, we see a statement claiming that an essay, to follow, was written by a prisoner in San Quentin named Michael Nelson. Whatever we’re to read was apparently written while he was in solitary confinement.

They had my attention all along, but now my eyebrows have stood at attention like a Guantanamo prison guard. What are we about to see, I wonder. And will it be filled with facts about the tragic, embarrassing incarceration rate in this country? It is to be an essay that makes us question how such a dilemma came to pass?

No. Not at all.

Flip out again, and you’re staring a sheet of lined, yellow paper, with text handwritten in blue ink. Or so it seems. I’ve seen enough photobooks to know that it’s a high grade reproduction, but still, it’s interesting.

The flap on the righthand side states that all the proceeds of this publication will go to support the prison education programs that spawned this project. Things begin to fall into place.

The first page of the essay is a letter, in which Mr. Nelson apologizes for missing class, as he cannot attend in his current circumstance. He wonders if he’ll be able to achieve full credit, while locked up by himself in what must be some form of hell.

Again, can I get a WTF?

Open the last two flaps, and we see a reproduction of a famous Sugimoto picture from his movie theater series, and a photo of a drive-in movie theater screen from Misrach’s seminal “Desert Cantos” work. We’re looking at two examples of seminal work from the 20th Century.

Flip up the first page of the yellow-paper-stack, and we find a thoughtful, well-written essay that compares and contrasts the two images. It’s a copy of an actual prison class assignment from 2011.

Wow.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my day, and a lot of books in the 3.5 years that I’ve been writing this column. But I’ve never seen anything like this.

The essay is smart, but takes a turn towards poignant when Mr. Nelson alludes to his own situation in life. The metaphor of a world changing beyond recognition, seen in the pictures, also seems well-chosen, for someone living on the inside.

At the end, we get a page that explains a bit more about Mr. Nelson’s background. Jailed for murder at 15, 17 years into a 25 year sentence. Like many a good Bay Area liberal, he’s found himself working within the system to help others.

His info is followed by straight bios for Mr. Misrach, Mr. Sugimoto, and Mr. Dertinger and Ms. Poor, who both teach at CSU Sacramento, and work with prisoners as well. It was a rare mis-step, I thought, the conventional bio page in a production this original. Good information to have, of course, and smartly placed, when your curiosity is at its peak…but then, we all have bios. (One more piece of PR that makes us feel like we’re products to be bought and sold, in lieu of our prints and services.)

Regardless, I hate to quibble, as this is a very inspiring piece of work. Definitely one to buy, as your money will serve others, and this feels like something rare that people will look back on, down the line.

Bottom Line: Incredibly innovative production

To Purchase “Assignment No. 2: Sugimoto/Misrach: San Quentin Prison” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Stephen Gill

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s Thursday, which means this column is due later today. Unfortunately, the writing will be sub-standard. We all know things are better once they’ve had some time to marinate, whether it’s pictures or words or chicken teriyaki.

My apologies. It couldn’t be helped. This has been one crazy mother f-ing week, and last week was just as challenging.

Have you ever found yourself in a phase where you were forced to stand by your words? When it seemed like the Cosmos was waking up each morning with the express intention of testing you to your core? Checking whether you actually had the stones to follow through on a promise?

Welcome to my world.

Yesterday was one of the hardest days I’ve had in a while. It began at 6:30 am, with a prompt wakeup by my ever-energetic son. Lots of errands, paying bills, getting the kids off to school. Then I had to teach a class. (Got a new student, too, so it was back to square one.)

From there, still more errands, then a trip to Santa Fe to drop off a picture for a show, and pick up more books with which I can entertain you. (We hope. I always wonder if I might have a day where I’m more obnoxious then helpful.)

Then, and only then, did I drive to Albuquerque to be interviewed for a PBS television show about my project “The Value of a Dollar.” I’d sworn to the producer at the outset that I’d be helpful, relaxed and engaging. The perfect subject, I assured her.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “No matter what, I’ll be low-maintenance.”
(Cue the ominous foreshadowing music in your head.)

The shoot went well, and then after a quick beer with a friend, I drove the nearly 3 hours back home at night. The big moon lit the road, but I was too busy trying not to have my brains fall out of my ears to notice its beauty.

I’m done, I reminded myself. Done. I did it.
It’s over.

The phone rang early this morning, and I missed the call. I noticed the 505 area code, and realized it was the aforementioned producer. Calling to congratulate me, I wondered?

No such luck. It seems one of the cameras wasn’t working right, and we have to shoot the whole interview over again. I took a deep breath, smiled, and told her “No problem. I’ll do even better the next time.”

Inside, my soul was crying like an inexperienced actor. Deep, overly-emotional sobs, with a shaking chest. But I pretended not to notice, and just got on with being a good sport.

It’s one of those core life lessons, I think. If you do the hard work, and push yourself, your life will be richer, and your pictures will improve too.

Some of those lessons, once learned, are hard to unlearn. With respect to photography, one of the classics I picked up years ago was to try to put the camera in odd and unexpected places. (I tell my beginning students that every semester.)

Be creative where you put the camera. Up high, down low, and into the randomest corners you can find. In fact, I said it just yesterday, to that new student. His classmates concurred, assuring him they’d already stuck their cameras inside nasty holes in the wall, into the musty innards of their school’s structure.

They loved the resulting pictures, and encouraged their new colleague to do the same.

Because as many of us know, when you stick the camera into wacky places, you never know what you’ll find. (Or what boring subject the camera will transform into a bit of ephemeral magic.)

Such is the case with “Pigeons,” a new book by Stephen Gill, published last year by the Archive of Modern Conflict in London. Now, I know that bird pictures, and bird books, are something of a cliché. Like I’m always saying about boobs, birds also sell books.

But we’ve never seen a bird book like this one. Oh no. I’m quite confident of that. Because Mr. Gill stuck his camera into some pretty nasty and dodgy crevices. Under girders, around steel beams. Up where these grayscale flying rats reside, when they’re not busy pooping on statues and cooing you to sleep at night.

While I might have gone out of my comfort zone with last week’s book, this one is right in line with what I normally like to show. It’s innovative, strange, and likable in it’s funky ugliness. A great idea, well executed, will always grab my attention.

The use of shallow depth of field is strong, as it highlights the awkward textures inside the birds’ nests. You almost feel the cold and damp, but in a good way. (It won’t make you Siri up the EasyJet website to see how cheaply you can get to Sevilla next Wednesday.)

Personally, I hate vermin. Some mice have just eaten the wiring to my car’s speedometer for the second time in a few months. It’s going to cost me a couple of hundred bucks to fix. Little bastards.

Pigeons I don’t mind so much. Probably because we don’t have any here in the mountains. (And if we did, we’d likely call them doves.) I get to look at magpies, ravens and eagles instead. Now I’m wondering what their homes look like, and hoping some enterprising photographer will show me where they hide.

Bottom Line: Very cool look inside pigeons domiciles.

To Purchase “Pigeons” Visit Photo-Eye.

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

Sarah Silver Interview

- - Photographers

Jonathan Blaustein: Your bio states that you were born in Tokyo, but your parents are American?

Sarah Silver: Yes, my parents are American. My father was teaching there at the time, but he’s been working internationally for years, and is currently based in Sydney.

I basically spent my entire life visiting him, though I grew up in Chicago. I traveled extensively as a kid.

When I was finally able to make an adult choice as what to do, I spent a year living in the Middle East, while I was studying at Vassar for my undergrad.

JB: Vassar? My wife went there.

SS: To Vassar?

JB: Yeah. But I won’t date you. If I ask you what year you graduated, I’m automatically dating you. So I’m not going to do that.

SS: OK.

JB: What was your college experience like?

SS: I was a very serious student. I spent a lot of time in the library doing homework. I think I was one of those students that took every assignment and said, “Yes, I completed it 100%.”

But every minute I wasn’t studying, I spent in the darkroom at school. At the time, Vassar didn’t offer a photography department, so I pretty much created classes and taught them to students. While spending every waking free moment printing.

And inhaling chemicals.

JB: Which may or may not have anything to do with your…

SS: …current state of mind? My grandfather was a baby photographer in Michigan from the 50’s through the 80’s. He had a darkroom in his basement, and my earliest childhood memories are of printing with him.

He would show me how to vignette baby photos. My coloring books, all through growing up, were black and white pictures, and I would take the oil pencils to draw onto them. He showed me how to change the color of things. I always though it was fun to make the colors unrealistic.

When I told my grandmother I was going to become a photographer, the first thing she thought was, “Oh God, not those stinky chemicals.”

JB: (laughing) Little did she know, the digital revolution was just around the corner.

SS: When I was coming up through grad school, I had the choice of going straight digital, or keeping with film. It was still that time when you could have a choice. Now, it’s not even a conversation.

I was a big nerd anyway, so the digital darkroom was something I was always a fan of. Luckily, no chemicals for me.

I went to grad school at SVA, and spent all the rest of my waking hours printing color. Which is really fun, except you’re completely in the dark.

JB: I feel you. I did a stint in a chromogenic darkroom as well. And what about after school? How did you get into fashion in particular?

SS: I started working as a photo journalist in the Middle East. That year abroad, at Vassar, I worked for a not-for-profit organization in Israel that would send me all over the country, and abroad. I spent some time in Ukraine, shooting all of these projects they funded.

For instance, I went to Ukraine to shoot a federation of Jews from the US who came to see where some of their ancestors had been saved by righteous gentiles during World War II. We visited the now-defunct Jewish community where they came from. It was pretty awesome.

I loved working as a photojournalist, and was honored that I didn’t even have a portfolio, but the company that I worked for just cared that I was coming from a place of interest. It was basically how I built my portfolio.

I had no experience in photography. I have a degree in Middle East studies from Vassar.

JB: Right.

SS: Which is awesome. But it’s not a photo major. So after I graduated, I went right to SVA, which was the best decision I ever made. Because not only was I learning all the technical stuff that I had missed, but I also got a full Masters of Fine Art, which has all the trappings of art, film and history. All the things I think me a better visual thinker now.

JB: Absolutely.

SS: I would never trade the MFA for anything. I’m a proponent of education. First of all, you should never stop learning. You don’t need a degree to be a photographer, but I loved it.

JB: Hearing your background, it sounds like you took the long and winding road. But now, you’re in an exclusive niche in the industry, working with fashion, that most people don’t know that much about…

SS: As much as I loved Middle East studies, my other passion was Dance. Although I am a severely challenged and failed dancer. I took ballet for a long time. In fact, tomorrow we’re shooting this company that I’ve been shooting since grad school. I still shoot the same company I did my thesis on, every year.

I love movement, and I think that fashion and movement are best friends. Clothing becomes alive, and the model becomes energized.

When I was finishing grad school, my focus was on the history of dance photography, so it was a really easy transition. It has trickled down into everything I do.

I do “movement hair” in hair shoots, and “movement beauty,” in beauty shoots, and “movement fashion” in fashion shoots.

It brings energy to a picture. If you can hear the “Boom! Bang!” sound of the energy coming through, that’s always moved me.

JB: I had a sneaking suspicion, and it even made it onto my question list, as to whether you had a background in dance. So I’m glad you answered that for me.

Before we move on, though, I have a technical question, even if it makes me look stupid. There always seems to be a distinction between beauty and fashion, but I don’t get it. Is it just that beauty represents close-up portraiture, and fashion represents stepping back and showing clothing? Is it as simple as that?

SS: It can be.

JB: So what’s it about then?

SS: I shoot a lot of fashion, a lot of beauty, and a lot of hair, which is technically its own genre, if you want to get specific.

JB: Sure. Let’s get specific.

SS: If you’re a fine artist, I think you can blur the lines. But ultimately, if someone’s commissioning you to take a picture, the genre is defined by what the focus is.

So fashion photography is about fashion. It’s about the clothing. Beauty photography is often about the product being photographed. AKA, mascara.

JB: Makeup. There it is. That’s what I didn’t get.

SS: So if we’re doing a big hair shoot, then your focus is on the hair. Yes, it’s also about the model, and her energy, because it’s all about the talent. But it’s also all about the hair.

Shiny, beautiful, bouncy. Or straight. Blonde or brunette. Ultimately, you need a coherent, beautiful visual, but you always have a nod to the subject.

I love the distinctions, and I’ve turned into a sort-of product-crazy junkie. I love shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, and mascara. I love playing with the products that I shoot, which I think is one of the coolest things about being a woman in this industry.

I am the target audience, 99% of the time. I’m not ashamed to admit it but I have stayed home, nights, and played with every mascara in my drawer.

Do you even know the difference between a volumizing and a lengthening mascara?

JB: I definitely don’t. I most certainly don’t.

SS: Exactly.

JB: (laughing.)

SS: Wow. I am the target audience. And I love it.

JB: So then you must get more free shit than you can possibly imagine?

SS: You never have enough money, or enough free shit from photo shoots. Period. Exclamation point.

JB: (laughing.) Period. Exclamation point. Never enough free shit. On the record.

SS: And nail polish. Listen, before I walked into this industry, way back in the day, I was a student who loved to spend time in the library, and loved to read, and do my homework. But I also loved to bite my nails.

But now, every day, I have a perfect manicure, because I turned into a nail shooter. So in some ways, the industry has changed me, and I feel like hopefully I’ve had an influence on the visuals as well.

JB: Well, speaking of visuals, and movement, I noticed on your website that you’ve got a couple of short films posted, so I watched them.

With the music kicking, and the dancing, it made me wonder if you weren’t interested in directing music videos some day, especially as the technology has converged?

SS: I love directing, and technology is moving so fast. I remember being on set, for the photographer I was interning with, when the first digital backs came along, and I was the only one who knew how to use the computers.

Then, video became more prevalent on still shoots, and now I just get hired for video, straight up.

But my theory in life is, if you never say no, then the opportunities are endless. So, would I direct a music video? Absolutely.

If the opportunity presents itself, the answer is, of course. And when you think about directing, the genre of the early music video has influenced all filmmakers, right?

JB: Even people who are coming out with their first feature film, you look at their bios, and they shot music videos, or they worked in commercials.

SS: I’m the early MTV generation. We won’t age me in this interview, but I remember early MTV, and it was art. When you look at the early music videos, there’s some genius stuff going on. They were paving the way for new forms of visual art in the mainstream.

MTV. My God, right? And then VH1. When you’re talking about the medium of film, it’s impossible not to talk about the music video.

JB: So I guess that means that I zeroed in on an inspiration appropriately?

SS: Sure.

JB: Hell yeah.

SS: I’m so inspired. I grew up in Chicago, and music was a really big deal. I’m an ex-Goth, as much as my mother hated it.

JB: We really are learning a lot about you.

SS: Now I have to wear black clothing, because that’s all we wear on set, right?

JB: You were a Goth, and a nerd, and a journalist in the Middle East, and now you’re addicted to beauty products?

SS: Hang on. Wait a second. If you were a good Goth, you had lots of eye-liner on. I just got better at applying it.

JB: There it is.

SS: Being a Goth-punk in Chicago, with all the music, and the cool stuff that happened, I wasn’t nearly as cool as the kids with the half-shaved head and the dyed black hair. I was kind-of the suburban version, that I could get away with, walking out of my house.

Did you ever spend any time in Chicago?

JB: Next to none.

SS: I’m allowed to ask how old you are, because you’re a boy. How old are you?

JB: I’m 40.

SS: Seriously, it was so, so cool back then. And all the clubs we went to, there was always a film playing, by Ministry, or someone like that. It was really ahead of its time.

I was obsessed with music. So we would go downtown and buy CD’s, because they were just becoming popular.

JB: If you would have said cassette tapes, you really would have dated yourself. We’re dancing around the issue.

SS: Yes, I remember cassette tapes. The minute CD’s came, because they were bigger, I became obsessed with the artwork. There are some seminal visuals that I can tell you, 100%, made me want to become a photographer. The Cocteau Twins. The Pixies. This Mortal Coil had a beautiful cover and inset, an album called “Blood.”

People were using photography, but it wasn’t in a gallery, and it wasn’t untouchable. You would look at the booklets, and you would look at the art.

Do you remember Lenny Kravitz’s “Mama Said?”

JB: Sure.

SS: All that amazing black and white photography? I wanted to do that. It was fashion, and it was cool. It was celebrity. Wow. It blew my mind.

JB: Well, in a very short time, I think we’ve gotten a pretty good sense of how you became you. That’s pretty badass.

SS: Yeah. I will tell you, this is the first ever interview that really talked about that music influence in my life. I don’t think I ever made that connection until you led me there.

Thank you.

JB: You’re welcome.

SS: I really do like that. It’s funny. I was a Goth-punk, and now I love eyeliner. But I just got better at it. (laughing.) I got more sophisticated.

JB: I read that one of the things you do for inspiration in New York, beyond looking at art, is taking super-long walks around the city. People watching. So few of us have time to do that, and it’s such a joy.

What do you think about all the changes over the years?

SS: I’ve been in this city for a long time now. And I never didn’t think I was going to end up here. From the first time I ever came to New York, which must have been when I was 9.

I used to dream about New York. There was never a question that I was coming here. Vassar was really close to the city, and I was inspired by all the kids I went to school with who grew up here.

But the city has changed. I loved the seediness of it, and I love the off-the-beaten path places too.

JB: That’s why I’m asking.

SS: I don’t know the first thing about Chicago, and I lived there for 17 years. But I can tell you literally every little detail of every little corner I’ve traveled in New York City. Every once in a while, I’ll take myself to a neighborhood I don’t know well, and I’ll try to get lost.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited every neighborhood in New York, and I’ll never be able to have that experience again. I get delighted by finding things I don’t know.

I like to celebrate the city, because it took me in.

JB: What’s your favorite little down-low micro-hood?

SS: What I’m obsessed with these days is Japan-town. All the little restaurants. Everyone who comes on set with me, I make them write down their top three Japanese restaurants, and invariably, they’re in the same four block radius.

JB: Where is Japan-town?

SS: 9th Street, between 2nd and 3rd. There’s also a Japanese grocery store on the second floor of 3rd Avenue and 9th St. Restaurants come and go, but it still feels right, for me. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods.

I love biking around the city too. I’ve lived in so many spots over. . . I’m not saying how many years.

JB: Right. You’re in the fashion industry, so we’re both working really hard to allude to time periods without giving anybody anything specific.

SS: I know.

JB: We’re going to stick to it. Don’t you worry. I’m a classy guy.

SS: (laughing) I can tell. The other thing I do that is so throwback is I will put on a playlist, and walk for hours. I just kind of look at things. My hunger for visuals has never abated in my time here. I stare out the window, and I love to take buses, because you’re above ground, and you get to see everything.

JB: I noticed that across your career, you managed to work with both “America’s Next Top Model,” and “Project Runway.” Is that true?

SS: Yes.

JB: OK. I’ve got a crazy question. Tyra Banks. Heidi Klum. They’re tall. They’re fit. They’re moguls as well as models. In a throw-down, who wins in a fight? Tyra or Heidi?

SS: (pause.) You know, I really think I can’t speak to that, because Heidi and I were never on set together.

JB: OK.

SS: It’s funny, but I will always be the diplomatic one. I’ve actually had a lot of experience with Tyra. I’ve shot her personally, as well as for her show. It would be so much fun to make some sort of comparison, but I feel like I’m not really qualified to do so.

I will say that Tyra Banks is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Every single time I see her, on her show too, she comes up to me, she knows where my family lives. She remembers what my mother likes. She asks me if I changed my hair. She remembers every little detail.

She blows my mind. Every single time.

JB: It’s a great little tip, as far as how super-successful people behave. You answered that question diplomatically, which kind of took my legs out. Because it was a ridiculous question. Come on, now. Give me a little credit. They’re not really going to fight…it was meant to be funny, but you took it so seriously that I feel embarrassed.

You didn’t give me anything.

SS: No, no. If you were to here in person with me, you would know that it’s as far away from my personality as you could possibly get. I’m a light-hearted person, but you won’t usually be able to get a comment like that out of me.

JB: Fair enough.

SS: There won’t be a sound bite.

JB: OK. There won’t be a sound bite about Tyra knocking out Heidi in the octagon. It was a joke, obviously, but we did get a bit of insight into how people roll when they’re that good at their job.

I’ve been teaching college to high school students for a long time now, and I’ve used “America’s Next Top Model” as a reference point for them. When we talk about portraiture, and I’m discussing how to bring emotion into a subject’s eyes, to create that energy.

I used to watch the show, back in the day, so I’ll say to them, you know how Tyra says you’ve got to make the eyes look “fierce?” It works.

SS: She knows what she’s talking about. And not only does she talk a good talk, but she does it herself. When we’re on set, and I’ve shot her, she owns it. She’ll look at me and say, “Sarah, I think I’ve got it.”

She’s the best editor I’ve ever worked with, who’s also the subject of the photos.

JB: Big Shout Out to Tyra.

SS: Shout out.

JB: Well, we’ve talked about New York and Chicago. What I want to know now is, have you ever been to Santa Fe?

SS: No.

JB: Never?

SS: No. It’s really exciting. Santa Fe has always been on the list of places I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how I would get there.

What was going to bring me there? Being invited to Santa Fe was an opportunity to experience a new city, but I love nothing more than working. So this is the best of both worlds.

JB: Let me explain what we’re talking about. This interview, like several I’ve done over the last few years, is being sponsored by the Santa Fe Workshops. They’re my buddies. I’m up here in Taos, they’re just down the road, and everyone knows they do a great job.

You’re coming out to do a workshop for them in March that is titled, “Movement in Fashion, Beauty and Dance.” Is this the first time you’ve taught this workshop? What is this going to be for you, beyond your first opportunity to come to Santa Fe?

SS: Both my parents were teachers, and my father taught at the graduate level. Being raised by teachers, everybody’s always explaining the “whys” of everything, because they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Being a teacher was an obvious part of my life as a creator, no matter what. One of the reasons why I went for a Masters degree is then you can teach at the college level, which I always wanted to be able to do.

The minute I graduated from grad school, I told them, “Use me.” SVA certainly has, and all the photo schools in New York have. I also have interns, and I’m really into them. I think teaching the next generation is so important. If you can teach, you must. Must, must, must.

JB: What is this workshop going to be like? What do you have planned for your students?

SS: I basically took my three favorite subjects, beauty, movement and fashion, and took one day each to focus on each. The way we have it structured, you can start to see how there’s crossover on all three.

Everybody loves the opportunity to shoot a dancer, and everybody loves the opportunity to go in close and shoot a beautiful face. And talking about all the ways I have found to really get up in there and make beautiful visuals. But also to understand the ideas behind it.

By teaching my own personal workflow, I think it will make a lot of sense for most of the students to see there’s a lot of methodology in the way I shoot. There’s a lot of thought that goes behind it.

You can’t really take beautiful pictures unless you understand why they’re beautiful. Why you do what you do.

JB: Are you going to be working exclusively in studio?

SS: Yes, exclusively in studio. I wanted the maximum amount of time to teach, and I didn’t want to lose even one minute of travel time. So I decided to teach more and travel less.

JB: Efficient. I can dig it. And what about New Mexico? What are you excited to see yourself? This is kind of a mythical place…

SS: That’s what everyone keeps saying. The funny thing is, I have a feeling that every picture I’ve ever seen, and all the descriptions, don’t really do it justice. I know it’s an important art town, and that, visually, it’s supposed to be beyond stunning. Everybody always talks about the colors and light being vastly different than anything you’d experience on the Eastern Seaboard.

I’m sure being in uncharted territory will also inspire me, concurrently, while teaching, because you do learn so much while teaching. It’s going to have a big impact on me. I can already tell.

JB: You’re excited.

SS: Super-excited. Listen, this is a huge honor. And I keep getting emails from people saying, “Oh my god, you’re doing a Santa Fe Workshop?” Literally, I got one yesterday.

Awesome. Yes I am.

JB: (laughing.) “Awesome. Yes I am.” And then you pound the table with your fist. Right?

SS: Completely. If one student walks out and says, “Eureka,” I’ve done a good job. If everyone walks out and says “Eureka…”

JB: Then you ask for a raise.

SS: (pause) It’s not about the money. Right?

JB: (laughing) Of course. So now we know how you broke into fashion. I think most people associate the industry with Fashion Week, and red carpets. Velvet ropes.

In 2015, how would you talk to younger people about legitimately breaking into a world that seems so shut off from everybody else?

SS: This is a question that I get asked all the time.

JB: I’m sure. I’m not saying every question I’m going to ask is original, but people want to know.

SS: They do. New York is a city of opportunity. Every visual person, and you don’t even have to be a student, if you have a strong vision, and a really good work ethic, I think you have a pretty good shot of doing something worthwhile here.

The best piece of advice I would give anybody, and I give it to myself, is that you have to be diligent, and work really, really, really hard. Because lots of people are creative, and lots of people have good ideas, but it’s the ones who keep at it, and keep at it. Every day is a new challenge.

My first lesson to new students is that if you’re complacent, then everyone can smell it. And if you don’t care, then why should I care?

If you wake up every morning with purpose and drive, and you work really, really, really hard, good things come back to you. Even though this is one of the hardest cities to make it in, in any field.

JB: I remember when I first moved there, something really jumped out at me about the famous cliché, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” After I lived there for a little bit, what stuck with me was the “if.” Oh. Right. “If” you can make it here, because if you don’t, the city tries to shit on your head and slit your throat for sport, on a daily basis.

You have to be really on your toes. Three years was enough for me. Drove me back out to my horse pasture in the mountains.

SS: That doesn’t sound so bad.

JB: It’s amazing. I’m not complaining in any way, and I love to come back and visit NYC. I’m just saying, New York is a tough town. But I think you’re giving good advice. People need to be almost cutthroat in their determination to not quit, and not fail.

SS: The word “cutthroat” has such a negative connotation, and the one thing I can say about myself is that I’ve been consistent. And I’ve been consistently me throughout this entire time.

It’s the best I can do. I never try to be anybody else, and I never tried to be something I wasn’t. Because it’s so much easier to be you than to pretend. And then again, you can work really, really, really hard when you believe in yourself, because you’re being exactly who you are.

JB: (laughing) Totally. That might be our end right there.

SS: (laughing) I like that. Listen, I’m super-excited about this workshop, and that the people there were really open to all of my ideas.

In class, I want to talk about making professional photos. Taking yourself from someone who really likes photos, to somebody who can be on set. You have to be consistent, you have to have clear and focused vision, and you have to be a good communicator.

I’m going to have these students act like professional photographers. The minute you walk in the door, you’re no longer a student. You’re a shooter. You’re going to have to do mood boards, and talk about your ideas.

I am the client, and not because I’m trying to be an asshole, but because I want you to tell me what you’re talking about. And I want you to be clear, and professional.

That’s the best thing I took away from Vassar, and my grad school days. If you can talk intelligently about what you’re doing, that’s your ticket.

Can you talk about your visuals, and get everybody else on board? If the answer is yes, work really, really, really hard, and it’s all going to be OK.

JB: Boy, I’m glad we didn’t end it with that first ending, because the advice bombs are dropping fast and furious right now.

SS: I’ve had 1-2 interns every semester, for the last few years, and we talk every day about the stuff we’re talking about now. We talk as people. I try not to be the person in charge.

This shit is scary. This city is scary. Putting yourself out there is scary. I know.

You think your ideas don’t matter, and you’re not going to take a good picture. You don’t know until you try.

I could wax poetic for hours.

JB: I know. Right about now is when we normally end, but you’re just getting started. Unfortunately, we’ve already covered everything I wanted to cover.

SS: I’m kind of inspired. You ask me where I come from, and it all comes full circle. Every year, I shoot for this dance company, the Stephen Petronio Company.

The inspiration I draw from the photo shoots I do with him, movement wise, kind of trickles down and inspires all the beauty, and fashion, and hair that I do for the next year.

There’s no rules, and it’s just collaboration. And I’m still shooting for him, and it’s just such an amazing opportunity. Not only is it a total thrill, because Stephen and his dancers are amazing, but it’s an honor to have a long relationship with somebody like Stephen and

to see the fruits of our labor over several years.

I’m looking at this gorgeous set we’ve built, and looking at the pre-light pictures… it’s one of those days where I especially love what I do.

JB: And I like that we’re still not mentioning how many years you’ve been working with these guys…

SS: Nope.

JB: Right. We’re not going to go there.

SS: The funny thing is, I was always the youngest person in the room. I used to lie about my age, so that my art directors wouldn’t think I was a kid.

It’s never bad. It just doesn’t need to be in print. Right?

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This Week In Photography Books: Margaret Morton

by Jonathan Blaustein

Sometimes, you’ve got to mix things up. Even though it’s harder than sticking with what you know. I like easy as much as the next guy, but it CAN make a person complacent.

Just look at McDonalds.

Why did it become a massive capitalist behemoth? With tens of thousands of locations? Because you only have to be smart enough to walk up to the counter, or drive up to the window, and point at a number.

I want combo #2.
You could grunt, and it would still work out.

If you can string together enough syllables, in proper order, to say, “Combo #2,” and you can cobble together enough pocket change to pay the $2.99, then you can have yourself a burger, some fries, and a highly-sugar-and-caffeine-laden beverage.

What could be easier than that? And as to the cows that go into that burger? Why bother to make them run around a grassy pasture? Why not just let them stand in their own shit, all day long, until it’s time to kill them?

What’s easier, letting them stand where they are, or going to the trouble of designing a cow-exercise program?

No contest.

But just the other day, I was reminded why the hard way promotes growth. I was headed in to teach my second straight class in the new semester: “Beginning Digital Photography.” I asked for an extra class, THIS class, in fact, because I can teach it in my sleep. I know my patterns. I know my lectures. Cold.

No drama at all.

Except there were only 5 students in the room, instead of the usual 25. And the University didn’t want to cancel. So, on the fly, I realized I’d have to re-tool everything I know, in order to keep a very small room entertained and enlightened for 2.5 hours straight, for 15 weeks.

My first thoughts were based in fear and frustration. My desire for the lazy way was screeching in my consciousness, like a wolf that just chewed off its own leg to get out of a trap. Then, I caught my breath, and realized I had no option but to make it work.

I began to ask the students questions I normally wouldn’t. I established a completely new vibe, and laid down ground rules. By the end of class, we were all laughing, and I was excited as hell.

Often times, change is forced upon us. We resent it, and then realize it was in our best interest. This time, I went through the stages of grief in warp speed. Which allows me to give you my high-minded advice all the quicker.

What does that have to do with a book review, though? I’m glad you asked. Because, as always, I’m trying to reach a cogent point before I’ve hit 1000 words, and your attention span begins to wane.

Today, I want to highlight “Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan,” a new book by Margaret Morton, recently published by the University of Washington press. That’s a long title, yes, and it likely gives you a clue to its subject. Not a lot of room for surprise.

This book is one that I’ve looked at several times before, and decided not to review. (Yes, I know we’ve had this conversation before.) But this morning, I changed my mind. (And not because I’m out of books, which has been the motivation in years past.)

No, I decided to write about this book because I chose to change my criteria a bit, to keep things from getting stale. This book is not inherently exciting and dramatic, and I don’t think the pictures will change your life. They’re not brilliant, nor are they particularly innovative.

Before you hate me for damning the book with faint praise, let me continue. The pictures are kind of washed-out, bleached, and bereft of people. They’re not razor sharp, nor are they showy. The tonal range is minimal, so they don’t grab you in the guts either.

But they are consistent, in their tone and compositional style. They keep coming at you, like the less-talented fighter who out-works the flashy favorite. (Hello Buster Douglas, what are you doing in 2015?)

They transport you somewhere else. Somewhere quiet, where everyone’s already dead. The aesthetic reinforces the content, and there is a distinct narrative structure. You start far away, pull in very tight, and then drift back out again.

Very smart.

Perhaps I fall victim to shiny visuals, or off-beat and absurd concepts? I show you books that are edgy, or already famous, or that reflect an arty style you’ll like for sure.

This book, however, does something that I’m always asking for, despite it’s grayscale production: it shows me, (and you) something I’ve never seen before. Frankly, even in this ever-more-connected world, I suspect it depicts something almost no one has seen before: vacant cemeteries, in the form of mini-cities, in the hinterlands of Kyrgyzstan.

That’s about as far off the beaten path as anyone can get these days. I wouldn’t even know how to fly there if I tried? Do you route through Tajikistan? Or am I a fool, and everyone knows that Uzbekistan is the best layover, what with their killer mutton stew?

Kidding aside, these pictures have a sere, world-weariness that didn’t seduce me. It put me off, even though I was inherently curious. But I never forgot the book, so I came back to it again.

It’s not the grand vistas that grab you here, it’s the details. Is that a scalp nailed to a wooden post? What do the rams horns mean? The deer? Are these competing warrior clans, with different spirit animals?

The stars and sickles jut up into the sky, whose color we can’t know, as we’ve been denied the opportunity.

Why the cages? What do they mean? Is that a desiccated eagle? Or a falcon? How hard is it to train a falcon anyway?

This book is not something I’d normally review, and I think that it’s healthy for me to keep expanding that definition. It does have a lot to offer. And it’s my job to sit still long enough to share that appreciation with you.

Bottom Line: Austere publication highlighting graveyards at the end of the line

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Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books: Christopher J Everard

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever heard of Sasha Grey? Maybe?
Maybe not.

As it happens, she’s a young actress from California. I first saw her in Steven Soderbergh’s taut little film, “The Girlfriend Experience.” She is lithe, Sasha Grey, with long, fine dark hair, and oil-black eyes. Those eyes are world-weary like Scarlett Johansson’s, but not in that same I-grew-up-in-New-York-so-I’m-smarter-and-cooler-than-you sort of way.

Do you know what I mean?

She was hard not to watch, Ms. Grey, as she played a very expensive call girl who provided a particular service: she pretends to be her John’s girlfriend, beyond just sexing him up.

Her acting is languid, sure, but again, it’s hard to look away. She was oddly mesmerizing. Then I saw her during her multi-episode cameo on “Entourage,” which I’m loathe to admit I ever watched.

At that point, I’d already learned her somewhat-but-not-really shocking story: Sasha Grey was a porn-star, despite her small boobs and overall lack of looking the part. What did I think, when I first heard the news?

That poor girl. She must have gotten all worn out. Apparently, she’d made a tremendous amount of movies, in which she often had sex with multiple partners at once.

My first thought was not, “Good for her. Making something of herself. Commodifying her compelling sexuality. Way to go. The American dream in the making.”

No. I half-worried that she was tarnished goods.

At no point did I consider tracking down some of her X-rated material online. That seemed a bit like peeking through the curtain at your neighbor undressing, as I’d first seen her in a “mainstream” film, though she did get naked, as I recall.

Can we all agree that my reaction was strange? Or maybe not strange, as it’s normal to be embarrassed by pornography, even though most people use it in some form or other.

No, my reaction was not strange. It was inappropriate. Yes, that’s the right word. I was practically Puritan, which is unpleasant to admit.

Our collective guilt at our carnal urges, and the manner in which we occasionally satisfy them via visual means, was the cause of the awkward thoughts I had vis a vis Ms. Grey, and her choice of professions.

My bad, in retrospect. More power to you, Sasha. (Because I’m sure you’re reading this, right?)

It’s one of the great hypocrisies of our time, the way we all engage in the same kind of behavior that we’re all pretty sure is wrong. I think the subject is worth investigating, which we can easily do via “Denied Reality- Episode 1: Our Industry,” a new book out by Christopher J Everard, published by Interlife Pictures.

The artist sent me a copy, suspecting that I might like it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think some people were paying attention with respect to the types of books I prefer. Because this one hit the mark in almost every way.

Mr. Everard is based in London, and is British by birth, near as I can tell, though he did spend many years living in the US. So his predilection for our culture is understandable, as is his curiosity about our prurient interest in sex, which he deems a “Denied Reality.”

Open up the book, and there are a succession of well-made-but-not brilliant images that come without an explanation. So I thought, “Gee, I wonder what I’m looking at?”

As if he perfectly anticipated the question, the very next page had small black and white thumbnail images, with well-written captions. I had a desire, and the book satisfied. (No pun intended.)

It appears that this book is a research-based, first-person narrative exploration inside the porn industry which is based, primarily, in Los Angeles. As the book is being released while Larry Sultan has his retrospective at LACMA, he is referenced appropriately within.

This is a book that speaks to photo-book-geeks, because it varies up its delivery like a crafty pitcher who can no longer throw the heat, so he has to keep the batters on their toes.

Immediately after a few more photos and caption pages, there’s an honest, hilarious essay by Daniel Blight. It’s also in a first person style, and breezy, without being pretentious. No art-speak, but lots of references to masturbation, smoking hash, and improper behavior.

Basically, it was the exact style I like to read. Mostly because I also like to write that way, as you well know.

This book, unlike almost everything I review, was one I had to put down and come back to. Because there is good, engaging writing interspersed throughout. It’s too dense to breeze through it like a normal photo-book, or read it in one shot, unless you’ve allotted the proper time.

In that regard, it’s different from what I normally see, which is something I’m always begging for in this space. Do it differently. Make the book into an experience I/ we’ll remember.

Mr. Everard seems to have interviewed a lot of subjects in the industry, walked red carpets, attended award banquets, traveled to Arizona to meet some professionals living outside the LA bubble, and road-tripped to Utah, after he learned that its residents are the highest per capita consumers of porn in the US. He actually mentions statistics in several places that suggest that most of the Red States/Republican States/States with the highest rate of church-goers actually top that list year in, year out.

Hypocrisy, anyone?

The conclusion reached, and perhaps dispensed a few too many times, is that the people in the pornography industry are hard working Americans. They bust their humps (no pun intended) to put food on their table, support their families, and have time on the weekends to play with their kids. They’re great dads, moms, and children.

The industry supplies jobs, and pays taxes. It is an American success story that we all pretend doesn’t exist. Because we are ashamed of ourselves; not the people who supply our fix. They deserve better, the artist suggests.

All in all, it’s a great book. The pictures within, which contain surprisingly few “nasty” images, and even fewer boobs, are not the type to blow you away. They’re not AMAZING. Just really good, particularly in illustration of the overall narrative.

But they don’t need to be more than that. It’s the book we judge, and the way in which the text and images support each another, and the pacing, degree of information, accessibility of the concept, it all makes for a genuinely excellent experience.

Mr. Blight has another great piece at the end, mocking Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” and I’m still not sure if it’s a reported story, or if he just made it up. There’s even a “Designer’s Cut” edit of pictures that wouldn’t have otherwise made book. That’s extra content that you get if you’re special, and buy this particular edition of the book. Extra stuff, like those porn sites are always offering, so I’m told, if you’re only willing to drop your credit card number.

Bottom Line: Honest, smart, very-well executed look at the things we like to see, but never discuss.

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This Week In Photography Books: Brad Moore

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just flew in from New Orleans, and boy, are my arms tired. (Ba doom boom. Tch.)

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. It flowed out of my fingers, and then, there it was. As ridiculous as that bad joke is, the underlying truth stands.

I did just get back from New Orleans.

And every bone in my body is aching from the deep exhaustion of ten hours of travel each way, with 26 critiques sandwiched in between. (Plus the amazing parties and such. It’s not a drag, by any means.)

Since this column is as much a running commentary on my life as it is a series of book reviews, I must share that I feel like sleeping for 3 days straight. Instead, I came home to my two young children, and that’s just a daily marathon.

Enough bitching. What can I tell you today? NOLA rocks. I’ll be featuring it at length in the coming weeks, so I’ll spare you too much backstory in the here and now. Suffice it to say, it is a city that has “The Magic.”

I live in Taos, a small mountain town that is renown for it’s spiritual juju, so I know of what I speak. New Orleans has an ineffable something that makes it an addictive locale for many a tourist.

Let’s face it, the world is big. Far bigger than any one person could ever explore. Even Tony Bourdain has seen but a fragment, no matter how tired HIS bones might feel.

Places, cities, such as we know them, are nothing but an aggregate of people, structures, and landscape. That’s it. Yet somehow, they manage to develop distinct identities. The Castro is not the Lower East Side.

North London is not the North side of Chicago. These statements are so obvious as to be practically meaningless, and yet I type them still.

Why?

Because as photographers, or lovers of photography, we know that the best work manages to tap into the Zeitgeist of a place. To allow us to learn something crucial about a spot we might never have seen with our own eyes.

The camera is the proxy for the artist, and the artist is the proxy for the tourist. Here, declares the artist, is something you ought to see. Now, declares the artist, I will show you things that will embed in your memory, and make you think you know more than you do.

Speaking of which, I was in Southern California in late October, as you well know. (If you were paying attention at all.) I love that place too. It’s pretty, sure, but there is a seedy normality to the joint that I find alluring.

I’ve spent next-to-no time in Beverly Hills, or its ilk. Give me a low-rise little beach town any day. (Big Shout Out to Leucadia.)

Brad Moore has managed to capture an essence of SoCal that I’m pretty sure you’ll love. The SoCal of the Inland Empire, and Orange County, and mismatched patches of pavement. We can all see it in “Brad Moore,” a new book recently released by the nascent publisher Acuity Press, also from Southern California.

Why will you likely love it? Because it mashes up the anonymous modernism of the super-structure with the random chaos of real life. Korean churches behind geometric facades. Buddhist temples in half-abandoned-looking row houses.

And a seamless, flat, gray sky that references the smog, for which the place is often known, and the fog, that ever-present menace to coastal sanity. (Hey Fog, if you blow out now, so I can see the sun for a few minutes, I’ll give you $500. What, you can’t spend money, because you are an apparition made of moist sea air? Fuck you, then, fog. Fuck you.)

The book is really well-made, the images razor sharp. The repetitive shapes jump out at you, but just when you think you’re getting the hang of things, you’re given a surprise.

A big blue truck on a lawn, where we’d otherwise expect to see a house. What? And there are two dark smudges with streaks running down. Was the truck struck with paint-ball pellets? A group of miscreant teen-agers marring the otherwise “perfect” suburban existence?

No explanation necessary, really. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Later, a pile of green lawn beckons, the color as intense as a magic mushroom ride. What is that on the grass? Oh, it’s a tarp, holding a heap of grass shavings that are no longer a part of the territorial integrity of said lawn.

Brilliant illusion. Maybe the ideal metaphor? The gloss, disembodied from the host.

OK. That’s as much as I can squeeze out of my tired brain. I’m leaving Southern California, in my imagination, so I can look out my window to the shocking number of gopher mounds that dot my backyard.

Fucking Gophers. Why don’t you move somewhere where they’ll actually appreciate you?

Bottom Line: Terrific pictures of Southern California

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

Work From The Medium Festival of Photography 2014 – Part 1

- - From The Field

by Jonathan Blaustein

Last year, when I went to visit the Medium Festival of Photography, I practically leaked energy.

I stayed out drinking, chatted with every possible person, dispensed advice incessantly, and worked through my portfolio review breaks. Only then, when it was almost done, did I give a public lecture in which I bared my soul to a crowded room. (Yes, even more nakedly than I do here each week, if you can believe it.)

In the end, I had a bad series of interactions with a fellow artist, and labeled him a “dick” in this forum. Which almost cost me one of my best friends. Honestly, he stopped talking to me over it, though we’ve since patched things up.

I’m nothing if not adaptable, so I vowed to do it differently this year. Driving down the 405 from LA, where I had a day at the Getty that I’ll chronicle in an upcoming piece, I near-chanted to myself that I’d take it easy.

Chill, if you will.

There was plenty of time to think, as the traffic was thick as Thanksgiving gravy, despite the late hour. I didn’t arrive at the Lafayette Hotel until 9:30pm, which I assumed made me the last reviewer there. (I was wrong. The reviewer across the hall showed up at 3:30 am, and woke me with a closing door. Ironically, it turned out to be a friend, so I couldn’t be too mad. Thanks, Maren.)

Anyway, the plan worked out swimmingly, as I even managed some time in the blue pool one sunny afternoon. (When in SoCal, after all.) I hit the gym, took my quiet time, walked through the corridors with my head down, avoiding eye contact. Anything to make sure I had good, positive energy for the reviews, and that I came home able to work. (Rather than losing 2 weeks in a fog, as I’ve done before.)

Fortunately, I did get to see a nice variety of photography to share with you here. And I even get to use the word “dick” again, as it was tossed about with shocking abandon by the keynote lecturer, Duane Michals. I kid you not, that dude said “dick” at least 15 times within the first three minutes of his lecture.

He was playing a character called Dr. Duanus, and opened with a story about needing a penis reduction. I watched the crowd, and people were in various states of disbelief. He was like a cross between Larry David and Robin Williams. Not what you expect in a photography lecture.

I ought to give him a more fitting shout-out than that, though. Mr. Michals lecture was by far the most entertaining and enlightening I’ve yet heard. He was profane in a way that was endearing, rather than discomfiting, and also managed to show a large selection of his work. Pictures and words that gave the crowd energy, and permission to experiment.

Afterwards, at his book signing, people stood in line for at least an hour, or I should say lines. There were two, in opposite directions, that snaked throughout the entire hotel lobby. No lie. People couldn’t wait to take pictures with him, catch a moment, get a book signed. It was electric.

But back to the reviews, which were my main priority. (That, and eating at the many insanely-good-cheap-ethnic-restaurants within 5 blocks of the hotel. Thai? Check. Pizza? Check. Falafel? Check.)

I’m going to break this down into two articles, as I’ve done in the past. So that you can actually look at the photos without it all blending into infinity, like the great Pacific Ocean. I want to keep your attention crunchy, like a perfect fish taco. (OK. No more cheesy SoCal similes. I promise.)

In no particular order, let’s lead off with Samantha Geballe. She’s an artist working in the Los Angeles area, who’s studied with Aline Smithson. (Who just won Center’s Teaching Award. Well deserved, I’d say, as I’ve gotten to see her students’ work 2 years running.)

Samantha is a very large person, and gay. As such, she has to live squarely in the crosshairs of people’s prejudice. Twice. She presents as a very calm presence, but told me that things are chaotic on the inside. Her visceral, black and white self-portraits aim to channel her actual emotions. Powerful stuff.

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Brian Van der Wetering is another of Aline’s charges. He works full-time for Epson, which means I now have a super-hookup for lots of swag. He already sent me a new 44″ photo printer, so you should be very jealous. (Just kidding. I’ve received nothing of the kind.)

Brian’s set-up photos were hilarious, and also a shade poignant. They share the sense of play and misbehavior of a ten year old who loves lighting his sister’s dolls’ heads aflame. They are well-made, but also well-thought-out. I thought they were pretty excellent.

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Tipping Point

One Spark

Crossing Over

In Jeopardy

Shaky Ground

Dependency

Jane Szabo is also an LA-based artist. Her training is in other media, and she came to photography rather recently. She showed me three portfolios, and I could actually see her working it out, sequentially. The third project caught my eye, as she’d created non-functioning dresses for the camera, and I thought I’d share it here.

Notice the way it mashes up fashion, sculpture, installation and photography. She’s able to bring her various interests together into one artistic package. I particularly liked the way the pictures could almost be installation photos from an actual art exhibition, but are not. She utilizes the white space well.

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Mike Sakasegawa has a full-time day job as well, as an engineer, I believe. He photographs his family, as we all do, but attempts to take the pictures beyond the average snapshot. He wants to communicate the sadness he feels at his children growing up, and the joy he relishes with each day.

The pictures resonated with me, despite the well-worn subject matter. We can all relate, which also helps an audience appreciate a project.

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Contrast

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Hold Fast

Adriene Hughes teaches at UCSD, so she didn’t even have to travel down the coast. Surprisingly, though, she showed me some pictures that were taken in my town of Taos. I did a double-take at first, exclaiming, “What the hell?” or some such.

Adriene made a performative project in which she always dressed up in her favorite deer head. Many of the pictures felt like documents of performance, rather than photographs made as original art objects. But there were more than a handful I really enjoyed, and the picture with the little dog sitting on the naked dude’s lap was simply priceless.

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Finally, we come to Tetsuya Kusu. He was hanging around the lobby when I came in that first night, and planned to volunteer for the festival. I craned my neck in all directions, looking to spy anyone I knew. Tetsuya approached, and seemed to know who I was. He gave me regards from Miki Hasegawa, a photographer I profiled here after meeting her at Review Santa Fe.

It seems as if the Japanese photo crew is rather tight, and I guess my own “image” is out there on the Interweb enough that I will occasionally get noticed. (Down, ego, down.) Anyway, Tetsuya and I spoke a few times over the weekend, and he showed me his pictures on his iPhone.

He’s currently traveling around the West Coast, sleeping on a surfboard in his car. He posts images each day on a password protected Tumblr, so the project is updated in realtime. There’s an edgy vibe to his portraits, so the whole thing made me think of a Japanese-surfer-on-the-road-Mike-Brodie-type-of-deal. Very cool.

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Sayonara until next week.
Jonathan-san out.

Richard Renaldi Interview

- - Photographers

Jonathan Blaustein: I wanted to start out talking to you about Chicago, because you’re from there, and I know very little about the place.

But the more looked at your website, I wonder if you belong anywhere? Do you live out of a suitcase?

Richard Renaldi: No. You were looking at the Hotel Room pictures, I imagine. And maybe some of the “Crossing” project. I do travel a lot, but that project, (The Hotel Room portraits,) is 16 years worth of travel.

Some of it has been for work, and my partner and I are definitely travelers, not tourists, so we like to do some adventuring. But this year I do feel like I have been living out of a suitcase, because of being on the “Touching Strangers” train. I’ve been all over, promoting the book, exhibitions, and talks.

Home is New York, and North Eastern Pennsylvania. I did grow up in Chicago, but I left at 18 to go to school here in New York at NYU. I haven’t lived in Chicago since. I only go back to visit the family.

JB: You mentioned your partner, Seth, and the “Hotel Room Portraits” series, which most people probably don’t know about, features the two of you on at least 4 continents, by my count, perhaps more. There is so much to talk about here, and we’ll try to cover all of it. But you’ve referred to Seth as your partner, and given all the hubbub in the last couple of years, are you guys married, or are you going to get married?

RR: We’re not married, and we’ll probably eventually get married. But probably we’ll just do a City Hall thing, and then maybe have a party. I don’t see myself exchanging vows in a public declaration of our love.

But our commitment to each other is there, sixteen years together and the proof is in the pudding. I could say boyfriend. I like that word. But he’s not such a boy anymore, and boyfriend doesn’t necessarily describe the graying aspect. (laughs.)

Part of the intention of that project is also quantity. We started out a little half-assed about the discipline, surrounding when we would travel and take a picture. So the first few years, there are actually some that are missing.

When I got a better SLR camera and lens, around 2007, and started shooting digitally, I started thinking about the project more, we’ve been fastidious that every single time we go somewhere, we have to do one. Even if I don’t really want to do it, we always make sure we make a portrait.

As you can see, they run the gamut from pretty dumpy hotels to fancy. It’s important that there’s a class component to the work.
There is a range, from trashy motels to corporate midrange ones, and then the really fancy ones. Most of those were on a job I did for Microsoft, where I went to 18 countries, in 2007.

But also, there’s an architectural element. And there are cultural markers too. It becomes not just a portrait of us, and our intimacy, our aging, the transformation of our bodies, and my ink. By the design, and the interior spaces of these different rooms, you can tell something about the place.

There’s a lot there to keep it going. Layers to the work, which I find exciting.

JB: All I kept asking myself, which you already kind of answered, was how the hell can these guys afford to travel to this many countries on such a consistent basis? But I’m guessing from your answer, when you said you did a job for Microsoft, that you also do commercial work. Which I didn’t know.

RR: Not so much recently. But I have had some privileges, and used those as an opportunity to photograph and travel. I was fortunate to not be grounded to one place and having to always worry about my financial security. I’ve been able to up and go, and spend weeks at a time traveling through South East Asia.

Some of those trips were after the Microsoft job. We were in Taiwan, and went onwards afterwards. Last year, I went to print my book in Hong Kong, and we were going to take a trip to Thailand, but there was a coup. So I met Seth in Morocco.

JB: I saw that. And you were in Southern Spain too this year. And Canada.

RR: Yeah, we just drove up to Canada. I always wanted to see the Maritimes. I was teaching in Portland for a week, so Seth came up and met me. We met some friends and also went to an island in Maine called Vinyl Haven.

A lot of it is combined with work, or visiting family. We just like to travel.

JB: Sure.

RR: We try to do one big trip a year. We used to put our place on Airbnb, so when we went to Bolivia, Chile and Easter Island, that basically paid for the whole trip, renting our New York City apartment.

JB: I have a 7 year old. It was his birthday yesterday. When I told him I was going to interview you, he said I should ask you why the people had to be touching?

RR: What’s your son’s name?

JB: Theo.

RR: Theo? I like that name. Well, they had to touch because the concept was about connecting two strangers in a photograph. I’d been doing single portraits for many years, and I was shooting “See America By Bus,” about the people traveling across the country on Greyhound buses.

That was the first experience where I was making large format work. Consensual portraits of two people that didn’t know each other, in the same space. It added this new layer of complexity and challenge to making a portrait.

I had to get the permission and approval of two different sets of people to be in a picture together. And I really liked that, and thought there was something really rich there.

I was interested in the space between people, like in they city. You see a group of people, clustered together, and in that moment and space in time, they’re connected. Standing at a light, waiting to cross the street. Everyone looks like they’re together, because they’re in a group.

But they’re not. They don’t know each other. I wanted to link them.

Also, there was this desire to catalog, in the way August Sander catalogued people. I had this impulse to do that, but to mix and match. To take different types of people and put them together.

As the project progressed, I became as interested in people who looked like they belonged together. Similar types.

But I think the reason why they had to touch, to answer Theo’s question, is that I was really curious what the body language would look like. As I write in the essay, what would the physical vocabulary look like, when someone asks two strangers to do that.

JB: I think part of what people respond to is the disconnect between the concept and the reality. Everything looks so natural. Until you know what’s going on, you would never guess.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but its so transgressive, to touch strangers. Theo and I were in Denver a few weeks ago. In a coffee shop.

There was a guy, sitting at a table by himself, drawing. He had all these fancy colored pencils. Theo will talk to anybody, he’s got a very open personality, so he walks up to the guy and starts asking about his pictures. Then, he put his hand on the guy’s forearm. Immediately, I jumped, and said, “Theo, you can’t do that. You can’t touch strangers. You can talk to them, but you can’t just go up and touch people.”

I promise, it had nothing to do with your book. We hadn’t even scheduled the interview yet. But the idea was so powerful in my instinct, that you don’t do that.

I’m sure people want to hear the backstory about how you do it. How you convince people to put their hands on someone like that? How you get them to break that taboo that they probably don’t even realize is there?

RR: The further the distance gets from the project, the more I realize that other things were at work. There was definitely a bit of a dare, and a challenge to people.

“I dare you to transgress,” like you said, “your own boundaries.” To do things that we are told are not necessarily appropriate.

There is a challenge that is being placed onto my subjects. More recently, I’ve started thinking that there is a transference that’s happening, of what I might want to do to the person.

As I became more of a director, as these scenes of joining these people together played out, I realized that I needed to make more compelling pictures. People have a very conventional sense of touch, in general. If left to their own devices, they’re just going to hold hands. Or put their arm around each other.

They’re not going to get that intimate. I realized I needed to be more of a director, and construct the points of contact. What I now have come to see is sometimes, I’m transferring what I would want to do one of the subjects. By having the other subject do it.

There’s this one image of a woman who’s going through chemotherapy, and she looks sick. You can tell. She has these ortho shoes on.

JB: In Hawaii?

RR: Yeah, it’s in Oahu. I paired her with this other woman, who was on her honeymoon, and I had her caress her on the cheek. I think it was the second exposure I made. I know that’s how I felt.

I felt bad, and I would have wanted to do that. There is this emotional transference that I see in these pictures, from where I stand now.

There’s another with a sexy black guy and black girl, in Venice Beach. I really wanted to touch the guy. He was like a body-builder working out at the pit in Venice Beach. You know?

JB: Sure.

RR: I wanted to be really intimate. So what she did was what I wanted to do. I find that conversation interesting, because it’s newer for me. It’s come up lately, discussing the work at talks. I’ve started to see my own projections. What I would wish for, were I to have that freedom to touch someone.

JB: That’s the sequel, right?

RR: (laughing.) (pause.) I can’t be the “Touching Strangers” guy forever.

JB: (laughing.) Indeed. I feel you. It was tongue in cheek. I don’t think we do sequels in photography. It’s not Hollywood, right?

RR: It’s true. Maybe you can do B-sides?

JB: It’s great to see the way people have responded to it. I saw it on the wall, and then I saw the book.

RR: Did you see the show at Aperture?

JB: I did. I was in New York in April. That’s part of why I ended up reviewing the book. I don’t get excited by photography as often as I’d like, unfortunately. But that show grabbed me, so when I finally got my hands on the book, it was a perfect way to write about it.

But until I did a little research for this interview, I didn’t know that Aperture had done a Kickstarter to raise money for the book. You didn’t do a Kickstarter campaign, they did?

RR: That’s right.

JB: How does that work? Here at APE, it’s a conversation we have often. Where does the money come from? Who’s doing the raising? How much do you have to bring to the table?

So please don’t feel like I’m putting you on the spot, but Aperture raised $80,000 to publish your book.

RR: Right.

JB: That’s crazy. Did they use it all? Isn’t it their job to raise money? How does this work?

RR: I just wanted them to publish it outright. They told me they had been approached by Kickstarter to partner with them. Kickstarter was interested in raising their own profile.

JB: They got to benefit from partnering with the Aperture brand, in a sense?

RR: That was the intent. And Aperture, as a non-profit, is always looking for funding. So they viewed this as a new source of funding, because they’re always begging for money. They do auctions and fundraisers. They saw this as another source for them.

For me, personally, I was not sure about going down that road. One reason is that if people know me, and know my background, they probably knew that I had the resources to have had my own publishing company, which was Charles Lane Press. Which you know about.

JB: Right.

RR: Although it was very challenging, and in the end, I wasn’t able to continue and make it work.

JB: You’re using the past tense here. I had no idea that it was defunct.

RR: It’s not defunct, but it’s on extended, if not permanent, hiatus. We’re still selling our stock of inventory. So it’s not gone, and there could be the opportunity some day to re-engage with that.

JB: You started it to produce your own book, which was “Fall River Boys.” Is that right?

RR: That’s right. But we also produced 3 other books by 3 other photographers.

JB: Thereafter.

RR: Yes. Which I’m very proud of. It was a great accomplishment, and I think they were really fantastic books that were under-appreciated, actually.

JB: As a publisher, how did you go about selecting work to get behind?

RR: I was naive, so I got behind the work that I wanted to get behind. Not work that, from a financial standpoint, crunching the numbers, I knew I could sell this many books. And make this much back.

I really wasn’t interested in publishing someone that had already been published, and had many opportunities before them. And I wanted to work with people that I thought were doing really interesting things. To give the same opportunity to them that Aperture gave to me with my first book in 2006.

I wanted to be a curator, in a way. For my partner and me, this were our choices. What we were presenting. And I didn’t want to present someone that everyone knew. You know?

Which was what someone told me I should do, if I wanted to really make the company work.

JB: I’m just spitballing here, but that’s why people like Martin Parr, or Paul Graham…

RR: (laughing) I was just thinking of Martin Parr too.

JB: Right. That’s why they have seven books a year, because the companies know that if they work with an established brand…

RR: It’s what people want. Because they buy it. Or it’s what people know. It’s a combination of the two. It was really challenging.

But getting back to Kickstarter, that was one concern. And another concern was, “What if we don’t make it?” When we were having this conversation, I don’t think Indiegogo had its feet to the ground yet. So if you didn’t make your goal on Kickstarter, you didn’t get anything.

To alleviate that concern, Aperture set a really low bar.

JB: 10 Grand.

RR: Yeah. The book would have cost more to produce, for sure, but at that point, they were talking something very small. More like the size of that Tim Hetherington book, do you know it, “Infidel?”

JB: Not off the top of my head. I should have lied and said yes.

RR: Closer to 5.5″x7″ than 8.5″x11″, you know? A smaller trim size, and a smaller press run. The campaign launched after Aperture sent a videographer, and we made the video piece of me actually making a “Touching Strangers.”

They launched it in June, and they have a hefty marketing department behind them, where they can get the word out to a huge mailing list. People knew about the project, because I had been putting it out since 2007. I showed the series on Conscientious, and on David Bram’s site…

JB: Fraction.

RR: Yeah. I think I had, over the years, built an audience. But we met the funding goal in three hours. It became this thing that had a life of its own, and we got a lot of attention. The New York Times did a piece while the campaign was still up.

Towards the end, CBS news contacted me and wanted to do a piece. I was anxious and nervous about that too. I thought they were going to paint it with a very sentimental brush. It was all about “Touching Strangers,” and they tailed me on a shoot. I pushed back really hard against where I thought he wanted to go.

It still goes there, but it’s OK that it goes there. There is, included, some of the tension and complexity. I was really pleased with how the final piece came out. The segment is called “On the Road,” it used to be with Charles Kuralt.

JB: Sure.

RR: Very Americana, heartfelt stories. The piece does arouse sentiment, but I don’t think that’s bad. Because the work does, you know?

I was actually in New Mexico, and it aired the day that CBS went offline in three of the biggest markets, because of a contract dispute.

JB: Oh my goodness.

RR: So people in New York and LA tried to tune in, and CBS was black on Time Warner cable systems, because Time Warner and CBS had a dispute which lasted a week. But in the fall, the piece got picked up by some of the news aggregating sites, like Reddit, and it went viral.

The Youtube video of that CBS piece ended up with 2 million views. It’s too bad that didn’t happen when the Kickstarter campaign was up. That just propelled it even further.

JB: But they wouldn’t have needed $800,000 to produce your book, right? 80 Grand, I would imagine, covered everything?

RR: It enabled them to make a bigger book, a higher press run, and covered the traveling exhibition.

JB: Do people now contact you? Do they want to be shot by Richard Renaldi? Is this developing a commission aspect to your career, or has that not happened yet?

RR: Last year, when the project went “viral,” an organization called Art Works, in Cincinnati, approached me. They have a partnership with Cincinnati Metro. They are generally a mural program, where they create murals all over Cincinnati.

With the Metro partnership, they place art works in the bus stops, in the big light box displays. They thought it would be great to bring “Touching Strangers” into that, and do a partnership with Cincinnati Metro. They commissioned me to make original “Touching Strangers” for the light boxes, to coincide with the Photo Focus photo festival, which opens this weekend.

I jumped at the chance, because for engaging the public, on a mass scale like that, the bus stop is perfect. And it comes full circle, because the idea came out of the “See America by Bus” series.

JB: Right.

RR: As the time approached, to go make the pictures, I was actually dreading it, because I hadn’t shot “Touching Strangers” in a while. I was done with it, and it was hard to wrap my head around going back to do more. So I didn’t want to go.

But it was a commitment, and I ended up making some of the best pictures in the series. Really, it turned out to be a strong collection, the pictures from Cincinnati. Maybe we can include some of those.

JB: It would be cool to publish them. We’d love to show things that people haven’t seen.

RR: Honestly, beyond that, I was hoping that I would get another ad campaign some day. I had a great experience with that Microsoft job. It was kind of the job of a lifetime, I don’t know if that will ever happen again but I am certainly open to it.

JB: Well, those folks read this blog every day. So, who knows?

RR: I know, I know. I would love those folks to throw me into the mix again. On that Microsoft job, which spanned 18 countries, I really ended up enjoying the discipline, and it ended up making me a better photographer.

I had to think about other considerations, and photograph with someone else in mind. But I was really fortunate, because I had the artistic freedom to make the kind of images I wanted. In that project, it really looks like my work.

I’d really like that opportunity again.

JB: Well, we’re putting it out there, so we’ll see what happens.

RR: Yeah.

JB: (laughing) I’m helping as much as I can.

RR: I was approached by Hanes, recently, to do people touching each other’s new Hanes soft-cotton blend T-shirt.

JB: Right.

RR: So they wanted to basically co-opt “Touching Strangers.”

JB: Strangers Touching Michael Jordan.

RR: Basically. They wanted to sell underwear with my idea. And that didn’t appeal to me. I thought it wouldn’t respect the work I did on this project. But they thought it was the greatest idea in the world.

JB: Of course they did.

RR: They wanted to attach my name to it. I thought, “Maybe if I was anonymous, and it was a lot of money, I’d consider it.” But I pushed back pretty hard, and I never heard back.

JB: Earlier in the interview, you talked about a project in which you were photographing in bus stations, which are inherently transient, and you were taking Greyhounds and such. And with “Touching Strangers,” it’s right there in the title, that you don’t know these people.

How do you operate? Do you give people prints, when you take their picture? Do you ever stay in touch? Is this only a fleeting connection, or have any of these pictures led to relationships that have evolved over time?

RR: I don’t know if I like the word fleeting, but it was definitely a short-term relationship.

JB: Ephemeral? How’s that?

RR: Sure. There could have been a strong connection, but I haven’t done a project where I’ve followed someone for a long period of time. Where you get close to them.

My portraiture has been more about a place, or an idea, rather than the long story of someone’s life. Because of that, I haven’t gotten to be close friends with many of my subjects, per se.

Though “Touching Strangers” is the one exception, where I have had subsequent contact and conversations with some of the people in the pictures. That is largely due to a lot of the press that followed; they wanted to be connected with some of my subjects to interview them about the experience.

I became an intermediary, or a go-between, and I really enjoyed having the contact with them. I always send my a print or a jpeg, so I always get their contact information.

JB: It’s the perfect title, “Touching Strangers.” You have this incredible way of opening yourself up for your audience. In the book, you talk about the fact that you used to sneak out of your house in Chicago, when you were a teenager, and literally touch strangers.

That’s almost an encoded part of the title, though I suppose you have to read the statement to know that. There are different levels of ideas going on in this one project, wouldn’t you say?

RR: I would. It’s pretty layered, I think. Which is cool. There’s a personal part, and then the universal. It’s resonated with the viewers, and it’s an accessible idea.

Probably the most that I will ever have in my career. I don’t imagine subsequent series will reach as many people. I’ve really reached more people with this one series than most photographers ever do.

And that’s kind of cool. It’s an accessible idea, and so much of art is often intimidating to people. There is often this notion that you need to know something about art to understand it.

I think that’s a potential pitfall of art and photography, is that it can be so academic. I think it’s because photography is this reproducible thing, so there’s this drive to make it seem rare, because of the market.

There’s a preciousness attached to it, where photography is trying to make itself rare. Music and film aren’t like that. They’re for everyone. I think art would be better if it had a more accessible, mass appeal approach.

That doesn’t mean I created “Touching Strangers” to have mass appeal. It just happened to resonate.

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This Week In Photography Books: John Gossage

by Jonathan Blaustein

When I was young, a school year felt like a decade. Time moved like blue children’s goop, as it slithers out of its container. (Slurp, slurp, slide a millimeter, slurp, slurp.)

I’m well aware that this idea is far from new. That time moves more quickly as we age. I know it. You know it.

So why do I mention it now?

Because it will be Thanksgiving next week. We’ve already had snow here, and it’s dipped below 0 at night. Honestly, I’m not sure how this happened. Summer feels like it was just here; the moisture residue on the window pane, after you’ve breathed upon it.

In the last few years, I’ve finally figured out that a year is a natural cycle. Perhaps it’s connected to our planet’s journey around the sun. Perhaps not.

Who am I to conjecture?

But it most certainly does affect the way we feel. Nearing the end, rounding third base, if you will, we’re all exhausted. Worn out. Tired deep in our bones.

I’m sure you feel that way too. We all do. Thanksgiving offers the illusion of respite. Sure, we won’t have to work for a few days, but all that eating, socializing, and digesting takes energy few of us have to spare.

Then it’s a glamour-less push to Christmas break, where many of us will finally get a chance to unplug and recharge. To stop. To sit. To allow ourselves to regenerate for the new year.

What will we do in 2015? Will we try new things? Attempt to learn new skills? Push ourselves to defecate on what we already know, in the hopes that it might fertilize a new way of seeing?

Right. It wouldn’t be one of my book reviews if I didn’t leave you with at least one uncouth image. So consider the job done. But a book review it is, so let’s get to it.

Today, I want to highlight “Who Do You Love,” by John Gossage, recently published by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. It is a strange production, to be sure, and its oddity is confirmed in an interview at the end, between Mr. Gossage and Darius Himes, the former director of the gallery.

I was genuinely unsure of what I was seeing, when I first perused. Why the cheap cardboard cover? Were these actual prints glued to the pages? I gently moved my fingernail along the edge, and found it was a smooth sheet of paper. Why the big tan borders, and the odd pieces of color?

Take a moment, read the captions, and you realize these are re-creations of actual assemblage pieces. They’re simulacra. Virtualizations of slightly 3-dimensional art that exists in the world. Not one more iteration of a digital file that can be done with what you please, including embossing it on a coffee cup.

As many of you know, I interviewed the artist here a couple of years ago. He was the funniest, most engaging, and perhaps even the most charismatic person I’ve interviewed yet. Brimming with energy and wit.

These pictures are quiet. Thoughtful. Subtle. Emotive like an almost finished cigarette. So very different from the man himself.

The aforementioned interview with Mr. Himes confirms that Mr. Gossage almost never ventures outside of the purely photographic. (Though the boxes he told us about, called, “Hey Fuckface,” if I recall, are likely another attempt.) These pieces were a deliberate challenge to what he knew of photography.

And experiment. A car crash, as he said.

I wasn’t sure if I liked them the first time through. On the second pass, I decided that I did. Especially as the little pieces of virtual colored paper begin to take form, to have personality, to make you think of art in general.

And play.

The photos too have a power to them, on repeated viewing. The hand, held up, like Stop. The X of the steel beams. The outright beauty of the shadow of a border fence over a Pacific beach.

Mr. Gossage admitted in our interview that he’s made a lot of books. Probably more than he could count, unless he had a CV handy. Many of us have still not made even one. (Myself included.)

I can’t imagine it’s that easy to use this type of forum for experimentation. Making a cardboard book that attempts to re-create the subversive spirit of a cardboard photo project. It takes guts, and the foreknowledge that some people will find it underdone.

Even the title, “Who Do You Love,” takes on an unexpected meaning as the opening page depicts lyrics from that 70’s song that you won’t get out of your head, once you realize what I’m talking about. (“I walked 47 miles of barbed wire…”)

Anyway. Enough for today. You get the point.

Me being me, you can be sure there will be more on “what we can expect for next year,” in the weeks to come. But let this be the start, before you’ve even had your first, sweet taste of tryptophan. I wish you much luck in exciting new ventures, should you have the stones to try reinvention in 2015.

Bottom Line: Cool, slightly crazy attempt to recreate assemblage art

To Purchase “Who Do You Love” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.