Yearly Archives: 2012

The fine line between total stupidity and creative danger

- - Blog News

My only interest in photography right now centers on books, collector prints, and mentoring. If I can possibly afford it, I will take no assignments. I have done enough assignments. I will work harder than ever, yet only on my own projects. Even my assignments in years past always had my stamp on them. Personalized them as much as possible. Yet now is the time to go back to my roots and be 100% pure on everything I do.

– david alan harvey

via on the edgeā€¦. | burn magazine.

The Daily Edit – Monday
8.27.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Oprah

Design Directors: Priest+Grace
Creative Director: AdamĀ  Glassman
Photo Director: Katherine Schad
Deputy Art Directors: Jose Fernandez, Angela Reichers
Deputy Photo Director: Christina Weber

Photographer: Chris Crisman

 

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

This Week In Photography Books – Mitch Epstein

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m sitting in my library. Diaper packs are stacked around me. Pink blankies peak at me from disparate piles. They mock my attempt to focus. “Enjoy it while you can, Fool,” they say. “Your precious quiet is about to DIE. This is our turf now, Fool. Move along.” Damn pink blankies. Who knew they could be so cruel?

Yes, as I shared with you a few months ago, my daughter’s arrival is now imminent. Any minute now. I sit, and wait. Which leaves a lot of time to think. I channeled much of the anxiety into a fruitless search for a new camera, but really, I was just hiding from the truth. (Big Ups to Rich Andres at Fotocare.) Change is coming. And few things cause more fear in humans than the Unknown.

Understandably, then, change has been on my mind. Beyond the obvious, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to grow as an artist. Thankfully, at 38, I’ve finally managed to have a bit of success. But my ego is healthy enough to admit that I have far to go, if greatness is my goal. We all have our own ambitions, true, but I’m not one to accept that my best work is behind me. Better to jump off the Gorge Bridge and be done with it. (RIP Tony Scott. That “True Romance” face off between Chris Walken and Dennis Hopper was a cinema classic.)

Given the scope of my ruminations, I was fortunate to get my hands on “State of the Union,” a new book by Mitch Epstein. It was published by Hatje Canitz, in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s work in Bonn. And, it is unique in all the books I’ve reviewed thusfar.

The oversized hardcover features several essays, and an insightful interview with the artist that alone makes the book a worthy purchase. It is impeccably produced; basically divided into two sets of plates. The first features a set of photos made in the 70’s and 80’s: very obvious temporal references. The photographs are big, each spilling from the right page to the left, and they are terrific. Talk about implied narrative.

Whether we see a man sleeping on a cot, next to a car, in the shadow of the former Twin Towers, or a pack of ladies scrambling to pick something up off of a Madison Avenue sidewalk. (A contact lens? A buffalo nickel?) Snake handlers, snow-cone-eaters, and children chilling in a pack-and-play while their dad pulls in fish off of a nameless pier. All are lovely, all draw you in, and force questions: What is going on here? What are they looking at? Where was this taken? How big is this freaking country?

The photographs are terrific, but definitely fit beside Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, and William Eggleston. They were contemporaries, and it shows. Each has a slightly different personality, which emerges in the work, but the similarites outweigh the differences. Here, section 1 gives us a glimpse of the best young Mr. Epstein could offer.

Then, a big jump. Bam. The next set of plates time travels to the 21st Century, each a sample of Mr. Epstein’s recent opus, American Power. Immediately, the style shifts. We get to see Mr. Epstein’s vision at a more mature stage, and his growth separates him from his other famous peers.

These photos were obviously taken with an 8×10 camera, which the text confirms. They are as sharp as a Hattori Honzu sword. Details shine, compositions are more formal. They are excellent images, and the plates are better than many of the prints I’ve seen at portfolio reviews. If you love Mr. Epstein’s work, but are not in a place to buy an editioned print, the quality here is reason number 2 to buy this book.

I loved seeing this before/after mashup. The new photographs, look at the energy industry, and the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina. Smoke billows from a power plant, a security guard stares through binoculars in the ravaged New Orleans Museum of Art, a newer hurricaine swirls on a projection screen, just outside the 2008 Republican Convention in Minnesota. There are more, but I don’t think it’s necessary to list them all.

So there you have it. This book is worth purchasing for a variety of reasons: the interview, the print quailty, and the potential inspiration it offers. And rest assured, I’ll continue writing these reviews even after my life gets turned upside down. I’ll just have to find a new favorite spot in which to do it. C’est la vie.

Bottom Line: Amazing production, unique in its dual vision

To purchase “State of the Union” visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

The Daily Edit – Friday
8.24.12

- - The Daily Edit

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InStyle

Creative Director: Rina Stone
Design Director: Brian Anstey
Deputy Art Director: Mariya Ivankovister
Deputy Photo Director: Lisa Martin
Senior Photo Editors: Mariel Osborn

Photographer: Dusan Reljin

 

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

Still Images in Great Advertising- Peter Schafrick

Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column whereĀ Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.

I had the pleasure of working with Peter Schafrick of Toronto and his amazing still motion of a liquidity product. Ā I say it this way because he captures everything from smoke to paint to coffee to dirt to, well vodka. Ā He has stayed true to his love of the work and the advertising world has taken notice. He has been able to create great campaigns that stop the viewer to take a closer look.

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Suzanne: Ā Absolut is one of those campaigns that every artists wants. Ā Did you reach out to the agency or did they find you?

Peter: To be honest, I’ve worked with the agency before, and have known the art buyer, Julia Menassa, for a number of years. She actually gave me one of my first breaks when she was at Cossette in Toronto, and I was just starting to shoot for agencies. My rep, Charlie Holtz at Ray Brown Productions, also has a long-standing relationship with Julia. Charlie and I are in regular contact with most of the art buyers in New York. Charlie is very skilled at maintaining these relationships, and I regularly send out promos to agencies as well. I believe this combination makes it easier for an art buyer to recommend me to creative director. All I can hope is my work then resonates with the creatives and client.

Suzanne: Ā I know you add so much to the creative process and I would assume with a client like Absolut they let you have a lot of creative license. Ā How much did they get involved in the shape of the pour?

Peter: For this project, the creative director, Jin Park, actually has the pour and splash sketched out, so we actually had something to work towards. I find these days that by the time an agency shows me a layout, it’s already been tweaked and massaged dozens of times, and because the client signed off on it there’s not as much creative license remaining. Having said that, the unpredictability of liquid pouring and splashing does allow me to push the envelope. So while on set my crew and I will first aim for the specs as dictated in the brief and as discussed beforehand with the creatives, I still love to try different things on set in hopes we capture something more unique and beautiful that could find it’s way into the final image.

Suzanne: Ā I think what separates you from other liquid shooters is the subject matter that you shoot. Ā How do you find your inspiration for what to shoot for you own work?

Peter: I’m typically inspired by different types of liquids, and the unique characteristics of liquids. So I tend to latch on to a specific liquid I would like to shoot, them match it to an object. Sometimes just watching my kids play in the bath or in the pool inspires me to experiment with launching liquid in different ways.

Suzanne: Ā What advice can you give to an artist in the photographic medium in finding their art that has a purpose in advertising?

Peter: I firmly believe that part of our role as photographers is to inspire creatives at agencies, so in turn they can inspire their clients. And as an artist, one must create compelling work that comes from what you are passionate about creating. When you love to do something, you tend to do it well, and that makes it easier to put out there and promote.

Note: Content for Still Images In Great Advertising is found. Submissions are not accepted.

Peter is a specialist within the world of commercial photography, shooting mainly product with an emphasis on liquids. He is represented in the US by Ray Brown, in Canada by Arlene Reps and in Europe by Rockenfeller & Gƶbels.

APE contributorĀ Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.

Gregory Heisler Interview

Gregory Heisler has spent the last quarter century photographing covers for magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life. In 1994, he was famously blacklisted from the White House press corps for shooting a double exposure of President George H.W. Bush (ā€œThe Two Faces of Bushā€) for Timeā€™s Person of the Year cover. Since then, Heisler, now 58, has seen photography shift from film to digital and magazines switch from staff shooters to freelancers. Since 2009, heā€™s been teaching portraiture at the Hallmark Institute of Photography, in Massachusetts. September 30 through October 5, heā€™ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called The Evocative Portrait. ā€”Grayson Schaffer

Grayson: Youā€™re a professor now?
Gregory: Itā€™s like camera schoolā€”vocational school. Itā€™s for people who really want to take pictures for a living. They wouldnā€™t be there to become a curator. Itā€™s very hands on.

Grayson: Like youā€™ll be doing at the Santa Fe Workshops.
Gregory: At the workshops thereā€™d be a little more theory and a little more emphasis on the philosophy of it. The classes that I teach are that but the emphasis is more on craft.

Grayson: In your workshop, what kinds of skills will you be working on.
Gregory: It’s kind of a color week, the emphasis is on color, so weā€™re going to be looking at color from the subjective point of view as opposed to the objective. Not looking for correct color or accurate color, weā€™re going for color thatā€™s more about feeling. So I would say, a lot of our time is going to be spent looking at ways to express ourselves, particularly in the context of portraiture. To express oneself creatively using color and light.

Grayson: What do you mean by color? Lighting, post production, or just subject matter?
Gregory: The emphasis is more on working with light in ways that are expressive. Not big deal lighting stuff with huge strobes. It could be ways of manipulating ambient light, it could be very simple. Thereā€™s sort of a whole spectrum of ways to do that.

Grayson: Where are you in your own work, are you still producing editorial pictures?
Gregory: Yes. Less frequently because Iā€™m doing the teaching gig, but because Iā€™m an artist in residence, Iā€™ve still been able to accept commercial jobs, and what Iā€™ll do is Iā€™ll make little videos on the side that I then bring back to the school and show the students the next day. I did a cover for Sports Illustrated about three or four weeks ago of Lebron James. They called Friday for a shoot on Saturday, and the magazine was on stands by Wednesday. I had videos to show the class on Tuesday. Itā€™s very timely. And the two things really dovetail well together.

Grayson: How has your work evolved over the years. You used to have that iconic, TIME magazine, medium- and large-format format film look. Is that still how youā€™re producing pictures?
Gregory: I was shooting lots of large format portraits then but Iā€™ve since changed to digital, where you have so much more control. There are millions of things you can do with digital; you can be more spontaneous, and youā€™re more in control of your color palette. Also, sort of counter-intuitively, Iā€™m now working more simply because of digital. Iā€™m working less with strobes and more with continuous lightingā€”LEDā€™s, Tungsten, etc. and working to make very simple images. I did a series of images for the National Arts Club in New York, of different authors, and writers, and those are some of my favorite pictures Iā€™ve done in the last several years. Theyā€™re very simple, all done on black backgrounds, very quiet. But theyā€™re really beautiful. It’s just a different kind of portrait for me.

Grayson: Interesting, so this Lebron cover, did you shoot that with a 5D or a digitial Hasselblad?
Gregory: That was actually shot with a Hasselblad and strobes, which contradicts everything I just said.

Grayson: It does seem like as you see people using smaller and smaller kits. That Hasselblad is used more for magazine covers than anything else.
Gregory: Thatā€™s probably true. Itā€™s such a funky camera. They designed it from the ground up but they designed it in landscape view. Itā€™s a landscape camera. And basically 99 percent of people use it vertically, and it absolutely sucks to use vertically. It doesn’t have a vertical shutter release, the viewfinderā€™s on its side, and the camera hangs off the tripod. If they were designing a camera from scratch they could have designed a vertical camera, or a revolving back, but they didnā€™t, which is kind of shocking. Iā€™m sure somebody will come up with something like that sooner or later.

Grayson: When I look through your older work, it seems like people would hire you to do all kinds of images. I canā€™t point to one specific style and say that it was you who shot it. But these days it seems like art directors are hiring for a really specific lookā€”a schtick. Is that something thatā€™s changed over time?
Gregory: Thatā€™s a very accurate perception. These days it might be someone like Platon who might have a very specific look or style for the pictures that he takes and thatā€™s something that people want. Twenty years ago it might have been William Coupon, who was doing things in a very specific way, on a painted background, and all his pictures were the same. Thatā€™s always been surprising to me because… well, actually, itā€™s not surprising. Art directors want a sure thing.

Grayson: Is it as simple as that? Art directors want to play it safe?
Gregory: Yeah, it is. I hate to say it because I think people are risk averse these days more than ever. Before they even pick up the phone, they know what the pictureā€™s going to be. So thereā€™s a certain comfort in that, a certain security that they can lay out the cover of the magazine and kind of know what itā€™s going to be. They can put one of his other photographs in its place and have an idea what itā€™s going to be, and they can sell that to their editor. The last thing people want is a surprise, these days. The weirdest thing to me is that magazines would never do this for their writers. They would never hire a writer who writes for another magazine; they want to have their own stable of writers. Newsweek would never hire a TIME writer, and TIME would never hire a Newsweek writerā€”but they would both hire the same photographer to shoot a cover for them. In fact they want to be in the club in a way. These magazines donā€™t have enough confidence to have their own style, so they use a borrowed style. That is shocking to me, but your perception is very accurate. Itā€™s a way to be more commercially viable, but to me, thatā€™s not having a style, thatā€™s having a schtick. To me, style is like your fingerprint. Nobody else has it. A schtick is like gloves. You can buy them and put them on. Technique is like that. Anyone can set up their lights in the same way these folks do and come up with largely the same results. Not the same pictures, but largely the same result.

Grayson: When you come to a picture, itā€™s got to be more difficult if you donā€™t know, for example, that you’re going to put somebody in a chair and shoot them from ankle level. How did you figure out that youā€™re going to shoot Lebron over plexiglass in your recent SI shoot.
Gregory: You kind of figure out every picture from scratch, which is not to say I never do pictures that Iā€™ve done beforeā€”but I really try not to. Whenever I get an assignment I try to think how to shoot this person for this story in this magazine at this point in time.

Grayson: Do you have a series of questions that you ask yourself? Ways you think about it?
Gregory: Those would be them. If youā€™re shooting Bruce Springsteen for Rolling Stone, it would be a different picture than shooting Bruce Springsteen for TIME or Fortune. Thereā€™s no reason those pictures should all be the same. One story might be talking about his latest release, another might be about his fortune, another might be about how he stays fit. Those are all different images, and that to me is what makes it interestingā€”trying to figure out how to tailor the image specifically for that person. Thereā€™s no reason youā€™d shoot Mother Theresa and Newt Gingrich the same way.

Grayson: How long does it take you to think of these things?
Gregory: Sometimes day, sometimes not until youā€™re walking into the room. And even then, sometimes it all goes out the window. A lot of the challenge and the reason for the success of those one-shot photographers is that their pictures almost have to be subject proof. Because you usually only have a few minutes with the person. You never know whoā€™s going to walk into the roomā€”whether theyā€™re going to be friendly, grumpy, sick of photographers, or between meetings.

Grayson: On the opposite side of the spectrum from being subject-proof, do you have photo shoots that fail from time to time?
Gregory: I think they all suck. The picture I was hoping for is never the picture I get, but yeah, I think they fail all the time. Fortunately my clients don’t think they do, so I can continue to have a career. But I just look at them and think, ugh.

Grayson: Youā€™ve had some fairly well known people work for you. Who were some of them?
Gregory: Dan Winters worked with me for awhile about 20 years ago. Thereā€™s a guy named Gregor Halenda. We used to joke that he hadnā€™t earned the ā€œyā€ yet. He just relocated from Manhattan to Portland. Heā€™s terrific. He does a lot of stuff with still life and motorcycles. Thereā€™s a guy named Monte Isom who just worked with me freelance, and heā€™s doing well. Itā€™s interesting because it takes so much to be a good photographer. Some of it is the industry, some of itā€™s your personality. People arenā€™t hiring just a picture, theyā€™re hiring someone they can work with. That plays a big role .

Grayson: Do you ever feel threatened by the success of your former assistants?
Gregory: No I think itā€™s gratifying. Itā€™s awesome!

Grayson: Itā€™s interesting, because you definitely meet both kinds of photographersā€”the proprietary kind and the generous kindā€”but it seems like the guys who are really at the top of their field recognize that theyā€™re doing something that canā€™t be easily replicated and are willing to share what they know.
Gregory: My brother used to say some people have an ā€œinferiority simplex.ā€ Itā€™s not that theyā€™re under the delusion that theyā€™re inferior; they actually are inferior and they secretly know it. I think thatā€™s what those photographers are like. Theyā€™re very jealous.

Grayson: What about your work flow?
Gregory: It varies with the client. For SI, theyā€™re on a very tight deadline, and they want raw send-offs. So they want files FTPd right from the shoot. That stuff goes off, and at that point let go of it. Later, Iā€™ll send them processed jpegs with what I think it should look like, but itā€™s up to them whether they abide by that or not. In the case of Lebron, it pretty much looked the way it was supposed to look.

Grayson: So when you send them jpegs, youā€™re monkeying around in Lightroom or Photoshop, burning and dodging to get it where you want?
Gregory: Well yeah, in the case of Lebron, it was kind of done. We had five or ten minutes with him, but weā€™d spent the better part of the day messing with lighting, so as soon as he walked in it was good to go. We did a global correction with a digital tech on set and then sent them off. Normally I do all my own post work. Itā€™s not that I do it better than anyone else, I just do it my way. I make decisions. People who print at labs are probably far better printers, but they wonā€™t make my decisions mid-process. I donā€™t want to be out of the loop. I want to be a photographer and do all of it.

Grayson: On Lebron, what were you using?
Gregory: Thatā€™s a funny one. The picture was actually set up to photograph him with the NBA trophy, which ended up not getting used. The trophy is a highly polished golden globeā€”so I wanted a good reflection, which is more like a still life than a portrait. Itā€™s difficult to cast the light. Even an octabank would leave a spot. So I got a 12-foot roll of white seamless paper and pounded the light through it. Itā€™s very diffused soft light, but itā€™s incredibly inefficient. The light off him was like f4. But on the other side of the seamless it was like 90. The seamless is opaque for all intents and purposes. I donā€™t remember using gels.

Grayson: Were you an early adopter of digital?
Gregory: No. I went along kicking and screaming. Digital held no romance for me at all. I hated it. I miss my big cameras. The working process, I miss it.

Grayson: But you figured out how to do it?
Gregory: Yeah, I pretty much put a clothespin on my nose and took a plunge. Itā€™s amazing, but itā€™s weird to be on the far side of a learning curve. And itā€™s always like that. If you learn how to use a Deardorff, youā€™ll always know how to use every 8×10 camera. Youā€™re good to go. But if you learn how to use the 5D and then the 5DMKII, each one is a little bit different. They have different focus points. If you want to switch from Aperture to Lightroom, you have to learn how to do all that stuff. Itā€™s a constant learning curve which I hadnā€™t signed on for. I wanted to grow in terms of making pictures, not adapting to new software and technology. But thatā€™s the game now.

Grayson: Any look, any style, any era, all available at the touch of a button, now.
Gregory: Yeah, there are a lot of decisions to make, creatively. Now, with digital, you can really be the author of your own work. From the beginning to the end of the process, you control everything.

Note: Weā€™ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Gregory in Santa Fe for ā€œThe Evocative Portraitā€ go (here).

Brought About By A Relentlessly Negative Chain Of Events

- - Blog News

They wanted somebody else for the job, the subject changed the date, the chosen photographer couldnā€™t do the new date, a better story has fallen through and they need something to fill the gap. Itā€™s the urgent thatā€™s brought about by a series of failures. Your role in it, if not handled carefully, could forever associate you with those failures, despite the fact that you were not even involved at the point that they took place. No matter how good a job you may do you will always be thought of as the person to call when the person they want is not available. Best to try and avoid those if you can.

via Chris Floyd: Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances..

The Daily Edit – Wednesday
8.21.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Real Simple

Creative Director: Janet Froelich
Senior Art Director: Abby Kuster Prokell
Art Director: Joele Cuyler
Photo Director: Casey Tierney
Photo Editor: Lauren Reichbach Epstein
Associate Photo Editor: Brain Madigan

Photo Illustration: Cerise Doucede

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

New York Summer Visit 2012 – Part 2

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s both easy, and impossible to get lost in the Met. Easy, because the building is both rambling and enormous; impossible, because you’re never really lost. There’s always something fascinating to look at, and the off-the-beaten path stuff is often the best. (I once found a little room, recreated as Frank Lloyd Wright designed it. Haven’t seen it since.)

That said, after we left the Islamic galleries, we traipsed across the entire Museum to forage for food. Fifteen minutes later, standing in a line, waiting to pay a lot of money for not-very-interesting-sounding grub, we had a change of heart. Back, through the halls we trudged, back the way we came, back to the second floor to see some photographs. (As promised.)

The first photo exhibition, culled from the permanent collection, was called “Spies in the House of Art.” The series of images and videos was meant to offer inside access to the inner workings of the exhibition industry. The show was replete with big names, like Francesca Woodman, Candida Hofer, Louise Lawler, Thomas Struth, Diane Arbus, and Sophie Calle. Impressive lineup.

Alas, it was mostly boring. Some of the images were really good, to be sure, but ultimately, I was convinced that what happens in the front of the house is much preferred to the offices and vaults. There’s a reason they keep that stuff hidden: it’s not that interesting.

Up the hall we walked, towards another photo-only exhibit: “Naked Before The Camera.” Did that grab my attention? You bet it did. Finally, a show worthy of my snark and curiosity. I’ve been on a bit lately, in the book reviews, about the incessant use of boobs to sell photo books. Yes, they’re nice to look at. But when inserted by men, as so often happens, the repetitive pattern tends to leave a sour taste in my mouth. Exploitation needs a better reason, IMHO.

This exhibit was probably the most provocative I’ve seen at the Met. The two rooms of photographs, almost all Black and White, were engaging. Swarms of photo heroes and heroines were on display. There was a run by Larry Clark, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus that got my attention. Some brilliant images by Bill Brandt, Irving Penn, Man Ray and Brassai that were all vibrating on the wall, packed with latent energy.

Lots of amazing photographs. True. And enough variation in style and history to make one look harder at the human shape. But that was not what left me shaking my head.

IvĆ”n and I stood before a photograph by an artist of whom neither of us had heard: Jim Jager. The photo was called “Sharkey, 1980.” Within the rectangle stood an African-American man, against a studio backdrop, naked, holding a long wooden staff in one hand. His manhood was large, befitting the stereotypes we’ve all heard before. The implied reference was Africa, though the wall text insisted the image was made in Chicago, one among many.

Apparently, the photographer made soft-core porn images on a regular basis. They were not deemed “Art” at the time, any more than the series of harlot photos by the now famous EJ Bellocq. They were just meant to get people off.

The photograph was shockingly racist. So racist that Ivan and I kept looking at each other, then the back to the photo, then to each other, raising eyebrows and blowing air slowly through our mouths. Wow. So. Very. Racist.

I turned to my friend, “Should this be here?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t know.”

“Is the picture really that racist, or are we racist for assuming it’s racist?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, if it was a white guy, or if the penis wasn’t so huge, would we be offended?”

“I don’t know. I’m really not sure,” replied the massively opinionated, incredibly intelligent man to my right. “I just don’t know.”

I still don’t know. The layers of meaning, the depth of the references to Slavery and all things unholy, were inescapable. Should that be on the wall, among the masters of photography? Should an institution shy away from such provocations? Should it be censored, in a world in which lynching photos are hung, and vestiges of death and destruction? (Yes, no, no.) But still, I was terribly uncomfortable.

The rest of the show was tamer, until I headed for the door. There was an image of some naked Zulu girls from 1892-93. Pure trappings of colonialism. “Hey, look a the naked savages. They’re someone’s property now, so you don’t have to feel shameful.”

Together with the earlier image, they re-enforced a slimy feeling within me, one that was surprisingly lacking when I looked at all those breasts, penises, and vaginas. That was easy. Racism is hard. By including the sub-theme in the exhibit, however, the curators took a brave stand. Racism is a part of humanity, they decreed/implied, and it’s best to look at it directly. Too often, it’s left for the shadows.

One more mention, before I move on. The final image, or at least the last I noticed, was by Nadar. It was a full-on hermaphrodite photograph. The genetalia were front and center, the rest of the body faded into a shallow depth of field. The year: 1860. The effect: timeless. I shuddered, and then walked out the door. Like I said, this show ought to be controversial. If it’s still up, go see for yourself.

From there, we hiked back across Central Park, as I promised IvĆ”n some great pizza on Amsterdam Avenue. We waited out the rain, hoped the temperature would drop, watched some of a Euro Cup match, and munched on great food. (Ceasar’s Palace Pizza, Amsterdam between 83rd and 84th St.) It was a short walk to the subway from there, and we were downtown bound, to hit up a few shows in Chelsea.

Henceforth, I won’t do it that way again. The Uptown museums are about history, risk-taking and brilliance. Visions from the past, and visions that confound our expectations of the present. Clearly, not all the work on the wall is brilliant. Not possible. But the ambitions are always grand. Dream big, and you might make it.

In Chelsea, though, it’s a marketplace. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, the salesmen are dignified, though they won’t pay you any mind. They’re worried about the big fish that drop mad cash via email. Fair enough.

I don’t begrudge them anything, despite some of my past criticism. Capitalism marches on, and the businesses are there to sell Art. If they didn’t have to be open to the public, perhaps the doors would lock forever. But they do. And we go.

There’s often, if not always, great work to be seen. But it’s lost in the noise of mediocrity. My brain morphed from idealistic and humanistic to jaded and angry, and all it took was a train ride South. So much work was so seemingly tied to who knows who, or who’s profile is big enough to demand a solo show. Or at least that’s how I felt in the moment. Like I said, jaded.

In fairness, it was Summer, which we all know is not the time to see the showstopper exhibitions. And, having spent the better part of an hour sweating in Central Park, I didn’t have enough time to hit up 20 or 30 galleries, which would have increased my chances of seeing something transcendent. Alas.

As it was, we met my friend Jaime at Matthew Marks, to see the new Thomas Demand exhibit. Arriving early, we checked into a few spaces right there on 22nd St, and both were shaking our heads as we opened the door to the cavernous space. (One of several that Marks has in the neighborhood. He’s one of a handful of “Super-dealers” that drive the scene.)

I’ll say straight out, Mr. Demand is one of my favorite artists. I’ve long been enamored of his super-intricate, hand-made, illusionistic creations. They look “real” but are not. What is “real” anyway? Is paper real? Surely it is. But when people think they’re seeing a composite desk, or a ceramic bathtub, then paper and cardboard are relegated to “fake.”

There were three photographs on the wall, and a video in the larger back room. (They reconfigure the space for each show, I believe.) As much as I love the artist, I’d say the show was workmanlike, at best. When there are only three images to behold, they best be brilliant.

The money shot was called “Control Room.” It depicted what looked like the bridge of some Space Ship, or the nerve center of a Government bunker, deep underground. Hidden under Colorado Springs, no doubt.

The panels of the ceiling hung down, however, and there were no humans to be seen. It was empty. Haunted. One could not escape the feeling that the image was meant to represent a dim view of the future, when we were gone, but our organized infrastructure remained. Empty, yes, but don’t forget the organized part. (The artist is German, after all.)

The other two images were far less dramatic. One, a storeroom filled with art, the other, a room service cart in a generic hotel room. Often, there are stories associated with Mr. Demand’s scenes, stories not accessible by the title or image. The background floats along by word of mouth. Which is to say, if there were reasons for these photos, they escaped me.

Jaime was entranced with the lighting techniques in the food cart photo. He deconstructed the way the light enhanced certain shapes, and softened others. It was not something I would have noticed. Another great reminder how subjective was our venture, judging and deciding. One man’s love of implied narrative is another man’s fascination with light.

Speaking of implied narrative, as there was no image-history at our fingertips, I guessed, “Maybe it was one of Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard’s last meals? Before he was put down for his failure to protect the big boss?” Quickly, Jaime retorted, “No, they don’t eat pork.” I looked again, and there, among the fake paper food, was a piece of fake proscuitto. Well seen, Jaime.

The video returned to the Space Ship theme, as a room swayed above, on the screen. The commissary of some lost Enterprise, sloshing back and forth, back and forth. All the furniture would slide one way across the room, and then back again. Jaime noted that nothing was ever damaged, though. Odd, yes, cool, sure, but I wondered if it pushed the artist’s ideas any further along?

And that was why I ultimately left disappointed. Mr. Demand has been making work in this style for a very, very long time. Will he shift? Will it end? I don’t know. Should he? Can an artist mine the same territory, over and over and over again, and never get bored? Will the work improve forever, or get stale, like that hunk of ciabatta you forgot about, that guards the back of your refrigerator?

Of course, I don’t know. When I shot my current project in my studio, I knew some would say it looked a lot like “The Value of a Dollar,” as they share the same locale. But I wanted to build on my ideas, and thought it was silly to change my studio around just because some would have me do so. A table is a table, after all.

But, never would I ever shoot only that way, forever. It would not cross my mind, to never, ever change. Yes, making a new way in the world can be scary, and failure is more than possible. So I suppose that means that, in my opinion, it’s time for Mr. Demand to move on. Freshen things up.

Will he? Who knows? I can tell you one thing though. If he does, it won’t be because of anything I’ve said. When we make Art, we’re ultimately our own boss. If we choose to slave to the market, so be it. He can laugh all the way to his secret bank account in the Caymans. Who am I to criticize?

My Photographic Moral Compass

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I close my eyes and I think of the canon. The canon are the photographers I draw on in times of doubt. They give me comfort, solace and inspiration. They include Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Corrine Day, Glen Luchford, Erwin Blumenfeld, Harry Callahan and, in this case, Irving Penn. I close my eyes and I go through the rolodex in my head thinking of them all until I find the one that instinctively feels like the inspirational match for the task at hand. Thatā€™s not to say I set about slavishly ripping them off. I use them as my starting point, my jumping off point. They are my photographic moral compass.

via Chris Floyd: Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances..

New York Summer Visit 2012 – Part 1

by Jonathan Blaustein

“Wait a second,” I said. “I know that building.”

“Yes, it does look familiar,” IvĆ”n replied.

“Right. From Central Park West.”

“Central Park West?” His eyebrows shot up, quickly. “Ah, I see.”

The humidity clung to our damp shirts, formerly respectable. Our moods tumbled. Quickly. We just realized we’d gotten lost in Central Park, and had walked South for fifteen minutes, rather than East. Which meant thirty more minutes of schlepping in the heat over rocks and towers and ponds and asphalt.

I suppose it was understandable. We hadn’t seen each other in four years. We were excited. Gregarious. Gesticulating.
And we’d chosen to walk from the bus stop on 86th St, rather than take the bus that awaited. (A mistake I ought never have made. You always take the air-conditioned route in Sweat Season.)

I was raring to chat, because I’d seen something shocking, yet ordinary the night before, and couldn’t wait to hear what IvĆ”n thought about it. My uncle had showed me some videos on the computer. A distant relative’s girlfriend, a self-styled vocalist, had made a series of singing videos.

I admit, she’s very attractive, in a conventional way. Using her webcam, in low-cut underwear, she’d sway as she sang, staring right into the camera in her bedroom. Unfortunately, she was really bad at singing. (And not the good kind of bad.) Off key, pitchy, call it what you will. I laughed so hard I fell off the couch. For real. All the while, I felt very bad about myself. Ashamed.

In one song, I can’t remember which, she even similated sex, hopping up and down on an imaginary lover. My first thought was, this has to be a joke, right? But my Uncle swore no. Second thought: poor thing. She has no idea.

It was all just soā€¦personal. Stuff like that should be for your friends. No cameras. Just messing around while you’re hanging out. Having a laugh. It’s not meant for strangers. How have we all gotten so mixed up about reality?

The whole thing just seemed so perfectly symbolic of these difficult-to-quantify times. There she was, using the web to overshare, horribly, all the while thinking it was the ticket to stardom. Not ironically. (Too bad. That might have caught on. Though I suppose nobody remembers William Hung.)

We hear that the unemployment numbers for Generation Y, (or the Millenials,) are off the charts. 50% higher the the national average. And how many of these 20-somethings have moved back in with their parents? An astonishing amount, by any reasonable measure. To top it off, these kids now owe so much money for their student loans, that they’ll be working it off until they’re 50. But there are no jobs to work off the debt. It’s criminal.

They think that Flickr or Youtube or Twitter or Instagram will make them wealthy and famous, so they can continue to live in the lifestyle to which their parents have made them accustomed. (Formerly known as the American Dream.) Which is to say, this is likely to be the first generation of Americans who have a “lesser” lifestyle than the one before. (Or did Generation X beat them to that distinction, as my wife pointed out?) Furthermore, is that such a bad thing? The concept of infinite wealth is seriously outmoded.

And that’s where I left off, when I realized we were going the wrong way.

It took forever to traverse the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but eventually we succeeded. After swiping the plastic in the lobby, (you can pay what you choose,) we darted to the bathroom, where I had to use three paper towels to get the sweat off, and then still dunked my whole head in the sink. Classy. (Sir, we’ll have to ask you to leave now.)

Thank goodness we had to use the bathroom. Had we not, I’d never have seen the oldest painted portraits I’ve encountered. They were encaustic, wax on limewood, from Egypt. Mummy portraits, from 130-150AD. Men peaked out under coal ringlets of hair, with big haunting eyes, and razor cut cheekbones. Wow. So Old. So beautiful. (As we photographers know, it’s always about the expression in the eyes.)

IvĆ”n and I were there for a reason, though: to visit the newly redone Islamic Galleries. I’d read that they were brilliant, (Peter Schjeldahl claimed himself a different person upon departure,) and wanted to see for myself.

Tucked through the Mesopotamian wing, we walked in, thinking at the outset that it lacked bombast. No book store, no lady offering you headsets. And so far in the back. But nothing in this Museum is ordinary, so my expectations were high. (Alas, I was not. Work is work.)

It’s built like one long, rectangular loop. We entered to the right, which I’d recommend, but only if you want to have the experience thusly. There were many beautiful objects to be seen, carved wood and sculpted clay jumping out, and color as well. Beautiful blues.

I was drawn, immediately, to a wine glass. So ordinary a concept. Here, it was a 1200 year old, blue-green piece of glory from Syria or Iraq. I had a daydream. I was a bearded, black-haired merchant. It was warm out. I munched dates, and slurped cool wine from this beautiful, blue-green waterglass. Sounds nice.

We continued through, and of course I had my favorites. But soon I found myself saying, “What’s with the hype? It’s nice and all, but not worth dying over.” Then, not 10 seconds later, we walked into a room to our right, the KoƧ Gallery. Boom.

The ceiling was wood, sculpted and dominant. I wrote in my notes that it was “somewhat indescribable.” (And yet I try.) Spanish, from the 16th Century. (They don’t scrimp at the Met.) Under its eye, the walls were covered with huge carpets. 20, 30 feet high. One seemed to be 40 feet for sure.

We sat. And stared. And, as much as we both like to talk, we were quiet. It felt like five minutes. Who’s to say?

There were other treasures, yes, but this was the room to see. We passed some Chinese-Style porcelain plates, blue on white. Lovely. But not from China. They were Persian, from the 16th Century.

That’s when it hit me. Globalization is not new. Idea transmission, global commerce, interconnectedness, these are not new happenings, and their attendant problems not new either. Empires rise and Fall, but power endures. Our predilection to violence remains, as does our desire to trade things we have too much of for things we crave. Or, as IvĆ”n put it, “What we call Globalization is really when Globalization was completed. Nothing left to Globalize anymore.”

And looking at the Art, one could never believe the Iranians as savage as our Talking Heads might have us believe. Not slightly. They laugh at Chumps like Saddam Hussein and George W. (Though nobody messed with Saddam as badly as the South Park guys. Beyond twisted.)

And that’s why I go to museums. And why I love to write about it afterwards. (Remembering memories make the memories stronger, I recently read.) I go, because I never know what new thoughts I’ll have, what colors I’ll see, what gods will be there to worship. I go, because I want to improve as an artist, and the only way to get better is to see new things, made by better artists than I am.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2, in which I go look at some actual photographs.

The Daily Edit – Monday
8.20.12

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(click images to make bigger)

Glamour

Design Director: Geraldine Hessler
Photo Director: Suzanne Donaldson
Art Director: Sarah Vinas
Senior Photo Editor: Martha Marisanty

Photographer: Nicolas Moore

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